Friday, September 30, 2011

Are You a Big Enough Sinner?

Are you a big enough sinner to be saved?

Little sinners with little sins do not need to be saved. They just need a little help to get them started in the right direction. Little sinners, those whose sins are not so monstrously wicked so as to require the judgment of condemnation, do not look to a genuine savior. Little sinners look to a cooperative agent to give them assistance in overcoming their sins.

Only BIG sinners look to a true Savior to rescue them from everything. Only those who have terrible sins, sins which cannot be excused or explained away, only those with monstrous sins despair of their own attempts at redemption so as to rely entirely upon a Savior from themselves. Only a sinner who believes that everlasting suffering in hell is the only wage that one’s actions have earned truly looks to a Redeemer.

How big are your sins? How big of a sinner are you? Do you really believe that you need to be saved, or do you just need to make a few improvements in your lifestyle and behavior? Do you count all of your righteousnesses, that is, all of your attempts at goodness and holiness and love and kindness and gentleness and faithfulness, to be filthy bloody rags that reek of death and decay, as Isaiah says:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Or do you believe that your works have value because you try hard, or at least harder than most, or at least harder than some, or at least harder than someone? Do you really even believe that your sins are truly sins that need to be redeemed and forgiven? Are your sins really bad enough to need that?

Are you a BIG enough sinner to be saved?

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Sharia Law & Islam - Extremist or Radical

How many times have the media, our governmental leaders, even so-called Christian leaders referred to the hateful and murderous acts of Islamic followers as “radical” or “extremist”? How many times have these terms been falsely equated? Extremist means: advocating or resorting to measures beyond the norm, especially in politics. Radical means: from the root.

According to what is being done to this man in Iran, under Sharia Law, are the acts that have been perpetrated in the name of Allah throughout the world extremist or are they radical, that is, are they beyond the norm or do they truly represent the religion of Islam?

This man has been tried and convicted of professing to be a Christian. Actually, he is accused of converting to the Christian faith from Islam. He says that he never was a Muslim. Regardless, he has been convicted of the crime of converting to the profession of believing in Christ and has been sentenced to death.

Is this the way of Islam? It is according to the Quran. It is according to centuries of Islamic law and practice.

If this is extremism, why are not the Muslims of the world screaming in outrage? Have I missed it? Has there been such an outcry from the so-called moderate Muslims? Are they denouncing this ruling of the Iranian courts as being against the will of their Allah and their religion of Islam?

While my search has not been extensive, I have found nothing of such an outcry being reported. One search was: “Are Muslims defending Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani?” Google produced only articles regarding what others are saying against this crime against humanity. Nothing appeared that answered the actual query. No examples were produced of any Muslim speaking out on behalf of this man being persecuted and sentenced to death for his profession of faith. (Nota bene: I only checked the first five pages of articles or fifty articles.)

However, Google did produce this article in which Nadarkhani’s attorney speaks out.

Nadarkhani Refuses to Repent; Awaiting Final Ruling on Apostasy Death Sentence

The article does not say whether or not the attorney is Muslim, although some of the statements of the attorney would seem to indicate that he is not.

But returning to the issue of whether these actions are extremist and going beyond the norm of Islam or is actually radical and following the very root or foundation of Islam, what does this action of the Iranian courts reveal?

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Yousef Nadarkhani Needs International Support

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Letter from Youcef Nadarkhani

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sharp enough to do the job

Earlier this week, a locust thorn penetrated my finger and lodged within, causing considerable discomfort. I tried serveral times to remove it with my pocket knife, but the point of the knife was not sharp enough to get the job done without unnecessary injury to the finger. Even after sharpening the knife, the point still was not sharp enough.

Some people use a needle to extract thorns and splinters, but this method leaves the puncture wound, which is more likely to become infected than a wound that has been laid open. Puncture wounds are difficult to cleanse thoroughly. Serious infection and even blood poisoning can result from puncture wounds.

Since my pocket knife was not accomplishing the job, later that evening I utilized one of the kitchen knives that had a sharper point. I was able to open the wound sufficiently without excessive cutting. The thorn popped out. The finger has already healed of its wound.

This scenario is not unlike the more serious penetration of our being by sin. Sin is even more serious as it is so deeply lodged within our body and mind and spirit that it corrupts our very soul. It is beyond what we can reach and remove by anything at our disposal. For this reason God Himself has provided the means by which this can be accomplished.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

As this passage instructs us, the Word of God is sharp. It is sharper than any sword or knife or scalpel. It is sharp to the point of being able to separate the spirit from the soul. It is sharp enough to lay bare all that is within, all of the corruption of our sinful nature, so that it may be washed away with heavenly cleansing.

This living and powerful Word is connected to the preaching of the Gospel, and to water, and bread and wine. God Himself has ordained this and established this for our cleansing and salvation. Through these means He cuts through to remove even the deepest portions of our sinfulness, even the things so deep within that we are unaware of them.

This is because God is the Word. As the Word is poured over us through these ordained means, it enters into us, and with the Word is the fullness of God. Thus the Holy Spirit as well as Jesus come to us to pierce deeply into our hearts and souls and work the miracle of conversion. In Baptism the Holy Spirit is given to dwell within the newly generated believer. And where the Holy Spirit is, so also is the Father and the Son, for they truly are one. But this is most powerfully manifested in the Holy Supper of God’s Communion, where the Holy Trinity draws us to partake of the fullness of His Communion, not only in our hearts and souls, but also in His body, the Church, the communion of saints. And so God not only removes our thorny sin and all of the filthy corruption of our sinful nature, but He heals us and restores us and continually renews us and nourishes us in His Holy Communion.

However, we are inclined to turn to less invasive means. We tend to want to remove the sharpness of the Word. We are inclined to attempt to restrict the cutting that the Word would do so that the pain of exposing the deeper cancer is avoided. We even are inclined to try to explain away the disease of sin as something less damning. The judgment that cuts so deeply that even the tiniest fragment of our sinful nature is exposed and purged hurts. We cringe from this and try to avoid it. But in so doing we hinder the wonderful work that our heavenly physician would do for us. In fact, when we interfere in these ways, we not only hinder Him and His miraculous means of grace, but we actually reject Him and His works. By so doing we cut ourselves off from the means through which He works these miracles for us. We cut ourselves off from His salvation and His kingdom of pure grace.

God’s way only works when it is truly His way. When we interfere and interject our words and ways with His words and ways, they are no longer His words and ways. His Word is pure. His Word is perfect. His Word is powerful. His Word is life. His Word made Himself to be flesh and blood so as to cut through to the entire corruption of humanity and carry it to the cross and grave. If we reduce this with our corrupt words and ways, we join ourselves again to the very corruption from which He is working to save us.

We need the cutting power of the pure Word. God gives this to us in ways that remove us and our corruption from them entirely. This is why God works through the ordained means of grace. For in these, if we do not interject our own ways into them, God is the only one at work. If the preaching is truly the preaching of the pure Gospel and if the Sacraments are truly administered as God has given them, then we are merely vessels that receive them and not actually the doers of them. When He is the doer of the works, the works can be trusted fully. It is, after all, His kingdom and His Word and His Church and His salvation.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Was I saved then?

     When a person is confronted with the fact that false doctrine has been part of what has been embraced and believed and practiced it can cause fears to arise. A person can begin to ask: “Was I saved then?”

     Other related questions also can arise in the person’s heart.

     St. Paul answers these questions with the comfort of the Gospel. He says of himself:

     And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)

     Here the apostle speaks openly and honestly about his condition before the Lord Jesus appeared to him and called him to repentance and faith. Clearly, even though he had been committed in what he believed, fervently acting in accord with the faith that he believed, he was outside of the Holy Communion of Christ and His Church. He was a blasphemer and a persecutor. He was actually persecuting and injuring and attempting to destroy the Church of Christ.

     But he did these things ignorantly. Did this excuse him? Not in any way. Nevertheless, God continues to call to repentance those who are in ignorance. The Gospel is the call to repent of such damning ignorance and to be converted to the true faith. This call extends to one and all. The Gospel is freely proclaimed by Christ in His Church. His desire is to save sinners from their sinful ways.

     Thus St. Paul says that he was shown mercy and obtained mercy. God’s mercy is an established fact. God sent His Son to the world to save the world. Christ accomplished this salvation for all the world. God declared Christ’s sacrificial suffering and death to be sufficient payment to redeem all of mankind from the wages of their sin. He declared all the world to be justified in Christ. But the world remains in ignorance apart from the preaching and receiving of the pure Gospel. Any gospel other than the pure Gospel leaves people ignorant of God’s mercy. They remain outside of God’s kingdom of grace.

     This is why the Scriptures continually condemn the false prophets and preachers. This why the Scriptures warn against false doctrine of every kind. This is why the truth is proclaimed as whole and intact. This is why error is condemned and those who embrace it are called to be turned from it to the truth. The warning of how a little leaven leaventh the entire loaf is repeatedly set forth so as to call people to embrace the pure Gospel.

     So what of the question that arises concerning the past? The past is that from which we are being called to be separated. We are called to hear the Gospel now. We are called to believe the Gospel now. We are called to live in the freedom of the Gospel now.

     In the salvation that the Gospel proclaims we are set free from all of the errors of the past.

     We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

     The past has already been taken into account through the Lord’s suffering and death as our Redeemer. Each and every day is a new day for those who receive the salvation that He purchased for us. He died for all. He established His Church on earth so that this marvelous message would be proclaimed for all the world to hear and believe.

     We are not to trouble ourselves when we discover that we have been in error. Rather, we are called to receive the Lord’s repentance, to be turned from the bondage of our errors to live in the truth that sets us free. We cannot change our past actions and sinful ways. But in Christ, these are washed away in the flood of holy Baptism and we are conjoined in Christ in His body to partake of the ongoing renewal of His everlasting Communion. This is where He calls our hearts to be turned.

     When we truly hear this and believe this the regrets of the past are turned to the everlasting peace and joy that are in Christ Jesus the Lord. Our regrets become continual participation in the feast of Thanksgiving at the Lord’s Table which He has prepared for us. This is not something to fear but something to embrace with open hearts and arms. To this we may run with jubilant hearts. To this we may confess with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. To this we may give testimony to all who will hear it. Then in union with St. Paul and with all the saints of all time we can jubilantly say, “I acted in ignorance, but I have obtained mercy!”

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

One holy catholic Church

Today there are many who deny that true unity in doctrine and practice can exist in the Church.

But then, how would they know?

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Romans 14 and Relationships

     A dear friend included in an e-mail today the following:

     I was reading Romans 14 and maybe you want to check this one out. I won't tell you what I think yet, but it made a great impression on how one approaches others. Very interesting.

     Reading this portion of the apostle’s letter was refreshing. It was encouraging, especially reading it in the greater context of the entire letter, with all that the dear apostle includes. In this wicked world of sin and turmoil, those who hold steadfastly to the pure Gospel find themselves often feeling alone. We hear from every direction, especially from those we wish we could embrace as brothers and sisters in the Lord, “Judge not. Judge Not! JUDGE NOT!!” We hear that love is equal to tolerance. People often quote particular passages from the Scriptures in this regard. But is this what the Lord actually says? Are people hearing Him for what He truly declares? Or are they utilizing selective hearing?

     Regarding Romans 14 it is important for us to remember that St. Paul writes this to those who are brethren in the Lord and not to the world, nor to those who are heretics. He is writing regarding the interaction between the saints within the church in Rome. What he here writes has not direct correlation to those who are not of the true faith. So we need to be mindful of this in how we apply it.

     The issue in Romans 14 is a lack of understanding regarding the old ceremonial laws from Moses. The kinds of meat that are allowed and which festivals to observe were the issue. Do we have the divine service on Saturday, Sunday, or every day? Do we dare to eat pork and lobster and crab and camel? Must we observe certain times of fasting or are we free to eat without such obligations? These are the kinds of questions addressed in Romans 14, questions that lingered for the first century Church.

     So long as those who were weak and unable in their hearts to let go of some of the old ceremonial requirements did not insist that these were necessary for salvation, St. Paul says that those who are strong and able to live free of these should be patient with the weak, even to the point of being willing to set their freedoms aside for the sake of their weaker brethren for a time if it appeared to be helpful.

     Not understanding this, in more recent times, has led to the development of sects such as the Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses, sects that have abandoned the Gospel and have supplanted it with various forms of works righteousness.

     To make certain that misunderstanding on this matter is avoided so that tolerance of schismatic opinions in doctrine and practice is not accepted, St. Paul says in his conclusion of this letter:

     “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)

     So, then, while we are to be patient with those who are weak, we are not to permit them to impose their weaknesses onto the life of the Church. Most of all, we are not to allow them to abide in false doctrine themselves nor to bring this false doctrine into the life of the Church. Such are not to be counted as brethren. They are to be confronted a couple of times, and if they refuse to hear, they are to be counted as pagans and tax collectors. (Matthew 18, Titus 3:10-11)

     Whatever other thoughts one may have regarding this chapter of the apostle's letter, these are some important reminders.

     It is wonderful reading, especially in its context. The dear apostle reminds us that we are not the judges, only the proclaimers of what we ourselves receive. Thus, whatever judgment we speak we must first receive for ourselves. When we approach judging from this perspective, it changes us and makes us very cautious and gentle, for when we apply the judgment to ourselves, this is what we desire. Yet we also must hear God's judgment honestly and without compromise, otherwise we lose the Gospel. Since this is how we must hear God's judgment for ourselves so as not to lose that which we desperately need, so also we will proclaim it in this same manner to others.

     Sadly, it seems that we have entered into the time that the Lord foretold when people would no longer be willing to hear sound doctrine but would gather to themselves many teachers to tickle their ears telling them what they prefer to hear. In this age it seems that holding to the pure doctrine of the Scriptures leaves a person standing alone. But we are not alone. The Lord Himself assures us of this. Wherever we gather to the pure Gospel, He is with us to give to us that which we need most, along with all the other worldly blessings that He showers upon all, upon both the just and the unjust. But in His Holy Communion, we enjoy His saving presence, even as we partake together of His body and blood. This is why compromise cannot be tolerated.

     Romans 14 does not teach us to compromise. It teaches us to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of one another. Sacrifice does not equal compromise. In fact, it is the opposite. Compromise seeks to avoid the pain of sacrifice. Compromise is an act of selfishness whereas sacrifice is an act of selfless love. This is the love that we receive from God Himself which then moves us to act with that same love both in response to Him and also to one another. This love, far from being tolerant, is rather a continual call to the repentance that God works through the pure Gospel.

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The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

From the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, the Epistle reading was the text for the sermon. The introduction began:

     Repent! Repent! Repent! Do you get tired of hearing this message? Nevertheless, it is the perpetual message of the Church. It is the tireless message of the preachers of the Gospel. It is a command. Yet it is a command that we cannot fulfill. It is a command that works for us and in us that which must be enacted. The call to repent is a command that has the power to turn us from our ways back again to the Lord. The call to repent is actually God’s mercy in action. It is His call to those whom He would rescue from their wandering into everlasting destruction. While we hear it as Law on account of our failure to hear and obey, it is nevertheless brought to effect in us by the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. It is God’s promise of salvation that converts us. It is His promise of the Savior that saves us. For what God promises He brings into being. In fact, what God promises, He has already accomplished for us.

For the rest of the sermon: Galatians 3:15-22 — “A Testament Being Confirmed Previously under God into Christ”.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Free Will versus Freed Will

A recent conversation with one of my very dear customers demonstrates the difference between what we deludingly label as Free Will and what the Lord establishes as Freed Will. What we count as free will is actually our will that has been placed under the bondage of sinfulness. It is our will that rebels against God’s holy will. Thus it is will that is in need of being freed by God’s gracious intervention, freed by having its bondage to our sinfulness broken so as to be bound again in the freedom to enjoy the life of holiness that is found only in the Lord’s Holy Communion.

The truth is that our will is either in bondage to sinful rebellion or in bondage to holiness. The one way makes the way of holiness impossible while the other way sets us free to enjoy the way of holiness once more. This contrast of binding forces could be compared to the gravity experienced while in the proximity of earth versus the sense of weightlessness experienced apart from being bound to any large body. What could be perceived as freedom of existence apart from the binding force of gravity is the freedom to drift off into the nothingness of space. What sometimes is thought of as a restrictive bondage by gravity actually allows a person to move about freely, running and even jumping, without fear of drifting away into oblivion. Astronauts employ a tether to insure this freedom while working outside of their spacecraft.

The conversation in which we shared concerned the matters of the financial bondage that the government, which is owned by the Federal Reserve, continues to create for us. As we discussed this, the last several Presidents and the current President were brought forward. As we spoke especially of President Obama, I shared my deep and heartfelt appreciation for the Our Father and the General Prayer of the Church. I shared how these override my rebellious desire to pray against Obama and the other wicked leaders so that I am led to pray for them as God has decreed to be in accord with His holy will.

My friend, however, could only hear my rebellion. The sound of my admission of the power of my sinful nature drowned out the sound of my thanksgiving for the power of these prayers to work repentance in me so that by God’s gracious design I pray contrary to my will and in accord with His will. And so, while I would pray that God punish and get rid of these evil doers, instead, I am led to pray for their forgiveness and conversion, for their everlasting salvation, and even for their current good health and blessing of every sort.

Yet what we count as free will is what my friend heard so that I had to explain the meaning that I intended to convey. He asked me to make a copy of the General Prayer so that he could examine it. It seems to me to be good to display it here as well.

The General Prayer of the Church

Almighty and most merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give Thee thanks for all Thy goodness and tender mercies, especially for the gift of Thy dear Son and for the revelation of Thy will and grace; and we beseech Thee so to implant Thy Word in on us that in good and honest hearts we may keep it and bring forth fruit by patient continuance in welldoing.

Most heartily we beseech Thee so to rule and govern Thy Church Universal, with all its pastors and ministers, that we may be preserved in the pure doctrine of Thy saving Word, whereby faith toward Thee may be strengthened, charity increased in us toward all mankind, and Thy kingdom extended. Send forth laborers into Thy harvest, and sustain those whom Thou hast sent, that the Word of Reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and the Gospel preached in all the world.

Grant also health and prosperity to all that are in authority, especially to the President and Congress of the United States, the Governor and Legislature of this Commonwealth, and to all our Judges and Magistrates, and endue them with grace to rule after Thy good pleasure, to the maintenance of righteousness and to the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

May it please Thee also to turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries that they may cease their enmity and be inclined to walk with us in meekness and in peace.

All who are in trouble, want, sickness, anguish of labor, peril of death, or any other adversity, especially those who are in suffering for Thy name’s and for Thy truth’s sake, comfort, O God, with Thy Holy Spirit, that they may receive and acknowledge their afflictions as the manifestation of Thy fatherly will.

And although we have deserved Thy righteous wrath and manifold punishments, yet, we entreat Thee, O most merciful Father, remember not the sins of our youth nor our many transgressions, but out of Thine unspeakable goodness, grace, and mercy defend us from all harm and danger of body and soul. Preserve us from false and pernicious doctrine, from war and bloodshed, from plague and pestilence, from all calamity by fire and water, from hail and tempest, from failure of harvest and from famine, from anguish of heart and despair of Thy mercy, and from an evil death. And in every time of trouble show Thyself a very present Help, the Savior of all men, and especially of them that believe.

Cause all needful fruits of the earth to prosper, that we may enjoy them in due season. Give success to the Christian training of the young, to all lawful occupations on land, [air], and sea, and to all pure arts and useful knowledge; and crown them with Thy blessing.

Receive, O God, our bodies and souls and all our talents, together with the offerings we bring before Thee, for Thou hast purchased us to be Thine own, that we may live unto Thee.

Here special Supplications, Intercessions, and Prayers may be made

These and whatsoever other things Thou wouldst have us ask of Thee, O God, grant unto us for the sake of the bitter sufferings in death of Jesus Christ, Thine only Son, our Lord and Savior, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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Customer Service Survey

Today I received an automated phone call from AT&T wanting me to respond with how satisfied I was with the service I received from the representative I spoke with yesterday. I spoke with four customer service representatives. The first two did not understand English. I had to repeat myself over and over. The one rep said: "Let me see if I understood you correctly . . ." My response: "I did not say anything like that whatsoever!" Where this person came up with his response is truly a mystery. It was completely unrelated to anything whatsoever that I had said to him.

So, should I have responded regarding the first three, or the last person who actually answered my question, informing me that AT&T does not actually give any real customer service? Those were not his actual words, but that is an accurate summary or the reality.

This by the way, was after being on hold for over an hour! First is the set of unrelated automated questions that must be answered in order to be placed on hold for 50 minutes only to be connected to the wrong department in a foreign country.

Of course, AT&T compensates for this by sporadic reminders at about 15 second intervals telling the customer how much they value the person's phone call. But I was on hold for 50 minutes. Then I was passed on to two more reps. The third rep sent me to the Repair and Features Dept. This rep finally told me that the company did not keep a record of the information that I desired. I was told that it is only available when subpoenaed. I replied that the company obviously does keep the records, then, because something that does not exist cannot be produced for a subpoena.

Sometimes, a company like Bank of America will wait for a week or two before contacting by phone or e-mail regarding their lack of customer service. What is the point? By that time a person would have made several additional calls with the same result.

Someone recently asked me why companies are doing this.

The answer is that they are training us to accept the fact that we no longer have any say in anything. They are preparing us for what is coming very soon.

So, do we really have to accept this?

It would seem to be so, since seemingly everyone does. The tiny few who attempt to take action are easily ignored when the vast majority act like a group of lemmings, moving in mass without clear understanding of where they are going or why. But the group is moving and so do they. Off they go, chasing after the latest technological "improvement" or believing what their leaders and media tell them.

This post really has no good purpose except to complain about the fact that complaining does absolutely no good. It no longer even serves as a release of stress since we all seem to have the same response of: "Well, what can we do?"

The really sad thing is the awareness of the fact that people are not lemmings, but have great capacity for reactionary responses, often violent. The perpetrators are usually safely tucked away when the mobs finally rise up. The innocent are the ones who are hurt. This always seems to be the way. The population follows until they are stripped of everything, and then they rise up and hurt one another, acting even more mindlessly than when they threw their hands in the air doing nothing.

Even more saddening is the awareness that the Lord has provided the way in which these things do not occur. If only people would hear and heed His Word. If only people would believe His grace and mercy. How differently people would act if they believed what the Lord has declared.

For the tiny few, His Word does rule and they do live accordingly. They have little influence in the world, because they merely live in the world while not being of the world. Their ways seem odd, even irrational. Yet these few do have peace in their hearts and lives, true peace, peace that surpasses all understanding. This peace is even greater than the many frustrations that they encounter. This peace is greater than the sense of helplessness that they feel when ignored by leaders in governments and churches and corporations and communities and families.

So to this peace flee those who know it. Those who have heard and believed and have received this peace realize that all else is of no real consequence. And so, a man like myself will whine and complain, but in the end will be turned aside again by that which has been poured out from above in the body of Christ. In Him telephones and computers and finances are shown to be the needless things that they really are. Customer service is truly non-existent in the body of Christ for there are no customers, only members of the same body. All together are servants of one another, bound together with the same will, the same concerns, the same joys, the same cause for thanksgiving.

It truly is miraculous what the Lord works in and for those who love Him, the called according to His purpose. The whining becomes thanksgiving. The envy and disillusionment are converted to contentment. The unrest of heart, mind, and spirit are transformed to peace and unity.

Truly the saints find that they naturally respond with the Psalms in saying:

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:1)

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Do People Still Pray This Way?

Yesterday was the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity. Below are the Collect of the Day and the first of the two prayers for praying after the distribution of the Holy Communion.

The Collect of the Day -- pg. 19 (TLH)

Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it comes that Thy faithful people do unto Thee true and laudable service, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may so faithfully serve Thee in this life that we fail not finally to attain Thy heavenly promises; through Jesus Thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

The Prayer Following the Distribution:

We give thanks to Thee, Almighty God, that Thou hast refreshed us through this salutary gift; and we beseech Thee that of Thy mercy Thou wouldst strengthen us through the same in faith toward Thee and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

How many congregations even use these prayers anymore? Of those who do, how many worshipers actually ponder the words that they are praying? Do people today realize the depth of these prayers? Do people understand the fullness of what is being taught by God through these prayers? Do people realize what is being confessed and embraced as true and holy and good?

In the Collect we prayed in acknowledgment that true and laudable service to God is a gift that He alone works in us. We confess that true worship is not something that we produce by our own wills or reason. We confess that the only reason that we dare even to pray and the only reason that we dare to believe that God hears us graciously and the only reason that we have hope of everlasting life and salvation is because of the promises that God Himself makes in connection with the merits of Jesus, His Son, our Lord.

In the post distribution prayer, one of two marvelous prayers that are provided, we prayed in acknowledgment of the fact that the Holy Communion is the reason for the divine service and that through this salutary (healthful) gift of God we have been refreshed in the blessings of God’s Holy Communion. Moreover, we prayed that this gift would continue to work in us what God promises, namely, that in His mercy He would strengthen us in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.

This is truly an amazing prayer. Do people pay any attention to these magnificent words? As I reflect upon the years of my growing up, I remember this prayer being prayed many times. Yet I cannot remember a single time that the pastors actually taught this in the sermons. Not once! Their sermons taught the exact opposite. Their sermons taught how we must strive to be more faithful and how we must learn to be more loving to one another. But this magnificent prayer teaches us that this is what God works for us through this blessed Sacrament!

Is this not cause for true thanksgiving? Does this not cause us to understand why this is called the Holy Eucharist, that is, the Holy Thanksgiving?

God promises that we do not have to strive to be faithful, because He works this strengthening of faith for us in this blessed gift from heaven. God promises that we do not have to work to become more loving toward one another because this is what He works for us in this meal of unity and true faith. As He pours out to us His forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, we are united in the faith that He works in us and renews in us. As we hear Him calling us to eat that which makes us one with Him and therefore with one another and to drink that which is given for the remission of our sins, we are refreshed and renewed and strengthened in the faith by which salvation and everlasting life are bestowed to us and we are united in the love that is poured out to us with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and in the gracious giving of this heavenly banquet.

The following distribution hymn, the last two stanzas being translated from Luther, teach and confess this yet again:

“O Lord, We Praise Thee”

1. O Lord, we praise Thee, bless Thee, and adore Thee,
In thanksgiving bow before Thee.
Thou with Thy body and Thy blood didst nourish
Our weak souls that they may flouish:
O Lord, have mercy!
May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary,
That our sins and sorrows did carry,
And Thy blood for us plead
In all trial, fear, and need:
O Lord, have mercy!

2. Thy holy body into death was given,
Life to win for us in heaven.
No greater love than this to Thee could bind us;
May this feast thereof remind us!
O Lord, have mercy!
Lord, Thy kindness did so constrain Thee
That Thy blood should bless and sustain me.
All our debt Thou hast paid;
Peace with God once more is made:
O Lord, have mercy.

3. May God bestow on us His grace and favor
To please Him with our behavior
And live as brethren here in love and union
Nor repent this blest Communion!
O Lord, have mercy!
Let not Thy good Spirit forsake us;
Grant that heavenly-minded He make us;
Give Thy Church, Lord, to see
Days of peace and unity:
O Lord, have mercy!

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Which Jesus Is Your Jesus?

I recently performed an Internet search for my name and learned to my surprise that I am not the only Paul Siems listed in Wichita, Kansas. I found that there is another Paul Siems just a short distance away (at least according to that search). He is not me and I am not he. Yet via an Internet search for Paul Siems you will find us both. We have never actually met one another, by the way. Yet we share the same name, at least this far.

He is Paul E. Siems.

I am Paul A. Siems.

Yet if we both were in a crowd and heard someone call out, “Paul” or “Siems” or “Paul Siems”, we both would likely respond. That is, if we both heard it. However, someone could call out for Paul Siems and receive a response from the wrong one of us. And if the calling person had never met either of us, how would the person know whether the right Paul Siems had been contacted? More information would need to be verified to be certain. However, the person may not bother to verify, not realizing that just calling out “Paul Siems” is insufficient.

Yet how many Christians Pray to “Jesus” in just this way?

How many Christians use the additional information necessary to identify the true Jesus? How many simply use the name of Jesus and expect that their prayers will be heard and received, without verifying that they are using the name rightly and addressing it to the true Jesus?

Which Jesus is your Jesus?

Do you even know? Do you care?

It seems that most Christians are oblivious to the fact that there are many Jesuses and many Christs, even though there is only one true Jesus and Christ. Most Christians express that believing and praying to Jesus is sufficient, without any need to be sure that one knows who Jesus Christ really is.

Well, it certainly matters in the case of Paul Siems in Wichita, Kansas. One Paul Siems is the son of a retired dentist. The other is the son of a deceased millwork draftsman and wood worker (carpenter). One of us is a Lutheran pastor and an arborist. I don’t know more about the son of the dentist, even though the dentist was my dentist until he retired.

Moreover, we do not pronounce Siems the same way. He and his family say Sims rather than Siems (seems).

Now here is something rather frightening.

According to this, which can also be viewed at PeopleFinders, I am back living in Hugoton, KS again rather than Wichita. Hmm. It also says that I have used an alias of Paul M. Siems. Not true! It lists as my relative my wife, only identifying her as a relative, and listing her maiden name, which she has not used for 19 years. Hmm.

Now for the scarey, part. This source of information about me offers to provide information regarding:

* Criminal records
* Misdemeanors
* Felonies
* Lawsuits
* Bankruptcies & Tax Liens
* Sex Offender Check
* Judgements

Yikes! They don’t even know where I am, and they identify me according to an alias that I have never used. What sort of false information will they give regarding felonies and sex offender checks? I wonder whether my wife and I are divorced and don’t know it!

Do you see the point? Using such a source for information will direct a person to a Paul A. Siems who does not exist, even though some of the information given will be correct. Other information will send the person seeking me on a wild goose chase.

Yet with regard to Jesus Christ, most Christians settle for far worse sources of information and base their contact with Him on the faulty and even fraudulent information provided by their false sources.

Do you suppose that this makes a difference?

For example:

How many churches and pastors teach that the Jesus who says: “This is My body, given for you.” and “This is My blood, shed for the remission of sins” does not mean what He says? Does your Jesus really mean these words, or did He just say them to have something to say? Or did He say these words meaning something else entirely than the words that He spoke?

How many say that what Jesus says of regeneration and conversion is not how regeneration and conversion take place? Jesus says that the nations are discipled through baptizing and teaching. His apostle, Peter, says that Baptism saves us (1 Peter 3:21) and gives us the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that this promise is not only for the adults who hear it but also for their children and even for those who are far off in the future (Acts 2:38-39). St. Paul says that salvation is by grace through faith and that this is a gift of God, not a work that people do for themselves (Ephesians 2:8-10). Yet most Christians say that faith is a decision or commitment that the person must make for oneself and that the children cannot have such faith because they are unable to produce this faith for themselves through human reason. So is your Jesus the one who says that salvation is through faith, which is given in Baptism with the Holy Spirit, purely a gift of God that He works, or is your Jesus the one who says that you must do this for yourself when you reach the age of reason, however you choose to define this?

Is your Jesus the one who says that the words of the apostles are given to them by the Holy Spirit as the very words of Jesus that cannot be rejected without rejecting Jesus, or is your Jesus the one who sent forth a bunch of confused liars who said things about salvation and the means of grace that are really just symbolic gestures?

Is your Jesus the one who commands that His disciples mark and avoid those who cause divisions in His Church regarding doctrine and practice, or is your Jesus the one who says judge not and tolerate all things and all doctrines and all forms of worship as equal? Is your Jesus the one who commands that the pastors bind the impenitent to their sins and excommunicate them, or is your Jesus the one who says that the Lord’s table is a matter for the individual to decide regardless of what the person says and does?

Is your Jesus the Almighty God who created in six days all things, both visible and invisible, or is your Jesus merely one who claims for Himself what actually happened by accident over millions and even billions of years?

Did your Jesus suffer and die for the sins of world, rising bodily from the dead and rising with that body to heaven, or did your Jesus merely live an exemplary life and teach enduring principles of morality?

And when you gather into a congregation, is this the one true gathering of saints into the name of Jesus in accord with all that He entrusted and charged to His apostles? Or do you congregate in a congregation that is in association with many diverse groups who worship according to many styles and confess different things concerning Jesus and His Church?

So, the question is: Which Jesus is your Jesus?

When you pray, to which Jesus do you pray? When you gather with others into the name of Jesus, do you all gather into the same understanding of that name? Do you worship with the same confession of who Jesus is? Do you bind yourselves in communion with those who are truly one in Christ? Do you share the same understanding and belief concerning the work of the Holy Spirit? Do you truly share together in the Holy Communion of Christ?

Are you among those who imagine that these things don’t really matter?

Well, I can tell you that if you attempt to contact me through the means that direct one to Paul E. Siems, I will not hear you or respond to you. If you seek to find me in Hugoton , you will not find me. You can cry out until your throat bleeds and I will not hear you.

So perhaps it would be wise for us all to examine ourselves and our understanding of Jesus and our ways of worship and praying to be certain that the Jesus to whom we pray is the real Jesus according to the name through which all men must be saved (Acts 4:12). Perhaps we would do well to ask whether or not we are congregating with those who are truly of the body of Christ according to His definition.

In these matters, is wishful thinking enough? Is being close really enough? In spiritual matters is ignorance ever bliss? Are you satisfied with what you have assumed regarding these things, or do you stand with the apostle (Philippians 2:12) in counting the necessity of working out your own salvation with fear and trembling to be certain that your hope is not in vain?

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Monday, September 05, 2011

The Necessity of Divorce

Did you know that of the words in the Scriptures for Forgiveness some are the same as for Divorce?

Forgiveness is divorcing or separating or sending away or loosing an offender from that person’s offence so that becoming divorced from the person is avoided. This is what God does for us. He looks upon us with mercy and love so that He takes our offenses and pays for them so as to be able to divorce us from our offenses. He cuts us off from our sins so that He does not have to cut us off from Himself.

This is the way of forgiveness. It is entirely one-sided. The one who forgives acts entirely apart from the one who is forgiven. From the side of the one who has been offended, a divorce is enacted, a divorce of all recollection and accounting of the offense in connection with the offender.

In order for the offender to receive this forgiveness the offender must be called to repentance. The person must be made willing to hear that the offense is genuine and that the person must be turned from the offense to the forgiveness and renewal of life with the one who was offended. The result is healing and restoration.

We forgive because God has forgiven us and has called us to repentance. Knowing what He has forgiven us, we look to others with eagerness to forgive them what they have done wrong to us.

If we do not act in this way it is because we have not truly received God repentance and forgiveness ourselves. No one who is abiding in God’s forgiveness can hold a grudge and refuse forgiveness, especially to those who repent and ask forgiveness of us. If one refuses to forgive, that person refuses to receive forgiveness. How can anyone truly believe the Gospel, the wonderful message of what God in Christ has done to redeem us all, how can such a believer not acknowledge the “for all” part of God’s forgiveness? How can one who truly knows God’s forgiveness reject the fact that this forgiveness includes the wrongs that are done to us personally?

It simply is not possible. This why Jesus commands us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, even as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is the way of forgiveness. It is the only way. Forgiveness begets forgiveness. Moreover, to refuse to forgive on our part, is to deny the reality of what God has already forgiven in Christ. How can we look upon another sinner for whom Christ died and not forgive on our part?

This is why so many “Christians” become divorced. If they truly believed God’s forgiveness, they would continually forgive one another, calling each other to return to the Lord’s forgiveness and to abide in the unity of that forgiveness together. How can anyone claiming to be a Christian even begin to argue that there exist “irreconcilable differences” between the two marriage partners? This is equal to saying, “I do not believe in the power of God’s forgiveness.”

There is only one irreconcilable difference that prevents reconciliation. That is when people do not agree to the means through which God works His forgiveness in us. The Lord has plainly declared His means of grace. He has recorded them in His Holy Scriptures. If we refuse to acknowledge them and receive them as He has ordained, the reconciliation that He has accomplished in Christ is rejected by us and we remain separated both from Him and from one another.

Thanks be to God that He continually calls us to repent even of such denials of His grace so that we receive His forgiveness and in turn forgive one another. Otherwise we would all be without any hope. But He is our hope. His mercy continues to draw us back into His forgiveness and Holy Communion.

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Friday, September 02, 2011

Just for Fun

Here are a couple videos that have been brought to my attention to be shared just for fun.

Is this one for real?

According to the note included at Flixxy it is for real. Here is what the owners say:

"Cat Leila and dove Arc-En-Ciel (Rainbow) doing their thing. Happens everyday."
"The Sequel: Love over Freedom. A few days after this video was shot, the dove accidently flew out of the house to a tree 400 feet away. We put it's cage and the cat under a cherry tree in the back yard. The cat meowed for a while, the dove flew back to the tree and we were able to get her into her cage and into the house where they were reunited."

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Copenhagen Philharmonic playing Ravel's Bolero at Central Station

The following is from: Work in Denmark.

Working hours

The standard working week in Denmark is 37 hours split over 5 days. The primary working hours are Monday-Friday from 06:00 - 18:00. Lunch breaks are typically 30 minutes long. Lunch breaks are paid as regular working hours in the public sector, whereas most private employees pay for lunch breaks themselves. However, this varies from workplace to workplace.

Working hours are not regulated by law in the private sector, but rather, are determined by collective agreement or individual contracts.

Am I reading this correctly? The workers in Denmark, especially in the Public Sector, are on the job for 37 hours per week but get 2.5 hours for lunch at regular pay, meaning the work week is actually 34.5 hours?

Perhaps this allows for some of the "spontaneous concerts". Looks like fun, anyway.

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A Wide-ness in God’s Mercy

In the video and the transcript posted immediately below in the post: Billy Graham & the Future of Christianity, Robert Schuller makes a statement to which Billy gives absolute assent: “There's a wideness in God's mercy.”

God’s mercy is even greater than what these men imagine. It has absolutely no limits. God’s mercy is from eternity. It reaches to every tribe and nation and tongue of humanity. God’s mercy extends unto the entire human race of all times and places. As the psalmist writes:

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 107:1)

However, this mercy is clearly defined as is the means by which this mercy is received. While God’s mercy extends to everyone, not everyone receives it. God’s mercy is received through specific means that He Himself has ordained.

These means are the preaching of the pure Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. These are the means by which God declares that His mercy is made to be received.

The Scriptures are very clear regarding the fact that God’s mercy is for all, but that this “for all” is in Christ. Apart from Christ this mercy is not received.

A term that helps to explain this is the term Universal Objective Justification. Sadly, almost no one understands it rightly or teaches it rightly. Many Lutherans claim to teach it, but they only use the terminology while actually preaching universalism, like Schuller and Graham say in the interview. One very outspoken opponent of Universal Objective Justification, or UOJ as he likes to dub it, is Dr. Gregory Jackson who speaks venomously against UOJ on his blog. One example is his post: UOJ Fanatics Obscure Their Errors by Splitting Verses, Ignoring Context: Some Examples.

Sadly, both sides of this issue are misrepresenting the truth. The major proponents of Universal Objective Justification essentially downplay the Objective nature of Justification and highlight the universal aspect of it, like Schuller and Graham. Jackson completely denies the universal aspect focusing only upon the objective, but ending up with the subjective as the only real element.

But the truth is that the Scriptures plainly teach that God does declare the world to be justified in Christ. But the IN Christ cannot be ignored.

(Romans 3:24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

(Romans 8:1) There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

(2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

(2 Corinthians 5:19) To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

In the Scriptures Justification = Declared Righteous. It is a juridical term, courtroom language. The judge makes a ruling and that ruling stands. In the highest court, God’s court, Jesus the Christ stands as the world’s mediator. Jesus paid the ransom or redemption price and the judge (God) declares that this is sufficient. Since Christ died for the sins of the entire world, this declaration leaves out no one. God’s declaration extends to all the world of all time, for Jesus’ sake.

However, this declaration must be received. It must be preached so that it is heard. This hearing is worked by the Holy Spirit to produce faith so that one begins to believe the declaration. In Baptism this declaration is applied to the person with the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. At this point, the declaration that is in Christ is now the actual possession of the individual for whom this declaration was made even from eternity. But now the person is actually In Christ, where this declaration is. The declaration is not made apart from Christ, but IN Christ. So, while it is made for all the world, it is made in Christ for all the world.

Thus it is truly a universal declaration. It has been made. It is for all. But not all will receive it. And so while God has declared all the world to be justified in Christ, so long as people remain outside of Christ, not baptized into His body, they do not receive this justification that God has declared to be for them.

It is only in Christ that this justification is appropriated.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:4-6)

The branches do not produce the fruit apart from the vine. The lifeblood flows to the branches from the vine. While the branches remain separated from the vine, they have no life in them and they produce nothing good.

As an example, I sometimes have used my seminary student loans to illustrate. I had some large student loans when I graduated the seminary. After a dozen years I still had more to pay. One day I received a notice that someone anonymously paid $1000.00 of one of my loans. The payment had been made at least a week or two earlier. $1000.00 of my debt had been declared to have been redeemed by someone else and then the declaration was received by me in this notification.

I was justified and set free from the debt the moment it was paid. But I did not receive the benefit of this justification until I received the notification. Having received the notification I called to verify it. Indeed, my debt was cancelled. I was justified. Now I could live in the knowledge of that justification. Eventually I received the notification from the bank as well. No more debt. I have been living in that freedom ever since.

But what if I did not believe it to be real? What if I refused to believe the good news? I would still be trying to find a way to pay a debt that I no longer owe. I would send my checks, which would be returned or discarded. Even though I was declared debt free, I would still be bound to it by my unbelief.

There are weaknesses in this illustration, but it does highlight the main issue. There are important differences however, for entrance into the kingdom of God, the body of Christ, is not merely a matter of my believing. Faith is more than believing. Faith is the gift of God worked by the Holy Spirit that produces my believing. When the Holy Spirit works this faith in me through the means of grace applied to me, then by this faith I also believe what God has declared to be for me. Then I actually begin to live in His grace, in Christ. This continues for as long as I remain in Christ so that at the Last Day, when Christ returns, those who have been baptized into Him are brought with Him into the everlasting blessedness reserved for them. Those who have refused to be baptized into Him, are not in Him, and have cut themselves off from His blessings. Even though God has declared them to be justified in Christ, because they refused to be baptized into Christ, they discarded the justification that God declared for them in Christ.

This does not nullify the justification. Justification is one-sided, from God to us, in Christ. God declares us to be justified in Christ. But if we remain outside of Christ, we remain separated from what has been declared to be ours in Christ.

One more little illustration:

A deserter flees from his country so as not to be arrested. After the war is over, amnesty is granted by the president for all deserters. But many of the deserters never return home for various reasons. Some believe the declaration to be too good to be true. Some believe the declaration to be a trick. Some have determined that they do not want to return home. Some simply do not care. But a few hear the declaration and gladly are brought back by the messengers to their homeland and are rejoined to their fellow countrymen.

It is a simple and straightforward message folks. Don’t change it from what the God of all mercy has declared.

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Billy Graham & the Future of Christianity

I was shocked by what I viewed today.  While I am sure that this is not new to most people, it was new to me.  Even though I knew that Billy Graham was a false teacher, I did not realize the depth of his hypocrisy and antiChristian beliefs and teaching.  The following is a video clip where he answers Robert Schuller’s question: “Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?”

The transcript can be viewed at On Doctrine: Billy Graham and also below:

Dr. Schuller begins by speaking to Billy Graham:

    Dr. Schuller: "Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?"

    Dr. Graham: "Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time."

    "What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and they're going to be with us in heaven."

    Dr. Schuller: "What I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?"

    Dr. Graham: "Yes it is because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."

    Dr. Schuller: "This is fantastic. I'm so thrilled to hear you say that. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

    Dr. Graham: There is. There definitely is."

Growing up, I always wondered about the times that my mother would tune in the TV to the Billy Graham crusades.  Everything that was portrayed was entirely foreign.  As a child I found it to be entirely hokey.  It certainly was not preaching of the Gospel.  I did not know enough to articulate what my spirit knew was wrong, but I wanted nothing to do with it.

This type of theology and preaching always leads to spiritual bankruptcy.  This view of evangelism is fraudulent.  The Sacraments are discarded for emotional appeal.  The decisions of men are elevated above the conviction and calling and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  People are led to rely upon themselves and their own reason and strength, and in the end, faith is reduced to wishful thinking and Christ is reduced to a platitude.

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Gary Kah & the Coming of Change

In one of the earlier posts I commented on the Dirty Rotten Thieves and illustrated how inflation is used by the big boys to rob everyone even without their awareness and often even with people’s thanks.

Gary Kah has a video of a TV interview where he talks about some of the ways that these things and the movement to worldwide domination are being effected.  This video and other interviews are also available at Gary’s Web site at Gary Kah TV and Radio Interviews.

While I cannot endorse Gary’s theology, he is a very intelligent and highly informed man regarding the current events in the world and the globalism movement.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Sermons, Why Bother?

Why should we still bother with sermons? Why not simply bypass them or do as many churches do and simply turn them into Bible Studies?

Is there a difference between a Bible Study and a Sermon? Many people think not. Yet I cannot imagine a single person counting standing in a grocery store checkout line as being the same as being called to the supper table. What is the difference? In the first instance the food items are gathered together and bagged and carried home. In the second instance the food items are prepared as a succulent meal and served to those hungrily awaiting to gobble it down.

A sermon is not merely gathering together facts to present to people in an organized manner. A sermon is not merely a lecture. A sermon is a prepared feast that is fed to those who have been called together to gobble it down. This feast is not mere facts and information. This feast is the very Word of God, the Lord Jesus Himself, fed aurally to those who have come to receive Him into their hearts yet again. The sermon is also preparation, like an appetizer, for the greater feast of the body and blood of the Lord in His Holy Supper of everlasting Communion.

Sermons are without a doubt a lot of work to prepare. The initial stages are sheer agony. But the pastor receives more than he exerts, and what he receives he delivers to those whom the Lord has entrusted to his pastoral care. They in turn receive what their loving pastor feeds to them and they carry it with them wherever they go throughout the week, sharing morsels with others whom they encounter in their daily journey.

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Refrigerator Art-Scribblings

How many refrigerators are covered with the scribbling of little children displayed as precious works of art? Grandparents, uncles and aunts, and parents alike receive the illegible writings and the muddled scribbling of beloved children and post them on every inch of refrigerator case.

Why? Is it because of the quality of the work? Or is it because of the value that love pours over everything done by the beloved?

Yet as much attention as love gives to the scribbling and smudges, the family does not make these mutated attempts at art stand as representative of the family. If the child should demand that these “masterpieces” be made the foundation of the family’s life, the answer would be a very firm, “No.”

It is the same within the family of God. He receives our prayers and our praises and our works and glows with fatherly love, praising our sickly efforts. But He has truly beautiful things planned for the life of the family. He has wondrous prayers that have been carefully crafted, even preserved in Holy Scriptures by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. Rich and magnificent hymns have been composed and passed on through the generations. The divine liturgy goes back to the temple and even the tabernacle in the wilderness.

Yet how often do impetuous people imagine that their spontaneous responses are equal to or even superior to these majestic works that embrace the ancient sages of the Church who spent lifetimes in the service of the Lord and composed hymns and music that still leave the heart in awe of God’s glory and mercy and grace? They want to get up on a stage and trash the chancel, bringing electric guitars and drums and dancers and bar stools to replace the altar and paraments and even the very paten and chalice.

No. This is not what a faithful father/pastor will permit. Yes, around a campfire at a youth lakeside sing-along some of these things may at times be appropriate. But not as the foundation for the life of the family. Yes, at the basketball or football or soccer game a spontaneous prayer is a wonderful thing, but in the divine service God has called us together for a specific purpose. What flows from the heart at a youth water ski party on the lake is planted in the heart in the divine service where the entire family is gathered for the Holy Supper of unity and life through the body and blood of our God and Savior. The things that carry us through in times of spontaneity are the things of substance that we receive together through the careful preparations of devoted pastors who pull together in the sermon what they have received through intense study of the Scriptures and of the lofty writings of the Church fathers.

Yes, the muddled artwork of children has a place on the refrigerator door, but it is not included as page one of the blue print for the house. Much less are our muddled prayers and praises used for the blueprint of the everlasting house that the Lord establishes for His family.

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