Sunday, March 1, 2015

Setting Our Minds on the Things of God

This is an excerpt from my sermon this morning titled "Setting Your Mind on the Things of God Not the Things of Men."

When Jesus rebuked Peter in Mark eight, He showed us that the evil of our own hearts, of our families, of our church, and of the world can only be conquered by looking to the things of God rather than than the things of men. 

The things of men are what we can get by our selves - by our logic, our strength, our efforts, etc. These are not bad things. But they are insufficient to conquer evil and Satan. That can only be done by the things of God. These are His righteousness, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. As Jesus descended to death on the cross to defeat evil so also we descend in repentance to destroy evil. As He rose from the dead, so also we arise to a new life.

The following is the last part of the sermon in which I applied this principle to one of the most serious political problems of our day…

One more important application of thinking the things of God has to do with our current political situation. We recently finished one of the most popular Bible class series that we have ever had at Good Shepherd by comparing the Christian faith to the faith of Islam. No two faiths could be further apart when it comes to Jesus’ saying that we should take up our crosses and follow Him. Muhammad clearly said to take up the sword. In fact the Quran calls for violence 45 times, a fact that no Muslim can deny.  Some Muslims say these only applied to specific situations, but many radical Muslims do not agree. They say it means what it says.  I’m glad there are peace-loving Muslims who try to soften the sayings of their prophet and inspire their people to peace instead of fighting for their faith. But that is having no affect on the radicals. In fact the radical Muslims think that the peace-loving Muslims are as much infidels as Christians and Jews.
How are we, as cross-bearing Christians, to think of the radical Muslims who are committing terrible atrocities every day?  The answer is not as simple as, “Send in the Special Forces and Marines and wipe them out.” That is the thinking of men, and it’s not working so well. What would be the thinking of God?  Martin Luther faced the exact same situation in his day. The Muslims were fighting at the gates of Vienna. Germany was on the brink of disaster. Luther reminded his people that the Muslims or Turks, as they were also called at that time, would have no power unless God had allowed it. Therefore he said:
But since people (ignored the Gospel) in the course of time and many heresies arose, the blasphemous Mohammed came with his Koran... After our time punishment will come upon Germany and other countries, too, because of the terrible ingratitude and contempt for the dear, saving Word which was preached to them purely and abundantly.1
The Turk, you see, is our “schoolmaster.” He has to discipline and teach us to fear God and to pray. Otherwise we will do what we have been doing—rot in sin and complacency. If we really want help and guidance, let us repent and change (our) evil ways…”2
Cross-bearing Christians who set their minds on the things of God turn to God in evil times.  The first evil they consider is that of their own hearts. In repentance and forgiveness that evil is destroyed. Then they humbly pray to God, “Deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever” (Matthew 6.13). They know that God will deliver whatever needs to be delivered for the sake of His kingdom. They pray for their own nation that it would turn from its sinful ways, because only then can the discipline of God be removed from the land. Finally they pray for strong and courageous soldiers who put their trust not in themselves but in God and say with the Sons of Korah:
For I will not trust in my bow, Nor shall my sword save me. But You have saved us from our enemies, And have put to shame those who hated us. In God we boast all day long, And praise Your name forever. (Psalm 44.6-8).

O Lord, You carried the cross for us to defeat Satan and to forgive us and save us. Help us now to take up our crosses in repentance and faith. Help us defeat temptations. Help us to endure hardships, slander, abuse, even suffering, persecution and death if necessary for Your sake. You will always be our help and our shield. Amen.

1Plass, Ewald M., What Luther Says,” p. 533.

2Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 43: Luther's works, vol. 43: Devotional Writings II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (224). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, Dr. Martin Lings

Dr. Martin Lings was a close friend of C.S.Lewis when they were in college. Lings was trained as a Shakespearian scholar, but he became interested in Islam and converted in the 1940s. His biography of Muhammad is one of the most widely accepted biographies in the English language. 

I highly recommend this book because it portrays the life of Muhammad from the point of view of a true Muslim believer. Much of Islamic faith and practice is based on the life of Muhammad. Lings does not gloss over things like Muhammad's marriage to Aisha when she was six years old (consummated when she was nine). He definitely shows Muhammad's great involvement in warfare and that in Islam, state and religion are "inextricably bound together." 

I have written a brief comparison between Christianity and Islam that draws from some of the things presented in this book. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lost in Shangri-La, by Mitchel Zuckoff

Near the end of World War II an American pilot accidentally discovered a "lost valley" high in the mountains of New Guinea. The Americans were so interested in this valley that they began to take sight seeing flights over it. Flying low over the valley they would observe the natives, their huts and gardens.

One of the flights failed to clear the ridge at the end of the valley and crashed in the jungle. Twenty-one men and women (WACs) were killed. Three survived. The survivors struggled down the mountainside and soon encountered the valley natives. Initially they were very fearful of cannibalism, but eventually both groups overcame their fears. There were many humorous incidents as they began to understand each other's culture.

Stop reading here if you want to find out on your own what happened!

One of the strangest orders ever given in military history occurred when the native men kept rubbing the arms, backs and legs of the American GIs. The captain in charge became concerned about this behavior and suspected that it was sexual in nature. He thought the natives thought the Americans were females. So he ordered all his men to drop their drawers and walk around for a whole day without pants or underwear. Later, the natives recalled this incident and were quite surprised by it. While the men only wore a penis gourd, this small piece of clothing was very important to them, and to be without it was very embarrassing to them. As it turned out the natives were rubbing the GIs because they had never seen clothing before, and they couldn't figure out what this strange "skin" was which was on the soldiers!

There was no way in or out of the valley except by air. Paratroopers and supplies were dropped in to help the survivors. Eventually the Americans came up with a plan to fly gliders into the valley and to retrieve them with a daring "snatch"from a tow plane. All three survivors and their rescuers were flown out of the valley along with a little pet pig the Americans had named "Peggy."

The encounter between the two cultures left a tremendous impression on both. The Americans were glad to find out that the people who helped them, the Dani Tribe, only ate their enemies. The tribesmen thought that the Americans were ghosts. Despite their cultural differences they developed friendships that made the survival of the Americans possible.

One of the saddest and most ironic discoveries was that the tribes of this valley lived in perpetual warfare with each other. The Americans realized that even this part of the world, virtually untouched by modern civilization, suffered from the effects of war. Reading between the lines it is easy to see that the problem of sin and its effects are embedded in the hearts of all people.

Not long after this Christian missionaries came to the valley and most of the tribesmen became Christians. With the influence of the Christian faith and with government pressure the warfare among the tribes ceased.

Alexander Cann, a movie producer, parachuted into the valley and made a twelve minute film of the story.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Responding to Scoffers - You Don't Go Far Enough

       There are many people, like the author of this poster, who say there is no god, no Son of God, no soul, no… _____________.

     The problem with this poster is that it doesn't go far enough. The poster should go on to say, "and, there is no meaning and purpose to this life."

     When we deny the Creator and ultimate Law Giver and Lover of the universe, when we believe that all of life and existence is the result of random accidents, we lose any sense of justice; right and wrong; or meaning and purpose in life. This is nihilism (Latin: nihil, "nothing"). 

     Nihilism is the black hole of atheism. Some atheists accept it, but many try to avoid it. It is difficult to live with a nihilistic worldview. How can you honestly look at your beautiful little child and say to yourself, "this is just a bunch of molecules that happened to come together after a long process of evolution"? How can you argue for justice for yourself personally or for this world when you have denied that there is no ultimate justice. It's all arbitrary.   

     Most atheists say that they overcome this problem by looking for the meaning to life within themselves. But this is also meaningless. What is there "within themselves" if they are the product of accidental mutations? Even their very thoughts are accidents of nature. How can randomness give rise to permanence? How can meaninglessness have meaning? These things are completely contradictory to one another. They want their "cake" of randomness and godlessness, and they want to "eat" or live by a sense of justice, meaning and purpose that is only possible if is permanent and eternal and therefore established by God. 

     David wrote in Psalm 14.1 "The fool says in his heart there is no god." The Hebrew word translated "fool" (נבל, nabal) means "futile, worthless." That is exactly right. To deny the existence of God is to say that all of life is ultimately futile and essentially worthless. It means nothing.

     God does not want us to view life in this way. Rather, He urges us to believe that there is an ultimate purpose in this life. Paul said, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8.28).  That purpose, as Paul goes on to say, is that we might be justified, forgiven of our sins, and permanently established in His eternal glory. 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thirty Five Parables of Jesus in Eight Categories

I have always been fascinated with the parables of Jesus. I never tire of hearing them or thinking about them.  A parable is a story that makes you think. Jesus' parables are stories that not only make you think but believe, repent, do good works, and much more. 

I've taken a list of thirty five parables and tried to organize them in eight different categories. You may see different categories than I have, but this is just one way for me to get a summary of the theology of the parables.  Here are the categories with a brief description:

1. God's Word-Believe It or Not:  Jesus was concerned about our hearing and believing God's word. In John 8.47 Jesus said, "He is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God." These parables show how important it is for us to hear God's word. They also show what happens when people aren't interested in God's word.

2. Jesus is the Messiah: One of the great things that Jesus had to teach was the purpose of the Law of Moses. Paul said in Galatians 3.24-25 "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." These parables show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. He is our Sabbath, Sacrifice, Temple and Promised Land. See also Colossians 2.17. 

3. Repentance/Salvation: The beginning and ending of Jesus' earthly ministry are marked by the distinction of Law and Gospel. At the beginning we read, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4.17). At the end we read, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24.46). 

4. Salvation/Sanctification: The other side of the coin of salvation is sanctification. While salvation is a free gift given apart from our works, it is always a gift that is working.  Paul says that Jesus "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people zealous for good works" (Titus 2.14). These parables show us that faith works.

5. The Kingdom Is Of God: In the Lord's Prayer Jesus taught us to say, "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6.1o). These parables show how God builds His kingdom. We do not build it for Him. These parables encourage us and remind us that Jesus also said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16.18). 

6. Judgment: Depending on how you categorize the parables between six and eight of these parables have to do with Judgment Day. The last prayer of the Bible is "Amen. Even so, 'Come Lord Jesus'" (Revelation 22.20). Paul said that in the Lord's Supper "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11.26). Christians should think often about what lies ahead.

7. Kingdom/Treasure: Jesus said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God" (Matthew 6.33). These parables show how God's kingdom is our greatest treasure. It is also His greatest treasure as well.

8. Prayer: If faith comes by hearing (Romans 10.17), then faith is expressed in prayer. Prayer is the first good work of any believer. In most cases I think it will also be our last good work on earth. Prayer is a wonderful thing. 

Here are the parables in Biblical order. You can also find these on my Quizlet account in the form of flashcards

Thirty Five Parables

1. The Wise & Foolish Builders- Matthew 7:24- 27 (Luke 6:47- 49) Gods' Word Believe It Or Not: Those who believe and obey God's word will prosper and be saved. Those who do not will perish. End of the Sermon on the Mount

2. The New Cloth and New Wineskins- Matthew 9:16- 17  Messiah: Transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant - Jesus is the Messiah - Prompted by a question about fasting.

3. The Sower- Matthew 13:5- 8 (Mark 4:3- 8; Luke 8:5- 8) Repentance/Salvation: God's word does not grow in a hardened or distracted heart. God's word grows in a heart that is broken in repentance. Sermon by the Sea. Jesus then refers to Isaiah's call in which he is told that many would not listen to him.

4. The Wheat & the Weeds- Matthew 13:24- 30  Judgment: God's kingdom will have hypocrites. We can't remove them. They will be removed at the Last Judgment.

5. The Mustard Seed- Matthew 13:31- 32 (Mark 4:30- 32; Luke 13:18- 19)  Kingdom Is Of God: God's kingdom grows mysteriously and has a big influence from small sources.

6. The Yeast- Matthew 13:33 (Luke 13:20- 21)  Kingdom Is Of God: God's kingdom grows and has a big influence from a small source.

7. The Hidden Treasure- Matthew 13:44  Kingdom/Treasure: God's kingdom (to be saved) is our greatest treasure. Or God's kingdom is His greatest treasure for which He gave His Son. If one is true, the other is true.

8. The Pearl of Great Price- Matthew 13:45- 46  Kingdom/Treasure: God's kingdom (to be saved) is our greatest treasure. Or God's kingdom is His greatest treasure for which He gave His Son. If one is true, the other is true.

9. The Fishing Net- Matthew 13:47- 50  Judgment: God's kingdom will have hypocrites. We can't remove them. They will be removed at the Last Judgment.

10. The Unforgiving Servant- Matthew 18:23- 35 Salvation/Sanctification: As God has forgiven us, we are to forgive others

11. The Workers in the Vineyard- Matthew 20:1- 16  Salvation/Sanctification: Salvation is God's call. Each of us suffer and/or produce fruits at different levels.

12. The Two Sons- Matthew 21:28- 32  Repentance/Salvation: Salvation is based on true repentance not good intentions.

13. The Wicked Vinegrowers- Matthew 21:33- 46 (Mark 12:1- 12; Luke 20:9- 19)  Messiah: Transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant - Jesus is the Messiah - Holy Week

14. The Wedding Banquet- Matthew 22:1- 14  Gods' Word Believe It Or Not: Those who believe and obey God's word will prosper and be saved. Those who do not will perish.

15. The Two Servants- Matthew 24:45- 51 (Luke 12:42- 48)  Judgment: Faithful servants work and wait on the Lord. Unfaithful servants squander God's grace.

16. The Ten Virgins- Matthew 25:1- 13   Judgment: Jesus will return and be with those who are with Him now through His word.

17. The Talents- Matthew 25:14- 30  Judgment: We will be ready for the Lord is His word is alive and at work in us.

18. The Seed Growing Secretly- Mark 4:26- 29  Kingdom Is Of God: It grows mysteriously by God's grace.

19. The Doorkeeper- Mark 13:34- 37  Judgment: Faithful servants stay awake

20. The Rude Children- Luke 7:31- 35  Messiah: Transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant - Jesus is the Messiah - Against those who rejected John's Bapism & Repentance

21. The Two Debters- Luke 7:41- 43  Repentance/Salvation: Salvation is based on true repentance not good works.

22. The Good Samaritan- Luke 10:25- 37  Repentance/Salvation: The Law requires perfect love. Only God has perfect love.

23. The Friend at Midnight- Luke 11:5- 8  Prayer: God hears our prayers therefore we should pray.

24. The Rich Fool- Luke 12:16- 21 Salvation/Sanctification: Since God has given us everything we should not desire the gifts more than the Giver.

25. The Barren Fig Tree- Luke 13:6- 9  Judgment: God desires men to be saved and is patiently working for that.

26. The Great Banquet- Luke 14:15- 24  Gods' Word Believe It Or Not: Those who believe and obey God's word will prosper and be saved.

27. The Unfinished Tower and the King's Rash War- Luke 14:28- 33  Salvation/Sanctification: Because we are saved we cannot be attached permanently to anything in this world. Spoken to large crowd, some of which were not following Jesus completely.

28. The Lost Sheep- Matthew 18:12- 14 (Luke 15:4- 7) Kingdom Is Of God: God goes to get those who will be in His Kingdom

29. The Lost Coin- Luke 15:8- 10  Kingdom Is Of God: God goes to get those who will be in His Kingdom

30. The Prodigal Son- Luke 15:11- 32  Repentance/Salvation: Salvation is based on true repentance not good works.

31. The Shrewd Manager- Luke 16:1- 9 Salvation/Sanctification: Use well the blessings God has given you. (Faithful in little/ Faithful in much)

32. The Servant's Reward- Luke 17:7- 10 Salvation/Sanctification: It is good to be a servant of a good master therefore serve the master first.

33. The Unjust Judge- Luke 18:1- 8  Prayer: If we can sometimes overcome injustice by persistance, imagine what can happen when we are persistent with a just Judge!

34. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector- Luke 18:9- 14 Repentance/Salvation: Good works do not save. God saves the broken hearted.

35. The Minas- Luke 19  Judgment: We will be ready for the Lord if His word is alive and at work in us.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What the Hobby Lobby Decision Means to Us

Every week in our worship services we pray for our country, for its leaders and its citizens. God has given us many blessings in this country – especially the blessing of the freedom of religion.
The First Amendment  of our Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting and establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Recently some have tried to limit the freedom of religion to that which takes place in houses of worship. But our religion is not something we do only on certain days and in certain places. Religion is not just worship. Religion also includes the way we live out our faith. 
President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Matt Harrison recently said, “This ruling simply emboldens us to carry on, doing what we do best as Christians: praying, confessing the faith and living it out in our daily callings… We confess that life, which begins at conception, is a gift from God and ought to be held in the highest regard in this country. We live, knowing that the First Amendment guarantees us not only the right to worship, but also to practice our faith as Lutheran citizens of this great nation, serving our neighbor where the Lord has placed us.”
In June 2013, the president issued a mandate requiring most employers to provide contraception at no cost. Some of the methods of contraception involved destroying the fertilized egg and thus the earliest form of human life. However 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest. 
We are thankful that the Supreme Court decided in favor of allowing citizens the right not to be involved in methods of contraception that violated their religious beliefs. We pray that our country would continue to protect our religious rights and find the right balance between individual rights and “compelling governmental interest.”  (Information taken from The LCMS Reporter: “U.S. Court Supreme rules in favor of religious liberty.”)

Friday, June 6, 2014

D Day and Holy Communion

Taken from a beautiful print by Gil Cohen
"God and Country"
Today on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion I want to remember one of our former members, Colonel Gus Enskat. 

I first got to know Gus because he came to all my adult catechism classes and helped by taking care of the Bibles, pencils and study guides. He sat quietly in the back of the room and listened to all the classes and then helped me put everything away.

I knew Gus had been in the D-Day invasion. I also knew that he hit the beach as a sergeant but received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. One evening Gus told a story about D-Day that I will never forget, and one that I've been telling every catechism class since.

We were studying Holy Communion, and I told the class that the Bible doesn't specify how often we should receive communion.  God's main concern is that we receive it often but always in a beneficial way. In Acts 20.7 it appears that the disciples "came together to break bread" regularly on the first day of the week. This points us to a weekly celebration of communion. But this description of the early church isn't necessarily a prescription for all Christians. Paul's concern about celebrating it with the right understanding and for the right reasons (1 Corinthians 10 & 11) tells us that there could be good reasons for waiting for communion if we need instructions or if we simply don't have our minds focused on it in the right way. Communion is about the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, and where there is the desire for that, there we will have Communion the way God intended it. 

I then said that there could be good reasons for celebrating communion even more than once a week. For example, if there were some huge disaster such as an earthquake, tornado or terrorist attack. With many people suffering and dying, I could definitely see us celebrating Communion often, perhaps daily.  At that point Gus, who normally never said anything in class, raised his hand. This was his reason for having communion often…

Gus told about how he and his fellow soldiers ran for cover on the beach while they were being showered with machine-gun fire. Many of them were killed in those first horrific minutes. Finding cover they began to reorganize and to fight back. Gus said that the next 72 hours were a blur. He remembered eating very little or sleeping. But the one thing he remembered the most was how much he and all the soldiers around him were praying… praying for their lives. This was 72 hours of not knowing whether or not you would be alive in the next fifteen minutes. Gus said there were chaplains with them. He couldn't remember for sure, but he thought that during those 72 hours he was able to receive Holy Communion at least two times. 

Gus was a living example of the good and proper use of Holy Communion. It is for our forgiveness, for our faith, for our life and salvation. We should receive it as often as we can for those reasons. 

Pictured below is one of the two chalices donated by another former member, Chaplain Ernie Wentzel which were used by the U.S. Army. 

Here is Gus' citation for the Bronze Star which earned later in August of 1944.

2nd Lieutenant
Unit:Company D31st Tank Battalion7th Armored Division "Lucky Seventh"U.S. Army (Company D, 31st Tank Battalion, 7th Armored Division "Lucky Seventh", U.S. Army)
Action:Second Lieutenant Gus W. Enskat (Army Serial Number 01019132), Infantry, Company "D", 31st Tank Battalion, United States Army, for distinguishing himself by heroic service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States on 15 August 1944, in the area of Lèves, France. 2nd Lt. Enskat was leading his tank platoon on a mission when it was fired upon from highground commanding the road. He ordered his platoon to return the fire and succeeded in taking the hill. When firing had ceased, he dismounted, proceeded up the hill, and accepted the surrender of two officers and 48 enlisted men. After turning over his prisoners to other troops he and his platoon continued on its assigned mission. His determination to complete his mission regardless of the obstacles and his effective leadership is in keeping with the highest traditions of the Service.
Details:Headquarters, 7th Armored Division, General Orders No. 47 (13 September 1944).