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).

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Devotions: Prayers for the Nigerian Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram

Jesus said that His disciples would have to take up their crosses and follow Him. Beginning with John the Baptizer, Stephen, James and many other unnamed Christians in the Book of Acts, Christians did just that.

Persecution against the Christian faith was intermittant throughout the Roman Empire for the first two hundred and fifty years. The worst persecution, often called the Great Persecution, began in A.D. 303 led by Emperor Diocletian. As many as 20,000 Christians lost their lives. That horrible persecution came to an end when Constantine became emperor. Today the church remembers his life and his contributions to the church. 

Christian persecution has continued, however, and is actually increasing around the world. The kidnapping of the Christian school girls of Nigeria is just another sad episode. Today mothers, fathers, siblings, friends and relatives are praying for their release. How sad it must be for them, and how we should pray fervently to God for them. 

Paul and Barnabus healed a crippled man in the city of Lystra. The people became excited and thought that they were Greek Gods. Paul subdued their furvor and directed them to the true God and Creator of the world. But shortly after this, Jewish men who were opposed to Paul came and persuaded the people to stone him to death. Supposing him to be dead, they dragged him out of the city. But Paul wasn’t dead, and he went on preaching the Gospel and also saying, “We must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Acts 14.22)

It is a temptation for us, when we hear of terrible persecutions, to think, “this shouldn’t be happening.” We may even harbor a few hateful thoughts against the persecutors and against, in this case – their Islamic religion.  But this is not the reaction that God wants us to have. Instead, as Paul says and as our Lord said, we should expect these things.

When it comes to persecution there are really two important things that we should do.  First, we should pray for those who are being persecuted that their faith may remain strong and that they might escape torture and death if it be the will of God. Second, we should also pray for ourselves and ask that God would strengthen us and prepare us for the possibility of persecution.

Prayers for the Persecuted and the Persecutors

O Lord, in times past you gave Your people faith that endured persecution. You urge us in Your word, “Be faithful unto death.” As you command so also may you provide the faith that cannot be undone by threats, torture or murder.

O Lord, we pray for the Christian school girls in Nigeria who have been kidnapped. Be their Deliverer and Savior. Rescue them, if it be your will, from the hands of their captors. Above all preserve their faith and give them a steadfast witness to Jesus.

O Lord, we pray for men who are so swayed by evil that they would do the bidding of their master Satan, who Jesus called a murderer from the beginning. Either bring them to conversion or curb their wickedness or crush them in Your judgment to do no more harm to Your people.

O Lord, prepare us for the possibility of persecution so that it would not catch us by surprise. Help us in our times of peace to grow in grace that we might be able to stand firm in times of persecution. Amen.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Devotion: Arthur Guinness' Service to God

"As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." 1 Peter 4.10

Arthur Guinness was a man in, but not of the world.  His internal orientation was determined by God’s word not by the whims and fancies of the world. Arthur’s father was a brewer in Ireland in the 1700s. His father taught him the art of brewing, and as a young man Arthur struck out on his own. He developed a dark beer that became very popular in his own day and is still very popular today. By the time he died the Guinness brewery had become one of the most respected breweries in the world. But that’s not the end of Arthur Guinness’ story by any means. Guinness was a devout member of the Church of Ireland. He was a champion of the Sunday School movement in Ireland. He worked for prison reform. He even supported the movement to grant freedom to the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland though he himself was a protestant. He hired a doctor who helped to improve the health and living conditions of the people of Ireland. Would that more people who enjoy Guinness beer today know that man who was behind it! They would know that you can be part of the world and yet more importantly... but not of it.

Prayer:  Dear God, thank You for all the gifts and abilities You have given me. Most of all thank You for the gift of faith in Jesus. As He has saved me from my sin, so use my life to show others the truth and goodness of Jesus that they might also believe, be saved, and serve. Amen.

Hymn:  Christ Be My Leader, Timothy Dudley-Smith, b. 1926  Listen

Christ be my leader by night as by day;
safe through the darkness for he is the way.
Gladly I follow, my future his care,
darkness is daylight when Jesus is there.

Christ be my teacher in age as in youth,
drifting or doubting, for he is the truth.
Grant me to trust him, though shifting as sand,
doubt cannot daunt me; in Jesus I stand.

Christ be my Savior in calm as in strife;
death cannot hold me, for he is the life.
Nor darkness nor doubting nor sin and its stain
can touch my salvation: with Jesus I reign.

Devotion Excerpted from "I Don't Fit Into This World, And That's Okay" 1 Peter 2.9-12, Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ask the Pastor: Does God Hate the Devil?

This morning I met with some first graders at our school who had questions. Taylor asked, "Does God hate the devil?" 

First of all I told the students, we need to be sure of what we mean by God, the devil and hatred.  "God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1.1), Louis said. Another child knew that the devil was an angel that had rebelled against God (Revelation 12.7ff). Hatred, I added, was something that could be good or bad. It is good to hate what is evil. But it is not good to hate what God loves. Jesus told us to love our enemies because He still loves them, and there is hope for them to believe in God (Matthew 5.44). 

Does God then love the devil? He certainly did when He created him. But it is really the devil who hates God. How long God put up with the devil's rebellion we'll never know. Yet at some point He said, "enough is enough." He sent the devil away in judgment, and nothing will change that separation. So the best explanation is probably this:  God neither loves nor hates the devil, but He has judged him and separated him from His love because the devil hates God. 

For further study…

There are a number of Bible verses that say God hates evil deeds and that we are to hate them as well:

Psalm 45:7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness… (See also Isaiah 61.8).

Proverbs 8.13 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil… (See also Amos 5.15; Revelation 2.6).

But Psalm 5.5 actually says, "You (God) hate all workers of iniquity." 

I think the best way to  understand this is similar to the statement about the devil (above). God is patient and He has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 33.11).  God loves sinners as Paul said, "God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5.8).  But God's patience has its limits. At some point in His divine wisdom God enters into judgment with those who resist Him. He cuts off His love and blessings from them and grants them their desire to be their own god and to live freely in their wickedness without His help. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ask the Pastor: What About the Canonization of Saints?

     Recently the Pope Francis made history by canonizing two former popes (John XXIII and John Paul II) at the same time in the presence of retired Pope Benedict. What does the Lutheran church teach about saints?   

     The Lutheran church is a part of the one true, historical church going all the way back to the apostles. We have never thought of ourselves as a “new” church. We have reformed the church in certain ways when it has drifted away from God’s word. So to understand what saints are, we will start with the apostles themselves. The word “saints” is a translation of the Greek New Testament word that means “holy ones” (hagioi). All Christians in the New Testament were called saints. Paul began his letter to the Ephesians by saying, “To the saints (holy ones) who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.” Because of the forgiveness won for us by Jesus we are counted as holy before God. We are saints by faith.

     For the first three hundred years of the church there were many martyrdoms. Christians held martyrs in high regard and often built churches on the very spot where they were killed for their faith.  Around A.D. 1,100 the erroneous teaching that salvation was a matter of both faith and works had become official teaching in the church. The doctrine of purgatory was developed to explain what happens to Christians who don’t do enough good works in their lifetimes. These two doctrines became game changers for the church’s understanding of saints. Saints were now Christians who had done enough good works to merit heaven. When the Roman Catholic Church canonizes a saint, they are recognizing that this person has become holy through their faith and good works and that they have been a great blessing to the church. The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that saints can continue to hear our prayers in heaven and can interceed on our behalf before God. This idea is not found in the Bible but is believed as a truth revealed to the leaders of the church through tradition.

     The Lutheran church still holds that all Christians are saints by virtue of their forgiveness in Jesus as the Bible teaches. As in the early church we do believe it is good to honor those saints who did amazing things by faith. Therefore we remember people like Abraham, David & Daniel. We remember the apostles and other disciples of the Bible and in church history. You can find a list of saints so honored on pages xii & xiii in the front of the hymnal. We do not believe they can hear our prayers or interceed for us because that is not taught in the Bible. St. Paul, for example, never prayed to Elijah or Isaiah. Instead he always taught us to pray directly to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Devotions - What Is Worship?

 "It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people - and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships."

Sounds like the definition of worship in a lot of churches today doesn't?  But it's not. This definition came from Sanderson Jones, a comedian in England who has started a mega-church for atheists. The idea is catching on. According to an Associated Press article, there are more than three dozen such "churches" in the United States and Australia. Jones and his fellow comedian Pippa Evans want to raise $800,000 to "help atheists launch their pop-up congregations around the world."

Worship is not just singing awesome songs and hearing interesting talks about self-improvement. 

Worship is being with God through His Word and Sacrament and receiving His blessings. Worship is praying, confessing sins, and receiving absolution (forgiveness). Worship is not singing vague songs of praise, but it is praising God very specifically (theologically) as He has revealed Himself in the Bible.  Worship is focusing on God's word to understand it and to realize its impact upon us.  The Holy Spirit is always coming to us through the Word to bring us and to keep us in the faith. Worship is confessing the faith with all Christians who have ever lived using the ancient creeds, the very same words they used in their worship. Worship is bowing and kneeling before God, who speaks to us and comes to us in Word and Sacrament. 

The writer of the Book of Hebrews said:  "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire" (12:28-29).  

Prayer:  Dear God, we thank You for the gift of worship.  You come to us in Your Word and Sacraments to give us faith and to strengthen us for faithful living. We thank You for the truth of Your Law and the mercy of Christ, who died on the cross to bring us into Your Kingdom. Teach us to serve You in our worship and in our work with reverence and godly fear. Amen.

Hymn:  Blessed Jesus, at Your Word  Listen

Blessed Jesus, at Thy word
We are gathered all to hear Thee;
Let our hearts and souls be stirred
Now to seek and love and fear Thee,
By Thy teachings, sweet and holy,
Drawn from earth to love Thee solely.

All our knowledge, sense, and sight
Lie in deepest darkness shrouded
Till Thy Spirit breaks our night
With the beams of truth unclouded.
Thou alone to God canst win us;
Thou must work all good within us.

Glorious Lord, Thyself impart,
Light of Light, from God proceeding;
Open Thou our ears and heart,
Help us by Thy Spirit’s pleading;
Hear the cry Thy people raises,
Hear and bless our prayers and praises.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Praise to Thee and adoration!
Grant that we Thy Word may trust
And obtain true consolation
While we here below must wander,
Till we sing Thy praises yonder.