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.