The Christian and the World

What in the World Should We Do?

One of the greatest Lutheran theologians of the 20th century was a German Lutheran named Hermann Sasse. He was one of the first German clergy to rise up in protest to Hitler. He was, ultimately, a pastor’s pastor. He spent years writing letters around the world to different pastors. These letters encouraged men in their ministries. These letters spurred discussion about the actions that the church-at-large should take in regards the continued proclamation of the Gospel. As I was reading one of these letters today, the following passage hit me. In regards to the question of what the church should do to stem its decline and seemingly certain death, Sasse gives this counsel:

The third thing, however, that we must learn anew is Luther’s invincible faith in the power of the means of grace. Whatever the Church still has and still does should not be minimized. But she does not live from mercy, or from political and social activity. She does not subsist on large numbers. When will the terrible superstition of the Christendom of our day cease that Jesus Christ is powerful only there where two or three million are gathered together in His name? When will we again comprehend that the Church lives by the means of grace of the pure preaching of the Gospel and by the divinely instituted administration of the Sacraments and by nothing else? And for no other reason than because Jesus Christ the Lord is present in His means of grace and builds His Church on earth, being even as powerful as ever before in the history of the Church – even if His power and glory, to speak as our Confessions do, are cruce tectum, hidden under the cross (Ap VII – VIII 18). Oh, what secret unbelief and what little faith we find in the Church that calls herself the Church of the sola fide! May God in His grace eradicate this unbelief and strengthen this weak faith in our souls and renew us through the great faith of the New Testament and the Reformation. That, and that alone, is the manner of overcoming the urgent need of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the greatest and weightiest crisis of her history.

~Hermann Sasse, 1948~

In a world where innovation is often valued over substance… in a world where fads seem to rule the day, may we always strive to keep the simplicity of the the Gospel in front of our eyes and the eyes of our people. May the certainty of the forgiveness of sins and the hope of faith drive all that we say, do, and know. May this not be an encouragement to laziness, but a reevaluation of where the church should always begin. Everything we do is to proclaim and lift up those certain places where God distributes His good gifts to us. It is the place where “for you” renews a sinner in sainthood. It is a place where a simple word can uplift the soul and conquer the prince of this world. Amen and Amen.

Frost’s Two Paths

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Each day, your life wraps around you like a warm bed. It becomes cozy and secure like a soft mattress beneath your slumbering body. There are times when it might be a little uncomfortable. The mattress might be lumpy. But each day, the blanket of life lulls you back under its warmth. Occasionally, you open your eyes and look outside the window. It seems sunny. It seems like it would be warm. But can it really be more comfortable outside than in your bed? Is it really better than being under your blanket? Could that really be? So you stay.

And that is ok. Your body needs rest. Your life needs rest and contentment. These are truly blessings of God. However, occasionally, you just cannot shake that feeling that there is something more appealing out that window. You, now, have a decision. Does your contentment outweigh whatever might be drawing you out from the comfort of the blanket of life? Is there something bigger in store for you? Is it worth chancing your feet on the cold floor to find out?

Lord God, You have called you servants to ventures of which we cannot se the ending by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

There are numerous times in our lives when we are faced with Frost’s proverbial two paths. One looks well-traveled and comfortable. The other looks cold and unknown. You know what one holds. The other is a crap-shoot. There are times when it is perfectly feasible to take the comfortable path. God’s good gifts of contentment and satisfaction await. The daring move is not always the right move.

However, when the same unknown path is set before you and you just cannot turn away, have the courage to take it knowing that God is right beside you. Sometimes the daring move is the right move. It will be painful. It will be scary. It will be uncertain. But during those times, your good Lord is supporting you with His love, and leading you with His hand. Sometimes the path that is least traveled does make all the difference in our lives. However, the love and care of our God traveled the path to the cross for you. So, if you are so inclined, throw off the blanket. Venture onto the cold floor. Do something. See what God has planned.

Life, Death, and the Illusion of Autonomy

We are fast approaching the date of November 1st. While it is celebrated in the Christian Church as All Saints’ Day, the day will have a darker event this year for which the world wants to celebrate. It is the day that 29-year-old Brittany Maynard has chosen to end her life as opposed to suffer the effects of terminal cancer. While the news cycle has died and other stories have taken precedence in our minds, I would like to bring the story back to the forefront of our minds. If you need refreshing, here is the article.

Between when this story broke and now, I have read numerous articles that speak to the subject of suicide, physician-assisted suicide, Christian responses to suicide, etc. While many of the articles have good information, many of them miss the point. They miss the point because they start from the wrong point. Many of the articles debate whether or not her choice is the right choice. However, the distinct teaching of Christianity is that this decision does not belong to Brittany. At the risk of sounding like a raving jerk-face, let me state that again: Biblical Christianity does not give Brittany the choice to end her life in a God-pleasing way. Therefore, Christians should consider this topic with extreme care. As Christians, there are basically two responses to this story, and they both have to do with the subject of autonomy.

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For those that are unclear:

Autonomy*

1.  the quality or state of being self-governing; especially the right of self-government

2. self-directing freedom and especially moral independence

3. a self-governing state

So, in response to this story, the Christian has two proper responses to this subject. The first response is to ask if Brittany Maynard is a Christian. If she is not a Christian and can appeal to no higher code of morality, her morality becomes subjective or, at the very most, collective. Subjective morality dictates that the idea of specific morals falls within the autonomous decision of each individual. In this case, one must tip their hat to Brittany and wish her “Bon voyage!” A collective morality would dictate that specific morals fall within the concept of “greater good” for humanity as a collective. In this case, once again, we must tip our hat to Brittany. What good is there to watching a loved-one suffer from a devastating disease? How does this benefit morality as a whole? One could very easily defend Mrs. Maynard’s position from collective morality.

However, what if Brittany Maynard is a Christian? It would follow that she believes in a deity that created her, loves her, and cares for her. She would also believe in a God who is always good. Always right. Always in control. The Bible (i.e. God’s revelation to us and the source and norm for the faith and doctrine of the historic Christian Church) is very clear that only One has the right to be in control of life and death. The One who made us. Even in the midst of this sinful world and the evils therein (i.e. cancer), God is still in control and working for His people. It may not seem fair. It may not seem right. But (here comes raving jerk-face again) that is inconsequential. What we think is fair or right does not matter. WE ARE NOT AUTONOMOUS!!!! God is. We are His creation. We do not get to pick and choose the parts of God that we like or understand. That is not how Christianity works!

And before you ask it, the question is NOT how could a good God allow this? The proper Biblical question, answer, and hope is: What is God doing through this? The answer is that God has not changed. God is working through the exact same means that He has always worked. He works through His Word to bring comfort, hope and direction to our lives. He comes to kill us with His Law and resurrect us with the Gospel. He comes in Holy Communion to cleanse of us of our sins, and strengthen us in our lives of faith. He uses His people of every time and place to provide the healing salve of comfort, the bright ray of perseverance, and the everlasting hope of a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more cancer or illness or death. The comfort of faith does not come through the hope that God will heal someone who is terminally ill. The comfort of faith comes through the promise that God will endure with us through every challenge with the same Means of His Grace that have functioned our entire lives. Life and death are not ours to control. That is not the fruit we should eat, if you will. Autonomy is only an illusion on which we, as American Christians, have gorged ourselves. God is in control. He is good. He loves us so much that there is life that awaits us beyond cancer, hospital, and grave.

All Saints' DayAs you gather with the saints of God in worship this Sunday and as you celebrate All Saints’ Day, remember the life and reunion that awaits. Partake of the means by which God gives you the strength to endure. Put your trust in Him who has the whole world in His hands.

*Definition taken from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

O God, Forsake Me Not!

During my morning study the other day, I came across this gem. It is hymn # 730 in Lutheran Service Book.

O God, forsake me not! Your gracious presence lend me;
Lord, lead Your helpless child; Your Holy Spirit send me
That I my course may run. O be my light, my lot,
My staff, my rock, my shield – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Take not Your Spirit from me;
Do not permit the might Of sin to overcome me.
Increase my feeble faith, Which You alone have wrought.
O be my strength, my power – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Lord, hear my supplication!
In every evil hour Help me resist temptation;
And when the prince of hell My good conscience seeks to blot,
Be then not far from me – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Lord, I am Yours forever.
O keep me strong in faith That I may leave You never.
Grant me a blessed end When my good fight is fought;
Help me in life and death – O God, forsake me not!

It occurred to me that we often pray this prayer corporately in worship and individually in private. It might come in different forms with different words, but our prayer remains the same. For the Christian, a life without God in your corner is a life that is full of fear and trepidation. So our prayer is often, “God, help me”, or “God, don’t forget about me”, or “God, be with me”, or simply, “GOD!!!!” Many times, our prayers are simply one-word exclamations because we do not know what to say.

I have, often, preached that God holds true to His promises to never leave or forsake His people. I have, often, pointed to the date of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as places where we see the presence of God in our lives. His washing us. His feeding us. However, it occurred to me that the Word is a vital weapon of the Christian that oft goes overlooked. We know about the Scriptures. We know the accounts of the Scriptures. But there are many times when we fail to see the Scriptures containing the wisdom and the power of God. For this is precisely what the Gospel message contains (Romans 1:16). It is the confidence that God has not forsaken us. He is here for us in time and eternity with His Holy Word. It is a Word that, at its center, conveys the salvation of God’s people through Jesus. It is a Word that saves. It is a Word that encourages. It is a Word that teaches. It is a Word that endures.

May the Word of God always be the power of God’s salvation in your life. May you read it. May you cherish it. Always.

3 Easy Ways to Make Sure Your Life Doesn’t Stink

Throughout every age of my life (against the counsel of my parents), I have always been looking ahead to the next venture. Each and every age has brought with it a pining for the greener pastures of maturity, more freedom, more knowledge, and more experience. But as the years and decades have been torn of the calendar, I find that those elusive pastures of greener grass change and morph, much like a mirage of an oasis in the desert. Right when you think you have achieved the perfect life, you look around and find that there are brown and bare spots in this pasture also. They are just called by different names. What were once the bare spots of lack of freedom, immaturity, and relationship issues are now the bare spots of responsibility, financial issues, and sleepless nights because your child refuses to sleep through the night and you just want those teeth to come in because you need some sleep!!! Then, one day, you trade those bare spots for patches of wasted time, the longing for how things used to be, and the ever-crushing want for that little baby to be in your arms again. Each age of life has reminders that life can really stink. But I have a sure-fire three ways to make sure that this does not happen to you. If you follow the following three recommendations, I can promise you that your life will not stink.

1) Do not ever read an article that promises 3, 4, 5, or even 25 ways to be happy. They are false claims, and they make you look precisely where you should not be looking. You’re right! The title was a gimmick. I do not have the key to happiness in 3 easy steps. I do not have it because it does not exist. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something. The sooner that you realize that this world is sinful and fallen, the sooner it is that you will realize that you are sinful and fallen. Once this crushing blow to your ego has taken place, you will be ready to turn to the place where you should have been looking the whole time.

2) Life in light of the cross of Christ reveals that happiness is not the goal.. Happiness is not promised anywhere in Scripture. Joy is promised, but joy is not happiness. Joy comes in the midst of pain and suffering. Joy comes from knowing that your Savior has died for all of your sins. He has forgiven you, and you are now able to forgive others. Christ’s forgiveness gives you the strength to begin to forgive the unfaithful significant-other, the annoying children, and the spouse who squeezes from the middle of the toothpaste tube. The comfort and hope that comes from Jesus’ resurrection gives you the hope that sustains in the midst of illness, loss, hurt, pain, anxiety and depression. This life is NOT all that there is. Life is so much more than happiness.

3) While I don’t have 3 easy steps to make sure that your life doesn’t stink, I do have three places where God has promised to be for you. These three places bring joy in the midst of all the dead grass in the pasture of life.

First, your baptism. Baptism now saves you according to 1 Peter. It is the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit according to Paul’s letter to Titus. It is the place where Christ seals you. Washes you to death, so that you might arise to new life in Him according to Romans 6. Your baptism is the daily promise that you are who Christ says you are. You are His child. Pure and holy.

Second, the Word. The pages of Scripture are full of accounts where God has remained faithful to His promises for His people. It is THE place where we learn about our Savior, and God’s mercy. It is written so that we might know that Jesus is the one who was promised and that by believing, we will have life in His name. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Keep it close to your heart. For the one who meditates on the Law of the Lord is like a tree that is planted next to a stream (Check out Psalm 1).

Third, the Supper. No, not the roast that you have in the oven. The Lord’s Supper… the Eucharist… Holy Communion. This is the one place that Jesus has promised to be with you. Seriously, His body and blood with you… for you. Much like baptism, the Lord’s Supper is not effective because of you. It is not effective because of the pastor giving it to you. It is effective because Christ says it is. It is the strength and nourishment that you need when your soul feels like it has been rocked to the core with doubt, hurt, or anxiety. It is the place where forgiveness for others starts. In the Supper, Christ gives strength for your life in Him. And when you find that your life is in Christ every step of the way, there is joy. Joy in the midst of sadness, suffering, and loss. Eat. Drink. Live.

While these things do not promise happiness, Christ promises joy through His presence in His gifts. Christ promises to sustain you. He promises to forgive you. He promises to never leave you. So stop reading the lists. Remember your baptism. Read your Bible. Receive the Sacrament. May God bless you in this endeavor!