Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reformation Continued

So what does it matter that Martin Luther began the reformation of the Church back in 1517? We live in 2012 and are facing the effects of Hurricane Sandy as it devastates the northeastern part of this country. Who cares about a little known monk that lived in the 16th century? What does it matter for us today - for we don't worry about indulgences, the buying of salvation, etc. We live in the Gospel time, a time when we know that salvation is a free gift given to us entirely by faith in Jesus Christ.

The fact is that we still try to make our works the important thing for salvation. We need to go to church more in order to grow stronger in faith. We need to support the work of social ministry more in order to further our faith. We need to...wait a minute! If we need to do those things, then our faith hinges on our actions and what we do. If that is the case, then our salvation is based partly on our actions and we have something in which we can boast! All right! Look at us! We are strong Christians! We are able to help God out in our lives by doing these things.

Wrong! That is moving back into works righteousness. The moment we are helping out our faith, then we are doing the same as back in Luther's day. We may not be buying an indulgence but we are buying something with our works.

But don't we have to do to worship? Aren't we supposed to help our fellow man? Of course we are. But that doesn't further our standing with God. It doesn't strengthen our faith. Those flow from our faith that is entirely a gift to us from God. He is the One that strengthens our faith through Word and Sacrament. He is the One who gives us the power we need to help our fellow man. He is the One who brings us to worship, feeds us in worship and strengthens our faith in worship. We receive from His gracious hand!

That is the message of the Reformation. God gives. We receive. As we live out our faith, we are doing just that,living it out. We are not giving ourselves faith, blessing ourselves, strengthening ourselves by our actions. God does that. The faith He gives to us is what leads us to help out those who are facing destruction on the east coast. The faith He gives us is what leads us to work in the soup kitchen or give to the local food bank. We do it because of all He has done for us. That action flows from God to us and through us to our fellow man.

No works righteousness. It is a life of sanctification that flows from the justification that comes from the grace of God. So help out others - not to grow your faith but because God is growing your faith. Be a blessing to those around you - not because you are trying to further yourself but because God is alive and active in your heart and He is empowering you to do so.

The reformation continues. Why? Because we keep trying to make it about us. It isn't. It is all about God working in us.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reformation 2012

It was October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther strolled up to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany (watch the movie "Luther" and he marches up with a purpose) and taking the paper that he had in his hand, a hammer and a nail, he mailed the 95 Theses to the door. Not a metal or glass door but a wooden door - the bulletin board, the Facebook of the day. He wanted to discuss some issues with indulgences, the buying and selling of forgiveness. As his theology continued to develop (not from his desires but as he continued to study the Word of God), he realized that forgiveness is not something that you earn but something that is given to you freely by the grace of God.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it s the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets beat witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." Romans 3:21-24, 27-28 (ESV)

We cannot and will not ever be able to work our our salvation by the things that we do. And I can hear some saying, "AMEN!" While others are saying, "But..." We thank God that Martin Luther worked so hard to bring the message of salvation by grace through faith back to the forefront. We rejoice that faithful pastors and teachers through the ages have held firmly to this teaching and made it the center of all that they teach. We rejoice that God has raised up faithful men to serve as pastors and men and women to serve as teachers and leaders in our churches. We rejoice that God's Word is our great heritage. We rejoice over the teaching of justification by grace through faith. There is no other doctrine that is central to the message of the Bible, that touches every aspect of our lives and gives hope and peace to those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Questions on the Christian in the Public Square

A while back I asked if anyone had any topics they would like to have blogged about. One of the topics was the Christian in the Public Square. All right, so that wasn't how it was really said. I was asked about the way a Christian should approach things going on in the world of politics, especially with the elections coming up.

Understand that I am not going to tell you how to vote. You will not hear me using my position as pastor to make a statement that you should do this or should do that. I do believe in keeping the two kingdoms separate (the kingdom of state and the kingdom of church). Yet at the same time, there are times when topics and issues cross the boundary between the two and as a Christian and as a pastor, I do have to speak up and let my voice be heard.

If you are looking for a place to go where you could find resources while dealing with some of the issues that we are facing in this election (and not just this election, but in elections in the years past as well as in the ongoing political sphere), you could go to www.lcms.org and do a search there. I also would recommend going to www.lcms.org/lifelibrary and you would find some great resources on the two kingdoms as well as many other important issues.

What issues are important? I am sure that you can make a list of important issues for you as you approach this election. what are important to me? Life issues - abortion and euthanasia top those lists. Health care - and the imposition of the government on religious organizations to provide birth control to women despite their theological and spiritual reasons to not provide said birth control. Support of traditional marriage between one man and one woman - not same sex marriage or partnerships, etc.

Why are these important to me? Because they are important to God. He is pro-life. I can hear the outcry right now that God wouldn't want anyone that is less than perfect born in this world. The problem with that statement is that no one is born perfect - sinful, yes, More than that, physically we all have ailments and imperfections. Why is it that one person can decide whose imperfection is worth having and another is not. The child with Downs Syndrome is just as valuable and special to God as the person who seems "healthy" and "normal." I see no reason to argue for abortion just in case of rape or incest as abortions done for those reasons are less than 1%. The tests done by doctors on the unborn child are in order to give the parents the opportunity to abort the child if it carries a gene or a defect that they don't want to hassle with in their lives. Really? Who made you God to decide that the child with a defect is less than human or less than worth having around. We are called to speak up for the unborn, for those who cannot speak for themselves. My voice says "NO" to abortion and to those who support abortion as a viable option to life.

Same sex marriage - really? God did not create us to have sexual relations with those of the same sex - period. It is wrong and an abomination to God. To say that just because I have feelings of "love" for a person of the same sex means I should be able to "marry" that person and live in harmony, doesn't change what the Lord has said. Those who support same sex marriage do not get my vote nor do they get the blessing of God. How can I say that? It is because God Himself has spoken on this issue. If you don't like it, too bad. You aren't the Creator of the universe or the Maker of the rules. Then again, when you throw out creation and accept evolution, then you don't need to answer to a Creator. But evolution itself speaks against same-sex relationships. They would have failed to "evolve." Same sex relationships would have ended after one generation according to evolution. Both Creation and evolution speak against same sex relationships. What does that leave - people in their sinful, self-centered desires, doing what they want and leaving behind the wisdom of God and the wonder of biology.  "No" is my vote to those who support same sex relationships.

Can I be any clearer on these issues? I am sure that some might find me far right, too dogmatic and very unloving. That's all right with me. Those on the other side are doing their absolute best (or worst) to impose their dogma on me and upon other Christians, and they have no qualms about doing so. I am forced to "accept" abortion because it is the law of the land - even if it against the law of God. I am having homosexuality forced down my throat by the media and there is no apology. Nor do I apologize for standing firm on the teaching of the Lord.

Am I telling you how to vote? No. I am saying what I will vote on the issues that I see before me. I am saying what God's Word has said all along. You are welcome to vote your conscience. My prayer is that the conscience of the majority of the voters in the USA will not be so calloused and immune to the Word of the Lord.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Look at the last 10+ days

I made it through! It has been a long haul over the last 2 weeks. It all started with the Resident Field Education Supervisor's conference on Thursday Sept. 27th and has been nonstop since. I am looking forward to being back in good old parish ministry in the congregation, in the office, in the classroom, in the homes of the members and in the meetings (yes, even in the meetings!). The list of the "outside" things that were done over the past days is this: RFE Supervisor's conference (9-27), SID LWML Convention at Metro East Lutheran High School (9-29), SID Pastor's Conference at Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton (10-1/2), SID/CID Teacher's Conference in Decatur, IL (10-4/5), SID Junior High Retreat, Camp Wartburg (10-6/8). Sigh!

The question you might ask is: "Did you have to go to all those?" The answer is no. I was only required to go to 2 of them (the RFE meeting and pastor's conference). "Could I have gotten out of going to those?" Yes. I could have skipped them, coming up with a reason that I needed to stay around Troy. Did I need to go to the LWML Convention or the Teacher's Conference? No.

Then why did I go? The answer to that is easy yet complicated. I went for myself (to grow in my abilities as a pastor and in my personal walk of faith) and also to grow in my relationship with the teachers and the members of St. Paul's, as well as to make contact with people that I have ministered to and worked with over the past 25 years.

I went to build relationships. At the LWML Convention, I enjoyed spending the day with the women of St. Paul's who are a part of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League while hearing a great Bible study on Jonah and all about what was taking place in the SID LWML and the National LWML.
This is the group that attended the LWML Convention. I greatly enjoyed the time that I spend with them in worship (I was privileged to help with distribution Communion), in study, in fellowship and in learning. It was worth the day that was spent at MELHS.
Then there was the Pastor's Conference. It was 2 days spent with my colleagues in the ministry learning and growing. The topic: Youth Ministry. Rev. John Oberdeck was the main speaker and gave a great topic on the youth of today. Yes, I learned some of that at the National 12 in San Antonio, TX but learned even more this time. I enjoyed spending time reconnecting with fellow pastors around the district, men I have worked with and been associated with over the last 25 years and men I just began to get to know as they are new in the SID. Was it worth it? Yes it was.
Then there is the Teacher's Conference. Why do I go? I want to support the teaching staff of St. Paul's and learn and grow with them. Spending 2 days with them is a great way to connect with them and let them know that I support them in their ministry as teachers. They are extremely important people and I desire to be a part of their lives. We have a great staff at St. Paul's and as their pastor, I feel that it is important for me to support them, get to know them and be a part of their lives. We see each other every day at school but we are all often so busy with our things that we don't have time to talk and enjoy one anothers company. So was the conference worth the time and money spent? Yes it was!
Finally there is the Junior High Retreat. 3 days at Camp Wartburg in the cold with 10 junior high youth and another 25 youth from around the district. We spent time with one another in song, in food, in work, in play, in study, in growth, in the Light! We walked, we talked, we got to know each other and grow with each other in ways that don't happen in the classroom. Those 3 days were long. They were cold. They were fun. They were tiring. They were uplifting. They were wonderful.

Was the time spent at the Junior High Retreat worth it? Most definitely YES! It was worth the time, the energy and the money.
Thus ends the long stretch of things that took place away from the congregation but all directly impacted the congregation. Relationships were built. Love was shared. Learning took place. And most of all - I grew in my relationship with many different parts of St. Paul's congregation. As the pastor, the shepherd of this congregation, this was the greatest thing that took place.
Now, back into the daily routine. All I can say is I look forward to today.