Monday, July 27, 2015

Things that make me go HMMMMMMM.... -- my name

I ran across this from regarding the background and meaning of my name:

Schroeder Name Meaning

North German (Schröder): occupational name for a cloth cutter or tailor, from an agent derivative of Middle Low German schroden, schraden ‘to cut’. The same term was occasionally used to denote a gristmiller as well as a shoemaker, whose work included cutting leather, and also a drayman, one who delivered beer and wine in bulk to customers; in some instances the surname may have been acquired in either of these senses. AB This name is widespread throughout central and eastern Europe.

One who delivered beer and wine in bulk, huh?  I hope charity began at home.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sermon -- 9th Sunday after Pentecost (July 26, 2015)

In the name + of Jesus. 

     If you have ever taken the boat ride over to Mackinac Island, you have seen Round Island Lighthouse.  It is a beautiful, red and white lighthouse which marks the way into the harbor at Mackinac Island.  That lighthouse was not always so beautiful.  After it was no longer manned by a government-appointed light-keeper, the lighthouse fell into disrepair.  In fact, it was pretty much a ruin.  Many people would have said the reasonable thing to do was to demolish it.  A group of lighthouse enthusiasts took strides to save it.  They collected funds and put in the work to restore and renovate that lighthouse.  You'd never guess today that the Round Island Lighthouse had been a dilapidated mess.  It was renovated into something beautiful.
Round Island Lighthouse before renovations.
     St. Paul told the Colossians that they were pretty much the same.  They were broken in their sins, and they could not fix themselves.  In their sinful condition, they were hostile to God, despising God's commands of right and wrong, pursuing their own selfish goals, and gratifying their own lustful cravings.  Many would argue that the reasonable thing to do is destroy such rebellious sinners.  Nevertheless, St. Paul wrote, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21-23)  
     These Colossians had been broken, alienated, self-glorifying, self-gratifying, enemies of God.  That is what they were.  Through the Gospel, God revealed himself as the one who heals them of their brokenness, who reconciles them from their alienated status, who emptied himself of glory to suffer and die to win them glory, and who turned them from enemies of God into children of God.  God revealed himself through Jesus Christ who suffered and died for sinners in order to reconcile sinners to God.  In baptism, Jesus cleansed them so that they were now holy, blameless, and above reproach before God the Father.  Christ renovated these Christians, covering them in his own righteousness.  Of course, this is not just the story of the Colossian Christians; it is the story of every Christian.  This is your story, too.  Christ renovates the Christian's life.
     Because it was renovated, Round Island Lighthouse is beautiful.  But you only get to see the outside.  The online virtual tour reveals that the inside is still a work in progress.  It will take some time and effort before Round Island Lighthouse is renovated to be what it was originally designed to be.
     Christ renovates the Christian's life.  It is more than the fact that you have been covered by the blood of Christ.  It is more than the fact that you bear the status of God's holy children.  The mystery is greater than than.  The mystery is that Jesus Christ dwells in you.  St. Paul declares that he was made a minister of Christ to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)  Jesus Christ dwells in you.  Jesus transforms you so that you not only are a child of God, but also so that you now live as a child of God.
     Christ renovates the Christian's life.  Your sins have never been acceptable to God.  God has led you to repent of them; therefore, your sins are no longer acceptable to you, either.  Day after day, you strive to rid yourself of your sins.  If your house had rodents running around in it, you would do everything to get rid of them.  Rodents are destructive.  They are undesirable.  They can even bring in disease.  You want them out; and you would prevent them from getting back in.  Your sins are far more destructive and deadly than rodents.  That is why we do not give into them again.  Christ's forgiveness is not a license to continue in your sins.  Christ's forgiveness is never to be used as an excuse for doing evil deeds.  Jesus died for these things!  Why would we return to them?  Rather, we flee from them.  Christ renovates the Christian's life.  He transforms us so that we despise what is wicked and pursue what is good.
     Now, you likely recognize that your life does not measure up to what you what it to be and to what it should be.  You are not unique in that.  No one gets to where they want to be.  Though we all strive to live as children of God, we still prove ourselves to be sinners.  That does not mean that Jesus Christ has failed us.  Christ is not weak; we are.  We still struggle with temptations, and we still succumb to them.  We still need a Savior.  But Jesus Christ does not abandon you in your weakness.  Christ still dwells in you.  He still marks you as his own.  He continues to cover you with his righteousness.  He continues to work in you to transform you.  He is day by day, year by year, working in you so that more and more you are being renovated into the creation God has always designed and intended you to be.  His renovation project in you will go on for the entirety of your life.  If you are hearing God's word and partaking in his sacraments, Jesus Christ will always dwell in you and work in you to make you more Christ-like.  That is how he renovates the Christian's life.
     St. Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...” (Colossians 1:24)  Christ renovates the Christian's life, even through sufferings.  It is not that Christ's atoning sacrifice is in any way insufficient for your salvation.  Jesus died for sins, once for all, to bring you to God.  That is certain, and it is complete.  Yet, the Church is the body of Christ, and the body of Christ will still be afflicted until Jesus comes again.  Just as the world hated Jesus and crucified him, so the Church also shall be despised for speaking as Jesus speaks and for loving as Jesus loved.  St. Paul notes that these are necessary.  If you are suffering for the sake of Christ, that demonstrates that Christ truly does live in you and that Jesus' work in you is seen by others.  If you would suffer, let it be for doing what is good and right.  Your flesh will hate it, but Christ blesses it and marks it as glorious.
     Even by afflictions, Jesus renovates the Christian's life.  He teaches you with any and every affliction not to long for this world and its problems.  With common aches and pains, he reminds you that these bodies will wear out and die, but he has revealed to you that a perfect, glorious body will be given to you at the resurrection.  With every indignity that others would inflict upon you, you are reminded that your glory does not come in this world, but after the resurrection.  Remember: The glory Jesus gives you is not a momentary thing in a temporary world.  Jesus Christ, who dwells in you, will bring you to glory everlasting in Paradise.  Every affliction forces us to flee to Jesus, and therefore, every affliction serves a good purpose for us, making us more Christ-like and more eager for his good gifts.
     Christ renovates the Christian's life.  He renews you day by day, even as he already declares you to be perfect and glorious, holy and blameless.  Christ dwells in you and is transforming you—your mind, your words, and even your will—so that you will be more Christ-like in every way.  And just as he dwells in you now, so also he will carry you through death to life eternal where your transformation will be perfected and your renovation complete.  At last, you will be precisely what Jesus Christ has designed you to be, and you will bear that perfect design forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Pastoral Concern: Words matter -- the word "love"

One of the mottoes for same-sex unions is "Love is love."  In one way it is brilliant--who can say that it is wrong?  And who could possibly be against love?  After all, "God is love" (1 John 4:16)  And that verse goes on to say, "Whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."  Christians, particularly in the early Church, were known for their love for one another.  So, the "Love is love" campaign naturally appeals to people's recognition that love is a good thing.  And it also is likely to tug at Christians who are committed to loving God and loving their neighbor.

Unfortunately, the word "love" is quite possibly the most elastic word in the English language.  Consider:
          "I love my wife."
          "I love my children."
          "I love my vacation time."
          "I love my hometown."
          "I love Monday Night Football."
          "I love pizza."
          "I love the sound of rain hitting the roof of the camper."
Love is love, right?  It's all the same, isn't it?  Hopefully, the above list demonstrates that "love" carries with it various shades of meaning.  And the above list does not even delve into the erotic, moral or immoral (e.g., make love, which can be God-pleasing and pure or it can be immoral and perverse according to Hebrews 13:4).

Greek is more helpful in sorting these things out.  It has specific words which define various shades of meaning in the word "love."  The basic ones are agape (ah-GAH-pay), philos (PHIL-us), and eros (EHR-us).

As one might guess, the word eros refers to erotic love.  It is used rarely in the New Testament.  Eros is a love that is rightly expressed only by a husband and wife.  Hebrews 13:4 states that such sexual love is pure within the bonds of marriage.  It is not wrong that people are sexual beings with sexual feelings.  God made us that way.  But God also established marriage between one man and one woman so that such sexual impulses can be exercised as God designed them to be.  Eros is reserved for a husband and wife.  Outside of the marriage bed, God calls it immoral, no matter how much "love" two people feel for each other.

Philos (or the verb phileo, phil-EH-oh) refers to love expressed best in a friendship.  Two people share common interests, beliefs, and respect.

Agape is the word that is most commonly used for "love" in the New Testament.  This kind of love has its goal at seeking the benefit of one's neighbor regardless of that person's alleged worth or response.  This love does not seek what it can get out of people; it only seeks to serve the best interest of one's fellowman.  That does not mean love gives our fellowman whatever he wants.  What he wants may end up being destructive to him.  Agape does not contribute to someone else's destruction.  Agape only seeks what is good and right and decent.

The Bible teaches us to agape/love our fellow man.  We do not have to phileo/love everyone.  Not everyone will end up being our buddy.  But we will agape/love all people, even our enemies--just as God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, and just as Jesus loved us even when we were enemies of his.

If love is to only seek the good of another, then we will always pursue what God has established as his standard of good.  "[Love] does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth." (1 Corinthians 13:6)  If love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, neither can love give permission for it or congratulate those who engage in it.  So, even if someone is engaged in wrongdoing, the loving thing is to warm that person of his sin and the judgment he brings on himself for it--no matter what that sin might happen to be.

Love serves God above all things.  Love is eager to hear God's word and follow it.  In turn, such love is shown to our fellowman, seeking his well-being and serving him in his need.  More than anything, our fellowman needs God's mercy; for all are sinners.  More than anything, our fellowman needs to hear about a Savior who was so eager to remove our sins from us that he took them upon himself and died a cursed death for them.  The love of Jesus, therefore, transforms us so that we do not give our sinful flesh what it craves, but that we will honor the Lord who redeemed us by following his word.

Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word...   Whoever does not love me does not keep my words." (John 14:23-24)  You cannot love Jesus and the sins that Jesus calls wicked at the same time.  Such love is no love at all, no matter how catchy the motto is.  The love of God is not demonstrated in blank-check permission.  God does not forgive our sins so that we can persist in them.  Forgiveness is not license.  Love is not neglect or rejection of God's word.

"In this is love: not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)  Such love seeks the eternal good of sinners at God's own expense.  The Son of God died to free us from our sins and guilt, and that is greatest love there is.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Traveling with the Schroeders -- Philadelphia

Last week, we made a short trip to Philadelphia, but we manage to cram a lot into just a few short days.  We left on a Wednesday night to get as far as we could and get a few miles behind us so that Thursday's drive would not be as long.  We ended up getting to Keystone State Park pretty late and set up in the dark.  We've set up in the dark several times before.  The set-up for the camper is not hard; the hard part is navigating a pop-up camper and trying to back into a dark site using only the side view mirrors--which reverses everything.  I am perpetually goofing that up.

Anyway, we got to bed immediately and then got up plenty early.  We were hoping to get to our campsite at French Creek State Park and then to downtown Philly for a 2:00 PM tour of Independence Hall.

We had managed to find a parking garage for our van.  I think the garage had a clearance of 6'9", and I am pretty sure our van is 6'8".  We managed to get in and out without too many problems.  Mostly, we annoyed anyone behind us because we were moving at a snail's pace for fear of scraping the roof of the van.

We ended up arriving late for our scheduled tour of Independence Hall, but we still manage to hook on to a tour about 45 minutes after our scheduled time.  We spent the late afternoon around Independence Hall and at the Liberty Bell.

The next morning, we got to Philly early because Andrew was participating at a football camp for Penn University.  We dropped him off and headed back to the historic Independence area for the rest of the day--this time parking in an outdoor lot.  No ceiling troubles there!  We toured the US Mint and saw Ben Franklin's grave.  We walked down to the Declaration House (a.k.a., the Graf House) which is a replica of the house in which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.  The original house was lost a long time ago, but this house was built on the old footprints.  And though it was only two blocks from Independence Hall, it was the edge of town when Jefferson rented it for the solitude he needed for writing the Declaration.

After that, we went to pick up Andrew and headed back to camp.  We had hoped to go swimming in the massive pool, but we arrived just moments after they closed it.  (It was just as well, as the admittance fee was $8/person.  Yikes!)

On Saturday, we toured Lincoln Financial Field, though we were bummed out that the Pro Shop was inexplicably closed.  Then on the way back to our campground, we drove through Valley Forge.  It was a lot farther from Philadelphia than I had originally thought, and a LOT larger.

This is Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge.
On the way back home, we took a quick tour of Hershey's Chocolate World.  We finally got back home on Sunday night.  Faith welcomed us back with mixed feelings.  She had stayed at home and was enjoying a very quiet house.  But now the madness is back.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sermon -- 7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 12, 2015)


LUKE 10:1-12,16-20

In the name + of Jesus. 

     The Lord Jesus Christ sent out several dozen disciples two by two to go and preach to the cities in Jerusalem.  To these seventy, he gave the same authority he had.  They were to heal the sick.  They were to proclaim, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:9)  They learned that even the demons submitted to them.  They went out in the name of Jesus to preach the message of Jesus.
     What Jesus had commissioned seventy men (evidence of a variant reading suggests the “two” after the “seventy” was a scribal error) to do is what Jesus still does through his Church today.  The Lord sends workers into his harvest.  I am sure you would love to have Jesus himself come and preach the sermons to you.  I am sure that you would love to have Jesus himself baptize your children and serve his supper to you.  I can't blame you.  I think it would be neat, too.  But even when Jesus walked the earth, he sent ministers to preach in his name.  That is what he still does today.
     You do not have to wonder what Jesus might say to his Church if he came in person today.  What Jesus wants his Church to hear has been recorded in the Bible.  What is read as the word of the Lord IS the Lord' s word to you.  Though it comes through the mouth of his minister, it is Jesus' word.  Though it is administered by the hands of his minister, it is Jesus' body and blood.  Though it is done by the pastor at the font, it is Jesus at work through holy baptism to wash away sins, to clothe in righteousness, and to make a child of God.  It is not the pastor's kingdom.  It is not the pastor's ministry.  It all belongs to Jesus.  It had better; for only Jesus is the Savior.
     The Lord sends workers into his harvest.  They go by Jesus' command.  They go in Jesus' name.  They preach with Jesus' authority.   Many times people have asked me what I think about something or another.  I try to tell them this: “It doesn't matter what I think.  I am not in charge of Judgment Day.  If I were, you really should care what I think.  But it is our Lord who has decreed what is good or evil.  It is our Lord who judges.  Therefore, listen to what the Lord has to say.”  The words which a pastor preaches are not important because the pastor is important.  They are not meaningful because the pastor presents them in an interesting or colorful way.  The only reason the pastor has anything of value or authority to say is because he stands proclaims the word of the Lord.  If a pastor is worth anything to you, he will not be preaching about himself or his ideas.  He will point you to Jesus, for it is Jesus who saves you.  It us Jesus' word which consoles, strengthens, and sustains you.  Jesus sends his pastors to preach Jesus' words.
     The Lord sends workers into his harvest.  When Jesus sent the seventy, he instructed them, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. … Heal the sick in (that city) and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:5-6,9)  The seventy went out to proclaim the Lord's peace and that the kingdom of God is near.  The kingdom of God is established by Jesus who redeems and restores everything that has been corrupted by sin.  When Jesus was healing sickness and disease, he was providing the remedy for the curse of sin.  When Jesus raised the dead, he was reversing the consequences of sin.  When Jesus drove out demons, he was reclaiming people from the hands of Satan and delivering them into the kingdom of God.  Jesus sent out the seventy to declare that his kingdom had come.  Peace was theirs; for everything was being made whole again.  Salvation was at hand.  Jesus had come to reclaim sinners from sin, death, and the devil.  The seventy went out to declare it.
     The Lord sent workers into his harvest.  But the cold, hard reality is that not everyone will welcome God's peace or want any part of his kingdom.  Jesus warned, “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’  I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” (Luke 10:10-12)  It has become trendy for people to reject the church and the pastors who serve them.  People boast that they stay at home and read their bibles.  But the perverse pride about staying at home and serving as your own pastor is simply despising what God has given to his Church.
     The Lord sends workers into his harvest in order to preach the word so that the elect will be gathered out of the world and into God's kingdom.  But what does it say when people refuse to come to the church where God's word is preached and his sacraments are administered?  It is telling Christ: “I don't need your ministers.  I can do this on my own.”  But this is what the Lord says, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)  If a pastor feels it is important to speak to you, chances are it is because he is concerned about your salvation.  Isn't this what you want from Christ's minister, even if it means he has to call you to repent of some sin?  Your sinful nature will always say, “Don't bother me.  I don't have time for this.”  The Lord would have you know this: This is all the time you have for this.  This is why I have sent my workers out in the harvest.  This is for your eternal good.  This is for your everlasting peace.
     The Lord sent out his workers into his harvest, and the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”  And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)
     Dear Christians, whenever the Gospel is preached to you, Satan is driven away.  Whenever God adds one to his kingdom, Satan is cast down from his reign over that person.  Jesus rescued you from Satan's claim when he brought you into his kingdom.  Through baptism, Jesus made you a child of God, which means that the Lord has claimed you for now and for eternity.  It means that Jesus has rescued you from eternal death and corruption.  Instead, he will grant you perfect healing and peace.  He will make all things right.  Just has he has forgiven you of all charges against you and has rendered you holy and blameless now, so he will at the resurrection grant you a body without pain, a world without sorrows, and a life without end.  Not even the devil can rob you of this future.  That is why he can do you no real harm.  This is the peace that Jesus has won for you, and this peace he delivers as his word is preached and sacraments are administered.
     The Lord sends workers into his harvest.  The Lord still needs workers in his harvest.  Pray that the Lord will raise up more.  The boys of this church may want to consider how God might use them to proclaim God's peace to his people and to gather the elect into God's kingdom.  And if you are not one who is sent but are rather one to whom the pastor is sent, then be sure to cherish the faithful pastor who declares, “Peace be to this house.”  Support the schools which are training the next generation of workers as well as your future pastors.  But do not get over-excited if your pastor experiences tremendous success and do not get discouraged if your pastor is despised.  Your joy does not rest on your pastor but on this: That your name is written in the kingdom of heaven.  For, Jesus Christ loves his church.  He delights in bestowing his peace upon you.  He rejoices that you are in his kingdom, and he will continue to work through his ministers to strengthen and preserve you in the truth faith until life everlasting.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Pastoral Concern -- Words matter; the word "good"

Just this morning in my Bible reading, I read this from Isaiah: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." (Isaiah 5:20)

In the light of the whole same-sex marriage (SSM) debate, these words have resonated in my mind over and over again.  Unfortunately, both sides of the debate lay claim to them.  Those who are opposed to SSM call it an evil, clearly opposed to God's establishment of marriage as a life-long union between one man and one woman.  Those who are in favor of SSM say that it is good, that people who love each other are good, that expressing such love to whomever you love by the bonds of marriage is good, and that those who oppose such lovely expressions of love and forbid such loving people of their rights are evil.

Some time ago, I had gotten into an online debate (the value of which is questionable) about what is good and what is not good.  It was evident that we were all working with different definitions of the word "good."  For that reason, the Church is obligated to speak in plain and clear terms about what is good.  And, if the Church is going to be faithful in such proclamation, it had better define what is "good" in the terms God himself uses.

For example, many things are neutral.  I am a Green Bay Packers fan.  Is that good?  Most of my parishioners here would say, "No."  They are Detroit Lions fans (and God bless them for such perseverance!).  To them, twice a year, I am the enemy.  But such "good" is only an opinion.  It is on par with what is your favorite color, vacation spot, or flavor of ice cream.  It is a personal preference on neutral things.  God has made no judgment or even comment on such things.  If God is silent on these matters, we can hold any opinion we want.  It is neither good nor evil.  You are no more noble for being a Lions or Packers fan, and no better for favoring French vanilla over mint chocolate chip.  These things are neutral because God is neutral on them.  All can be enjoyed without harm to anyone's faith.

Other things are "good" because they provide benefit to society and your fellowman.  These have to do with the various vocations God has established.  Government is good, even if we disagree with their decisions or if their actions are wasteful.  Even if the government's actions are evil (and the people in government will have to answer for their own actions), the government has been established by God to do good by keeping order and peace in society (Cf. Romans 13:1-7).  Even bad government is better than no government.

Likewise, your own personal vocations are good.  Whether you are a parent, a citizen, a coach, an employee, a soldier, or whatever, you are providing a service to your fellowman by doing faithfully what you are doing.  This is good.  The brain surgeon does tremendous good for the man (and in turn, his family) by removing on his tumor.  The garbage man does good by picking up the trash.  The mother does good by serving her children a meal.  All of these benefit one's fellowman.  They are all regarded as good, whether or not a person is a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist.  When people refuse to serve in their vocations, they are a detriment to society.  Such defiance may mark people as jerks, or it may even result in jail time.  The surgeon who butchers people will be convicted for the harm he has done.  The garbage man who refuses to pick up the trash puts his neighbors at risk for rat infestation and disease.   The mother who neglects her children at the very least puts them at risk of turning into undisciplined scoundrels.  These things are not good, and society suffers for them--whether the guilty parties profess to be Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or atheists.

The fulfilling of vocations is good because God has assigned the label of "good" to them.  He has commanded, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:39)  We do this by carrying out our vocations.  Therefore, to serve one's fellowman and to be concerned about his well-being are good.

Those who promote SSM argue that the Church is not looking out for the well-being of those who practice homosexual or lesbian behavior.  They note that the Church rejects SSM and, therefore, is not serving their fellowmen who want to get married.  They say this is evil, not good.  They note that the Church condemns homosexual and lesbian behavior and even the craving for this behavior.  This, in turn, produces guilt in homosexual and lesbian people, even driving some to suicide because of their guilt.  This, again, is declared to be evil, not good.  Is it?  Who gets to decide?

God determines what is good.  God sets the standards.  First of all, note this: "None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)  Or this: "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Even as we carry out our vocations and benefit others, that in itself does not make us good in God's sight.  Though your neighbor will believe that your works are good and may also believe that you are good because you are serving him well, God's judgment is based on this standard: "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." (Leviticus. 19:2)  That is the standard of good: Holiness.  Anything short of it is evil.  That is why, according to God's judgment, NO ONE IS GOOD.  For, no one measures up to God's standard of holiness.  (And note: "Nice" is not the same as holy.  Even Hitler was nice to some people.)

Our goodness and righteousness come through Jesus Christ alone.  "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God..." (1 Peter 3:18)  "The blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)  Jesus alone is good.  He has done all good, and he has done it for us.  He cleanses us of all evil and unrighteousness by the blood he poured out for us at the cross and which he poured upon us through holy baptism.  Jesus, and only Jesus, can render us as good, holy, and blameless.  It is his righteousness that covers our sin; it is his righteousness that creates in us a clean heart and renews in us a right spirit, that is, a spirit which wants to do what is good.

Therefore, as a new creation, we strive to be good and do what is good and right.  We still do not have license to define what is good for ourselves.  God still sets the standard for that.  God urges us, "Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good." (Romans 12:9)  The only way we can assign judgments of what is good and what is evil is if God has assigned that judgment for us.  That which is good, God blesses.  That which is evil, God condemns.  And if we are truly God's people, then we will agree with God's assessment and conform our will accordingly.

Therefore, the Church, if it is to be faithful to the Lord, must condemn SSM, and must call to repent those who defend it, promote it, celebrate it, and certainly those who engage in it.  We cannot call it good; for God has called such behavior evil (Romans 1:24-27, being one clear example of that).  We are to abhor it.  We are to flee from it.  We are to pray for those who are trapped in it and to plead for them to repent of it.  This is true for every act, word, thought, and desire that God has called evil.  So, even though people may be nice, may perform beneficial services to us, and may even be well-mannered and noble, that does not make them "good" in God's eyes--especially if they are willfully and persistently engaging in behavior or attitudes that defy God's word.

Though the American government now calls some sins "rights," the Church must still call them sins.  More and more, we will demonstrate ourselves to be in the world, not of the world.  The Church must call sinners to repent.  The Church shall, by word and deed, preach repentance and flee from what is evil and proclaim that our only hope is to call on Jesus Christ who supplies forgiveness, mercy, and salvation completely and freely to all who believe.  And to believe in Jesus also, then, means to abhor what he calls evil (even if we are guilty of it), and to pursue and to cling to what is good--knowing that Jesus alone is good (holy), that Jesus generously pours out his good (righteous) gifts upon us, and that Jesus alone will make our works good (God-pleasing).

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Local Tourist -- The Detroit District

More good news for Detroit!

Ground has already been broken for the new Red Wings arena.  In fact, the entire neighborhood around the arena is part of the project.  Detroit is making a great effort to make a good stretch of Woodward Avenue a great destination with both theaters and stadiums/arenas.

Check out the preview of the Detroit District, focusing mainly on the new "Hockeytown" in this YouTube video.  It is supposed to be ready in 2017, and it should be spectacular.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 5, 2015)

1 KINGS 19:9-18

In the name + of Jesus. 

     There is no doubt that many Christians are upset about court decisions and popular opinions in recent days.  Some have resorted to panic.  Others have been tempted to give in to perverse ideas.  Some have even renounced portions of God's word in order to boast that they are on the so-called “right side of history.”  I understand why Christians are saddened by the events that are unfolding before us, but I don't understand why so many Christians are surprised by it.  Here is the headline that you should all understand in conjunction with the Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage: Unbelievers acted like unbelievers, and the godless celebrated like the godless.  It should not be a surprise.  It gives you good reason to pray, but not to crawl into your basement to hide.  You are living in a world that has never liked Jesus or his word.  Perhaps it is good if that has finally been made evident to you.  But our days are by no means unique.
     The prophet Elijah found himself at Mt. Sinai after a monumental victory for the Lord.  The people of Israel had been hemming and hawing about which god they wanted to serve—the Lord or the Canaanite fertility god, Baal.  Elijah was the last prophet of the Lord to be preaching in public, and he called the Israelites to commit themselves one way or the other.  There is one God to be obeyed and worshiped.  Would they side with the Lord or with Baal?
     After the Lord had answered with fire which consumed Elijah's sacrifice, the people confessed that the Lord is God and slaughtered the lying Baal prophets.  But only one day later, Elijah heard that Queen Jezebel ordered his death sentence.  So much for glorious victories!  Those who had turned to the Lord turned away just as quickly.  So Elijah ran all the way down to Mt. Sinai.  There, he tendered his resignation as the Lord's prophet.  He also asked the Lord to kill him off.  The Church was done.  There were no faithful people left.  So Elijah asked to die and be done with it.
     The Lord responded, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.”  And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a (still, small voice).  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13)  
     The Lord was not in the mighty and destructive forces, as we might expect him to be.  Just like you, Elijah might have hoped that Lord would strike the unbelievers with lightning bolts or rain down fire and brimstone.  But that is not where God is at work.  That is not how the Lord changes hearts.  The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.
     Elijah was convinced that he was the last believer standing.  The Lord assured him that was not true.  He declared, “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)  Despite social pressure to forsake the Lord or at least to add Baal worship to their lives, 7,000 people had been preserved by the Lord.  The Lord had kept them faithful to him.  So the Lord commanded Elijah, “Go back.  They need encouragement.  They need comfort.  They need a pastor to serve them.”  The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.
     What's more, the Lord commanded Elijah to anoint his successors.  The Church of God would not end with Elijah or his generation.  Though heaven and earth shall pass away, the word of God shall never pass away.  The Lord's still, small voice is still heard.  The Lord still comforts his troubled Church.
     The Lord told Elijah to go back and anoint those who would act as God's agent of judgment against unfaithful Israel.  The godless would be judged.  But God's people would need the word of the Lord so that they could persevere in their godless society.  Temptations to forsake the Lord were prominent.  They were objects of scorn for having such an inflexible, uncompromising faith.  How long would they endure it?  They did not know.  But God would keep his people faithful.  God would preserve his Church, even in troubled times.  God is not good only when times are good.  God is good even when he tests and purifies his Church through hardship and persecution.  The still, small voice never goes silent.  The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.
     Now you, dear Christian, may feel like you live in the same times as Elijah.  I assure you, it is not as bad now as Elijah witnessed.  Churches are not being destroyed, and pastors are not being killed, or even imprisoned for that matter.  Whether the Lord allows our safety and freedom to continue, who knows?  But you need not fear that unbelievers are acting like unbelievers.  And you should not run and hide because the world is becoming more and more godless.  Your hope and comfort have not changed one iota.  Your comfort has never been about being popular with people, being liked by Facebook friends, or even being comfortable in the world.  Your comfort and peace come from Jesus Christ who has rescued you from a world that is defiant, depraved, and marked for destruction.
     The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.  That voice was manifested in Jesus Christ who did not come to slay the wicked or lay waste certain communities.  Jesus suffered and died for sinners in order to atone for their defiance, to redeem them from their depravity, and deliver them from death and destruction.  Jesus Christ has cleansed you of every stain of wickedness that dwells in you.  He has covered your iniquity with his righteousness and has created in you a godly spirit.  It is this God-given faith in you which is appalled at sinful defiance and which is grieved at moral depravity—including especially your own.  It is not the sins of others which would condemn you; it is your own sins.  Therefore, you continue to repent, fleeing from the evil that still dwells in you and that still comes out of your mouth and your hands.  You always need to hear the Lord's still, small voice comfort your troubled hearts.  For, it is the Lord who declares, “I forgive you all your sins.  I purify you of all unrighteousness.  I am your refuge from death and hell, and I am your comfort in a corrupt world.”  The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.
     The Lord sent Elijah back to Israel to preach God's word.  God's people needed it; so did the godless.  The mission of the Church has not changed.  If the still, small voice of God—that is, the Gospel—is going to be heard, it is the Church which is going to preach and confess it.  Don't worry about converting all of America.  You each have friends and family.  You need only confess God's word to them, one at a time.  God's word will continue to be preached and confessed and believed in this godless world.  The Church, therefore, will continue to speak and act like the Church in a world that has neither love nor use for it.  And yet, God will continue to bring in his elect as you continue to be salt and light to a world that desperately needs it.
     Do not fret, and do not quit.  The Lord preserves his people.  The Lord keeps watch over his flock.  The Lord has redeemed you, and he will never forsake or forget you.  And though the world will perish, the Lord has delivered you from it.  The Lord's still, small voice still comforts his Church.  The Church will never perish.  It will always confess his name, proclaim his word, and rejoice in his salvation.  The Church will always gather to hear the Lord's still, small voice; for that is what saves us and consoles us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Pastoral Concern: The Word matters, and words matter too

Last week, I had posted that God's Word matters above all things.  While we may attempt to argue about a social concern or popular trend in terms of logical argument, some logical arguments will not stand.  Some, quite frankly, are just plain stupid.  For example, anyone who insists that heterosexual marriage is better than same-sex marriages because husbands and wives get along better than lesbians should be prepared to hear about the deplorable divorce rate our country knows all too well.  If you are going to make definitive statements, base them on God's Word.  The Word stands, as it has for the history of the world.  People who hate it and reject it are simply acting as we would expect unbelievers to act.  They reject the Word; they have not overthrown it.  The word of our God endures forever.  (Or if you prefer the Latin: Dei verbum manet in aeternum.  Isn't Latin fun?)

Unfortunately, Christians are also victims of the culture we live in.  Many are buying into the propaganda, argumentation, and social pressure to believe that same-sex marriage is a good law and even a good practice.  How many Christians are hitting the "like" button for comments which favor same-sex marriage or have updated their Facebook profile to be a rainbow flag?  I suspect that it is far more common than I think.  Such actions will garner praise from the world.  Such opinions will brand you as a good American.  But if you are going to do these things, you run into some serious problems with the word of God.

I will only highlight two Scripture verses.

Romans 1:21-32
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
(NOTE: These verses detail what is the result of rejection of God and his word.  People become increasingly wicked, and God allows them to pursue their wickedness, seeing just how depraved they will get.  Though these verses are specific regarding homosexual and lesbian behavior, they also note that rejection of God leads to all kinds of wickedness.  Such wickedness not only becomes accepted as the norm, people also end up celebrating those who engage in wickedness.)

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified,you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(NOTE: Especially in this verse, we see many sins which mark people as unrighteous, not just sexual ones.  But, these are all sins.  They mark all people as unrighteous.  The only remedy for unrighteousness, judgment, and damnation is the blood of Jesus Christ.  These are what the Corinthians were; but by God's grace they repented and found forgiveness in Jesus--a new status and a new life that seeks what is good and despises what is wicked.)

How can you "like" same sex marriage and still confess the previous verses to be God's word?  They are mutually exclusive and contradictory.  Either the Bible verses are to be confessed or rejected, believed or disbelieved.  If you are that eager to be a good American, you may have to forfeit being a good Christian to do it.  Beware.

God's Word matters.  And the words we use to confess our faith matter too.  Consider the words "good" and "love."  A kindergartner can probably give you a decent definition of each, but these words have been used and twisted and worked in such a way that Christians have a hard time recognizing that what what the world means by "good" and "love" are not necessarily what God means when he uses those words.

In an upcoming blog post, we will consider what God means when he uses the word "good" and "love."  If Christians maintain a firm grasp on the way God uses these words, many arguments offered by our world will be exposed for the lies they are, we will be strengthened in our stance on God's truth, and we will be further aided in speaking the truth in love.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Something from C. S. Lewis

The following is from The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.  It is a novel about a demon (Uncle Screwtape) who writes letters of advice to his nephew, Wormwood, so that Wormwood might lead people astray.  It is written from the viewpoint of hell, so that "Our Father" means Satan and the "Enemy" means Jesus.

This regards how each of us thinks of everything we have as "Mine"--our time, our possessions, our jobs, our homes, our families, our bodies, and even our souls.  It is a chilling reminder that we are not independent beings who have complete freedom from everyone and everything (and this is quite an un-American thought).  Everyone has someone or something which is his God and Lord.  We do well to be sure that we do not have the wrong God and Lord.

“In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man.  They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong—certainly not to them, whatever happens.  At present the Enemy says “Mine” of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say “Mine” of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.” (The Screwtape Letters, Letter 21)