Wednesday, March 30, 2011

major archaeological find in jordan?

British archaeologists are seeking to authenticate what could be a landmark discovery in the documentation of early Christianity: a trove of 70 lead codices that appear to date from the 1st century. Some researchers suggest this could be the most significant find in Christian archaeology since the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947.
The codices turned up five years ago in a remote cave in eastern Jordan—a region where early Christian believers may have fled after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The codices are made up of wirebound individual pages, each roughly the size of a credit card. They contain a number of images and textual allusions to the Messiah, as well as some possible references to the crucifixion and resurrection. 
But the field of biblical archaeology is also prey to plenty of hoaxes and enterprising fraudsters, so investigators are proceeding with due caution. Initial research indicates that the codices are about 2,000 years old - based on the manner of corrosion they have undergone, which, "experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially."

(from Yahoo News)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

lent is in trouble

Let's face it. Lent is in trouble.

Everyone has their favorite holiday seasons. For some it's Advent and Christmas. For others it's the Fourth of July and summertime. But very few of us would pick Lent, a season that seems to most of us as grim as the weather that usually surrounds it.

Think about it: crossing off days on the calendar until Ash Wednesday, or thinking "I've got to get my Lenten shopping done", or little kids going to bed asking their parents, "How much longer 'till Lent is here?" It just doesn't happen.

The trouble with Lent seems pretty clear.

It's a strange time period that centers on things we don't value and encourages attitudes we don't share. No wonder each year fewer and fewer churches observe this age-old tradition -- it's too old-fashioned, too "Roman," too medieval for many contemporary Christians to handle.

So it seems Lent is in trouble. Even among those of us who honor the season, rarely is there the same kind of enthusiasm or expectancy which greets Advent. Maybe it's that there are no presents at the end, and no fun and games along the way. Or maybe it's that Lent asks us to give up things. Haven't we had to sacrifice enough already, to save for retirement, to put that new roof on the house? Why should we give up anything more for Lent?

Maybe it's the themes of Lent that trouble us. Penitence. Sacrifice. Contemplation.
These are the words and themes of Lent. So why Lent? I mean, who really needs it?

Well, maybe I do. Maybe I need a time to re-focus, to get my mind off of everything else, and center myself in not only the meaning of life, but Meaning and Life itself.

Maybe I need a time (is 40 days really enough?) to help clear my head of all the distractions and re-orient myself toward my Maker and Redeemer.

Maybe I need the opportunity to clear my eyes of the glaze of indifference and apathy, so I can fasten my eyes on the revelation of the God who loves me enough to take the form of a man hanging on a tree.

And maybe Lent really isn't mine to do with whatever I please, to insist upon or discard at will. Maybe Lent isn't any of ours to scoff at or observe. Maybe Lent is God's gift to people starved for meaning, purpose, courage, and life.

If it is, then maybe we'll also begin to recall that we too, are not ours at all, but God's -
God's own possession and treasure.

Yes, I need Lent. I need a time to be quiet and still, to hear again what was promised me at Baptism: "I love you! I am with you! You are mine!"

I need Lent, finally, to remember who I am -- God's heir and co-heir with Christ - so that, when Easter comes, I can rejoice and celebrate with all the joy, all the revelry, all the anticipation, of a true heir to the throne.

I need Lent. And I suspect that you do, too. You see, if Lent is in trouble, it's only because we're all in trouble, so busy trying to make or keep or save our lives that we fail to notice that God has already saved us and has already freed us to live with each other and for each other. And so we have Lent, a gift of the church, the season during which God prepares us to behold God's own great sacrifice for us, with the hope and prayer that, come Good Friday and Easter, we may be immersed once again into God's mercy, and perceive more fully God's great love for us and all the world, so we may find the peace and hope and freedom that we so often lack.

(from david lose - "working preacher")

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

living water

Jesus is talking about a different kind of water. The kind of water that flows like a spring, the kind you can drink from and never thirst again, the kind that wells up to eternal life. This is not the water you can draw from Jacob’s well, or from any other well for that matter.

This is living water that flows from the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of all things.
This is the water that comes from God, like that which flowed from the rock in the wilderness.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians. “For they drank from the same spiritual Rock in the wilderness,
and that Rock was Christ.” This is the same water that flowed like a stream from Jesus’ wounded side
on the cross. This is the River of Life, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and Son, flowing
like a river down the center of the heavenly city and watering the Tree of Life in Revelation. This
is the water that flows to you in Baptism, a water with the Word that brings forgiveness, life, and
salvation. "The water I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

high noon at jacob's well

He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”    (John 4)

Monday, March 21, 2011

a prayer in spring

A Prayer In Spring - by Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today; 
And give us not to think so far away 
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here 
All simply in the springing of the year. 

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night; 
And make us happy in the happy bees, 
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees. 

And make us happy in the darting bird 
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, 
And off a blossom in mid air stands still. 

For this is love and nothing else is love, 
The which it is reserved for God above 
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

churchill memorial

As I stood there in front of Westminster Chapel, its white stones gleaming in the twilight, I imagined being there 55 years ago, in 1946, as Winston Churchill gave his now famous Iron Curtain speech. And as I turned, and saw the section of the Berlin Wall named "Breakthrough", I imagined being there 20 years ago, in 1990, when President Reagan came to help dedicate this monument to freedom.  And then, I closed my eyes and went back some 30 years in my own life,  and remembered seeing the wall from the west side of Berlin, along with soldiers standing guard on watchtowers, as we waited to go through Checkpoint Charlie. After pondering how the world has changed and how my world has changed in all that time, the words of the Apostle Paul from Galatians 5 came to mind  - "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free..."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

beware rob bell

The evangelical blogosphere is all abuzz over a new book entitled Love Wins by the influential evangelical pastor and author Rob Bell, in which he argues for universalism, the notion that God will save everyone, whether or not they have faith in Christ.   I had assumed that this debate did not concern us Lutherans, since we have our theology thoroughly worked out and this is just not an issue in our circles.  But now I learn that Bell enlisted Martin Luther in his cause, quoting a letter from 1522 in which he  said that no one could doubt that God could save someone after death.

Now Luther, in his long and tumultuous and developing career, said all kinds of things, including things that were wrong.   But here's what  Luther actually said (with Bell’s quotation in italics):

If God were to save anyone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and would give himself the lie; yes, he would deny himself. And that is impossible for, as St. Paul declares, God cannot deny himself. It is as impossible for God to save without faith as it is impossible for divine truth to lie. That is clear, obvious, and easily understood, no matter how reluctant the old wineskin is to hold this wine–yes, is unable to hold and contain it.
It would be quite a different question whether God can impart faith to some in the hour of death or after death so that these people could be saved through faith. Who would doubt God’s ability to do that? No one, however, can prove that he does do this. For all that we read is that he has already raised people from the dead and thus granted them faith. But whether he gives faith or not, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith. Otherwise every sermon, the gospel, and faith would be vain, false, and deceptive, since the entire gospel makes faith necessary. (Works, 43, ed. and trans. G. Wienke and H. T. Lehmann [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968], 53-54; WA 10.ii, 324.25-325.11)
Talk about taking something out of context!  Bell takes a sentence out of Luther while ignoring what he says about it!  And ignoring Luther’s conclusion, that, yes, faith in Christ is necessary for salvation.

(from the blog of gene edward veith)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

suffering faq's

Why do people suffer?

The source of human suffering is found in the Garden of Eden, where our first parents elected
themselves God and chose what seemed right to them over what God had told them. So it happened that “in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). Ever since, suffering has been the lot of fallen humanity. Death — and consequently suffering of all sorts — is the result of sin.

Sometimes people say of someone suffering that he or she must have done something to anger God to deserve this punishment. This way of thinking makes some sense, for suffering looks (and feels) exactly like punishment — until you learn from Jesus, that is. One day his disciples asked Him about a blind man: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus pointed out that the man’s suffering was not a punishment for sin, but rather an opportunity for God to reveal Himself; then Jesus proceeded to restore the man’s sight.

That’s the way it is with suffering in your life and mine, even when God doesn’t take the problem away. When we suffer, He provides an opportunity for us to learn whole new dimensions of His love and mercy — which we often receive through the words and deeds of Christians moved by God’s own love in Christ.

What is the “theology of the cross,” and what does it mean to someone who is suffering?

Martin Luther once said: “Our theology is a theology of the cross.” By this he meant that all
thinking and speaking about God must conform to God’s own Word. And God’s Word, from start to
finish, is woven throughout with one scarlet thread: the Word of the Cross, which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)

Human reason and logic teach us that suffering is bad and glory is good. God turns things around: with Him what seems logical actually is foolishness, and those things people brand weakness in reality are strength.

How can a trial of suffering actually strengthen faith?

The apostle Paul, a great man of faith, was greatly troubled by what he called his “thorn in the
flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). Three times he earnestly prayed that God would remove the source
of his suffering. The answer Paul received to his prayer is instructive: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). The power of God is carried out in the context of human weakness. When everything is going fine in our lives, we sometimes forget about God; we become self-sufficient. But when trouble and hardship come our way, we recognize that our own ingenuity and strength is not enough to see us through. It’s then, when we are at the end of our rope, that the sobering reality begins to dawn: all we are and all we have is a gift from our gracious God.

This is the great mystery of suffering: God sometimes sends it our way to draw us closer to Him in faith. But when Jesus comes again in glory, then the faith which is now sorely tested in suffering will result in praise and glory and honor. Until then we walk by faith and not by sight. Clinging to the sure and certain Word of our gracious Lord, we find strength to carry on from one day to the next, knowing and trusting the One who laid down His life that we might live in Him.

How is the theology of the cross comforting to Christians who are suffering?

When we understand that God Himself comes hidden under suffering and the cross, we will not be
surprised when we too suffer. Jesus gave us advance warning, after all: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The paradox is that Christ is never closer to us than when we suffer. As He Himself suffered, and by that suffering won freedom and peace for us all, so He has ordained it that all who are called by His Name should suffer for that Name.

Our suffering is not punishment. Rather, by the grace of God it is the way He intends to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). We certainly do not seek out suffering. But when it comes our way, we will not run away. Rather, we recognize that suffering is another opportunity to examine our sinful hearts, confess our sins, and find relief and peace in the wounds of Christ, who suffered once upon His cross that we might be released from guilt and shame and take our place within the shelter of His love.

We should not be surprised when God's love shows up under cover, masquerading as hardship and
suffering. To recieve His love, we take the suffering that goes along with it. The wonder and the mystery of it is that there’s blessing in that suffering — for there we find His love in disguise.

That’s the beauty of God’s love in Christ - sometimes it shows up in the strangest places.

(from Harold Senkbeil, LCMS Life Ministries)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

take courage

There is unfolding before us a moment of opportunity for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod like nothing ever before in our history. We have a worldwide vocation, a world that is calling us to account, to stand and be counted for Christ. Despite all our weaknesses, we have unbelievable worldwide capacity for the advancement of the Gospel and the Lutheran Confession. It’s a moment for courage. Shall we dare, by faith in Christ, to seize the moment?
We are beset by deep challenges on every front. The financial struggles of our nation pinch our schools and churches, as well as our district and national work. The world presses us hard as much of western Christianity settles gradually into a more biblical, albeit minority, status (Matt. 7:13–14). Our strength seems to pale in the face of a virulent Islam, an aggressive and ubiquitous Mormonism or the barrage of secular garbage delivered by the media 24/7 right into our homes. Christian courage is in short supply. Where shall we find the fortitude to go on the offensive in these last and wretched days?

Circa 800 B.C., Elisha the prophet unveiled, to a cowering army of the Lord, its hidden but real strength.
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:15ff.)

And so it is with us. Lord, open our eyes! As with the cross itself, the countenance of the Church in this world is always weakness. The Church is always hidden under affliction, beset with challenges, struggling with divisions. It is always apparently outnumbered in battle. It has never been otherwise. This truth is portrayed on almost every page of the Bible. And yet, “On this rock [Peter’s confession of Christ] I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

Luther taught that because of our certainty of forgiveness and God’s reckoning us righteous on account of Jesus, we are free to live this Christian life with a “joyful daring,” a joyful courage! Luther said there are three things that produce courage in the Christian:
  1. Repentance. Confessing our sins daily, we have a clear conscience. We’re not paralyzed by guilt or anger or regret. We are forgiven and freed to act (1 Peter 3:21; Acts 23:1).
  2. We have a clear Word of God. The Bible is a clear book. It is God’s own Word, and we have in the Sacred Scriptures everything we need for faith and life. There is no need to wallow in indecision. We can act with divinely wrought confidence (Dan. 10:19; Rom. 15:4)!
  3. Vocation. The Lord calls us into His Church to live our lives where He has placed us individually (Rom. 1:6; 1 Cor. 7:20). Our service to Jesus does not entail running away from the people in our family, community or church. We are called to evangelize and love preciselythem!
And therefore we have a collective vocation. Our ecumenical task is to hold forth worldwide for orthodox, biblical Christianity—for the singular authority of Holy Scripture; for the singular truth that salvation is completely by grace  on account of Christ’s meritorious life, death and resurrection for us; for the singular truth that this gift is grabbed hold of solely by faith, which is itself worked completely by God through His Word.
Finally, we have a vocation to strengthen worldwide Lutheranism in its witness to Christ for the salvation of souls. This is a moment like never before. The sexuality decisions of the ELCA and European Lutherans, the shrinking world linked by travel and instant communication—all are sending worldwide Lutheranism to our door. And much of Lutheranism wants precisely what the LCMS has: the solid confession of Christ in the midst of a world of sweeping uncertainty.
Take courage! Let’s go on the offensive! “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

“Let’s go!” Mark 1:38

(President Matt Harrison - The Lutheran Witness)