Monday, December 15, 2014
By around 320 BC, Alexander the Great had conquered the whole Mediterranean world as well as most of the Middle East. This brought Greek language and culture to Israel and Palestine. When Alexander died, most of the Middle East was divided up between his generals Seleuca and Ptolemy, whose descendants became known as the Seleucids and Ptolemies. One of the Seleucid rulers, Antiochus Epiphanes, wanted everyone in his kingdom to share the same culture and gods. So he began to squash Judaism around 170 BC. Any Jew who would not worship Greek gods was put to death. Their scrolls were burned, their sabbath day became illegal, their temple in Jerusalem was desecrated, and pigs were even sacrificed on their altar.
This really ticked off the Jews at that time, and it began a resistance movement known as the Maccabean Revolt. Led by Judas Maccabeus (the Hammer), the Maccabean Jews took on the Romans equipped only with spears, bows, arrows, and rocks. Although greatly outnumbered, they showed great determination and grit, and somehow were able to take back the temple in Jerusalem in 164 BC. The first thing they did when they entered the temple was to light a makeshift menorah, but they could only find one vial of the pure oil to be used. They used the small amount of oil to light the menorah, and miraculously it stayed lit for 8 days. The retaking of the temple and the miracle of the menorah is what is celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
The brother of Judas Maccabeus, Simon, later became high priest and ruler of Israel. He was a type of king, but he couldn't really be the king because only someone from the line of David could be king. Simon was from Aaron's line, which was the priestly line. Simon and his descendants became what is known as the Hasmonean Dynasty, which lasted for around one hundred years. King Herod would come later at the end of this dynasty, a ruler of Israel, but not a true king.
The Greeks would give way to the Romans in 63 BC, when the Roman General Pompey took over the city of Jerusalem. This brought Roman administration, Roman law, Roman roads, and Roman peace, the "Pax Romana". A few years later, a young man named Octavion would come to power in Rome, who would later be known as Caesar Augustus.
And with that, the stage was set for the coming of the Messiah, the true King of Israel.
"When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law" - Galatians 4
"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed." - Luke 2
Thursday, December 11, 2014
At the time of Jesus birth, Bethlehem was a little town of about 300 people, built onto a hillside on the edge of the Judean wilderness, just 6 miles south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem means House of Bread, and we know that going as far back as the time of Ruth, over 1000 years before Christ, that there were farmers around Bethlehem that grew wheat and barley. They thrashed the grain there, ground it, milled it, and then probably baked bread there which was then taken to be sold in the big city of Jerusalem. Thus ... House of Bread.
So as the House of Bread, we know that Bethlehem was home to farmers, millers, and bakers.
We also know that there were shepherds living around Bethlehem on the surrounding hillsides. David and his father Jesse and his whole family were all shepherds from Bethlehem. Even today, you will find Bedouin shepherds leading their flocks on the hills around the outskirts of Bethlehem. Interestingly, I recently found out that most of the sheep around Bethlehem in Judea were destined for temple sacrifice in Jerusalem. This gives a whole extra level of meaning to the story, and actually connects the Christmas and Easter Story together. We remember the words of John the Baptist - "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."
So Bethlehem at that time would have been just a small town built onto a hillside. Today it's basically a suburb of Jerusalem, with 25,000 people living in the town proper, with around 100,000 people living all over the hills and valleys in the area.
As the hometown of King David, Bethlehem was known as the City of David, along with a portion of the old city in Jerusalem where David's palace once stood, which is also known as the "City of David."
And although this is where the Prince of Peace was born, you don't get a real peaceful easy feeling when you enter into Bethlehem today. Now you have to go through a security checkpoint, through a gate in the separation wall, erected to protect the Israelis from Muslim terror threats. Unfortunately the group of people stuck in the middle there are the Palestinian Christians, who are 30% of the population of Bethlehem.
We met quite a number of these Christians when we stayed in Bethlehem, and they are really warm and wonderful people. When most people hear Palestinian they think Muslim - but that's not necessarily the case. There are plenty of Palestinian Christians around, but they don't get many of the headlines. With Jewish and Christian and Muslim populations all vying for the same land, there is trouble and turmoil always simmering below the surface, and it sometimes spills out into the streets.
You can almost hear the echo of Jesus words as He looks out and mourns over the city before He enters it on Palm Sunday, "O Jerusalem Jerusalem ..."
King Herod, or Herod the Great, was the king at the time of Jesus birth in Bethlehem. He had been the king for about 30 years. He really liked being the king - it's good to be the king when you are King Herod. But no matter how big he became, he always seemed to have an inferiority complex about him. He wanted people to like him - he wanted a bigger kingdom - he wanted to be a king like David - he wanted to be remembered for doing great things. Well, he got his wish in a sense - since he's now known as Herod the Great. But he is called that because of all of his many impressive building projects - not because of his great character or sparkling personality. He is also known today for his great cruelty and paranoia. He had wives, sons, and so called friends put to death when there was even an inkling that they were out to get his throne. He had more enemies than Saddam Hussein did back in the day! He knew this, of course, and he also knew that no one would mourn his death, so he ordered his men to kill 100 of Israel's priests on the day that he died, just so that there would be mourning in the streets that day. He was a madman - a brilliant builder and politician - but a madman nonetheless.
What a stark contrast between King Herod the Great in Jerusalem, and the tiny little baby born in Bethlehem. This young prince was born in a cattle stall and placed in a manger filled with straw by his peasant parents. There was no room for his family in the inn or the guest house, so the birth of this prince took place in a humble sheep pen. And yet, for all of His apparent humility and weakness, this little baby boy was actually the king of the universe.
This king wasn't born in the house of royalty, riches, or celebrity. He was not born in Jerusalem, in Rome, in Athens or Alexandria. He was not born in a politically or socially significant city of the day. When the Old Testament prophet Micah foretold the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, he emphasized its lack of significance to the world. "But you, Bethlehem Ephratha, though you be small among the clans of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth one that is to be ruler in Israel: one who is from old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)
The birth of the Son of God was to plain peasant parents and took place in a lowly stable. It was announced to shepherds, common men, working folks, not to King Herod or Caesar Augustus or any other dignitaries. This king has come to us. This king has come for us. There is no one so poor and lowly as to be outside the reach of God's love in Jesus Christ.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, "The House of Bread", to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the world. Just as God through the prophet Moses fed the children of Israel with manna in the wilderness, so now God feeds his people through the greater Moses, Jesus Christ the Lord.
"I am the Bread of Life; he who come to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst." - John 6
Thursday, December 4, 2014
If you were living in the 1st century and had a big plan to do something really great and important in the world, and were looking at all the cities and towns in the Middle East to use as your base of operations, the last place you would think of using was the village of Nazareth in Galilee.
Nazareth was a tiny village of no account at that time with probably only around a hundred people living in it. Nothing much was going on there. But just 5 miles away was the brand new Roman city of Sepphoris. Sepphoris had a population of 30,00 people, and had a Roman temple, Roman baths, paved streets, beautiful mosaics, and an amphitheater. Sepphoris was the place to be in Galilee. Nazareth was probably just a bedroom community to Sepphoris with all of its great opportunities for employment, commerce, culture, education, and recreation. Actually, it's quite possible that Joseph and a young Jesus would have worked in Sepphoris at some point. For they were tektons you see. Not just carpenters, but builders, who would have used wood and stone in their work. With a new city like Sepphoris being built, you can bet there would have been many opportunities for tektons - builders like Joseph and Jesus.
They have found remains of large homes and villas in Sepphoris that had marble pillars and beautiful mosaic floors. One of these floors has the wonderfully preserved image of a beautiful woman - it is called the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. In Nazareth on the other hand, most of the people who lived there had very small houses, and some of them even lived in caves. Some Bedouin shepherds still today live in caves during portions of the year, using them to guard and protect their sheep.
So Nazareth was a village of no account - literally. When Josephus, the great Jewish Roman Historian made a list of all the towns in Galilee, he didn't even mention Nazareth. And he was from Galillee! When the Hebrew Talmud listed 63 towns in the region of Galilee, it did not list Nazareth. This is an insignificant town of no account.
And you know what? That's just how God likes it. He loves to make something out of nothing. He loves to make alive those things that are dead.
That's why God sent the Angel Gabriel to the village of Nazareth, and not the big city of Sepphoris. To a poor young peasant girl named Mary, and a common blue collar laborer like Joseph.
So now, as we read the account of Jesus' birth in the Gospel of Luke - it begins with Nazareth. Sepphoris isn't even mentioned. It doesn't need to be. In Gods economy, the important places are the little podunk places like Nazareth, Bethlehem, Cana, Capernaum, Bethany, and Emmaus. Those are the famous places now. Sepphoris is dead and gone. Only now are they beginning to excavate there, finding remnants of this formerly great and grand city. But most people have never heard of it. Nazareth is the important town in the region now. And all because of what God chose to do there - in sending His own Son to be conceived of a virgin named Mary, betrothed to a carpenter, a tekton, a builder named Joseph.
The root word for Nazareth is netzer - It means branch, root, or shoot. Isaiah and Jeremiah and Zechariah all used this word netzer as a symbol for Israel. When the Assyrians and later the Babylonians came to destroy Israel, they cut the nation of Israel down like a tree is cut down at the stump. But God promised through the prophets that a shoot from that old stump would grow back, and that Israel would be reborn.
That was the Hope of Israel - even in the tiny little village of Netzer-eth. Little did the people who first named the town know that the very Branch that was foretold by the prophets would grow up right underneath their very noses - right there in their own little town. He would grow up to be the Great King, not just the King of Israel, but the King of the whole universe.
Nazareth? How could anything good come out of Nazareth? Because it was God who did it. And it was something good alright - something really good. Something (and Someone) greater and grander than they could have ever imagined.
Monday, December 1, 2014
It has been exactly one month since we have returned home from Israel. In that time I have had the privilege of sharing my experiences and showing my pictures to several different groups in a variety of settings that include church, school, family, friends. But I have yet to blog much about it - other than just posting a few pictures here and there. So after having time to ponder and reflect on all that I was blessed to encounter during the last two weeks of October, I think I'm finally ready to get some of this out of my head and onto my blog.
What a great blessing it was to experience this trip with my dad. He turned 77 years young the day that we landed in Tel Aviv, and that evening we were able to have a nice party for him at our hotel. Many who were along with us on the tour marveled at his health and stamina - especially after the 8 miles we hiked at Petra! He did very well and was really engaged with everything during the trip.
We were able to share some very special and memorable experiences together, and for that I am very grateful.
"It all really happened. It's all really true. And it all really happened for me and for you."
That's how I started my chapel message at Calvary Lutheran High in Jeff City two days after I got back. There were so many things swirling around in my head that I wanted to share with the students, but the most important thing was that it was all true. Everything their pastor had preached about, everything their teachers had taught them, everything they learned about Jesus and the Bible in Sunday School - it was all true. It really happened. The stones do still cry out - and they're just waiting there in the Holy Land to be discovered by all those who have ears to hear. The land of Israel is a living, breathing testimony to the truth found in the words of Holy Scripture. We don't need it to prove that our faith is sure or that the Bible is true - but it sure is nice to have.
My trip to Israel was even better than I expected. And believe me - I was expecting a lot. It made me realize how little I actually know, even after being a pastor for 10 years and a church worker for more than 20. There is just SO much to learn. And this trip has instilled in me an even greater desire to "read, mark, and inwardly digest" the words of Holy Scripture, and delve deeper into the people, places, and cultures we were privileged to visit.
As we enter into the Advent season, I will be sharing some thoughts about Nazareth and Bethlehem that coincide with our Advent/Christmas theme this year at church. Our theme is "From Nazareth to Bethlehem - The Journey from Advent to Christmas."
Friday, November 7, 2014
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Monday, November 3, 2014
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Monday, October 27, 2014
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
We made it safely to the Holy Land! We flew into Tel Aviv yesterday, met our guide and bus driver, and then proceeded to drive to Joppa for lunch. We walked around the old city, enjoyed the scenic view, saw the old port where Jonah got on his boat, and visited the church marking the place where Peter had his vision of the animals. We stayed the night in Tiberias, took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and visited churches marking the spot of the Beatitudes and the feeding of the five thousand. We also went to Capernaum, the hometown of several of the disciples and one of the centers of Jesus' ministry.
More next time - in the meantime you cam go to my facebook page to see a few more photos. Shalom!
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Here is our travel itinerary for the Trip to Israel ...
Oct. 21 - Tel Aviv
Oct. 22 - Tiberias, Sea of Galilee, Mt. of Beatitudes, Mt. Hermon, Golan Heights, Jordan River
Oct. 23 - Mt. Tabor, Deboriya, Nain, Megiddo, Jezreel
Oct. 24 - Meet Pastor Nabil Nour's family and visit his hometown of Haifa
Oct. 25 - Nazareth, Cana, Amman (Jordan)
Oct. 26 - Petra (Jordan)
Oct. 27 - Jericho, Mt. Nebo, Jordan Valley, Inn of Good Samaritan, Mt. of Temptation
Oct. 28 - Bethlehem, Nativity Church, Shepherd's Field, Field of Boaz and Ruth
Oct. 29 - Masada, Dead Sea, Qumran, Cave of Dead Sea Scrolls
Oct. 30 - Jerusalem, Bethany, Mt. of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Mt. Zion, Tomb of David
Oct. 31 - Wailing Wall, Mt. Moriah, Dome of the Rock, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Golgotha, and Garden Tomb
Thank you for all your support and for keeping us in your prayers. Shalom!
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Today is Sept. 20th. That means that in just one month I will be leaving on my trip to Israel.
I can't really put into words what I'm feeling right now. Nervous, jittery, excited, concerned ... a little bit of everything, I guess. I've tried not to think about the trip much so as to temper my enthusiasm, but now with only a month to go, I just can't help myself. I am FREAKING out. I guess it was going to happen sooner or later.
A few people have asked me, "Why would you want to go to Israel?" My response is, "Why would you NOT want to?!" The Holy Land encapsulates everything I hold dear - God, Jesus, the Gospel, the Bible, history, geography, archaeology, etc ... it has been "numero uno" on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I'm not saying everyone needs to go in order to be a good Christian or to have a full and complete life. I'm just saying that I need to go.
So, my plan is to update my blog as often as possible while in Israel. Originally I was planning on blogging every day, but after looking at our packed itinerary, let's just say that I'll be blogging on a "regular basis".
Before we leave, I will post our travel itinerary so that you can follow along with us and have sort of a virtual tour of the Holy Land on your own.
That's all for now. Much more to come. Did I mention my dad gets to go too? ;-)
Thursday, August 21, 2014
I don't have to tell you that we are living in some very scary times. Throughout the world, it seems as if anarchy reigns and boundaries mean nothing. Innocent victims in Israel and Gaza are not safe from enemy attack. Islamist radicals are establishing terror states in Iraq and Syria and other parts of the Middle East, killing as many Christians as they can along the way. Basic human civil concern for the dead is being ignored. Vladimir Putin is at it again and Russians have been deluded into a nationalistic fervor. Our own southern border has its own problems, and all we get is partisan paralysis from Capitol Hill. And of course there are all the goings on in Ferguson, Missouri ....
So ... are we sliding into the end times that Jesus talked about in Mark 13? "Nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom ... these are but the beginnings of birth pains. You will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And you will be hated by all for my name's sake."
The truth is that all of these things have been taking place ever since the time of the apostles until now. Jesus' death and resurrection marked the beginning of the end times. Maybe we are a little closer now to the Last Day, but still no one knows. Except God of course. And He's the only one that matters.
So have faith. Live in hope. Trust and believe. For just as Paul says in Romans 8 - "the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing to the glory of the age to come."
We don't know what the future holds, but we do know Who holds the future. We don't know when the end will come, but we do know how it will end.
"Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." - Rev. 2:10
(ht - meyer minute)
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Last week, the world began a centennial commemoration of World War One. Articles have appeared in newspapers and in magazines, and historical documentaries have been broadcast on television. We are reminded of the terrible slaughter that took place one hundred years ago, especially in the trench warfare of Europe. It is a grave and sober reminder of those dark days from the years 1914-1918.
Despite the awful carnage that took place, the "Great War" did not become the war to end all wars. Instead, the world became more divided and destructive. Within a generation, the planet succumbed to another six year world war which was fought all over the globe. Despite the outcome and the victory of the Allies, countries are still fighting localized wars today which are the result of the brokenness of World War One.
Africa, Asia, and the Middle East are still areas of great strife, contention, and violence. Bosnia and Serbia, where the First World War began, are still potentially hostile, unforgiving, and prone to the wickedness of "ethnic cleansing."
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that "peace on earth" will never be achieved until the Prince of Peace returns to make things right. And so, as Christians we continue to hope and to pray. We continue to strive for reconciliation and peace throughout the world. And we trust that somehow all things will work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
Unfortunately, war and hostility are part of our sinful human nature. Because of that, we're all in need of a Savior and Redeemer to come and save us from ourselves, to reconcile us to one another, and restore us back to God.
Monday, July 21, 2014
In Washington D.C. there is a building called the "National Institute of Standards and Technology." This facility is responsible for storing perfect samples of weights and measurements. They have there a prototype measuring rods for meters there called the “Meter Standard”, a reinforced bar of platinum alloy. When they want to know the exact measurement of a meter, they cool this bar down to 0 degrees Celsius at a sea level of 45 degrees latitude. Then they know they will have the exact tip to tip measurement of a meter.
As Christians we also have a measuring rod that never changes - the Holy Word of God.
As the Lutheran Confessions state so well, the Holy Scriptures are the only rule and norm for faith and life. The Latin expression used by the Reformers "sola scriptura" (scripture alone) refers to the authority of the Holy Scriptures to serve as the sole norm for all that is taught and confessed in the church. In numerous places the Scriptures claim this authority as the inspired Word of God. Paul writes in 2 Tim. 3:16 that "all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," and the apostle Peter also declares that "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Acceptance of the Bible as the sole authority for teaching comes not from rational arguments or human traditions, but as a conviction produced by the Holy Spirit in the human heart. It is a matter of faith worked by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures themselves.
As the Holy Spirit reveals this to us, our minds are renewed, our hearts are restored, and our lives are transformed as we read, hear, listen, and meditate on God's Holy Word.
It's time to get back to the Bible. With that in mind, why not ....
Read a Psalm in the morning at breakfast
Read the Bible at night before you go to bed
Read a chapter at lunch while you’re at work
Listen to it on tape or on the radio in the car
Use online resources from lcms.org or lhm.org
Read books about the Bible (ask Pastor for some ideas)
Have a daily devotion with your family (Portals of Prayer)
Hear the Word spoken and preached in Church this Sunday
Attend Bible Class on Sunday morning or a Bible Study during the week
"Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly!"
Monday, July 7, 2014
The Romans Road
1. Rom. 3:10 - "As it is written, ’There is none righteous, not even one."
People tend not to think of themselves sinners, but no one would be so foolish as to declare they are perfect. This puts everyone in the same predicament that they cannot make it into heaven unless they are perfectly righteous in the eyes of God.
2. Rom. 3:23 - "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
Sin is anything that displeases God. Sin is anything that misses the mark of perfection in what we say, think or do. Without the forgiveness of sin, there can be no salvation for anyone.
3. Rom. 5:12 - "Just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all sinned."
All people inherit Adam’s sinful nature from their parents. No one can escape it or eliminate it. We all stand condemned - except for the one solution found in Jesus Christ - and His substitutionary death on the cross in our place for the forgiveness of sins.
4. Rom. 6:23 - "For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Sin has eternal consequences for us that include death and hell unless we believe and embrace the free gift of eternal life provided by God through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, for He alone paid for our past, present, and future sins through His life, death, and resurrection.
5. Rom. 10:9 - "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Admit you are a sinner and that you need forgiveness. Believe in your heart by trusting in Jesus' finished work on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. Confess that Jesus is your Lord and Savior and you will be saved.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
It's hot out there. And I'm not just talking about the high temperatures and the sweltering humidity. Our sin is what has left us parched and thirsty, wandering in a spiritual wilderness. No mere tap water can quench our thirst for God. We've tried the alternatives. The polluted puddles and cesspools of this world’s religions and spiritualities can’t quench the deep thirst we have for righteousness, for wholeness, for peace. Only God can provide the living water we really need. Only God can open up that stream to us so that we can drink of it and live.
Remember the woman at Jacob's Well? She was thinking of physical thirst, the kind of water that takes work to find, the kind you walk a long way for with a jug on your head. The kind of water you have to work for every day, the kind you work up a thirst just in order to get it.
But Jesus is talking about a different kind of water. A water that flows like a spring, the kind that comes to you, 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. This is living water that flows from the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of all things.
This is the water that comes from God, which flowed from the rock in the wilderness.
“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."
"Let those who are thirsty come; and receive the water of life without cost.”
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
post-pentecost acts 2 summary ... hear the word, repent of your sin, believe that jesus died and rose again to save you from sin and death, be baptized (if you're not already), worship with fellow believers, receive the lord's supper, live a life of devotion and prayer ... all with a glad and sincere heart.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014
"Now we must consider the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first place, it is easily said and understood that the Lord ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God. But they are dead words to the understanding if they are not grasped with the heart. We must, therefore, conceive of his ascension and Lordship as something active, energetic, and continuous and not imagine that he sits above while we hold the reins of government down here. Nay, he ascended up for the reason that there he can best do his work and exercise dominion. Had he remained upon earth in visible form, before the people, he could not have wrought so effectually, for all the people could not have been with him and heard him. Therefore, he inaugurated an expedient which made it possible for him to be in touch with all and reign in all, to preach to all and be heard by all, and to be with all. Therefore, beware lest you imagine within yourself that he has gone, and now is, far away from us. The very opposite is true: While he was on earth, he was far away from us; now he is very near. "
From a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther on the last chapter of St. Mark, 1523.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
People will use just about anything in order to justify themselves. Money, work, family, sports, politics. These common forms of self-justification are there to assure us that "at least we're better than the next guy."
Most of us have all tried this to a greater or lesser extent, and we should know by now that it just doesn't work. But our society and our culture are relentless in their demands of us, and so it's easy to take the bait, especially if you're a fairly accomplished person and think you can "rise to the challenge".
To live without this kind of self-justification is difficult, because it can make us feel weak and vulnerable. But in reality, living this way can be extremely liberating. As you come to accept the fact that you've been accepted by a good and gracious God, you begin to realize that you don't need to prove yourself anymore. All of that old stuff is over and done with. God loves you and accepts you, and He is the only One that really matters. In Him is where true freedom and liberty are found.
There is a little prayer in the Gospel of Luke that gets to the heart of this. It is the seven word prayer mumbled by the tax collector in the parable as he stood at a distance and stared at the ground: "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." When we breathe these words and throw ourselves fully upon the grace and mercy of God, we experience His love and forgiveness without limits or conditions. God's agape love for us in Christ is unconditional - no strings attached.
And so, understood correctly, the seven word prayer is the most important prayer we can ever say - the only prayer we really need. Why? Because it comes from a clear diagnosis of our human condition, and from a confidence in a loving God who welcomes sinners as well as self-righteous saints.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Some claim that in the name of progress, the church must disregard the past. But we do this to our great peril.
Here now are the 10 Perils of Ignoring the Past, from Dr. Paul Maier ...
1. Faith without history is far more vulnerable to attacks from the outside.
2. A faith detached from its biblical and historical foundation is less intelligible, less credible, and more subject to the latest theological whimsy.
3. God commands His people to remember their past and learn from it.
4, We can begin to lose our heritage as the church of the Reformation, as it was Luther and the other reformers who virtually rediscovered church history.
5. Historical amnesia has condemned some in the church to repeat its mistakes over the last 2000 years.
6. Ignoring history removes one of the priceless advantages the Christian faith has over all other religions.
7. Diminishing the heroes of the faith in church history will not help inspire us to be faithful followers of Christ.
8. The rich traditions of the church will have much less significance in the life of the church today.
9. We risk losing the precious gifts that have been handed down to us in terms of doctrine, liturgy, theology, education, and mission.
10. We risk losing the very heart of the church - the gospel itself.
Friday, May 9, 2014
There are some who believe that God only has time for those who have their act together. This is ridiculous, of course, and Good Shepherd Sunday comes this weekend to rid us of any such notions.
Jesus doesn't beat around the bush here - He lets us know exactly who He is. “I am the Good Shepherd.” In saying that, He echoes the words from Ezekiel: “I myself (that is Yahweh) will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, I will bring back the strayed, I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”
The Good Shepherd welcomes and tends to them all. The ones that have lost their way, the ones that have injured themselves, the ones that have inflicted damage on those around them. The ones who are just plumb worn out and don’t know if they can go on. The Lord is in the business of gathering them all together and making them lie down while He tends to them.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
That is the cry of our Lord’s heart to you. He knows you. He knows your name. He knows your sin. He knows you inside and out. And still He loves you.
That’s the miracle of grace we celebrate on Good Shepherd Sunday. For some strange and unfathomable reason that we’ll never understand until eternity - He loves us. He came to heal us. He came to set things right, to heal the broken, to bind up the wounds, to redeem us and restore us once and for all.
So now you're His little lamb. No matter how damaged you are, not matter how beaten up and bruised, no matter how worn out and tired. You are His. He has made you His own and said: “You are Mine!”
He’s not the God of those who have their act together. He’s the God of the sick, the injured, the weak, the straying and foolish ones. He won't turn you away. He died to free you and to release you from your sin. He rose to proclaim that death would never be the end. And He invites you to come to Him today - to die to sin and to live in His righteousness.
What a blessing to be under the care of the Good Shepherd.
Monday, May 5, 2014
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Westfield House at Cambridge University, the theological institute of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, has recently been granted its own Coat of Arms by the Crown.
The crest features a white horse in reference to the White Horse Inn, a former Cambridge pub where the works of Martin Luther were read and discussed. The arms features a cross as its central motif; a book which alludes to Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and a Luther rose. The motto is Fidelis et verax - Latin for “faithful and true.”
I think it's rather smashing ....
(ht - gene veith)