Subscribe: Ask the Pastor
http://xrysostom.blogspot.com/atom.xml
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: Afrikaans
Tags:
christ  christians  christmas  church  day  death  faith  god  good  holy  jesus  life  new  people  world     
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Ask the Pastor

Ask the Pastor



† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.



Updated: 2016-12-08T06:27:46.406-06:00

 



Putting the “X” Back in Xmas

2015-12-25T01:04:45.399-06:00

Those of us whose vocations involve writing or speaking about religion often see in the major holy days a two-edged sword. On one hand, most of the pastors I know could roll out of bed at three o’clock in the morning and preach decent, Christ-centered Christmas or Easter sermons. However, familiarity of the subject means the risk of falling into annual ruts, operating on mental cruise control: “There are so many things to get done; I’m sure this sermon will prepare itself and all I need to do is preach.” The tonic isn’t novelty for novelty’s sake. We dare not invent new theology in an attempt to keep the message “fresh” or “relevant.” Even if we find a new approach to the age-old story, we must take care lest we descend into cuteness that undercuts the awesome majesty and humble mystery of the Word made Flesh who “dwelt among us ... full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” During Christmastide, another pitfall oft befalling Christian pastors, teachers, and writers is a straw man mentality. We can latch on to convenient targets outside the group we’re addressing, setting the mentality of “us (good Christians) against them (everyone who doesn’t do Christmas like we do).” Each year, well-meaning Christians condemn commercialism, consumerism, and the mixing of the sacred and the secular. Pastors, especially, may rail at “Santa Christian,” who, like the other Santa, only visits us (or our churches) once each year. Other believers circulate petitions or organize boycotts against companies whose employees greet us with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Of course, focusing on the sins and shortcomings of others means that we can overlook our own sins. Sinners rarely mind the preaching of the Law — as long as it isn’t directed at them. And when God’s harsh Law is misapplied to our sinful selves, the His sweet, saving Gospel may likewise have diminished impact. Bottom line: I can almost guarantee that everywhere in the free world where Christians gather, someone’s going to be demanding that they — whomever “they” might be — “put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas.” And yes, this is important, but not today’s central theme. “Christ” is the first of two words in the compound word “Christmas.” However, “Mass,” the often neglected second fiddle, remains important, whether we acknowledge it or not. Therefore, I’ll join others in arguing that we also need to keep Christ’s Mass (His holy Supper) as an integral part of our Christmas celebration. After all, does the physicality of the Incarnation find any clearer earthly expression than when we actually eat the holy body and drink the precious blood of the Babe of Bethlehem? But we’re not going to talk about that, either. Instead, we’re taking a look at another believers’ bugaboo, the (mis-) use of the letter X. Among many well intentioned Christians, X has fallen into ill repute. This is too bad, because he sports a noble pedigree and once enjoyed a distinguished career and great honor among his fellow letters. After all, where would algebra be without X? And try to imagine all of those pirate stories devoid of maps reminding the treasure hunter that “X marks the spot.” Nevertheless, some devout Christians strongly object to using this one letter — X — to replace (or “X out”) six letters — C-H-R-I-S-T — in the word “Christmas.” They don’t want to be numbered among the secularists who try to avoid the whole religious, Christian thingie by using the Xmas shorthand for Jesus’ birthday. However, what most unbelievers don’t realize (and what far too many Christians have forgotten or else never knew) is that X has been “standing in” for Christ for centuries. The word Christ begins with the [...]



God and Government

2015-07-04T02:02:14.793-05:00

Psalm 146:3 says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” The Church’s track record of remembering this advice is pretty poor, however. As the state’s treatment of Christianity moved from persecution to toleration to official sanction, many Christians have attempted to make government an arm of the Church. While much good may have been effected at times, many who claim to be Christians have used the state to oppress those with whom they disagreed. Factions and feuds often led to exile and slaughter as some in the Church attempted to control dissent and enforce moral codes that often had little to do with the words of Scripture. Of course, Christians aren’t the only ones ready to use government to their advantage. Islam’s control of various governments has led to civil wars and state-sponsored terrorism as it attempts to bring the entire world to submit to the will of Allah. India has seen government oppression based in Hinduism. Similar problems exist elsewhere but I chose to focus on Christianity, particularly in America. History shows that evil is often disguised as good, promoted by some Christians, and carried out by various governments. Even though America was largely founded by those who came wanting freedom to worship, these same emigrants often extended “freedom” only to those who agreed with them on every point of faith and practice. Their political authorities were often extensions of the churches. Remember that when alleged “witches” faced the accusations of supposedly “good” Christians, it was civil government that held the trials and meted out the punishments. However, there’s an even more basic problem with putting your confidence “in princes” — or in presidents, prime ministers, potentates and grand poobahs: Emphasizing political solutions de-emphasizes the person and work of Christ. The Church too easily forgets that while it is called to be “salt” and “light” in this world (see Matthew 5:13–16), it isn’t called to legislate or impose morality on the world. Instead, we are called collectively and individually to believe in salvation through Christ Jesus, trust God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. This by no means precludes Christians being active in government any more than it does our being teachers, doctors, or tradespeople. People of integrity, conviction, and faith are a precious commodity in all areas of human endeavor. We are no longer “of the world,” as Jesus says in John 15:19, but are still in the world. As such, God doesn’t call us to isolate ourselves, to form exclusive colonies and communes. Instead, He continues to give us family, neighbors, even enemies who may be unchurched or anti-Church. There is only one “city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14),” the sum total of all believers in Jesus — in other words, His Church. Built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, anchored by Christ our cornerstone, this city cannot fall. It needs neither the support nor the permission of government in order to abide, for even “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)” If government commands us to sin, “we must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)” Otherwise we obey those in authority, as Paul writes in Romans 13 and we pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1–2), even if they are misguided or flagrantly sinful in their words and deeds. When given opportunity to do or to effect good, we seize it, not to advance the Church nor to impose morality, but simply because it is what Christians do. When the Church avoids conflicting and messy entanglements with the state, it leaves us free to proclaim “nothing” except “Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)” to hurting people in a fallen world. God hasn’t appointed us to change the world. Instead, sent Jesus to save sinners and entrusted His Church with the “message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19)” in Christ. No government, no moral code, no ethical standard c[...]



A Truly Meaningful Christmas

2014-12-25T00:03:49.873-06:00

Repost of newspaper column #532 Complaints about people not knowing “the true meaning of Christmas” started this year in mid-October, as the first holiday advertising began. Most Christians complain at least a bit about commercialism obscuring or obliterating a godly celebration of our Savior’s birth. We’re joined by many non-believers who likewise deplore the money-first mentality of the season’s advertising. While there’s certainly plenty of blame to go around, we who claim to be Christian cannot accuse others without at least partially accusing ourselves. After all, don’t we already know about “the true meaning of Christmas”? Most of us can tell the story, many able to recite it word-for-word from our old King James Bibles. Unfortunately, knowing the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t guarantee our celebrating a truly meaningful Christmas. In all of life, Christians too often experience disconnects between what we know and what we do. So it is with the Feast of the Nativity. We remember the angel’s words, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)” Then we forget why we need this Savior. The Christmas hymn Hark the Glad Sound first announces His coming, then invites our response: “Let every heart prepare a throne And every voice a song.” The next stanzas tell how He brought salvation from “Satan’s bondage” and our own sinful actions. They sing of Christ rescuing mankind from the effects of sin, including mental defect and illness, blindness, fiscal and spiritual poverty, heartbreak, and the like. We know that in time, we receive these only in part; however, we are certain that we’ll enjoy them fully in the Resurrection. The true meaning of Christmas certainly includes the fullness of Jesus’ life, work, suffering, death, and resurrection. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)” and no amount of commercial or sentimental excess can change this fact. The Christ Child came not to market violent electronic games, expensive new cars, or other consumer items. Likewise, His virgin mother “laid him in a manger (Luke 2:7)” not to invite our cooing over the cute Baby but simply to give Him a place to rest His newborn, helpless body as He entered the world to which His Father sent Him as Savior. How could any true Christian peer into Jesus’ first bed without also seeing cross and tomb? At the beginning of His life of humble service, Mary “laid him in a manger.” After He died, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Him to “a new tomb” in a garden and “laid Jesus there. (John 19:41-42)” The almighty Son of God began and ended His saving work unable to bed Himself. He depended upon others to lay Him to rest after He drew His first breath and once He drew His last. He willingly “made himself nothing” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of ... death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)” We understand the true meaning of Christmas when we realize that everything Jesus Christ did, He did to save us from our sins. Unfortunately, we often get stuck between knowing the true meaning of Christmas and converting that knowledge into a Christmas that’s truly meaningful. When we become caught up in buying and exchanging gifts, we forget that true gifts aren’t exchanged — they’re given. Indeed, if you expect something of equal value in return, how can it be a gift? We can get tired and frustrated when we desire to focus on the holiday’s central meaning while still going along with so many of the world’s distractions. In this, we don’t differ from Saint Paul, who lamented, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)” In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was terrified into chan[...]



Assisted Dying, Not Assisted Suicide

2015-02-11T00:12:18.370-06:00

I recently began working with the Johnson County Hospice. When first asked to apply, I considered some of the ethical and religious underpinnings of hospice care. I didn’t want to get into something that would compromise my beliefs. Death as an abstract concept can be studied and debated. Devout Christians argue whether it is blessing or curse. However, most believers are convinced that directly helping someone die, especially allowing the choice of time and means of death, is wrong. This territory already belongs to those who believe in assisted suicide. Yet even if we don’t provide chemicals or weapons to dying people in order to speed up their deaths, not everyone believes that hospice is a God-pleasing idea. Some think that anything less than an all-out fight to the end is not much better than suicide and that because hospice points people toward tying well, with as much dignity and as little pain as possible, we are enabling suicides. I just mentioned “death as an abstract” — yet I cannot easily stand back and study it dispassionately. I’ve buried both of my parents and a number of parishioners. Death divides us. It influences our thinking and colors our relationships. While it may release some from suffering it carries a mountain of hurt for the survivors. Yet hospice care isn’t only for those who are dying. We’re also here to aid and comfort those who live. We encourage and help work toward reconciliation among distant or estranged friends and relatives. We provide or find respite for over-taxed care givers. We offer listening ears, open arms, and shoulders to cry on. Spiritual care is deemed so important that even the government (Medicare) and private insurance companies include chaplaincy as a necessary part of hospice care. Yet like the parts of the program, patients may accept or reject chaplain visits. Some have good relationships with their own clergy and congregations. Others simply don’t want anything to do with religious beliefs and practices. If they accept us, we do everything we can to work within patients’ religious beliefs. However, there come times when chaplains cannot do everything they’re asked and maintain clear consciences. This is particularly so in Middle America, where smaller hospices may only have one or two (often part-time) chaplains, most likely Christians. Yet not all who die, even among the cornfields of Missouri, are themselves Christian. Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, and others also place themselves under hospice care. If such is the case, we chaplains are not required to go beyond our own beliefs. Nor are we allowed to proselytize those who believe differently. If the care and comfort desired extend beyond our own faith, we look to match our patients with those who share their beliefs. All of this, however, revolves around one basic point: We serve people whose doctors have predicted a very short life expectancy. As the nurses and doctors work to alleviate physical pain and suffering, chaplains and social workers address hurts of spirit, crises of conscience, and the doubts and fears that arise. In so doing, we don’t need to say that death is a wonderful blessing — although it can be. We aren’t tasked with leading patients to embrace a “good death.” We can honestly view death as God’s curse on fallen humanity (cf. Romans 6:23) but still help dying Christians see that this dark woe is also the portal to eternal life for those who believe in Jesus. As Scripture says, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.(1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV)” For those outside of Christianity, we at least try to bring calm and some measure of peace to patients and households haunted by impending death. I cannot pretend to have all the answers. I don’t even know if I’ll wage my own fierce battle when told that my death is close and nigh inevitable or if rather I’ll calmly wait for my last da[...]



May the Force Be with You

2014-05-13T01:04:29.927-05:00

Over the past several years, a running internet joke has returned each spring. Picking up on a phrase from a famous movie series, four days into the fifth month, we’re swamped with the punning salutation, “May the Fourth be with you.” Since the Fourth came on a Sunday this year, we saw a bumper crop of Lutherans, Catholics, and other liturgical Christians respond, saying, “And also with you.” Anyone with even a casual knowledge of any part of the Star Wars saga knows that the original line comes from the Jedi blessing, “May the Force be with you.” In other words, “I wish for you that the cosmic power underlying the universe would align itself favorably with you — and you with it.” The impact of the Star Wars franchise was and remains a huge part of Western culture. Thirty-seven years old this month, it’s capable of a fresh start with a third trilogy, beginning with a sequel scheduled for release almost thirty-nine years after the original A New Hope. Audiences will probably flock once again and critics may again rave. Within the Christian Church, the films continue receiving a mixed reception. By-and-large, we agree that there is a cosmic struggle between good and evil. We accept the grim reminders of the power and the persistence of the forces of darkness. We celebrate when good wins out. However, while Star Wars shows much of the ongoing conflict, it misidentifies the source of strife and posits false salvation. In the mythos of Star Wars, everything is unified by and ultimately springs from an underlying power known as The Force. Sometimes expressed in mystical terms and at others in pseudo-scientific jargon, The Force empowers all that exists and can be used for good or evil. So while Luke Skywalker’s mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi urges his young charge to “use The Force” for good, his nemeses Darth Vader and the Emperor Palpatine try to attempt him to use this same Force rashly and, ultimately, in the service of darkness. Those who try to reconcile a belief system similar to that of Star Wars and its Force with Biblical Christianity therefore must ignore tenets of one or the other, for The Force has more in common with oriental dualism than with the God of the Bible. Christians believe in all-powerful, all-wise deity as the source of all life, light, and goodness. He isn’t merely one side of a cosmic coin with the other being just as powerful but dark, destructive, and death-dealing. This way of thinking has more in common with Yin and Yang than with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christianity teaches that evil, darkness, destruction, and decay are not coequal with light and life but are twisted perversions and absences of godliness. Strife comes not because two evenly matched sides inevitably must duke it out but because evil — including Satan, the Evil One — wants to overthrow light and life, order and abundance. Dualism has been around for a long time as an earthly attempt to explain both order and disorder in the universe. Versions arose counter to Christianity already during the New Testament period. Nowhere is this clearer than in the First Epistle of John. Here, the apostle goes out of his way to point out that light and dark are not only enemies but that darkness is a weak, fallen shadow of the light of God — particularly of Jesus, the Light of the World. Through John, we also learn that the light vanquishes the darkness and that, while we might chose to serve evil, good — that is, God — must choose us before we can respond in service to Him. Evil might amass tremendous wealth and power and can assemble mighty forces but it cannot be the ultimate source of any of these for all that is has its source only in a good and gracious God. Scripture shows us that the “Dark Side of The Force” isn’t a mirror image of the Light, nor is it a separate yet equal entity. Evil can never be more than the good it twists and tears. The Dark Side is a[...]



O Antiphon, O Antiphon

2013-12-22T23:43:24.423-06:00

Oh, my! This time of the year we often hear the strains of O Christmas Tree and O Holy Night playing on radios and in shopping malls. The Christian Church, however, is still officially in the preparatory season of Advent. While we ready ourselves to celebrate Christ’s coming at Christmas, we’re even more so preparing for His Second Coming on the Last Day. At the same time, we’re also mindful that He continues to come to us in Word and Sacrament. Thus Advent acknowledges and celebrates what we often call Christ’s “three-fold coming.” The hymns and appointed Scriptures for the Advent season touch on all three aspects of Christ’s coming. We might sum them up by saying that Advent is our prayer to Him: “O Jesus, as You came in human flesh as the Babe of Bethlehem, come to us now in mercy through Your Word and live in our hearts, that we might be prepared for Your coming in glory to raise us to everlasting life.” Of all the preparatory hymns, perhaps none is better known than — and well-loved as — Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel. The song’s seven stanzas use a variety of biblical images to speak of Jesus. The hymn masterfully connects Old Testament prophecies with New Testament fulfillment. Where did we get this hymn? And what are those antiphons mentioned in this article’s title? An antiphon is a brief verse, usually sung before and after a Psalm or a canticle in liturgical churches. The O Antiphons, dating from no later than the 6th Century AD, were written to be used with the Magnificat, Mary’s song of faith from Luke 1, the traditional canticle for Vespers, Christianity’s ancient service for the close of day. They were intended to be sung over the seven days preceding Christmas Eve. We call them the “O” Antiphons because each begins with that interjection. Their traditional order from the 17th through the 23rd of December is as follows: O Sapientia (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Dayspring), O Rex Gentium (King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel (God with Us). They lead in roughly chronological order from eternity to the Nativity of our Lord. By the 12th Century, a Latin hymn based on the seven O Antiphons came into use. During the mid-1800s, John Mason Neale and Henry Sloan Coffin made an English translation. Note that the final antiphon became the first stanza, thus we normally begin the hymn by singing, “Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel.” If we reverse their traditional order, we can form a Latin acrostic from the first word of each of the antiphons: Ero cras. This can be translated, “I shall be [with you] tomorrow.” Thus we have a reminder that our Lord promises to return for us. Therefore, His Church pledges itself to join together to receive Him by faith through Word and Sacrament until we finally receive Him by sight on Judgment Day. Visit the post Come, Lord Jesus! Look carefully at the seven O Antiphons and the seven stanzas of the hymn. See how steeped they are in Old Testament imagery. As Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. (John 5:39)” He fulfilled the prophets’ words. He is God’s Word made flesh, who ransomed sin-enslaved humanity, both “captive Israel” and all the other nations of mankind. See also Aardvark Alley with its daily postings of the O Antiphons plus links to additional resources. Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Send email to Ask the Pastor. Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, hymn writer, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons. Article first appeared in The Concordian of 18 December AD 2013.[...]



The Best of All Possible Worlds

2013-12-22T22:50:43.334-06:00

It was an ironic Kris Kristofferson song. It has become a somewhat clichéd expression. However, the phrase “best of all possible worlds” actually comes from a serious philosophical work, Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. It was part of his effort to reconcile free will, determinism, and the problem of evil in a Creation established by a loving God. If you’re like most people, when you hear the expression, you immediately think, “I sure hope not,” or, “That’s not right.” Even if you’re not a Christian, or if you don’t believe in original sin, it’s not hard to conceive of circumstances where there is less pain, suffering, and death, where people act more kindly and lovingly toward one another. Even most who accept death as “a necessary part of life” still think that there’s something wrong when parents must bury children. Leibniz looked at things just a bit differently. He treated God like a mathematician — or a casino odds maker. He assumed that God knew everything would come unglued once it was made and taught that He’d put everything together so as to minimize the damage once sin was loosed in Creation. While Leibniz probably thought that he’d discovered cause for optimism, I think that it’s a really cynical way of understanding God, ultimately seeing Him as someone who’d chosen not merely the lesser of two evils but the least of all possible evils. For this and other reasons, philosophers and theologians have rejected Leibniz’s way of thinking almost since he espoused it. Bertrand Russell considered the concept illogical. Voltaire so thoroughly scorned the concept that he mocked it throughout Candide. There, Dr. Pangloss uses “best of all possible worlds” as an ongoing mantra. From Voltaire, English gained the adjective panglossian, meaning naively or unreasonably optimistic. Yet even when we admit that this is a broken, fallen, hurting, bleeding, and dying Creation, we also realize that it’s a Creation filled with beauty, wonder, love, and light. I thought of this as I watched the Perseids, the annual August meteor shower. Beautiful light trails and occasional brilliant fireballs blaze across the sky as tiny dust motes from slowly disintegrating comets rip into earth’s atmosphere at amazing speed. Much of earth’s natural beauty comes from changing, decaying nature. Erosion, a bane of crop farmers, carries off tons of fertile soil every year. Erosion also helped to carve such majesty as the mountains, canyons, caverns, and the stone arches and bridges of the West. Scarred though it be, Creation still reflects at least some of the majesty of its Creator. The Christian knows that for all its beauty, this world is not the best but also realizes that even with its brokenness, it isn’t the worst. We still await the best world, for God says, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth. (Isaiah 65:17)” This New Creation awaits all who have faith in Jesus as their Savior and who know that the Father forgives their sins because of the Christ’s sacrifice. The worst possible world, of course, is that to which the impenitent unbelievers are condemned. While neither the best nor the worst, we know this world is better off for having Christ as its Redeemer. His Church makes it better — this not because Christians elevate the world through their own holiness but because they bring Jesus’ goodness into bad circumstances and situations. The saints care for their broken brothers and sisters and do good even for the earth’s most wicked inhabitants in response to the infinitely greater good Jesus has done fore us. Until our time here ends, this remains the best place for us to receive Christ’s forgiveness and to show mercy for His sake. Best world or worst? Isn’t this a nonsense question? This is the only world in which we [...]



Questions from Young Christians

2013-07-25T00:53:56.086-05:00

This time around, I thought I’d reply to some random questions from youth that I recently received. 1. What type of fish swallowed Jonah? The Bible doesn’t tell us. The Hebrew merely says “great fish.” The Israelites being largely landlubbers, they don’t seem to have done much to distinguish among various sea creatures. Therefore, we cannot be sure if it was even a “fish” by scientific definition or a member of the whale family. If it were a creature of the Mediterranean still in existence today, our candidates are limited. In my mind, the sperm whale and the great white shark would be most likely. An average sized sperm whale and a large great white are among the few aquatic animals with throats and esophagi large enough to swallow even a small man whole, without chewing him up or crushing him first. If the vomiting was a natural act rather than one designed by the Lord specifically for the occasion, a whale is most likely, since they are capable of doing just such a thing. 2. What do you do if you’re crazy for someone who doesn’t feel the same way? Be patient — craziness normally passes. You need to decide how much you want to invest emotionally, financially, and even spiritually in trying to develop a relationship that may or may not ever bear fruit. Then either act accordingly or walk away graciously. Continually longing from afar usually ends up leading people into resentment or full-fledged hatred. We don’t own each other and attempting to “take possession” of another is sinful. If you see no chance for mutual affection, open your options to others and let your decisions be guided by your faith and your intellect as well as your heart. 3. Why were Adam and Eve naked? They didn’t need clothing to protect themselves since God had placed them in an ideal environment. In their case, their physical nudity wasn’t an issue until they realized that they were spiritually naked before God. They sewed together leaf coverings and hid among the trees not because their bodies were shameful but because they signified the shame that was theirs following their fall into sin. 4. Why does God let Satan exist? If He knew the future, why did He create Satan? Why did God make Adam and Eve? Why does he allow mankind to continue? God created because it is His nature to create. He made all things good. What happened afterwards wasn’t God’s fault but that of His creatures. We aren’t given reasons for many of God’s actions. In fact, He often cuts off such questioning: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)” However, He does tell us the reason for His most important act. He sent His Son in human flesh to undo the Devil’s dirty work and to cleanse us from our inborn and ongoing sin because “He so loved the world” that he wants you to believe and “have eternal life. (John 3:16)” 5. Why did God make four seasons? He may not have. Conditions at the beginning of Creation may have been quite different from those now. The seasons as we know them may be the result of the Fall. Even if there were distinctions in the very beginning, the changing of the seasons is tied to the planting, growth, and harvesting of various plants, thus benefitting all living things. Note also that extreme northern and southern parts of the globe essentially have only two seasons and equatorial regions only one. 6. How do we build a relationship with God? On our own, not well at all. Our tools and materials are limited, broken, and stained with sin. God is the Builder. He reaches out to us through His Son, by His Word, in the Church. He moves us to respond to Him in faith then to show love to others. Yet once we are made His through faith, He leads us to regular worship. There we hear how much He loves us and receive His forgiveness. There we eat and drink Christ’s[...]



No “Buts” about It

2013-05-16T02:21:43.907-05:00

Want to say no without actually saying, “No”? It’s easy — agree with someone and then add a “but.” We like to use “but” to disagree without sounding disagreeable. When we “but in” to others’ statements, we’re actually telling them to “butt out.” Most of us are guilty at times of using “but” to avoid going along with the thoughts of others — but when others do it to us, watch out! How dare they tell us yes and no in the same breath! And if it pains us, imagine what God thinks when we say “but” to Him. Many classic Christian heresies grew out of people saying “but” to clear words of Scripture. Arius said, “Yes, Jesus is the Son of God — but He’s not really God.” He also would have replied in the affirmative if you’d have asked him, “Was there ever a time when the Son of God was not?” Nestorius confessed that Jesus was God and man — but established a theology that so divided the divine and human natures that the Christ was essentially two people in one person. He claimed that certain things only happened to the man-part or the God-part and not to the entire Son. Heretics such as these accepted what they could comprehend and then rejected what was difficult or uncomfortable to believe. Today, millions of people will agree that Jesus was a great teacher or a mighty prophet — but not God’s own Son. When they hear Him say, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, (John 14:6)” they’ll say, “Yes, but not the only way, the only truth, and the only life.” Often, they would rather embrace the contradictions of conflicting beliefs than the paradoxes of biblical Christianity, where God’s harsh, sin-condemning Law stands beside His gracious Gospel that forgives and forgets our wickedness. In our own faith and personal piety, we also can be guilty of using “but” in order to hold God at arm’s length. Often this comes in our hesitance to fully and completely accept Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Our fallen natures resent divine monergism — the idea that God is solely responsible for establishing and maintaining our salvation, our faith, and our new lives as believers. Not wanting to think of their natural-born selves as sinners, rebels, God’s enemies, or spiritually dead, people try to put a “but” after agreeing with our Lord’s absolutes. Yes, Scripture plainly teaches that God rejects, condemns, and finally damns unrepentant sinners — but I’m not really all that sinful. Yes, I’m saved only by grace through faith in Christ — but I have to do or undo something before this salvation takes effect. When we say “but” to the Law, we tell God that we aren’t really as bad as He says we are. When we say “but” to the Gospel, we demean Jesus’ sacrifice by claiming that there’s something good and right in us that can share the credit (and the glory) for our salvation. When the Holy Spirit catches us in this error of agreeing with God and then contradicting Him, He moves us to repent and receive full forgiveness. Instead of the self-accommodation of “but” the Spirit teaches us to say, “Amen.” Amen is the “anti-but.” It means “truly” or “so be it.” Amen is faith’s answer to an all-powerful, incomprehensible God. Amen tells the Lord, “You’re right. I may not understand or even like what You’re saying — but that’s fine, because You’re God and I’m not.” Instead of our “but” negating God’s holy Word and perfect will, our “Amen” becomes the “but” that negates our own sinful disagreement with Him. “Verily, verily,” Jesus often said. This, “Amen, amen,” was and remains His way of saying, “My Word is truth.” When that truth lives in us, it drives out our sinful “buts” that we might respond in kind. When the Law rebukes o[...]



Pentecost Hymn: Upon the Plain of Shinar

2013-05-15T12:09:57.520-05:00

Genesis 11:1-9 is the appointed reading for Pentecost in the One Year Lectionary and Year C of the Three Year cycle of readings. It tells of the confusion of tongues at Babel. Pentecost shows God undoing the curse of Babel as He brought the Gospel to disparate tongues through the Apostles’ preaching. This hymn tells the story of Genesis 11 and continues it into the New Testament. Human disunity — a sign of our lack of oneness with God Himself — is undone by Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. As we are made one with God, so now God also works to unite the world’s disparate tongues into a united voice of faith and praise. I wrote Upon the Plain of Shinar in the LM (88 88) meter but it also works as an LMD hymn. Therefore, I’ve provided versification and suggested tunes for each form and a link to a copier-ready PDF with both LM and LMD included. LM (88 88) suggested tunes include Gottlob, es geht nunmehr zu Ende, Herr Jesu Christ, O Heilige Dreifaltigkeit, Winchester New, and Wo Gott zum Haus. Upon the plain of Shinar stoodThe sinful heirs of Adam’s fall.They formed and fired bricks of mudTo raise a town with tower tall. They said, “This tow’r and city boldShall serve as beacons for our race.Their majesty our hearts shall hold,To cease our straying from this place.” Their wicked, vain, and prideful heartsThe Lord condemned: “It shall not be.Your evil minds pervert fair arts —You think yourselves to be like Me. “This unity of sinful prideHas led you to deep shame and woes.Your evil efforts I’ve denied —Now turn, O neighbors, into foes. “Your tongues,” He said, “Shall speak no moreWhat each the other comprehends.Your pridefulness I do abhor;Be banished to the earth’s far ends.” This curse upon our fathers’ prideIts full and fell intent achieved.Mankind was scattered far and wideAnd foreign tongues were ill-received. To join the scattered tribes againThe Son of God took human frame.By bloody death, through bitter pain,He reconciled us in His name. Then came the time for Christ’s ascentTo God’s right hand, His heav’nly home.The Holy Spirit Jesus sent,To grow and counsel Christendom. The Holy Spirit testifies,“Believe in Christ; be whole again.Forsake fore’er satanic liesAnd live as one with God and men.” Come, join in faith, each race and tribe;Sing praise to God, the Father wise,The Spirit, and the crucifiedAnd resurrected Jesus Christ. LMD (88 88 D) suggested tunes include O Grosser Gott and Tallis' Lamentation. Upon the plain of Shinar stoodThe sinful heirs of Adam’s fall.They formed and fired bricks of mudTo raise a town with tower tall.They said, “This tow’r and city boldShall serve as beacons for our race.Their majesty our hearts shall hold,To cease our straying from this place.” Their wicked, vain, and prideful heartsThe Lord condemned: “It shall not be.Your evil minds pervert fair arts —You think yourselves to be like Me.“This unity of sinful prideHas led you to deep shame and woes.Your evil efforts I’ve denied —Now turn, O neighbors, into foes. “Your tongues,” He said, “Shall speak no moreWhat each the other comprehends.Your pridefulness I do abhor;Be banished to the earth’s far ends.”This curse upon our fathers’ prideIts full and fell intent achieved.Mankind was scattered far and wideAnd foreign tongues were ill-received. To join the scattered tribes againThe Son of God took human frame.By bloody death, through bitter pain,He reconciled us in His name.Then came the time for Christ’s ascentTo God’s right hand, His heav’nly home.The Holy Spirit Jesus sent,To grow and counsel Christendom. The Ho[...]



Blessing Objects

2013-04-06T18:04:25.320-05:00

Q: Is it okay to “bless” things in the Church? I’m thinking specifically of things like ashes, palms, or even wedding rings. A: Our current Agenda for Lutheran Service Book and its predecessors all have sections on blessing of new buildings and additions, new fixtures (organs, bells, altars, windows, etc.), new paraments and vestments, and the like. The LSB Agenda has some seventy pages devoted to the topic, with both rites and resources. The “blessing” of the rings printed in the LSB marriage rite is actually a blessing of the union they symbolize and, at the barest of minimums, it passed LCMS doctrinal review: “Send Your blessing upon the couple who shall wear these ✠ rings as a constant reminder of their marital fidelity.” In the past, many Lutherans kept the practice of blessing the coming planting and growing season on Rogate (the Sixth Sunday of Easter). In some places, this practice continues. There are also churches (not necessarily Lutheran) that annually bless domestic animals (both livestock and pets). Others near ports and marinas hold blessings of watercraft. Parts of Christendom also observe the Rogation Days (25 April as the Major Rogation Day and the three days prior to Ascension as the Minor Rogation Days). “Rogate,” the traditional name for Easter 6, got its name from the traditional Gospel of the day. It means to ask or petition, based on Jesus’ teaching the disciples to ask the Father for what they need in John 14. It is never wrong to seek God’s blessing on godly vocational and recreational pursuits, let alone on those things that the Church uses in its proclamation of the Gospel. That in mind, however, I think that of the three things mentioned in your question, I would be much less likely to participate in the blessing of either ashes or palms than of rings. I think that house blessings are one of the most loving types of pastoral ministry in the flock, as the ministers visit homes and pray for the Lord’s protection of those dwelling within. So also the blessing of other structures where godly vocation is practiced. And if one’s vocation involves a truck or tractor, then blessing a Peterbilt or a John Deere likewise is right, fitting, and proper. Send email to Ask the Pastor. Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.[...]



Transfiguration to Disfiguration—and Back Again

2013-02-14T00:19:09.496-06:00

A Meditation on Transfiguration, Lent, and Easter Today, Ash Wednesday, marks a time when those who follow a liturgical calendar of the Church year change seasons. From the time of Christmas (Jesus, the Word becoming flesh) through Epiphany (Jesus shown as the Christ to Jews and Gentiles), we move into the time of Lent (Jesus setting forth to die). From a time of feasting and celebrating, we transition to one of penitence and fasting, of looking backward at our lives and inward toward ourselves and seeing nothing truly good that we are or have done. Epiphany ends with the Transfiguration of Our Lord, which celebrates that day when Jesus stood on the mountaintop conversing with Moses and Elijah about His upcoming departure (exodus; see Luke 9:31) from this life. Lent concludes with our Savior’s disfiguration at the hands of those who tortured and crucified Him, as the Church gathers in solemn remembrance of His suffering and death on Good Friday. Both of these events are part of God’s plan for saving sinful mankind from the evil with which we are born and our accumulated wicked thoughts, words, and deeds. Both the glory and the gore testify to God’s love for sinners as He came down in human flesh to bear our sins and win our forgiveness. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah all knew grief and pain as the Devil and sinful people attempted to thwart them. Yet each overcame and triumphed in the tasks God assigned. Jesus supplanted Moses as the great Rescuer. Moses led an exodus of Hebrews from bondage in Egypt while Jesus headed the exodus of all believers from eternal slavery to sin, death, and Satan. Elijah gloriously and bodily ascended to the Father without suffering earthly death. Jesus even more gloriously rose from the dead before His own ascension to God’s right hand. As we begin the season of Lent, we trust that Jesus already cemented our victory. We may still suffer, whether because of others’ actions, the consequences of our own sins, the weakening of our bodies or minds due to age, illness, or accident, or because of Satan’s direct assault. However, just as Moses and Israel crossed the Red Sea, Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and showed the Lord’s might, and Jesus conquered death by dying and rising, so we will one day attain everlasting life. Life’s events may disfigure our bodies or crush our minds but Christ’s Holy Spirit transfigures our spirits, creating and sustaining faith through Jesus’ forgiveness applied in Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion. Transformed by the Gospel, you need not fear the Devil’s attempts to malform you, for “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36) Jesus, the perfect Image of His Father suffered the disfiguration of His Passion and death in order to transfigure us who were born hideously disfigured by sin into His own image. Exchanging the glory of heaven for the pain and death common to man, He then exchanges our sins for His righteousness and promises to glorify us in the Resurrection. May God keep the image of Christ crucified before your eyes so that you may always trust that “he was pierced for our transgressions ... and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)” Send email to Ask the Pastor. Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons. Article first appeared in The Concordian of 13 February AD 2013.[...]



A Truly Meaningful Christmas

2012-12-31T13:34:48.107-06:00

Reposted from 25 December 2007 Complaints about people not knowing “the true meaning of Christmas” started this year in mid-October, as the first holiday advertising began. Most Christians complain at least a bit about commercialism obscuring or obliterating a godly celebration of our Savior’s birth. We’re joined by many non-believers who likewise deplore the money-first mentality of the season’s advertising. While there’s certainly plenty of blame to go around, we who claim to be Christian cannot accuse others without at least partially accusing ourselves. After all, don’t we already know about “the true meaning of Christmas”? Most of us can tell the story, many able to recite it word-for-word from our old King James Bibles. Unfortunately, knowing the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t guarantee our celebrating a truly meaningful Christmas. In all of life, Christians too often experience disconnects between what we know and what we do. So it is with the Feast of the Nativity. We remember the angel’s words, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)” Then we forget why we need this Savior. The Christmas hymn Hark the Glad Sound first announces His coming, then invites our response: “Let every heart prepare a throne And every voice a song.” The next stanzas tell how He brought salvation from “Satan’s bondage” and our own sinful actions. They sing of Christ rescuing mankind from the effects of sin, including mental defect and illness, blindness, fiscal and spiritual poverty, heartbreak, and the like. We know that in time, we receive these only in part; however, we are certain that we’ll enjoy them fully in the Resurrection. The true meaning of Christmas certainly includes the fullness of Jesus’ life, work, suffering, death, and resurrection. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)” and no amount of commercial or sentimental excess can change this fact. The Christ Child came not to market violent electronic games, expensive new cars, or other consumer items. Likewise, His virgin mother “laid him in a manger (Luke 2:7)” not to invite our cooing over the cute Baby but simply to give Him a place to rest His newborn, helpless body as He entered the world to which His Father sent Him as Savior. How could any true Christian peer into Jesus’ first bed without also seeing cross and tomb? At the beginning of His life of humble service, Mary “laid him in a manger.” After He died, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Him to “a new tomb” in a garden and “laid Jesus there. (John 19:41-42)” The almighty Son of God began and ended His saving work unable to bed Himself. He depended upon others to lay Him to rest after He drew His first breath and once He drew His last. He willingly “made himself nothing” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of ... death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)” We understand the true meaning of Christmas when we realize that everything Jesus Christ did, He did to save us from our sins. Unfortunately, we often get stuck between knowing the true meaning of Christmas and converting that knowledge into a Christmas that’s truly meaningful. When we become caught up in buying and exchanging gifts, we forget that true gifts aren’t exchanged — they’re given. Indeed, if you expect something of equal value in return, how can it be a gift? We can get tired and frustrated when we desire to focus on the holiday’s central meaning while still going along with so m[...]



The Real Saint Nick

2012-12-06T00:32:57.880-06:00

The Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra While many Christians give presents sometime during early winter, many avoid gift-giving on Christmas. Some wait until Epiphany on 6 January, since this day celebrates the Wise Men arriving in Bethlehem and giving their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child. In much of Europe, children will receive presents this Thursday (6 December), which is Saint Nicholas Day. Stories about this Third Century pastor’s generosity gradually led to tales of his ongoing bringing of presents. Yet the Nicholas of history bears scant resemblance to the “jolly old elf” of Clement Moore’s poem or the chunky, red-clad image developed by Thomas Nast and expanded by Coca-Cola. Actually, we know very little about the original St. Nick. A study of his remains indicates a man barely 5 feet tall who at one time suffered a broken nose. Whether broken as an adult or a child, we don’t know — although he seems to have had a rather combative nature, particularly when faced with an unrepentant heretic. Because Arius denied the full divinity of Jesus, Nicholas reportedly slapped him during a meeting of the Council of Nicaea. The other bishops didn’t take this lightly and Nicholas’s violence dismayed even the most orthodox among them. Their strong rebuke included a threat to strip him of his bishopric but Nicholas quickly repented his action and remained in office. The bringer of gifts obviously grew out of different stories. He seemingly came from a wealthy family. Desiring to serve God in physical poverty, he gave away his inherited fortune and gained renown for his generosity, especially toward the truly poor and needy. The stories say that he gave his contributions in secret whenever possible. An apocryphal story tells of three sisters whose father wasted the family fortune. If a girl had no dowry, she had no way to marry into a respectable family. Normally, only slavery or prostitution would be such a woman’s means of support. When Nicholas about them, he sneaked up to the house and tossed sufficient dowry money through the sleeping family’s windows so that the girls could each wait for a proper marriage. Some versions have him wrapping coins (and jewels) in stockings — beginning a tradition of gifts in stockings. The three bags of gold were later stylized into three golden balls, which passed into usage as the sign of pawnbrokers. Perhaps the connection is that those in dire financial straits often turn to such people in order to gain ready cash to tide them through their troubles. Because of this, when patron saints became popular, he became favored by pawnbrokers. Additionally, many sailors looked to him for help. His patronage for children stemmed from another apocryphal story, one much less likely than that of the three sisters. In it, he raised three boys from the dead after they’d been murdered by an evil butcher and placed in a brine barrel to be cured and sold as ham. Perhaps the salty brine also led to the connection with sailors. So if you’re tired of the commercialization of Christmas but still want to keep Santa in some way, or if you just want your presents three weeks sooner than everyone else, maybe you should look into celebrating St. Nicholas Day. And if you do pause to remember the saint, here’s a hymn verse I wrote for the commemoration:    With joy Your Church remembers   Saint Nicholas, the blest,   Who gave up earthly treasures    And Jesus’ name confessed.   The poor and weak he welcomed,   The heretic he scorned;   Through faith and life and preaching,   Christ’s[...]



A Family Tradition

2012-07-20T02:14:58.729-05:00

or I’m Sure Jesus Done It This Way Hank Williams, Jr. had a huge hit in 1979 with the song Family Tradition. In it, he defended his hard-living, hard-drinking lifestyle against country music purists who wondered why he didn’t act more like they did. His response was that his behavior was just a “family tradition,” a statement that has some merit, since Hank, Sr. also frequently was at odds with the status quo of his day. The song can be expanded beyond the Williams family — rebellious, illegal, wrong-headed, and self-destructive behavior is also a family tradition of Adam and Eve’s entire family tree. It may be expressed in different ways, subtly by some and brazenly by others, but no one conceived and born of human parents is exempt from sinful attempts to uphold the initial rebellion of our first parents in Creation’s early days. It’s a family tradition to think of ourselves too highly and to look to gain unfair advantage over others. Conversely, it’s also a family tradition to despair of ourselves, to think that we are utterly without worth and having no place in the world. Self-control is practiced most frequently when it involves self-interest. This doesn’t mean that drinking, dancing, or enjoying ourselves are wrong in and of themselves. Neither are walking, talking, or a host of other activities. But sinful intent — often followed by sinful excess — can turn any good gift of God into a mockery and make any blessing into a curse. The entire tradition of the family of man, then, is a giant rebellion against God, usually accompanied by the misuse of His good gifts and normally at the expense of our brothers and sisters. Like the song says, some people “drink” (to excess) or “roll smoke” (even though marijuana is illegal for most people in most parts of the country). However, even if we abstain from these, all of us find ways to “live out the songs” that we write for ourselves by envisioning a sinful narrative for our lives and then acting it out. Thank God that He has another “family tradition” — that of showing grace and mercy to undeserving, rebellious sinners for the sake of His holy and perfect Son Jesus. In the divine Family, the Son perfectly follows the Father’s lead. He accepted the burden of flesh carried by Adam’s family but lived His life according to His Father’s will. Jesus broke our human tradition of breaking God’s commandments. He enjoyed the gifts of Creation in moderation, treated others with kindness, acceptance, and forgiveness, and never rebelled, no matter what the Father asked Him to do. Even taking our sins upon Himself, suffering the consequences for His human family’s rebellion, and dying on the cross He did willingly and “for the joy that was set before him. (Hebrews 12:2)” In faith, we are adopted out of our sinful family and made God’s children through Holy Baptism. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God moves us to embrace new traditions of faith toward Him and sincere, active, fervent love for our brothers and sisters. As we practice living and loving as Christ lived and loves, these new traditions become ever more deeply ingrained and we may find it increasingly easy to love our neighbor — even our enemy — as ourselves. We won’t see the old, sinful traditions pass away until we depart this life, either in death or when our Lord returns. Yet Christians are already allowed to practice the new traditions of our perfect family that will remain with us through the Resurrection of the Dead and into life everlasting. Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Send emai[...]



Ascension RSVP

2012-05-16T12:00:01.495-05:00

Don’t Forfeit Your Banquet Invitation What if you held a feast and no one came? Jesus dealt with this in the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). He told of a rich man who “invited many” but kept hearing excuses. Dismayed with the responses of his friends and acquaintances, the man had his servants invite “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” but there was “still room.” So he sent them out again to compel strangers to join the party and declared that no one who’d first declined would be able to attend. In the Christian calendar, Ascension Day reminds me of the Great Banquet. Traditionally one of the major feast days, it celebrates our Lord returning to His Father on the fortieth day of Easter. This year, it falls on 17 May. Jesus ascended to His heavenly home because His earthly work was complete. He lived a perfect life and died an innocent victim in order to pay for mankind’s sins. He left that He might gift His disciples and the Church with the Holy Spirit. He also ascended so that He might “go to prepare a place for” believers (John 14:2). After telling the Twelve why He would soon depart, He then said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (v. 3)” This promise is ours, also, and is why the Church so highly regarded the Feast of the Ascension. It was Jesus’ final earthly deed before He returns bodily to end the world, judge the nations, and bring the faithful to eternal life. Our Host joyfully awaits the guests He has invited to the eternal feast, “the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:9)” We are not wealthy enough in righteousness and good works to merit an invitation. Instead, we are the spiritually “poor and crippled and blind and lame” who deserve nothing yet are promised all good things. He only asks us to trust His words and, with His blessing, to love others as He loves us as we live out our vocations. Perhaps our inattention to the Ascension is a sign of the busy-ness of our lives. Our calendars are filled to overflowing and it seems difficult to carve out the time for worship on this one special Thursday each Spring. Perhaps we also downplay Ascension because it doesn’t have the cute Baby, sweet mother, shepherds, angels, and all the trappings of Christmas and because it lacks the deep valley and spectacular peak of Holy Week and Easter. However, Ascension Day may also slip by because we are too grounded in things earthly. Family and friends, business and agriculture, labor and leisure — these are all wonderful blessings from God. Yet they pale before the Father’s Gift of Jesus and the Son’s wonderful gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal. But we cannot see, taste, or touch them in the same manner as we do the people and things surrounding us and if we aren’t constant in the Word and attentive to His promises, these greater gifts become distant and less important to us. Is it necessary that congregations hold special Ascension services? No. If they do, is it imperative that we drop everything to attend? Of course not! Paul wrote the Colossian Christians, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (2:16)” However, when holy days are regularly overlooked, it becomes much easier for us to forget the reasons why the celebrations first began. Returning to the Parable of the Great Banquet, we see how easy it is for sinners to forget the enormity of the debt Christ paid, the fullness of His forgiveness, and the certainty of our salvation. When asked t[...]



The Feast of the Holy Innocents

2011-12-28T17:11:06.276-06:00

Christmas Joy Meets Satanic SlaughterThe ancient calendar followed by most of the Christian Church for almost two millennia intersperses beauty and awe with violence and death. Aside from Holy Week and Easter, this is nowhere more apparent than during the days of Christmastide.Following the joyful celebration of our Savior’s nativity, the Second Day of Christmas commemorates Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, on the 26th. Saint John, the only apostle believed to have avoided a violent death, is remembered the next day. Through him, the Holy Spirit provides theological depth to the Gospels. John’s writings offer a treasury of understanding and living our lives as forgiven sinners, the promise of divine protection even in times of persecution, and the unshakeable, certain hope of our resurrection to eternal life.The uplift of the Feast of Saint John dissolves into bloodshed on 28 December, the Fourth Day of Christmas. Holy Innocents Day marks the massacre of Bethlehem’s children by Herod the Great.The account of the Wise Men who traveled to find the King of the Jews (see Matthew 2:1-12) inflamed Herod’s jealousy. In response, he sent his soldiers to kill all of Bethlehem’s boys two years old and younger in order to protect his throne and lineage. This was one of the last major decisions Herod made in a life filled with vainglory and descending into bodily sickness and increasing madness.Matthew 18:13-18 records what happened following the Wise Men’s visit. The evangelist concludes his account with a heartbreaking quote from the Old Testament: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more. (v. 18; from Jeremiah 31:15)”The slaughter of Bethlehem’s boys testifies to the world’s denial of God’s rule and its rejection of Christ’s Gospel of forgiveness. Fear drove Herod to do what he could to destroy Jesus. God rescued His Son but allowed the other young sons to be killed.Some try to use this massacre to accuse God of lovelessness. However, He intends it to strengthen our faith. The story of Christ’s Nativity may belong to the “milk” of Christian doctrine (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:2); the slaughter of the Innocents is certainly tough meat, a food for which we often still find ourselves “not yet ready.” Dining on the Word’s difficult passages fortifies us to face similar trials to those of Scripture’s saints. We learn that there is no “pain-free” Christianity anymore than there was a pain-free Christ. Though we are healed by Jesus’ wounds, devil and world remain eager to wound us anew.Even though God allowed it to happen, He certainly took no pleasure in infanticide and bereavement, nor did He ignore the pain of the victims and their survivors. Callous disregard was Herod’s way, not God’s. We know how the Father’s heart was stricken because we see the depth of His Son’s woe at other times of spiritual or physical loss: Jesus cried over Mary and Martha’s loss of Lazarus (John 11:32-36) and wept for sinful Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).Bethlehem lost her children because of God’s sympathy for our plight. They were part of the painful cost Christ accepted when He came to save us. He died not to keep these children from Herod but from Hell. He knew personally and intimately the pain felt by sword-pierced babies and grief-stricken parents. He carried it in His flesh and felt it fully as He hung from the cross.Until this world ends, God will continue to use death, often savage and sometimes seemingly senseless, to open the gates of eternal life. Baptism is our[...]



Help Me, Mr. Wizard!

2011-10-23T22:35:04.340-05:00

Many of us who watched television as children in the early 1960s included King Leonardo and his Short Subjects (later renamed The King and Odie) in our Saturday morning schedule. One recurring segment involved Tooter Turtle, a young turtle living in the forest who wasn’t content with being a young turtle living in the forest. Because of this, he regularly (over 39 episodes) visited the lizard known as Mr. Wizard, asking him to change the time and place of his circumstances.Tooter thought that going to another time and place would give him the opportunity to remake himself. In every episode, Mr. Wizard sent him off to new experiences, including working high iron, exploring the polar regions, flying a plane, and even riding with the U. S. Cavalry (which ended at Little Big Horn). The trouble was always the same: You can take the turtle out of the forest, but you can’t take the foolish thinking out of the turtle.However, Tooter never suffered permanent consequences — at least not until his cartoon show was cancelled. Whenever a new endeavor collapsed and he was on the brink of absolute ruin or certain death, he would call out, “Help me, Mr. Wizard!”As soon he cried out for help, Mr. Wizard chanted, “Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome; time for zis one to come home.” A swirling spell surrounded Tooter, who quickly reappeared in the lizard’s presence. After his return, Mr. Wizard gave him the same advice every time: “Be just vhat you is, not vhat you is not. Folks vhat do zis are ze happiest lot.”Discontent with our own lives may lead us into like troubles. We may try to be someone we are not or do things for which we are unprepared. People reinvent their pasts and tell a story contrary to their personal histories. They become heroes when they were once participants, participants when they were once observers, or observers when they were once uninvolved.Among our cultural stereotypes is the man facing a mid-life crisis. This movie and television plot staple feels trapped by a dead-end job or a marriage without the zest it once had. In milder settings, he makes foolish purchases of a motorcycle or a sports car or he starts dressing, talking, and acting like someone years younger. In more serious shows, he may have an affair or just walk out on his family, perhaps taking a new, younger wife. The reason this Hollywood stereotype abounds is that it’s built on actual events that happen all too often in the “real world.”While aging white men are the customary on-screen culprits, no segment of society is without people desiring to be something — or someone — different and better from the way they perceive themselves. Yet, like Tooter Turtle, the fantasies they invent for themselves always seems to unravel, often with extreme consequences.This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t examine ourselves nor that we should be satisfied with our personal mediocrity. It means that we should pin our hopes for positive, real, and permanent change on something more than reinterpreted memories and wishful thinking. For example, the imprisoned Saint Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)”However, Paul’s contentment was with his station in life, not who he was by nature. For this same apostle could also complain about himself, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18, 24)”Paul recognized that the Source of his contentment was also his Rescuer from discontent: Rather than inventing a new ve[...]



Sexually Pleasuring Yourself

2011-09-27T19:54:59.583-05:00

From the ArchivesQ: Is masturbation a sin?A: I receive this question with a fair degree of regularity. It’s true that the Bible does not specifically prohibit it. However, I believe that Scripture generally speaks against the thoughts and feelings involved in the action.Among Christians and many Jews, masturbation often is called “onanism,” after the sin of Onan, who would not fulfill his responsibility with Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law. His was only one of several transgressions committed by Judah’s family in Genesis 38 which the Lord needed to confront.Technically, Onan wasn’t condemned for the act of masturbation per se, but for failure to act as husband in all aspects in completing the duties of his deceased brother for his sister-in-law. It appears that his actual, physical sin was premature withdrawal in order to avoid fathering a child. Verse 9 says, “Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” In so doing, Onan experienced sexual pleasure without living up to the moral and familial obligations that sex entails.We know that just because one feels guilty about a particular action doesn’t automatically make it wrong, since Satan would have us feel guilty about many guilt-free activities, thus burdening our consciences. Still, since masturbation normally accompanies lustful desires and erotic fantasies, it is best left alone. In other words, it may not be the action but is certainly the accompanying desire that is both sinful and hurtful to the one involved.Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)” This includes looking with our imaginations in the privacy of our own rooms. Therefore, the sins of lust, covetousness, and adultery can all be involved in masturbation, although it may not be true that all are involved every time.Also, masturbation may become part of a pattern of psychological and spiritual addiction. Desire for self-gratification can outweigh a relationship with the Giver of all good things. It can lead one to avoid establishing and maintaining good relationships with others of the opposite sex. In short, while someone may argue that masturbation isn’t always wrong, you cannot convince me that it’s the most right thing to do.I’m going to let Martin Luther have the final word here. In explaining the 6th Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” he wrote, “We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse. (Small Catechism)” I fail to see how masturbation and the accompanying imaginations of the heart are at all “chaste and decent.”Meaning of the Sixth Commandment quoted from The Small Catechism by Martin Luther, a public domain text.Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.Send email to Ask the Pastor.Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.Technorati Tags: sexuality | sex | lust | desire | covetousness | adultery | masturbation | onanism | Onan | sin | Sixth Commandment | 6th Commandment | Christian | Christianity | Lutheran | Lutheranism | doctrine | theology | pastoral theology | practical theology | Pastor Walter P. Snyder | Walter Snyder | Ask the Pastor | Ask the PastorExpanded from newspaper column #[...]



A Hug Is Just a Hug ... or Is It?

2011-09-19T21:01:41.349-05:00


If a man allows himself to be hugged by his ex-girlfriend is he committing adultery?

(image) Normally, I'd say no. However, if he finds himself still desiring her, then yes. Of course, the desire would probably be there before the hug. I think that most men and women probably hug at least one former boy- or girlfriend after they've started dating, become engaged to, or married someone else. The vast majority of these are, likely, completely innocent.

You should also ask yourself why you want the answer. If this is the man you’ve married or are otherwise committed to, has he ever given you occasion to doubt his sincerity and commitment to you? Or is this a bit of unfounded suspicion that could tear apart the relationship you now have?

Of course, there are times when even innocent-seeming actions are wrong. Jesus’ words are certainly true: “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)” The same goes for hugging and any displays of affection or flirtatiousness. For example read what I wrote in Flirting with Disaster.

Bottom line: Unless you have good reason to doubt him, try investing the same energy you’re spending in questioning him — and more — in showing your love for him.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.

Technorati Tags: | | | | | | |



Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of God

2011-08-15T10:47:17.251-05:00

Q: You refer to Mary as “God’s mother.” Is that the same as saying “Mother of God”? A: This question came in response to one of last week’s posts, Jesus Is Immanuel, concerning matters of Christmas and Epiphany, wherein I wrote, “Immanuel means that the Virgin conceived and bore a Son without human father; God assumed our flesh and joined Himself to mankind; a human woman became God’s mother.” If Mary is not the “Mother of God,” then Christ is not true God and our faith is built upon a lie. Perhaps because of persistent anti-Roman Catholicism, particularly among American Lutherans and Protestants, many parts of the Church became uncomfortable referring to Mary by this title. However, if we are heirs of the true theology of Scripture, the early Church fathers, and the Reformation, we cannot abandon this teaching. Calling the Blessed Virgin “Mother of God” doesn’t mean we worship Mary. It means that we are worshiping the God who chose such miraculous means to come into His Creation and deliver sinful mankind. However, thinking and speaking in such manner does fulfill the prophecy Mary uttered when visiting Elizabeth: “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:48-49)” Notice how she herself distinguishes between the honor she receives and the total majesty of almighty God. After centuries of common use, the Council of Ephesus (AD 431) officially sanctioned the title Theotokos (God-bearer) for the Virgin. Somewhat amazingly to our modern sensibilities, this council officially condemned another title, Christotokos (Christ-bearer). This wasn’t done to dishonor the Christ but to remove one possible way for heretics to point to a Christ who wasn’t truly and completely God and one with His Father. During its formative days, the Lutheran Church carefully aligned itself with historic Biblical Christianity. Thus, regarding Mary, the Formula of Concord (1577) clearly states, “We believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not a mere man and no more, but the true Son of God; therefore she also is rightly called and truly is the mother of God. (Epitome VIII:7)” For more on her feast day, please see Saint Mary, Mother of God at Aardvark Alley. Reposted from 2006. Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Send email to Ask the Pastor. Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.[...]



Remembering the Saints

2011-08-03T10:07:00.435-05:00

Q: What are some of the reasons why we celebrate saints’ days?A: Scripture commends our remembering the lives of earlier believers. The writer of Hebrews cites examples in chapter 11. Chapter 12 concludes this catalog of faithfulness by saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (vv. 1-2)”When and how we remember them is a matter of Christian freedom; that we do so is a way by which the Lord both corrects and inspires His Church. The correction comes both when we compare our faithlessness to their faithfulness and when we remember that many of the great heroes of the Faith also committed grievous sins — just as do you and I. The inspiration and encouragement come as we see how God takes ordinary people and does extraordinary things through them.Let’s use today’s commemoration as our example. The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod chose this day, 3 August, to commemorate three faithful women, the “Myrrh Bearers” Joanna, Mary, and Salome. These, along with Mary Magdalene, are the first people the Bible names who came to Jesus’ tomb early on that Sunday morning following His crucifixion. It appears from Luke 24:10 that other women accompanied them, these are the only ones we know.Easter morn isn’t the first time they appear in Scripture. Luke 8:1-3 mentions Mary Magdalene and Joanna among the women providing financial support to Jesus and the Twelve. Salome was mother of James and John, so she had a very early knowledge of His work and she, along with Mary the mother of James the younger, joined the mourners as the Lord hung on the cross.None of them seem to have come to the tomb because they were feeling extraordinarily holy. Instead, they came for the same reason that so many others visit so many different graves: They’d lost someone for whom they deeply cared and they wanted to honor Him by completing His burial preparations that the Sabbath had interrupted. They were so caught up in sorrow that they didn’t realize they were acting as faithful children of God.Their faithfulness to One they thought dead was rewarded in spectacular fashion. When they arrived at the sepulcher, tearfully wondering who they would find to move the stone from its mouth, angels greeted them with the wondrous message of the Resurrection. One angel charged them with telling the disciples, and the women “departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell. (Matthew 28:8)”So it was that the earliest witnesses of the empty tomb and the risen Savior weren’t Peter, James, or John. Instead, it was some of Jesus’ quiet followers who first discovered that death was undone.In these women, we have a wonderful example of faithful living and an indication that God often chooses ordinary people in ordinary situations to carry out His will. These were holy, pious, God-fearing women but they likely didn’t see themselves as that. To themselves, they were probably just Joanna, Mary, and Salome, three women who loved Jesus because He first loved them.We, also, are most likely to act in true, selfless faith when we are least conscious of how holy, pious, or God-fearing we might be. Instead[...]



The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

2013-04-30T09:53:12.194-05:00

As a Lutheran pastor and theologian, I continually receive questions about my church: Who are we, where do we come from, what do we believe? Since we Lutherans have a very special remembrance today, I thought this a good time to share a bit of our history and teaching.In 1530, our Lutheran forefathers made public proclamation of a new summary of the ancient Scripture truth: Mankind is justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus. They set forth this notion in a religious document affirmed by secular rulers. Written by Philipp Melanchthon, approved by Martin Luther, and signed by princes, dukes, and other civil leaders, the Augsburg Confession was presented to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, on 25 June AD 1530.Some thirteen years of activity preceded this gathering. Many Lutherans (and a considerable number of non-Lutherans) date the beginning of the Lutheran Church to Martin Luther’s posting of the Ninety-five Theses on the Wittenberg church doors on 31 October 1517. However, when he did this, he considered himself a faithful son of the Roman Catholic Church. When ecclesiastical leaders resisted debate and discussion, defending doctrines and practices Luther considered Biblically indefensible, his efforts for reform increased and others began following his lead.By the time the Charles declared a diet (an imperial assembly) in Augsburg and summoned German princes and free territories to explain themselves and their “new” religious convictions, almost ten years had passed since Luther had been excommunicated by Rome and subsequently declared an “outlaw” by the empire. His theological understanding had grown, his differences with Rome and its papacy sharpened, and few of his followers believed that the possibility of reconciliation existed.Still, they came to Augsburg — or at least some of them did. Luther’s ruler, John “the Steadfast” of Saxony, forbad Luther to attend, fearing he would be arrested or killed outright. When Melanchthon sat down to compose a statement of belief for the Evangelicals (evangelical means “of the Gospel”), he based the document on the Torgau Articles, written by Luther with input from a number of other theologians.After completing an early draft, he sent it to Luther, who made a few suggestions but approved of its overall content. Some of the other religious leaders added their ideas and “Master Philipp” put it all together into a statement of Evangelical belief, citing supporting Scriptures and quoting the Church fathers to show that what was written was no novelty but was fully supported and attested by Holy Writ and the orthodox theology of the ancient Church.This wasn’t what the emperor wanted. He desired peace, unity, and an organized resistance against Islamic Turks who were invading Europe. Instead, a group of the empire’s foremost leaders, including some responsible for the election of emperors, affixed their names to a document claiming that much of what the emperor believed was wrong and stating that his church misunderstood, obscured, and misapplied much of the Gospel.When the German leaders wanted to make a public reading of their articles of faith, Charles first denied them. He then shifted the venue into a small chapel where no spectators would hear. On 25 June 1530, Saxon chancellors Bruck and Beyer brought German and Latin copies of the document into the room. Although Charles ob[...]



Blogroll Update

2011-05-23T20:56:36.673-05:00


(image) After adding the most recent additions to the Big Blogroll O’ Vark®™© to my links, I thought I’d mention again the usefulness of such resources to fellow bloggers.

Our links to each other help move all of our blogs up in the search engines. This means that when people hunt for topics about which we write, they’ll find solid confessional Lutheran resources rather than the dreck and drivel produced by so many others. So whether you use all or part of the BBOV or have your own list of favorites, consider adding and maintaining a good list of confessional Lutheran blogs on your own site.

Consider this if you never seem to get around to adding to your own blogroll: Taking a few minutes to set up a blogroll (and keeping an existing list current) certainly honors others’ labors. In addition, it also comes back to help you to a wider readership as the backlinks grow and the search engines find you more easily. God willing, this finally gives all of us more readers and additional opportunities to proclaim Christ, to give proper honor to godly vocations, and to bury some of the internet’s garbage under piles of Lutheranism.

And should you wonder if all of our keyboarding ever accomplishes anything more than inciting the trolls or confounding our non-blogging friends, family, or congregations, stay tuned for the next post, where you’ll meet a concrete example of such writing bearing fruit.

Technorati Tags: | | | | | |



Doing the Judgment Day Math

2011-05-18T22:12:25.808-05:00

According to certain people, if you don’t read this column before the weekend, you’ll never have the opportunity. That’s because they’ve been spreading the word that the world will end on Saturday. They do this by tallying certain selected numbers from Scripture and using linguistic leaps of logic to tell us that Jesus clearly said one thing yet actually meant quite another.Of course, there’s nothing novel about these predictions. Almost as soon as Jesus ascended on the fortieth day of His resurrection, His followers started wondering when He was coming back. There’s nothing wrong with wondering — and truly much commendable about hoping that the day is near — but once we start attempting to pin down a date, we also start leaving behind God’s clear Word in favor of human assumptions.What could be more authoritative for Christians than Christ’s own words? I can make only one clear interpretation of what He said in the week before His crucifixion: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matthew 24:36)” Likewise, after His resurrection and immediately before His ascension, He told the disciples, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:7)”Throughout the New Testament, the writers warn believers to be ready but never tell them when their anticipation will see fruition. Instead, they keep pointing to the Savior. At times they urge the Church to stand firm and at others to move forth boldly, but always to be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)”The most specific signs of the end times have been surrounding mankind almost since the fall. Consider, for instance, Matthew 24:6-7. Jesus said, there will be “wars and rumors of wars.... Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” These are the signs of a decaying, dying world. However, they’re also “but the beginning of the birth pains. (v. 8)”When we concentrate on the Author of Scripture, He turns our eyes away from this world and its signs and toward Himself, the Fulfillment of prophecy and the Keeper of the divine promises. Holy Baptism, attention to the Word, faithfulness in attending a church that proclaims the Gospel truth in love, and receiving Absolution and the Lord’s Supper bring far more blessing than playing guessing games with God.Not only does He command us to be faithful until the end (instead of saying, “Why bother?”). He also enables us to remain faithful, strengthening us through His Church, His Gospel and His Supper until the Day of the Lord is revealed. Even the Bible’s splendid and most terrifying visions exist only to keep us constantly on guard.The speculators cause two major problems. First, many well-meaning people are taken in by them. History is filled with examples of false prophecies of the End Times leading numbers of people into giving away all they have and rushing away to a predicted sacred spot to await Jesus’ return. The other negative consequence is probably much more wide-spread and damaging: It leads to disregarding the certainty of our end on earth, whether on Judgment Day or on the day we die.Every false prophecy in the name of Christ brings that name into disrepute. Already I’m reading humoro[...]