Saturday, December 8, 2018

Men, for Christmas, turn your hearts to the children

One of the impressive memories of youth is the men of the church bagging candy, nuts, and fruit to give to the children following the Children’s Christmas Program.

Ours was a large congregation. My grade had 68 kids. Multiply that by ages from 3 to high school seniors, that is a lot of bags, a lot of candy, a lot of nuts, and a lot of fruit. It took some acreage to lay out the work. It took an organized effort of quite a few men. A project that size hardly could be done in secret or under the radar.

Kids saw the preparations and work of the men. After the program, it was from the hand of the men that the kids received their treats.

In no way is this to diminish the role of women. But the women usually do things for children without having to be specially prodded to do it. Seemingly, these days, men lack the self-starting attribute to do these kindnesses that help Christmas show that our Savior really has come. But that has been true in the past, too. In fact, one of the reasons God sent John the Baptist was to change that.

In the prophesy that John the Baptist would come to prepare the way of our Lord, Malachi says (4:6):
And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
Luke notes this prophesy about John as John came preparing the way for Jesus. He writes (1:16-17):
And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
The Lord turns the hearts of the fathers to the children.

Men, we all can be like John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord. Let’s turn our hearts to the children. There are many, simple, low-effort ways to have a major impact. Get a book of Advent and Christmas stories and read one a day to children. That’s it. Just read it. Nothing more to it. But believe that, not because of you or any talent you would have to acquire, but because of the content of the stories, that would leave a mark for the better. Bag candy for children. Give candy to children in the Name of the Lord.

Children already know – no one has to tell them – that the world is agonizing in sin. When you do such a kindness and by it point to Christ, they will know it came from Christ through you. Kids get things that are hard for adults, but easy for them. Do an easy Christmas kindness, and give a kid a chance to get an easy Christmas message, that you, a man, have a heart from Christ for the children, a sign that Jesus loves them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Men, lay down your lives for you wives, and ...

As a kid growing up in a large Lutheran church (68 in my confirmation class), besides other things that were done to help me pay attention, there was the conversational relationship between my Dad and Mom.

On the drive home from church, Dad would often identify the one main point of the sermon, and Mom would elaborate and develop what she had gotten from the sermon about that point.

When we got home, all five kids had duties before lunch (which we called dinner, and it was a multi course hot meal, about to be made from scratch). After changing clothes, everyone pitched in to making the meal, setting the table, and such.

Dad sat at one end. Mom at the other. The kids down the two sides, sandwiched between Mom and Dad. Punctually, everyone sat down. Dad or Mom had kept track of which of us five kids was next in the rotation to say grace.

Then immediately as the serving bowls and platters were being passed, Mom and Dad resumed the dissection of the sermon. Mom got a kick out of how many times Dad would say, “Pastor Nervig gave the same sermon three times again today,” and then he would identify the juncture at which the first repetition began, and the juncture at which the second repetition began.

Mom liked to say, “But Oscar, you know, that’s what they taught us in school, to tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.” Dad would grudgingly allow that, yes, that is what they taught in school, and probably there was good reason for it. But Dad was an excellent listener. He did not need to hear something twice. He got it the first time. Mom too, every bit as much as Dad, but she had more tolerance for repetition.

Often there was a “I’m-not-too-sure” moment, when Dad would say something like, “I am not too sure about the way Pastor Nervig applied the example of Abraham, though.” And then Mom and Dad would delve into that example together. In the end, both of them reaffirmed we were lucky to have a pastor of Nervig's caliber.
The whole event oozed and throbbed that these things were important to Mom and Dad, and that being conversational in marriage about it was important to them. Sooooo, I listened in quite intently.
Many was the time that, with two brothers and a sister beside me in the back bench seat of the 53 Mercury and then the 63 Electra and then the 69 Electra, and a sister between my parents in the front seat, I leaned forward with both forearms flat on the backrest of the front seat, my chin resting on the backs of my hands, to listen in on their conversation. And at the dinner table, I wanted to be able to have something to say to be part of this event between my parents.

I recall part of my youthful fantasies about my own future marriage, of being able to converse with my wife about sermons, Bible passages, the Catechism, and such. It seemed like the next best destination to heaven.

Men, lay down your life for your wife, and converse with her about what is important.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Embarrassment of Western Christians with Leviticus

John W. Kleinig, Leviticus (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003), pp. 25-26.

Christ and his apostles show that the ritual legislation in Leviticus is relevant for us. While the law of Moses does not prescribe what we do in the Divine Service, it helps us to understand how God interacts with us in Christ and in the Divine Service. So each section of this commentary ends with a discussion of the fulfillment of each piece of ritual legislation by Christ. In each case we will examine the function and significance of the divine service, for what God intended to achieve ritually through his law in Leviticus is accomplished fully by Christ and conveyed to the church in the Divine Service.

Leviticus was used widely in the early church and later to preach the Gospel and our participation in God’s holiness by virtue of our union with Christ. In contrast, the modern church generally ignores Leviticus. …
The present neglect of Leviticus, however, should not surprise us. It is an accurate reflection of the status of the book in the contemporary church, and index of the embarrassment of Western Christians with its contents.  It seems that this book is thought to have little to no relevance for modern people. At best, it contains outdated ancient Israelite ritual legislation that has been abolished by Christ. At worst, it is considered quite un-Christian in its promotion of ritual legalism, justification by works, the very antithesis of the Gospel. So churches that prize the Good News of free forgiveness through faith in Christ may mistakenly assume that they should no longer use Leviticus to nurture the saints, even though the entire book is concerned with forgiveness and atonement—more overtly than any other book of the Bible.

Leviticus cannot be sidelined as easily as that, for much of the NT is rightly interpreted only in its light. We depend on Leviticus for the proper understanding of Christ’s death for sinners and the doctrine of his vicarious atonement, which is the heart of the NT Gospels and epistles. Christ is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), “the Lamb who was slain” (Rev 5:12). The letter to the Hebrews, with its profound liturgical theology of Christ as both the great High Priest and the once-for-all sacrifice, would be inscrutable without Leviticus. From a literary point of view, it is the heart of the Pentateuch—the central book of the five that comprise the Torah, which is the foundation of the OT and indeed the entire canon.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I’ve got the love of Jesus down in my heart. It has nothing to do with knowledge.

A young fellow went fishing with his buddies. As they loaded their poles and tackle boxes into the pickup truck, conversation came around to the girl he was dating. His buddies asked him all sorts of questions. “What family does she come from?”  “Who are her parents?”  “What do they do?”  “Does she have brothers or sisters?”  “What church do they attend?”  “What did she study in school?”

His buddies were a little surprised at first. By the time they reached the river, they had passed from surprise to frustration to skepticism. He could answer none of their questions.

“How long have you been dating her,” asked one of his fishing buddies. “Four years,” the young fellow said. “How can you be dating a girl for four years without knowing who she is,” his buddy demanded. “I know what I need to know,” the young fellow said easily. “But if you love her, don’t you want to know more about her?”  “Who said anything about love?  It’s not like we’re going to get married. We’re just having fun for awhile. We go out on a date, then we go our separate ways. She’s a lot of fun. That’s all I need to know.”

That young fellow’s level of interest in his girlfriend seems so wrong that you’d never meet anyone like that in real life. But you already have – the church.

Many in the church are just dating God. Who said anything about loving God?  It’s not like we’re married to Him. We know what we need to know to have a good time. We’re enjoying church, Bible study, praise and worship, and the assurance that we are headed to heaven. We’re having so much fun we don’t want to be bored with unessential details and technicalities.

Who cares about which parts of Christ’s life are his state of humiliation and which are his state of exaltation? That is just academic theological gobbledgook. It has nothing to do with me enjoying salvation. Who cares whether baptism is a sacrament? Whatever it is, I am baptized, so I’ve got it. It has nothing to do with the quality of my faith.

I love Jesus just fine without pursuing any more knowledge of him.

What is Jesus doing in retirement?

Sidney Herald religion column published March 5, 2017
Retirement affects people differently. One friend worked 50 years, got his gold watch, retired, and died less than a year later. Someone said he died of not having enough to do. Another friend said he had to retire to have enough time to get all his work done. He is busier now than when he was working. Another friend served to retirement in the military, and then started a second career teaching English.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus said, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.” (John 5:17) On the cross, “He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30) The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. (Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; 1 Peter 3:22)

So, what is Jesus doing now? It sounds like He finished his career, went into retirement, and is just sitting. What does sitting at the right hand of God mean?

To be “seated at the right hand” is a rich figure that the Bible uses many times. It means Jesus shares the power and glory of God the Father, rules over all things for the benefit of the Church, prays for us, sends us the Holy Spirit, protects his kingdom from its enemies, and acts as mediator and advocate for sinners with God.

Jesus has not gone into retirement. He has gone into another part of his career. Every day, He is working for your salvation.

Jesus today makes constant intercession for us. “Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34) “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)  “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:24)

Dr. Martin Luther says Christ comes forward daily for us before God “as a faithful, merciful intermediary, savior, and unique priest and bishop of our souls.” Because He “offers and shows His body and blood … before God daily, on our behalf, we may obtain grace.”

Christ’s sacrifice is not just in the past. It protects us still, in the here and now, from the accusation of God’s holy law. It opens for us free access to God’s fatherly heart. It does this now, by means of confident prayer. It will do this in the future, when by sight we will offer up our adoration.

As exalted high priest, Christ provides protection from the divine wrath of the holy God for all who believe.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"You don't understand what you read," she said

Sidney Herald religion column published April 30, 2017
Our fourth grade teacher gave us reading comprehension tests. We read compositions and answered questions. My grade was a shock. One little letter said the same thing as my teacher. “You don’t understand what you read,” she said.

Literature was a locked book, and I did not have a key.

This afflicted me especially with the Bible. Jesus was hard to understand. He is not like us. His Middle Eastern culture is not like ours. Conversations with him take twists and turns that were not easy to follow.

Even some smart people have the same trouble. The Apostle Philip heard the treasurer of Queen Candace reading the Bible. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

The Church has provided many pastors and teachers to guide me. They give us some keys. Here are a couple that unlock the Word of God. For one, the Bible is a book about Jesus. For another, God speaks basically two words to us, his Law and his Gospel, which are two different kinds of messages.

What good do these keys do? In a given passage, they help us see Jesus rather than missing him, and they help us hear both words God is speaking, not just one or the other.

Consider the well known parable of the Good Samaritan. If we want to refresh our memories, we can read it again in Luke 10:29-37. What does it mean?

Often it is taught that it means we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and that our neighbor is whoever needs our help. We should be like the Good Samaritan and help the man wounded and left half dead. That certainly is true. That is God’s Law, where both Moses and Jesus teach that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39)

But the keys my pastors and teachers gave make us ask, “Where is Jesus in this, and where is the Gospel?” So far we see the Christian but not the Christ, and the Law but not the Gospel.

Here is the Gospel: Jesus is the Good Samaritan. It is we who are like the man wounded and left for dead. We are wounded by our conscience which rightly accuses us of sin. We are wounded by Satan and the world that beat up on us. We are wounded by the Law which is spiritual when it says we have not kept the Law as we should. We are the ones who need to be rescued. Jesus comes along, finds us, and does everything for us to save our lives.

Jesus obeys the Law perfectly for us and dies on our behalf the death for sin that the Law demands. Jesus washes away our sin in Baptism. Jesus gives us true food and drink to sustain us, his own body and blood with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gives us the word of the Gospel saying, God for Jesus’ sake forgives you all your sins.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Escaping a prairie fire on burnt out ground

Sidney Herald religion column published July 23, 2017

Drought and fires this year recall memories of prairie fires in homesteading days. In high winds, fires moved rapidly, burning grass, crops, livestock, wildlife, buildings, and people.

One time a homesteading father saw a fire fanned by winds toward his farm. He realized he and his family could not run away from it. He sent his son to the house for a box of matches and gathered his family together. He struck a match and set a fire. In the wind, the fire rose rapidly and began to burn across the farm. After only a few minutes, he led his family onto burnt out ground. Minutes later, when the prairie fire reached the farm, the flames came to the burnt out ground and found no fuel there to burn. The prairie fire skipped around the burnt out ground, and the family standing on it was saved.

The cross of Christ is the burnt out ground. It is the ground of safety from the judgment of God upon sin. When the fire of judgment reaches the cross, there the wrath of God on sin already has been exhausted on Christ, who suffered judgment in our place. The consuming fire of judgment is itself consumed by the holiness and magnificence of the person of Christ.

The idea of God’s wrath on sin is out of fashion. In many places, the impression people have of Jesus is a nice, marshmallow of a swell fella who surely did away with any need to think about sin or judgment. Actually, it was Jesus who revealed hell.

We can’t learn much about hell in the Old Testament. There is some talk about a place called Sheol. It is a shadowy place. The description is sketchy. We don’t learn much about it.

We can’t learn much about hell in the New Testament except in the words of Jesus himself. Jesus is the revealer of hell. He uses a word that pictures eternal fire. The word is geenna. This is the name of a valley on the south side of Jerusalem. It was the town dump. The garbage and dead animals were thrown there. It burned and burned constantly. Jesus chose this word to reveal hell. This is the word we see translated as “hell” in our English Bibles when Jesus speaks.

Sometimes when people find out it was Jesus who revealed hell like this, they are tempted to stop liking him. It can’t hurt to remember, though, that at the same time He revealed hell fire, He came to save us from it, by suffering in our place.

As Dr. Luther explains the Second Article of the Apostles Creed, Christ “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity.”