Sunday, March 1, 2015

How to Find the Church

“If you want to find the church you don’t look for Christians. You look for the pure gospel of Christ. God only knows who the Christians are. But we can and must know what the gospel is. So we don’t look for the biggest group, the most prestigious group, the holiest group, or the most spiritual group of people. We seek out the pure gospel of Christ. We follow the example of that poor woman from Canaan whose daughter was severely demon-possessed. She knew more about the church than most theologians do. If our Lord Jesus said, “Oh woman, great is your faith,” it would do us well to pay attention to how she exercised her faith.”

Rolf Preus, “God May Try You; He Won’t Deny You,” The Second Sunday in Lent, March 1, 2015, Matthew 15:21-38, Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney, Montana, and St. John Lutheran Church, Fairview, Montana, p. 2.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Did Jesus Use the iPhone's Apple Maps

Sidney Herald religion column published February 15, 2015

When iPhone got Apple Maps, Apple received a storm of criticism. The maps were inaccurate. Australian police issued a warning not to use them to get to the town of Mildura. It would leave users stranded in Murray-Sunset Nation Park, 70 kilometers off target, and in a dangerous place without proper preparation.

Jesus looks like He used Apple Maps. He was the King. He should have been on his way to glory. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem,” (Luke 9:51), turned onto the Cross road and arrived at shame.

The hallmark of kingdoms is glory. Jesus spoke of King Solomon “in all his glory.” Salome and her sons, James and John, used the words kingdom and glory as synonyms. She asked Jesus to give them high places “in your kingdom,” while they asked for the same places “in your glory.”

In the wilderness temptation of Christ, the Devil “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He promised, “I will give all this authority and their glory.” The kingdom and glory belong to Christ. (1 Peter 4:11; Hebrews 2:7; Revelation 1:6; 5:13) How was it temptation to offer him kingdoms and glory, when they are rightfully his?

Jesus told the twelve He would be “shamefully treated.” (Luke 18:32) When He said He must suffer many things and be killed, Peter rebuked him and said such things should not happen to him. Jesus wheeled on Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! (Matthew 16:21-23) Why the strong reaction?

When we know the facts about crucifixion, we can see Peter’s point. Crucifixion is gruesome and grisly, ghastly and ghoulish, and yet Mark Goodacre says, “It was not merely the excruciating physical torture that made crucifixion so unspeakable, but the devastation of shame that this death, above all others, represented.” Crucifixion was so shameful, the Roman Senator, Cicero, said, “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears.” A king without glory, a shameful king, is a scandal and an offense.

The Devil’s promise was temptation because Christ’s road to glory was the Cross. Jesus was not lost. He knew the road. Afterwards he said, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26)

Necessary? Why? To save us, He had to undergo our shame. Peter’s problem, like ours, was revolt against needing so much from God, against his own shame put on display in Christ’s Cross. Peter was not protecting Christ’s glory, but his own, just like Satan, just like us.

Satan tempted Jesus to abandons sinners, but Jesus did not get lost on the way to the kingdom. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He found us in our shame and saved us. We can’t afford glory. We must receive the grace of his shame for us. The Father exalts Jesus because of what Jesus did for sinners.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

From Empire to Execution in Four Days

Jesus Is the Real Nowhere Man

Sidney Herald religion column published January 4, 2015


Napoleon moved with his army through Switzerland. People hailed him everywhere with thunderous applause and cheers. He seemed unimpressed. Someone said, "Isn’t it great, this roaring support of the people?” Napoleon replied, “The same people cheering for me today would cheer just as loudly at my execution.”


When Jesus showed his glory, people liked him. When He fed 5000, the crowd wanted to “take Him by force to make Him king.” (John 6:15) When He paraded into Jerusalem in the traditional way of kings, crowds blessed him as “the King of Israel!” (John 12.13) That was Palm Sunday. By Thursday, they cried, “Crucify him!” Like Napoleon said.


When Jesus hid his glory, people hated him. He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world; [otherwise] my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered.” (John 18:36) No fight, no power, no glory. The chief priests said, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15)


When Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, at first Herod was glad to see him. “He was hoping to see some sign done by him.” (Luke 23:8) Jesus showed him no sign. Because he saw no glory in Jesus, “Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe.” (Luke 23:11)


Pilate’s soldiers also mocked Jesus. Each mockery was directed against his kingship. They clothed him with a purple robe, twisted a crown of thorns, put the crown on his head, put a reed in his right hand like a scepter, bowed the knee before him, saluted him with “Hail, King of the Jews,” worshiped him in mock worship, struck him with their hands, and spit on him. They struck him on the head with a scepter-like reed showing themselves as kings more than he was.


When the Romans crucified a criminal, they wrote the condemnation on a placard, such as, Traitor, Insurrectionist, or Assassin. On Jesus’ placard they wrote, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Such shame, to think you are a king and be so weak. They wrote it in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Let everyone read the shame.


At the cross, people mocked Jesus as a king without glory. “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” (Matthew 27:42) They were like Herod. They demanded glory.


Isaiah prophesied of this, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” (Isaiah 45:15) The power and glory, wisdom and holiness of God were hidden deeply under their opposites, weakness and shame, foolishness and guilt. The Cross is the opposite of glory. The Suffering Servant is the opposite of a king. He hides, suffers, and serves to be our Savior.


Jesus endured our rejection of him that we might have his acceptance with the Father. On the basis of Christ’s blood, we receive “his grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6)


Monday, December 22, 2014

The Word Does Things To Us: Law-Gospel Metanarrative

"Sixteenth century  humanists were already changing biblical exegesis by finding 'a literary method for handling the narrative construction of the Bible as a whole … where discrete biblical meanings congealed in a coherent body of knowledge.' Luther contributed to that search by providing a metanarrative that recognized the dilemma of the sinner and delivered God's salvation, categorizing the biblical message as law that condemns sinners and gospel that resurrects children of God.

"Over the following decades Luther's presupposition that God's Word is a living, creating instrument became intimately connected with defining this metanarrative of God's interaction with his human creatures. As he abandoned the allegorical method as his orienting hermeneutic, he slowly became convinced that Scripture's meaning lay not in 'the system of signification of the text's exoteric or esoteric meanings but rather in what the text actually did to him and for him.'  He proposed that the story of God's creation, redemption, and sanctification of fallen humankind proceeds out of Scripture and into the life of the congregation through the use of its message. This message functions in oral, written, and sacramental forms as the law kills and the gospel makes alive. 'Alive' for him meant living by faith in Christ, in the vertical dimension of life, and loving the neighbor in its horizontal dimension."

Robert Kolb, Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith, p. 46 (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How Jesus Fooled the World

Sidney Herald religion column published November 30, 2014


Messiah is a person foretold in Hebrew prophesies. The prophets spoke during more than 1000 years. Each added specifics to who Messiah would be.


To fool the world, all Jesus had to do was fulfill a few hundred prophesies. Let’s look at a sample.


Jesus was choosy about his parents, to make himself a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David.


He was fussy about the year he was born, the one foretold by Daniel.


He was picky about where he was born, the little town of Bethlehem, population 500-600, smaller than Culbertson. He had the Roman Empire slap on a tax at the right time to drive Joseph and Mary there when he would be delivered. That placed him among one to two dozen boys born there per year.


He hired the wise men who visited from the east through a temp agency. He ordered his own star in the sky marking his birthplace from the Sears Roebuck catalog.


A prophet said Messiah would be called out of Egypt. Another said that during his infancy, mothers all around would weep for their dead children. So Jesus enlisted King Herod, in an effort to get rid of Messiah, to kill off all baby boys up to two years old. That drove his mom and dad to flee for safety to Egypt and left mothers all around weeping.


A prophet said Messiah would be called a Nazarene. So after Herod died and the family was returning from Egypt, he talked Joseph and Mary into moving to Nazareth.


Those prophetic fulfillments already narrowed it down to Jesus being the only man in history who could be Messiah, but Jesus was an over achiever. He kept up the act through his life and even after his death.


He got Judas to betray him into death. He fixed the price of betrayal at 30 pieces of silver. He got Judas to throw down the silver pieces in the Temple. He got the Jewish leaders to use the 30 pieces to buy the potter’s field.


Since Jews executed by stoning, the Romans came in handy again. Jesus used their governor, Pontius Pilate, to execute him by crucifixion, as prophesied. Pilate was so accommodating, he executed Jesus with two thieves, and he placed Jesus between the thieves, as foretold.


The soldiers killing Jesus helped him fulfill prophesies surrounding the cross. They gambled for his clothes, offered him gall, pierced his side, and, though ordinarily they would have broken his legs with bats so he would die before the Sabbath started, oddly, they did not break his legs.


Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus’ body in his own tomb, so Messiah, though poor, was buried among the rich.


Why believe Jesus? It’s not the best reason, but one reason is, it’s too much work not to. I don’t have the brain power to refute all these prophesies and fulfillments. This Jesus is the Messiah who has power and authority to forgive your sins, and He’s willing.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Focus of Life is "None of the Above"

Focus of Life

The focus of life is, "none of the above."


The Pagan and secular worlds say we have three options for emphasis in our lives:


1. Doing.


2. Being.


3. Thinking (or believing).


Which is it? None of the above.


They overlook the fourth option:


4. Receiving.


Yes, receiving.


The Doer is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


God creates. The Father creates us, and He creates the rest of the creation for us. Pagans and secularists say this is too self-centered, but since God is love, He doesn't seem to think it is so self-centered for him to create creation for us, nor for us to be occupied with receiving it. Check out Luther's explanation of the First Article. You'll see it there. God is for you.


God redeems. The Son becomes incarnate. The Son lays down his life. No one takes it from him. He works blood atonement on the Cross. For whom does He do this? He invites you to say, "for me." In the words of Luther's explanation of the Second Article, you can say, "Jesus is my Lord, who has redeemed me ... purchased and won me ... that I may be His own." God is for you.


God sanctifies. The Holy Spirit is the holifying, sanctifying, the making-holy Spirit. Holiness is not just an inert attribute or property of the Spirit. The word Holy in the name Holy Spirit says what the Spirit DOES. He makes holy. He calls, He gathers, He enlightens, He sanctifies you, and the whole Christian church on earth. God is for you.


God delivers. He delivers justification, faith, and regeneration by the Word using water. He delivers his true body and blood by the Word using bread and wine. With the blood received in your mouth, He delivers to you what the blood was shed for, the forgiveness of sins. In the Word and Sacraments, God is Immanuel, God with us, who visits with consolation for sin and joy in salvation. God is for you.


True Worship. The true worship of God is to receive his gifts.


And the difference between this faith and the righteousness of the Law can be easily discerned. Faith is the latreiva [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the latreiva [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV.49)


Focus. Immerse your life in his gifts, and don't worry, you'll have all the doing, being, and thinking anyone could use. We cannot do, be, or think rightly without his gifts. But mostly, you will have life, and that abundantly and eternally, as a reception by faith of gifts from our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, the God who is for us and gives us his greatest gift: Himself.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

You Are Nominated for the King's Choice Award

Sidney Herald religion column published November 16, 2014

Hollywood royalty. Millions watch them in theatres. More millions watch them when their movies are on television. Still more watch them receiving Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, and People’s Choice Awards. In those pageants, the media rank their glory by what they wear, who their designers are, who does their hair, and who arrives with whom. They are royalty, so they go from glory to glory.

Not so with the King of Kings. Jesus is a strange king. He kept voluntarily hiding his glory. He hid his royal glory by his birth in poverty, life of suffering, crucifixion, and death. In burial, the hiding was complete. To feel the weight of his humiliation in burial, it helps to recall the prominence of his Kingdom in the Gospel.

The Gospel is called the “gospel of the kingdom.” John the Baptist and Jesus announced the kingdom. The Twelve and the Seventy taught the kingdom. Between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus taught the kingdom. He sent out the Apostles to teach the kingdom. The end comes after the kingdom is preached in the whole world.

The Beatitudes begin and end with the kingdom. The kingdom is what most of Jesus’ parables are about. In them, He repeatedly says, “The kingdom is like.” Jesus says to seek the kingdom first. The purpose of being born again is to see the kingdom, and the purpose of being converted is to enter the kingdom.

Jesus entered Jerusalem in the style of a king. He was crucified as King of the Jews. Soldiers mocked him with a crown of thorns. People mocked him, saying if He was a king, He should come down from the cross and save himself. The repenting thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him when Christ came into his kingdom.

The hallmark of kingdoms is their glory. In a doxology sometimes added to the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” As King, Jesus was entitled to glory. With the prominence of his Kingdom in the Gospel, we could expect a display of glory. Instead, He was buried in dust.

The Bible pictures dust as the opposite of royal glory. The Lord said to King Jehu, “I lifted you out of the dust and made you ruler over my people Israel.” (1 Kings 16:2) In Hannah’s prayer, she said, “He raises the poor from the dust … to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.” (1 Samuel 2:8)

Instead of going from dust to throne, Jesus went from throne to dust. He buried himself in the grave we deserved, to give us his glory. He “calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12) He is “bringing many sons to glory.” (Hebrews 2:10) In the resurrection they “will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Through the word of his burial, you are nominated for the King’s Choice Award, his gift to you.