WHAT SHALL I BELIEVE?

 

 Ever since the devil sowed doubt in the mind of Adam and Eve in the Garden, doubters have been in the world. In this sinful world we have all been told or thought on our own, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” Today we cannot necessarily even believe what we see. Human perverseness born of a corrupt heart combined with modern technology has accentuated societal skepticism of just about anything we hear and see, and with good reason. In the past one could be convinced by looking at a picture. Today, not only are lies purveyed through words, but through photo-shopped pictures. We have become skeptics as never before. In our lifetime, never has need for skepticism been more necessary.

Depending on context and circumstance there is something to be said for healthy skepticism. Deception occurs in two ways — through blatant lies, or by withholding the truth. Nations have been deceived by words and actions. Lives have been destroyed by lying words and pictures. Marriages have been ruined by lies. Goods have been sold through lies. Politicians shamelessly lie and spin the truth to enhance themselves or promote their agenda. Whether intentional or not (What shall I believe?), in the current covid-19 world one does not know what to believe or whom to believe since there are countless experts who disagree with one another, and occasionally with themselves. It pays to ask questions to try to determine the truth.

Skepticism, however, is not limited to matters of the world. It is also widely practiced and promoted in the area of religion. From a Christian perspective it bears serious and negative consequences. Skepticism as practiced by religious skeptics and promoters of it is a philosophy in direct opposition to faith which “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence [conviction] of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Bible truths such as inspiration of Scripture, creation, the reality of the Triune God, the person of Christ, Christ as the Messiah are questioned. Skeptics question divine authority, God’s watchfulness over creation, the preservation of man through the Lord’s oversight and care. While not necessarily anti-religious, as a philosophical theory skepticism says truth is not attainable and basically promotes an attitude that says, “Prove it.”

One radio commentator recently opined that one cannot even believe a pastor anymore since much of the church has become more socially and politically oriented. One would like to gainsay it but can’t. Jesus was not addressing politics when He warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). His apostle by the Spirit warns, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit. But test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

In light of Jesus’ warning and John’s alert to the Church, Christ-believers are to listen carefully and test what is taught. As relates to the faith, the faithful should be ready to ask questions, not as the skeptics who doubt the Bible but as believers who respect the Bible. If necessary, we should be ready to inquire of those who claim to speak for God. However, when we do we are to compare what we think we heard or what is being taught or practiced in the name of the Lord to Holy Scripture in as much as the inspired Word of God is truth (John 17:17). God’s Word does not change from generation to generation! From his pastor, never should a faithful Christian hear something that makes him say, “I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1: 20). So speaks God’s Word; yet Bible skeptics doubt. Unbelievers deny and skeptics question the evidence of God and His love. The Jews want signs to convince them of God’s truth, and the Greeks (Gentiles) want to be overwhelmed by wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22). However, faith is not the product of philosophical argument, nor rationalization. One cannot convince the skeptic of the truth of Scripture by mental acuity or by argumentation for the devil always has another question. If a skeptic can be convinced at all it will be only through the Word of God itself. The Gospel, the cross, is the manifestation of the truth that saves, but Jesus was asked by the people, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You” (John 6:30). The scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” Jesus told them there would be no sign but the sign of Jonah. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12: 38-40).

The scribes and Pharisees had “Moses and the prophets [Old Testament]; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). They could look it up. Their Scripture recorded Jonah’s experience which the Lord declared to be a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. From the Old Testament, had they believed it, they could know they were living in the time of fulfillment. They claimed to revere the Old Testament but rejected its divine message.

Purely on the basis of the Word of God that speaks both prophecy and fulfillment, Christ believers confess in the Apostolic Creed, “On the third day He rose again from the dead.” Jesus promises those who believe, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). We will experience the grand day of resurrection. By the power of the Spirit, we believe it. We do not doubt it. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence [conviction] of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

One may have intellectual knowledge of Christ without the Word but cannot know Christ apart from the Word. One may have an intellectual knowledge of Christ but is not saved without faith in Christ. The Spirit alone imparts understanding of the Word through knowledge of it and at the same time creates the faith that says, “I believe…”. To reiterate, faith is of the Spirit alone, but never apart from the Word. “Faith comes by hearing…” (Romans 10:17). Hearing what? The Word of God. The sinner is justified by grace through faith alone. Faith in what or Whom? Faith (trust) in the Lord Jesus Christ Who by His life, suffering, death and resurrection reconciled the sinner unto the Father. And how is Christ known? Jesus tells us. “You search the Scriptures…these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).

Saving faith is the conviction of things believed, not seen, “though now you do not see Him [Christ], yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:8). One of the indescribable comforts and joys of faith in the Christ of Scriptures is the truth that we are known of Him. Jesus said, “I know My sheep” (John 10:14). Further, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one” (John 10:27-30).

In contrast to the words of men, “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6). Absolutely every Word of God is truth, and anyone who twists it, distorts it, denies it, adds to it, or changes it, is a liar and will in time be proven so. Be alert. Test the spirits. Every Word from Genesis to Revelation is truth, doubters and skeptics notwithstanding. The Psalmist said in his haste, “All men are liars” (Psalm 116:11). Paul wrote, “Let God be true though everyone were a liar, as it is written ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged’” (Romans 3:4, ESV).

So, what shall I believe? In the world and the society, in the earshot of the raucous noises, in face of political agendas, in everyday existence in a corrupt world, maintain a healthy skepticism. What you hear and see today, may change tomorrow, even in the mouths of those who spoke yesterday.

Is there, then, anything one can believe with certainty? Yes! Believe God’s Word! As God is true, His Word is truth. Said He, “I am the Lord; I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6). Jesus, one with the Father, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus said, “… I tell the truth…” (John 8:45) — yesterday, today, and forever! “The testimony of the Lord is sure” (Psalm 19:7). “God is not a man, that He should lie” (Numbers 23:19). The proof of Scripture truth lies in the message itself. And yes, we believe of the Word even though reason cannot understand. Faith does not understand every what, why, and how. Our Lord knows and gives us understanding of everything that we need to know for our salvation, that while waiting, by the grace of the Spirit, we may live to His glory.

Therefore, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Said Jesus, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:33), for  “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6).

To Thomas who wanted proof of Jesus’ resurrection, the Savior said upon offering such proof, “Thomas because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-31).

What shall I believe? The word of men? Investigate and verify! God’s Word? Take it to the bank!

 

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Safe at Home –Assured

 

Frequently we hark back to the “good” old days. Old days of course are relative. To speak of the old days suggests to the younger generation that one is engaging in a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past when in elderly minds times were better. The younger generation today has the same reaction that we, who now wax nostalgic, had when our parents or grandparents spoke of the old days. Were the old days better?

Except for the corruption of the human heart, the pervasive nature of sin, which has afflicted mankind since the fall, in some respects the days were better. Do you remember when families were relatively safe in their home? Doors were left unlocked as one went to the store or the family went to church; windows were left unlocked or even open without fear that someone would come in and steal or rape. It was not unusual to leave the keys in the car. Children riding their bicycle delivered the daily paper and made weekly collections without fear of being robbed or kidnapped. What fun it was when children gathered on the spur of the moment to play ball on the nearby vacant lot. If one lived on a farm, it was not unusual for the family to “go to town” for an evening. Interactions between farm families were not unusual. Much of the interaction revolved around the church. People respected marriage and property. How about getting the news on the phone party line? Those days are gone.

Today the quality of life is largely measured by access to conveniences, wealth, and opportunities unknown in the good old days. Medical science and technology has advanced. Furthermore, as much as we complain about the misuse, abuse, and insecurities of modern means of communication – cell phone, email, texting, instant social interaction (not always edifying), very few would prefer to go back to operators, party lines, radio, and dependence on snail mail. We prefer our furnaces over woodstoves, refrigerators over ice boxes, and air conditioners over table fans. The consensus today is that these days are better – even though they are more sterile, impersonal, and dangerous than days of yore.

As recognized above, one thing has remained common through the ages. Human nature has not changed. The natural heart is still laden with sin.  Solomon wrote, “And there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Jeremiah prophesied the ruin of Judah, writing: “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush…” (Jeremiah 8:12). Of these sorts, the apostle Peter wrote, “[They will] utterly perish in their own corruption” (2 Peter 2:12).

“No matter how men may change their environment and place the newest achievements of science and invention into their service, the misery and the toil of life is ever the same, and the abuse of God’s gifts and the transgression and the dissatisfaction of man’s heart are ever the same” (Kretzmann, OT Popular Commentary of the Bible, Vol II, p.262, CPH, 1924). There is no new sin under the sun!

Paul warned the Ephesians, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting which are not fitting… and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those which are done by them in secret” (Ephesians 5:3). Today “what is done by them” is not any longer done in secret, but openly, boldly, and without shame. Common discourse is salted with abuse of the name of the Lord, and with vulgarities.

Regularly today the news tells of some crime on the street. If a cause is deemed just, crimes are committed against communities, often without fear of punishment from authorities charged with protecting the citizenry. It does create nostalgia for the day when such behavior was called to account. Today we cannot be sure we are safe in our own home. We were reminded of this recently as an arsonist tried in the middle of the night to set fire to the parsonage at our church. Besides fire damage, heavy, dangerous smoke filled the house.

But the Lord’s hand was obvious in that by His grace He protected the occupants. He is true to His Word, “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not. I will help you…’” (Isaiah 41:13). But do bad things happen to God’s people? Indeed. As foreigners in this sinful environment we are not immune. We have aches, pains, sorrows. We suffer loss. Has God reneged on His promise to us? By no means! All God’s ways, His manner, His oversight of our life has a purpose. All His ways serve to the ultimate benefit of His children, in time, to prepare us for eternity. Apart from faith in Christ no one can understand that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Indeed, in times of difficulty and loss, when bad things happen, we weep. But there is a difference. We do not weep as others who have no hope. God’s ways are good, just, and purposeful.

His purpose may come as a test to move us to call more earnestly upon Him. It may be to awaken us from spiritual lethargy. It may be to rescue us from the path of evil that beckons us. It may be to refocus our attention on heaven rather than on the earth. If death is our lot, His purpose is fulfilled as He takes the believer to Himself.

As the Spirit of God has called us to faith in Christ, we have a safe haven as we walk through a dangerous world to our safe home in heaven. Our Heavenly Father has reconciled us unto Himself through the atonement wrought in our behalf through the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. As we are called to faith by the Spirit, we have a privilege and blessing afforded only to those who believe in Christ: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10). Each night we pray that the Lord forgives us our sin and that He will keep us and our families safe from all evil and harm to body and soul. The safety we crave is anchored in our hope of heaven, that safe home promised to us by our Lord before His ascension (John 14:1-3). None less than Jesus is our Advocate before the Father. “Father, I desire that they also whom You have given Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me… (John 17:24). Our safety is in Him Who said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28). We are safe in the Savior’s arms. Our future is secure in Him!

The eternal Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the safe tower in which during times of trouble we find refuge, and safety. But Satan and his minions perpetually shoot at the foundation of that tower to bring it down. But Satan will not succeed! Christ, Who conquered sin, death, and the devil, and left the witness of His Word for our comfort and strengthening holds and shields us in His strong arm. Neither He nor His Word will be undone by Satan’s efforts. Christ-believers dwell in safety until ultimately they are delivered from this veil of tears to Himself in Heaven – our safe, eternal home.

 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described our safe home. Heed His Word and appreciate the security heaven affords. Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up treasure for yourself in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).

Jesus said, “This is the work of the Father, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29). To all who believe in Him and seek refuge in Him, Jesus says, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). There is laid up in heaven an “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

 

In the midst of the troubles, fears, sorrows, and dangers of the present world, the Lord tells us, “Behold I create a new heaven and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17), former things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4). We will not remember the old days, good or bad. Neither will we fear tomorrow! When all the trials and woes of this earth are past, what an indescribable blessing it will be to be in our eternally safe home with the Lord and to be in full and eternal possession of the promised treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20, Luke 12:33). May the Lord keep us until we are truly

SAFE AT HOME– “secure, without fear of evil”

( Proverbs 1:33).

“Even so, come Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21).

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Paradise Restored

PARADISE RESTORED

In the expansive universe
Created by the Lord
He placed man on the earth,
A perfect Paradise it was,
For man to tend and well enjoy,
In bliss and joy to live fore’er.

But in a moment unexplained
An angel fell from heav’n;
And how it all then changed!
Adam and Eve succumbed to sin.
Both they and nature e’er were changed.
They lost perfection and their home.

But God in mercy rich and deep
Resolved to save mankind,
And give new life to man.
From sin, a Savior He would send.
And so in time, Jesus was born
Who’d open Paradise again.

The Savior, Jesus, bore man’s sin,
And died, man to redeem.
From death He did arise.
He then went up from whence He came,
Our mansion to prepare above
In Paradise beyond all ken.

This Paradise is meant for all
Who on this earth do live,
Whose faith is placed in Christ.
The Spirit works within the heart
And nourishes the longing soul
That waits for Paradise above.

The paradise we yearn to see
While living on this earth,
God shows us in His Word.
Yet living still midst sin and shame,
We here against our flesh must fight
And stand against the foes of faith.

The time we spend now on the earth-
It is a time of grace,
Allotted us by God.
He’ll ne’er His own forget or leave,
But guards and keeps us in His care
Til’ He decides to call us home.

We are His own through faith in Christ,
He knows us by our name,
And tells us we’re His own.
Alive in Christ, and dead to sin
Our cit’zenship’s in heav’n above,
E’en while on the earth we dwell.

Christ lived in the world, not of it.
He served His Father’s will,
And died to save us all.
So we’re in the world, not of it,
To serve, not self, but live for Him,
To faithfully reflect His love.

As Jesus claims us for His own,
His eyes are fixed on us.
In heav’n He prays for us,
Before the Father’s gracious throne:
“O keep them from all sin and shame,
Protect them from the hateful world.”

The world will never understand,
It mocks the Christian’s faith.
Nor will it ever know
More than strife and endless turmoil.
Then will come both death and judgment–
O, what a waste of time it was!

Each child of God by faith in Christ
Has hope beyond compare.
In this world, not of it,
The child of God awaits the day
When yearning ends, and Christ returns
To give the perfect peace of heav’n.

As Christ-believers live in Christ,
Their death is gain for them.
So anxiously they wait
The invitation of the Lord:
“The day you’ve waited for is here,
Today you’ll be in Paradise.”

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(Philippians 3:20)

“When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will ap-pear with Him in glory.”
(Colossians 3:4)

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
(Revelation 22:20)Df/2020

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The Alternative is Better

The Lord God Who created the world and the earth claims ownership of it as we read in Psalm 24:1 and 1 Corinthians 10:26: “The earth is the Lord’s and all its fulness.” By His plan and design He placed mankind upon it “to tend and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). This paradise, exemplified by Eden in which Adam and Eve dwelt, was to be mankind’s home. What the tending and enjoyment of God’s creation entailed in Eden before the fall and what it would have been like on the earth had sin not interrupted, we cannot even begin to imagine. Man was the crowning accomplishment of God’s creation. After the fall into sin, and since, mankind remains the object of God’s undeserved love (grace) in Christ Jesus, our Savior from sin and eternal death. Christ bore our guilt and our shame. He bore our punishment and gave His life that we might have life in Him, as well as life with Him in heavenly glory—all without merit or worthiness in us. The future of all who believe in Him is secure and certain while we live in this time of grace, during which the Father also provides for us all that we need for body and life. He graciously preserves us until our life on earth is ended. Indeed, though unbelievers know it not, they too are objects of God’s love as He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the evil as well as on the good, and upon the unjust as well as the just (Matthew 5:45). As the Lord desires the salvation of all, in love, the evil and the unjust are also given a time of grace – time to come to repentance and to learn of the Savior. Life, the time of grace, during which the Lord, by the power of the Gospel, calls, gathers and enlightens us unto salvation, is not without its trials and afflictions, its aches and pains, its fears and doubts, its frustrations and concerns, its sicknesses, and eventually death. All these and whatever discomfort humans (and all creation) endure is a consequence of sin. We must fight our own flesh, as well as the evil around us. The creation with all its beauty and splendor is no longer the paradise God intended for man when He put man on it. Yet as it is our temporary home we are to tend it, take care of it. It is the Lord’s. While on earth, God’s children run the full gamut of human emotions as everyone else. In the journey of life how blessed are all who know the Lord God as their Refuge and Strength, and who confidently call upon Him in prayer knowing that as He has invited us to pray, He has also promised to hear us. Whatever befalls us, His will is always good and gracious and serves to our benefit while we await release from burdens of time. As Christians we immediately dismiss the aspect of luck. But perhaps you have heard it, and even said it in certain circumstances, particularly when certain things did not turn out as you had hoped, “ I was lucky. Considering everything, it is better (whatever it was) than the alternative (death). We thank the Lord that He protected and preserved us from harm and danger or delivered us from whatever elicited that comment. But when the Christ-believer thinks about it, in the total scheme of life, is the alternative bad? To the ungodly and wicked and denier of the Lord, what they endure, or what they may have escaped to live another day, is better than the alternative. In other words, for the denier of Christ the alternative (dying), would most certainly be worse. Why? Neither the Lord nor we wish this on anyone, but the alternative, dying in unbelief, is a one-way ticket to hell “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). This eternal judgment is meted out when the Judge says to the Christ-deniers, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Yes, it is more tolerable for them to bear here what they must than to suffer the alternative which ends their time of grace and any possibility of repentance or conversion to faith in Christ. When the apostle Paul said, “To die is gain (for me),” (Philippians 1:21), he was not expressing a morbid death wish. Nor are we. For all who live in the hope of the resurrection, under any circumstance the alternative is better than hanging around in this world, the devil’s playground. As Christ is our Lord and Savior, and as He blesses us according to His grace, we have many reasons to be happy while sojourning on earth. But in the weariness and vicissitudes of life we identify with the apostle and say, “I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). The alternative to the burdens of life that so often weigh us down is exciting and far better in light of our Savior’s redemptive atonement, His payment on the cross for our sins, His resurrection by which He restored life, and His promise to take us to glory to live with Him forever. For the Christ-believer, death, the alternative to life in this corrupt world, is the portal through which we pass to a better life. Our yearning with Paul is not a death wish, but a life wish! Life with our Savior in heaven freed from the tribulations of life and the out-pouring of evil to which we are subjected, as well as freedom from the manifold temptations of the world, makes the alternative appealing. Martin Luther summed up the believer’s foundation of faith and his hope of heaven: “ I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, 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, in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” The blessing that generates the believer’s anticipation of the alternative is known well by Bible believers. The apostle John records in Revelation the description of the better life when he recorded what he heard of those before the throne of God. They had “come out of the great tribulation” and had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to [c]living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7: 13-17) John also reported what he heard about a new heaven and a new earth. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful’” (Revelation 21: 3- 4). As we are in Christ, the turmoil and uncertainty we now endure only feeds our yearning for the alternative. It makes us yearn for the invitation, “ Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). It will happen for our Lord said, “…Where I am, there you will be also” (John 14:3). That is our future! Let us enjoy and thank the Lord for the time He gives us on earth. Use your time of grace wisely. When the Lord in Whose hands our years are counted calls, do not fear the alternative. Surely, for the Christian living in this foreign environment there is nothing here on earth better than the alternative promised in the sure Word of God: “When Christ Who is our life shall appear, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). THE ALTERNATIVE IS BETTER

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No History – No Future

Consideration of history begins with the acknowledgment that the Lord God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and boundaries, so that they should seek the Lord…” (Acts 17:26-27a). Bible believers appreciate that the Lord God is the Director of history to bring about His divine purpose. One cannot comprehend the Old Testament and the Lord’s dealing with ancient Israel, the descendants of Abraham, unless one understands the Messianic purpose of the Lord through which He fulfilled His promise to send the Savior to redeem fallen mankind. Of history, Luther said, “It surely is a great consolation that God establishes, upholds, and protects empires and that they do not grow and fall by mere chance, as we usually imagine…” (What Luther Says, Vol. II, p. 650: para 2008). “The true histories which have been written by heathen also show the purpose of God, although the authors were not aware of it” (WLS Vol.1, p 650: 2007). History is important. It tells how nations began. History records how people and nations reacted to the Lord’s direction. History inspires nations to appreciate how imperfect ancestors spent themselves to form a nation. It also reveals whatever unpleasantness there may have been in our own nation’s development. An understanding of history helps a nation understand its culture and its reason for existence. It also alerts and warns a nation where not to go. To forget history by neglect or conscious rejection of it is folly, if not death. Irish statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Presently in our nation, history is being erased because it may have been ugly, or because there are those whose political or social agenda it does not fit. How many wars have been started because people did not know history, or worse, chose to ignore it? Historians tell us that the Versailles treaty ending the first world war contributed significantly to the beginning of the second war. Philosopher George Santayana (1863 – 1952) describes what might well be the attitude of those who have no appreciation for history when he said, “History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there.” Author David Baldacci prefaced a novel (Wish You Well, 2000, Warner Books, Inc., New York, NY) speaking of oral history. He lamented its demise. Everyone is interested in the future, “ as though we deem nothing in the past worthy of our attention.” The lament is well taken as teaching and/or absorption of any substantive history is missing in public schools today. In the country the indiscriminate tearing down of statues by rioters, and the removal of persons of history by politicians for whatever cause they deem righteous is part of the dumbing down of the country. We have concerns. As citizens, one concern is related to government disrespect of religion, particularly Christianity. As confessors of God’s Word, as well as Lutherans committed to the Lutheran confessions born of the Reformation, the other concern is generated by apostate churches. The greatest damage and loss through forgetfulness of history is the denial of the Creator God without whom nothing, or nations themselves, would exist. History (His-story) tells us of God’s perfect creation and His relationship to Adam and Eve. The past tells us of how man fell from grace, and merited God’s wrath. It tells us of how the Lord in His mercy promised His Son and our Savior, through whom the Father would reclaim the fallen for His own. Divine history shows us how the Father shepherded His people in love though they so often rebelled against Him. At any moment in time, He could have washed His hands of them, but He did not. As often as He had to discipline them, so He also defended them and delivered them from the hands of their enemies. The Old Testament is replete with reports of the rise and fall of nations ( e.g. Babylon, Persia), and of kings and potentates (e.g. David, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus). The God of history directed it in the interest of His promise that through Judah, Jesus would be born. History records for us the birth and redemptive work of the Savior through His death on the cross to His ascension. It declares to us the growth of the Church through the Spirit’s work as the Gospel was proclaimed by the apostles. The history of the Christian Church — the Body of Christ — recorded in Holy Scripture was determined by our Lord in eternity. Without the past (History), we cannot understand the present in which we live, much less would we have a future. History, from creation to Eden to Bethlehem to Calvary (History), to the present and to the future, has been, is, and will continue to be directed by the Lord to the benefit of His children. Further, the 16th century Reformation did not occur without divine direction or divine protection. Lest the Gospel should be lost to the Church, the Lord raised up Martin Luther and other confessors who in the face of severe opposition and hatred and their own weakness persevered by the grace of God. The Gospel of salvation – the blessing of Jesus’ fulfillment of His redemptive work—was preserved to us. The message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone is to this present preserved to us through faithful confessors. Harking back to David—that is history that still defines our present and assures our future— he says in Psalm 124: “If it had not been the Lord Who was on our side…when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive when their wrath was kindled against us…” Paul echoed those words, “ If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)? As we have divine proof of the faithfulness of our Father in the past, we implicitly trust Him in the present, and are confident of our future. Because the Father for Jesus’ sake is faithful, Christ-believers rejoice in the Lord Who said, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). We prefer to forget our own personal history, that of the Church, and of the nation if they make us uncomfortable. This is not to suggest that we should be dredging up the past. It is saying we should not forget. Do you think David ever forgot his adulterous union with Bathsheba? Do you think Peter ever forgot his denial? Remembrance serves two purposes. First, it reminds us how gracious our Lord is, how merciful He is in having redeemed us from our sin. Second, remembrance serves as a deterrent lest we be of those of whom Solomon wrote, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Remembrance directs us back to the cross (History). The cross, the instrument of death, and the empty tomb, the seal of life, make the present tolerable as we hear our Lord — Christ Who died (History), Who lives (Present), and Who says we shall live with Him (Future) — say, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17; cf. Jeremiah 31:34 Concerning forgetting history, secularists speak of revisionist history. In the church we speak of denying the Word of God. The latter robs the Christ-believer of the confidence of faith and the preservation of it in our heart. Therefore, we are repulsed when oral history (God speaks to us) relayed to us through the inspired written Word of God is distorted. Every Word of Scripture is of God (2 Timothy 3:15-16). “Every Word of God is pure. He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” (Proverbs 30:5). Any revisionist history of Scripture or any denial of any part of Scripture casts aspersions on the Lord, His truth, His faithfulness. Those who teach otherwise and who create doubt about the truthfulness of Scripture rob themselves and those who hear them of their shield against sin, evil, despair, fear, and hopelessness. One cannot say, “I trust in the Lord, but I don’t believe this part of Scripture. I trust in the Lord, but what He says is old fashioned and out of date. I trust in the Lord, but I relegate this part of Scripture to the dustbin of history.” The Lord God cannot be separated from His Word. The Word cannot be separated from God. “The Word was God” was said with reference to Jesus (John 1:1). Way back in history the Lord said to Abram, who was counted righteous through faith, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1). We are dismayed though not surprised at the promotion of revisionist history or even denial of hisory. For a nation it bodes ill. We further expect as statues and reminders of the past are torn down, attacks will be made on the cross of Christ, as in fact has been done. But it is unconscionable that the Church, including some who identify as Lutheran, engage in denial of, distortion of, and rejection of any part of the divine, historical record of God’s providential care and love for mankind for whom Jesus died, and for whom He cares, body and soul. No history—No future. Nations come and go. But of this we are confident The Church –the Body of Christ — though sorely afflicted by satanic efforts to destroy and undermine it, shall endure. How do we know? The divine record says so. Under the Lord’s care, history has proven it, the presence experiences it, and the future depends on it, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Thanks be to God!

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1530 — Augsburg Confession –2020

Except for the covid-19 and/or the social unrest in the country, June 25, 2020, was probably just another day in the passing year. Historically, however, for Lutherans the day is significant. That Lutherans fail to know this is indicative of the danger of forgetting history. Forgetfulness of what happened on this day 490 years ago demonstrates how neglect of history is a bane to the Church. Today we see that in the teaching and practice of many churches which, while still identifying as Lutheran, have departed from the confession of faith that is distinctively Lutheran. June 25 is the day in 1530 when the Augsburg Confession, the foremost confession of the Lutheran Church, was presented. The presentation of the confession is said to mark the birth of the confessional Lutheran Church which grew out of the Reformation of the 16th century. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the 95 theses. In the years between 1517 and 1530, he and the Evangelicals contended for the authority of the Word of God and the truth of the Gospel against the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. In 1521 Luther was called before the Diet (council) in the city Worms. Upon leaving Worms, because he was under excommunication and subject to death by papal decree, he spent time in “exile” in Wartburg Castle. On January 21, 1530, Emperor Charles V had called for another Diet, this one in Augsburg, to convene on April 8. There were in the empire internal political and religious tensions; difficulties persisted between Rome and the Evangelicals, as well as among the Evangelicals themselves. On the horizon was the threat of the Turks, the Muslims. For the sake of the empire, Charles hoped to address the religious differences in an effort to create a united front in the face of the Muslim threat. In calling the Diet, after reference to the Turkish invasion and the action to be taken against it, the Emperor said, “The diet is to consider furthermore what might and ought to be done and resolved upon regarding the division and separation in the holy faith and the Christian religion…” In April Luther and his companions traveled to Augsburg. Luther, still under the ban of the Pope and the emperor, went as far as Coburg castle, 100 miles from Augsburg. Shortly after he arrived there his father died. He remained in Coburg for 5 months The original document to be presented in Augsburg was planned to be a defense of Luther and the Elector. But upon reading John Eck’s 404 propositions which slandered Luther and accused the Lutherans of heresy, the document became a confession of doctrines of Scripture to which the Lutherans held and which they taught. The confession, named after the city in which it was presented, consists of 28 articles — 21 articles of faith held by the Lutherans, and 7 on Roman Catholic abuses that had been corrected. Scripture itself is the foundation of faith and the Christian Church. Confessions do not supplant the Bible. Confessions however declare where the Church stands in matters of faith in a world with a myriad of religions. Luther did not write the Augsburg Confession with his own hand, though essentially the content was his. From Coburg Castle, nevertheless, he was in contact with the confessors. Luther’s trusted associate, Phillip Melanchthon, wrote the final draft of the confession, taking content from previously written statements of faith — the Marburg Articles, the Schwabach Articles, and the Torgau Articles — all of which Luther had written previously or had a part in writing. Luther was sent drafts of the revised document as it was composed. He approved the revisions. The Confession was written in Latin and German. The German version was the one publicly read. The reading lasted two hours. It was read so clearly and loudly that through open windows the crowd could hear it in the courtyard outside. The Catholic Church countered with what was called the Confutation of the Augsburg Confession. The emperor, Charles V subscribed to the Confutation. Melanchthon then wrote the Apology (defense) of the Augsburg Confession which was given to the emperor in September of 1530. A second edition of the Apology with contributions from Luther appeared in September of 1531. The 1531 edition appears in the Book of Concord of 1580. The Book of Concord includes the three ecumenical Creeds (Apostolic, Nicene, Athanasian) as well as the specific Lutheran Creeds (Augsburg Confession, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Small and Large Catechisms, Smalcald Articles, and Formula of Concord). Melanchthon would later write a modified version of the Augsburg Confession known as the Variata (1540). Because of its compromising, tone the Lutheran Church stands by the 1530 edition identified as the Unaltered Augsburg Confession (UAC). Lutherans who still hold Scripture as the divinely inspired Word of God and the final authority on all matters of faith and life and who unashamedly identify with the Reformation subscribe to all the Confessions of the Book of Concord because they are faithful to Scripture. The Augsburg Confession (UAC), signed by those present, concludes: “These are the chief articles which seem to be in controversy. For although we may have spoken of more abuses, yet, to avoid undue length, we have set forth the chief points, from which the rest may be readily judged. There have been great complaints concerning indulgences, pilgrimages, and the abuse of excommunications. The parishes have been vexed in many ways by the dealers in indulgences. There were endless contentions between pastors and the monks concerning the parochial right, confessions, burials, sermons on extraordinary occasions, and innumerable other things. Issues of this sort we have passed over so that the chief points in this matter, having been briefly set forth, might be more readily understood. Nor has anything here been said or adduced to the reproach of anyone. Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic [Universal]. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.” * Jesus alerted the disciples, “Beware of false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). From Apostolic times, history shows that doctrinal conflicts have occurred in the Church. Scripture warns that conflicts will arise. “The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Corinthians 4:1). Most certainly we should not court such as spread false doctrine (We are to avoid false teachers—Romans 16:17-18). Most certainly we should not create controversy though teaching false doctrine. Yet Scripture says, “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be proven” (1 Corinthians 11:19). The Lord can and does turn the devil’s deceit back upon him. How so? When and if confessors of the faith become neglectful, indifferent, or adopt a relaxed attitude toward Scripture, controversy drives the faithful back into Scripture. As we test the spirits (1 John 4:1) to see which are of God and which are not, we can identify and know who the faithful are, and with whom we as faithful Christ-believers will identify. Many confessions of faith have been generated as a consequence of controversies compelling the Church to go back into the Scripture to study and restudy the Word. It is then incumbent on the Church to declare what its faith is. It was controversy that spawned the Augsburg Confession and the Apology, as well as other confessions. To this day we can identify the Church that is faithful to Scripture through its confessions in Word, as well as through its practice.. The Spirit, speaking through Jude, says, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Jude makes an interesting connection between the common salvation he enjoyed with those to whom he wrote, and the necessity to be alert and on the offense as well defense against anything or any teaching that endangers the source of their common salvation. That source was the Gospel, the message of God’s love in Christ through Whom they were justified; it was the Gospel through which they were brought to faith. But he found it necessary also to encourage them in spiritual warfare against anything or anyone who would rob them of their salvation. It is worthy of note that any false doctrine, however minor it may seem, undermines the Gospel which is the foundation of our confidence of salvation. God speaks to us in Scripture. Any attack against or denial of Scripture is a replay of Satan’s question to Eve, “Has God indeed said”…? Also note Jude’s historical reference. Christ-believers are to contend for the faith “which was once for all delivered to the saints.” What had been lost after having been once entrusted to the saints was restored through the Reformation. The Augsburg Confession is such a Scriptural declaration of what was restored as the confessors earnestly contended for the faith, in the interest of our shared salvation. In effect, it is history which reminds us of those whose steadfastness has bequeathed to us the truth. It beckons us to walk in the truth for our own sake as well as for the sake of those who follow us. Two Scripture passages come to mind. “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Hebrews 13:7). The Augsburg Confession is the echo of their voice through the centuries though which we are reminded of our common salvation, as well as by which we are encouraged to “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). History records that the people to whom Jeremiah spoke said, “We will not walk in it… We will not listen” (Jeremiah 16:6-7). In these last days of apostasy and sore distress 490 years after the Augsburg Confession, if we listen and would prove ourselves true to our Lord and His Word and to our faith without any reservation and with clear conscience, we will say with those who came before us: “For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.” As that is our steadfast confession we have a future: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame’” (Romans 10:8- 11). * Concordia Triglotta, CPH, St. Louis, MO

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Keep Focus

The Apostle Paul was not unfamiliar with imprisonment or a jail cell during his ministry. Paul was not a rabble rouser; he was not a rioter, or looter. He was “guilty” only of speaking the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. At the time that Paul wrote to the Colossians he was in prison in Rome. The Gospel had been planted in Colossae, and it had grown and borne fruit. Paul was not the founder of this congregation. Word was sent to him about the reception of the Gospel in the city, but also that errorists were trying to wheedle people away from the truth. Epaphras, “a faithful minister of Christ” approached Paul to write to the congregation. He addressed his letter, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ” (Colossians 1). So this is a letter addressed not to the world but to those whom the Lord had “delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of His love in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). Errorists in Colossae, as errorists frequently do, did not make a broad, overt, attack against the truth of the Gospel. They instead introduced error surreptitiously by introducing another gospel by which they would sow doubt, ensnare the unsuspecting, and “deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18). In Colossae the errorists were supplementing the Gospel by the introduction of tradition and philosophy, as well as stirring in a mixture of the law. Theirs was a quasi-Christianity not unlike what passes for Christianity today. Quasi-Christianity is not Christian. “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). In the context of addressing the error and overcoming it which he did successfully through the Word itself, Paul declared the truth against the distortion of the Gospel. He countered the error that philosophy and tradition augmented the Gospel. He rejected false piety—”Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” (Colossians 2:16)—as well as a return to the ceremonial law. In the course of His reinforcement of the Gospel, he wrote, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). Against similar distortions today, surrounded by so many strange gospels, we need frequent reminders of both the blessings we have in Christ, as well as of the future we have with Christ in glory. It is the Gospel which helps us overcome temptation and restores our focus. What greater incentive do we need to “set your mind on things above” than the promise of the Gospel that the believer in Christ will appear with Him in glory! We need the reminder because in the flesh we are susceptible to strange and deceptive teachings. In the melting pot of this world, and even within Christendom, we are tempted to take our focus off Christ for fear of offending someone if we speak the truth, and yes, call out false doctrine, that is teachings and life-styles that are contrary to God’s Word and will. We do not spoil for a fight; in dily life we have interaction with other Christians, but not at the expense of the truth. Our faith is not a tradable commodity, nor our confession of faith a tool of compromise. Jesus said, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). We cannot be half with Christ, and half with the world, or with that which is false. Jesus said again, “He who is not with Me is against Me…” (Matthew 12:30). Therefore “Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Faithful confession of Christ entails matters of life, that is, practice. We deny our Lord and call him a liar if we deny that we are sinners (1 John 6-10). He says if we deny that we are sinners, the truth is not in us. But is it not true that we can easily become calloused to certain sins that tempt us and which we observe about us? Frequently we excuse our sins or those of our children because “that is just the way it is today,” as in “if we cannot beat them, join them.” We are fearful that if we call out sin friends will forsake us, the world will mock us. It is easier if not safer to turn a deaf ear to sinful words and close our eyes to sinful actions. We fear someone will accuse us of thinking we are holier than they. So rather than concerning ourselves with offending God, we choose to avoid the risk of offending our neighbor. We do not expect anything else of the world which has no respect for the Lord or His Word. As we have seen recently, one evil becomes an excuse for multiplying evil. Today foul and vulgar language, homosexual practice, same sex unions, abortion, transgenderism, and every other kind of moral aberration find approval in society. Nevertheless, that the practice of may be legally approved and protected in society does not make it right in the sight of God. They who truly love their neighbor do not withhold the truth from the spiitually sick, who if they die in their sin will be damned. We would hope therefore that all who name the name of the Lord would speak out against sin. But today some of what offends the Lord because it is sinful and morally repugnant even has ecclesiastical sanction. The Spirit says through the apostle Peter, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’” In another vein, is it not true that we are often overcome with intense covetous desire for things of this world? Most certainly all things are on the earth for our use. We have pleasures; we have treasures. The Lord blesses faithful labor. We thank the Lord, but also pray that we keep proper perspective. Appreciation of the good things of life is not sin, unless they become more important to us than He. It is sin to pursue the pleasures of life if through such pursuit we neglect Him. No more need be said than what Jesus said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matthew 16:26)? Therefore, “Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Finally, while it is but temporary as our real home is in heaven, Christ-believers are troubled by the slide of our nation to Sodom, manifest by the lack of moral foundation. Evil begets evil. Now we are confronted with rampant riots and protests in the country, all of which bear political, social, and moral consequences. The Lord has blessed this land richly in spite of itself. We are troubled as we see the unraveling of the fabric of a nation bent on destroying itself. Historically the Roman and Greek empires disappeared though the countries continue to this day. This nation is headed in the same direction, even as some try to maintain the aura of “In God we trust.” It is questionable in this religious maize precisely who that God is. Others would erase any vestige of God from our consciousness. Unless there is a turn in repentance and faith to the one living, true God, the nation invites judgment. The evils of society are reminders of the judgment to come. They are red flags ( 2 Timothy 3) of the end though the end is known but to God. In the midst of it, Christ-believers are called to live the faith, and to witness to the Gospel, teaching all things whatever Christ has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). We are called by the Lord to endure tribulation, the delivery from which will come, “When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” There is blessing even in the midst of turmoil as it gives us reason to earnestly desire “a better, that is, a heavenly country” in which “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). However, as we wait for deliverance we suffer other distractions which contribute to a loss of focus. As Peter was distracted by the waves (Matthew 14:30), we become distracted by the waves of evil, hypocrisy, and godless actions of those who thrive on causing mayhem, as well as by the promises of those who think they can create utopia on this earth. Anger and fear wells up as we contemplate the future welfare of our children and grandchildren. In our concern about the here and now, it is easy to lose focus, namely, that we are but strangers here; heaven is our home. We pray: “Lord, help us daily to fight the good fight of faith against sin, and each day confess our sin. Forgive us our sins. Help us to keep focus on You and the precious promises You have sealed to us in Christ, our Savior. For Jesus’ sake help us to witness without fear and boldly to speak the truth. Help us that we remain instruments of divine of truth through which our neighbors may be led to turn from their sin and join with us in knowing life that is in Jesus.. Man’s heart, “fails from fear and expectation of those things which are coming on the earth…” (Luke 21:26). Yet as the redeemed of God and as those called to faith in Christ, we have hope. The prophet says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in JEHOVAH, the Lord, is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:3-4). In the midst of the chaos within this nation, we live in the optimism of faith as we tune our ears and heart to the voice of our Lord who brings all things to our remembrance saying, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). Therefore focus on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. With focused eyes of faith, we can then relax as we pray: As I await the Father’s call, On earth I struggle, fear, and weep. I ask the Lord to hear my call: “Please help me, Lord, the faith to keep.” Then fin’lly when from earth I’m free, The home for which I here have yearned– The home which God prepared for me– Will be my home for’er. Amen.

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For Healing, Turn unto the Lord

FOR HEALING, TURN UNTO THE LORD In all the turmoil and chaos in the world, and particularly in our country presently, we tend to forget that the cause is a systemic disease called sin. Sin is hidden within the heart of man (original sin) since the fall. So thorough and deep is the natural corruption and depravity that humans cannot heal themselves or excise the disease. Despite the incessantly fomenting talk of “racism,” Scripture teaches there is only one race. It is called the human race. The Spirit of God says in Acts 17, “God, who made the world…made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth….” Nevertheless, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Without acknowledgement of and faith in the Creator/Savior God to whom the whole human race ultimately must answer, there is no fear (respect) of God. So sinful mankind goes his own way as was clearly manifest by what occurred these last weeks. Before the Noahic flood the Lord saw and sees today “that every intent of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one’” (Romans 3:11-18, Psalm 14). Regardless of political posturing, in God’s sight there is no one within the human race – not a single soul – who is superior or inferior to another! Further, no one escapes indictment under the divine law. Jew, Gentile, man, woman, young, old, of whatever social background or culture, of whatever nation and lineage — all are equally guilty before God. Sin is the underlying root of all evil. Whether hatred or murder, greed or theft, divorce or abortion, emotional or physical abuse, drunkenness or drug abuse, cursing or lying, disobedience or hypocrisy, false teaching or deceit, sin is still sin! Whether of the heathen who reject God or the Christian, if what is said or done is not according to the divine Word and to the glory of God it is sin. No one of flesh and blood can stand before God and say, “I thank you, Lord, that I am not as other men…” (Luke 18:11). To the young man who thought he had kept the commandments because he had not done this or had done that, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). The young man went away sorrowful “for he had great possessions.” On the other hand, for all people, thank the Lord, there is an answer to the sin problem as well as its consequence. The Father in heaven desires to save all – Jew, Gentile, man, woman, young, old, of whatever social background or culture, of whatever nation and lineage. Therefore He determined in eternity to send a Savior, His own Son, Jesus Christ. After the fall of Adam and Eve, He immediately informed them of His will for their salvation and how it would be carried out (Genesis 3:15). Unlike sinful humans, He did not and does not break His word or promise. Despite the corruption in the world, through the centuries the Father was true to His promise. He was not dissuaded by Abel’s murder at the hand of Cain. He was faithful to His promise, though godlessness and corruption of the people was as a stench in His nostrils and precipitated the flood. He did not shrug off the pride of Babel or the sins of Noah, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob. Israel rebelled and wandered 40 years in the wilderness. Moses, the man of God, sinned and thus failed to enter the promised land. Israel sinned and suffered consequences. Saul sinned and died. David, “a man after God’s own heart,” according to his flesh fell into grievous sin as did Solomon. Prophets, calling them to repentance, cried out to Israel and Judah before and after the division of the kingdom. Neither repented. Israel was carried away. Judah, exiled to Babylon, in time returned because God is faithful. The Savor would be born of the tribe of Judah. Because God the Father is faithful, the Son of God was born of a virgin as prophesied (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4). In Christ, the Father reconciled all people to Himself. Jesus became the blood atonement for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). By His innocent life, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection, He fulfilled in our place and on our behalf what He had come into the world to do, namely, to destroy the works of the devil. In a great exchange, Jesus took our unrighteousness and gave us His righteousness. Believers in Christ are beneficiaries. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe on His name” (John 1:12). Believers in Christ know and rejoice in the truth: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). This is reiterated in 1 John 5:11,13. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son… These are written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…”. “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Of course there is another not-so-pleasant side to this reality. Jesus “came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11); so it is and remains to this day in the sinful world; many do not receive Him. Scripture says,“…He who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). “ He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). It is not for us to speculate why among humans of the same flesh and blood, some believe and others don’t; why some receive Him, and others don’t. Neither are we to waste our time, much less gloat over our faith and salvation as compared to those who have neither. Rather, it is for us who believe to thank the Lord that “according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). In contrast to looters, arsonists, and people bent on destruction who took license from the circumstances to wreak havoc, sensible and caring people stepped forward to rebuild and heal broken communities and relationships within the community. Countless people have called for reform within society to address real or perceived injustices. Many stepped up to clean the streets of debris and to help rebuild destroyed shops and businesses. Certainly as redeemed children of God who have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10), Christians will assist through prayer, and through activity according to their ability. Scripture tells us, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Through the exercise of faith we can help those in legitimate need. Putting faith into action is a witness to God’s unconditional love toward us. The sad truth is that except to the extent to which our nation is suffering now, the nation has been here before. People have turned on people, communities have suffered violence. The everlasting refrain and plea is, “This has to stop. We have to start loving one another. We have to do better. This cannot go on.” No one disagrees. Yet nothing changes because our nation and society is morally rudderless. Proverbs says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” Whether that way is right or wrong there is another component to that Scripture. “But the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2). The Lord to whom all must answer is the judge of the ways of man. If there is no acknowledgement of the Triune God as Creator and Savior, no respect for Him and His Word on the part of those who profess Him, or if there is indifference on the part of those who confess Him, the sin problem and its manifestations will continue unabated to further destroy the moral fiber of the nation, if not the nation itself. A people and a nation can continue to veneer their problems but make no mistake — unless the rot is removed by turning to the living Lord in sincere contrition (confession of sin) and repentance (faith in Jesus) nothing will change. The Old Testament history of Israel is evidence of that. Ungodliness, idolatry, unbridled wickedness, was the catalyst that brought the wrath of God upon that Old Testament nation. Israel (10 tribes) was carried into captivity and lost to history. Ignorance that refuses to acknowledge history will reap the same reward. So what does speaking of hope and assurance of heaven have to do with addressing injustice and consequent issues that plague the nation? Of what significance is the hope of heaven and eternal salvation to what appears to be a national death rattle? In all the noise, chaos, back-biting and political maneuvering and in all the well-meaning public references to and display of prayer, there is no reference to sin, no call to repentance, no reference to the healing power of the Gospel or to the atonement wrought for lost mankind by the Lord Jesus Christ. Without recognition of the Lord God on one hand and the reality of sin on the other, there is not, neither can there be, appreciation of the power of Christ’s resurrection (Philippians 3:10) which is the defining expression of divine love toward sinners from which the redeemed are enlivened to love one another as they have been loved. Because of fallen man’s sinful nature which afflicts unbelievers and believers alike, sin with its ugly consequences will remain in the world. The only hope for mitigation lies in the Gospel of eternal salvation which is also the power to a sanctified life of love, care, and concern for one another. Multitudinous religions in the world that call on gods who neither speak nor hear may create a semblance of peace and togetherness in society. But it is simply a veneer complementing the law that forces people to live with one another but does not convert the heart. Only the Gospel, rejected by the majority in our society, moves people to love one another. Finally, in conclusion: Christ-believers have peace of heart knowing their real home is in heaven with their Savior God. Of this they are confident because the Lord is faithful. In the meantime, it behooves us to pray for the nation in which we live, witness to the truth of the living God, preach the Gospel and live it before all. The real issue in the world and this nation is not “racism.” It is sin! “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). The Lord has already given the answer in His Word. The question is, “Who will listen?” Until everyone acknowledges sin and through faith finds healing in the Savior, what change happens or may happen will only be a deceptive veneer. Nevertheless, as much as in us lies, while we wait for deliverance from this vale of tears, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21).

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WERE THEY THERE?

According to PHYS.ORG (5/15/20) research by Rutgers University scientists found: “Surprisingly, the Earth had nearly ice-free conditions with carbon dioxide levels not much higher than today and had glacial periods in times previously believed to be ice-free over the last 66 million years, according to a paper published in the journal Science Advances. “Sea-level rise, which has accelerated in recent decades, threatens to permanently inundate densely populated coastal cities and communities, other low-lying lands and costly infrastructure by 2100. It also poses a grave threat to many ecosystems and economies. “The paper reconstructed the history of sea levels and glaciation since the age of the dinosaurs ended.… “The study showed that periods of nearly ice-free conditions, such as 17 million to 13 million years ago (sic), occurred when the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide—a key greenhouse gas driving climate change—was not much higher than today. However, glacial periods occurred when the Earth was previously thought to be ice-free, such as from 48 million to 34 million years ago.… “The largest sea-level decline took place during the last glacial period about 20,000 years ago, when the water level dropped by about 400 feet. That was followed by a foot per decade rise in sea level—a rapid pace that slowed from 10,000 to 2,000 years ago.… “Future work reconstructing the history of sea-level changes before 48 million years ago is needed to determine the times when the Earth was entirely ice-free… The Jerusalem Post reported: “Once an extremely dangerous illness, ear infections have been plaguing humanity for at least fifteen millennia: A group of Tel Aviv University researchers found that the inhabitants of ancient Israel suffered from it already 15,000 years ago.” By there reckoning, Israel had itching ears before the world began. What is of interest are the dates. Another online site said, “As of 2013, Planck data has set the age of the universe at about 13.77 billion years (plus or minus 59 million years).” The age of the earth is well within the range since it is theorized to be 4.54 billion years. In the light of the earth’s age, plus or minus 59 million years, therefore, is hardly significant. It is likely that these dates and ages could also be changed. Of a star that’s been around for a very long time NASA said, “ The star could be as old as 14.5 billion years (plus or minus 0.8 years), which at first glance would make it older than the universe’s calculated age about 13.8 billion years, an obvious dilemma.” Estimates in 2000 calculated that the star was 16 billion years, prompting an astronomer to say, “Maybe the cosmology is wrong, stellar physics is wrong, or the star’s distance is wrong.” According to one source (you might find another) “the generally accepted story of human evolution, the human lineage split from that of apes some 7 million years ago in Africa,” (or Europe, some say). The evolutionist attributes evil and death in the world to social or cultural background. The evolutionists know nothing about sin, or obviously the Savior. For the truth we turn to the One Who knows the truth because He is the only One Who was there when the world began. The eternal God knows what the wisest of humans do not know and cannot explain, nor ever will be able to explain. The Creator challenged those who think they know better than He: 2 “Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? 3 Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, 7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy? 8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb; 9 When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band; 10 When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars and doors; 11 When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’ 12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, And caused the dawn to know its place, 13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth… (Job 38). “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Science is a useful tool; it is a blessing of the Lord; it manifests the wisdom which the Creator gives to man which enables him to explore the universe. But science does not, cannot, and will never be able to do more related to the origin of the universe or the creation of man than to move honest men to wonder and stand in awe at the working of it and the beauty of it. We can stand in awe at how it works. We cannot get beyond that except to go to the Scripture which tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that was made” (John 1: 1-3). Through the prophet, the Lord invites, “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might, and the strength of His power, not one is missing” (Isaiah 40:26). The heavenly host sings, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11). “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Then God said, ‘Let there be light and there was light…God called the light Day, and the darkness He called night.” On the 6th day God created man, male and female, He created them, separate and distinct from the animals (Genesis 1-2). “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). At the end of the 6th day the Creator stopped. He was finished. We direct you to the source of our information to read the whole account for yourself–the Holy Scriptures. The creation is affirmed throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. Indeed all was created and in its original state was perfect: “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But created man, abusing his free will, fell for the devil’s lie and fouled up the very good creation, as well as lost his free will as relates to the spiritual. Man now became a slave to Satan. Here then the origin of evil and the origin of death. In his unregenerate state he remains a slave to Satan. But the Lord Who is not willing that any should perish instituted already in eternity a plan of salvation. The creation and the redemption from sin cannot be separated. Scripture is the source of both, one cannot deny creations without denying the redemptive work of Christ without which there is no salvation. The Creator God in His infinite mercy promised the Savior from sin—unnecessary had sin not come and death reigned. “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help. Whose hope in in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever… (Psalm 146: 5-6). Whether it is the creation of the universe and all that is in it, or the promise of the Savior, and the accomplished redemption through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father keeps truth forever. It was carried out by the Savior who walked upon the earth 2000 years ago, some 4-5 thousand years after creation. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). Through the Word we know that we are sinners, offspring of Adam and Eve, subject to death and damnation. The Word tells us that since the fall sinners are redeemed through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and are saved through faith in Christ. Through the Spirit working through the Word, by baptismal grace we have been rescued from slavery to Satan and have been made alive in Christ. Through the Word, “We know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:22-23). Through faith in the Creator Who created all things, and through faith in the Father’s promise, fulfilled in the redemption wrought for us through the Lord Jesus, we believe, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Unlike those who through their unbelief do not know from where they came or where they are going, Christ-believers know and believe the Bible as the very Word of God. Hence they know where they are from and where they are going. They confess and declare, “ I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker [Creator] of heaven and earth. “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there He will come to judge the living and the dead. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” From the Creation to the fall into sin to the promised redemption of sinners, to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, to the return of the Savior to claim His own for eternity…This is most certainly true. Amen.

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IS WORSHIP ESSENTIAL?

 

“Extremely important, absolutely necessary, fundamental, indispensable” are definitions we found for the word essential.

What is essential is much in the news today during the panic created by the present virus. What is deemed essential today determines what is allowed, or what is open or closed. Given that God’s Word (Scripture) is challenged by people echoing Pilate who asked, “What is Truth?”, we are not surprised our right to gather for worship is deemed as unessential. The decision is conditioned by subjective opinion of opinion makers, not all of whom are agreed with one another.

No less than others, Christ-believers have concern for their neighbor, as well as themselves. Christians are not insensitive to death and dying caused by the virus. We understand the seriousness of it. Christians in their mortal bodies are no less immune to contracting disease than others. Christians get sick and die just like the heathen. What distinguishes Christ-believers from the majority are respect for and trust in the Lord Who day by day – from the air we breathe to the food we eat — provides the essentials for life. Further, virus or no, our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15)

We understand some things are more essential than others as efforts are made to mitigate (another presently popular word) the consequences of a disease. So we do not disagree with the necessity of choosing essentials. However, we take issue with what is deemed essential, since what is essential is the criterion by which worship inside a church building has been denied.

What is essential in the present scenario is fraught with contradictions. Among many, perhaps the most egregious example in the context of trying to save lives is how initially cancer surgeries that contribute to quality of life were not essential. Yet the right to get an abortion which destroys life was deemed as essential.

GOD’S WORD IS ESSENTIAL! That is not debatable! That has not been banned – yet. According to what and by whose measure other than personal opinion or consensus (which does not establish science) is hearing God’s Word in public worship service not essential?

Whether or not we are permitted to worship publicly, the principle by which the Christ-believer lives is: “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night… (Joshua 1:8). The apostle Paul wrote, “Let the Word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom…(Colossians 3:16). Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).

Does the application of that principle make attending public worship essential? In one sense, no. There is no Scripture that says, “Thou must go to church to be saved.” We hear the Word when we read the Scripture at home, when we study the Word at home, when we meditate on the grace of God at home, when we teach our children the Word of the Lord at home. The Word of God is heard and is efficacious in whatever venue it is studied. The Spirit of God nurtures faith unto salvation through the Word in the quiet of our homes as well as before the altar in church.

According to the third commandment, we are not to “despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” However, it is not inability to hear the Word in church that condemns. The sin is neglecting the Word and Sacrament and, being indifferent to hearing it. But the reality is that not everyone is always able to attend church. For example, sickness, having no church of one’s own faith, military service, and work(?), can intervene. Further, hearing the Word of God means more than sitting in the pew once a week or reading the Bible every day at home. Hearing is manifest in our assent to the apostle’s word which says, “But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). True hearing means meditating on the Word and applying it to one’s life, both with respect to “You shall,” and “You shall not” (the Law), as well as the blessed Gospel of salvation in Christ Who has redeemed us from sin and clothed us in His righteousness which avails before God.

However,  since one can be blessed through study of the Word and meditation in it in the privacy of one’s home (Is it being done faithfully?), let no one conclude that attending worship with fellow, likeminded believers is unimportant. David said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1). No passage speaks more directly to the God-fearing, Spirit-inspired Christ-believer’s attitude than David’s expressions: “LORD, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells…My foot stands in an even place; in the congregations [assemblies of believers] I will bless the Lord” (Ps. 26:8,12).  The writer to the Hebrews said, “ Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25). The conclusion of the Colossians passage above says, “…Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Asaph was envious of how the wicked prospered. He said, “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end” (Psalm 73:16-17). In the early church “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The same chapter in Acts speaks of how they continued “daily with one accord in the temple.” Mark says of Jesus, “He entered into the synagogue and taught” (Mark 1:21). Paul and Barnabas “gathered the church together “ (Acts 14:27). They gathered the believers to tell how the Lord “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”

Again there is no “Go to church to be saved” in the Bible. Yet, assembling together as the Lord instructs is a public confession of faith. Beside the personal blessing, it is a witness to the world and the neighbor that nurturing and nourishing faith is an essential part of the Christian’s existence as he awaits the Lord’s return. It is the desire, and yes, a “felt need”, of Christians to mutually support and encourage one another, to sit with one another at the feet of Jesus Whose Word is proclaimed by the called under-shepherd, and to join in a united choir of praise to the Lord. Worshiping together is an expression of a God-fearing priority.

People are innately social. Within the family of God, there is a closer bond yet than the social bond. Christians of the same faith, hope, and eternal future through faith in Christ need one another in a world that scorns the Lord, mocks the faith, and considers worship unessential. Obviously, the Savior considered worship “essential.” As a twelve-year-old, He went to the temple with Mary and Joseph. During His ministry, “As His custom was, He went  into the synagogue on the Sabbath day…” (Luke 4:16).

Faith in Christ is the tie that unites fellow believers. Within the worship service the Church, the assembly of believers, in Jesus’ name sings in unison:

“We share our mutual woes, Our mutual burdens bear,

And often for each other flows The sympathizing tear” ( TLH 464:3).

The third commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 5:12). Sabbath means “rest.” For the Jews that was the 7th day. They were commanded to set aside the day for study and meditation. With the coming of Christ we are not under the command as to the day (Colossians 2:16-17). Christ is our Sabbath—every day. Whenever we immerse ourselves in the Word, and in the Gospel, we find rest for our soul and spirit. The early Church in freedom chose the first day of the week to gather in public worship in commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection on the first day of the week. Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter.

Martin Luther wrote: “Nature teaches and demands that the mass of the people—servants and mechanics, who the whole week attend to their work and trades—retire for a day of rest and recreation. And then, especially, do we keep holy days that people may have time and opportunity to worship with the congregation which otherwise they could not do. Also that they may assemble in meetings to hear and discuss God’s Word and appropriately praise him with song and prayer… “How then is the day kept holy? Not by sitting behind the stove and avoiding manual labor, nor by decking ourselves with garlands and putting on our best clothes; but, as has been said, by studying God’s Word and putting it into practice” (Large Catechism, Augsburg Pub. House, 1935, pp. 60-61).

Satan masquerades under the cover of the pandemic. Coming out of the pandemic, whoever believes or is deceived into thinking that assembling for worship together (Hebrews 10:23-25) is not essential has bought his lie.

“The old evil Foe Now means deadly woe;

Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight…” (TLH:262:1)

The child of God will not let him have the day. During the mandated closure of churches, utilize the Word privately and together with your family, including your children. The Lord is present where two or three are gathered together in His name (Matthew 18:20). He is present with His Gospel of salvation, and with reassurance for the difficult times, as well as healing for the sorrowful spirit.

Be that as it may, worship together is essential. But let us also recognize and acknowledge that any protestations to denying Christians the right to worship together are meaningless if after the worship ban is lifted we prove ourselves hypocrites by negligence and complacency in our worship life. God forbid!

Let this time of closure be a reminder of the blessings we have in the Word, and may it increase appreciation of the privilege we have to worship in God’s house in fellowship with one another around the Means of Grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. How pleasant it is for Christ-believers to gather to be nourished by the Good Shepherd in the green pastures and by the still waters.

The Lord’s our Creator, Redeemer, and Keeper

Our Refuge in trouble, our Comfort in need,

Our Savior from sin, the way, truth, and life.

To plead both His mercy and plenteous grace,

In faith with thanksgiving, in confidence of heav’n,

With hearts united and voices together,

We worship together the Lord of our life.

“Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:1-2).

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