EXERCISE AND BLESSING OF FELLOWSHIP IN CHRIST

 

Fellowship, by dictionary definition, is a friendly association, especially with people who share one another’s interests. Fellowship is found 17 times in the King James Version, but is translated variously in other translations, though the basic meaning remains the same. It is used in the Old Testament twice. The New King James translates Psalm 94:20 addressing the Lord, “Shall the throne of iniquity which devises evil by law, have fellowship with You” An American Translation (Beck) translates the same passage, “Can anyone on a throne of wickedness be your partner?

Second Corinthians 6 is the only New Testament text where the translation fellowship is not derived from koinonia or a derivative of it. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship [participation] has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?  And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul warns against “fellowship (being a partner) with demons.” In Ephesians 5:11 he counsels, “Have no fellowship (be no partaker) with the unfruitful works of darkness.” Acts 2:42 reports that believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.” Paul reminded the Corinthians ( 1 Corinthians 1:9) that God called them “ into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ.” Paul and Barnabas were sent on their way having received from the Church, “the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9). Paul gave thanks to God for the “fellowship [of the Philippians] in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:5). The apostle John wrote, “… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3). Christ—the Word of life— through the Word draws people into fellowship with Himself in whom all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ have fellowship with one another in His body, the Holy Christian Church.

Fellowship in and with Christ and with one another is manifest by walking in the truth in word and deed. John further says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” ( 1 John 1:5-7).

In our original state, dead in trespasses and sins, we did not seek fellowship with Christ. Remember how Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned. Through the Gospel, God graciously calls sinners into fellowship with Christ ( 2 Thessalonians 2:14). “[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…”(2 Timothy 1:9). Our relationship to Christ and in Him with the Father is totally a consequence of the Spirit’s work. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Most assuredly, the Lord wants all people to be saved, but the saving relationship with the Father is through Spirit wrought faith in Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:26). This relationship is exclusive, but only in the sense that they who reject, deny, and rebel against Christ are excluded by unbelief. On the other hand, among the sum total of believers in Christ “ There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Perfect unity, fellowship, exists among the total of believers through the ages. The Lord knows in whom saving faith dwells. He knows whose confession of Him and trust in Him is genuine, and whose is not. He knows beyond any shadow of a doubt who are members of His family or who are impostors. He will do the sorting on judgment day. He will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25: 31-34).

As only He can read the heart, the Father alone knows who are His and who enjoy fellowship with Christ. It is His will that Christ-believers fellowship with one another. However, since mortals cannot read the heart, the Lord has set the criterion for the exercise of fellowship of believers within the church on earth. It is His will that His Word be taught faithfully (Jeremiah 23:28), and that believers who come together in worship and fellowship be united in faith and confession in His Word, that “there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). He expressly warns, “Beware of false teachers” (Matthew 7:15). Those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine we have learned are to be avoided because they deceive hearts (Romans 16:17-18).

The Lord wills that His children differentiate between orthodox (correct teaching) and heterodox (false teaching) churches before exercising fellowship which by its nature implies unity of faith and confession. The differentiating factor is not who is or is not saved. The standard is not personal opinion, customs, or what one likes or dislikes. We are to compare what is taught and practiced in the church or church body to Scripture.

Obedience that is exhibited by Christ-believers who heed the Word of the Lord reaps blessing. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). How pleasant it is to worship, sing, pray, and commune together at the Lord’s table with brethren, all who believe and confess the whole Word without compromise, reservation, or evasion.

Each Christian within a congregation is unique —different backgrounds, ethnicities, customs, personalities. The one thing brethren have in common is sin. Of one faith and confession they join together in confession of sin, confident in the Lord’s grace, forgiveness, and promises of eternal life. The doctrines of Scripture are the link, and the Savior the glue that unites them in one hope of heaven.

Similarly, each congregation in a church body is unique from another, yet equally blessed as others with whom it is in fellowship, united as they are in faith and confession before the world. It is no secret that in our secular society there is no respect for the Lord or His Word. It is likewise no secret that there is growing disrespect within Christendom and the church for the Lord and His Word. In this godless age we who are of one heart and mind need one another.

As embers feed off others to maintain their glow, Christ-believers need the company, support, and encouragement, of one another through Word and Sacrament. Within a fellowship there is no closer relationship than that created and maintained by the Spirit through the Word. We pray that the Lord will lead each of us to appreciate the blessing of such fellowship in the truth that led John to write, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth “(3 John 4).

Compare the fellowship relationship within the church to marriage. God’s institution of marriage is the union of a man and a woman. This union is fractured if spouses insist on doing their own thing, going their own way, living only for self, or if they believe differently in matters of faith, or are disagreed on how to raise the children. Happiness in the marital union is a consequence of spouses united. So in the church. Fellowship   is more than union. It implies unity in the Word of God, in doctrine, and in faith. It is a fruit of the Spirit. It glorifies the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ (Romans 15:6). This is the will of God.

Value the company and association of fellow confessors around the Word of God in Bible Study, worship, and other church activities. In a hostile, anti-Christian society such exercise of fellowship and togetherness with fellow confessors and support of each other is an essential aspect of walking together as we move day by day closer to being with the Lord in glory. They who join with faithful David who was glad “to go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1), know full well “ how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” with Christ, and in Jesus regularly with one another around the Word. “How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways” (Psalm 128:1). Doubly so when we walk together in His ways—His truth!

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IN A WORLD OF HATE…GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet, because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). Today hatred directed at Christ is manifest through the mockery, persecution and abuse directed at the Church. The hatred of the world directed at the Body of Christ grows more spiteful and intense as the day of judgment draws nearer. As children of God struggle against their own flesh, it is not comfortable at the same time to be targets of the world’s hatred.

However, we ought not adopt the victimhood mentality. We are children of God only by the mercy of the Father and the calling of the Holy Spirit through the Word. As we confess Christ faithfully in word and deed we should see hate directed at us as a badge of faithfulness.

If the desire to avoid the wrath and hatred of the world on one hand and gain its love and favor on the other is a yearning desire, one must go along to get along. Child of God, beware! The Lord says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

The Lord tells us not to love the world. He does not tell us to hate the world or those in it. To the contrary, He says, “ Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3: 14).

He does tell us in Psalm 97:10, “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” We are not to excuse evil in the world, much less emulate it. Whether it be in our own lives, or in the lives of those who love the world and reject Christ, we are to detest anything that is contrary to God’s word and will.

Of our own sins we are to repent before the Lord. Evil and righteousness are incompatible with confession of faith in Christ. He also describes the proper attitude toward evildoers in the world who direct their hateful venom at us, saying in the Sermon on the Mount, “…I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,  that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). As the Lord sent the apostles to preach, He alerted them to the reality that they would not be well accepted. “ If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”

Lovers of the world and the promoters of darkness turn on the Christ-believer because in Christ “ …the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Jesus finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He desires that they should turn from their wickedness and live (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). “[The Lord] “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”( 1 Timothy 2:4). Pray that they will repent and believe on the Lord Jesus for there is no salvation without faith in Christ; faith in Christ is manifest through confession of sins and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Pray for those who love the world, reject Christ, and wallow in sin—even those who hate you personally and who make your life miserable for speaking and living the truth. Ultimately hatred ensnares only the hater! Only the Lord can save the hater from himself.

From the beginning of His life, hatred was directed toward Jesus. In unbelief Herod perceived Jesus to be a usurper of his throne. He proceeded to (Matthew 2) murder the male children under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding area but failed to destroy the infant Jesus. Joseph, according to instructions from the Father, had taken Jesus and Mary to Egypt. Thus, Herod unwittingly contributed to the fulfillment of Scripture. Upon the death of Herod, Joseph returned with Jesus and Mary and so was fulfilled the word “spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’” (Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15). After the exile, Jesus, like Israel from which He descended according to the flesh, was called out of Egypt.

Still another word, this prophesied through Jeremiah, was fulfilled. Rachel was long dead. She, as it were, with the daughters of whom she was the ancestress, wept in her grave (In our day we might say “turned over in her grave”) at the murder of their children:

Thus says the Lord: “’A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more’” (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18).

Jeremiah prophesied chiefly in Jerusalem and its environs until because of apostasy and wickedness it was destroyed, and Judah was exiled to Babylon. But he was also a prophet of hope. He prophesied of Judah’s return in keeping with the desire of the Lord to save the lost. “Return, backsliding Israel,’ says the Lord; ‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,’ says the Lord; ‘I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity…”(Jeremiah 3:12).

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Refrain your voice from weeping, And your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future, says the Lord, That your children shall come back to their own border’”. (Jeremiah 31: 16-17).

“From the beginning it is here shown that Christ brings His people no earthly fortunes, but rather cross and misery, and also a promise that He has preserved for His own, a better portion in the world to come” (George Stoeckhardt: The Biblical History of the New Testament: Short Explanation—Wisdom for Today, p. 19, 1966, Swanville MN).

There is for every believer in Christ a future hope. Yes, in the midst of sorrow there is compassion and mercy. When the trials and afflictions, and the tribulations and suffering of the present age end with the return of the Lord in His glory, the penitent people of God will in heaven know peace and joy—no more hate, no more sorrow, no more tears.

There was weeping at the exile to Babylon, a consequence of apostasy. But after the cleansing exercise, the Lord in His mercy would for the sake of His promise of a Savior bring the people back. They had a future. There was weeping at the death of the infants at the birth of Jesus. This was in effect an attack against Christ and His Church, His body. But in due time the Savior took on the devil and destroyed him. Jesus restored life to the despairing through His perfect life, His vicarious atonement, His resurrection from the dead through which He reconciled the sinner unto the Father.

The Lord has blessed us with good things and times. However, if on this side of eternity life was always “heavenly,” who would want to go to the heavenly mansion prepared for us (John 14:2)? Trials and afflictions serve a purpose, as well as does enduring hatred for His sake. The Lord permits affliction and sorrow, and even ostracization for His sake, to the end that His children turn to Him and anticipate the future. Judah came back to its border as the Lord promised. The duress of the Church, whether caused by false brothers within, or by the world, will end when the Lord calls His faithful children to the better country, the heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16), described so beautifully in Revelation. The Lord Who fulfills every promise will in His time take us to new borders.

In this life whether in times of joy, sadness, or grief, focus on the homeland until you with all who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14) hear the invitation, “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Satan and his minions can hate, scheme, plot, hurt, and murder. “The Lord has redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he” (Jeremiah 31:11). The Lord has ransomed us from forces from which we cannot deliver ourselves. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?

As we call upon the name of the Lord, the answer is, no one, “For the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10). GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH (Psalm 46), our salvation.

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LIGHT TO LIGHTEN THE GENTILES

 

                       Matthew 2

 It was not happenstance or fate,

That Jesus came to light the world.

He came as prophets long had said,

To be the Savior of mankind.

 

 Nor was it fate the Magi came,

The Savior of the world to see.

The Scriptures also had foretold,

The Gentiles, too, the Light would see.

 

So came these wise-men from afar

To see the Savior sent for them.

Led by a star, lo, they did find

The promised Child in Bethlehem.

 

Not all were happy at the news,

Some stumbled at the glorious light.

Though Jesus came the king to save,

Yet godless Herod loved the dark. .

 

The wise-men ne’ertheless went on,

They worshiped Christ and gave Him gifts.

But they received more than they gave,

Salvation was the gift they found.

 

All people who on earth do dwell,

Who sin confess, and trust in Christ,

Shall life eternal e’er possess.

How broad God’s love, how rich His grace!

 

Shunning light and loving darkness,

In this sad world of sin and death,

Many choose the path of Herod–

They trod the Savior under foot.

 

Not so with you who’ve seen the light.

In faith hold fast to Christ, your Lord.

He is the Light; He lights the way,

And leads you to your heav’nly home.

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2019–ANOTHER NEW YEAR—2020

In 2020, we enter a new decade. Many years ago, as young children still do, we couldn’t wait for the next year– another birthday, another Christmas, another vacation to the lake. Now having arrived at an age when there are more years and decades behind than lie ahead, the natural being, as opposed to the spiritual, occasionally would like to slow down the progression of time. Years pass so quickly. Another decade? Already?

The Lord to whom a thousand years are like yesterday when it is past has measured our days and years. “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

With the new year and the new decade, some things will change. A new job. Perhaps retirement. Perhaps there will be a wedding in the family, a new child, another grandchild or great-grandchild. Change in health, for better or for worse. New home, new friends, new interests. Perhaps our team will finally win the World Series, or the Super Bowl. Perhaps a death in the family, or our own death. Who knows? Only the Lord knows.

However, as years pass probably more things stay the same than change. The devil will continue to walk about as a roaring lion; sin in all its manifestations (hatred, greed, immorality, murder and mayhem, et al) will remain, and grow bolder, if not worse. Read 2 Timothy 3. Political campaigns will continue to harass us; wars and rumors of wars will continue. Trials and tribulations common to the world since the entrance of sin will continue. Sickness and death will take no break. Indeed, as years and decades pass and some things change and others remain the same, the aging child of God adopts the attitude of the apostle Paul: “ For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23), and with John will say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Believers in Christ are subject to the same highs and lows s those of the unbelieving world. The Christ-believer lives and waits in this darkening world subject every day to temptations, sins, weaknesses, eccentricities, evils, and finally death. But there is an indescribable advantage not of our making that the believer has that the unbeliever does not because he rejects Christ. To the eternal, unchanging God Who daily and richly provides us with everything that we need belongs the glory. He says, “ I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)? Come what may in the new year or new decade God, our Creator, Justifier, and the Author of our salvation with whom there is no variableness or change is ever the same in His love, compassion, and care for us. In the steadfast, unchanging, loving care of the Lord Who has redeemed us we find stability in a chaotic world. The Christ- believer finds comfort within the Heavenly Father’s family. He says to each family member: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

As we begin another year,

There is no need for us to fear.

Our Father holds us ever dear,

And promises that He is near.

 

He’ll hold us in His warm embrace,

In every day and year and place.

So we can run our earthly race

With confidence in His good grace.

Of things we know for sure, one is that we do not know what the new year will bring, good or bad. The other is that in the variable scenes of life the eternal God and Father remains ever the God of grace who will see us through it. Through all the changing scenes of life, the Lord and His Word have remained and will remain constant and unchanging through time and eternity. As Jesus has by His death and resurrection reconciled us unto the Father, the Father will neither leave us nor forsake us. Whatever changes and dangers confront us, we can look with joy and anticipation to the new year. For this, we thank the Lord, and our Savior Jesus, whose attributes show Him to be:

Unchangeable:

“For I am the Lord, I do not change “ (Malachi 3:6).

“With Him is no variation or turning” (James 1:17).

He “ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

 Our Protector:

“God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

“He will not allow your foot to be moved…The Lord is your keeper…The Lord shall preserve you from all evil” (Psalm 121).

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer…” (Psalm 18:2).

Ever with us:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

Ever kind:

“But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,”
Says the Lord, your Redeemer… “’ For the mountains shall depart And the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’” says the Lord, Who has mercy on you” (Isaiah 54:8-10).

God is, “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them”” (Nehemiah 9:17).

…“that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

Aware of our needs:

For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).

“For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalm 1:6).

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place. Keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).

All who call upon the Lord and look to Him in faith are assured:

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name.  He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.  With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16).

Whatever 2020 brings, it is a time of grace — a time to remember our Lord’s faithfulness, a time to enjoy the Lord’s blessings, a time to grow in faith, a time to share the Gospel, a time to focus with thanksgiving on our Father’s unchangeable love in Christ Jesus. Rejoice. We can confidently affirm, “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly Kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18).

Regardless of age and passing of time, Christ-believers anticipate each new day and year with the eager anticipation of youth. Each passing day and year brings us closer to the eternity of rest God has prepared for embattled warriors who, strengthened by the love of Christ, have fought the good fight, have finished the race, and have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

It is forever true and clear—

As we now enter a new year,

The Lord will keep us: Never fear,

By grace in heav’n we will appear.

“Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, abide with us, and by Your grace keep Your children until the eternal New Year in heaven.”

 

AS WE BEGIN ANOTHER YEAR

(Melody: 7- TLH)

As we begin another year

There is no need for us to fear.

Our Father holds us ever dear,

And promises that He is near.

 

Each year begins with confidence,

For Jesus is the sure Defense

For all who hold Him and confess

His holy name and righteousness.

 

Each year then, we begin in hope

E’en though we know not what it holds.

If trial and deep grief, take note:

Our gracious God will help us cope.

 

In every day and every way,

To God our Father we will pray.

As witness to God’s love we’ll say,

“Our Savior is our Staff and Stay.”

 

He’ll hold us in His warm embrace,

In every day and year and place.

So we can run our earthly race,

With confidence in His good grace.

 

He promises through His dear Son

That our eternal life is won.

Salvation unto us has come,

Through what our Lord for us has done.

 

So it’s forever true and clear,

As we now enter a new year.

The Lord will keep us: Never fear,

By grace in heav’n we will appear.          df/2019

 

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CHRISTMAS — WITH A SONG IN THE HEART

 Christians, sing out with exultation
And praise your Benefactor’s name!
Today the Author of salvation,
The Father’s Well-beloved, came.
Of undefiled virgin mother
An Infant, all divine, was born,
And God Himself became your Brother
Upon this happy Christmas morn (Hymn 100).

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,
Great David’s greater Son!
Hail, in the time appointed,
His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
To set the captive free,
To take away transgression,
And rule in equity (59).

Rejoice, rejoice, this happy morn,
A Savior unto us is born,
The Christ, the Lord of Glory.
His lowly birth in Bethlehem
The angels from on high proclaim
And sing redemption’s story.
My soul, extol God’s great favor,
Bless Him ever For salvation,
Give Him praise and adoration (79).

If Thy beloved Son, O God,
Had not to earth descended
And in our mortal flesh and blood
Had not sin’s power ended,
Then this poor, wretched soul of mine
In hell eternally would pine
Because of its transgression (375).

Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer (377).

Thee will I love, my Life, my Savior,
Who art my best and truest Friend;
Thee will I love and praise forever,
For never shall Thy kindness end;
Thee will I love with all my heart,
Thou my Redeemer art (399).

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand (370).

Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me (552)!

Savior, sprinkle many nations,
Fruitful let Thy sorrows be;
By Thy pains and consolations
Draw the Gentiles unto Thee.
Of Thy Cross the wondrous story,
Be it to the nations told;
Let them see Thee in Thy glory
And Thy mercy manifold (510).

(Hymn stanzas are from The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941 CPH, St. Louis. MO)

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LIGHT IN THE MIDST OF DARKNESS

 

 

Luke 2: 8-18

One dark’ning night near Bethlehem

When shepherds tended in the field

The sheep entrusted to their care,

A sudden light did pierce the night,

The glory of the Lord appeared.

 

T’was nothing like the shepherds knew;

They’d never seen the sky so bright,

Much less heard angelic voices.

They trembled at the sight and sound,

Their hearts and minds were filled with fear.

 

The angel knew they were afraid,

He spoke to them, allayed their fear.

This was the Father’s chosen time.

As an expression of His love,

He’d kept the promise He had made.

 

The angel kindly spoke to them:

“Don’t be afraid, I bring glad news

To you and to your fellowmen.

For unto you is born this day,

Your Savior, Jesus, God’s own Son.”

 

Then suddenly a choir sang

From heav’n above—a joyful tune:

It was a song that lifts sad hearts:

“All glory and all praise to God,

Who in His Son brings peace to earth.”

 

Tis not the peace the world pursues,

Nor which about it even cares.

It is the peace once held, but lost

When came with sin both fear and death.

It is the peace of sins forgiv’n.

 

The shepherds waited not a bit,

But trusted God to keep the sheep.

With wond’ring hearts, they ran with haste

To Bethlehem and found the Child

Calmly sleeping in the manger.

 

They heard the truth of this dear Child

Of Virgin, born, yet God’s own Son.

Mary’s child, yet pure and sinless,

Jesus is the Babe they worshiped–

From sin, the Savior of the world.

 

Back to the fields the shepherds went,

Restored to vigor, with new hope.

They stopped to speak along the way

Of all the things they’d heard and seen.

No more afraid, with peace of heart.

 

In darkness of this world of sin,

I live and work and pray each day.

Dear Father, on my heart bestow

The light of peace and joy and hope

Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.

 

Blessed Father, You’ve seen my need,

So let me hear the angels’ song,

As shepherds did, now help me Lord,

Proclaim Your wondrous love and grace,

For Christ, the Lord, was born for me.

 

As Luther prayed, I pray dear Lord:

“Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,

Make You a bed, soft, undefiled,

Within my heart, that it may be

A quiet chamber, kept for You.”*

 

  • St. 13, Hymn 85, The Lutheran Hymnal

 

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IN THE LAST DAYS

Last days can be understood in various ways. For individuals extended illness or simply advanced years are reminders of  last days.  Last times are precursors of the  end of one’s mortal existence. Whatever age one is, the end is coming.

Last days can refer to nations. Rome (The holy Roman Empire) and ancient Greece experienced last days after which their influence waned. The decline of  Rome (753 BC – 476 AD) and its influence was due to many causes. Among them were the economy and the decline of the military. Some say the influx of foreigners strained the tax system and contributed to the end of Roman authority. One historian suggested the rise of Christianity which undermined  polytheistic worship, including the worship of emperors as divine, contributed to the end of political influence. This contributed to the institution of the papacy.  Another cause was the deterioration of morals. One online source (ThoughtCo.) said: “The nation changed over the course of years until its form was unrecognizable.”  It also commented, “The barbarians, which is a term that covers a varied and changing group of outsiders, were embraced by Rome, who used them as suppliers of tax revenue and bodies for the military, even promoting them to positions of power.”

To forget or disregard history is folly. Who can honestly say that the reputation of the United States is unsullied, or confidently say that its cohesiveness and its influence is not at risk for many of the same reasons that brought Rome down? However, our concern is not  the last days of national  existence but in living alertly in readiness for the  return of our Lord when the heavens and the earth shall be folded up “and they will be changed” ( Hebrews 1:10-12).

Scripture speaks of the end of the world. The end, denied by some, and the precise of time of the end  falsely claimed to be known by others, is in fact known to the Lord alone Who  will return unannounced, as a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10). He will appear as a lightning flash (Matthew 24:17).

Though the Lord alone knows the time of the end, He has identified red flags to which we are to take heed. In his farewell letter to Timothy, Paul spoke of indicators forewarning of the end. “For know this, that in the last days perilous times will come… (2 Timothy 3:1-7). We are living in such perilous times. The times in which we live are no more wicked than before the Noahic flood, or the idolatrous times that spelled the end of Israel and ushered in both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. The Lord’s reaction, however, to the evil at that time should awaken us to the fact that He is not mocked. He warned Israel what would happen if they continued in wickedness. They did, and what He said came to pass. The only difference between  the New Testament age and the Old Testament is that in the Old Testament the Lord’s promise and plan to send the Savior was still not fulfilled. So He spared a remnant, Judah, in the interest of His promise to send the Savior. Staying His hand now is His patience, His grace, His “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (1 Peter 3:13). Whether judgment or salvation, the Heavenly Father is true to His Word – always!

When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, His concern was neither political, societal, nor national. His concern was that the faithful not be deceived or led away from their eternal hope in Christ. Against Satan who tirelessly works  to lead God’s people into “misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice,”  we have the promise of the Father that He  “will avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him” (Luke 18:7). He will “avenge them speedily” (v.8) who are tempted, tried and persecuted in the last times of this present evil world. We have the comforting promise of Jesus  that “no one will be able to snatch them [those who believe in Him] out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29). But note carefully that this promise and comfort are  spoken to the benefit of those of whom Jesus said , “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).  Children of God against whom Satan generates continuing fierce opposition are instructed: “For a little while, and He [The Lord] Who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:37-38).

The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. Stand therefore in the Word and pray. The Lord hears all who pray for help to overcome the enemies that oppose, oppress, and  deceive them. He will receive to eternal glory all who call upon His name.  Satan is a loser, but he will not give up. Child of God, do not through neglect, indifference, over-confidence, or spiritual lethargy become a statistic on the wrong side of the final ledger. Through growth in the Word and faithful exercise in the Word be a “Yes” to Jesus’ question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)?

By divine reckoning, we are in the last times. The point is proven repeatedly. Recently (10/2019) Pew Research  reported, “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Church attendance has declined at a rapid rate. Heathenism, atheism, and “nones” (those who claim no religion) are on the rise. The poll is not infallible. It does not address the subject of our concern, but it does raise flags. The attacks on Christianity on one hand, and the watering down of it on the other are such flags. The essence of Christianity is not, “Look what I have done or can do.”  Christianity is not about personal feeling. Christ’s person and His atonement are the foundation of the Christian faith. Christianity is the proclamation of the Law and Gospel, and of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father through faith in Christ alone. The essence of the Christian faith and life is the message: Christ has lived, died, and risen again for me. Through faith in Him alone I have eternal life.

God’s Word will endure; it will not pass away. However, when we consider the cause of the decline of Christianity, perhaps that much of the Christian Church has abandoned the first principles of faith and no longer focuses on Jesus Christ as the Savior from sin and Giver of eternal life—perhaps these are the largest contributors.

Paul was not morose nor was he crying wolf when  he spoke  of the evil of the last times. Neither are we. But we are remiss and false teachers if we fail to preach repentance and alert God’s people to the reality of the approaching judgment. The faithful Church and witnesses are called to imitate Peter on Pentecost when he said to the assembly, “Be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40). He called them to repentance and said, “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38).

But in our times we must ask: What is the reason for the decline in attendance in our churches? Is it a lack of appreciation for the means of grace? Have we become so satiated with the Gospel that we are tired of it? Are we ignorant of the fact that while we sleep, Satan continues to sow the seed of deceit, utilizing  false teachers, the media, secular humanistic education, as well as political and social intimidation to spread his tares?

Satan is persistent and patient. Secularism, evolution, and vain philosophy are age old instruments  of satanic indoctrination that lead away from the truth of God’s Word. How better to undermine the Christian faith  than to work on the hearts and minds of the young, many of whose training and  nourishment in God’s truth is neglected in the home?

Separate from constitutional issues as concerned citizens, another red flag alert  of the time in which we live was a recent incident that fits Paul’s description in 2nd Timothy. In the year of our Lord, 2019,  the headline read: “Christian Student Forced to Recite Islamic Conversion Prayer in Maryland School.” In a history class the student was required to write the Islamic conversion creed, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”  As a confession of the Christian faith the student refused to do so and received a failing grade. A lawsuit was filed objecting, but  the court upheld the school. In October 2019 the Supreme Court refused to overturn the lower court (CBN-Christian Broadcasting Network).

Using a Power Point presentation in the class, the students at the school were also taught:

Islam is a peaceful religion

Jihad is a “personal struggle in devotion to Islam, especially involving spiritual discipline.”

“To Muslims, Allah is the same God that is worshiped in Christianity and Judaism.”

“Men are the managers of the affairs of women” and “Righteous women are therefore obedient.”

The world history course also taught that “Most Muslims’ faith is stronger than the average Christian’s.” If that is true, we have the answer to the question concerning the decline of Christianity.

The president of Thomas More Law Center said: “Public schools across America are promoting the religion of Islam in ways that would never be tolerated for Christianity or any other religion. I’m not aware of any school which has forced a Muslim student to write the Lord’s Prayer or John 3:16. Prompted by zealous Islamic activism and emboldened by confusing court decisions, schools are now bending over backward to promote Islam while at the same time denigrate Christianity” (Original emphasis).

 Only the Lord knows when the last times will translate to the last day before fearful judgment for those who promote and/or buy Satan’s lies. Scoffers will mock and ridicule (2 Peter 3), but God’s Word is Truth, and the Lord God Who through His Son has prevailed over Satan will deliver His children from the present evil world to the inheritance of heaven. Watch and pray, and bear what  you must for the truth of God. By the grace of God in Christ, we can say with Paul who wrote from prison, “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly Kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18).

“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18).

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