June 2016

I write all my own newsletter articles…except for this one.   I was reading the Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 2009) and came across this article in it.  I read it a couple times and thought it was worth sharing as it has important things to say about church unity, doctrinal purity, and evangelism.

Boundaries for the Church

When architects draw up blueprints, they must outline the boundaries of the structure they will build.  In a similar way, when the apostle Paul wrote Romans, he taught that Christians should “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (15:7).  Later, he added, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have been taught; avoid them” (16:17).  In this way, he draws up the boundaries of the congregations.

Paul does not envision a congregation whose beliefs are so loose that it has no structure.  Nor could he imagine a church so strict that it had no doors or windows through which to welcome others.  By setting out the boundaries of love and protection, Paul gives a realistic description of a congregation.

Paul warns against the false teaches because “they deceive the heart of the naïve” (16:18).  He recognizes that they may prey on some members of a congregation who lack depth of faith.  Christians should look out for one another and warn one another against falsehood.  When we understand Paul’s admonition in this way, we see that Romans 16:17 [above] expresses love rather than a spirit of dissention.

Christ Welcomed You

Paul also encourages unity among the believers at Rome based on the way God has treated them.  He writes, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (15:7, emphasis added).  Consider how Christ has welcomed you.  Hasn’t He called you to repent?  Didn’t He wash you in Baptism?  Truth be told, Christ has not welcomed you just the way you are.  He paid the dearest price of all n order to welcome you:  sacrificing His life for you on the cross.

Christ welcomed you through the anguish of His betrayal, trial, and death.  He did not welcome you freely but in order to set you free from your sins!  When Paul writes, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you,” this is what he had n view.  Christians welcome one another through the costly, forgiving love of Christ.

 Serve God’s Truth

Take special note that just after Romans 15:7 and again, just after 16:17, Paul writes about service.  At the heart of Paul’s concern about “church architecture” is what properly serves God’s people and the advancement of the God’s kingdom.  Just as architects must consider how something they build will function, Paul considered how the Church would function when people sin and need to repent.  Nothing must hinder this chief function or service of the Church:  proclaiming God’s Word as it calls people to repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

The Lutheran Study Bible contains many helpful articles, historical notes, and quotes from Luther and other Christian scholars of the past.  Being Lutheran, you will see an emphasis on Jesus, forgiveness, the Sacraments, and evangelism.  I highly recommend this valuable Bible.

Pastor Gunia

 

March 2016

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (LSB 449) is among the most meaningful hymns of Jesus’ passion. Bringing it into your hymnals was a true composite effort. The text first appeared in the 1100s as a poem. The German Lutheran theologian and hymn writer, Paul Gerhardt, translated the Latin to German; the English text we have in our hymnals is a composite translation, first published in The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941. The tune was originally for a secular love song and was composed by Hans Leo Hassler. Johan Cruger and, later, Lutheran kantor Johan Sebastian Bach worked with the setting to make the tune more “singable” in a congregational setting.

1. O sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down. Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, Thine only crown. O sacred Head, what glory, What bliss, till now was Thine! Yet though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

As the hymn writer reflects upon the head of the crucified Jesus—bloody, bruised, sweaty, and with a crown of thorns, two great emotions come over him. One is shock. The hymnist is appalled at the gruesome sight—an innocent and beloved man suffering such cruel, painful injustice. The other emotion is love. This bloody Jesus belongs to him—he belongs to you. The pain he suffers is for your glory. Jesus suffers in his love for you.

2. What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered Was all for sinners’ gain; Mine, mine was the transgression, But Thine the deadly pain. Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve Thy place; Look on me with They favor, And grant to me They grace.

Again, a great contrast is presented by the hymnist. The innocent Jesus suffers the painful consequence of your sin while you, the sinner, receive the eternal glory of Jesus. When the hymnist considers the dying Lord Jesus, he sees his own sins, the pain that is rightfully his, his own deserved sufferings. It should be him on the cross and not Jesus! Yet Jesus allows himself to be placed upon the cross. And from the cross, Jesus looks down upon you with blessing, favor, and grace.

3. What language should I borrow To thank Thee, dearest Friend, For this Thy dying sorrow, They pity without end? O make me Thine forever! And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never Outlive my love for Thee.

Here, the hymnist can’t find words to express his appreciation for Jesus’ self-sacrifice. He looks into other human languages to find some way to express his thanksgiving, but he can find none. The grace that Jesus bestows by his passion defies words. Therefore, rather than dwell upon how best to express himself, the hymnist prays a prayer we would do well to make our own: always be with me! Never abandon me! Let me be filled with love for you all my days! Even when I am weak and facing death, let my love for Jesus remain strong.

4. Be Though my consolation, My shield, when I must die; Remind me of Thy passion When my last hour draws nigh. Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, Upon Thy cross shall dwell, My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

The final stanza of this hymn is a prayer. The hymnist recognizes that Jesus is his comforter and protector. The hymnist recognizes also that he, himself, will die. Therefore, the hymnist prays that, as he approaches death, Jesus would remind him of his own death on a cross and the salvation that blessed death brings. He further asks Jesus to remind him of the promise of resurrection—that all Christians look forward to a day when they see Jesus face-to-face—no longer upon a cross—but glorified eternally in heaven. The one who dies with his mind centered on the hope of Jesus’ passion and Resurrection dies well. May it be so for us all.

 

February 2016

The Lord Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven, if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” –John 20:22-23

It is a great blessing to know for sure and for certain that you are forgiven.

Through my years as a pastor, I’ve spoken with more people then I can remember about their sin— specifically, people talk with me about the sin that still haunts them. They tell me that they still remember how angry they were, or how foolish their mindset. They still remember the pain they caused another person. Once in a while, they’ll wonder out loud if they’re really forgiven. A couple times, they’ve looked directly at me and asked if that sin is really forgiven. I’ve said to them directly: “Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that sin is forgiven.”

I will say it directly to you as well: “Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, your sin is forgiven…all of your sin is forgiven…even that sin is forgiven.” I mean you—the person reading these words right now. You have received the Word of God, which makes Jesus’ forgiveness-through-the-cross known. I know that God forgives you because Holy Baptism, which washes away your sins, is given to you. I know that God means you because you’ve received Holy Communion, which is only given to sinners so that they might be forgiven. Forgiveness is given to you! Believe it! Rejoice in it! Since we sin daily and much and since the Devil is always trying to remind us of our failures and weaknesses, every time we gather for worship, the presiding pastor speaks the same words that Jesus gave us to give. “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Since the risen Jesus himself gives us these words to speak, they are just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. Therefore, rejoice. Prayer: In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake, God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ, He gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. May the Lord, who begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

January 2016

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end…” —Lamentations 3:22

In January, many churches acknowledge Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. This day came about because in the month of January, the Supreme Court handed down the Roe vs. Wade decision, making abortion legal throughout the United States. Yet, Sanctity of Human Life is not only about abortion. We profess our faith that all life is created by a loving God and given as a gift to human beings. We believe that all people are created in the image of God and that Jesus gave His life for every person on earth. Whether a person is old, young, or unborn…sick, well, or disabled…joyous or depressed or afraid, each life is precious in God’s sight. Your life is precious in the sight of Jesus.

In this article, I want to cover a topic that affects a number of people, but is sadly not spoken of as readily as abortion or euthanasia—stillbirth.

It is a sad fact of life that sometimes children do not come to the point of birth and this causes great grief. A positive pregnancy test begets hopes, dreams, excitement. The end of a pregnancy results in the loss of these joys. They are replaced by heartache and sorrow. Some who experienced the loss of a child in the womb have asked me what the Scriptures say about such children.

Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us as much as we’d like to know. There is no direct “thus sayeth the Lord” on the matter. So, rather than speak of the knowledge withheld from us, it is better to focus on what is known to us.

We know that we have a merciful God. He is a God who loves the world—and loves the stillborn child—so much that He sent His own Son, Jesus, to die in that child’s place. Jesus’ blood is shed for that child just as much as it is shed for you. The Father’s love for that child is boundless. As parents love their child, so the Father loves His children. We know that Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them.” We know that our God is a God of mercy, abounding in steadfast love.

We recognize that faith is given through the Word of God. When mother attends worship, the child in her womb comes in contact with the spoken and sung word of God. The baby hears Scripture read, Scripture sung, and sermons preached. The Holy Spirit is powerful and can create faith in the child through these means. After all, didn’t John the Baptist’s saving-faith cause him to leap in the womb?

Finally, Scripture teaches us of power of prayer. I know that from the moment I learned Kathy was pregnant, I began praying for the child she was carrying. In the same way, when I learn a woman is pregnant, I pray for her and her child daily. Grandparents, friends, family all offer up their prayers before the throne of God for the unborn child. Jesus teaches us that our prayers are heard before our heavenly Father and that our prayers will not be denied. And now, a word to the parents and family of miscarried children: peace. You may be in the habit of beating yourself up and telling yourself that the miscarriage is your fault. Please stop doing this because it isn’t so. You were not careless. You were not neglectful. You’ve taken loving and appropriate care for your child. You’ve done nothing wrong.

Further, God is not angry with you and punishing you for some offense in your past. God is not angry with you—He loves you for the sake of Christ. You are his delight. God does not spitefully hold your sins against you to punish you and bring anguish. Jesus suffered the full punishment for your sin. There is no longer any punishment to distribute. Jesus already drank the full cup of God’s wrath on the cross. The miscarriage was not a divine punishment for some secret sin. Look to Christ.

While the child was with you, you were a good mother/good father. You loved the child. You prayed for the child. You fully intended to provide for the needs of the child’s body and you intended to bring the child to the saving waters of Baptism.

Your God is a god of love and mercy. His love and mercy are for you; His love and mercy is for your child. He is a faithful God whose faithfulness endures throughout our lives and into all eternity. God is not bound by our earthly lives—He lives and reigns to all eternity. The chief goal of His reign is the salvation of His beloved.

The nature of a newsletter article limits my ability to effectively comfort you. I want to remind you that I am always available to speak with you about the things that trouble you—whether stillbirth, miscarriage, abortion, guilt, or anything. Give me a call, send me an e-mail, or pull me aside. Let me comfort you with the Gospel and offer up my prayers on your behalf. I would welcome the opportunity to serve as your pastor.

Almighty God, gracious Father, Your ways are often beyond our understanding. In Your hidden wisdom the hopes of many parents have been turned from joy to sadness. In Your mercy help them to accept Your good and gracious will. Comfort them in their time of sorrow with Your life-giving Word for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

December 2015

A few months into my first call, a respected long-time congregation member cornered me. He had a question that was very important to him and he wasn’t going to let me go without an answer. “Why don’t we sing Christmas songs in church?” I told him that we do sing Christmas songs in Church—Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and for the celebrated twelve days of Christmas.

This wasn’t a good enough answer from the green pastor. “Pastor, I go to the mall and it’s Christmas-time there. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, candy canes, elves and reindeer, and Christmas music playing in every store and on every radio station. I don’t understand why I get Christmas everywhere else in the world, but I can’t get Christmas in my own church! What do I have to do around here to sing ‘Joy to the World?’” He was red-faced and genuinely angry. I slipped away as soon as I could…without giving his sincere question a meaningful answer. Although he’ll never read this article, I will make an attempt to answer.

We do sing Christmas hymns (not songs) in church during December—but only during the Christmas season. That is to say, we wait until Christmas to sing hymns about Christmas. The church is not anti-Christmas; we just celebrate the birth of Jesus at its proper time. It is correct that while shopping malls and radio stations are all-Christmas all the time from Halloween until December 25, they deck the halls not because they’re particularly religious but rather because their goal is to get as much money out of your wallet as possible. If they keep trying to put you in the “Christmas spirit,” fill you with Christmas cheer, and remind you of all the things you can buy for yourself and other people, they’ll turn a pretty profit. Their Christmas has little to do with the birth of Jesus and everything to do with pictures of dead presidents. While the world rushes to celebrate and spend, the Church spends most of its December in watchful anticipation for Jesus’ arrival.

In earlier days, kids had to wait a whole year for The Wizard of Oz to air on TV; now you can pop in a DVD of any show you want any time. Books show up on our Kindles in an instant, as do songs on our iPods. Churches are to be different, inviting people to wait and hope as a spiritual discipline. Easier said than done, of course. The desire to open Christmas presents early is very strong, even for adults. And yet waiting patiently on the Lord and operating on His timetable is beneficial for all of us Watchful anticipation is the character of Advent and this is reflected in our Scripture readings. We meditate upon John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord, Mary being told by an angel that she would bear the long-awaited Messiah, and Isaiah’s prophesies about the how the Messiah would be born. As we hear and wait and hope and pray, “Joy to the World” would be awkwardly out of place.

We don’t sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” after the first pitch. We don’t sing “Happy Birthday” to you when your birthday is still four months away. We don’t sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” on Good Friday. There’s a time for all of these songs and we sing them in their proper place. Advent (as we wait on Jesus) is not the place to sings hymns celebrating Christmas (the surprising arrival of Jesus).
We are in a season of joyful anticipation wherein we await with Mary for her Son’s arrival. What pregnant woman would want to celebrate the birth of her child before the event arrives? What pregnant woman would want to have a birthday cake and a huge party for the child even though he’s not been born yet? No. While baby showers are thrown, they are not in grand scale in comparison to the birth of the child. So it is the same with Advent. As a Church many of us are letting the secular world tell us that Christmas begins now and ends on December 25th. That is not so. Christmas begins the moment of the first vigil on December 24th and lasts until Epiphany. In the meantime, we sing hymns of joyful anticipation.