Category Archives: Christian

Great Insights into stewardship Abby Perry     “Something’s got to give” How Holiday Generosity can ease your stress and increase your joy”  Christianity Today  Dec 2022 pp 80-85

…A OnePoll survey found that 88 percent of Americans feel that the holidays are the most stressful time of the year. Seventy-seven percent find it difficult to relax during the season that purports to be a time of joy and celebration, and well over half use the word ‘chaotic’ to describe the holiday season.

Financial concerns and others’ expectations top the list of holiday stressors for most Americans. Yet by the time November comes around, most households have piles of fundraising letters from ministries and nonprofits that grow each day. Already stretched by the number of gifts they need to purchase and dinners they need to host, some feel as though adding philanthropic giving to their December to do list is simply one task – and one hit to the bank account – too many…

…when Christians think of themselves as merely as potential donors, they see their financial contributions as an act of ‘giving away’ of resources.’ There’s no ongoing relationship with the organization or sense of investment. But the team at Maclellan says that a ‘steward-investor’ concept invites deeper engagement between giver and organization…

…Rather than experiencing them as yet another obligation or guilt inducing to do item, a steward investor mindset invites Christians to think wisely and intentionally about which ministries or organizations to support, as well as what it might look like to give generously and with a sense of lasting impact…

…The experts at Stewardship Legacy Coaching recommend taking inventory of one’s finances at the end of each year, looking for places where stewardship could be increased and more intentional giving could be practiced…

…The thought of giving at the end of the year may seem stressful or anxiety inducing, but research shows that generosity actually improves mental health in several ways. Scientists at the University of Oregon have conducted scans that show the pleasure-related reward centers activating when people decide to donate money to a cause they believe to be good. Additionally, participants in a joint study from the University of Lubeck, Northwestern University and University of Zurich who pledged to spend money on others over the next four weeks exhibited brain activity while making that decision that predicted an increase in their happiness.

Giving also has positive effects on hormones and other neurological functions. For example, donating releases oxytocin, the hormone that is most often associate with feelings of love and connection to others. Individuals also experience the release of serotonin, the mood stabilizing hormone, when they give, as well as dopamine, the feel good transmitter.

Between activating the brain’s reward center and initiating the release of positive hormones, acts of generosity can become habit forming as givers want to repeatedly experience those positive feelings. Such a routine is a win-win for all involved: organizations can count on regular support from a reliable giver, and the giver enjoys less stress and increased happiness during a busy time of year.

In addition to the brain boost, people who give report higher life satisfaction than those who do not, and, according to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley, generosity is associated with workplace benefits, such as a lower risk of job burnout. In an era rife with mental health struggles and skyrocketing rates of mental illness acts of generosity can lessen depression and produce a sense of meaning and purpose.

Generous behaviors also seem to reveal connections between mental and physical health. For example, giving is linked to physiological benefits like lower blood pressure and successful recovery from coronary related health events. Researchers at the University of Michigan have even found that generosity seems to increase one’s lifespan: Individuals who did not provide support to others were more than twice as likely to die in the next five years than people who gave support.

And, perhaps most fitting for all of the holiday campaigns funneling through our mailboxes and inboxes, Jill Foley Turner at the National Christian Foundation shares research from the American Psychological Association that indicates generous people have a higher likelihood of experiencing the feeling of awe or wonder. These givers ae likely to feel small, but not in a negative way – instead, in the way that one might feel small beholding a starlit night sky or the ocean as it meets the horizon. In other words, when people give, they are invited to remember who they are in light of an immense God and to participate however they can in reflecting His goodness. What better time to reflect on our smallness than the Christmas season, when we celebrate the arrival of God as an infant: tiny and infinite at once…

…SRG managing partner Paul Schultheis and fellow members note that giving collaboratively has several positive outcomes for the givers. These benefits include a stronger approach to vetting organizations, the opportunity to take on large projects, and a variety of gifts and skills brought to the table by a diverse group of donors. Collaborative giving allows people of various financial means and availability to join together in making a difference – perhaps one person can write a large check while someone else has the time in their schedule to serve as a liaison with the designated ministry…

… Parents can help their children research organizations and choose one to support, for example, or participate in an endeavor like the Salvation Army Angel Tree, which provides Christmas gifts to children who otherwise may not receive any…

…’whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (2Cor 9:6), giving during the Christmas season is a powerful way for believers to experience the goodness of God while simultaneously ushering it into the lives of others. As the angels brought tidings of great joy at the birth of Christ, so can we bring tidings of great joy to organizations and ministries carrying out God’s work in the world and to our own hearts, as well.”

The presumption of the secular to try and subdue the Church Karl F Fabrizilus  “An Epistle in Time of Confession” Gottesdienst  Michaelmas 2021  Vol 29 Nu 3 2021:3 pp 16-18The presumption of the secular to try and subdue the Church

…should rightfully not trust in the pseudo gods of medicine or ‘science’. ‘Science’ has become a god for many who think it has the ultimate answer. Rather than seeing science as the pursuit of knowledge, they want it to be the source of all absolute truth. However, the scientific method is only the pursuit of hypotheses. Many of the ‘truths’ it has uncovered have later failed to pass the test of actual data (evolution, global warming or climate change, green energy, etc) Science should follow the data, not self-proclaimed experts…To a world of fear and fear-mongers, we confess that God came in the flesh to be killed in our place and raised up on the cross in the ugliest of deaths that we might know the wrath of God has been satisfied by the atoning death of the Son of God…

…Let us remember what a god is. It is someone or something that we trust in for the good in our lives. During the last year it became clear that our life, that is our bodies and our own wellbeing, has become our greatest idol. This is nothing new, but the way so many Christians and Christian churches fell victim to this idol was stunning and tragic. Men have feared temporal death more than the reality of eternal death. Do we no longer believe that we are born in sin? (Gen 3: 17-19, Ps 14: 1-3, 51:5; Rom 3:21-25) and deserve eternal punishment (Rom 3: 2: 5-11, 6:23)? Do we no longer believe that Christ came in the flesh? His Incarnation (Jn 1:14) meant that He breathed the germ laden air around him in the filth of Judea and Galilee. He touched unclean things and was touched by people who were disease ridden … He looked upon men and had compassion… He calls us to take up the cross, that is, to suffer with Him in this age until we receive eternal life in the age to come…

We were hounded by the social distancing and mask commandments of this new god. Do this and live, we were told, but nothing could be further from the truth. These two new ‘commandments of men’ became the excuse for breaking the Third Commandment. People were told that through close contact they would kill people. Did not God say, ‘It is not good that man should be alone and How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity…? Did we no longer understand the story of Elijah’s loneliness where he is renewed by being fed by God and goes in the strength of that food for forty days…? Do we no longer believe the words the Holy Spirit taught us to confess through David, ‘I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ Are we not to encourage one another all the more as we see the Day approaching…? We are the Body of Christ… and we need one another. The devil is always attacking that Body, and he is smiling about his accomplishments during this last year. But our hope is in Christ alone and the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, … When we gather in the house of the Lord, we confess that we are dust and to dust we must return… but God has breathed life into these lumps of clay to bring us from death to life… God feeds us with the food far better than manna or the food given to Elijah. At the altar we eat and drink the flesh and blood of the crucified Son of God who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. This is the Tree of Life, the bread of heaven, by which we are strengthened throughout our journey through this wilderness of sin and death, not just for forty days or forty years. This is the medicine of immortality that is more powerful than any vaccine or medical treatment of this world, for it is strengthening our bodies for eternal life. These who have been reborn in Holy Baptism need the milk of the Word in preaching and the solid food of the Supper … Yet, many have trusted in themselves rather than the gracious gifts of God, the Sacraments of the Church given to save body and soul from eternal death. The Spirit of the Lord cries out, ‘Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful’…

…Our gathering as the Body of Christ is the ultimate confession of our faith in the Incarnate Lord. We gather before the altar and God comes to us uncovered in the preaching of His Word, the water of Baptism, and the gift of the flesh and blood of the Christ who died and rose for us. The Church should not be the place of mask wearing, but the place where in every sense we confess that this is the Body of the Risen Lord and death cannot harm us. In love, I may give people the option of doing as their conscience dictates, but I have a responsibility to call all of us to repent (yes, the non mask wearers also grow arrogant) and confess that our life is only in Christ. This results in an outward confession of faith in the Resurrection. We have already died in the waters of Baptism and been raised to life, God has killed us to make us alive. Can I be silent about such dangers?

How different this is from the masks that are designed to hide the God-given identity. It marks all men as our enemy, those who might kill us. If we are to fear we might kill each other, will we ever return to the faithful clean conscience before God without the mask? Yet, God has not ordained masks. They are a creation of man. It is even admitted by those who want them required that they do not necessarily work to prevent the virus. As such, society presents us with the mask as a false god to trust in to ‘save lives’. Masks have become an idolatrous, ‘sacramental practice’ for many, that is, an outward sign that identifies them as virtuous and carries with is the promise of being delivered from death….. Some of the best hymns about the good and gracious will of God were written in times of plague, death and uncertainty (LSB 713, 724, 743,  760) Is God no longer good? Surely, we must all repent of the weakness of our faith.

…We have slipped into the misguided idea that we must obey the government at all times, but this means we have forgotten that the governing authorities do not have authority over the church and its practices. Remember that the early church was an illegal religion that is, that they were not permitted to worship openly until the Edict of Milan in February of 313 AD. Yet  they came together to hear the Gospel preached and received the Blessed Sacrament. Many were jailed and even put to death because they would not deny the faith (Ignatius and Polycarp). They followed the example of those in the Old Testament: Isaiah who was sawn in half, the three men in the fiery furnace … and Daniel… The New Testament testifies of Stephen … and James … and we are aware of the beheading of Paul and the upside down crucifixion of Peter… At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther was hidden from the authorities who sought to kill him. Christians defied the authorities who told them to cease and desist worshiping at the time of the Magdeburg Confession. Governing authorities have their limits in regard to Christian faith and the practices of the Church, (I will not address constitutional matters here.) Can the government order Christians to wear masks n Christian worship? Absolutely not. Notice that in some states they ordered that Communion not be celebrated. In fact, the mask issue led many to refrain from the Sacrament for months. Christians churches were far too complacent in allowing the government to make the decisions for them.

The Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Commandments are closely related in this particular issue. As there is no conclusive, factual evidence that we are saving lives by using masks, we must be careful not to say we are saving lives by wearing masks or social distancing. I have personally seen the damage this time of social distancing, lockdowns, and refusal to allow hugs, kisses and even social interaction at meals has done to family members. Have more people been killed by ‘protecting’ them or by COVID?… Many were also forced to delay cancer treatments, heart surgeries and other conditions to ‘protect’ people. Evidence indicates that some of these people have died. Did we kill them? The isolation of elderly and young people has led to a surge in suicide as many doctors warned, but all we hear is COVID. Don’t our children need physical contact and in person instruction? But we, our governing authorities and teachers’ unions, have stolen that from them. The governing authorities are driven by good intentions, but not by facts. I am reminded of this quotation of C S Lewis, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.’ Lockdowns have destroyed our neighbors’ businesses, ripped apart their families, left many unemployed and all of it was done, so we are told, for our good. Are we not to speak up in defense of our neighbor?…

…our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. In a world that promotes fear, let us boldly proclaim life that comes to those who have died with Christ and have been raised with Him.”

John Chrysostom despite opposition continued to serve Christ

…Prayer: As bishop of the great congregations of Antioch and Constantinople, he fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name. Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and fidelity in ministering Your Word that Your people shall be partakers of the divine nature; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit one God, now and forever.

Given the added name Chrysostom, which means ‘golden-mouthed’ in Greek, St John was a dominant force in the fourth century Christian Church…John was instructed in the Christian faith by his pious mother, Anthusa… His simple but direct messages found an audience well beyond his hometown. In Ad 398, John Chrysostom was made patriarch of Constantinople. His determination to reform the church, court, and city brought him into conflict with established authorities. Eventually, he was exiled from his adopted city. Although removed from his parishes and people, he continued writing and preaching until the time of his death in AD 407. It is reported that his final words were ‘Glory be to God for all things! Ament.’

John Chrysostom never stopped preaching and writing, even when he was deposed as patriarch of Constantinople. Such proclamation was to lead people to become a sacrifice in God’s presence (Rom15:16). By proclaiming the Gospel to us, our pastors are the priests who offer believers to our Father. Their office is to proclaim the Gospel of God. Like the apostle Paul, the proclaimers are not seeking their own honor but the praise of the Word of God and its gracious giver. Their only tool in this priestly work is the ‘knife of the Gospel,’ as Chrysostom puts it, but it is God’s Gospel and so is entirely suited to the task. No wonder Chrysostom kept preaching and writing to keep aflame the fire of the Spirit.

‘[Paul] lifts his discourse, not speaking of mere service as in the beginning but of service and priestly ministry. To me this is priesthood; this is preaching and declaring. This is the sacrifice I bring. Now no one will find fault with a priest for being concerned about offering the sacrifice without blemish. He says this at once to lift their thoughts and show them that they are a sacrifice, and in defense for his own part in the matter, because he was appointed to this office. It is as though he were saying. ‘My knife is the Gospel, the word of preaching. The cause is not that I may be glorified, not that I may appear conspicuous , but ‘that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 15:16); that is that those souls taught by me may be accepted. It was not so much to honor me that God led me to this point as it was out of concern for you,

‘How are they to become acceptable? In the Holy Spirit. There is need not only of faith but also of a spiritual way of life, so that we may keep the Spirit that was given once for all. It is not wood and fire, nor altar and knife, but the Spirit that is all in us. For this reason, I take all means to prevent that fire from being extinguished, as I have been also commanded to do.

Why then do you speak to those that need it not? This is just the reason why I do not teach you, but put you in mind.’ he replies. ‘As the priest stands by stirring up the fire, so I do, arousing your ready mindedness'” (John Chrysostom, “Homilies on Romans, 29)

Scott Murray “A Year with the Church Fathers” p 28

Chuck Swindoll “Of Parrots and Eagles” in “Come before Winter”, pp 83-85

“…Content to sit safely on our evangelical perches and repeat in repad fire falsetto our religious words, we are fast becoming over populated with bright colored birds having soft bellies, big beaks and little heads. What would help to balance thing out would be a lot more keen eyed, wide winged creatures willing to soar out and up, exploring the illimitable ranges of the kingdom of God … willing to return with a brief report on their findings before they leave the nest again for another fascinating adventure.

Parrot people are much different than eagle thinkers. They like to stay in the same cage, pick over the same pan full of seeds and listen to the same words over and over again until they can say them with ease. They like company, too. Lots of attention a scratch here, a snuggle there and they’ll stay for years right on the same perch. You and I can’t remember the last time we saw one fly. Parrots like the predictable, the secure, the strokes they get from their mutual admiration society.

Not eagles. There’s not a predicable pinion in their wings. They think. They love to think. They are driven with this inner surge to search, to discover, to learn. And that means they’re courageous, tough minded, willing to ask the hard questions as they bypass the routing in vigorous pursuit of the truth. The whole truth. ‘The deep things of God’ – fresh from the Himalayan heights, where the thin air makes thoughts pure and clear, rather than tired, worn distillations of man. And unlike the intellectually impoverished parrot, eagles take risks getting their food because they hate anything that comes from a small dish of picked over seeds … it’s boring, dull, repetitious, and dry.

Although rare, eagles are not completely extinct in the historic skies of the church. Thomas Aquinas was one, as were Augustine and Bunyan, …

…Who are those wh forge out creative ways of communicating the truths of Scripture … so that it’s more than a hodge podge of borrowed thoughts, rehearsals of the obvious which tend to paralyze the critical faculties of active minds?

Eagles are independent thinkers.

It’s not that they abandon the orthodox faith or question the authority of God’s inerrant Word … it’s simply that they are weary of being told, ‘ Stay on the perch and repeat after me.’ Eagles have built in perspective,  a sensitivity that leaves room for fresh input that hasn’t been glazed by overuse…

I find myself agreeing with Philip Yancey, who admits:…

…Christian books are normally written from a perspective outside the tunnel. The author’s viewpoint is already so flooded with light that he forgets the blank darkness inside the tunnel where many of his readers are journeying. To someone in the middle the mile long tunnel, descriptions of blinding light can seem unreal.

When I pick up many Christian books, I get the same sensation as when I read the last page of a novel first. I know where it’s going before I start. We desperately need authors with the skill to portray evolving viewpoints and points of progression along the spiritual journey as accurately and sensitively as they show the light outside the tunnel.

Yancey is saying we need ‘eagle writers’ who come to their task with the abandonment of that keen minded Jew from Tarsus. If you need an illustration, read Romans. Like a careful midwife, Paul assists in the birth of doctrine, allowing it to breathe and scream, stretch and grow, as God the Creator designed it to do. And he isn’t afraid to say it for the first time, using a whole new vocabulary and style that is as original as it is accurate. There’s not as much as a parrot feather on one page of that one of a kind letter.

So then, which will it be? If you like being a parrot, stay put. But if you’re an eagle at heart, what are you doing on that perch? Do you have any idea how greatly you’re needed to soar and explore? Do you realize how out of place you are inside that cage? Even though others may not tell you, eagles look pretty silly stuck on a perch picking over a tasteless pile of dried seeds.

I’ve never heard anybody ask, ‘Eagle want a cracker?’

Hope in Christ our only hope

Our faith in Christ is certainly in the hope that He gives us. Not just in this life, where we know He is present with us. Our hope is in the eternal life of the resurrection. This is when our life is genuine, when we are given “life and life more abundant” as Jesus promises us, that is our hope and promise.

David Rosage writes: “…Hope is the source of our happiness, peace and joy. A little spark of hope is enkindled and fanned into a mighty conflagration as we strive to put on the image of Jesus by living the Gospel message. St Paul’s advice is certainly direct: ‘Acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth.” (Eoh 4: 23-24) “Rejoice in Me” pg 46

God uses our efforts even the ones that don’t seem fruitful

I feel like I’ve dealt with this so many times. Clearly I am led to do something and then it just doesn’t seem like there’s a point to it.

John Chyrsostom, quoted in A Year With the Church Fathers, Scott Murray, p 9, gave me some assurance:

“Even though the soil that we cultivate might bring forth no fruit, if we have made every possible effort, the Lord of it and of us will not allow us to depart with disappointed hopes but will give us recompense. St Paul says, ‘Each will receive his wages according to his labor’ (1 Corinthians 3:8), not according to the result. And that it is so, listen: ‘You, son of man, testify to this people, if they will hear, and if they will understand’ (see Ezekiel 2: 3-5). And the Lord says to Ezekiel, ‘If the watchman warns us of what we ought to flee, and what to choose, he has delivered his own soul, even though no one takes heed’ (see Ezekiel 3:17, 19; 33:9)”

I’ve said this a lot, but I often don’t take my advice, it does sound defeatist, but it is what faith is about. God doesn’t call me to “succeed, He calls me to be faithful.” Sort of rubs against a man’s mentality. ‘No, if I make the effort, I have to succeed at it’ and yet, perhaps God is using the result, to achieve His own outcome which we may never know, at least not this side of the resurrection.

We all need to trust in and have faith in God’s will, whether it makes “sense” to us or not.”

Jesus, His coming foretold by the prophets – John Chrysostom

…Then, so that you would not be confounded by what is going on, and by their strange frenzy (Matt 12:14) He introduces the prophet [Isaiah] also, foretelling all this. So great was the accuracy of the prophets that they omit not even these things but foretell His very travels and changes of place as well as the intent with which He acted in these, so that you might learn how they spoke entirely by the Spirit. If the secrets of men cannot by any art be known, how much more impossible is it to learn Christ’s purpose, except that the Spirit reveals it? …

‘The prophet [Isaiah] celebrates His meekness and His indescribable power, and how to the Gentiles ‘a wide door for effective work has opened’ (1 Cor 16:9); He foretells also the ills that are to overtake the Jews and signifies Jesus’ unanimity with the Father. He said, ‘Behold My servant, whom I uphold. My chosen, in whom My soul delights’ (Is 42:1). Now if the Father chose Him not as an adversary, Christ wouldn’t set aside the Law. The Father chose Him not as an enemy of the lawgiver but as having the same mind with Him, and the same goals.

Then proclaiming His meekness, he said, ‘He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice’ (Is 42:2). His desire indeed was to heal in their presence; and even though they thrust Him away, He did not contend even against this. And intimating both His might and their weakness, he said, ‘A bruised reed He will not break’ (Is 42:3). Indeed, it was easy to break them all to pieces like a reed, and not just as a reed, but as one already bruised. ‘A faintly burning wick He will not quench’ (Is 42:3). Here he sets forth both their anger, which is kindled, and His might which is able to put down their anger and quench it with the greatest ease, by which His great mildness is signified”

(Chrysostom, “Homilies on Matthew, 60.2” quoted in “A year with the church fathers, meditations…” p 397

Treating Pastors with respect by Jerome

“…If we berate or harass our shepherds, we are berating and harassing the Body of Christ…Our pastors exercise spiritual oversight for the sake of our souls so that we might receive the unfading crown of glory. In that relationship there is a mutuality of love.

Be obedient to your bishop and welcome him as the parent of your soul. Son’s love their fathers, and slaves fear their masters. The Lord says, ‘If then I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master where is My fear?’ (Malachi 1:6). In your case, the bishop combines in himself many titles for your respect. He is at once a monk, a prelate and an uncle who has before now instructed you in all holy things.

‘This also I say so that the bishops should know themselves to be priests, not lords. Let them render to the clergy the honor that is their due so that the clergy mayo offer to them the respect that belongs to bishops. There is a witty saying of the orator Domitius (d. 48 BC] that is to the point here: ‘Why should I recognize you as leader of the Senate when you will not recognize my rights as a private member?” … Let us ever bear in mind the charge that the apostle Peter gives to priests: ‘Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the un fading crown of glory’ (1 Peter 5: ) “

Jerome “Letters,” – 52.7 quoted in “A Year with the Church Fathers” p 375 Scott Murray

5 Tips To Keep In Mind When Visiting A Lutheran Church

 OCTOBER 24, 2022 BY GENE VEITH

When my wife and I first attended a Lutheran service, we were impressed with how formal it was, a far cry from what we were used to in the mainline Protestant denominations we grew up in and in the evangelical congregations we attended in college.  So we came back next week, only to find both the congregation and the pastor chanting.  We thought we had been transported back to the Middle Ages.

It turns out, that first service we attended was the one informal service that was held on months with five Sundays.  We came to learn that when Lutherans try to be informal–or, more recently, contemporary–they are still more formal and less contemporary than just about anyone else.  But the definitive Lutheran worship, which we learned to treasure, is to be found in what they call the “Divine Service,” which is called that because in it, Lutherans believe, God serves us.

Patheos has asked its writers to respond to some of the most frequent questions about the various religious traditions that they receive.  What most puzzles Patheos readers about Lutheranism is its worship.  They wonder what they need to know in order to understand what is going on.  Specifically, as the Patheos editors summarize the inquiries, “What should I keep in mind when visiting a Lutheran church?”  So it falls to me to try to explain.

What follows is an account of the traditional Divine Service, which can be dressed up or down, made more elaborate or more simple.  Even contemporary Lutheran services will tend to have the same structure and most of the same elements–from the confession and absolution to the Law & Gospel sermons–so that what I describe here, except for what I say about music, will mostly still apply.

Lutheran worship service

(1)  The Liturgy Consists Mostly of Words from Scripture

The first reaction of many visitors is, “This is Catholic!”  Or, “This is too Catholic!”  Yes, the liturgy goes way back through church history and is similar to that of Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and, among Protestants, Anglicans, whose Book of Common Prayer was greatly influenced by Lutheranism.

But the Lutheran liturgy also shows forth the principles of the Reformation.  Luther wanted to reform the church, not start a new one.  Later Protestants would want to start, more or less, from scratch, but the work of “reforming” means changing what is problematic, but leaving what is good.  For Luther, everything that pointed away from Christ and the Gospel should be eliminated, but what does point to Christ and the Gospel should be retained.

So the Lutheran liturgy leaves out elements in the Catholic mass such as praying for the dead and invoking the saints.  But it retains the overall structure and the ancient liturgical set-pieces, such as the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy. . .”) and the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”).  In fact, those set pieces and nearly all of the responses of the congregation are taken straight from the Bible.  When someone objects to our liturgy, I ask, “Which words of God do you think we shouldn’t say?”

The sanctuary will also demonstrate the Reformation principle of retaining elements that point to Christ.  There will typically be quite a bit of art in the sanctuary.  Lots of crosses.  That will include pictures of Jesus and other representational art.  This is not idolatry, since that means worshiping false gods and Jesus is the true God, who came as a visible, tangible human being discernible by the senses (1 John 1:1).  Lots of crucifixes, depicting Jesus on the cross.  Some Christians say that one should only use empty crosses because Jesus isn’t on the cross any more–He rose!  Well, Lutherans certainly believe in His Resurrection (and also have empty crosses), but we need to keep a constant focus on “Christ crucified”  (1 Corinthians 2:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:2), upon which which our salvation is based and which Lutherans apply in a host of ways in their “theology of the Cross.”

(2)  Chanting Lets Us Sing Prose, Such as Texts from Scripture

The Divine Service is mostly chanted by both the pastor and the congregation.  This may be the aspect that seems the most “Catholic” or “Medieval” or just unusual to visitors.  But chanting, with its flexible meter and flowing melodic line, is simply the way that a person can sing prose.

Most of our songs today–whether hymns or raps–are metrical, with fixed patterns of rhythm and rhyme.  That is to say, they put music to poems.  But it is also possible to sing any sequence of words.  That requires music that flows along with the pattern of speech.  This is what chanting is.

Some of my friends who are Reformed (a term Lutherans never use for themselves), belong to Psalms-only congregations.  Using their principle that Christians may only do what the Bible specifies (while Lutherans believe they are free to do whatever the Bible does not forbid), they do not sing hymns, just Psalms.  But what they sing are really metrical paraphrases of the Psalms, forced onto the Procrustean bed of meter and rhyme.  But we Lutherans sing the Psalms right out of the Bible by chanting them.

Lutherans do sing hymns that will be familiar to most visitors, including some of those metrical Psalms, drawing on the vast and varied musical heritage of the church universal.  Perhaps stranger to some visitors’ ears are the hymns from the Lutheran tradition, particularly those from the 16th and 17th century, often in the baroque style of vivid imagery and achingly beautiful, but complex, music.

(3)  The Pastor Will Forgive Your Sins

What most puts off quite a few visitors is at the beginning of the service when the members of the congregation confess their sins, first reflecting silently and then reading a prayer of repentance, after which the pastor says this or something like it:

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of the Word I announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I forgive you?” some say. “The pastor can’t forgive sins!  Only Jesus can do that!”  Well, right, only Jesus can forgive sins.  But Lutherans believe that God works through human beings.  That is the doctrine of vocation.  Notice the wording:  “As a called and ordained servant of the Word.”  “Called” refers to vocation, which is simply the Latinate word for “calling.”  God forgives sins through pastors, just as He gives us our daily bread through farmers and creates new life through mothers and fathers.  The basis of the pastor’s forgiveness, also known as “absolution,” is “the grace of God to all of you” and the fact that He “has given His Son to die for you.”   (Lutherans reject the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement, so all have access to this grace and atonement.)

And the Scriptural warrant for human beings forgiving sins is pretty explicit.  After His resurrection, Jesus breathes on His disciples, saying,“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).

(4)  You Will Hear a Law and Gospel Sermon

The sermon may also be different from what you are used to.  There will be no politics, no pop psychology, no Biblical principles for successful living.  (Lutheranism, with its theology of cross-bearing, is pretty much the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel.)  The sermon will be based on one or more of the three Bible readings (an Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel reading as determined by the Lectionary, a plan for Scripture reading tied to the church year), but it will be handled in terms of the distinct Lutheran hermeneutic and preaching paradigm of Law and Gospel.

The moral law in the Scripture will be proclaimed, but in a way that precludes self-righteousness.  Listeners will be persuaded that they do not, in fact, obey God’s Law, with its multiple ramifications, and that they are in sore need of repentance.  Whereupon the sermon will move to a proclamation of the Gospel, namely, that Christ has fulfilled this law on our behalf and has paid the penalty that we deserve for breaking it with His atoning death and resurrection. When we know that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves and believe that Jesus has died for us and offers us new life, we have saving faith, which, in turn, bears the fruit of love for our neighbors.

This is not “cheap grace” the pastor is teaching.  A skillful preacher can really make you feel guilty, which tempers our bad behavior.  And, by preaching the Gospel, he really make you feel free.  Lutherans speak of three uses of the Law:  the first, the civil use, is to restrain our external sinful proclivities; the second, the theological use, is to convict us of sin and drive us to the Gospel; and the third, the didactic use, is to teach Christians how to live in order to please God, which, motivated by gratitude, they now desire to do.

You will find no altar call in a Lutheran sermon.  Coming to faith is not a one-time decision.  Rather, the pattern of repentance and faith is repeated throughout the Christian’s life, and is enacted throughout the Divine Service.  The point at which you objectively became a Christian is when you were Baptized, even as an infant, a purely passive experience in which God called you by name and gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But, just as that infant must be fed, be taught, and grow, the baptized Christian must be fed and taught and grow by means of the Word and Sacraments.  Otherwise, faith will die.

(5)  You Must be Catechized Before You Go Up for Communion.

If you are a visitor to a Lutheran church, observe what is happening and, if you want, go up for a blessing.  (Bow and cross your arms when the pastor comes your way.)  But if you are not a Lutheran and if the pastor doesn’t know you, you should refrain from taking the consecrated bread and wine.  The liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) would probably let you, but the more conservative Lutheran Church  Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and smaller and independent church bodies practice “closed communion.”  Sometimes this is phrased as “close” communion, meaning that those who commune together should be close to each other as in being part of the same congregation or church body, but it means the same, that the altar is “closed” to those who have not been catechized and confirmed in the host church, its denomination, or a denomination with which it is in formal fellowship.

Please, please, do not be insulted, as many visitors are.  Lutherans are not denying that you are a Christian.  Anyone, of any denomination or non-denomination, who confesses faith in Christ is considered to be a Christian, and Lutherans do accept all Baptisms, of whatever mode or at whatever age.  It’s just that Lutherans hold to the Biblical teaching that no one should receive the Lord’s Supper without examining oneself and without “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).

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“Discerning the body,” of course, means different things to different theologies. Catholics believe the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ and so is no longer bread; Calvinists believe in a spiritual presence that depends on the faith of the person receiving it; most Protestants, again, hold it be merely symbolic.  But Lutherans believe that the body and blood of Christ are really present in, with, and under the bread and wine.  More than that, Christ gives His body and His blood in these physical elements “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  Evangelicals speak of “receiving Christ” at their conversion.  Lutherans believe they “receive Christ” every time they take Holy Communion.

Some say that “discerning the body” refers not to the bread and wine of Holy Communion, but to the Body of Christ that is the Church.  Well, fine, and maybe it refers to both, since the two senses are intimately connected.  But that too is an argument for “closed” or “close” communion, since it requires awareness of those with whom you are communing.

Catholics and the Orthodox also practice closed communion, in line with their similarly high view of the Sacrament.  I have had occasions—weddings and funerals—to attend a Catholic mass, but it never bothered me that I couldn’t take communion. I didn’t want to. If I presented myself for communion, I would be participating with a church body that I don’t belong to and that I don’t agree with.  This is also why most Lutherans won’t commune at other churches that practice “open” communion.  It’s a matter of respecting differences.  And this respect can co-exist with a spirit of welcome and good-will.

So, please, visitors, know that you are welcome to a Lutheran service and don’t let our quirks be an obstacle.  I think you will appreciate, as my wife and I did, the sense of transcendence and holiness that we found there.

If you would like to learn more about Lutheranism, read the book that I wrote on that subject, The Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals; talk to a pastor; and visit the Divine Service.

Michael Arch Angel Spiritual Warfare

[for the audio click on the above icon]

Spiritual Warfare, Michael, Satan

Angels Watching over me [Amy Grant song]

Trinity Lutheran September 29, 2019

 

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all God’s people said AMEN

St Michael and all Angels day. Michael is an Archangel. There are millions of angels and the counterparts of angel, which are … demons. Lucifer, Son of the Morning Star (Isaiah 14:12), decided he should have a better gig, decided to push back against God (for a being created to be the most brilliant of all angels,) being brilliant can be an idol, it can cloud your knowledge and judgment. Lucifer realized that God intended for the angelic to serve humanity and Lucifer was not interested in serving beings he felt were so far beneath him. Lucifer thought he was so brilliant, he was bullet-proof, he learned the hard way. There’s kind of a fourth archangel, named Raphael, who is mentioned in some of the Apocryphal books.

It is said that each angel has their own sphere of influence. Some say down to an individual person, in Matthew 18:10 Jesus says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” The senior angels, are in the immediate presence of the Father. Gabriel told Mary at the annunciation, he came from the Father’s presence. Tradition says; “Michael is in charge of spiritual warfare. Gabriel is in charge of messages and announcements. Lucifer of knowledge.” Gabriel was the Herald of God, Wikipedia defines herald as: more correctly, a herald of arms, an officer of arms… Heralds were originally messengers sent by the nobility to convey messages or proclamations—in this sense being the predecessors of the modern diplomats.”  When you show up to tell people what God is about to do, that’s an important guy. Lucifer was in charge of knowledge, when man and woman ate from the tree of knowledge the mixing of good and evil together. Much could be said that man in innocence would have had a life of peace and joy. Lucifer decided that we should think we are smart, because of that, we’ve decided we are smarter than God, so Lucifer who’s a whole lot smarter than us, should think he’s smarter than God.

We focus on the leader of the angels, after Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Michael, is the archangel of “spiritual warfare”. Michael being the leader of the heavenly host, and that is what host means, the army of heaven. John tells us specifically in Revelation that Michael and his angels are fighting Satan. The angels are certainly God’s, but this is written in the sense that a military commander would refer to his men, those he is directly in charge of and responsible for. Michael is also the patron saint of the military, police and fire fighters. Do not pray to Michael if you are in the military or public safety, we always pray to the Father in the Name of the Son. Michael is a sort of icon of the Father’s protection, one of the ways the Father will send help you or defend you. I used to have a little medallion of St Brendan in my coxswain kit in the Coast Guard. First, he’s Irish, second, he was the patron saint of navigators. Ok, call it a good luck charm, bit of superstition, but I certainly didn’t take out my charm to pray before going on a case. But when I went into my case for something it was a comfort, because it ultimately meant God was with me, watching over me, I had no doubt of that.

Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are called “saints”, that is in the sense of “sanctus”, holy. Since it seems the angel who is highlighted is Michael, we assume, “spiritual warfare” is recognized as a priority. Our epistle lesson and Old Testament lesson, both discuss Michael. In Daniel 10:21the angel tells Daniel that he was held up by a demon and that Michael had to come to help him in order for him to deliver his message to Daniel. In Revelation John tells us how Michael and his angels drove Satan out of heaven. This is the most lopsided “war” imaginable, the problem is that you and I are in the middle of that war. But it’s certainly lopsided since the outcome has been determined. The Book of Revelation tells us of the ultimate fate of Satan and the demons. But for now, the world is in Satan’s grasp. Sin abounds in the world, and it seems humanity likes it that way. And let’s face it, we like it, sin is attractive, if it’s prettied up, “hey what’s the harm, right? “John Warwick Montgomery observes: “…the devil’s main act of hatred is not to destroy people (at least not at first), but to get them by masquerading as angels of light. The devil’s best disguise is piety. From the beginning, he’s cloaked …beneath a robe of theological inquiry – ‘Did God really say?’” Go ahead, take a bite, doesn’t matter of what, so long as it separates you from your Savior Jesus, and it must be OK, because it’s so purty, nice, I like it. And that’s how we make decisions today and Satan helps us move there.

Many people have this odd idea that because sin is so prevalent God can’t or won’t do anything about it, Montgomery goes on to say: “…God has even anticipated the demonic opposition of the adversary and the determined seductiveness of the tempter and has systematically integrated it into his own world order (Rev 2:10; 13:5 ff). The devil is the power in God’s world who always wills evil, yet always effects good. Satan does not escape from God’s ‘ordo’, but remains co-ordinated in it,” It’s not whether God is in control, He certainly is, we see that in the life of Jesus, read about it in the Book of Revelation. What Satan does, God permits. Satan is a completely, evil, depraved, vicious being, no doubt, if Satan were left to his own devices, this world would be an unbearable hell. Paraphrase what Joseph said to his brothers in Egypt, what Satan intends for evil, God uses for good.

Historically we like to think warfare is cut and dry, there’s the enemy, we protect ourselves from him and trust that God will save us. Dr Montgomery observes, it’s not that cut and dry, the devil presents himself as an angel of light, he can because he was an angel of light. He can be as pious as anyone, it’s not really hard to do, at least for what he needs. We have to be vigilant, we have to be discerning, to be faithful in prayer and ready to follow God’s leading. We may think we know what we’re doing, but the whole point of warfare, spiritual or worldly, is to undermine the enemy. To Satan, we as a Christian, baptized, strengthened by the Body and Blood of Jesus, faithful in attendance, hearing the preached Word, we are the enemy. It’s not hard for Satan to create all kinds of dislike, confusion and outright hostility. We have to be constantly on guard as to what the forces of evil do to Christians individually and as a group. We rely on God’s promise; Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you,…” We only do that trusting in Him, in the pastor He has sent to lead and in our fellow Christians. I’m certainly not saying that this is a formula for perfect peace and harmony, the demonic works hard and constantly, they’ve been doing this for thousands of years, it’s not hard to find some weak point. It’s up to us to be vigilant, to test the spirits as we are told, to rely on our Savior. There are demons around us seeking to influence us to mislead us and to deceive us. David Petersen on Issues Etc with Todd Wilkins also suggests: “Pastors in the Lutheran Church will do house blessings, it’s not an elaborate ritual, it will drive demons from the home [reminds me, I should do that here!]  it’s a few prayers and readings from Scripture, we are promised that God’s word is enough to drive off demons. This is also why we should have family devotions, husbands and wives should pray together. We shouldn’t underestimate demons or mess around with these beings. [The Ouija Board was invented in Chestertown? If there’s one in your house I would destroy it and just never mess around with those things. Christ crucified has defeated the demonic, the evil in the world, that does not mean it’s dead, we’ve seen terrorist acts in the world, Satan is more than capable of spiritual terrorist attacks. But the evil in the spiritual world can be confronted and driven away, partly by us not involving ourselves or believing the things of the world that is constantly manipulated and played by the demonic. Through Christ’s life and death we are equipped through baptism, His Body and Blood, the Word, all the armor we need to defeat the enemy. As Paul tells us in Romans in all these things we are more then conquerors through Christ who loved us.” (Rom 8:37)

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin. He has risen! He has risen indeed Alleluja