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God is Here: Worship in a Wireless World

ALCM-Valpo13“What is the future of worship when increasing numbers struggle with organized religion, seek individual spiritual practices apart from community, and spend hours in front of screens?  Recent studies show that more and more people identify as none when asked to name their religious affiliation.  Yet we who gather in worship each Sunday proclaim that God is present in word, water, bread, wine, and most particularly, in the gathered community.

“How will our worshiping assemblies be renewed and revitalized in an age of change and doubt?  What are some of the challenges and opportunities before us in light of graying congregations, and young adults finding community and identity through Facebook, Twitter, and countless online sites?”

The above introduction on a post card for an upcoming conference, “God is Here,” to be held June 30-July 3, 2013 on the campus of Valparaiso University seems to suggest that congregational worship may need to change in order to “keep up” with the times.  If so, this is an age-old plea.  It is true that times are changing, but what kind of changes should congregations undergo to remain faithful to our Lord and His Word?

Much of the time, it appears that God’s Word is not the director of how Christian worship should be.  Rather, it is the culture which often seems to direct how the body of Christ should function, how we should worship, what we should say, and how we should say it.

This is not to say that we, as members of Christ’s body, do not need to repent of our selfishness, our self-centered behavior, and our “holier than thou” attitudes.  We do.  Yet such repentance does not entail a change in worship and liturgy, if such is faithful to the Lord’s Word, even if such faithfulness means that society and culture will be turned off by it.

Consider Christ, who many rejected (and still do) because of what He said (and not due to the way in which He said it).  So often we pay more attention to presentation than to content.  And I’ll admit that this is much easier.  Nevertheless, godly worship is not what I determine it to be, but what God determines it to be.

So what if the world, society, and culture don’t get it!  They won’t, because they are not of Christ, and Christian worship has Christ as the center.  This does not mean that we should go out of our way to offend nonChristians by what we do or how we do it.  Not at all!  Rather should we love them all the more, and look to Christ’s Word for help and comfort, praying for God’s Name to be hallowed, His kingdom to come, and His will to be done, even among us (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Believing in Christ, holding to God’s Word, and worshiping and living accordingly, we, as God’s people, have nothing to be ashamed of.  We confess our sins, yes indeed, yet we more boldly confess Christ.

The future of Christian worship is not in doubt, as long as the worship is truly Christ-centered, and not man centered.  Where Christian worship becomes man-centered (me-centered) it ceases to be Christian.  If God is truly present in Word (Absolution, Liturgy, preaching), water (Holy Baptism), and bread and wine (Holy Communion) in the Divine Service, the future of Christian Worship looks good, very good (Genesis 1:31).  Even with the world changing as it is, God continues creating, sustaining, and strengthening faith through these very means.  Here, too, does our Lord renew and revitalize His people “in an age of change and doubt.”

I pray that the focus of the “God is Here” conference will be on the very Word of our Lord (which does not change), rather than on the changing society and culture….But I have my doubts.

Speakers include:

Elizabeth Drescher: Religious studies and pastoral ministries programs @ Santa Clara University

Craig Mueller: Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church-Chicago

Martin Jean: Professor of Organ and Director of the Institute of Sacred Music @ Yale University

Benjamin M. Stewart: Gordon A. Braatz Assistant Professor of Worship and Dean of Augustana Chapel @ Lutheran School of Theology-Chicago

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Preachers and Hearers-Listen up!

“He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully…”

Jeremiah 23:28

In the Name of Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Amen.

God would have His Word preached rightly.  He would have His Word preached truthfully.  Where such is taking place, there ought you to be to hear, to receive, and to believe.  However, where the Word of God is not preached according to His Word, there you are not to be.  There, where God’s Word is not preached in its truth and purity, the church preaches and teaches in error.

St. Paul says it this way, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

A little error mixed with the truth is a dangerous thing.  Yet, how many have apathy towards any distinctions whatsoever, even in today’s church!  Add a Bible verse here and a Bible verse there, and there you have what sounds to be right and true.

Many in Christendom give such an evaluation of the preaching and teaching that they hear without properly discerning whether or not the Bible is being used according to its sense, and therefore, according to its meaning.  We give more attention to the preacher than to the preaching itself (and here, I mean content, not delivery, style, or anything else that can be improved upon).  We give more heed to how the preacher preaches or teaches rather than what he actually says. Thus, the teacher or preacher, though he might sound orthodox, is actually heterodox, interpreting Scriptures according to his way and not according to God’s way, and therefore, preaching false doctrine and contrary to the Lord’s Word.

And many seem to care but little!  The hard work of testing the words preached is becoming a lost art.  Many readily will accept what they hear (and read) without giving second thought to comparing it with what God says.  Thus, you have the popular books such as Heaven is for Real, The Purpose Driven Life, and Every Day a Friday, which many Christians “eat up” and claim to be Gospel, but do nothing but lead away from the truth.

But the Lord teaches differently.  Concerning preachers, specifically, He says, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).

And to those who hear, He says, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:6-8).

Again, our Lord says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:23-24).

Thus, keeping the Lord’s Word, His people will hear His voice, for as our Lord also says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 10:27).

Luther

“No one likes to say that the church is in error; and yet, if the church teaches anything in addition or contrary to the Word of God, one must say that it is in error…Thus, I will not listen to the church or the fathers or the apostles unless they bring and teach the pure Word of God.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p66-67).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your Name be hallowed among us.  Send us preachers who preach only Your divine and life saving truth.  Keep us from giving in to the temptation of looking more at the preacher than to hearing what he says, and comparing that with Your Holy Word.  Deliver us from succumbing to the false teachings of the evil one and give us discernment, that we ever and always abide by Your Word.  Amen.

Christ is Risen!

ChristIsRisen.Matthew28.6

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope2  in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:12-22)

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

We face a similar challenge to what St. Paul faced in the early church.  Note who Paul is writing to.  He’s not writing to nonbelievers, but to Christians, Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), yet Christians who deny “that there is a resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12).  In Paul’s day, as recorded in the text, there were those who denied that a resurrection of the dead existed.  This would also include the denial, and consequence, of Christ’s resurrection.

Today, there are those in Christendom who deny that Christ bodily rose from the dead.  These will indeed speak of a resurrection, but not a bodily, physical resurrection of our Lord.  As other parts of Holy Scripture are allegorized and considered “not real,” “mythical,” or merely “symbolical,” so it has come to be with the resurrection of Christ.

An examination of even one text, that of St. Luke, however, reveals a far different conclusion.  In Luke 24, Jesus appears to His disciples (after speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (13-35).  In Luke’s account, Jesus says to His disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that I am He; touch and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bone as you see me having” (39).  In addition, Jesus also eats fish in front of them (41-43).  By saying and doing these things, Jesus confirmed what the disciples saw (and had heard), that He was bodily alive, physically risen from the dead; not a ghost, not a phantasm, but truly and really the risen Lord and Christ in flesh and blood.

According to the text of Scripture, one cannot deny the bodily resurrection of our Lord.  To say that Jesus only has “risen in our hearts” or is alive somehow in a metaphysical or non-corporal way is really, to deny what the text says, and to reject the Christian faith, for as Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18).

To deny that there is a resurrection of the dead is to deny Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  And to deny Christ’s resurrection is deny the work of God for our salvation.  Faith in Christ would only be delusional and without any foundation whatsoever.  And if this were the case, we would still be lost in our sins, having no hope.  Christians would then be the most foolish of people, believing in something that didn’t happen as if it did.

Yet, as Paul, Peter, and the Evangelists reveal, Christ is risen (bodily) from the dead!  The tomb is empty, only because God the Father raised His Son from the grave (Acts 2:32).  This means that the message of our Lord is true!  Your faith in Christ is not in vain.  It is not useless, nor is it meaningless.  Nor do you remain in your sin.  Christ’s resurrection means that your sin no longer has any say over you (Romans 6:1-14; 8:32-34).  Christ’s resurrection also means that the resurrection of the dead is true.  This also means, your own to come.

Let others say what they will about the resurrection of our Lord, but we declare with Scripture, with the Apostles and Evangelists, and with the whole household of God, that God raised His Son from the dead.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

Prayer: Gracious Lord, grant us faith not to doubt, but to firmly believe in Your resurrection, which means also our own, from the dead.  Raise us to new life in You, that we deny ourselves, forsake our sin, and follow you.  Amen.

Readings for Easter Wednesday (C)

Jesus-OpenArms

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, by the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, You destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light.  Grant that we who have been raised with Him may abide in His presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading: Acts 3:13–15, 17–19

13“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. . . .

      17“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out. . . .”

Epistle: Colossians 3:1–7

1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

      5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.

Gospel: John 21:1–14

1After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

      4Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them,  “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them,  “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

      9When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them,  “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them,  “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Readings for Easter Tuesday (C)

 Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_An_Allegory_of_the_Old_and_New_Testaments_-_Google_Art_Project600

 

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, through the resurrection of Your Son You have secured peace for our troubled consciences.  Grant us this peace evermore that trusting in the merit of Your Son we may come at last to the perfect peace of heaven; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Old Testament: Daniel 3:8–28

8At that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

      13Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

      16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

      19Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. 20And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.

      24Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

      26Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.

Second Reading: Acts 13:26–33

26“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30But God raised him from the dead, 31and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’”

Gospel: Luke 24:36–49

36As [the disciples] were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them,  “Peace to you!” 37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38And he said to them,  “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them,  “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them.

      44Then he said to them,  “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them,  “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

When you rely upon the living God…

 DrStanley

In a recent letter (“From the Pastor’s Heart,” April 2013) from In Touch MinistriesCharles Stanley, the author lists and briefly expounds upon some of the blessings of Christ’s resurrection.  Following are some of his statements.

“Jesus’ resurrection gives us truth we can cling to no matter what we experience.”

“Our Savior conquered death.”  (He then quotes 1 Corinthians 16:26-27, and references Romans 8:38-39).

“No matter what seemingly desperate or helpless situation we face, it will eventually be transformed for our good.”

The preceding quotes from Stanley’s letter are correct.  No matter our experience, and whether we feel God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, or not, these do not change what God has done for us in Christ.  Even should death be near, this in no way means that God is far away (John 11:25; 12:25-26; Revelation 14:13).  Regardless of feeling, God’s Word is sure (John 14:1).  Whether we feel forgiven or not, God’s Word stands (1 John 1:8-9; John 20:23).  God’s love for you in Christ doesn’t depend on you in any way (Romans 5:8-11).

St. Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  This is true.  Therefore, we don’t live by faith in what we see, but according to the Lord’s Word (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).  This applies to our lives in Christ in the world concerning justification (how we stand before God) and how we live our lives in the world (sanctification).  Only according to what God says do you have the certainty of sins forgiven and peace with God.  Feelings, emotions, experience, etc. often may (and do) say something completely different from what the Lord says.  However, Christ’s resurrection from the dead and His empty tomb demonstrate the victory of our Lord over sin and death, inclusive of our own, through faith (1 John 5:1-4).

Having said these things and Charles Stanley stating what is right and true in his letter, he concludes by saying, “So how are you living?  Do you trust the Father?  Are you enjoying the resurrection life, triumphing through the power that raised Jesus form the dead?  Remember, when you rely upon the living God to sustain you, no foe that stands against you will prosper, all things—no matter how hopeless—will be transformed for your good, and you will be fit for the very halls of heaven (Italics mine).  You were saved to soar.”

By asking such questions and then stating, “when you rely upon the living God…will be transformed for your good…”, Stanley confuses Law and Gospel.  His words here confuse his words written previously.  Such matters might seem insignificant and trivial, yet Stanley is placing the burden of activity for transformation and being “fit for the very halls of heaven” upon the individual and taking it off Christ.  This may not be what he wants to do, but this is what he’s doing. 

“So how are you living?”  “Do you trust the Father?” “Are you enjoying the resurrection life, triumphing…?  These questions are Law questions, and condemn us (Romans 3:9-10, 19-21; Mark 9:24; Romans 7).  To them, we answer, “Not so good, not enough, and not always.”  Like the tax collector, we too can only say, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:3).  We are not as God wants us to be. 

It is not in our relying upon the living God that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:18) or that all things will be “transformed for our good.”  Instead, it is the promise of God that makes these things so.  Thus, they are, not because we believe or because we rely on Him, but only according to His Word.  Otherwise, we could never be sure, for the promises of God are not dependent on our faith.  Rather, it is our faith that is dependent on God’s sure promises.  These are what make faith solid and true (Romans 10:17).

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