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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

St. Mark, the Evangelist

Today, April 25, is the feast day of St. Mark, the Evangelist. We call him “the Evangelist” because he is the author of the Gospel (Evangel) According to St. Mark. For this we are eternally grateful. God has given Mark as one of four Evangelists who preserved the words and deeds of Jesus in writing.
According to Eusebius’ church history (310 AD) Mark arrived in Rome with the Apostle Peter around 42 AD. As he worked with Peter over the following year, he wrote down Peter’s account of Jesus’ ministry before leaving for Alexandria, Egypt. So, he not only left a copy of the Gospel in Rome, he also brought one with him to Egypt.
In Alexandria, Mark established the earliest Christian Church on the African continent. This Church became one of the five centers of Christianity in the ancient world. Mark, himself, was its head pastor (Bishop) for the next two decades until he was martyred in 68 AD. This “Coptic Church” continues to be in the news today. This is the church where suicide bombers attacked on Palm Sunday (April 9), and where 20 men were beheaded in February a year ago.
Mark’s impressive legacy as a church planter and an author of the New Testament should not cause us to lose sight of his humble beginnings. It seems that he was not always so brave and steadfast as his martyrdom showed.
The Church that he founded also remembers him as the young man who ran away naked from the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:51-52). He was the one who abandoned Paul and Barnabas in the middle of their first missionary journey into Asia (Acts 13:13; 15:38). He may, also, have been the rich young man who “went away sad” when Jesus invited him to “sell everything he had, give to the poor, and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21).
On a more positive note, Mark’s family apparently owned the home in Jerusalem where Jesus gathered with His disciples to celebrate the last Passover. This was the same home where Jesus visited his disciples on the day he rose from the grave. He came back to it again a week later and showed his hands and side to Doubting Thomas. Moreover, it was this house where the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost. All of this makes it the oldest Church building in Christendom.
But my favorite part of Mark’s story comes from some of the last words that the Apostle Paul ever wrote. In 2 Timothy 4, as he was imprisoned and facing his imminent death, Paul wrote: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. … Do your best to come to me soon…. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.
In these touching words, we see that after Mark had turned away from Jesus’ call to follow Him, after he deserted Jesus in the Garden, and after he had deserted Paul on his first missionary journey, he is not remembered for his failures, but for his usefulness.
Mark stands before us as an example of God’s grace. Mark stands among Matthew, Luke, and John as one of the pillars of the Church. But he is not there because of his personal selflessness, bravery, or strength. He is there because Jesus rose from the dead. He is there because Jesus makes us who are nothing into those who are something.
“For Mark, O Lord, we praise You, The weak by grace made strong.
Whose labors and whose Gospel Enrich our triumph song.
May we, in all our weakness, Reflect Your servant life
And follow in Your footsteps, Enduring cross and strife." (Horatio Nelson)


Monday, March 6, 2017

CrossTalk: Lent - Fixing What's Wrong with the World

The story has been told that G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) once received a letter from The Times of London asking him to write on the theme, “What’s wrong with the world today?” According to this anecdote, Chesterton got out a sheet of paper and wrote,
“Dear Sir,
I am.
Yours, G.K. Chesterton”
This story is usually told as a punch line, an end to conversation. But today, Let’s see it as a starting point. Because once Chesterton is taken to heart, there is an awful lot still to say.
 
First of all, notice that the problem is not “out there.” The world’s evils, terrors, and pain are not because of external circumstances, and especially not because of other people. This may be our first and most constant thought, but it is a lie.
 
We see this clearly when somebody is blaming us for their problems. We can even see it, sometimes, when we are a neutral observer watching the blame-game happening between two friends. But we almost never see the truth of Chesterton’s quip while we are seeking the reasons for our own misfortune. It’s time to start seeing.
 
Second, notice that the problem is not just in me, but me. “I am,” the problem with the world. If the problem were only something inside of me, I could take some medicine, or do something to fix it. But if the problem is me, myself, the solution requires somebody other than me.
 
So, while the first thing is to stop seeing the problem outside of yourself, the second thing is to start seeing the solution outside of yourself. Sin is the problem, and I cannot fix it. So I should abandon that project.
 
The problem with me is that I am a sinner. The solution is that Jesus takes away the sin of the world. Sin is the problem, and Jesus can fix it. So I should bring the problem to Him.
 
This is the whole point of Lent. Rather, it is the whole focus of the Christian life. When John the Baptist came preaching repentance, it was not some new self-discipline which would finally achieve salvation. “Repent,” means: turn away from yourself and your own self-help projects, and to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
 
Repentance is the daily exercise of taking serious the fact that “I am the problem with the world today.” Repentance takes a sober look at my own contribution to the mess we are in. Repentance looks at the evils I do and says, “I don’t want to do that anymore.” Repentance looks at who I am and says, “I don’t want to be that anymore.”
 
But repentance doesn’t stop there. It is neither an exercise in self-loathing, nor an attempt to boot-strap yourself out of the hole. In repentance, we uncover these ugly realities because we want to bring them to Jesus. We know that what we cannot change, Jesus can. We know that the unforgivable can, indeed, be forgiven.
 
Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross earned forgiveness for the whole world – not just the best of us, or the chosen few. And Jesus rose from the grave to give out that forgiveness freely in His Church. “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there I AM in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).
 
When and where your crucified and risen Creator forgives yours sins, you are truly forgiven, repaired, and restored. And where the one who is wrong with the world is fixed, the world is fixed with you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hope and Guidance

Pastor Lange recently published the following article in the January, 2017 Lutheran Witness


Until recently, Living Wills were rare. But now we are compelled to consider them with every visit to the doctor. Living Wills convey our wishes to care-givers when we no longer can. They can either designate durable power of attorney for someone to make our treatment decisions, or they specify treatment options, like “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR), hospice, etc.

Does faith in a gracious God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies human life make our approach to these things different from the world's? Yes, as different as heaven and earth.

We believe that every day we breath is God's gift. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses and still takes care of them.” (SC).

The unbelieving world is afraid that medical miracles might keep their bodies alive long after their souls have become useless. But Christians have no such fear. We know that the miracle of life is for body and soul together. When you are in God's hands, there is never any danger that He might keep our bodies alive longer He Himself wants to. And we are always in God's hands.

"Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's” (Rm 14:8). We need not fear either living too long or dying too soon. The real danger is not what might happen to our bodies, but what is happening to our souls.

Jesus' human life began with his conception and continued right on through His burial. So also our own. At His crucifixion, He remained True Man, not vegetable. He was loved and served to the very end. Then, in faith until His dying breath, He commended His soul into God's hands.

Living wills can and should help the people whom God has given you, to love and serve you. For this reason, you may wish to grant a Durable Power of Attorney in order to ensure that they remain able to serve you. Guided by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, they can see to it that God's will is done.

We pray, "Thy will be done," while we have full use of our faculties. This remains our only wish especially when our capacity to confess it is gone.

Bullet Points:
1. Don’t be pressured. No one is required to have a living will. U.S. law prohibits health care providers from discriminating against those who do not.


2. Study: A SmallCatechism on Human Life by John Pless. This is an excellent scriptural resource.


3. Confess your fears to your pastor and christian family. They can help you quiet them by encouragement from the Word of God.

Friday, September 2, 2016

CrossTalk: The Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings" (Hebrews 13:8-9). When I heard these words read last Sunday, they seemed to be tailor-made for the world we live in.
Our culture is characterized by constant change. Yesterday's new-fangled idea is already outdated and replaced by some other unheard-of madness. It's disorientating. It makes your head spin.
But this is nothing new. It has always been the way of the world to be as unstable as water. When you rely on the wisdom of the world, it will always turn on you. What seems safe today, is deadly tomorrow.
That's why one of the earliest Christian symbols is the anchor. The anchor, of course, is a heavy hook that reaches down through the unstable waters of the sea and connects a ship with the solid ground beneath. It gives stability to the ship in the midst of the inherent instability of the sea.
The neat thing is that, when Christians adopted the symbol of an anchor, they turned it upside down. Instead of drawing an anchor with the hook on the bottom, they drew it with its hook on the top! Why? Because our stability is not simply the floor of the sea, our stability is in the God who made the sea. "Our Father, who art in heaven."
Our Anchor is Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father. And when Christ is our Anchor, we are tethered to God Himself. In Christ, we have a stability which will never change, even though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the depth of the sea.
Christ, your Anchor, will never let you down because He remains the same. In fact, of all the things in this world, God is the only One who will never change. "For I, the LORD, do not change" (Malachi 3:6).
So take heart, you who trust in the Lord. Now is not the time to change with the whims of the world. Now is the time for confidence and steadfastness in the midst of wild and wooly seas. Yours is not a God who will change His mind and leave you adrift. Yours is a God who is so stable, that no matter what it may appear for the moment, in Christ, you are on the right side of history.
When the letter to the Hebrews says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday," it means that the goodness of God's created order is not subject to revision. It means that the love outlined in the Ten Commands cannot suddenly become hate.
When the same passage says that "Jesus Christ is the same today," it means that God who died to save you has not changed His mind. No matter what the appearances of the moment, even when it seems that God is against you, He is always at work to save you through repentance and forgiveness.
When it says, "Jesus Christ is the same forever," it means that your trust in Christ will never be disappointed. To trust in Christ and His Word is the one -- and the only -- certainty in this world.  When you stand upon His Word, you are standing on the right side of history.
So don't waver. Don't be intimidated. Christ, the Anchor, remains secure. Seek only to abide with Him, and He will abide with you.
“Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”