Greetings from the southwest corner of Wyoming

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Sunday, October 4, 2020

Friday, October 2, 2020

Cross Talk: Christians honor authorities

In recent months, Romans 13 has received a great deal of attention. While this chapter is too great to cover completely, let’s walk through a few of its most important teachings.  

Paul begins, “Let every soul be subject unto the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whosoever resists the authority, resists the ordinance of God. and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2).

We should notice, first, that Paul puts submission to authority as the first priority. It is the foundation stone of a godly life. God himself has created human beings to live in hierarchies. To be godly people requires recognition that God puts us in relationships of authority and humility. To live in insubordination brings harm (judgment) to ourselves.

Second, know that authorities are not only presidents and governors. God-ordained relationships also include parents and children, husbands and wives, teachers and students, police and citizens. Authority is not oppression, and subordination is not being oppressed. On the contrary, humbling ourselves before authority that has been ordained by God is empowering. And authorities that recognize the source of their power are necessarily humble.

Third, St. Paul reminds us that God gives authority for our good. “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:3-4).

Government is not merely a “necessary evil.” It is a divine and blessed gift. That’s why Christians thank God for presidents, governors, husbands, parents, teachers and police. We don’t only thank God when they do what we want. We thank him for their very existence.

Fourth, we also recognize that they have a God-given responsibility. When they execute their office according to God’s command, it not only benefits us, it benefits them. Christians pray, “May all that receive the sword as Thy ministers bear it according to Thy commandment.” We do this not only for our own sake, but also for their benefit. We ask God’s blessing upon them as persons.

Fifth, authorities are persons. We must never lose sight of that. The great evil of vitriolic “identity politics” is that people seek to dehumanize political opponents. Those who get caught up in this evil, never succeed in dehumanizing their targets. They do, however, dehumanize themselves. Christians must fight against this evil by praying constantly for all those in authority.

Sixth, the current political ugliness has another consequence as well. Those under our own authority learn from our attitudes toward others. That is why we see—across the board—a widespread disrespect for authority. Students are rude and disobedient toward teachers. Children disrespect parents. This will not be reversed unless we learn to treat state and national authorities with honor and dignity.

Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:5). The unbelieving world grudgingly submits to authority only as much as necessary to escape punishment. Christians have a completely different attitude. We consider authorities as gifts from God. We help and support them with kindly advice, patience, deference, and fervent prayer.

We know that they are crowned by Jesus Christ, the One who Himself was crowned with thorns and rules over all the kingdoms of this world.

Monday, August 17, 2020

CrossTalk: Fear, Love and Trust in God above all things

COVID-19 has been the occasion of a great deal of evil. Not only have we lost precious people to the illness, there have been other harms as well. Economies have been devastated. Businesses have been bankrupted. People have been set against one another. Families and friendships have been broken. Worship has been impeded, and sometimes forbidden.

But above all of these, the most heartbreaking effect of COVID-19 is the fear that it stirs up. In our age of scientism, we have been conditioned to think that every problem can be solved, and every danger averted by the proper application of science.

But five months into the pandemic, we still have no sure-fire cure for the disease. Some think hydroxychloroquine helps. But others don’t. Purell, disinfectant sprays, social distancing, quarantines, thermometers and masks in a dozen varieties are all said to help. But not one of these things can guarantee 100-percent protection.

Despite all these precautions, people still get sick and some die from this invisible and undetectable threat. Our inability to predict and control the disease gives rise to fear, frustration and anger.

But scientism is a false religion. It cannot control everything. It cannot solve every problem. There is only One who is capable of controlling the universe and curing diseases. The Lord God almighty is the maker of heaven and earth. The One who created the universe and everything in it also created the COVID-19 strain and He still controls it.

We still don’t know whether God created it by an evil scientist or by an accident of nature. But we do know that it is from God. We don’t know whether we might get it from our pet cat or from a stranger at the gas station. But we do know that nothing will happen apart from God’s willing it.

If a friend or a loved one contracts the virus, we don’t know whether it will act like the common cold, or lead to multiple organ failures and death. But God knows. More than that, He remains in control. God is not a mere observer with foreknowledge of events. He remains the creative cause of all things at all times.

When we remember this, we stop fearing the disease and turn to God. We turn to Him to ask Him to remove the disease from our land. We ask Him to protect us and our neighbors from the ravages of the disease. We ask that He will remove all fear from our hearts.

As we ask, we become mindful of our own sin and unworthiness. So, we repent and trust in God’s undeserved mercy. We remember that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son into death to take away the sin of the world.

If COVID-19 brings you to this humble repentance and trust in the mercy of God, it will be the cause not only of much evil, but of the greatest good possible.
Almighty and Most Merciful God, our heavenly Father, we, Thine erring children, humbly confess unto Thee that we have justly deserved the chastening which for our sins Thou hast sent upon us; but we entreat Thee, of Thy boundless goodness to grant us true repentance, graciously to forgive our sins, to remove from us, or to lighten, our merited punishment, and so to strengthen us by Thy grace that as obedient children we may be subject to Thy will and bear our afflictions in patience; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

CrossTalk: Faith, Hope and Love

So now, faith, hope and love, these three abide; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13.

These beautiful words of St. Paul are the conclusion of the great “Love Chapter” included in his letter to the Church at Corinth. Later theologians would call these three the Theological Virtues. They are three distinct aspects of the Christian life, but they are inseparable.

Faith is the foundation. This is a pure gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Faith is the habit of the heart that causes a person to look always at “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

In Jesus on the cross we see the power of God at work. There God is defeating Satan. There, by His own blood, He atones for the sin of the world. There, also, God shows us the pattern of the Christian life: that there is life in the midst of death, victory in the appearance of defeat, power and wisdom in what the world judges as weak and foolish.

Hope springs from such faith. Hope is that habit of the heart that is always gazing at the empty grave. Hope sees that Jesus arose on the third day and believes that the faithful, too, shall rise to live before God in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

Christian hope is not like the hope of the world. The hope of the world is uncertain. It is more like a wish that may, or may not, come true. But Christian hope is certain. It is the absolute confidence that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees the bodily resurrection of all the faithful.

Nothing, not even death itself, can overcome the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. So, hope grounds a person’s life in confidence. Your well-being no longer depends on the fickle world. It does not depend on the wisdom of rulers, or the kindness of others. Christ alone, crucified and risen again, is your protection from every evil.

Therefore, love proceeds from faith and hope. The faith that sees only Jesus Christ crucified and the hope that always sees Him risen from the grave, frees the human heart from every care and worry and turns the eyes outward. In love, you can turn your eyes to your neighbor.

Love looks to others not for what they can give, but for what they need. Just as “God so loved the world, that he gave” (John 3:16), so also the love of a Christian is always giving. This is what makes Christian love unique.

Worldly love is always looking for someone who can fill needs. Godly love sees people not for what they can give, but for what they can receive. That’s why godly love can focus on the smallest, the weakest, the least deserving and the least able to repay.

God’s love reaches out to you not because you are wise or worthy, strong or beautiful, but because you are in need of His love—and He loves to give. This is the greatest news in the universe. The love of God, while undeserved, is unwavering and does not depend on anything other than the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Faith, hope and love, these are the Theological Virtues, the qualities which flow from God alone. They are not something for you to achieve, but gifts for God to give as an inseparable trinity. Faith begets hope. From faith and hope proceeds love. “And the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

CrossTalk: Pentecost, the Forgotten Feast

There are three pivotal events in the life of Jesus. Most people observe two of them as universal holidays. Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, is the biggest one. It is marked by Christmas shopping and a federal holiday on December 25. Easter, celebrating Jesus’ bodily rising from the dead, is the second. Stores are filled with candy eggs and chocolate bunnies.

The third great event in Jesus’ life is Pentecost. It has no national recognition and is sells no merchandise. It is the most forgotten of the three. Let’s take some time today to remember it.

Pentecost is the Greek word for 50. It is easily remembered as the 50th day after Easter. Since Jesus rose from the grave on a Sunday (the first day of the week), Pentecost always falls on a Sunday seven weeks and one day later.

But before we talk about Pentecost as a Christian holiday, we should remember that it was celebrated as a Jewish holiday for 15 centuries before Jesus brought it to its fullness. For those centuries, it was known in Hebrew as Shavuot (Weeks), and in Greek as Pentecost.

Old Testament Pentecost celebrated the events at Mt. Sinai seven weeks after Passover. We should remember what Moses said to Pharaoh: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness’” (Exodus 5:1).The Exodus was for the purpose of Pentecost!

After the angel of death passed over those houses that had blood on the door posts, the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and traveled to the foot of Mt. Sinai. There, they were constituted as God’s Holy people.

They heard God’s voice speaking from the cloud. They saw the smoke and fire on the top of the Holy Mountain. They received the gift of God’s personal presence in His Holy Tabernacle.

All of this serves to give meaning to the New Testament Pentecost.

During the last true Passover in Israel, Jesus became the true Passover Lamb. He poured out His blood and applies it to everyone who believes and is baptized (Mark 16:16). In this way, Jesus saves you from eternal death—just as the old Passover lamb saved the Israelites from the angel of death.

On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave. His resurrection mirrors the children of Israel who entered the watery grave of the Red Sea chased by Pharaoh’s chariots and emerged as free people on the other side.

St. Luke tells us what happened 50 days after His resurrection. “When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:1-3).

Jesus put the fire of His Holy Spirit on each of the twelve apostles. At Sinai, the fire was on the mountain, and the voice of God had come from out of the cloud. Now, when Pentecost was fulfilled, that fire was on the apostles and God’s word is heard from their mouths.

All this explains why Pentecost should be celebrated as the third important event in the life of Jesus. The apostles are not the real actors. Jesus is. He sent the Holy Spirit. He gave us His ongoing presence. He made His voice heard in Jerusalem, Judea and now, in all the world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

CTQ: Fellowship in Its Necessary Context

In May of 2016, President John Hill asked me to present a paper to the Wyoming District on the topic of the "Overseas Theses" of 1961. The paper that resulted was eventually submitted to the Concordia Theological Quarterly -- the journal for Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was accepted for publication and appeared in the January/April 2020 issue.