Wednesday, May 25, 2022

CrossTalk: What did Jesus do after Easter?


Today is the thirty-ninth day after Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Most of the world has moved on to Mother’s Day, Derby Day, and soon, Memorial Day. But Christians are still celebrating Easter. We are still greeting one another with the words: “Christ is risen!” and replying, “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”

The Easter season is not a one-day affair. It is drawn out for 40 days because Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances lasted for 40 days. After the soldiers guarding the tomb witnessed the resurrection and after the women came and saw the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, Jesus appeared to many.

First, He appeared to Mary Magdalene when she mistook Him for the gardener (John 20:11-18). Then he appeared to St. Peter, also known as Cephas (1 Corinthians 15:5). That same afternoon, He walked with two followers for several miles on the road to Emmaus. After He revealed Himself, they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles, who had locked themselves into the Upper Room (Luke 24:13-35). Then, he appeared to the whole group, to eat with them and to show them His hands and side (Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-25). All of this happened on Easter Sunday.

Then, an entire week passed when nobody saw Jesus. But, in an echo of Easter, Jesus appeared to the apostles again on the evening of the first Sunday after Easter. This time Thomas was with them to see the nail prints and spear mark for himself (John 20:26-29). 

Once again, time passed when nobody saw Him. The disciples finally traveled to Galilee as Jesus had commanded them (Matthew 26:32; 28:7, 10; Mark 14:28; and 16:7). There, Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples for the third week in a row. It happened at breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23). And that is not all. 

Although we are given no more detailed accounts, Saints Luke, John and Paul all mention that there were more post-resurrection appearances than these (John 20:30-31; 21:25; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Paul specifically mentions appearances to James, the leader of the Jerusalem Church, as well as to a gathering of more than 500 people. Luke summarizes all of this by saying, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3 ESV). 

The resurrection of Jesus is not a flash in the pan. Jesus stayed visible for almost six weeks and offered “many proofs” because He wanted to leave no doubt that His self-same body that died on the cross is no longer dead. He is and remains living and active in the flesh. Had there been only one brief appearance, it could be questioned as a fluke, an apparition, or a hallucination. But multiple, sustained, and interactive encounters provide more than enough quality evidence to stand up in a court of law.

St. Paul explains why this is so important: “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). Symbolism won’t do. We need a Jesus who is really risen, not a Jesus who is only risen in our hearts and minds. Because a truly risen Jesus is still living and active in the world to forgive sins, to rescue from the devil, and to bring your own body back to life. So, Paul continues, “[I]n fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:14-22 ESV). Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Pastor Neil Carlson medical needs

As Pastor announced at the prayers of the Church on Sunday, Pastor Neil Carlson and his son, Matt suffered some serious injuries last week in an accident in Idaho. For information regarding their recovery from his wife, Abby, CLICK HERE.  

The district has implemented a Pastoral Emergency Fund. This fund will not only be used for Pastor Carlson and his family right now, but will be used in the future as well, when our Pastors could use assistance. There are two ways to provide support. One, checks can be written and mailed to the Wyoming District LCMS (please note for Emergency Pastoral Care) and two, they have established a GoFundMe page (linked below). You can click it to make a donation electronically. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

CrossTalk: Church is a gathering of persons

On the sixth day of creation, after calling His creation “good” exactly seven times, suddenly God said, “It is NOT good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). This must have sounded like a rifle shot in the world so newly made. That all things could be sinless and pure but not yet “good,” is a point to ponder.

It points us to the nature of mankind. Psychologists call us “social beings.” Political philosophers call us “political beings.” At the root of it all, God made us family beings. “God sets the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:6).

By the very fact of our birth, we are related to everyone on the planet. Everybody that you have ever met is “family” by some degree of consanguinity. So, how can there be any “solitary” people? And why must God set them in families?

Of course, you know why there are solitary people. Sin makes people solitary. It breaks relationships and alienates us from others. Whether we are struggling to forgive those who have sinned against us, or we are trying to make up with those against whom we have sinned, loneliness cuts us to the core.

That’s why the ultimate—and only enduring—family is “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Only through the blood atonement of Jesus on the cross does God reunite those who are estranged. Only in Christ’s free and full forgiveness can the solitary live as family again. And, what a great blessing that is!

This reunited household of God is the Holy Church. The church is not a building of wood and stone. Church is not a ceremonial ritual. The church is not even an organization headquartered in some worldly city—be it Rome, Salt Lake, or St. Louis.

Church is the family of the forgiven and thus, the family of the forgiving. And the main feature of a family is that it gathers together. Households eat meals together and hang out together. Extended families gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They have backyard barbeques and picnics on the lake.

They travel great distances, spend significant amounts of money, and set aside blocks of time on the calendar just to be present with each other face to face and arm in arm. For a year or so, we tried to substitute “virtual family gatherings.” But as soon as the inhuman restrictions were lifted, we got back to the real McCoy.

The lessons we learned in our blood families are even more true for the Church. The family of God which is in Christ Jesus is all about bodily gatherings. Church goes far beyond personal Bible reading. It is far more than Sunday school lessons, or an academic course in theology. While we gather around Bible readings, sermons, and prayers, these things done in solitary isolation miss the main point.

The main point is meeting together. The Holy Scriptures plainly exhort us: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is what the Church does because this is what families do.

When we were deprived of the ability to gather, we came to know its great value by feeling its great loss. Through sickness and deprivation, God has graciously helped us to remember the reason for Church. 

Armed with renewed fervor, let us not merely return to pre-pandemic activities. Let us double and triple our opportunities to be together as the family of God in Christ Jesus. For this we were created, and for this we were restored. 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Whether the Unvaccinated, Too, Can Be Saved

+ In this thoughtful essay, Dr. Koontz observes: “The invasion of everyone’s conscience by governmental and media pronouncements is not a matter for the church’s silence. If I am silent on something affecting people’s understanding of how daily life functions, what will I choose to discuss instead? ...We have perhaps been silent on practically all matters of everyday life [because it] would be 'too political' from the pulpit. But our consciences have all been informed therefore largely by educational history and media consumption, largely by Fox or CNN or MSNBC, largely by Apple News or Breitbart. The Word of God did not change in the past two years...  What our phones and TVs told us changed, so we changed....”

Read full essay here.

Dr. Adam Koontz has been on the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary since Fall 2019. A 2014 CTS MDiv alumnus, he was the pastor of Mount Calvary, Lititz, Pennsylvania, and planted Concordia, Myerstown, Pennsylvania. He successfully defended his dissertation on the imitation of Paul in the Greco-Roman world in January 2020 and will be awarded the PhD in Religion from Temple University in May 2020.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

St. Thomas, Apostle and Martyr

Martyrdom of Thomas, Peter Paul Rubens

Today is the shortest day of the year—the winter solstice. It is also the annual feast day of Thomas, unfortunately remembered as “Doubting Thomas.” On this day, dedicated to his memory, I would like to rehabilitate his good name.

In the Bible, Thomas is mentioned four times besides being listed among the Twelve. First comes John 11. When Jesus announced His intention to go back to Judea where they had just tried to kill Him, all the disciples except one tried to change His mind. They put safety above doing God’s will.

But not Thomas. He exhorted his fellow disciples, “Let us also go that we may die with Him." His intrepid courage found its way into one of our most beloved hymns. “Let us also die with Jesus since by death He conquered death” (Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus, v. 3).

Second, we read in John 14 that, on the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples: “I am going to prepare a place for you,” and “you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:2 & 4). Thomas responded, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the Way?”

This question set up one of Jesus’ most memorable teachings: “I Myself Am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” You don't need to have a roadmap of your life to walk with Jesus. His way is neither a map nor a plan. Jesus Himself is the Way. Stay with Him and you will be safe—even if He is walking into the lion’s den.

Of course, the most well-known story of Thomas began on Easter evening when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples while Thomas was absent. Afterward, when they told him of the risen Lord, Thomas famously replied, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

I love Thomas for taking this uncompromising stand. He was neither gullible nor credulous. By being bull-headed, Thomas’ witness to Jesus’ resurrection is powerfully strengthened. 

Jesus, far from being angry with Thomas, eagerly guided him: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Put out your hand and place it into My side” (John 20:27). Jesus also wants you to probe the science of His claims. Faith in the One who is Himself the Truth can only be strengthened by true science.

Caravaggio, The incredulity of Thomas

The fourth gospel story involving Thomas is recorded in John 21. He is fishing with Peter when Jesus stands on the shore and leads them into a miraculous catch of fish. It happened at the crack of dawn. 

That brings us to today's date. December 21 is the day when the Sun is at its lowest ebb. From here on out every day will be brighter than the one before. It is like the dawn of a new year. All over the world, people look to the rising sun for light and hope.

After that morning on the shore of Galilee, the Bible says no more about Thomas. But that does not mean there is no more to be said. When the apostles left Jerusalem to bring Christ to the nations, Thomas traveled east—toward the rising sun.

Oral histories tell us that only Thomas, of all the apostles, left the Roman Empire. He made it to the southwest coast of India. There he built Hindu Christianity. And there, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, he received a martyr’s death.

We are told that Thomas was speared to death. What a beautiful picture to think that he who placed his hand in Jesus’ pierced side, was himself pierced by a spear. By one spear hole, he confessed his Lord and God. By a second spear hole he received the martyr’s crown. “Let us gladly die with Jesus since by death He conquered death.”

San Thome Basilica Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Lutheran View of “Transgenderism”

ELCA Seminarian Aaron Musser (center)

The name “Lutheran” is neither copyrighted nor regulated by any central Lutheran authority. A group of Buddhist could call themselves “Lutheran,” and there would be nothing at all that real Lutherans could do about it.

Doubtless, this is confusing and frustrating for anyone trying to understand true Lutheranism by reading the headlines of the day. Recently two headlines have been the cause of much confusion about so-called “Transgenderism.”

Last May, the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) elected a female bishop who insists that people refer to her using third-person plural pronouns. This generated a whole slew of headlines read something on the order of, “The Lutheran Church elected its first transgender bishop” (CNN May 12, 2021).

More recently, a student pastor made national headlines when he exchanged his clerical garments for makeup and drag on a Sunday Morning in Chicago. Many were confused and scandalized by headlines such as, “Chicago Lutheran Church Hosts 'Drag Queen Prayer Hour' for Children.” This happened, again, in an ELCA congregation. 

Below Rev. Hans Fiene of our own fellowship, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) has published a very helpful piece that addresses the confusion caused by these headlines.

A Lutheran View of Transgenderism

November 21, 2021
Rev. Hans Fiene

Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Eikon.

Continue reading here.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Reflections on fellowship questions in the LCMS

On August 1, 2021, LCMS President, Matthew Harrison, traveled to Finland for the consecration of a new bishop in our partner church. His actions raised some questions that provided Pastor Lange an opportunity to engage in some churchly teaching and discussion on the website of The Brothers of John the Steadfast.

Participation in the consecration of a Finnish Bishop -- a guest article by Rev. Jonathan Lange