Monday, June 17, 2024

CrossTalk: How to live at peace when surrounded by evil

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” Romans 12:17-18.

The Apostle, Paul, wrote these words to the Christians in the heart of the Roman Empire. Rome was the Washington D.C. of its day—the place of unprincipled power and backstabbing.

Against the backdrop of this brutal regime, Paul teaches how a Christian should behave. More than that, he teaches how all people should live. God does not have two standards of justice. But He holds all people accountable to the same standard.

It is a common lament today that public discourse has become nasty, brutal, and mean. Without actually citing Romans 12:17-18, critics of Christianity apply these biblical standards just as stringently to anyone else.

Humility is the foundation of true humanity. “Do not be haughty.” This is not a behavior, but an attitude and an orientation. As Rick Warren put it: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Humility treats every single person as your equal, including your opponent and adversary.

Pride is poison. It enables one person to treat another like dirt while feeling self-justified in doing so. Pride applies stringent standards to “thee” while carving out exceptions for “me.” It makes a person judge, jury, and executioner over everyone else.

How can a judge and executioner “live at peace” with the one whom he condemns? And, if a judge’s duty is to condemn, wouldn’t it be wrong to let him off the hook?

In this way the devil uses our internal sense of justice to disrupt and destroy a peaceful society. God solves this problem by relieving you of the duty to judge. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19).

You may be right in the way that you see the world. But if you are not the judge appointed to dish out vengeance, you are a fellow defendant before the judge of all. “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

When you are relieved of the heavy responsibility of parceling out justice, you are free to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

This is not a neglect of justice. It does not require that you call good evil and evil good. The standards of right and wrong remain intact. God does, however, require you to see that He has taken the sword of justice from your hand and given it to another.

Six verses later, Paul writes that the governing authority “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

God provides for a peaceful society not by allowing evil and wrongdoing to go unpunished, but by assigning specific people to certain jurisdictions. Here—and here alone—they serve justice. This allows those without that assignment the freedom to love.

Parents have the job of disciplining their own children—so that others do not. Teachers have the job of correcting academic errors so that all of us need not act like schoolmarms. Judges have the job of sending people to prison or to the executioner so that we need not be vigilantes.

All these servants of God are responsible to God for how they judge. If they judge unrighteously, God will hold them to account by someone higher still. And ultimately, He Himself will act as judge.

Because God has promised to punish every evil and to right every wrong, you are free to live in harmony with one another and at peace with all.

Monday, May 6, 2024

CrossTalk: Religionless Christianity

 “Religionless Christianity” is a phrase that has been around for as long as I can remember. But it is usually misunderstood. Too often it is hip lingo for tossing historic Christianity under the bus or for sneering at Christians who take worship, Bible, and Sacraments seriously. But none of these captures its true meaning.

Last week, Eric Metaxas released his latest book, “Religionless Christianity: God’s Answer to Evil.” It is a sequel to “Letter to the American Church” (2022) which was itself inspired by Metaxas’ biography, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy“ (2010). The phrase, “Religionless Christianity,” was first coined in a letter that Bonhoeffer sent to a friend 80 years ago this week (April 30, 1944). He wrote it a year before he was executed by the Nazis. And he had a very specific definition in mind.

“Religionless Christianity,” in Bonhoeffer’s vocabulary, is a Christianity that is not—and can never be—relegated to Sunday mornings or hemmed in by church doors. “Religionless Christianity” is Christianity lived out in the open. It refuses to “stay in its lane,” and rejects the Secularist/Marxist doctrine of “the separation of Church and state.” 

“Religionless Christianity” does not oppose religious forms and formulations at all. It rejects the false doctrine that the only forms and formulations that matter are those spoken in Church institutions. “Religionless Christianity” understands that to agree with ungodly doctrines to “get along”—whether on campus, at work, or in the halls of power—is just as blasphemous as the recitation of a heretical creed in a pagan temple. 

The first pastor of the Christian Church, St. James, wrote “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). He is not telling you to bootstrap your way into heaven. “Doing the word” is not the religion that you perform to complete the work of Jesus. That would imply that Jesus lied when He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30)!

“Doing the word,” rather, means that the faith that saves you—the faith that is a pure gift of the Holy Spirit—the faith that you confess in the Creed—has a shape and a form in the world. What we do and say at work, at school, and in the public square are radically changed by saving faith.

And this change is so unalterable and so much at odds with the world that it may land you in jail. It may land you in school detention. It may get you a bad grade on a paper in which you refuse to recite the creeds of the world. It may prevent you from getting a promotion at work. It may get you written up by the Human Resources Department. It may even—as it did in Bonhoeffer’s case—end your life by government execution. Praise God! 

“Religionless Christianity” frames your entire life in religious terms. That’s what James was getting at. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27).

A Christian life lived in public requires boldness and courage. But this is not self-generated chutzpah and bravado. It is a gift and creation of God Himself. And it is given through the hearing of God’s Word (Romans 10:17) and through the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). God, grant us these gifts in our generation! Amen.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Monday, December 12, 2022

CrossTalk: The Word became flesh to restore the Truth

Last week’s release of the “Twitter Files” is only the latest exposure of the countless lies that darken out world. Similar revelations have shaken our confidence in media, government, education, and medicine. Each individual falsehood undermines our confidence in the next claim that we hear. It is confusing and troubling. Many have come to doubt that we can know the truth at all.

That is a tragedy on two fronts—the personal, and the divine. Any loss of confidence in the words we hear from other people makes meaningful relationships impossible. Lies isolate us and make us feel totally alone in a disorientating vortex of competing claims. 

Worse, when we give up hope in the existence of truth at all, we can have no relationship with Jesus who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Faith in God is more than a vague positive feeling. We trust in Jesus only to the extent that we have confidence in the Truth that He speaks.

God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not give false testimony,” boomed forth from Mt. Sinai to battle both evils. What should you do in a world permeated by lies? God says: Don’t tell any, yourself! Don’t tell them for financial gain. Don’t tell them to preserve your reputation. Don’t tell them to go along with the crowd. Absolutely refuse to contribute even one more lie to the cacophony.

Your personal resolve to speak only truth will have two effects on your own well-being. First, it will give you practical training in how to discern between truth and lies. As you train your mouth to speak truth, your mind will grow more and more discerning. Second, by being a personal purveyor of the truth, you daily prove to yourself that truth does, indeed, exist. This counters the crippling, nihilistic notion that there is no such thing as truth.

Both the certainty that truth exists, and your own ability to discern it, will strengthen your faith in others and in God. Remembering your own personal efforts to speak the truth, you can more easily believe that your spouse, child, friend, or acquaintance is desiring and capable of speaking truth to you. And your ability to discern falsehood will also chase away unfounded doubts.

As you apply these lessons to God, you will grow in the added conviction that He is perfect both in willing to tell you the truth, and in His ability to do so. Banish the thought that Truth does not exist! Also banish the thought that you would have no way of knowing it, even if it did!

Even though God is so utterly transcendent that we could never rise to know Him, He is also all-powerful and fully capable of coming down to us. That is what Christmas is all about. When the transcendent and unapproachable God was born in Bethlehem, He brought the Truth with Him. We have it in His Holy Word.

The same Moses whom God used to bring us the Ten Commandments also brought God’s promise: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brothers. And I will put my words in His [Jesus’] mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command Him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18).

This promise was fulfilled when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 

In Christ God has chased away every lie and restored our ability to know the truth. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 5, 2022

A Statement from the Wyoming District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

God created man as male and female and instituted marriage as the lifelong conjugal union of one man and one woman. By this design for mankind God continues to create the fruit of children, gives companionship in marriage and family, and provides help against lustful desires. God gave marriage to be the fountainhead of goods that He intends for all children and adults, for all communities, and for all churches.

These truths about marriage are not private religious opinions. The Biblical teachings on marriage are taught by nature itself. They have no particular traditional, national, ethnic, or cultural character to them. They are universal truths. They apply to all people of all places and all times. They are the foundation and source of all just civil laws for marriage and family. Every legitimate government is bound by God to promote and defend them.

H.R. 8404, “An Act to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act,” rejects this foundation for just and good laws. It proposes to repeal “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” to replace God with government and His laws with unnatural laws. It requires that lies about man’s nature and about marriage be  established with favored legal status.

All legislators who voted for H.R. 8404 have publicly repudiated the works and will of the one true God. By this legislative action they have established a favored, secular religion which is openly set against the Holy Triune God. They have rejected God as the only source of just laws, that is, of justice, goodness, beauty, and every civil good. Legislators who claim that Christian doctrine permits or even requires the passage of H.R. 8404 have compounded a sinful vote with a false confession.

The governmental establishment of an unnatural, unbiblical definition of marriage does not obligate Christians to give it any faith or credence. Christian love does not permit us to live a lie. All Christians are called to confess the truth of marriage even if this law brings down civil and financial penalties on them. “We must obey God rather than men.” By upholding the lifelong, conjugal union of one man and one woman we defend God’s plan for protecting people from the loneliness, pain, and other evils that follow from the destruction of the family.

God the Father sent His Son to be born of a woman within a marriage, to be born under His eternal law. By His crucifixion and resurrection He obtained eternal redemption and life for all. The Church rejoices with every Christian that Jesus offers this redemption and this healing as an answer to all evil,  loneliness, and pain. We bring the good news to every sinner that Jesus invites you into the true family of God through faith in Him.

We acknowledge that the passage of H.R. 8404 will give the enemies of Christ the legal means to afflict faithful Christians and churches with many evils. Yet by God’s grace in Christ we will continue to  proclaim God’s truth, live according to God’s Word, love all our neighbors as God teaches, and bear the malice of others with fortitude. For we have a never-ending source of comfort and hope in God our Savior. God teaches us to strengthen one another’s hearts to have hope “through the endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures” (Romans 15:5). Jesus Himself bids us “rejoice and be exceeding glad” when we are persecuted for the truth of Christ (Matthew 5:12). And He says, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). God grant us peaceful hearts, cheerful minds, and bold courage to speak and live according to His Word.

In Christ’s name,

Pastors of the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Rev. John E. Hill, President, Wyoming District LCMS
Rev. Paul Cain, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY, 1st Vice-President
Rev. Jonathan Lange, Our Saviour and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches, Evanston and Kemmerer, WY, 2nd Vice-President
Rev. Allen Strawn, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Bridgeport, NE, 3rd Vice President
Rev. John Preus, Trinity Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, WY
Rev. Travis Berg, Trinity Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, WY
Rev. Kevin Rose, Peace and Our Savior’s Lutheran Churches, Marbleton and Pinedale, WY
Rev. Travis Sherman, Grace Lutheran Church, Gordon, NE
Rev. Mark Maas, King of Glory Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, WY
Rev. Rene Castillero, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
Rev. Norman Wacker, Bethlehem and Mount Calvary Lutheran Churches, Moorcroft and Sundance, WY
Rev. Paul Beyer, Emeritus, Casper, WY
Rev. Jais Tinglund, Zion and Grace Lutheran Churches, Emblem and Greybull, WY
Rev. Zachary Viggers, Trinity Lutheran Church, Gillette, WY
Rev. Jared Korb, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Worland, WY
Rev. Mark Preus, St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church and Campus Center, Laramie, WY
Rev. Darrell Debowey, Zion Lutheran Church, Laramie, WY
Rev. Ted Bourret, Salem and St. Paul’s and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches, Gurley, Potter, and Sidney, NE
Rev. Kenneth Humphrey, Trinity Lutheran Church, Morrill, NE
Rev. Jon Olson, Trinity Lutheran Church, Casper, WY
Rev. Christian Preus, Mount Hope Lutheran Church, Casper, WY
Rev. Daniel Mulholland, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Fort Bridger, WY
Rev. Kenneth Mars, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Cody, WY
Rev. Ron Garwood, Christ the King Lutheran Church and District President Emeritus, Cody, WY
Rev. Samuel Needham, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Thermopolis, WY
Rev. Scott Firminhac, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Torrington, WY
Rev. Richard Boche, District President Emeritus, Cheyenne, WY
Rev. Jacob Benson, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Lovell, WY
Rev. Darren Pflughoeft, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lusk, WY
Rev. Mark Mumme, Trinity Lutheran Church, Riverton, WY
Rev. Richard Mueller, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Alliance, NE
Rev. Patrick Baldwin, Christ Lutheran Church, Rawlins, WY
Rev. John Christensen, Emeritus, Thermopolis, WY
Rev. James Rockhill, Bethlehem and Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Crawford and Harrison, NE
Rev. Ralph Morris, Emeritus, Gering, NE
Rev. Daniel Holthus, Emeritus, Casper, WY
Rev. David Bott, Redeemer and Christ Our Savior, Jackson and Star Valley, WY

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

CrossTalk: The Feast of St. Nathanael Bar-tholomew


Nathanael, son of Talmai (i.e. Bar-tholomew), is the sixth person that we come to know in the Gospel according to St. John. When we first meet him, he is sitting under a fig tree. Philip sought him out, there, and beckoned him to “come and see” a new arrival from Nazareth (John 1:46).

Jesus had just been baptized by John in the Jordan river. Instead of returning to His home in Nazareth, He moved to Capernaum, a town on the north shore of the sea of Galilee. Philip had encountered Jesus and was convinced that he had met “Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” So, he went to tell Bartholomew.

This is a first. Until this point, Jesus had taken the initiative to approach certain people and call them to be His disciples. But after hearing Philip, Nathanael approached Jesus. You could say that Philip was the first evangelist. He didn’t keep the news of Jesus to himself but invited another.

Nathanael, for his part, was not overly impressed by Philip’s news. He wryly asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” His flippant dismissiveness very nearly dismissed the best thing that this universe has ever seen. For Jesus is not just another thing in the universe, He is the Creator of the universe Himself. But rather than say all this, he replied, “Come and see.”

Jesus would do the rest. Before Philip could introduce Bartholomew to Jesus, Jesus told his followers all about him. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47). From the start, Jesus distinguishes between ethnic Israelites and True Israelites. As St. Paul teaches, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6).

Faith makes the difference; and faith speaks the truth. Nathanael did not yet know the truth about Jesus. (Jesus would soon change that.) But once he knew the truth, he would not keep his mouth shut. It is out of Nathanael’s mouth that we first hear, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

After Jesus suffered and died to atone for the sins of the world, and after He rose again and ascended to the right hand of the Father, Nathanael Bartholomew would take this message to the ends of the earth. Jesus made him one of the twelve Apostles. 

History tells us that he traveled to India, Armenia, Ethiopia, Iraq, and beyond. Like Philip who first came to Bartholomew, he could not help but tell others of the great things that he saw. Also like Philip, Bartholomew couldn’t take credit for the people who believed. All he said was, “come and see.” Jesus takes it from there.

Nobody is exactly sure how Bartholomew died. Some say he was crucified, others that he was beaten, others that he was skinned alive and beheaded. One source says that they did all of these things to him, one after the other. But however he died, all agree that he was killed because his preaching brought so many people to believe that something amazingly good did, indeed, come from Nazareth.

Michaelangelo thought so highly of Bartholomew that he placed him on Jesus immediate left in his famous fresco of the last judgement. You can tell the figure is Bartholomew because he has his own skin draped over his arm while holding a skinning-knife in the other hand. You can tell that Michaelangelo identified himself with Bartholomew because he painted his own self portrait on the face of Bartholomew’s skin.

Tomorrow, August 24, is the annual remembrance of Nathanael Bartholomew. A great way to observe this remembrance is to read the Gospel of St. John. For in this Gospel, Jesus’ story is bracketed by the appearance of Bartholomew in the very first chapter and, again, in the very last.