I’m a Religious Extremist.

That means I believe things. I believe that these things should affect what I do. I believe that these things are true not because they are supported by reason, but because they are revealed by God. I believe that these things are more important and necessary than civil obedience. I do not believe that reason (including science) is always correct, so therefore the changing claims of medical and scientific experts are not able to dissuade me from these core beliefs.

A few years ago, the word for such a religious extremist as me was much less radical. The most widely-used word was “Christian.” But now that word has been adopted by people who believe other things. The label I’m left with now is “religious extremist.” It’s similar to the word “zealot.” How immoderate of me.

Let me tell you some of the immoderate things I believe. You might be able to tell their source.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Because you have disobeyed God, cursed is the ground…, in pain you shall eat of it…, till you return to the ground.

In Abraham all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

In David’s descendant, his throne is established forever.

He is born of a virgin and called “God with us.”

He came to suffer and give his life on our behalf to provide us healing.

In Him, the divine Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. He gave many proofs of this.

Jesus’ suffering and death was for the life of the world.

What was written about him was written so that we may believe and have eternal life.

Jesus is the only way for us to be reconciled to God, to avoid everlasting punishment, to have a truly fulfilled life on earth, and to enter eternal life.

He makes us His own through Baptism. We receive Him by listening to those He sends. He feeds us with His own body and blood, given for our redemption.

Believers often go astray as we seek to practice our faith, but God is merciful and He forgives all who repent and return to Him.

The Christian life is not optional. Christ has made us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our responsibility of praying for the world and conducting the service of our Lord together is essential for the Church and also necessary for the world’s good.

God actually brings us into His holy presence and joins Himself to us when we conduct the Divine Service. Through faith we perceive that this is a tiny slice of eternity entering our broken world so that we may be joined to Christ forever. Though perceived through faith alone, this is more real and substantial than measurable and observable parts of Creation.

These beliefs and the desire to live by them makes me a religious extremist, a radical fanatic in the eyes of the world. I may even be considered dangerous.

We seek to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” That is good and proper. I belong to God at all times, but I often have the freedom to render obedience to my earthly authorities. God would have it no other way.

But on Sunday mornings, feast days, during times set aside for devotion, etc. my time belongs entirely to God, who said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” He requires not only inward worship, but “doing” worship.

I also have a debt of love toward my neighbors. For example, I will wear a mask, or not, as needed to benefit my neighbor. I will prioritize my nearest neighbors first such as family and the household of faith. But all acts of love toward my neighbor become meaningless and empty if I neglect the more important service. The Divine Service of word and sacrament orients all that I do in faith. Without it, the rest is no more than a hypocritical shell.

Above all, I will be in the presence of my Lord and receive His gifts. I’m a religious extremist.

Idols Can Be Microscopic

What’s worse: a giant threat like global thermonuclear war or a tiny threat like a virus?

To borrow words from a popular movie from 1980, “Size matters not.” Whether your body is destroyed in a huge explosion or slowly by an infection, you still wind up dead. Either is fearsome.

The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” This means, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

When we fear, love, or trust something or someone else in God’s place, we have made him/her/it into an idol. That’s idolatry. Idolatry literally means “the worship of an idol.” Notice that what a person does in the heart is considered to be worship.

For those who object to this, consider Matthew 5:20-21 and 27-28. Jesus makes it clear: what you do in the heart can be enough to condemn you. It’s no surprise, then, that we may break the first commandment using nothing but our hearts. Cars are made in factories. Idols are made in the human heart.

Can something as good as love can be the instrument of idolatry? Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Probably so in context, but Tennyson wasn’t considering what the object of love may be. If the love in question is a disordered love, demoting God to second place, it becomes idolatry. Then ’tis better not to have loved at all. By idolatrous love, a person will lose everything forever.

“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The holy proverb says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10, ESV) This “fear” is not terror such as the expectation of some great evil. Instead, it acknowledges that God has absolute power and authority over us, no matter what we may think or do about it. If we fear something or someone else to the point where God’s power and authority are diminished in our eyes, then we have created an idol. This is a serious problem. It’s the most serious problem, together with a disordered love or trust.

Consider trust. We are so reliant upon the traditional five senses that we can hardly imagine anything worse than losing them. We trust what we can see and hear, and we are in terror of threats we don’t see, whether they are real or not. It’s no wonder that in a time when we are threatened by a new infectious disease, the populace puts its trust in medical science. Medicine is supposed to be the apex of human achievement, based on solid observation and some brilliant intuition. Trust isn’t evil, just as love and fear are not evil. But when the heart trusts in something other than God to the degree that it casts in doubt what He has said, then it is a disordered trust. It is idolatry. That’s always the most serious kind of problem, even more serious than sickness, death, or pandemics of sickness and death.

En garde!

The currents in which we swim today are filled with disordered fear, love, and trust. How can a child of God guard against idolatry? The answer is divine wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10, ESV) The point here isn’t to fear God in an abstract way. Notice that it says, “Those who practice it.” Godly fear in the heart extends into a practice involving not only the heart, but the mind and the body. We have seen this in action when a Christian bows the head or clasps the hands in prayer. We have seen it in outward ceremony like the sign of the cross, kneeling, bowing, etc. We have also seen it in acts of love between neighbors, the fulfillment of the earthly duties to which God has called us. A godly fear of the Lord must be put into practice. Without practice, our fear of God cannot remain genuine or correctly ordered. It becomes idolatry.

Unless God comes to us in a special, saving way, we are lost to Him. The only worship left to us would be idolatry. We could never rise above it, and we would perish as idol worshippers. It should go without saying that our idols cannot help us forever.

God comes to us by taking a disguise and invading the world of sinners. He could come in open power, but then He wouldn’t make a connection to those who are lost in idolatry. We would be destroyed. So instead, He hides himself under the appearance of other things, so that His Spirit works unseen. The prime example of hiding His power was the life of Jesus Christ from conception to death. Despite the miracles He performed, the prophecies He fulfilled, and the clear authority with which He taught, plenty of people took Him as a mere man. Another example is the word that God sent into the world through the mouth of His prophets and apostles. Plenty of people have taken it as no different than the claims of false religions.

But Jesus is more than a man, and God’s word is more than the thoughts of mortal man. So through the life and death of Jesus, God redeemed all who were fallen away from Him, and through His word He calls us to faith with the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s ultimately through that word and faith that we are protected from idolatry.

Particularity

Here is where we encounter another objection. It started when the individual sinner first heard that God in heaven loves him. “Why would He do that?” We are already overawed by things like the size of the universe in which we live. It seems presumptuous to believe that God cares specifically about me. I could almost believe that He cares about all people, but I am a particular person.

The objection goes on. We read that God told the children of Israel how to worship Him using a Tabernacle with particular furnishings, rites, and ceremonies. We wonder, “Why would God care so much about all those little details?” And then we encounter the practices of the Church after Christ with the rites and ceremonies of Baptism and the Holy Supper. The question arises again, and becomes even more subtle: “God already knows if I believe, so why does He care whether I partake of these things?” Maybe we could believe that God cares about what’s in our hearts, but not so much about what happens to our bodies. Our bodies are very personal, and our sensations particular to ourselves.

All of this means we didn’t really believe or fully understand God when He said, “I, the LORD your God am a jealous God.” He wants you for himself to such a degree that He gave his life for you. He does not do things by half. He did it all. It should be no wonder that He also wants all of you to be involved with your connection to Him.

We may feel unworthy. It’s because we are. But he doesn’t measure your worth the same way. You are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and He did not hesitate to turn that blood into food for both your body and your soul. In this way He makes you worthy of His great gifts by connecting you to the sacrifice that He paid to redeem you.

This also explains why God considered all those details in the Old Testament to be important. They all are about Jesus. They teach the same faith that He taught. The Tabernacle with its sacrifices and holy food taught about the sacrifice of Jesus and the food He provides for us today. God connected the children of Israel to himself through the outward ceremonies and ritual that they performed, choosing those things because they were the connection to Jesus. Now we have a connection to Jesus, which is established and maintained in particular ways.

There has always been a desire to spiritualize the faith, to assume the only things that matter are within my heart. This is wrong. We can easily suppose that this assumption was behind the presumptuous actions of Nadab and Abihu. (See Leviticus 10:1-2.) Their creativity in the outward ceremonies of worship ended when God killed them. He explained very briefly, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.” (Leviticus 10:3, ESV) Nadab and Abihu failed to sanctify God in their presumption. To sanctify Him is to sanctify His word and so to keep the first commandment. If God says, “This is how I want you to draw near to me,” then we have to conclude that it matters. It matters even when He has chosen particular outward ceremonies.

What about people these days who presume to draw near to God without paying attention to what He says they should do? We don’t hear about people being killed like Nadab and Abihu. But that was a special case because the Tabernacle was the one place on the face of the Earth where God revealed His glory. It has been fulfilled in Jesus, who came into the world in human flesh and hid His glory so that sinners might repent and be saved rather than be destroyed in His presence. These days, we do well to remember that outside of the worship God has prescribed, there can be no certainty that He receives us, hears our prayers, or works among us. Our certainty is only in Christ and His particular outward gifts of grace.

What of those who spiritualize the faith to such a degree that they are content to disregard all outward forms of worship? Here belong those who think of themselves as Christians, but hardly ever darken the threshhold of a Christian congregation. There is no certainty that they are Christians. In fact, the evidence points the other way, and Christians should not expect them to understand or appreciate the importance of what God says. Their own concerns and sensibilities have already been judged to be more important in their lives. They have received their reward. May God be merciful and bring them to repentance.

God’s ways are particular, objective, outward, and certain. All other ways lead to destruction.

Pandemic Considerations

The heathen world is concerned about death and suffering. From a perspective that lacks Jesus, there is nothing more important. That’s why the world considers draconian, even tyrannical measures to be justified if the threat is urgent enough. “People will die!” is considered a strong argument against any opposition.

But a Christian realizes that people are already dying and nothing will stop that. Moreover, there’s something worse than death: the eternal judgment of God against sin. This is a hazard for us all, especially for those without Jesus. Yet Christians need to remember that their connection to Jesus depends on Him coming to us. That happens in the ways that He has provided and in no other way.

His Word is written in millions of printed Bibles and in other publications. It’s recorded across the world in both audio and video. It has efficacy wherever it is found. But it is God’s will that we receive it in particular ways. Should we presume to spiritualize what God has provided and say that the Church will be just fine if she voluntarily relinquishes the gifts that God has provided for her sustenance?

Ask a grade school teacher about the differences between learning in the classroom versus remote learning at home. Experts are now trying to figure out what the damage will be to the overall education of students who have difficulty connecting online. But schooling and worship are different activities: different aims, different results, and different mandates. Remote schooling is possible to a degree. But remote worship is questionable. And while students will still remain students even when there are impediments to learning, the Church can cease being the Church when deprived of her Lord and his gifts.

For most of society, social distancing is a nuisance. It’s harmful to the economy. But if it becomes something that prevents Christians from receiving the blessings of Jesus’ real (not virtual) presence, social distancing is an existential threat to Christians per se and to Christian congregations. That would make the cure far worse than the disease.

Are You a Christian with a Business?

Christians must each decide how their faith will affect their earthly vocations. There is intense pressure from some that the Christian faith should never affect them. Unlike the old saw, “Children should be seen and not heard,” these people think “Christians should neither be seen nor heard.” In other words, “You’d better hide your faith!”

Our Lord said, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:23-33, ESV). What’s more important to you: the probably-vain hope of earthly peace with your anti-Christian neighbors, or the rock-solid promise of peace with God? Tough one. Or maybe not.

So business owners, how about your business? Would you like to have Christian employees? Would you like your employees to be Christians? How about your customers and vendors? How about your own family and yourself?

Yes, I admit the tired and worn-out excuse does apply: “You don’t have to attend church to believe in Jesus.” But in the same breath you must also admit, “No one who believes in Jesus will avoid attending church.” Consider the quote above from Matthew 10. We could extend that. “No one who believes in Jesus and wants this for employees will purposely prevent them from attending church.”

Ouch. The rubber has met the road, and we’ve found that it’s filled with brass tacks. If your conscience smarts, that’s good. It’s why the Son of God had to shed His holy blood. But He did, and now He cleanses you of guilt and shame with His Word of forgiveness. He provides food for your body and soul, saying plainly, “This is My body, given for you,” and “This is My blood, shed for you.” He calls you to repentance, where He drowns your sinful flesh in the waters of your baptism and He restores your identity as His adopted child.

Now, about your business. Consider this. God doesn’t promise exactly the same in your case, but nobody has ever gone wrong by following the biblical faith in their earthly vocations. Disaster may strike! But you would meet even that with a good conscience and God’s blessings — whatever they may be. That’s good Christian business practice.

ELS President Gives Local Talk About Lutherans

Bethany and Concordia belong to the national association of Lutheran churches called the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). The ELS President John Moldstad will be in The Dalles from Mankato, Minnesota, to present a talk and answer questions about the distinctive history, teachings, and practice of Lutherans from the perspective of the ELS.

Bethany and Concordia invite their neighbors of our Columbia Gorge communities to this special event. Most Christians learn at some point about Martin Luther, but not much. In fact, he’s often confused with a much more recent American figure: Martin Luther King Jr. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Americans in general have reasons to remember Luther’s contributions to history, but it is sometimes forgotten that the people who agreed with Luther back in the 16th Century have also spread around the world, bringing a unique kind of Christian faith that shares elements of both Roman Catholicism and of the Protestant denominations. This one-day talk is a chance for people in the Gorge to find out about just what Lutherans do, teach, and believe today.

The times have changed since the 16th Century, and all Christians have had to deal with those changes. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod adopted its current name as recently as 1955, but it existed in other forms long before. What do Lutherans like them believe and teach today? How is this similar to other Lutherans, or even other Christian denominations? How would they answer your questions about Biblical teaching, faith, and life? Join us on Palm Sunday (April 14) to find out, and to enjoy a meal with fellow students of history, theology, and individual freedom.

Halloween Is About You

Halloween. That is a weird word! Where did it come from? What does it mean? No doubt you know what it refers to, but do you know how it came into use?

Halloween is a conjunction, that is two or more words joined together. It shortened “All Hallows Eve”, which is the evening before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day. See, Halloween isn’t about ghosts, goblins, and witches. Halloween is about Saints. Are you one?

Most people would respond, “I’m no Saint!”. They reach that conclusion because they look at the way that they have lived, the decisions that they have made and the things that they have done, and rightly see that they are far from perfect. If that was the standard for being a saint, no one would be one. However, that is not the way that the Bible speaks of saints.

This is how Paul addressed the Christians in Corinth: “To the church of God in Corinth—those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, who are called as saints”. (1 Co. 1:2) Christians are saints because they are sanctified in Christ Jesus. That means that you can be a saint too. Everyone who believes in Jesus has been washed clean of all of their sins. Everyone who believes in Jesus has been credited with Jesus’ perfect life. In Jesus, you can be a saint too.

This year you will know what Halloween is really about. It is not about ghost goblins. It is about saints. It is about you. You have been clothed in Jesus perfect life by faith. You are a saint.

From the latest ELS Outreach Newsletter

A Message from our Synodical Fathers

The ELS web site has a growing number of resources from past times. One of these is the collection of convention essays delivered over the years. Keeping in mind that our synod’s rebirth in 1918 was a humble event, and insignificant in worldly eyes, it’s not hard to imagine that the fledgeling “Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church” had a lot of work to do. Yet very early in our history, the topic chosen for a 1921 convention essay was “Christian Day Schools.” In this essay, Pastor Torgerson identifies the need for our churches to teach the faith, and considers several options. It is worth our time to listen to his message. You can find it here.

The Story of a Toe

There was a person who was blessed to be born with all of the usual parts. Dad counted the fingers and toes, and was relieved to find that the number was exactly right. No birth defects, and everything was in working order.

Later in life, one of the toes began to say to itself, “How important could I be? There are four other toes on this foot, and they can surely get the job done without me. It would please me more to take my rest, and let them handle all that the foot needs. Besides that, it seems to me that toes on the whole don’t have much to contribute.” So this toe began to enjoy life more, and didn’t concern itself with the usual toe activities like sensing the balance of the foot and the contour of the ground beneath, or giving a little extra push when the foot was walking, running, or paddling through water.

After some time, the toe also began to say to itself, “Since I’m doing my own thing now (and enjoying it), I don’t really need all of this oxygen and nutrition that the foot is sending my way. It would be better to let the other toes have more of those things: they’re working so hard. (What a great thing they’ve chosen to do!) But I will shrink the vessels that bring these things from the foot. No need to be selfish.”

This thought may seem alarming, but the toe didn’t mind. It was enjoying the sensation of freedom that comes with relaxation. “Sometimes a toe just needs to dangle,” it would say to itself.

More time passed, and the toe (which now had plenty of free time to notice and ponder other things) began to notice that there were other bodies in the world. Some were furry, and had toes with claws. Some were scaly, and to the the toe’s amazement, had no toes at all! Some bodies were much like the body of the toe, except those ones were doing much different things, and going to much different places. The toe began to wonder what it would be like to be attached to one of those bodies. Would it be better? Maybe the other members of those bodies would think more like the toe, and less like the four other toes on this foot. Maybe they would all enjoy life more. Maybe they would all enjoy the kind of freedom together that the toe had discovered: freedom from such strict discipline that the toe’s own body wanted to follow. Of course, there was no way for a toe to switch bodies, but it did not stop the toe from wondering and dreaming about it.

Soon the dreaming turned into longing, together with something the toe had not experienced before. It began to look down upon the other toes on its own foot, and even the foot and the body itself. It began to despise the body for its demands and discipline, and to loathe the way the body wanted all of its parts to work. It never occurred to the toe that it had begun loathing itself, for it was attached to the body.

The toe sometimes dreamed of a day when it might fall off the foot and be separated from its body. During this time, it continued shrinking the vessels that brought oxygen and nutrition from the foot.

At this time, the toe thought it knew the purpose of the body, and it considered the body to be failing in its purpose. It didn’t wish any harm to the body, but wanted it to do better by relaxing the discipline and the demands that the body made on all of its members. What’s the use of working together so well, when the result is something as uncomfortable as exercise, or as bland as an oatmeal breakfast? The toe doesn’t even get to taste the breakfast, anyway! All of the other members should become as free and relaxed as the toe. They should loosen up, and consider how life could be better.

Are you like the toe? What do you think is the purpose of the Church, which is the body of Christ? Are you helping to fulfill its real purpose, or are you mistakenly working against it, to your own harm? If you have ever had an injured toe, you know that even if your body is still capable of doing many things, the whole body is also affected by the injury. If you have been shrinking the connection between you and the body of Christ — especially the Word and Sacraments, which are provided in the Sunday Divine Service, how do you think that has affected your faith, your perspective, and your spiritual health?

The good news is that the body in question went to see a doctor, who noticed that the toe was weakened and malnourished. With treatment, the toe’s connection to the body was restored. All was forgiven, and the toe once again saw how its own contribution to the body provided the greatest possible satisfaction. Even better, the toe was able to encourage all of the other members to remain steadfast, so that the body worked together to accomplish greater things and receive greater blessings.

May you also enjoy the certainty of God’s forgiveness, which Jesus has won for you by dying once for all on His cross. Now, let us thank Him by bearing our crosses with the same joy that he had in the love of the Father. You are a member of the body of Christ. What could be better than that?

First…

We love Him because He first loved us. -1 John 4:19

 

When you were conceived, you did not think about God. In fact, our inability to love, honor, and respect God as we should goes back to our first parents. Our original sin, our inability to love God as we ought to, goes back to when Adam and Eve decided that they would disobey God and then there was no longer a proper love for Him. When you were conceived you did not love God, you did not honor Him, you did not respect Him; from your conception, you have been a sinner.

 

When you were a little child you did not love God as you should. Beginning as an infant all you cared about was where the warmth came from and where your next meal was going to come from; you did not love and honor God. When you grew into a toddler, maybe you knew who this God was, or were told about Him, but you did not love Him. You loved your parents, you loved your siblings (if you had any), you probably even loved your pet… but you did not love God, you did not honor God, you did not respect God. Even while you were an infant and a toddler, you were a sinner.

 

When you grew up and became a teenager, then you really did not love God. As a teenager life truly got in the way of loving and respecting God and His word. As a teenager, you knew better. God did not know what was best for you, you did. As a teenager, you did not love you parents and honor them and sadly you did not love and honor God as He deserves. Yes, during your teenage years, you were a sinner.

 

When you went away to college things really got interesting. Alcohol, friends who didn’t like or go to church, the opposite sex really started to come into play; so many new and exciting things and God didn’t always fit into that mold. God was someone that you might visit if you needed to pass a test or if you decided not to stay out too late on Saturday night but otherwise you did not love and honor God as you should have. You put other things, things of this world, first. Friends were first; Grades were first; Pleasures were first; God was not first. When you were in college, no matter how smart you were, you were a sinner.

 

As you grew up middle age did not treat you well at all. You got married and began to have children and they became first in your life. The wife needs your time, the children need your time, the job needs your time; God has to wait. “Maybe next weekend” became an all too real thought and answer. Not able to pull yourself up to go to church but you religiously cheered for and went to those sporting events. During the middle of your life, God was not first, you were a sinner.

 

Finally, old age came. Old age hit you like a ton of bricks because now you were faced with your own mortality… maybe for the first time. You got a little bit slower, you got a little more frail, you didn’t think or reason as fast as you used to, time caught up with you, and still, God is not first. Children and grandchildren, spouses and remaining family, medications and television shows; all of these take up precious hours, but God is still left in the corner… just waiting for you, waiting for you to love Him.

 

Because you see, God did love us first. When our first parents sinned, God set His plan in motion. He knew that we would not be perfect children, He knew that we would sin, and so He made sure that we would not have to worry about that. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to live the perfect life for you and to die the innocent death for you. Jesus came into this world to bear all of your sin upon the cross and to give you all of His righteousness. Jesus bore on the cross all the times you did not put God first, all the times you knew better than God, all the times that God was not worthy of you… He bore them as He suffered and died; and why? Because God loved you first.

 

God loved you from the beginning. God loved you when you were conceived and he knit you together in your mother’s womb. God knew you as an infant and toddler and He watched over you as your parents brought you to Him when He baptized you. God knew you as a teenager and, though you did not have time for Him, He made sure that you heard His word and were taught His truths. When you entered into middle age God was still there for you, loving you and making sure that no matter the struggle nothing would be too hard for you to handle… nothing was out of His control. And God knew you in old age. God knows the pain and the struggle that you go through and He is there allowing you to lean on Him, to place all your cares and anxieties on Him, allowing you to know Him and plan eternity with Him.

 

Yes, God loved you first and He loved you much. So much, in fact, that He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins, so much that He wrote His words and helped you to read and understand them, so much that He claimed you as His own in baptism, and so much that He gave you the very body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. God loved you first… and because God loved you, you love God. Thanks be to God for loving me.

Concrete Lessons

by Bob Gove

High in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, the Skagit River starts its journey to the sea. Down through a couple dams, past the little towns of Marblemount and Rockport – – – then by the unique town of Concrete .

A fascinating phenomenon existed in that little town sixty years ago – maybe it is still the same today; I haven’t had opportunity to re-visit.

A cement manufacturing plant was the main reason for the town’s existence (hence the town’s name – “Concrete”). Its presence was obvious as one entered the town, for everything was encased in cement. Over the years dust emitted from the cement plant had settled on the roofs and fences and everything else that wasn’t moved frequently. When rain fell, it combined with this cement dust, encasing everything in a rock-like coat. It hung heavily from the power and telephone wires all over town. Some wires had become as thick as a baseball bat, with long rows of cement “ice cycles” hanging from them.

In the years since being there, I have often wondered if the inhabitants suffered ill effects from breathing air so full of cement dust.

And some spiritual lessons came into focus too. For instance — consider how the influence of the world effects you. Unless you thoroughly bathe your mind frequently with the cleansing Word of God, the “dust” of the world’s attitudes will cling and harden around your heart, closing off any compassion you might otherwise express to a hurting soul. “ –but you were washed , you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Another reason for such frequent cleansing is to rid ourselves of the self-defense mechanism many of us resort to; that of erecting a hard shell of isolation against the cruel words and actions of those we must contact every day.

God put us here to be “salt and light” in this sick and sin darkened place. Let’s forget the defensive tactics; “The best defense is a good offense”. Our acquaintances and co-workers are not the enemy — recognize the real enemy; see the havoc Satan has caused in their lives, and wash it away with the all powerful Word. They need Jesus just like we do.

“For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4: 12

Dear (fill in the blank),

Dear N.,

We haven’t written letters to one another before, and it seems that letters are becoming more rare everywhere, but they still have their uses. You might say I could have just texted you this message, or sent a message on Facebook. But it’s hard to express things of a deep and personal nature that way, especially because a short message runs a great risk of misunderstanding. You might say I could have called or visited so we could make this a conversation, but the things I have to say all hang together, and they will take a while for me to say them well. It takes a lot of patience and goodwill to have a back-and-forth conversation about deep, personal things like this. We all tend to interrupt instead.

So I’m writing you this letter. I may never send it. Maybe I’ll just gather my thoughts here and God will give me an opportunity to express them to you some other way. You see, they must be expressed. There are some things too important to be kept silent or ignored. One of them is the matter of your life.

You have been blessed with a pretty good life. You can count many blessings, if you stop to consider them. Yes, there are many challenges too, and I can see how they could get you down. But overall, your life is a blessing, just like mine. I’m glad to be alive, and I’m glad to know you, too. Because I care about you, I want you to think about not only your life on earth, but your future life that will come afterward. I’d like to share that blessing with you, too.

We used to see each other not only at the supermarket or at special occasions. I enjoyed visiting with you at church. That’s not the main reason I was there, but it was one very good part of it. Why haven’t you been coming to church lately? In fact, I think it’s been months since you were attending every week. I suppose one obligation or another got in the way, and maybe you were sick. But church used to be a priority for you. So what happened?

Have you forgotten the reason for going to church? It’s not just some old tradition. You didn’t go because of some threatening commandment from God. Oh, I know there is one: the Third Commandment: “You shall keep the day of rest holy,” as it’s written in catechisms these days. But you know it’s not just about a certain day. It’s about our connection to God, the link He has made from us to Jesus. It’s the only way for us to reach heaven! Besides heaven, it’s the only way for us to have a truly fulfilling and content life on earth. God didn’t give us that commandment just to make you hurt with feelings of guilt and shame. He gave us that commandment out of love, so that we might not neglect His most precious gifts and lose out on what they bring.

Now, maybe you think God should give you heaven and all the best blessings some other way. “If He loves me so much, why doesn’t He give me my Sundays off to enjoy instead of making me uncomfortable? Can’t He do that and give me eternal life at the same time?”

Dear N., He can do anything, but He gets to choose how He does it! Remember who He is, here: God. And remember that you are not God. The way He gives you eternal life is through that connection: His Word and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Those things are non-negotiable, because they are the God-given connection to the one-and-only Savior for human beings. That’s Jesus, of course.

If Jesus was crucified and stayed dead, then don’t come to church. In that case, I shouldn’t go either. But did you know that the best historical evidence all supports the fact that Jesus rose to life again? If you believe in Julius Caesar, then you have every reason to believe even more strongly that Jesus Christ rose to life on the third day. And if you believe that, then you also should believe what He said it means. Do you remember John 3:16? It’s Jesus’ promise to you: forgiveness and eternal life.

You may have some hangups about all of this, and I’d like you to tell me about them. Don’t worry, I won’t blow you off or make fun of you. I’ll listen, because this is serious. I want you to share eternal life with me.