Farewell Sermon from Pastor Jacobsen

Trinity 10, 2020

Psalm 92

5 O Lord, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.

6 A senseless man does not know,
Nor does a fool understand this.

7 When the wicked spring up like grass,
And when all the workers of iniquity flourish,
It is that they may be destroyed forever.

8 But You, Lord, are on high forevermore.

9 For behold, Your enemies, O Lord,
For behold, Your enemies shall perish;
All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.

10 But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox;
I have been anointed with fresh oil.

11 My eye also has seen my desire on my enemies;
My ears hear my desire on the wicked
Who rise up against me.

12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.

14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,

15 To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Planted in the Lord’s House

God is teaching us something similar in all of our appointed lessons today. They take place in two different times: Jeremiah writing about 6 centuries before Christ, and Paul writing about a generation after.

In Jeremiah’s day, idol worship was rampant in Israel, mixed up with the name of God. But Jeremiah was addressing a more specific problem: the spiritual leaders who should have condemned the idolatry were unfaithful. The watchmen were not calling out the danger. They and everyone else assumed it was all okay. Why? They still had the word of God, the Torah. With that, they had nothing to worry about. It was all good in the ‘hood.

But it wasn’t. Jeremiah foretold judgment, but the priests, the other prophets, and the people didn’t take notice. Jeremiah writes, “No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his own course…” Their sins did not alarm them. God’s judgment did not terrify them.

In our Gospel, Jesus wept over Jerusalem for a similar reason. They were missing the time of their “visitation:” when He was with them for mercy. Those who miss this time will not fail to miss the time of God’s judgment. 

They saw His signs and heard Jesus teach, but in general didn’t pay attention. Many among the Pharisees were careful to live by God’s word, but neglected the most important, central part. They neglected to receive the Son of God in faith.

The Sadducees and priests formed another group who missed the time of God’s mercy. They were absorbed not in keeping the letter of God’s Word, but rather in keeping their power and influence. They, too, were blinded to the salvation God sent for their very own eyes and ears.

So Jesus wept in deep sadness for the consequence that was soon to come. Like in Jeremiah’s day, Jerusalem was about to fall. The Temple would be destroyed. Hearts were hardened to the Gospel. They resisted the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our Epistle shows the flip side. Though Israel failed, many Gentiles were converted, repented, and lived out their faith. Many gladly died for their faith. But why did the Jewish people fail to attain the law of righteousness? Paul writes, “Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.” That’s the rock on which God has built His Church: Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins.

Dear friends in Christ, I have been among you now for over 15 years: 186 ½ months, to be more exact. The Lord Himself called me here through you and His larger Church to preach and teach the Gospel. I pray that it was not in vain for your sake, like the preaching of Jeremiah and even our Lord Himself in connection with the city of Jerusalem.

The great spiritual weakness of our flesh and the overwhelming hostility of the world and the malice of the Enemy often make the preaching of God’s Word seem to be in vain. Even catechized Christians so easily forget our priorities and what truly serves for our good. We become convinced that the crisis before our fleshly eyes is more urgent than the spiritual crisis that confronts every sinner.  We tend to think that earthly hunger or physical discomfort must be addressed before our separation from God.

Jesus corrects our thinking. His lesson of the loaves and fish recently taught us again that if we have Him, we have enough. But do we listen? Do we remember? If we did listen, remember, and believe, then every member of Christ’s body should be here every week. Nothing short of death or imprisonment should prevent it. But so many of God’s people spend our time dealing instead with other things, like work or pleasure.

We must not minimize the suffering that others feel. Because of various afflictions, people all around us must endure great anguish: body, soul, and mind. When you suffer, you want the suffering to end. It’s a great comfort to know that Jesus understands. See His grief for Jerusalem! His tears are human tears. But His suffering is also part of what He endured to cleanse you from the guilt of your sin and make you God’s own child. 

Children of this world and children of God end up trying so many ways to ease or forget their suffering and pain. Noah tried to manage the sadness he felt with wine from his vineyard. He did forget his suffering for a little while, but he was also unable to take proper care of himself, to fulfill his vocation as a father and husband, or even to know what was happening around him. He had become comfortably numb. That’s a constant danger when we use earthly solutions for our suffering.

One of the reasons our churches are in decline is that earthly remedies for suffering are on the rise, remedies that numb the pain for a time, or give some temporary pleasure. These earthly remedies can help us, but they don’t solve the root problem, and must be renewed continually, like the sacrifices in the Tabernacle of the Israelites. But unlike those sacrifices, our earthly remedies for suffering lead us away from God’s permanent solution instead of toward it. Tabernacle sacrifices taught the Israelites to trust in Jesus, whose suffering has ended suffering, whose death has ended death, and whose resurrection has begun a new Creation filled with godly pleasures without end. Consider what Johann Gerhard wrote about this:

The world considers it the greatest misfortune when a man is taken in physical death or is subjected to poverty, sickness, and other crosses in this life. But this opinion is false and misguided, for the crosses of this life serve to the good of man, as all of Scripture attests. Physical death does a man no harm if he clings to Christ in true faith (John 8:51). Eternal death is the real and great tragedy. It is the poverty and sickness of the soul, the unrepentant, carnal security, and godlessness that hastens a man to eternal death. This is the greatest misfortune.

Johann Gerhard, Sermon for Trinity 10

Our actions betray our worldly priorities. And no wonder. If we follow the example of Noah’s wine, we too will become comfortably numb: numb to the pain to some extent, but also numb to the Word of God. Wasn’t that the very problem in Jeremiah’s day? Wasn’t that the reason Jesus had to weep over Jerusalem? They were settling for earthly solutions for their lives, maybe even using bits and pieces of God’s Word but leaving out the cross that ties it all together. Is it any wonder in that case, if churches become empty on most Sundays? You can get your fix or your kicks somewhere else. But that doesn’t lead toward eternal life. As Gerhard wrote, it leads to the greatest misfortune of all.

So I fear that the same condemnation that befell Israel in Jeremiah’s time and Jerusalem in Jesus’ day will fall upon this congregation. You may think, “But those people were worse: they had a prophet of God — even the Son of God among them!” They did. And our congregation has nothing less than a minister sent by Jesus Himself, a shepherd under Christ. For a while now, more than one.

So I entreat you to take this passage to heart from Hebrews 3: 

12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.

Hebrews 3:12-14

How should you exhort one another? What should you say? 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25)

For every child of God, the whole life of faith revolves around God’s presence. Not His omnipresence by which He exists in all places, but His coming to dwell graciously with you, joining you to Him in one communion that will outlast this world. That’s the whole point of the weekly Divine Service. That’s where it happens on earth. By giving our devout attention to these things, God’s people are stirred up to love and good works. We are healed of our spiritual disease and reconciled personally to God through His Spirit’s work: repentance and faith. This is where we receive all that we need to bear the crosses that God has given us.

As for those who have fallen away and so do not continue in our Lord’s presence, we pray for them, and our Father hears us. We pray, and He calls us to be part of the answer to our own prayer by steadfastly confessing the truth in all we do and say.

All of this is wrapped up in today’s Psalm 92:

12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
15 To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Listen to the voice of your Lord! Rich temporal and eternal blessings are given to those who are planted in the house of the Lord.

In the psalmist’s time, that house was the Tabernacle and Temple, the center of all true spiritual life for Israel. But we have it even better: the house of the Lord is wherever Jesus comes to us and gathers His Church.  This is no desolate place! Eyes of flesh may see only a few people and many empty pews, but we have come into the presence of the Holy Trinity, where the Church triumphant is joined in worship with the heavenly host in the fullness of God’s glory.

To benefit from this glorious reality, you have to be a part of it. That begins here every week, and it continues as you bear God’s love and good works wherever your vocation may take you. If you have not been as faithful as you should, welcome to the Church militant. You’re in good company here. We all must be alarmed by the Law and repent daily, returning spiritually to the baptismal water where our new lives in Christ began. We all must bear our crosses, and so must also bear with one another. Never stop praying for each other and acting on those prayers in a spirit of forgiveness and love.

Remember the tears of Jesus! It seemed to be in vain that He was about to suffer and die for Jerusalem. But in His great love, He went anyway. That is the love to which you are now called, for you are His children through faith, and He has forgiven your sins of unfaithfulness and worldliness. Put your trust entirely in Him, receiving strength from Jesus who comes to you intimately with His body and blood. Let His strong word strengthen you with the power of the Holy Spirit to bear your crosses in the knowledge that their time is quickly passing away. 

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:57-58)

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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.

Announcing a Major Change in Our Parish Work: Two Pastors!

The congregations of Bethany and Concordia decided on February 28 to extend two pastoral calls. One of the calls is to replace the call of Pastor Jacobsen, who has been serving as the sole pastor of the two churches since 2006. The replacement call was extended to Pastor Jacobsen to serve as senior pastor, but to focus his work on being the principal of Columbia Lutheran School and teaching the upper grades. A second call is also extended by the two churches for a new pastor to serve their pastoral needs full-time. The decision was to request a pastoral candidate from Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota. That’s the seminary of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, from which Pastor Jacobsen graduated in 1998.

Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum

After prayerfully considering it for two weeks, Pastor Jacobsen decided to accept the new call extended to him. He is now preparing to teach full-time in the upper-grades classroom, and managing the school’s transition to serving students from kindergarten through 8th grade.

Columbia Lutheran School was started in 2014 with Mr. Doug Radliff (a Concordia member with his wife, Lilly) as the kindergarten-4th grade teacher. He came to Columbia with many prior years of teaching, most recently the first and second grades at Covenant Christian Academy. Bethany has always had the long-range intention of operating a school with the usual “elementary” grades for a Lutheran parochial school, which extend to the 8th grade. After researching the start of Columbia Lutheran School, there is also an intention to open an early learning center for pre-kindergarten students.

Lutheran parochial education has a long tradition in the United States and elsewhere. Unlike a public school education, it includes biblical teaching as the foundation of every subject. The greatest benefit of literacy, for example, is to read and write the timeless truths of God’s Word. This helps us to grow in our faith, to glorify God, and to further the spread of the Gospel. Likewise, the study of mathematics and science is the study of God’s creation and its design.

Columbia is also distinguished in being a classical school. This is a return to the principles of learning used for many centuries, rooted in the foundations of western civilization: the Greek and Roman worlds of antiquity. A classical school teaches the history, languages, and literature from the classical period of time together with later times, but it also applies the teaching philosophy and methods developed from that time until now. Its purpose is to help our students grow into their full God-given potential as human beings redeemed by Christ, with dual citizenship in heaven and on Earth. Columbia’s mission is “To provide a quality classical Christian education for the families of the Mid-Columbia area, preparing students for their current and future God-given roles and supporting parents in their vocation to educate and nurture their children.”

Pastor Jacobsen will be fully engaged in the work of the school, especially in his first year of full-time classroom teaching. The school is an outreach ministry of Bethany, and benefits from the generosity of many people at Bethany, others in our fellowship, and even nationwide. The prayers of many ELS members are with us in this endeavor. Until the new pastor is installed, Pastor Jacobsen will be able to serve our churches as a vacancy pastor. That means he will conduct services and help to meet basic ministerial needs, but most of his attention will be on the needs of the school. After the new pastor arrives, Pastor Jacobsen will continue to be involved in our services, but on a much more limited basis.

We will hear in the first half of May whether a seminary graduate is assigned to our parish. If there is one assigned, we can look forward to celebrating that with an ordination and installation service for both pastors over the summer months. If not, then the congregations will join together for another call meeting and extend the call for a second pastor to another qualified man.

Your prayers and generosity with your time, talents, and treasure are both appreciated and needed by your congregation, and by Columbia. Please continue to pray for God’s blessings upon the work of Pastor Jacobsen, because they will also run over into blessings upon your congregation and its other work in the Gorge. Just as importantly, please remember to speak well of the work that God is doing among us, so that your neighbors, friends, and coworkers are aware of it in a positive light. This opens a door for you to help in the spread of the Gospel, and the strengthening of our Lord’s Church.

Thanks be to God!

Christmas Is Coming… Time to Start Preparing for a Great Service

We’re planning to hold Bethany’s Christmas children’s program this year again on the Sunday before Christmas. Technically, this means we’ll be stealing a Sunday from the Advent season, but it seemed to be well-received last year. On the first Sundays in Advent (November 29th through December 13), the participating children and adults will use their Sunday School time to prepare for the program.

Without a Christmas program on Christmas Eve, we will again have an opportunity to adorn the service with plenty of instrumental music. If you play any kind of band instrument suitable for harmonizing Christmas hymns, please consider getting it out and joining our practices over the next two months. We will meet on Fridays from 3:30 to 4:30: October 30, November 6 and 20, and December 4, 11, and 18. The music will be easy enough for most players. Most of our playing will be to accompany hymn singing, but some pieces may be played by the ensemble alone, and there may be some descants for soloists.

The joint Christmas Day service this year will be at Concordia in Hood River, which is an excellent acoustic space for music. Between December 20, 24, and 25, there will be three opportunities for our ensemble to play this Christmas season. Players will be encouraged, not required, to attend all performances.

Another Approach to Sunday School at Bethany

The Bethany Sunday School Manifesto

With thanks to God and our long-time Sunday School teachers for great blessings over the years to this point, we are planning to try something new at Bethany starting in fall of 2015.

Our Objective

Our objective is that our congregation’s members and friends grow in their knowledge of Christ, and in the ability to teach it to the next generation.

Sunday School has functioned as a corrective for the major shortcoming of public education, namely, that any knowledge of a Christian nature, or from the Bible is actively excluded from public education. This dramatically handicaps public education in every practical way. It produces students ignorant of biblical truth and often hostile to the gospel.

Our Challenges

  1. The dual-parish schedule that requires the church members to handle Sunday School without the pastor’s presence during the program.

  2. The gradual overall loss of interest in Sunday School relative to other demands in the lives of our members. This has occurred among children as well as adults.

Our Perspective

Without an accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ as God’s Son, revealed only in holy Scripture, it’s impossible to have faith in Jesus. Without faith in Jesus, it’s impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), and a person faces God’s judgment. Most of the world does not accept what the Bible says about Jesus, including and especially the secular institutions of education in our community. They sometimes even teach against it.

Every member of our congregation is regarded as a member of the body of Christ, each with an important role or responsibility in connection with the Christian education of children. Parents bear that responsibility directly, and the rest of the Church has the duty to help them.

The best and most complete Christian education is found at a Christian school, where the Word of God forms and influences everything that is taught, and where Law and Gospel are properly divided. This may be a corporate school like Columbia Lutheran School, or a school in a home.

While any child may participate in Sunday School, it’s especially oriented around those children who don’t enjoy full-time Christian education. While only some of the adults have a direct responsibility for educating children, every Christian helps to bear the responsibility of the whole Church, that all children should be taught God’s Word and the biblical worldview.

Our Plan

  1. All congregation members available will meet weekly before the Divine Service, when the pastor is still unavailable, at 9:30 a.m.

  2. Promptly at 9:30, one of the men will begin reading the order of Matins without the parts having underlined labels. He may ask all in attendance to read everything together, or he may read only the parts of the liturgist. If possible, one of the youth or adults will accompany the group in the singing of a catechism hymn from the Hymnary, which will replace the Canticle.

    Hymn Number Catechism Part
    490/488 Ten Commandments
    38/37 Creed
    383 Lord’s Prayer
    248/247 Baptism
    417 Keys and Confession
    329/316-317 Sacrament of the Altar
  3. For up to 5 minutes: Small Catechism. The group practices reciting the Small Catechism snippet in the bulletin for the day.

  4. For up to 5 minutes, Large Catechism. Matins leader reads the excerpt of the day from the Large Catechism and asks a question about it. Anyone may discuss the question.

  5. Optional up to 5 minutes, Hymns: Sing more requested hymns.

  6. Split into two groups:

    1. Adults remain in the sanctuary with older youth to discuss things from the day’s lessons, and how they may be presented to children. Adults who served as teachers (see below) the prior week should have an opportunity to share their observations. Consider things like:

      1. What do children need to know first in order to understand this lesson?
      2. What existing knowledge or opinions might the children have, which needs to be corrected by this lesson?
      3. How can this lesson bring children to a fuller understanding of Christ, and a deeper faith?
      4. How does this lesson present or apply the law or the gospel?
      5. How does this lesson overlap or reinforce the teaching of the Small Catechism?
      6. How might this be illustrated or reinforced with examples, demonstrations, or hands-on activities?
    2. Children and younger youth accompany a designated pair of adults/older youth into the fellowship hall. Other adults may come to help, but the designated pair is in charge. They will be scheduled for this rotating responsibility at least a week in advance. Husband-wife teams are encouraged.

    If possible, the adults in charge should try to use what has been learned and discussed in the adult Sunday School discussion. Any appropriate learning activity is fine. When in doubt, you are encouraged to ask the Pastor ahead of time. Any questions that the teacher is unable to answer may be reserved for discussion in the adult Sunday School session, or may be addressed to the Pastor after the Divine Service.

Steps for Organizing

  1. Decide who will be expected to lead Matins. It should be men, ideally a group who can take turns. They will decide among themselves who will be up each Sunday. It would be wise for them to post that schedule on the bulletin board.

  2. Partway through every month, the adults/older youth will fill the next month’s schedule, deciding what pair of adults/youth will be teaching all the children each Sunday. Others may help, but the designated volunteers will be in charge. The schedule should be posted on the bulletin board. The church secretary can help with that.

  3. On the first Sunday of the school year, the schedule should be filled for the first month.

Thought about Small Church Activities

We all like to have a full schedule of activities available for us at church. That’s not to say that we’d actually attend all those activities. We’re probably most concerned about the activities that interest us, rather than those geared toward others (children, young families, seniors, etc.).

Some churches have lots of varied activities on their calendars. One of the challenges this creates is faith-damaging burnout, as the same group of people usually manage everything at the church. This tends to happen regardless of the size of the church. Bigger churches experience it with more activities, smaller churches with fewer.

Another challenge created by lots of activities comes with specialization of the activities. With some geared toward children, some toward young families, some toward seniors, etc., they tend to splinter the members of the congregation into artificial groups or classes, based on the presumed interests of each group. I call these groups artificial because they don’t occur naturally. Families are composed of all ages and interest groups in one household. Lots of specialized activities pulls the family members in different directions, often doing more harm than good to family life.

I’d like to offer a solution, but I don’t have one. Instead, we should probably recognize that the primary activity of a church is to gather around the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacrament of the Altar and holy Baptism. That doesn’t need to be limited to Sundays, but Sundays are the starting point. Other activities are all extra.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind. A church’s beating heart is in the assembly where she receives the spiritual gifts of her Lord. But the faith created and strengthened with those gifts is active every day of the week, in the individual lives of the church members. Our worship of God does not end when the Divine Service is dismissed. It continues in schools, in work-places, in homes, and on every street and highway. We live as children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, glorifying Him by word and deed in keeping with His will. The main part of this takes place in the God-pleasing duties we fulfill each day, serving God through our neighbors. The work of the church is accomplished in and through the sanctified lives of her members. They don’t have to come together regularly on weekdays for God’s will to be done, though the members of a household might do so for mutual growth, encouragement, and prayer.

I’ll close with one more observation. Whenever there is an activity at church, it’s not something that just happens on its own. Think of any church activity you know about, and I guarantee that it happened because one or more people did one or more things. If it was a big event, it was planned, organized, managed, and maybe even marketed. In addition, other people showed up and participated. If it was a small event, maybe one person did all of those things. In any case, a church event can be boiled down to two things: people and actions. Without people there is no event. If they do something different, then the event is not the same. All of this sounds obvious, but we easily forget it when we begin to think of our church as a faceless institution where things just happen. But events don’t just happen, people do things, and that becomes the event.

So those of us who would like to have more events like W (whatever that is) should consider whether we would like to be a person who comes and does what is needed for a W event. If no person is willing to do the critical parts, then it won’t happen. It’s as simple as that. And maybe that’s okay, because God-willing, we will all gather again on Sunday around God’s Word and Sacraments, and maybe we can do W next week, or next month, or next year instead.

Happy Hallowe’en!

It was on this day in 1517 that a professor and doctor of the Church posted a list of topics he wished to discuss and debate, concerning abuses and unbiblical additions in the teaching and practice of the Faith. Knowing that the next day (the Feast of All Saints) was a day when all the faithful were obliged to come to church, the doctor posted his list on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, electoral Saxony, in what today is southern Germany.

The response surprised the doctor as his posting sparked a reformation of the Church, ridding the abuses and novelties he had noted, restoring the traditional and ancient practice and teaching of the Church Catholic, but causing division from those who preferred the errors in faith and practice, who segregated themselves under the guidance of their pope.

But the Reformation struck a definite blow for the clarity of the Good News of Jesus, in Whom alone is our forgiveness, life, and salvation— in spite of those who would persist in their errors and preferred Rome, or a number of other movements who sought not to reform the Church, but to radically undo and destroy and refashion the Faith.

Remembering the signal spark of the Reformation, the posting of the 95 Thesis, millions of boys and girls this evening will mock the devil (toothless worm that he is), dressing up, and running from door to door, knocking (as Luther knocked his list onto the church door!), and being rewarded with special treats from the adults who cheer on the miracle of the Lutheran Reformation.

Rejoice in the freedom of the Gospel, and give these little Luthers something tasty tonight.

Happy Halloween, you sons and daughters of the Reformation!

From Pr. James Wilson (ELS), in North Bend, originally posted to Facebook.

Holy Week Services

cranach-altar-victory It’s a custom in our churches to have special mid-week services through the season of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. These services are a reflective time, an opportunity to contemplate the work of Jesus Christ that has brought about our rescue from sin and death, and provided eternal life. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we have a single mid-week service with a focus on our repentance, in preparation for remembering the great events of our Lord’s passion (suffering and death) and resurrection. In the final week before Easter, we have two or more special services, each with a special theme and focus.

This year, our mid-week services that follow Ash Wednesday have been about the cross of every Christian, as an echo or shadow of the cross of Jesus, by which we have been redeemed. This so-called “theology of the cross” defines the Christian’s life on Earth, yet is frequently missing or subdued in the teaching of many churches. No wonder, it’s not exactly upbeat! In the same way that some would like to portray Jesus as victorious while forgetting what He had to do to obtain the victory, so also some would like to suppose that a Christian’s life on earth is filled with giggles and rose gardens, while forgetting that these roses have long, sharp thorns. Our midweek Lent meditations are meant to refocus our faith upon the reality of every Christian’s life.

Holy Week is the climax of the season of Lent, beginning with Palm Sunday. Jesus entered His royal city on Earth to the shouts of “Hosanna!” from a vast crowd of jubilant people, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah. Thus, we recognize that He is indeed the One chosen by God to take away the sins of the world, just as the Passover lamb was chosen by each Israelite family on the 10th of the month, in preparation for the Passover to be celebrated only four days later, when that lamb would die and become the meal of their salvation (Exodus 12:3-6).

Four days after Palm Sunday, we celebrate Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday. “Maundy” is a form of the Latin word “mandatum,” which refers to Jesus’ command given to His disciples on that night (John 13:34). Our focus is upon the feast of love instituted by Jesus during the Passover meal with His disciples, which we call the Lord’s Supper, or the Sacrament of the Altar. Following the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples went across the Brook Kidron and ascended the Mount of Olives, where His intense prayers helped to prepare Him for His imminent suffering. See ELH 295 for a meaningful meditation on that time in our Lord’s life.

Good Friday is the day when evil seemed to triumph. But when Jesus was crucified, it was really the end of death for the whole world. The nature of death has changed as a result of the death of Jesus. It cannot hold you any more. Even the ungodly will rise to life again on the Last Day, though unbelievers will also get their wish: not to be saved from eternal punishment by the suffering and death of Jesus. The torment of hell is on display when Jesus hangs upon His cross, forsaken by His Father as He bears the guilt of the whole world. In this way, He took what would have been an ordinary Friday in the fallen world, and turned it into a day for our deliverance from God’s wrath. It became Good Friday. We will hear about the passion and death of Christ, as we contemplate its meaning through hymns and meaningful responses.

Holy Saturday follows, when we remember that Jesus rested in His tomb through the Sabbath. Then, when evening comes and the ancient Israelites would recognize the beginning of the next day, we may begin our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection with a brief service for Easter Vigil. This year, for the first time, we have planned such a service to be held at 8:00 PM, at Bethany. We will again begin to sing Easter hymns and the Hallelujah, as special readings added to the Office of Compline (ELH p. 128) lead us into the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Then on Easter morning, we plan to gather in Hood River in Idlewild Cemetery, where we will greet the sunrise on the Lord’s Day with our joyous hymns and readings. After that, we will have the festival services at the usual times: 9:00 at Concordia, and 11:00 at Bethany.

There is nothing more important in the existence of any human being than these events and deeds of our Lord, so we invite everyone to join us in our meditation and celebration of these greatest works of God.

Some Thoughts on the Creation Debate

On Tuesday of this week, we had a group of people here at Bethany to watch the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye about whether biblical creation is a valid scientific model of origins. Here are some thoughts about what we saw:

  • Both Ken Ham and Bill Nye ended the debate with the same position in which they started the debate. Ham is a creationist and Nye is an evolutionist.

  • Ken Ham is willing to call both evolutionists and creationists “scientists” in the same sense, but Bill Nye is reluctant to call creationists “scientists,” convinced by his own reason that anyone who believes in creation is incapable of scientific research or engineering, and that unless children learn to be evolutionists, America will fall behind other nations in scientific development.

  • Ken Ham notes a distinction between observational science and a historic kind of science. In observational science, it is possible to apply the scientific method, make predictions, test hypotheses, and make practical applications. Anyone can participate equally in observational science, whether they are creationists or evolutionists. When looking at pre-historic origins, however, everyone is limited to formulating theoretical models from the same evidence, but no conclusive tests can be made to verify whether one model is more likely true than another. The only source of better information would be the witness of someone who was actually present through that prehistoric time. Ken Ham therefore relies upon the information provided by God in the Bible.

  • Bill Nye denies the distinction made by Ken Ham, and denies that the Bible is credible, on the basis of what his own reason tells him. For example, “Miracles are impossible. The Bible describes miracles, therefore the Bible is false.” Bill Nye’s worldview supporting his use of reason is known as naturalism or materialism, and is believed by many people.

  • There are things in Bill Nye’s model of origins that he does not understand or know, like “What existed before the Big Bang?” Ken Ham knows some of those things from the revelation of God (who has always existed) in the Bible.

  • From his description and use of it, Bill Nye does not seem to know much about the Bible, its origin, its transmission, or its contents. His view of science and his naturalistic worldview would dissuade him from learning about it. On the other hand, Ken Ham knows a lot about the scientific theories at the heart of Bill Nye’s worldview. The creationist scientists mentioned by Ken Ham are also highly accomplished in their scientific fields.

  • Bill Nye repeatedly referred to the time of the Flood as 4,000 years ago, but that only seems accurate on his usual scale of millions of years. Abraham (Genesis 12) lived 4,000 years ago, and that was several long generations after the Flood. Furthermore, Ken Ham referred to adding up the lifespans of the generations before the Flood to arrive at the total age of the Earth, but the chapters describing those lifespans are not necessarily written for the purpose of giving a mathematical sum. While the numbers of years are certainly correct there, we know that other writers of biblical genealogies have skipped generations, in order to fulfil another purpose. For example, see Matthew 1:17. The purpose of the pre-Flood genealogy of Noah was to record the names of those faithful patriarchs who passed their faith on to future generations within their own family. So the numbers thrown around during the debate as a supposed biblical age of the Earth, or the time since the Flood, were not necessarily accurate. However, the error in those numbers would be in thousands of years, not millions.

We saw an excellent illustration of Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” Ken Ham knows this, but only because he believes what the Bible says. Bill Nye cannot know this, because he rejects what the Bible says. Jesus described a similar problem when He explained to His disciples why He was teaching in parables (Luke 8:10), “that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.'” St. Paul also described this in Romans 1:20-21, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Christians cannot convince someone like Bill Nye that the Bible is true by simply making an argument or debate with him. That was not Ken Ham’s purpose. Rather, the only way someone can know the true origin of the world is to believe what God says. This faith is completely a gift of God, which He provides through the message of the Gospel. Now, all of us who care about Bill Nye and the truth have the task of praying that God would use the Gospel message to work a conversion in his heart. Ken Ham spoke that message more than once during the debate, and it’s also available to Bill Nye in many other places. God intervened in the life of Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted the Church terribly, turning him into the man we know as St. Paul. God can also convert Bill Nye, or any other non-Christian evolutionist.

We should also pray that God would correct and strengthen the faith of those Christians who are tempted to disbelieve the Bible because of the worldly pressure exerted by people like Bill Nye. There are Christian evolutionists in the world, but their Christian faith is constantly under attack within their own hearts by the naturalistic, materialistic worldview of evolution.

Finally, we should imitate our merciful God as we show love to our neighbors, many of whom are confused and misled by teachings like evolution. Since the public school system is unable to allow creationism equal footing with evolution, it would be a good thing for us to teach as many children as possible to understand the world in a biblical way. That’s one of the strong reasons why it would be a wonderful thing if God were to bless Bethany with a Christian day school.

Ron Ahlberg

Ron Ahlberg was taken to his eternal rest yesterday at home. Ron was 58 years old, and had been expected not to live past age 18. He was one of “Jerry’s Kids,” and was always recognized at church when entering on his motorized wheelchair.

Ron found great joy in serving as a Sunday School teacher of the older children at Bethany. He considered it important to engage his students with interesting and practical lessons, applying the Bible to their lives. He had a broad experience in various areas, including broadcasting and public service with The Dalles Parks and Recreation. His wisdom and experience were important blessings at Bethany’s meetings.

Ron’s faith and character were evident in his unwillingness to quit or give up, despite greater challenges than most people experience. He looked forward to eternal life, and having the full use of his body after the resurrection. His confidence came from the certain forgiveness of sins he received in God’s Word. Ron bore his crosses with great perseverance and faith, never content to be a burden upon others, but always advocating for those he could help while doing even more to care for himself and his family than seemed possible.

One of Ron’s great joys was becoming an adoptive father, a near-miraculous gift of God in his life. He dearly loved his family: Jill, Mara, and Zeke. He prayed for them always, and did everything he could to be a conscientious, diligent, Christian husband and father. He will be missed.

Our joy is seeing the fulfillment of God’s mercies toward Ron as he receives the crown of victory and life. He awaits only the glorious resurrection now, when his body will be raised up whole and perfect, and death will trouble us no more. In Christ, we are certain to see Ron again.

Please pray for Ron’s family in their grief at his loss. Plans for his funeral will be announced through other channels at Bethany.

As St. Paul wrote, so Ron’s voice rings in our ears, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Blessed in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. Psa 116:15