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.

The Sabbath Day

We received an anonymous postcard at Concordia containing only a few hand-written Bible references. They all relate to the institution of the Sabbath Day, or the Day of Rest among the people of Israel. Since there is no way to communicate directly with the sender of this postcard, I will post a response here in the hope that it will be found.

God commanded the Israelites to observe the Sabbath Day in the Ten Commandments, and connected this commandment with the order of Creation. God Himself rested on the seventh day, and so He set it apart (sanctified it) for this special use.

The commandment regarding the Sabbath was given in the context of the Ten Commandments, which were part of the covenant that God established with Israel. The Ten Commandments were also a summary of the moral law, written in paradise upon the heart of man, before the Fall into sin. However, the covenant included more than the moral law. There were also ceremonial (worship) laws and civil laws for Israel to follow. Some of them were replaced during the 1,450 years between the Exodus and the birth of the Messiah, because the civil arrangement of the Israelites changed dramatically through that period. Even the ceremonial laws were not always implemented rigorously. In fact, it seems they were rarely kept according to God’s original commands.

While the Ten Commandments summarize moral law, the commandment about the Sabbath Day is a little different. In addition to moral law, it also relates to the specific worship practices that God wanted the Israelites to follow. It was not cancelled in New Testament times by anyone. Rather, it was fulfilled along with the rest of the commandments by Jesus Christ. Those who believe in Jesus have both forgiveness of their sins and righteousness in God’s sight, including the righteousness that Jesus earned by keeping the Sabbath. These are gifts from God, not a result of our own efforts. They come through faith, not by our own works of righteousness.

For God’s people in these New Testament times, the Ten Commandments are still helpful. Inasmuch as they summarize the moral law for us, they tell us how God would have all people live at all times. So we teach them all as binding upon Christians today, though not as a condition for obtaining salvation.

With regard to the Sabbath Day, we follow the word of God as written by St. Paul in Colossians 2:16-17, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” We do not object to anyone observing the Sabbath, but we do object to the imposition of this observance as a condition for salvation. Consider that this question was part of the issue before the apostolic council in Acts 15, but they did not ask Gentile Christians to observe the Sabbath.

A fuller explanation of our position on this may be found in the [Lutheran Confessions][lc], especially the Large Catechism on the [Third Commandment][tc]. Please consider that as having been repeated here. All of the Bible passages cited on the postcard we received are in harmony with the Lutheran position on the Sabbath Day.

Beginning of Listing Traditions

You may recall that in November and December, I was encouraging our members to send me short descriptions of traditions that they or their family like to follow. Not only is it interesting to know about these traditions among us, it also helps us better to understand and appreciate the piety of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now that the dust has begun to settle from our recent festival celebrations, and the happy and healthy birth of Leah and Lucy, I’ve begun collecting the traditions that have been sent to me. What I have now was sent to me via email. It seems I may have missed one or two, perhaps because they came in another way. (I seem to recall B.N. providing one…?) I will add them as I find them. In the meantime, you can see what’s assembled so far and even leave comments. Feel free to add other traditions in your comments.

Use this link to see the growing list.

Tuesday Bible Class & Other Events This Week

Those in church on Sunday probably remember that my voice wasn’t so great. In the last six hours it’s grown much worse, though I can still whisper okay. At this point, the Tuesday Bible class is only about 13 hours away, and it seems unlikely that my voice will improve enough in that time to make the class possible. Lutheran Family Fellowship doesn’t really require my presence. An elder or any of the men could conduct the opening devotion, reading the third letter of John as the Chapter (The second-last book of the New Testament).

I’ll post an update later today, toward evening, about whether things are looking up for Wednesday, including confirmation class at Concordia.

Two Easy Points Disproving Darwinism

You just can’t get away from references to “millions of years” of earth history, or the supposed gradual evolution of mankind from lower organisms. These are popular mainly because a vocal crowd of people in the world want to stick their thumb in God’s eye. Here’s something from Answers in Genesis that shows why they should keep their thumbs to themselves. HT: The RAsburry Patch.

Being Prepared for Life

We are now in a time of social and political uncertainty. Since we are hearing much advice about preparing for whatever these uncertain times may bring, it’s a good time to think about the priority of any preparations we may make.

Economic or political uncertainty has caused difficulty for everyone, especially businesses, similar to the decade of the 1930’s. However, there have always been uncertainties in the areas of weather, health, freak disasters or tragedies, and most importantly, in the approach of death. Those uncertainties are also easily seen in the history of the Great Depression, but they arise even in the best of times.

There are many ways we can prepare ourselves for the vicissitudes of life, and it is good to give some attention to these preparations. However, all of the preparations we make are themselves uncertain. Some may never be used. Some may backfire. There may be circumstances that we never anticipate, and for which we remain unprepared. The only certain preparation is the one that does not rely upon our work, but relies instead upon God.

As it happens, this one certain preparation in which we rely upon God is for the most difficult problem of all: death. It’s only uncertain in the sense that we don’t know *when* we will die. Yet it’s absolutely certain that we all *will* eventually die. Therefore, we should take advantage of the preparation that God provides for this greatest difficulty.

So if you spend any time at all preparing for what it will take to live your life, make sure to take the time to prepare for your death first. In a way, it’s one of the easiest preparations for us to make, because God does all the work. On the other hand, it’s also one of the most difficult, because our spiritual enemies constantly work to deprive us of the preparations that God has made for us.

To remain prepared for death, whenever it may come, we need to be constant recipients of God’s forgiveness, repenting daily and reprioritizing our days so that we don’t neglect the most important preparation of them all. We won’t be truly prepared to live our lives until we have committed ourselves to be prepared for death. But when we are ready to leave this world at any time, then we will be free to live every day with the contagious joy of God’s forgiveness.

We’ll continue our preparations this Sunday. See you there.

Is the Bible not Practical? Sometimes It’s Too Practical!

That’s one of the complaints pastors sometimes hear from those who have stayed away too long from the Divine Service and the teaching of God’s Word. “I find that what you teach is just not practical.” Or maybe, “It’s just doesn’t seem to apply to my life.”

That’s an excuse, and a deceptive one. But first, notice how the complaint is usually focused upon what “you” teach, as in “your church over there.” But the reality is that what we teach at Bethany and Concordia is not originally our teaching. It comes from God. I realize that it sounds like a pretty brash claim to make, but it’s not, from our perspective. I recently heard someone saying that those who claim to be teaching God’s Word must think they have “a direct line into God” or something. Wow, did that sound crazy when it was put that way. But on the other hand, we are not saying that God agrees with our personal opinions. We merely repeat what holy scripture says, and end with “thus saith the Lord.” *That* is where our teaching comes from. As long as that’s the case, anyone who may object to what we teach has a much bigger problem than a disagreement with our church. They disagree with their Maker. It’s not that we have “a direct line into God” that nobody else can use. On the contrary, *anyone* can use the Bible. If there is a difference between our teaching and that of others, it arises from a difference in the way we approach the Bible. We consider it to be God’s Word, among other things, and that’s what makes our teaching different.

As far as our teaching being practical, I find that sometimes it’s *too* practical for our comfort. In fact, this is often the case. When God’s commandments condemn us, then our sinful nature wants to distance ourselves from them. We begin to think, “that old stuff surely can’t apply to me!” Maybe times have been tough for us. Maybe we’ve learned more since 1446 B.C. Whatever the excuse may be, we think that those crusty old laws must no longer apply. And what a relief that is, because if we tried to follow them, we’d fail in the first hour! We’d forever have to deal with a guilty conscience, and we’d be forever trying to mend our ways. But then, that’s exactly the point. God’s commandments *are* meant to describe what’s right and wrong, even for people today. When they condemn us (which happens every day), we need to realize that God is driving us to the other message in His Word, the Gospel. The God-given treatment for our guilty consciences is His forgiveness, applied weekly in the Divine Service, and daily in private devotions everywhere.

If you find yourself uptight about the way “our” teaching happens to condemn your life, then it’s time to realize the reason God has made this happen. He wants you to repent, to amend your life, and to receive again the complete forgiveness that Jesus has won for you. That’s the most important practical application of the Bible to your life, and it should be applied daily.

Parish Scheduling

We had a good turnout for our forum on parish scheduling on February 20. The meeting was held at 1:30 PM, as we settled down from Bethany’s anniversary potluck. This issue can be a bit contentious, since each household has its own habits, desires, and commitments to accomodate, and many of them are inevitably in conflict with each other. However, our attendees worked hard to understand and accomodate the needs of the others, so that we were able to make some progress in figuring out what might work best.

We narrowed down the alternatives that we may be interested in, considering several different ideas from the start. Included in our considerations were:

1. The current schedule, which has worked for a while, but seems to limit the potential spiritual and numerical growth of our congregations by making it inconvenient for members and prospective members to benefit from regular time with the pastor beyond the Divine Service.

2. A schedule that separates an entire block of time to each congregation on Sunday, with time between for travel and a meal. Within each block, an hour or so would be scheduled for the Divine Service, an hour for Sunday School, and perhaps another hour for an extra Bible class, an occasional meeting, a social activity like a potluck, or whatever. By grouping all of these things into a single block when the pastor can be present, each congregation would have the full benefit and convenience of the pastor’s work in all of these areas. That’s good not only for the members, but also for visiting prospective members.

An unknown factor is how a congregation would fare with a Sunday afternoon worship, class and social schedule. Our current household weekend activities have been set to leave us time for church on Sunday morning, so an adjustment would be needed for church on Sunday afternoon. However, there are often other activities on Sundays that do not allow time for people to attend church. We have already had families missing many weeks of Sunday morning worship for children’s sports. Would that effect be any better or worse if church were in the afternoon? Is it reasonable to expect our members and prospects to prioritize eternal life *before* live football?

3. What if we had a weekday service schedule for one church, and a Sunday schedule for the other one, so that those who wanted to could attend a divine service twice a week? One difficulty noted about this option were that a weekday block of time would have to be after “working hours,” so that it would be hard to fit enough time in to allow for a Divine Service, “Sunday” school, Bible class, social time, etc. If we could address that issue, it seems we’d end up with something quite unusual, and not necessarily in a bad way.

4. We could possibly use Sunday evening, Saturday evening, or even Monday evening, as some of our sister congregations do. A serious objection was raised to Saturday evenings in particular, because of other obligations at this time. Also, daylight hours end rather early in the winter season, so much of our evening church activity time would be done in the dark. That makes it harder for many people to venture out and back.

5. We could use a trial period for different ideas to see how well they work for us. One suggestion was to do this over the Summer months, but since our Sunday School doesn’t run in the Summer, it wouldn’t really give us a very accurate picture. So if we use a trial period, it was suggested to do it after Easter, in the month of May, and maybe into June.

As our discussion hour drew to a close, the group decided to meet again for another forum on this topic, in two weeks, at Concordia. Major items for consideration at that time will be items 1, 2, and 5 above. (With sufficient interest, we could certainly also reconsider 3 and 4, or raise a new idea for consideration.)

It may help for each participant to examine the possibilities above (maybe counting 2 both ways, Concordia or Bethany first) as we prepare for the next meeting. A suggested method of considering them, which would allow us to obtain an “average” perception on several aspects, is to rate each possibility according to the following questions, with a number between 1 and 5 (inclusive).

1. Is it reasonable to expect members to attend at this time?

1 = No . . . 5 = Yes

2. Is it reasonable to expect guests and visitors to attend at this time?

1 = No . . . 5 = Yes

3. List forseeable side effects. (Just list them.)

4. Are the effects overall positive or negative?

1 = Negative . . . 5 = Positive

5. Would this provide new opportunities for the Gospel?

1 = No . . . 5 = Yes

6. Would this threaten or hinder the Gospel?

1 = No . . . 5 = Yes

7. Does this seem to meet the will of our Lord?

1 = No . . . 5 = Yes

Notice that these ratings are not votes. They only serve to help us understand how the rest of our group sees the possibilities. You are welcome to evaluate the proposals another way, too. The final recommendation will have to be something all of our forum participants can live with, and it will have to be approved by each congregation.

A forum like this is an opportunity for *everyone* to speak up for himself, and to learn how his own ideas may fit together with the rest of the group. While we respect the opinions of those who may not wish to attend a forum, the forum’s recommendation is decided by those who are interested enough to participate. So thank you to everyone who participated on February 20! We hope to have an equally good *or better* turnout [on March 6, 4:30 PM, at Concordia][next].

[next]: http://www.bethanythedalles.org/calendar/eventdisplay.php?id=4254

Divorce Rate Among Christians Lower than Previously Thought

Well, it’s a complicated thing to figure out. The difference seems to be how seriously the couple practices their faith. And this apparently applies to religions other than Christianity, too.

Should it surprise us? Does it surprise you? The less regularly a couple attends church, reads their Bible, prays together and separately, the more likely (statistically) they are to end up divorced. If nothing else, married Christians can take this as an encouragement to be diligent in their faith, and unmarried Christians can take it as an encouragement to find a spouse who will help, rather than hinder, devotional faithfulness.