11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God...


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Grace Notes 2021-07-28
Wednesday, July 28th 2021

A couple of faith conversations stood out last week that I would like to share with you. They are worth sharing because I think they reflect some perceptions and objections to Christianity that are common today.

The first conversation was with a lady who I judged to be a little older than myself, perhaps in her early 70s. She shared with me that she had been brought up Lutheran, but now had become affiliated with another mainline denomination. What she likes about the church she now attends is that they emphasize compassion and tolerance. Being “Bible Focused” was a turnoff to her, and her new congregation seems to avoid this focus.

I asked this person why she did not like a strong emphasis on Scripture. Her response was that it is a really old book that chronicled events a long time after they purportedly took place. In other words, it did not teach reliable history. She believed it instead taught the unenlightened views of long ago.

This person, with whom I am just becoming acquainted, was unaware that almost all the New Testament writings were penned within a few decades of Jesus’ death. She certainly is right that when Moses writes of the events of creation up until the time of Abraham, he is writing many centuries later.

The second conversation was with a younger woman, whom I would judge to be in her early 30s. She had left the Roman Catholic Church but let me know she was religious. She identified insights from a number of religions we would consider pagan, including the Druid religion. She shared with me that she thought Christianity was opposed to science, especially in denying evolution.

Space does not permit my response. But I do want to say two things. First, it is not hard to strike up a religious conversation. And second, many today are suspicious of “older things” and many believe, rightly or wrongly, that Christian claims are at odds with science.


Since You Asked…

Why do we stand during the reading of the Gospel Lesson?

By standing we are giving expression of special respect and adoration. In the Gospel Accounts we meet our Lord Jesus Christ in a special way. In these writings we are presented with Jesus’ Judean and Galilean ministry. We also have a record of the very words of our Lord (his teachings, parables, dialog, etc.). We hear the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the work of our salvation.

Although the entire Bible is the Word of God, it is in the Gospels that our Lord is most directly presented to us. So you might say that Christ himself is being presented before us in the Gospel Lesson. It is therefore most appropriate that we stand at attention.

Grace Notes 2021-07-21
Wednesday, July 21st 2021

Words matter. It is always good to pay attention to them. We often use words like grace, faith, belief, and discipleship, so freely we barely notice them. Likewise, it is helpful to use substitute terms to rouse our attention and gain nuance.

An example of the aforementioned is the term disciple. We know the Great Commission of Matthew 28 is the making of disciples. And there is an emphasis in the NALC, indeed in many denominations, on discipleship. Well and good. But do we really let the word and concept sink in and do business with us?

Can you see the similar root in the English word discipline with disciple? Does discipline play a role in our faith? You would not necessarily know the Greek New Testament word translated into the English, but let me help you here. The Greek word is mathetes. And translating it as “disciple” is not the only English word that could be used. Others include pupil or student. The words follower or devotee also fit the bill. I think the concept of being an apprentice can also get at the concept.

And we should not stop with the idea of discipleship as the only way to talk about baptized believers joined to Christ and growing in their faith. The idea of being a servant of Christ is the way the New Testament disciples saw themselves. The Apostle Paul also described himself as being a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

There’s a point in all this. Let me illustrate it with two substitute terms for disciple. First, consider the word apprentice. An apprentice is involved in learning, but the academic aspect of this learning does not go without training and practice. It is hands on learning under the tutelage of the Master!

And second, consider the word soldier! The first thing a soldier under command does each morning is to report for duty and take orders. Sounds like Scripture and prayer to me!


Since You Asked…

Do Lutherans Promote Private Confession?

“Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. … The people are carefully instructed concerning the consolation of the Word of absolution (forgiveness) so that they may esteem it as a great and precious thing. It is not the voice of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. …it is necessary for terrified consciences” (Augsburg Confession, XXV).

Private confession has two parts: First that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the Pastor as from God himself.

Grace Notes 2021-07-14
Wednesday, July 14th 2021

In a recent Touchstone Magazine article, the following words grabbed my attention. “American conservative Christians are not as biblical as we think we are. While we are clearly commanded always to be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15), vast swaths of us think it is somehow unspiritual to obey this biblical commandment.”

What the author, Donald T. Williams, is writing about in his article, “The Complete Apologist: Four Essentials Every Christian Is Called to Embrace”, is that we have wrongly been poisoned to think that argument, persuasion, and mounting a defense in favor of Christian truths has no place in our conversations with others.

Before I continue, it may be helpful to explain theologically what is meant by Apologetics, or offering an Apology. Here it is not meaning  “I am sorry!” Instead, the theological use comes from the Greek word apologia. And specifically, this word means presenting evidence or reasoning to defend a claim. And yet, even with this understanding we might be hoodwinked into thinking that argument and clear reasoning have no place in witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Please understand, I am using argument in the best sense of the term, namely, using good logic and reasoning to convince someone of something. It should not be thought of as getting angry and trying to outshout someone. In the best sense, having an argument with someone is not the same as having a fight with them!

We need to be careful not to overlook how the Apostles went about their witnessing and teaching of the faith. In their preaching we see plenty of examples of verbs being used such as “reasoned”, “argued”, and “persuaded”. In the Book of Acts the Apostle Paul began his public ministry by "proving" to the Jews in Damascus that Jesus was the Christ (9:22). He did this by "arguing" (9:29). In Thessalonica he "reasoned" and "gave evidence" (17:2–3).


Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the “KYRIE” (kir-E-A)?

KYRIE is a Latin term which is in turn is a transliteration of a Greek word meaning “Lord.” In the Latin Mass the term KYRIE was combined with the term ELESION meaning “have mercy.” In addition, the Mass included a three-fold response: KYRIE ELEISON, CHRISTE ELEISON, KYRIE ELEISON, which translated is “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” In our Lutheran Worship Service we utilize a prayer from the Latin Mass known as a Peace Litany. A Litany is a responsive prayer. This Litany is usually led by our Assisting Minister, and the congregation response is the KYRIE ELEISON. And so the Assisting Minister begins, “In peace let us pray to the Lord,” and the congregation responds to this and each succeeding petition with, “Lord, have mercy.” (with help from the Manual on the Liturgy a companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, publ. by Augsburg).

Grace Notes 2021-07-07
Wednesday, July 7th 2021

A couple of Sundays ago I spoke in a sermon of four different parenting styles to illustrate the kind of heavenly Father we have. It would be worthwhile to review those styles. I gleaned this from an article in a magazine written by Sociologist Christian Smith of the Notre Dame University faculty.

The four styles are: 1) Authoritative; 2) Authoritarian; 3) Permissive; and 4) Neglectful. The four can be distinguished from each other by the balance of two traits. The first trait has to do with expectations. And the second has to do with loving affection. To draw this out a bit more, high expectations are accompanied by clear boundaries and by being strict. And loving affection has to do with warmth and support.

If what I have just said can be summarized with the two words “strict” and “affectionate” we can quickly contrast the four parenting styles. The Authoritative is marked by being strict and affectionate. The Authoritarian is marked by strictness only, but is lacking in affection. The Permissive is marked by affection, but lacking in strictness. And the Neglectful is lacking in strictness and affection.

Far and away, research demonstrates that the Authoritative is the most effective of the four. The high expectations with clear boundaries and consequences for falling short combined with personal warmth, affection, and support helps children to best internalize those expectations.

Not to be confused with Authoritative, Authoritarian, is found not to be an ineffective style for children internalizing the values and expectations. And it seems a recipe for inciting prolonged rebellion.

Interestingly, the Permissive Style seems as equally disastrous as the Authoritarian. So much for loads of affirmation, affection, and support! Without clear boundaries, high expectations, and strict guidelines, children tend to revel in high esteem with little responsibility and accomplishments to show for it.

What I hope you find interesting is that indeed “tough love” is in the best interest of the beloved. And with God speaking both law and gospel, he excels in true love.


Since You Asked…

What is the purpose of the “Silence for reflection and self-examination” in the Brief Order For Confession and Forgiveness?

“The silence for self-examination and reflection should be an extended silence to enable personal application of the general phrases of the prayer that follows. Silence of one or two minutes is not too long” (Manual on the Liturgy – LBW). This is a helpful time to reflect back on our lives over the past week and ask ourselves whether we have been disobedient or unfaithful, bad-tempered or dishonest, or whether we have hurt anyone by word or deed. By allowing for this period of reflection we are able to personalize what would otherwise remain quite general.

Grace Notes 2021-06-30
Wednesday, June 30th 2021

I read somewhere recently that Christianity is not like knitting. And not being one to knit, or know how, the statement garnered my attention. What is knitting like, and just so, how is the practice of faith unlike it?

People who knit have something useful to do to pass the time. In some social situations it appears to afford a measure of comfort. But to the point I remember being made, the writer described knitting as something you can put down and then take up whenever you have the fancy or need for it.

We might wish the Christian Faith worked like that. Take it up when we need to. But then put it down whenever you don’t wish to be encumbered with it, and do so with the idea that it can quickly be picked up without loss when you feel the need for it. But alas, the faith does not work like that!

People who encountered the Lord Jesus before his death, resurrection and ascension did not find that he offered them a little supplement or assistance with their life. His summons and challenge to his hearers during his public ministry in Galilee and Judea was anything but mild and halfhearted. He called for a radical realignment and full-fledged commitment to his Lordship.

As he called followers he did so in the following terms, “deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Throughout Scripture, beginning with the first five Books and continuous to the end, we read of devotion with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are urged to meditate on his Word morning, noon, and night; each and every day. We are encouraged to seek first the Lord’s reign and righteousness. This is to be the highest priority in our life.

Hey there’s nothing wrong with knitting. But indeed Christianity is not like that. It is not meant to occasionally pass the time, or to be picked up only when needed…


Since You Asked…

What do Lutherans believe is given in Holy Communion?

“We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine. We believe, teach, and confess that the words of the testament of Christ are to be understood in no other way than in their literal sense, and not as though the bread symbolized the absent body and the wine the absent blood of Christ, but that because of the sacramental union they are truly the body and blood of Christ” (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Art. VII.)

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10 that the bread is “a participation in the Lord’s body.” If the Lord’s body were not truly present, the bread would perhaps be a participation in his spirit. But Paul says it is a participation in his body!

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