From the Word 

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Ephesians 6:4 

    Change produces challenges and opportunities.  Sometimes the change is not very drastic, so the challenges are less stressful, but the opportunities often less appealing.  Serious change produces stressful and difficult challenges, but also innovative, creative, and often lasting, applications to meet the opportunity created by the change.  The pandemic has been of a drastic/serious nature.  The challenges have weighed heavily on our minds, hearts, and budgets.  The opportunities have brought innovation in regard to the simple and the complex, and have given us family bonding and a greater appreciation for the “normal” aspects of life that we now look forward to.  Instead of the “good old days” we now have the good recent days.
    Change in societal circumstances has always brought change in the way we educate our children.  Within the last 200 years that change moved from primarily home education to primarily separate school education.  Within the last two months it has gone from mostly in school to entirely at home, with admittedly greater resources available for home schooling.  How long this change will last, we don’t know.  Our prayers must go out for our teachers, who are presently being asked to prepare for the coming school year as if it will be at the school, and also as if it will be in the classroom.  This is asking a lot in a very short period of time.
    Ultimately, the responsibility for teaching children rests with parents.  This is not in the constitution of our nation or state; it is in God’s Word.  Parents are called to raise their children according to God’s Word.  That means equipping them to live as members of society, but also, more importantly, to live as God’s children.  They are to learn to live as saints/sinners in a sinful world.  The Church, can, should, and does help in this.  The pandemic has been proof that innovation and creativity in how to teach is as necessary for the Church as for all other institutions in society.  In the 36 years I have been a pastor, I have changed the way I teach as creativity has presented new opportunities.  But the content has remained the same.  God’s Word can be taught in any number of ways.  We must constantly look for innovative ways to bring the wonder of God’s Word to people.  But we cannot, must not, and will not change the content of Law and Gospel, sin and grace, love, joy, peace, and eternity inscribed by the Holy Spirit in the timeless and timely truth of the Word of God.  We look for the new and creative to teach the Old and New Testaments of God; that our lives may be defined by the words of Psalm 119, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

 

From the Word 

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20 

    The theme of this year’s Epistle articles has been “The Changeless and the Changing.”  Since I wrote the last one in late March there has been great change.  That change has caused us to change the way we have received God’s Word and our worship. 
    Jesus has not changed.  Our forgiveness, sufficient grace, and the assurance of heaven has not changed.  Our membership in God’s kingdom has not changed.  His Word has not changed.  Our calling as His people to make disciples of all nations has not changed.
    God has blessed us in this time with changes that make this unlike any health crisis of the past.  We can proclaim, and receive God’s Word in ways our ancestors could not have imagined.  We can see and hear worship without being physically present.  We can communicate with one another in various ways without being in each other’s presence.  Despite the evil uses we see of internet and social media, they have been invaluable to us in communicating with one another, and they are new ways for us to live out the Great Commission. 
    Soon we will gather in person.  Soon we will be able to experience worship together.  Soon we will be able to gather at the Table of the Lord to receive His grace.  But we will continue to seek out ways to make disciples in person, on the internet, and through social media.  In good times and bad, many spend a lot of time there.  Thus, we will minister there, and anywhere else God grants us the grace to minister.  
    Change will always be with us.  Some will be wondrous, other will be frightening and uncertain.  God will remain the same.  His love, forgiveness, blessings, daily grace, and assurance of heaven will remain certain.  We will continue to communicate the changeless in ever-changing ways.  As we do so we remember His promise, “I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the age.”

 

 

From the Word

  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man also has come the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  1 Corinthians 15:20-22
    The world scoffs at the first sentence of this text.  How can Paul claim that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact?  Facts are supposed to be verifiable.  How dare Christians claim that articles of faith are facts?
    For Paul the answer is simple; he saw the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus.  What is an article of faith for us was an observed fact for Paul.  The same is true for the other apostles as well.  What we believe by faith, they saw.
    Many in Christianity tell us that it isn’t important that we believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus, as long as there is some sort of spiritual renewal in us.  Paul slams the door on such a notion in this text.  The resurrection of Jesus was the sign Jesus gave over and over again to confirm that He is who He said He is and to validate His promises.  If He didn’t rise, then He is not who He said He is and His promises are not true. This is the reason for Paul’s discussion of the futility of the Christian message apart from the resurrection of Jesus.
    What has His resurrection confirmed?  Our sins are forgiven and we are children of God by grace through faith.  As such we are heirs of the grace He gives us each day to confront the challenges of that day.  We are also heirs of eternal life in heaven with Him.  He has promised to be with us all the days, even to the end of this world’s age, and has confirmed it by rising from the dead.  He has promised that no challenge will be too great, and has confirmed it by his resurrection.  The list could go on and on and his resurrection confirms it all. 
    What does it mean to be an Easter Christian?  It means that the promises in which we live are confirmed facts.  They are confirmed by His resurrection, which is a fact witnessed by the Holy Spirit through those who saw Him, heard Him, and touched Him.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

From the Word

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” 
Isaiah 53:4-5
    The words of Isaiah were written nearly 800 years before the death of Jesus.  They remain the most explicit discussion of what Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross, Old Testament or New.  God foretold the time and event that would transform history.  To hear these words as we view the crucifixion is to see the Old Testament mystery of salvation become clear, and to have the death of the Son of God put into a context that makes sense of an otherwise senseless act.
    As we behold this timeless message, we wonder how to tell this message to a changing American society.  Present day America puts the process of dying away from us so that we can escape as much of its’ sting as we can.  We either dress up the bodies, or don’t look at them at all.  This is not necessarily bad, unless we are using it as a means of insolating ourselves from the reality we all must face. 
    To a society running from death, we present the death of Jesus, God incarnate.  His death seems foolish to natural man.  Why would God do such a thing, if indeed God even exists?  With the death of Jesus, we are forced to deal with the reality that brought it about; sin.  Our society doesn’t want to talk about that, but must for the sake of their souls.  Instead of running from what is clearly visible among us, we call those around us to behold the problem in light of the solution. 
    We do not simply apply the Law and leave people in their guilt and despair (contrary to what seems to be popular culture opinion).  With the discussion of the problem of sin comes the message of Isaiah about how the Suffering Servant came to take our sins away.  He came as a substitute, to bear our hell, so that we might live in his grace here, and in the glory of heaven when we die.  Amid the hopelessness of our present age we proclaim Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s timeless solution to the problems we cause in each time of history.  Into the ever changing world views that seek to explain away the problem of sin and death, we proclaim the unchanging message of God swallowing up death that we might live.

 

From the Word 

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”  2 Timothy 3:14-15 

    Times have changed.  To what extent do we change with them?  Do we bury our heads in the sand and try to pretend change has not come?  No.  The issue of change is; what changes and what does not.
    God’s Word remains forever.  That is taught various places in Scripture, including the Isaiah 40 verses in our memory verses for this month.  The Law remains the same no matter the degree to which it is practiced.  We cannot deny or abolish the 6th Commandment simply because our society has elevated sexual sins to acceptable or preferable status.  We must apply the Law to ourselves and our world no less than generations before.
    The Gospel of Jesus is the only teaching by which people are forgiven, brought into right relationship with God, and made heirs of heaven.  The Gospel does not change because society wants to embrace the nonsense of relative truth, meaning all ways are good.  Our society’s rejection of the Gospel must not deter us from sharing it, lest we leave our fellow citizens lost for eternity.  Our society’s call for love and compassion can only be truly accomplished by our proclamation of the truth for the sake of those to whom we proclaim it.
    Does anything about it change?  Clearly how we reach people with the message of Law and Gospel has changed in the past and will continue to do so.  A generation ago Christians most easily reached people by phone and U.S. mail.  Now it is difficult to truly reach many in our society these ways because they don’t place as a great value on these means of communication as they once did.  Many now spend their meaningful efforts at communication on other media that now becomes our mission field to those who “live” there. 
    Another change that we encounter today concerns the assumption of what people already know about the Bible.  In generations past simple biblical knowledge was common even among those not currently attending worship.  We cannot assume that those to whom we witness know anything at all about the Bible.  We need to ascertain what they know, or what they think they know, in order to explain our faith in a way that will impact them.  We will continue to discuss this vital issue.  We will react to the changes we are presently faced with in proclaiming the unchanging truth God has blessed us with in His Word.  We will apply Law/Gospel to ourselves and our families, and look for the open doors to proclaim it to others.