From the Word

 O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day. 

    What’s new about the new song?  Does this necessarily mean a new message?  Not necessarily, in fact, in the case of the new song to Yahweh, the message is rarely new.  What is new in every generation is the musical setting, and the cultural nuances that need to be responded to in song.
    Every generation thinks their problems are unique, causing many in those generations to assume Jesus’ return must take place in their generation.  Their problems are generally different from the immediate succeeding generations, making them seem unique.  In most cases one can show from history that similar problems existed in generations past.
    Regardless, each generation has issues to address that pose challenges and opportunities, and this shows up in the content of our worship, and the singing that accompanies it.  The substance of hymns and liturgy still include praise for salvation, the wonder of God’s works, and thanks for His daily blessing.  But each generation will address the challenges they face, not just in sermons and printed articles, but in hymns and spiritual songs.
    We worship our unchanging God.  His relationship to us is the result of the salvation He has accomplished in Jesus.  This is the timeless truth of who He is, and what he has done.  This timeless message is the content of our worship and hymns.  But in the hymns we see different emphases on these timeless teachings, having to do with the particular challenges faced by the generations who wrote them.  Paul Gerhardt writes during a time of terrible loss due to disease, and a time when some were trying to force him to deny certain aspects of his faith.  So he wrote “If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy; for when I pray, before me, my foes, confounded, fly.  If Christ, my head and master, befriend me from above, what foe or what disaster can drive me from His love?’  John Newton, responding to his life as a slave trader and generally immoral seaman, and who was converted by the preaching of Law and Gospel, wrote the words, “Amazing grace – how sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me!  I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see!”
    The tunes and poetry style have changed, but the content of worship and hymnody must remain on the wondrous God who made us, and remade us in the new creation brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It may be an old tune or lyrics.  It may be something we have never heard, or an expression of our faith embedded in our souls.  But, if the content is God’s grace and love, it is always a new song.

 

 From the Word 

“Therefore be imitators of God as His beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  Ephesians 5:1-2 

    Imitation happens whether we like it or not.  The issue is who we will imitate and why.  We learn many things by observing them.  We will either imitate them or rebel against them.  Ephesians 5: 3-21 includes many things we should not imitate, especially sexual sins.  By contrast, God calls us to imitate Him in very specific ways.
    Husbands and wives are called to imitate Jesus and the Church in their married lives.  Biblical marriage is not so much following rules or prescriptions, but is a call to observe and imitate.  This is not a new teaching in Ephesians 5.  The marriage covenant of salvation is a consistent theme in the OT.  Paul simply applies this OT teaching to Christ and the Church, then calls husbands and wives to imitate this Gospel relationship.
    We are called by God to apply this unchanging truth to our ever-changing world.  As we see the destruction and disintegration of marriage among us, God holds before husbands Jesus as the model to follow in loving their wives.  He holds before wives the Church’s reception of Jesus love, and response in love to it, as the model of what it is to be a Christian wife.  What a witness to the world we can give by simply, albeit imperfectly, confessing the Gospel by our love for each other as husbands and wives.
    Fathers are called to imitate the Father in their love for their children.  As God provides for, and teaches, us, we are called to provide for, and teach, our children.  Parenting is imitating God as we invest ourselves in our children.  Motherhood is elsewhere compared to the Church in being the vessel of giving and sustaining life, as the Church does God’s children.  God the Father is eternal, an ancient concept.  Yet his love and care for His children is not only relevant for our time, it is essential.  We constantly find, in our homes, new ways to communicate the timeless love of God to His Church and His children.

 

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!