From the Word

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.”  John 5:24 

  With the coming of a pandemic comes the questions, “What if I die?” or “What if my loved ones die?” Death means change, and this side of heaven that change is lifelong.  We are Christians, thus the unchanging message is that we have the gift of eternal life in heaven through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  God has transformed death into the gate to eternal life.  Isaiah 25 promises that the coming Messiah “will swallow up death forever.”  Jesus assures us in John 11 that He is ‘the resurrection and the life.”  As we face the pandemic, or any other circumstance that reminds us of our mortality, we do so in the assurance of what Jesus has already done.  Death is defeated, and we enjoy the victory. 
  This wondrous news does not mean our death will be a wonderful process.  Often our death is the result of us being very sick.  While we have great promise about the end result, we don’t look forward to the process.  But Jesus has promised to be with us all the days, which include the days of our dying.  Whatever we endure in our dying, it will not be what He endured for us.  If the process is prolonged, we go to His Word for the assurance of grace here, and glory in heaven that awaits us. 
  For us here, the great change is the empty chair and the empty moments that would have been filled with the contribution our loved one made to our lives.  The assurance of reunion helps us, but we still miss them.  As we contemplate the contributions God made through our departed loved ones, our focus could very easily be inward; what we no longer have.  In thanks for that contribution, we have the privilege of contributing to the lives of those God has given us.  Over the last several years, I have attended the funerals of many of my mentor pastors.  The number still living is one.  But God, in His mercy, has allowed me to see the privilege I have to be that to other pastors.  That is change that rejoices in grace received, and prays that God will use us as the instruments of His grace to others.
  Death comes, but has no power over us.  In the midst of the changes that death brings to this life is the assurance of God’s unchanging grace here, and the glory of heaven He has prepared for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

From the Word

“Love on another as I have loved you.”  John 15:12 

    Amidst our ever-changing world, there are things that are constant.  Among those are love and hatred.  These can be misrepresented, as they are today.  Many among us refer to we Christians’ proclaiming Law and Gospel as hate, which it clearly is not.  Misuse, or misunderstanding, does not negate the reality of love and hate as they exist and are expressed.
    Is there any positive aspect of hate?  We are called to hate the sin but love the sinner.  But for the most part, we correctly associate hatred as being something directed by people toward other people.  Such hatred has no place among us.
    The word “love” has so many different definitions that it is often hard to determine what others are referring to.  But we must always be clear what we are referring to.  Love has been defined for us by Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection.  Love is defined in us, not by our feelings, but by what we have seen in Jesus.  Love is not primarily an emotion, but is action taken toward those we love.
    Many Christians, and non-Christians, assume that our calling is found in Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Many are surprised to discover that those words express the bare minimum God’s Law expects of us in relation to others.  Our calling is found in Jesus’ words in John 15, “love one another as I have loved you, greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
    Where hatred is selfish, love is selfless.  Where hatred expects things that others seemingly have failed to deliver, love gives and contributes.  Where hatred is self-gratifying, love is sacrificial, as we have seen in love defined on the cross.  Love does what is difficult, because that brings the greatest benefit to those it is given to.  Hatred tears down and destroys, love builds and blesses.  Hatred becomes a burden on our necks and our hearts.  Love frees and is freely given.  Of the many blessings God gives us, love is the most lasting.  Faith and grace will fade away in heaven because they will not longer be needed.  Love will endure forever.

 

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.”