Friday, January 25, 2013

Worry


Saw this magnet at a store in the Short North of Columbus, where Ann and I got to spend some time a few weeks ago.

If Only


Just the other day, the teens of our youth group were telling me how grossed out they were by some of their classmates at school not heeding the requirements of this sign.

It would be great if all businesses (and schools, for that matter) posted signs something like this one. (Although it does need a little editing: I'm not sure how people can pull their shirts and shoes up over their underwear.)

Thanks to Glen VanderKloot and Belleville Farmers Market for posting this on Facebook!

[See also: On Seeing Three Penguins at Kroger.]

Everyone's Invited!

In a parable He once told, Jesus said that when we have parties, don't invite the folks you know best or the rich neighbors. They'll all feel obligated to return your favor. Instead, Jesus said, "Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind..." (Luke 14:12-14).

In Jesus' time, "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" were often excluded from worshiping God because they were considered impure. There are people today's society may consider too impure to associate with or too impure to be objects of God's blessing and love.

But God wants to include all people in His kingdom, His eternal party, in which the return of His rebel people to fellowship with Him is celebrated forever.
 
And what God wants should be the desire of every Christian who, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, has already become part of God's kingdom.

The Bible teaches that the only ones to be "excluded" from God's kingdom are those who have decided to exclude themselves.

They do this by rejecting Jesus and the Gospel (the Good News) about Him and God's revealed will for the human race.

As Jesus says in John 3:18, referring to Himself in the third persons, "Those who believe in Him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

We Christians are to invite others--no matter how different from or like us they may be--to know and follow Jesus because we remember that we too are sinners saved by God's charity (grace). As Jesus tells us, "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Luke 14:11).

I hope that all of us who believe in Christ will exalt God by inviting others to "come and see" Jesus in our churches and in our lives (John 1:46) so that, they can turn from sin and trust in Jesus for life.

[Jesus said:] "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15).

And here's the good news, according to Jesus, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Let's not give any of our friends, relatives, or others a reason to exclude themselves from God's kingdom.

Let's invite them to the "feast that has no end" so that they too can be part of the celebration that starts now and lasts for all eternity for those who believe in Jesus!

[Read here. It inspired this post.]

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Horrible Phenomenon: Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a horrible matter to consider. But sunlight is the best disinfectant. Consider:
The number of Americans 65 and over is projected to nearly double by 2030 because of the 74 million baby boomers born in 1946-64, and the number of people 85 and over is increasing even faster rate. The number of seniors being abused, exploited or neglected every year is often estimated at about 2 million, judging by available statistics and surveys, but experts say the number could be much higher. Some research indicates that 1 in 10 seniors have suffered some form of abuse at least once
Read this important news report.

God commands: "Honor your father and your mother." God empower us to keep this command with faithfulness and joy.

[Thanks to Ohio Update for linking to this article over on Twitter.]


Steal My Show!



As Rick Warren puts it in one of the most subversive published sentences in recent history, "It's not about you."

It's not about me.

I didn't make this universe.

I'm not a self-made man.

It's not about me.

It's about the God we know in Jesus Christ. He's the only One worth giving glory or celebration.

He's done it all for us:
  • He made us. 
  • Then, when we fell prey to sin and death, He became one of us, died for us, and rose for us. 
  • Today, He gives new and everlasting life to all who repent and believe in Him.
John the Baptist said of Jesus, "He must decrease, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). If we're ever to experience what it means to be human beings made in the image of God, if we're ever to have any hope of knowing what it means to have a life-giving connection with God, John's attitude must be our own.

Jesus teaches us to pray, "Your will be done." Learning to live that out, but it also introduces us to the only way to live. When we live by the world's code of, "My will be done," destruction and death and discord are the inevitable results.

So, whatever we may have in mind, may we learn to step aside and let the God we know in Jesus bring about His will in our lives and in the life of the world.

Lord, steal our shows!

Do You Get Facebook Envy?

Have you ever trolled through your news feed on Facebook, observed the seemingly perfect lives of your "friends" and felt that your own life wasn't as fulfilling as theirs?

If you've had such feelings, it appears you're not alone.
A study conducted jointly by two German universities found rampant envy on Facebook, the world's largest social network that now has over one billion users and has produced an unprecedented platform for social comparison.

The researchers found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, while people who browsed without contributing were affected the most.
If you attach much credibility to the postings of those Facebook friends who seem to use most of their posts to brag about how wonderful their lives, children, parents, spouses, children, and vacations are, I could understand how you might develop a case of "Facebook envy."

But my experience suggests that the postings of some on Facebook are the equivalent of the "perfect annual Christmas newsletter," that genre of perky self-congratulation and personal promotion that masquerades as a celebration of the birth of Jesus.

I stay on Facebook, for one reason, because it's a great way to communicate with members of our congregation on upcoming events and other news about the church. It also allows me to be in touch with old friends. (Our last high school reunion, our fortieth, was largely organized via Facebook!) I also see what's going on with the members of my extended family, with whom I would otherwise be in touch personally or by phone only sporadically.

I like Facebook. But I have seen some destructive things come out of Facebook usage.

For example, the very use of the term "friend" to describe people you follow and who follow you can create misunderstandings, anger, and hurt feelings when people realize that the person who the social media site has told you is a friend is really only an acquaintance or a business associate.

Unfriending a person can also cause considerable pain and misunderstanding. But there can be a variety of reasons for a Facebook "friend" to "unfriend' you:
  • The "friend" tires of your negative ranting about the state of the world.
  • The "friend" has reason to believe that you take her or his posts and turn them into gossip bearing little resemblance to what they've posted.
  • The "friend" may feel that you've portrayed yourself as a bosom buddy to him or her, intimating greater closeness than exists, reaping whatever benefits--psychological or otherwise--from your "relationship."
  • The "friend" considers you an acquaintance, not a friend.
  • The "friend" wants to simplify her or his presence on Facebook.
  • The "friend" wants to relate to you by way of a group, rather that at a more personalized level.
  • And, maybe, as the German research shows, the "friend" is getting depressed with your posts. (I can't imagine giving someone else the privilege of depressing me, but I can see that it's possible.)
Fortunately, today's Facebook offers options to those not wanting to exercise the "nuclear option" of unfriending others, which can create unnecessary hard feelings.

Truth is, Facebook, originally created as a "meet and greet" for college-age singles has, in some ways, contributed to the "adolscentization" of our culture. Sometimes scrolling down my Facebook news feed is like walking down the hallways of a high school. The vapid, pointless content is eminently scroll-throughable.

But there are good things about Facebook. Here's what I most appreciate and look for in my news feed:
  • A funny thought someone has just had. Just yesterday, a member of the congregation I served, posted that driving through the kind of snow we experienced in this area last evening made her think of the Milennium Falcon going into hyperspace. It made me laugh out loud, because I've often thought the same thing.
  • A thought about life or faith. My son is great at posting short paragraphs containing some new insight he's gained through his living, praying, working, and studying. I love it when people share things like that.
  • A link to an article someone found enjoyable or interesting.
  • A prayer request, whether offered for the the "friend" himself or herself or on behalf of others. In the past 72 hours, I've been able to pray for the moms of a number of Facebook friends who were all being hospitalized.
  • Announcements about births, baptisms, weddings, deaths, funerals, and other life events. These allow Facebook "friends" to be connected and to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).
  • Pictures and videos of life events are also often nice to see. 
  • Anything about the Cincinnati Reds or the Ohio State Buckeyes. ( I understand that these might not be everyone's cup of tea.)
Of course, posts like the ones above can be presented in different ways by different people. Some will go the "Christmas newsletter route," often the choice of people who are either so vacuous and self-deluded or so desperate to be noticed and counted "special" that, frankly, you're in danger of going into diabetic shock every time they post something.

Others will simply present slices of their lives to friends, acquaintances, and associates. On Facebook, as in all of life, it seems to me, it's best to just be yourself.

But not too much of yourself, please! One of my favorite passages in Merle Miller's oral biography of Harry Truman (a book that admittedly, may not be altogether reliable), involves a conversation Miller had with one of the thirty-third president's cousins. She was asked about life in Independence, Truman's hometown and hers. She said that she greeted people with, "How are you today?" But she most emphatically didn't want to know the answer. Let's be honest: Being yourself is good policy. But so is being your whole self with only a few trusted intimates.

If seeing a person with volumes of birthday greetings makes you envious--Remember wanting to be "popular" back in middle school and high school?--just ask yourself this question. Have you got a close friend with whom you can share anything? If so, that's worth more than a stack of birthday greetings on Facebook.

If you don't, remember that the best way to have a friend is to be one. And don't look for a friend on Facebook. Look for her or him in life. That's the best place to live.

Like most things in life, in itself, Facebook is morally neutral. It's a means of communication. And my advice to those who, like some in the German research, are brought down by the self-congratulation of many Facebook participants is simple: Limit your time on Facebook or leave the site altogether. Your life won't be any worse off for not being "on Facebook." It might be better.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How Christian Are Our Churches?

Earlier today, my son Philip, observed on his Facebook account:
What we should truly find disconcerting in the church is that so many of us are cultural Christians. We are partisans to ideologies, political beliefs, or even advertisements. We remove Scripture from the Gospel and wrap it around our ideology of church, then declare, "Here I stand upon this idol that will fall."
What insightful and disturbing thoughts about American cultural religion served up with a veneer of Christian religiosity!

I responded: 
That says it all, Phil!

That's why the Lutheran movement has so much to offer to the whole Christian family and to a world in need of Christ.

The world needs the five "solas," the five alones:


  • By Scripture alone!
  • By faith alone!
  • By grace alone!
  • By Christ alone!
  • To the glory of God alone!

Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God”

The one true, living, life-giving God is the only one revealed in Christ, Who inspired the only book from God, the Bible, Who saves people from sin and death not by their works or ideologies, but ony as an act of His charitable grace extended on His initiative and not any human beings', only to those who open themselves to the creation of faith in Jesus Christ within them!

"There is salvation in no one [and nothing] else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

All other ground--ideologies, patriotism, family, sexual identity, ethnic identity, racial identity, money, prominence, the world's affirmation--is sinking sand. When we put our trust in the world's godlets, including ourselves, we die. When we put our trust in the God made plain to all in Christ, we live, now and in eternity.

Only Christ can make a person right with the One Who made us all.

Only Christ can set us free to be the people we were made to be by God.

Only Christ can set us free from the godlets that lie to us about where peace and hope are found, and set us free to live as children of God.

It's a sin that both in churches that call themselves liberal and those that call themselves conservative, they worship idol versions of God, versions in which the God they claim to follow is made in their image. He likes their politics. He likes their political parties. He likes their political policy preferences. He's even in accord with their preferences on how items in the federal budget ought to be expended. (We see this all the time in the ELCA, which is moving away from Christ by steady, alarming increments every day, it seems.)

I'm not part of a conservative Church or a liberal Church. I'm part of Christ's Church, one body that exists wherever Christ's Gospel is rightly proclaimed and His Sacraments are rightly administered.

Christ will not be pushed into the boxes we like. His task is not to let Him be a milquetoast we make over in our image, but to make us over in His image all those who dare to surrender to Him and dare to have their old selves killed so that their new selves can rise in the process of daily repentance and renewal in Christ's Name.

When we believe in Jesus, we submit to a kind of violent revolution that goes on in our lives--our minds, our wills, our emotions--every day. We give the inventor the right to retool us to function as we were made to function. We give the author the right to rewrite all the dreadful chapters we've come up with on our own. We let God restore us to our right minds, no longer functioning as zombies in a death march in which the tune is played by the gods that, first, we choose, and then call their tune to their devotees, robbing them of any real meaning for their lives, and then leave them writhing in eternal separation from God.

The Church needs to be about living for and pointing the world to Christ as our only hope.

If the Church cannot speak with clarity about the only Source for life and hope--Jesus Christ--the world is in trouble. And the failure of the body of Christ to live for Christ alone is an abomination, damnable. May God have mercy on us!

Great thoughts, Philip!

Monday, January 21, 2013

5 Interesting Things About the Wedding at Cana

A wedding at Cana is remembered as the occasion for Jesus' first miracle, when He turned water into wine.

Here are five interesting things about John 2:1-11, in which the incident is recounted.

1. John begins the account with the words, "On the third day..." Most scholars now believe that this represents the third day of man named Nathanael following Jesus. How Nathanael came to do that is recounted in John 1:43-51. It appears right before the account of the wedding in John's Gospel.

Coming at the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry, the phrase, "on the third day," foreshadows Jesus' resurrection, which comes on the third day from His crucifixion.

2. There is whimsy in this incident, underscoring that Jesus is both true God and true human. Here we see Him as God and as a human being.

Jesus' mother presents Him with a dilemma: The supply of wine for the celebrants of a wedding banquet, the kind of event which typically ran for about a week in those days, had given out. Implicit in Mary's statement of fact apparently, is a request that reflects her understanding of Who Jesus is, the "Word made flesh," God in human skin.

But Jesus is also her son. Like generations of sons before and since, Jesus is playful in His response to Mary. I think we can well imagine a teasing tone in Jesus' voice and a smile on His face when He tells her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to Me? My hour has not yet come." (More on that below.)

Also, like generations of moms, Mary takes her son's teasing in stride and, certain that He will respond to her request, turns to the servants and says, "Do whatever He tells you."

Even if you don't believe that Jesus teased His mother here, you have to admit that choosing to reveal His divinity for the first time through an act that allowed a party to continue and prevent its hosts from being humiliated, seems, on the face of it, a whimsical choice on Jesus' part. But God isn't just solemn Lord of the universe; He's also the author of joy.

3. The "hour" to which Jesus is referring undoubtedly is the hour when His divinity was to be fully revealed. Of course, that would happen soon. After all, who but God could turn water into wine?

Jesus' divinity would not be fully understood until after His resurrection. Many still refuse to understand it or believe it. But, to those who paid attention, miracles like this one served as signs of Jesus' identity and mission. They still serve the same purpose today.

4. The water turned into wine reminds us of the two Sacraments of the Church: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

The first is our port of entry into the Church. (By "Church," I'm not referring to a denominational organization or a specific congregation, but the Church composed of those who turn from sin and persist in believing in Jesus as their only God and Savior.) Holy Baptism is what Jesus is talking about in John 3:5, when He says, "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit." In Baptism, the Holy Spirit claims us as children of God. Of course, like all children, we may run away from being God's child. We may opt out of trusting in the God Who claims us in Baptism. But Baptism assures us that, as the old saying puts it, God is absent from our lives, it wasn't God Who moved.

The second is the sustenance Christ gives to us along our journey as believers. In a mysterious way we can't explain or articulate, Christ comes to us in Communion, offering us forgiveness of sin as we receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine. This is what Jesus meant when, at the Passover He celebrated with His disciples just before He was arrested and executed, He handed them bread and said, "Take, eat; this is My body," then handed them wine and said, "Drink from it all of you; for this is My blood...which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 20:26-29)

The Lutheran movement of which I'm a part has always said that it's pointless to argue over how many Sacraments there are. But we also believe that three things make a thing a Sacrament, a mysterious means by which God's grace in Christ is imparted to us:
  • It was instituted or commanded by Christ.
  • It entails a physical element.
  • It comes with the promise of forgiveness of sin to those who receive it with belief.
Interestingly, John's Gospel is the most sacramental of the for Gospels found in the New Testament. Yet, in it, we find no command from Jesus to baptize and He doesn't mention Jesus' institution of Holy Communion during his account of the Last Supper. John, the consummate artist, emphasizes the importance of the two sacraments by not including overt references to Jesus instituting either of them.

5. This incident, coming at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, is the start of what scholars call an inclusion which culminates at John 19:34. In this latter passage, wanting to confirm that Jesus, then hanging on the cross, is dead, a soldier pierces His side "and at once blood and water came out."

Ancient writers often used inclusions in order to emphasize an important theme. There are many of them in the Bible and an inclusion can encompass both large and small sections of Scripture. They offer a good interpretive tool for those who want to understand God's Word.

Everything within this particular inclusion, the story of Jesus' time on earth, helps us to stand in awe of the incredible fact that God took on human flesh to make His grace, power, and love accessible to all who believe in Him (see John 1:1-14; 3:16; 14:6).

Today, although we can't see Jesus, Who is alive and ascended to heaven, He remains accessible to us in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, among other ways. We also can experience Jesus, of course, in the Bible, God's normative and authoritative book for us; prayer in Jesus' Name; and the fellowship of other Christians. But the Sacraments, with their physical elements, have about them the mystery of the God, Who is Spirit, taking on flesh to become "the Lamb of God."

So, this passage, laden with whimsy and taking place at a party, also foreshadows Christ's death for the sins of humanity and His resurrection. It also points to the fact that all who believe in Jesus will, one day, be guests at a party--a banquet, a celebration--that never ends. (See also Luke 15:22-23.)

There's a lot more to be said about this passage. But this post is only about five interesting things. You might want to explore and reflect on the passage for yourself, using a good commentary like IVP Bible Background Commentary (New Testament) by Craig Keener.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Prayer for President Obama As He's Inaugurated This Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend

Here is one of the petitions we offered up during the Prayers of Intercession during the 10:15 worship service this morning at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.
Gracious, mighty King, today in a private ceremony and tomorrow during the traditional public celebration, President Obama will be sworn in to a second term as our president.

These events will come during the Martin Luther King. Jr. holiday, in which we remember the Christian leader who challenged Christians, white and black, and all Americans to stand against public policies which demanded Christians and others to worship false deities like racism and the lie of white racial superiority.

Although bigotry still rears its ugly, sinful head among us in our culture all the time, we pray that, using Christians who follow King’s example, You will crush racism out of existence.

As Americans who love our country, the Constitution, the freedom to worship that we enjoy, and the peaceful transition of power which is part of our national life, we pray your blessings on President Obama.

As he is inaugurated, we pray that Your Spirit would give him your wisdom, that he will be open to your wisdom, that you will protect him and his family from all danger and harm, and that throughout his tenure, as we individual Americans live in daily repentance and renewal, moved by the witness for Christ they hear from individual Christians like us, will come to follow Christ and so have peace with God, now and in eternity. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Son of God (Augsburg Confession, Part 3)

We’re involved in a sermon series that seeks to answer the question, “What is a Lutheran Christian?” We’re using one of the basic confessional documents of Lutheranism, The Augsburg Confession, which presents the Lutheran understanding of Biblical Christian faith, to help us answer that question.

Before launching into an exploration of the Confession's Article 3, “The Son of God,” I want you to know something: The devil worked hard to prevent this sermon from being studied for, written, and delivered. This past week, I have learned anew the truth of the words of Ephesians 6:12: “...our struggle [as followers of Jesus Christ] is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil...” The devil has fought with me every step of the way. I have been in the midst of the very kind of spiritual warfare that Martin Luther wrote about in A Mighty Fortress is Our God. And it is only by the grace of God, given to those who cling to Jesus Christ, that I've been able to push through.

This is a sermon then, that the devil does not want you to hear. So, I ask you all to pray that the Holy Spirit will work powerfully in this moment to open our minds, hearts, and wills to the only Truth we can reliably build our lives upon.

Now, there’s a reason the devil doesn’t want this sermon to be given today. It’s because the truths The Augsburg Confession’s Article 3 asserts about Who Jesus is, about what Jesus has done, and about what Jesus will do in the future, contradict the lies about Jesus that are gaining increasing currency in our time.

And Satan, the one Jesus calls “the father of lies” is behind every one of the lies told about Jesus today. You can’t go through a week without encountering these lies on the Internet, on TV, or in newspapers and magazines. Supposedly knowledgeable people say that Jesus wasn’t God in the flesh, wasn’t born of a virgin, didn’t rise physically from the dead, and isn’t the only pathway to God.

They ignore the testimony of reliable witnesses as to Jesus being the Son of God and Savior of the world.

They also ignore the fact that the ancient documentation for the understanding of Jesus they denigrate came earlier and from more different sources than any of the documentation that exists in relationship to other figures of the ancient world.

For example, Colossians 1:15-20, written by Paul in about 60 AD, is composed of material reflecting the confession of faith that all scholars, conservative and liberal, agree Christians were using to give witness about Jesus almost immediately following Jesus' death and resurrection.

The confession of faith found in these verses came together so close to the days of Jesus' time on earth that to read it is almost like reading an email about an event that happened yesterday. Take a look:
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. [Emphasis is mine.]
It’s bad enough that these lies are being foisted on the world at large. But what’s worse is that these revisionist views, held by people who want to revise God’s truth, have taken root in our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

For example, recently an assistant to the bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of our ELCA, Don Carlson, writing a guest post on his bishop’s web site, wrote of Jesus’ virgin birth: “I think that the [Christmas] stories are made up...”

In 2009, our ELCA publishing house issued a version of the Bible they called Lutheran Study Bible. It had footnotes written by ELCA scholars ostensibly designed to help readers better understand the Bible. Now, one of the most important passages in Scripture is Matthew 28:19-20, in which the risen Jesus, just before ascending into heaven, gives what we call “the great commission” to His Church, commanding us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching people to obey all that He commands.” But Dr. Duane Priebe, professor of systematic theology at another ELCA seminary, Wartburg in Iowa, wrote this in his footnote on Matthew 28:19-20: “[Jesus] does not mean make everyone disciples...Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in Him.”* While the New Testament intimates that people who have not heard the good news of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection and seek to live in accordance with the law that God has written on every human heart (see Romans 2:14-16), will be treated with mercy by God, those who have heard the good news of Jesus and have not believed, according to Jesus, will be eternally separated from God (see John 3:16-18; Mark 16:16; John 8:24).

These incidents of revisionism aren’t isolated. Increasingly, revisionist theology is favored by the hierarchy, clergy, and publications of our denomination.

The reason for revisionism’s popularity is no mystery.  According to Genesis 3:5, Adam and Eve, responding to the temptations of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, wanted to “be like God” and so do we. Deny the revealed truths about Jesus, the Son of God, and you can be a god yourself, the ultimate authority over your life. But, folks, lose these truths about Jesus in order to act as our own gods, and we lose life, hope, peace, our humanity, and our salvation!


Please pull a copy of The Augsburg Confession from the pew racks and turn to Article 3, on page 12. It says:
Our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God..., assumed the human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary. So there are two natures--the divine and the human--inseparably joined in one person. There is one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. He did this to reconcile the Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt [which we talked about last Sunday], but also for the actual sins of [humankind].

He also descended into hell, and truly rose again in the third day. Afterward, He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. There He forever reigns and has dominion over all creatures. He sanctifies [meaning, He makes holy or sets apart for God] those who believe in Him, by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts to rule, comfort, and make them alive. He defends them against the devil and the power of sin.

The same Christ will openly come again to judge the living and the dead, and so forth, according to the Apostles’ Creed.
Every word of this article is rooted in the witness of Scripture. Every word lifts up Jesus as the Son of God. And it stands as a condemnation of the lies a revisionist world tells about Jesus.

But how can we know that the revisionists are wrong?

How can you and I know that Jesus is the Son of God Who can fill both dead consciences and dead bodies with new life?
 
Let me lay before you one rational, empirical reason for believing that Jesus is the Son of God.

And then let me tell how I believe you can personally know that what the Bible and The Augsburg Confession teach about Jesus is true.

The revisionists say that the first Christians didn’t really meet the resurrected Jesus. They say that after Jesus’ death on the cross, the first Christians thought back on Him and had good feelings. These good feelings, the revisionists claim, caused the first Christians to think of Jesus as being with them in some way. Then, they claim, the Christians made up the stories of Jesus’ resurrection to convince others that they could have good feelings too.

Please pull out the pew Bibles and turn to 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

First Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul in about 55 AD to the church at Corinth, which he had founded. Here, he reminds them, of the most basic evidence that Jesus is Lord. He says:
...I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [Cephas is the Latin version of the apostle Peter’s name], then by the twelve [apostles, including  Matthias, who took the place of Judas after Judas betrayed Jesus and took his own life]. After that He was seen by over five hundred [believers in Jesus] at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep [some had died by 55 AD]. After that [the risen Jesus] was seen by James [this is one of physical sons of Mary and Joseph and Jesus grew up in the same household with James], then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also...
Paul claims that more than 500 people had seen the risen Jesus!

He was no figment of their good feelings.

He was real.

He was true God and true man, born of a virgin, the only way to peace with God, Who died and rose to give us a life with that not even death can destroy.

The first Christians never wavered in affirming the reality of Who Jesus was, of His physical resurrection, or of His promise to return one day to fully establish His kingdom.

They staked their lives on these truths, hard as nails people who had drunk deeply of life and of sin, but who had been given new life through Christ.

And many of these tough people--fishermen, tax collectors, former prostitutes, soldiers, manual laborers, scholars, rich, poor, men, and women would, like Paul and Peter, accept execution a punishment for their belief in the Son of God, rather than turning their backs on Jesus!

The first followers of Jesus weren't firebrands. They weren't kooks. They weren't desperate. They had everything to lose and nothing to gain from sticking with their story about Jesus. Yet they did stick with it!

When you see rational people staking their lives on the veracity of a truth they claim to have experienced--John says that he and the other first Christians had heard, seen, and touched with their hands the crucified and risen Son of God (see 1 John 1:1-3)--that’s an empirical reason for believing that Jesus is the Son of God.

But trusting in Jesus--having faith in Jesus--isn’t the result of believing in empirical evidence.

I have known people and you have too, who believed that Jesus is the Son of God, that He was born of a virgin, and that after suffering for us, He rose from the dead. Yet they still don't believe in Jesus. They don't trust Him. They trust themselves. Or they put their trust in things of the world, every one of which will die.

The simple truth is that we can’t be forced into believing in Jesus by trotting out facts. Nor can we be said to believe in Jesus just because we accept the veracity of the New Testament's claims about Jesus. According to 1 Corinthians 12:3, faith in Jesus is a gift that God’s Holy Spirit creates only in those who are willing to believe in Jesus.

And this leads us to how, finally, you and I can know that Jesus, the Son of God, is, has done, and will do all the things claimed by Article 3 of the Confession.

Turn please to Hebrews 11:1. It says:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen
You’ve heard me tell many times of my experience as an atheist who came to faith in Jesus Christ.  Intrigued by the Lutheran Christians of Ann’s home church, I attended a 16-week class called, Life with God.

I read the book we used for the class.

I read and wrote down all the Bible verses to which it referred.

I asked questions.

I listened.

The more I heard and read about Jesus, the more I wanted Him as my Lord!

I was still resistant. I had my own plans. I really wanted to be my own god.

But, in the midst of all this, even when I still thought of myself as an atheist, I found myself praying to the God revealed to the whole world in Jesus.

There wasn’t a lightning flash moment when faith came to me. I simply had been open to believing and the closer I got to Jesus, the more firmly the Holy Spirit created faith in Jesus within me.

I believed in the Son of God.

As the passage from Hebrews tells us, my faith became the evidence of things unseen.

Among the people I've meet on this earth, I’ve never known a person born of a virgin.

Or a sinless human being.

Or someone who rose from the dead days after their death.

And neither have you.

But by faith I came to know and I still know such a person, the God-man Jesus.

And if we will open ourselves to Him, all of us can, by faith, know Him.

We can experience His presence with us as a constant companion who will usher us into the presence and love of God.

And as we hold onto that faith, as we cling to Jesus, we can be assured that one day we will see Him face to face.

This is a sermon the devil didn’t want you to hear, which only proves how important it is to know, follow, and surrender to Jesus, the Son of God. Amen!

[This was shared during both worship services with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio today.]

*After numerous protests, Priebe's comments were excised from the next edition of Lutheran Study Bible. However, he never recanted for the position he took on Matthew 28:19-20. Nor, apparently, was there ever any attempt on the part of the ELCA or the synod to correct him or the church's publishing house for his original comments.