Saturday, May 04, 2013

'Wait and See' by Brandon Heath

Christians aren't perfect, just graced with forgiveness and hope through faith in Jesus Christ!

Brandon Heath's song encourages all believers to know that God isn't finished with them yet.

'Indwelling Sin' by Lecrae

I love rapper and hip hop artist, Lecrae. This is a fantastic track, featuring a dialog between a believer in Christ and sin.

We all face temptations every single day. But Jesus, Who died and rose to set us free from sin, death, and the devil, can help us walk away from them!

Powerful song!

The 4 Hardest Jobs in the US

Most people have probably heard of or read work by Peter Drucker. Drucker, who died in 2005, was the most respected student and philosopher of leadership in his time. His book, Executive Leadership, was, for many years, the book that every leader in business, academia, social services, and the church had at least heard of, if not pored over.

That's why this citation of Drucker appearing at the beginning of an article on the secret pain of pastors struck me:

Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are:
  • The President of the United States
  • A university president
  • A CEO of a hospital and
  • A pastor
Wow! Most pastors I know would neither complain nor brag about their work. It is, after all, a privilege to be called by God and the Church to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to engage in the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and to be a servant/leader of some of God's people.

But no pastor will be surprised by Drucker's list either.

It doesn't surprise me not only because I am a pastor, but also because I've studied US presidents and the presidency my whole life. I've read biographies of most of the presidents, even of Chester Alan Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Warren G. Harding. What's amazing is how often I've been able to draw lessons on how to pastor (and how not to pastor) from reading and pondering these biographies. I believe that the arts and skills that make for being an effective president are exactly what is required of someone who would be an effective and faithful pastor.

The two big differences between pastors and presidents is that presidents have more worldly tools at their disposal and that the stakes for which pastors play are much greater than those for which presidents play. The worst a president can do is initiate a nuclear Armageddon resulting in the physical deaths of billions of people. Small potatoes! A pastor prays, works, visits, preaches, and teaches each day to so present the good news of Jesus Christ, introduce the possibility of faith in Christ to others, and so prevent an eternal Armageddon in the life of every person they meet. Pastors play for far higher, more enduring stakes than any president ever has or will.

But like presidents, pastors cannot (and should not) coerce people into supporting their initiatives. In the end, no one who truly leads can coerce engagement in the common mission of the entities they lead. Nor should they! All you have to do is look at North Korea, whose people live in constant terror for their lives, and see that dictatorship is not the same as leadership. For leaders of any kind, persuasion is the coin of the realm.

A few years ago, I was talking with General Curtis (Mike) Scaparrotti, a son of the congregation I serve. We were talking about leadership. He pointed out to me that even in the military, ordering people to do things will only go so far. In the end, even a general must help those he or she leads to understand the advantages of the directions in which they lead and the common and fulfilling roles each person can play in pursuing them. As Pastor John Maxwell rightly says, "First, people must buy into the leader. Then, they'll buy into where the leader wants to go."

Two of our greatest political and military leaders, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower, hated giving direct orders. This wasn't for lack of confidence. They weren't fearful for their positions. Nor did they doubt that they had the authority to give direct orders, which, of course, they occasionally did. But they preferred persuading and arguing logically to telling people what to do. People who are persuaded of the wisdom of a course of action don't need anyone telling them what to do! They'll follow that course because they themselves believe it's the right one.

The leadership of a pastor, of course, is almost entirely persuasive. We can't coerce people to believe in Jesus Christ as their God and Savior, attend worship, pray, share their faith, serve their neighbor in the Name of Christ, or accept the authority of God's Word over their lives. That's why pastors cheat: We pray.

Although I love it and count it a privilege, the job of pastor can be hard. (Although I have to say that working in a factory and some of the other jobs I've held were harder for me.) But, whatever its challenges, being a pastor is made significantly less difficult when pastors (and the congregations they serve) "take it to the Lord in prayer."

Friday, May 03, 2013

Reputation versus Character

I've been hearing a lot lately about an outfit called It's in the business of "reputation management," which their web site describes as "the practice of making people and businesses look their best on the Internet."

There must be a place for such a business these days, I'm sure. Anyone who's ever found themselves the focal point of gossip or unfair misconstructions of their actions or beliefs, can understand how, with the Internet, which allows lies to fly a million times faster than the truth, will know this.

But sometimes managing a reputation in itself often entails a little misconstruction, a little fudging of the truth, doesn't it? It seems that many today are more concerned about looking good than they are about being good.

None of us is perfect, least of all me! I am a sinner saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I wrestle with temptation and sin every day of my life. I am quite conscious of my faults and sins and occasionally reference them in my preaching and teaching. (By the way, I wouldn't be wrestling with temptation and sin if I weren't a Christian. The closer we seek to follow Christ, the more conscious we are of the evil that resides within us and the evil that lures us. Christians who claim they don't wrestle with their own sins and temptations are either liars or deluded.)

But what all of us need more than someone to make us look our best--a reputation makeover--is someone to help us be our best, to help us boost our characters after we've fallen into evil or when we allow ourselves to be lured by it.

So, out of curiosity, I did a Google search. I looked for a and found that such an outfit actually exists! It sells kids' clothes that have the logos and images of fictional characters like boy bands, wrestlers, and movie and comic book heroes. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I had something different in mind.

Fact is, I already know a character-builder. (You knew I'd get to that, didn't you?) His Name is Jesus and He has shown a facility for rebuilding the characters of the most unsavory characters you can imagine.

For example: A man named Saul, a persecutor of Christians who approved and facilitated their punishment and murder, became Paul, a name meaning small or humble in Latin. The change in name wasn't about image. (In fact, in an era that valued arrogance, Saul/Paul's name change was bound to cause most people to look down on him, not look up to him.) The name chance was about a change God was making on him from the inside out. From being a guy who was certain of his own righteousness, he became a guy certain of his own faults and sins, but more certain still that the God he came to know in Jesus had died to atone for Paul's faults and rose to give Paul an eternity with God he didn't deserve. By His forgiving love, Jesus transformed Saul/Paul's character.

A woman who slept around and was shunned by others met Jesus and became an evangelist, spreading the news of the forgiveness and new life He brings to those who repent and believe in Him. By His forgiving love, Jesus transformed the woman's character and her daily life.

A thief on a cross saw Jesus being crucified next to Him, understood Jesus was faultless, and asked, in repentance and faith, that Jesus would remember Him in His kingdom. Jesus told the thief that that day, when he died, he would be with Jesus in paradise. Jesus used that man's repentance and belief to change his character, even if the man's reputation as a ne'er do well remained intact for the crowds watching his execution.

In the Old Testament, we're told about how God sent the prophet and priest Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel. God had revealed to Samuel that the new king would come from the family of a man named Jesse. When Samuel caught sight of Eliab, one of Jesse's older sons, Samuel thought to himself, "This must be the guy!" Eliab looked like a king.

But Samuel sensed God telling him, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

Reputation--how others see us--can be built up, torn down, and even built back up again by us, by other human beings.

But character--who we are on the inside--is something altogether different. We can tear it down ourselves readily: by our thoughts, words, and actions, by the company we keep, by the thoughts we allow to govern us, by the gods and godlets we choose to give dominion over our lives. But only God can build up our characters. Only God can help us be our better selves. God gave Jesus Christ as "the way, and the truth, and the life," to amend, rebuild, and make new our characters. "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation," Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Let the God we meet in Jesus Christ go to work on your character. No one else may notice it. But as you follow Christ, you'll be set free from the opinions of others, from the norms of society.

A good reputation is a good thing. Proverbs 22:1 in the Old Testament says: "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold." But reputation purchased at the expense of our character is worthless, even if it lines our wallets with cash. Jesus asks, "For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?" (Mark 8:36).

In the end, there's a bigger, eternal payout for focusing on character--daily submission to the forgiving God we see in Jesus--than there is for looking good to a world that is lost and rudderless anyway.

Jesus is the only real 

If We're Saved by Grace Through Faith in Christ, Why Do We Need God's Moral Law?

From today's installment of Our Daily Bread:
"Similarly, some look at the standards God set forth in the Bible as obstacles that prevent us from enjoying life. However, the boundaries God places actually protect us from our worst inclinations and foster healthy responses to Him."
We cannot be saved by the works of God's moral law. We can only be saved by turning from sin and turning to Christ, that is, repent and believe in God's only Son to give us forgiveness of sin, new life, freedom from sin, death, and the devil. (Romans 3:21-28)

But, we Lutherans believe that the moral law--summarized in the ten commandments and underscored and explained throughout both the Old and New Testaments--has not been done away with by God and that it cannot be abolished by human beings. (See, for example, Matthew 5:17-19, part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, in which He expounds on the intent of God's moral law and calls for His followers to abide by a more stringent righteousness than we see in the ten commandments.)

The moral law, sometimes called the Mosaic Law, named for Moses, who brought the commandments to the world from Mount Sinai, has three ongoing uses in today's world:
  • 1. As a hedge on the sins of those who do not know Jesus Christ. That's because God's law is written on every human heart and acts as the unacknowledged standard for every notion of ultimate right and wrong that exists in the world. (See Romans 2:15-16, in which the apostle Paul talks about the effect of God's law on "Gentile unbelievers.")
  • 2. As a mirror held up to us, by which we see our common need of forgiveness for sin and that forgiveness that can only come from Jesus Christ. (The passage cited above also gets into this second use of God's Law.)
  • 3. As a guide for those who, having come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, seek to live in ways that are pleasing to God and that, God has revealed, is best for human living.  
For those who trust in Jesus Christ living today, this third use of God's moral law is critical. There is a tendency in today's world to think of God as an uncle who is actually more indulgent than loving. "God doesn't care what we do," some people think, "it's all covered by His grace."

God is love, as 1 John tells us. But love is not indulgence. A parent will warn a child to look both ways before crossing the street, the child feeling that she or he is being restricted, when, in fact, the parent wants their child to live and be free from harm.

God wants to set us free of those toxic ways of life and thinking that will, if not cleansed by the forgiveness and love of Christ--the way He cleansed the temple in Jerusalem--will first, poison, and then destroy our relationships with God and with others, leaving us all in exile far from God and others.

That, by the way, is what hell is about, not the reunion place of people who knew how to have a good time, but as an island of isolation and continuing evil far from God.

This is why Peter reminds Christians: "As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil" (1 Peter 2:16). The apostle is commending the third use of God's law. "You won't be saved by the moral law," he's saying. "But if you use your forgiveness as a license to do whatever you want, you will be walking away from Christ, from life with God." This is exactly why Martin Luther said that we Christians need to walk in daily repentance and renewal, to prevent the devil, the world, or our sinful selves from taking control of our lives.

King David has this third use of the law, as a guide for those wanting to stay in course in following the God you and I know through Jesus, when he wrote: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

Thank God, we are saved "by grace...through Christ" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thank God that He gives us His moral law to guide and prompt us to the foot of Jesus' cross, where forgiveness and new life can be found.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Keeping Your iPhone Juiced


Film Festival Envy

I love classic movies, which means that TCM, the Turner Classic Movies, is one of my favorite destinations on TV. I've wondered what attending the TCM Classic Film Festival would be like. Rachel Stecher attended this year's fest and has fun rundowns for each day posted on her blog, Out of the Past. Just scroll down through her articles and enjoy. The pictures are great too!

It's all enough to give me film festival envy.

Churches Aren't About the Pastors

They're about Christ's people being the Church. (HT: John Schroeder for linking to Mark D. Roberts' post.)

Scary Stuff That Requires Prayer

We spend too much time looking like the image we want to project than seeking God's help to become who God wants us to be.

"Keep it under your hat"

Gay Ingram shoots down one explanation for the meaning of this phrase...and leads us to P.G. Wodehouse.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Who's Entitled?

Leonard Pitts, Jr. talks about the worst question a celebrity can ask.

It reminded me of this story I first heard recounted by John Maxwell, retold here by Paw Prints Anecdotes:
Entering a crowded restaurant with a companion, Gregory Peck found no table available. "Tell them who you are," murmured the friend. "If you have to tell them who you are, you aren't anybody," said Peck.
[From eight years ago: The Effects of Fame on the Famous.]

UPDATE, 5/3/2013: Discussing the incident involving Reese Witherspoon on CNN the other evening, Jeffery Toobin, a legal scholar and journalist, said that while the officer who arrested Witherspoon was within his bounds, in his judgment, he cuffed her too quickly. In looking at the video that went viral yesterday, I understand what he means. But, along with Toobin, I think that Witherspoon's apparent claim of entitlement to special treatment because of her celebrity status was unconscionable. It was also a taunt to the officer.

By the way, was her husband leaving Reese out there twisting slowly, slowly in the wind when he told the officer of her behavior, "I had nothing to do with that"?

Dangerous Deletions

[This is largely a re-presentation of a post I wrote in 2011, with a few amendments.]

This morning, I was looking at the Bible lessons most ELCA Lutherans (like me) and members of many other "mainline" Christian denominations will be using during our Sunday worship in May.

On May 19, the second lesson we'll read at Saint Matthew is Revelation 22:12-21.

But in fact, the second lesson appointed by the lectionary and that the ELCA's worship resources say we Lutherans should use for our weekly worship is Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. (For an explanation of what a lectionary is, go here. For more background, you might want to look here.)

But the lesson, as appointed by the lectionary chops up what, to me anyway, is John's careful, cohesive closing of his letter to the seven first-century churches of "Asia," the first-century world's name for an area we know as western Turkey.

And the chopping up seems to be done, as happens often with the lectionary, in service to an agenda other than the proclamation of God's truth

Now, admittedly, the verses deleted are a bit disturbing and might well offend some people.

That's OK, though. Often, the Good News of the Bible can only be heard once we get disturbed by the Bible.

The Bible's primary message--that of new, eternal life for all those who repent of sin and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and God-in-human-flesh--has always been offensive, even to those who come to believe in Jesus.

The chopped up passage from Revelation describes the new Jerusalem in which believers in Christ will live with God for eternity. But, the lectionary version of it skips over passages like verse 15, which says:
Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  
John is saying that outside this city with its multiple gates that are never locked shut, will be those who don't gain entrance, those condemned to an eternity of darkness apart from God. Those outside the gates are those who love their sins so much that they are unwilling to let go of them and cling to Jesus Christ.

For some post-moderns, with our convenient and self-glorifying beliefs that "all roads lead to the same place," whether the place is satori, nothingness, some universal mind, or to some version of deity fashioned by human imagination, the idea that anyone would be outside of the eternal city John describes is deeply offensive.

One can't help suspect that the deletions of verses like this have something to do with the rising tide of universalism, the notion that what people believe about the God revealed in Jesus Christ, whether they repent of sin or not, whether they even believe in God or an afterlife or not, doesn't matter.

Universalists hold that everyone's going to be saved from sin and death and that people don't need to believe in Jesus or that they only have to believe in their version of Jesus to be saved from sin and death. They tell us that Jesus may be known by other names by different people, even though Jesus Himself rejects such ideas, as we'll see presently.

Universalism is un-Christian and un-Lutheran. Yet it rears its head in many ways in mainline churches, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of which I'm a part.

One of my seminary professors, the late Walter Bouman insisted even as he was dying of colon cancer, that he fully expected to see perpetrators of the Holocaust like Adolf Hitler in eternity.

Among the scandalous messages of Christianity is that if someone like Hitler did genuinely repent and truly trust in Christ as God and Savior, he would be saved because of the grace made available to all through Jesus.

But the assertion made by Bouman, an undeniably brilliant man, that Hitler would be in the eternal city simply because God loves all people, doesn't square with the witness of Revelation or the rest of Scripture. According to John 3:16, the most beloved and well-known passage of Scripture, God loves the whole world, but the ones who will be saved are those who believe in His Son, that is, trust in His Son Jesus by turning from sin and trusting that He alone can save and transform them. Hell will be filled with people God loves.

Consider a few passages:
[After being ordered by religious authorities to stop sharing the message of new life through Jesus Christ, the apostles Peter and John said:] "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12)

[Jesus said:] "The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16)

[Jesus also said:] "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

[And Jesus said:] “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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 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." (John 3:16-18)
Salvation--life in the eternal city with God--comes to those who entrust themselves, including their past sins and their eternal futures, into the hands of Jesus Christ. There is no other way.

Lutherans have boiled the witness of Scripture about how God saves humanity from sin and death down to three principles: "Grace alone. Faith alone. Word alone."

As Jesus Himself indicates in the last passage cited above, there will be those who are outside the new Jerusalem, not because there are limits to God's love, but because there are no limits to God's willingness to respect the decisions made by the only of His creatures made in the image of God.

The mission of Christ's Church and of individual Christians is to be God's loving witness to in the world, to spare no effort in inviting others to repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus so that they too can be part of the everlasting city.

The exclusion from the lectionary of unpleasant passages that confirm that the Sovereign God of the universe will and has every right to accept eternally people's rejection of the salvation He gives in Jesus Christ, creates a false impression of God and risks turning people away from eternity. The false gospel of universalism it represents is not only gutless, avoiding unpleasant truths, it can also be deeply lacking in love and compassion, denying people truth from God they need to know.

It's ironic, even tragic, that two of the verses not included by the lectionary in this passage are Revelation 22:18-19:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.  
Why would the creators of this lectionary--and of our denominational body, the ELCA--make such a big deal of deleting, really, of going out of their way to delete, these verses from the passage?

Are they afraid that if you and I hear or read something unpleasant from the Bible, we won't feel "affirmed" and, instead, look for another church, a TV show, a web site, an organization, or a group of friends who will tell us, "Don't worry. God loves you. You can deny that He has any authority over your life and trust in your own goodness. You can do whatever you want."?

The world is filled with messages like that. Taken to heart, they lead away from God for eternity, away from the good plans God has for us and has revealed in Jesus Christ. At least that's what God says. Who are we to amend His Word?

Jesus says, "Repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15). Maybe we ought to take Him at His word.

Keep Following Christ!

If you, like me, are a sinner saved by grace through faith in Christ, you must know that at every moment you seek to faithfully, if imperfectly, follow Christ, you will encounter opposition.

This opposition will come from the devil, the world (including sometimes, the Church, since we all bring our sins to Church with us), and your sinful self.

Today's installment of Our Daily Bread addresses that reality. It's based on Psalm 4.

In Our Daily Bread, David C. McCasland writes this of King David, the author of the psalm:
Throughout David’s life, before and after he became king of Israel, he was never without opposition. But at the end of the day, he could say, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (v.8).
If you're going through a storm, internal or external as you seek to follow Christ, remember, God is bigger than any storm. In Christ's death and resurrection, God has conquered sin, death, and the devil for all eternity. He's got it handled. As David advises, "...put your trust in the Lord" (v.5).

Remember: "No one who believes in Him [trusts in the God we know in Christ] will be put to shame" (Romans 10:11).

And, Jesus promises: "...the one who endures [in faith in Him] will be saved" (Matthew 24:13).

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What About Saints? (Part 15, The Augsburg Confession)

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

Whenever Lutheran and Roman Catholic friends happen to talk about their churches, there’s one topic they probably both avoid more than any other. That topic is the issue of saints, who saints are, and, most especially, the place and role of deceased saints in the faith lives of Christians.

Lutherans believe that there are people who can be described as saints. After all, we celebrate All Saints Day every year and this congregation is called Saint Matthew Lutheran Church.

But what is a saint? Please turn to Philippians 1:1. This is the beginning of a letter dictated by the apostle Paul to Christians in the city of Philippi. It starts in the fashion typical of letters in those days, by naming who’s sending the letter first, then naming those to whom it’s addressed. It says: “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops [overseers] and deacons.”

Now, go back one book, to Ephesians 1:1. This letter begins: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus...”

In both of these letters, all the members of the respective churches were called saints, hagioi in the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written, a word that literally means holy ones.

Holy ones sounds pretty special, doesn’t it?

Were all the Christians in Ephesus and Philippi special?

Were they especially virtuous and faithful?

Or was the term being used to butter the believers up for the letters that followed?

Well, anyone who reads the New Testament with any care knows that, for example, the apostle Paul never buttered people up. He always told it like it was, whether the people he addressed would like his words or not. He was honest. He told the truth in love.

Fact is, Paul knew that every Christian to whom he wrote was a sinner, just like himself. (He once referred to himself as "the foremost" of sinners.)

But he also knew that every Christian he addressed was also a saint, a sinner set apart for all eternity by God because they had been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

If you are a repentant believer in Jesus Christ who knows that your hope is built on Jesus Christ alone, you are a saint.

Not perfect. Not sinless. Not flawless. A saint, a holy one of God, set apart for all eternity for the kingdom of God.

“Simply put,” ELCA Pastor D.J. Lura writes, “a saint is a Child of God, made such by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. God is in the business of making sinners into saints through faith in Christ alone.”

And this leads us, as we continue to consider what it means to be a Lutheran Christian, to Article 21 of The Augsburg Confession. Please pull a copy of the Confession from the pew rack and turn to page 21.

To start, I want to give you permission to mentally amend the copy you have in your hand. You can read it as saying, Invocation of the Saints. That’s how other translations put it, not as it appears in this translation, Worship of the Saints. Our Roman Catholic friends invoke the names of dead saints in prayer. They believe that they can enlist the prayers of dead saints on behalf of what they pray about.

To a Lutheran this seems to say that having Jesus as our advocate before the throne of God is insufficient. Or, that prayers offered to the Father in Christ alone lack the needed power to move God.

But Christ is the only advocate, Savior, and Lord anyone needs!

Let’s take a look at what the article says.

“Our [Lutheran] churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling.”

Phillip Melanchthon, who wrote the article, then goes on to say that the Emperor Charles, to whom the article was primarily addressed, could look to King David from the Old Testament for a saintly example of how a believer in the God you and I know through crucified and risen Jesus, might best execute a war.

Then, Melanchthon writes: “But the Scriptures do not teach that we are to call on the saints or ask the saints for help. Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intercessor...He is to be prayed to. He has promised that He will hear our prayer...This is the worship that He approves above all other worship, that He is to be called upon in all afflictions. [Then, Melanchthon cites 1 John 2:1:] “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate [Jesus, God the Son] with the Father.”

Go, please to 1 Timothy 2:5-6, one of the passages cited in the article. It says:
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and [humanity], the Man, Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified [or attested to, confirmed by His return to the earth in glory on the last Day] in due time. 
What does this mean? It means that the only way a human being can communicate with or can know God is through Jesus Christ. Out of God’s great love for all of us, Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, died for your sin and mine, then rose from the dead in order to give forgiveness and everlasting life, freedom from sin, death, and the devil to all who entrust their lives to Him.

There is nothing more powerful than Jesus’ Name! Philippians 2 tells us that because Jesus willingly left the glories of heaven in order to become the Servant of the human race He created, enduring the indignity of suffering and death, He was given by God the Father “the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on the earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

If we want a relationship with God, to talk with God, to seek God’s blessings, help, or strength, there is only one way to seek these things: through Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

Many of you have heard me speak of my great grandmother. She had a profound impact on my life. She taught me about the love of God given through Jesus Christ. She was a committed follower of Jesus, a Methodist, who sought to live her faith. She was a saint.

She could also be domineering and petulant toward her family members. She was a sinner.

When I pray, I do not ask Saint Elva to put in a good word for me. I don’t need to. Why would I invoke the help of a dead saint when I can go directly to God through Jesus Christ?

This is why Lutherans have always rejected invoking the names of saints in their prayers. Jesus says, “If you ask anything in My Name [which doesn’t mean using Jesus’ Name like a magical word, but praying in accordance with His will, His timing, His priorities, His grace, and His character. “If you ask anything in My Name...] I will do it.”

But, as the Confession reminds us, the Bible, God’s Word, doesn’t teach that we should just forget about saints who have gone before us. In another part of our Lutheran Confessions, Melanchthon summarizes the three ways in which Christians can and should honor the saints.

First, we honor the saints in thanksgiving. We should be thankful for the examples of Christian faithfulness we see in saints no longer on this earth. Becky mentioned Saint Matthew saints no longer with us in her presentation a few Sundays ago.

Personally, I think of saints like Pastor Bruce Schein, one of my professors at seminary, who, despite the challenges of Parkinson’s Disease, devoted himself totally to imparting the truth about Christ and the new life that only Christ can give to his students and everyone he knew. He reminded us that our job as Christians and as Christian leaders was, in a phrase from Paul's first letter to the young pastor, Timothy, to “fight the good fight,” combating things like spiritual indifference, idolatry, and evil so that people could be set free by the good news of new life given to all who believe in the crucified and risen Jesus.

Several years after I had been ordained, I got a note from him. He had been going through major health challenges and had, for a time, been clinically dead. He wrote by saying that he was happy that the "saints" at Bethlehem in Okolona had a "faithful shepherd." By the way, he wrote, he had been in God's throne room. "I put in a good word for you," he said.

Pastor Schein died at 42, having fought that loving fight for people’s eternal destinies to the end!

Another saint I remember with thankfulness is Martha Schneider. When I came to faith in my early twenties, Martha was already in her late sixties. Improbably, she took me under her wing. She taught me how to pray. She taught me what it means to follow Jesus. She was incredibly patient with me. And when, a few years later, I sensed God calling me to become a pastor, Martha was my biggest cheerleader. She never failed to end every conversation we had together by saying, "I love you."

Saints like these always point us to Jesus Christ, the only way to God. We honor them by thanking God for their example. We would dishonor them by praying through them rather than through the Lord they honored, served, worshiped, and trusted and to Whom they pointed!

A second way we honor saints is through veneration. To venerate saints, D.J. Lura points out, is to be comforted by how, despite their sins, the saints who have preceded us to eternity experienced the grace and forgiveness of God that comes to those who repent and believe.
  • Moses murdered a man, yet led God’s people to the promised land. 
  • Rahab was a prostitute who came to believe in the God of Israel and so, saved her family when the Israelites conquered Jericho. 
  • King David was called a man after God’s own heart even though he murdered and committed adultery. 
  • The life of Mary Magdalene was such a spiritual vacuum that she became filled with seven demons from which Jesus freed her. Then made her one of the first to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection, to preach the good news of Easter! 
  • Peter was empowered to preach the Word about Jesus Christ and even honored with martyrdom in Christ’s Name despite having turned his back on Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest. 
  • Paul approved the murder of Christians and yet, by God’s grace in Christ, became an apostle, the greatest evangelist in history. 
The saints show us that God willingly forgives sinners. I don’t know about you, but that gives me hope because I am a sinner in daily need of Christ’s forgiveness and the renewal that comes from the Holy Spirit!

Finally, we honor saints when we imitate their faith. As another commentator on The Augsburg Confession, Leif Grane, points out, the saints show us what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives, in our daily work, in daily interactions with others, in our ambitions and our decisions.

Do Lutherans believe in saints? Absolutely! We believe that every person in whom the Holy Spirit has planted the gift of faith in Christ is a saint. Not perfect. Forgiven.

But when it comes to praying, worshiping, seeking the help of God, invoking the names of saintly middle men or women is as pointless as praying in the name of some idol, or a block of wood, or Elvis.

When we pray, there is only one name that’s needed, only one name that will do, the name that’s above every name, the name of Jesus Christ, the One Who died and rose to make saints from sinners, set apart for God for all eternity. Amen