Peace Lutheran Church Sussex, Wisconsin

November 2016

November 30, 2016

Signs of the Coming of Christ

Christians look forward to Jesus’ second coming.  He has redeemed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  Our sins have all been forgiven on account of what Jesus has done for us upon the cross.  Salvation is a gift of God’s grace in Christ that is received by faith alone.  When Jesus comes again in glory, the whole world will know that the Gospel is true!  The dead will be raised, believers will receive eternal life in Christ, and unbelievers will be condemned for having rejected Jesus.  We who believe in Jesus have nothing to fear.

But why does Jesus seem to delay His second coming and what will the signs of His coming be?  Jesus has not delayed His second coming.  Just as Jesus was born at just the right time in human history, so He will come again at just the right moment.  This apparent delay is no delay at all.  It is a time for us to be the body of Christ—to reach out in love to those who do not know Him, to call to repentance, to preach the Gospel, to confess our faith by the lives that we live, to pray for our enemies, and to suffer persecution patiently for the name of Jesus.  All of this shows that we are the body of Christ and testifies to His love for a fallen world.

Jesus does not tell us when He will return, so that we do not become complacent. We are called to live each day as if He could return at any moment.  Nevertheless, in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 He does give us signs which are intended to encourage faith and teach us to rely upon His faithful Word alone.  Using Luke 21:5-38, the following five signs emerge:

   1.      The appearance of false teachers who claim to represent Jesus (vs. eight) Satan’s kingdom is ultimately one in which he seeks to destroy true faith in the Lord Jesus as the only Savior from sin through His death and resurrection.  Just as the pure Gospel of God’s love and forgiveness for us in Christ is the only source of faith, so false teaching is the source of unbelief and the rejection of Jesus.  The Church is engaged in spiritual warfare. The kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan are set against each other.  The enmity between faith and unbelief, between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the serpent is as old as the fall into sin itself.  But this is a war that is waged by words: the Word of God versus the lies, deceit, and false teaching of the devil.  False teaching will always direct people away from seeing their true need for Christ to some form of self-reliance.  ““Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them.” (Vs. 8).

   2.      War and human strife will continue throughout human history (vs. 9-10, 25) Man’s inability to rescue himself from his own sin (self-centeredness, self-righteousness, pride, and arrogance) will continue to manifest itself in every form of violence—from the wars that have plagued human history to the skirmishes and riots on the streets of our cities.  All of this shows how desperately we need the salvation of Christ. “But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately…Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (Vss. 9-10)

   3.      The occurrence of troubling signs in creation: earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and the unknown (vs. 11, 25-26)  On account of man’s sin and to continually show us our need for salvation in Christ, God cursed the creation.  The curse of the fall has a devastating effect upon the whole of creation.  It includes not only the pain of childbirth and the toil of daily work, but every form of brokenness that we observe in creation. “And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” (Vs. 11) “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Vss. 25-26).

   4.      The hatred of Christians because of Jesus, which will result in public persecution and personal betrayal (vs. 12-19) The apostles Peter and John rejoiced when they suffered imprisonment and flogging for preaching the Gospel.  Persecution and suffering for Jesus’ sake is a sign that we belong to Christ and gives us occasion to testify to the Gospel.  Persecution will come from the government and even from false Christians and members of our own families, but in each case the Lord promises to give us the words to speak by which we will faithfully testify to the Lord Jesus and to His suffering and death for the world’s salvation. “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. 13 But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. 14 Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head shall be lost. 19 By your patience possess your souls.” (vss. 12-19)

   5.      Fear and despair because of all of these signs (vs.25-28)  It is clear from Jesus’ words of warning that many of the signs leading up to His Second Coming will affect unbelievers as well as believers.  “Men’s hearts failing them from fear and expectation of those things which are coming on the earth…” is an expression describing the unbelief that we see evidenced in our world today.  Fear of so many things in our own society and culture can quickly accelerate into chaos and a disintegration of civil order.  Through such manifestations of fear and disorder we again see the utter folly in man’s attempt to be his own god and savior.  For us as Christians, these signs are not to be feared but are rather to be interpreted as signs that our Savior’s coming is near:  “There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Vss. 25-28)

 

In A.D. 33, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (vss. 5-6, 20-24).  It happened just as Jesus’ described.  In A.D 70 Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem, laid siege to the city and destroyed the Temple.  Jesus interpreted the event before it took place, calling it a sign of God’s judgment and wrath against unbelief, but also a call to repentance.  We should interpret many of the signs of the Second Coming in the same way.  The destruction of the Temple would serve as a pattern for what the Church could expect before Jesus’ Second Coming.  As horrible as the suffering was in A.D. 70, and as difficult as the suffering will be in the signs leading up to Jesus’ Second Coming, for the Christian and the Church, all such suffering gives us occasion to bear witness to the suffering of Jesus for the sins of the world.

Jesus catechesis bids us to watch and pray.  This means that we are called to be ever vigilant in the study of the Scriptures and in calling upon the Lord for the strength and faith He promises to give.  The Lord who suffered all, even death itself for our salvation, will enable us to endure the signs of His Second coming with joy and confidence. “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35 For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy[c] to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Vss. 34-36).

In Christ,

Pastor Bender

 

 

 

Peace Bits and Pieces

News and Notes

 


Advent Midweek Services Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ.  It is a penitential season, like Lent, but it also emphasizes the Christian’s hope for Christ’s Second Coming.  We are on a pilgrimage through this vale of tears until Christ returns again in glory.  Watchfulness, patience, attentiveness to God’s Word and prayer characterize this season of the Church Year.  Under the cross of persecution and the curse of the fall, we live in joyful anticipation of Christ’s return.  Throughout our pilgrimage we confess Christ, live in daily repentance, and bear witness to Him before the world which so desperately needs Christ’s salvation.  Advent Midweek Divine Services are Wednesdays, November 30, December 7, 14, and 21 at 2:30 and 6:45, and will focus upon the theme: “Come, Lord Jesus,” using the Sunday epistle readings:

  • November 30: “To Wake from Sleep”  – Romans 13:11-14
  • December   7:  “The Source of Our Hope”  – Romans 15:4-13
  • December 14:  “Stewards of the Mysteries”  – 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
  • December 21:  “The Peace of God that Surpasses Understanding”  – Philippians 4:4-7

 

 

 

 

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

Sunday School Advent/Christmas Program

On December 4, an Advent/Christmas Program on the Great O Antiphons will be held during the Sunday School hour on December 4.  The program will involve preschoolers through children in the 8th grade. Preparation for the program will be held during the opening of Sunday School from now until the day of the program.  Joint practice for the program will be this Saturday, December 3, from 9 to 11.

 

 

26th Annual Christmas Service

of Lessons and Carols

The First Nowell, Once in Royal David’s City, and Carols by John Rutter will highlight this year’s Service of Lessons and Carols. The service will be offered twice, after the fish fry on December 16 and at 10:30 on Sunday, December 18.  Invite neighbors, friends and family to join you for the service.

  • Friday, December 16 at 7:00 p.m. after the Fish Fry
  • Sunday, December 18 at 10:30 a.m.

 

Christmas Festival Service Schedule:

The Cherub and Academy choirs sing at the 4:00 p.m. Christmas Eve Divine Service.  The late service on Christmas Eve will be a candlelight communion service at 8:00 p.m. led by the Senior Choir.  There will be only one service on Sunday, Christmas Day, and on Sunday, New Year’s Day this year.  Both services will be at 9:30 a.m.  New Year’s Eve will feature the Service of Corporate Confession with Individual Absolutions given to all at the communion rail.  The Epiphany of Our Lord will be celebrated at the Wednesday Divine Service, January 4 at 6:45 p.m.

  • Christmas Eve Divine Service at 4:00
  • Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion Service at 8:00 p.m.
  • Christmas Day Divine Service at 9:30 a.m.
  • New Year’s Eve Divine Service, December 31 at 6:30 p.m.
  • New Year’s Day Divine Service, January 1 at 9:30 a.m.
  • Epiphany of Our Lord, Celebrated on Wednesday, January 4, at 6:45 p.m.

 

 

 

Goods and Services Auction Is February 26, 2017

Invite guests to attend the Goods and Services Auction in support of the Peace Lutheran Academy.  The Goods and Services Auction is the single biggest fundraiser for the Academy.  In the past we have netted as much as $15,000 for the Academy.  We would love to see the auction continue to grow in the goods and services offered and in the money raised.

Please sign up early to donate an item or service for the auction.  Auction donation forms are located in the Narthex at the SCRIP counter.  The deadline for auction items is February 10, 2017–But don’t delay!  Bringing guests and friends to bid on items is a tremendous benefit to the academy.  To make reservations, please pick up a reservation form at the SCRIP counter in the Narthex or in the office.  Thank you.

Volunteers are always needed to help with the Goods and Services Auction.  There are all kinds of chores to do before the day of the auction and during the weekend of the auction which can be a lot of fun!  Volunteering is a good way to get to know more folks in the congregation and academy.  Contact Karen Frerking if you are interested in volunteering.  Sorting and arranging donated items, setting up the display tables at the Silver Spring Country Club, baking tasty treats for the bake sale, and a whole lot more.  Let’s all pitch in and make this the best Goods and Services Auction ever!

September 2016

October 26, 2016

Civil Authority Established by God?

You’ve Got to Be Kidding!

 

What is a Christian to do?  What is a Christian to think?  As this year’s November election draws near many Christians and non-Christians alike are troubled by the choices that are before them.  “I don’t like any of the candidates!”  “They are all immoral, liars, and scoundrels!”  “I don’t think I can vote for any of these candidates!”  “I don’t approve of the kind of people they are in either their private or their public lives!” “I just won’t vote!” These are the kinds of statements people are making.

What is a Christian to think?  What is a Christian to do?  These questions must be answered in the context of the Scripture’s injunction: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities… The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).  Many see this as an irreconcilable dilemma: How can these choices for candidates be the ones whom God has given us?

The Apostle Paul penned those words, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, during the time of the Roman Empire when the Christian Church was an unofficial religion and on the threshold of the Emperor Nero’s reign of terror on the Christian Church.  Paul would soon be beheaded and Peter would be crucified by Nero.  First, to believe what the Word of God says requires faith, not in what we can see, but in what we cannot see.  Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate affirms the truth that God WILL have His day and that His greatest good is accomplished in ways that we can’t even imagine. But this still does not answer the question about the dilemma of our nation’s elections and how the Christian should think about voting.

There have been many forms of government in the history of human civilization: monarchies, theocracies (as in Islamic countries), and dictatorships, just to name a few.  The United States is a Constitutional Republic. What most Christians don’t realize in our American form of government is that the citizens are among those established by God as part of civil authority.  So when the Apostle Paul states, “the authorities that exist have been established by God.” he is talking about you and me.  This means that we really don’t have the option to “opt out” if we are to truly honor the civil authorities.

Christian citizens have a responsibility under God to participate in our Constitutional Republic by engaging in the political process; this includes voting!  This is an authority given to us by God.  What governs our actions as Christians?  How should we approach the voting booth?  Here are some considerations:

  1. Our decisions should be ordered by what God’s Word teaches about what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral, and what is going to best serve the public good.  For example, we believe in the sanctity of human life, the foundational importance of marriage and family as God has instituted it, the rule of Law, and God’s charge to the civil authorities to punish evil doers and to reward those who do well.  These are just a few of the considerations that govern Christians in the decisions that they make as “civil rulers” in the voting booth.
  2. Our decisions are made in love for our fellow man.  What is going to best serve the common good?  What is going to best uphold the Constitutional form of government under which we live?  What is going to best serve the preservation of the civil rights guaranteed in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights?  Chief among these rights guaranteed in our Constitution is the freedom of religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  To grapple with these questions falls under the rubric of Holy Scripture that “civil authority is established by God.”  In this case, not only are voting citizens established by God, but so also is our Constitution and Bill of Rights under which our country is supposed to operate.  Few people realize that in our form of government, the Constitution is a higher authority than any elected official.
  3. Christians should know and understand the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and form of government under which we live. We cannot properly honor the civil authority, the Constitution, and our role as citizens, if we do not know and understand what God has given us in our Constitution.  We tend only to think of the elected leaders as “established by God,” but the Constitution and Bill of Rights in our country is also included in Paul’s words, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).
  4. Christians should distinguish between the two kingdoms—the Church and the Civil realm. If we could vote only for God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians, we could quite possibly never vote for anyone.  In the kingdom of the Church, governed by the preaching of the Gospel and the faithful administration of the Sacraments, we are, indeed, to call and ordain to the office of the ministry only those who are “above reproach.”  But in the civil realm this is often not possible.  The kingdom of the Church is concerned with repentance and faith in Christ for salvation.  In the civil realm, it is the law which is to govern the outer man (believer and unbeliever alike) to maintain order, to protect the nation against foreign aggression and, under our form of government, to preserve the rights and freedoms of all our citizens against tyranny.  A good rule of thumb is to understand that the spiritual kingdom is concerned with the faith of the heart; the civil kingdom is concerned about the temporal protection and general welfare of all citizens.  By faith we believe that God is active in both kingdoms for His own good and gracious purposes.  Ultimately, God’s rule in both kingdoms serves the greater good of the preservation of His Church.  Quite often this involves suffering persecution, even as we contend faithfully as citizens of our country.
  5. The Civil Government is only temporary.  Christians recognize that every form of earthly government and its rulers are flawed, just like all the citizens who live in the nation.  We live in the world, but we are not of this world.  We walk by faith in Christ and the Word of God.  We do our best to serve our neighbor in love, exercising our God-given responsibilities as citizens, participating in our form of government, and making the best decisions possible in love for our fellow man and to serve our neighbor.  In the end, however, we commend our nation and all that we do to the God of mercy and love who has sent His Son to redeem the world.
  6. Our faithful service as citizens in our country is born out of our faith in the love of God in Christ for the unworthy and undeserving. The Old Testament saints give us an outstanding example of how to serve as citizens in a godless nation.  Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego, did their best to serve the wicked king Nebuchadnezzar while they were captives in the empire of Babylon.  They remained true to the Word of God, but they also served the king as government officials to the best of their ability and for the loving benefit of all citizens of the realm.  Sometimes they were persecuted and paid a costly price for their service, but their faithful service was a testament to God’s universal love in Christ for all people.

Finally, as we approach this upcoming election, the Church will offer no candidate voting guides but rather encourage Christians to serve their neighbor by exercising their right to vote for those candidates who will best serve the public good according to what we know to be true and right according to God’s Word.  In these decisions we employ human reason that is sanctified by God’s Word.  As Christians, we should carefully heed the Word of God as recorded in the Table of Duties: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21), and “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

 

In Christ,

Pastor Bender

[See the passages of Scripture from the Table of Duties: Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 22:21; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Titus 3:1; and 1 Peter 2:13-14.]

 

 

 

Peace Bits and Pieces

News and Notes

 In each newsletter, we will look to update you on happenings and interesting tidbits within our parish that impact our fellowship. These may include upcoming or recently completed events in the parish or academy, stories involving the work of our auxiliary organizations, activities undertaken by members or students, or simply something we believe you will find interesting. But the intent is to better communicate with our parish family about items in which we share a common interest.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY – On the evening of September 30th we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Pastor Bender’s installation at Peace Lutheran Church. Per his wishes, this was not a celebration of his anniversary alone but rather our anniversary together. Much as married couples do not celebrate their anniversary as individuals, the relationship of a pastor to his congregation must involve both parties. Over the past quarter century much has certainly changed in our lives, in our culture, in our country, and in this world. But the eternal truths have continued to be taught in Divine Services, in Bible studies, and in other opportunities for catechesis together.  This is certainly the “tie the binds,” and we give thanks for the many blessings over the past 25 years.

The evening began with a special Evening Prayer Service led by sons of Peace Lutheran now in the ministry: Rev. Christopher Seifferlein, Rev. Kyle Verage, and Rev. Michael Larson. The service was followed by a reception in Loehe Hall with food, drink, and many wonderful stories of all that has transpired over the past 25 years. Special thanks to Laura Ferguson and Kara Rhode for planning the event and to their families and all the others who helped in making it a wonderful celebration of our time together.

CHRISTMAS CRAFT & VENDOR FAIR – On Saturday, November 12, we will be holding our 7th annual Christmas Craft & Vendor Fair from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. It is an outstanding way to kick off the Thanksgiving/Christmas season with a wide variety of vendors providing all types of interesting gift possibilities. If you would like to be a vendor, booth spaces remain available. You can pick up a registration packet in the church office. You can also help greatly by simply showing up that day and taking a look around. Vendors appreciate foot traffic, and your being there helps to make it a most successful event. We hope you will join us for a fun day in support of Peace Lutheran Academy.

GOVERNMENT AT WORK – Given that we are in the presidential election season, it has been a tradition for Peace Lutheran Academy to hold a “Government Game” where the students elect a president and vice president, as well as a congress. They then begin the work of assigning duties for treasury, post master, etc. and creating and working to pass bills. If you believe there is frustration only in the halls of the Congress in Washington, imagine the consternation in the halls of the academy when President Frerking vetoed the first bill presented to him that would have made every other Friday a non-uniform day. There were concerns we may need secret service protection on the playground! But after working through some details involving what was and was not appropriate to wear, what options there were for participating and so on, the revised bill made it through congress and was signed into “law” making it the official policy of Peace Lutheran Academy. While the game is certainly a great deal of fun for the students, they are also learning how our government works. While this may seem like a little thing, having academy students work through these issues awakens practical application of things that may have simply been ignored previously. And this is a great aid in the goal of producing graduates who take seriously their responsibility as Christian citizens and future leaders of our country.

 

 

Funding the Academy Updates

 Monthly Fish Fry:  Thanks to all for your continued support of the monthly fish fry.  This includes not only all the volunteers who graciously give of their time (and baking abilities), but to all of those who purchase the meals and promote the fish fry among your friends and neighbors.  This fund-raiser continues to be an excellent opportunity to raise funds for the Academy (we have raised over $60,000 in the past 12 years).

Scrip: Thanks to everyone who is participating in this very profitable funding source for the Academy.  Remember, you can use your VISA or Mastercard to purchase Scrip.  However, there is more profit to the Academy when you pay with cash or check.

But there are some in the congregation who are probably asking “What is the Scrip Program and why do we promote it?”  It is a term which means “substitute for money.”  Scrip is a real and negotiable gift certificate from one of over 160 participating national merchants.  These gift certificates are the identical gift certificates normally issued by a participating store.  Our Academy purchases discounted gift certificates and sells them to you for face value.  You can then use those gift certificates like cash to buy normal everyday items which you would purchase anyway … in those stores you like to shop.  The discount we receive (% profit on the order form) becomes income for our Academy — and does not cost you more than you spend now!  Have any more questions?  Ask the people at the Scrip counter.

 

 

Rev. Dr. John Wille Guest Panelist At November 1 To Everyone An Answer

October 26, 2015

The Rev. Dr. John Wille, President of the LCMS South Wisconsin District; Rev. Dr. Karl Fabrizius, Our Father’s, Greenfield; and Rev. Aaron Koch, Mount Zion, Greenfield will be the guest panelists addressing The Sanctity of Marriage and the Church’s Response to Legalizing Same-Sex Unions at the upcoming November 1 To Everyone an Answer evening Bible study and soup supper, beginning at 5:30 p.m. This year’s theme, “The Church in the Public Square,” focuses on contemporary challenges from the culture facing the Church. Each of the Sunday-evening presentations of the series includes a brief Bible study presented by Rev. Peter Bender, Peace.

The remaining topics and dates for the series with panelists to be announced are as follows: The Freedom of Religion and the Church’s Response to Persecution from the Society  January 10, 2016; The Mark of the Holy Cross: The Church Bears Witness to the World through Persecution  March 6, 2016; The Hope of the Resurrection: The Church Confesses in Joyful Confidence  April 10, 2016.

Come and learn how to faithfully bear witness to the faith in the public square. The evenings are suitable for leadership as well as laity of all ages. In keeping with To Everyone an Answer, family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors from other denominations and faith traditions are welcome to partake of the series.

Childcare will be available. All is free of charge. Contact Pastor Bender with questions or RSVP at (262) 246-3200. Peace Lutheran Church and Academy (peacesussex.org) is located at W240 N6145 Maple Avenue, Sussex.

 

June 2015

June 29, 2015

God Does Not Desert Those Who Trust in Him

We know that tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope. – Romans 5:3-4

“When God wants to strengthen a man’s faith He first weakens it by feigning to break faith with him. He thrusts him into many tribulations and makes him so weary that he is driven to despair, and yet He gives him strength to be still and persevere. Such quietness is patience and patience produces experience, so that when God returns to him and lets His sun rise and shine again, and when the storm is over he opens his eyes in amazement and says: ‘The Lord shall be praised, that I have been delivered from evil. God dwells here. I did not think that all would end so well’.

“Within a day or two, within a week or a year, or even within the next hour, sin brings another cross to us: the loss of honor or possessions, bodily injury or some mishap which brings such trouble. Then it all begins again and the storm breaks out once more. But now we glory in our afflictions because we remember that on the former occasion God was gracious to us, and we know that it is His good will to chastise us, that we may have reason to run to Him and to cry, ‘He who has helped me so often will help me now’. And that selfsame longing in your heart (which makes you cry, Oh that I were free! Oh that God would come! Oh that I might receive help!) is hope, which putteth not to shame, for God must help such a person.

“In this way God hides life under death, heaven under hell, wisdom under folly, and grace under sin.”

– Martin Luther

Deacon Gatchell—Farewell and Godspeed

Martin Luther said, “There ought to be deacons, not for the reading of the Gospel, but to tend to the temporal affairs of the congregation.”  In 1994 Peace Lutheran Church extended a Solemn Appointment to Matthew Gatchell, a graduate of the Lay Ministry program at Concordia University, Mequon, to be the Deacon of Peace Lutheran Church. At the time that Deacon Gatchell began his service among us there was no “Peace Lutheran Academy” (the preschool was beginning its second year), and the CCA had just been formed at the same Voters’ meeting at which Deacon was called. Since 1994 we have seen the creation of Peace Lutheran Academy, the growth of the Academy’s financial development program (the single greatest source of income for the Academy), the explosion of the use of the CCA materials in our own country and throughout the world, and many improvements to our physical plant (the construction of the Academy addition; the storage garage; new roofs, air-conditioning, and organ; and the beautification of our grounds through the garden and patio expansion). In all of these things, Deacon Gatchell’s leadership and help were immeasurable.

Throughout the history of the Church, Acts 6 was used to encourage the appointment of qualified men to serve in the Office of Deacon, so that the ministers of God’s Word could “give [themselves] continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (verse 4). Without Deacon Gatchell’s help over the past 21 years, I simply could not have done my job as pastor. But the Office of Deacon is more than a “temporal affairs office.”  It is an office which also assists the Office of the Holy Ministry. Over the years, Deacon has made hospital calls, visited shut-ins, substitute taught in catechesis classes, and led Bible studies. Along with the development of the CCA’s outreach, this is the area of work he has enjoyed most.

Over the past ten years, Deacon’s health began to compromise his ability to serve. A precancerous blood disorder resulted in the removal of his spleen seven years ago. This, in turn, compromised his immune system and exacerbated his allergies, contributing to chronic sinus infections and several sinus surgeries. Knee and shoulder replacements have also been a hindrance.

When Deacon discussed his retirement with me last fall, he was most aggrieved that his chronic health issues over the past seven years had prevented him from serving his pastor and assisting in the ministry of the Gospel in the way that he would have liked. For my part, I am very grateful to God for the gift that Deacon Gatchell has been to me and Peace Lutheran Church, the CCA, and Academy over the past 21 years. He has been a good friend and confidant. The existence and growth of the CCA would not have been possible without him. And all the little intuitive insights and understandings that he and I share as Pastor and Deacon are difficult to articulate and impossible to replace. On the occasion of Deacon’s retirement, I can think of no more appropriate passage than the words of St. Paul to the Philippian Christians: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6). None of us knows what the future holds, but we are confident in the Lord’s sustaining and all-sufficient grace.

In Christ, Pastor Bender

Dear Friends at Peace . . . From Deacon Gatchell

Dear friends at Peace,

I have had the privilege to serve at Peace for the past 21 years. I am grateful to our Lord that He allowed me to serve in a congregation committed to the historic liturgy, the Lutheran Confessions, and the passing on of the faith. It has been wonderful to work with like-minded people. I am thankful for having Pastor Bender as my shepherd and friend all of these years.

Because of our mutual commitment, many things have happened in the congregation that I am proud to have been a part of. First and foremost in my mind is the work of the CCA. Through the work of the CCA, the commitment that our congregation has to being Lutheran has been passed on to others throughout the world. Through my involvement with the CCA, I have learned several new skills including page design, page layout, preparing materials for publication, and a whole new publishing vocabulary. Through the marketing of the materials at various conferences throughout the U.S., I have had the opportunity to speak about the CCA materials and about our congregation to pastors and presidents/presiding bishops of Lutheran church bodies from around the world. For example, at a convention in Illinois, I had a two hour conversation with the presiding bishop of the Lutheran Church of Southern Africa. In Fort Wayne, I had my picture taken presenting the CCA materials to the bishop of Kenya. Many are surprised to find out how small our congregation is, given the impact we have had on Lutheranism. They are even more surprised to find out how many members assist in collating the materials (my thanks to all of you who participated in the many collating parties throughout the years). If the congregation had not been supportive of my traveling to various conferences, sometimes for weeks at a time, I would not have had these opportunities. For that I am grateful to God.

Through my work with the CCA, I had opportunities to explain what I do as a deacon. Because of that, other pastors and congregations are beginning to explore the use of a deacon in their parish situations. I recently had a pastor from Texas tell me that, having watched me for over 20 years, he is convinced that there should be a male diaconate in the synod. Also, I was told that I am now the model for the Lutheran Lay Ministry program at CUW of what a lay minister/deacon should be doing in a congregation. Without the opportunity to serve in this supportive congregation, that would not have been possible. I am thankful to the congregation for being supportive in this way.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as pastoral assistant of the congregation. To assist Pastor Bender in the Divine Service, lead daily chapels, lead Sunday Matins, and teach occasional Bible classes are things I will always cherish. One of the great joys that I have had over the past 21 years was to share the Word of God and pray with our members who were in the hospital, in a care facility, or confined at home.

I am thankful for the friendships I have developed over the years with various members of the congregation. Also, I am grateful for the support the members have given to me and my family over the years, especially when I have had to deal with various health issues. I thank the Lord for each and every one of you.

I am also proud to have been a part of the development of Peace Lutheran Academy. Verla and I were part of the ad hoc committee that proposed the establishment of the academy to the congregation. Pastor Bender and I walked through Sussex speaking with business owners about the academy and inviting them to our first open house. I helped develop the three-pronged approach to financing the academy (tuition, congregational support, and financial development). In the area of financial development, I proposed implementing the scrip program, goods and services auction, and craft fair. I have had the opportunity to assist with curriculum development of the history program and to have taught in the academy. I am proud to have been part of the Hornblower dinners and “master of the grog bowl”. I am grateful for all of the volunteers who have assisted with the various activities and fundraisers throughout the years.

I am grateful for all the members with various talents who have assisted in building and maintaining the physical structures of the congregation. The remodeling of the chancel, the building of the garage, the patio and landscaping, the remodeling of the offices, the many coats of paint through the building, the re-roofing of the sanctuary, the sound system, and the building out of the school building would not have been possible without the loving labor of our members. Thanks to each of you, my job has been easier to do.

Finally, I am grateful to the Lord that He has allowed me to learn, lead, and share His love with all of you in our various vocations for the last third of my life. What a blessing this has been for me! May the grace of our Lord and Savior continue to be with each and every one of you!

In Christ, Deacon Gatchell

Handling the Congregation’s Temporal Affairs

The Parish Council has approved an Interim Administrative Plan to handle the temporal affairs of the parish after Deacon Gatchell’s retirement. The plan divides administrative responsibilities among five sub-committees: finance, financial development, web site, CCA, and administration. These sub-committees have been meeting with me and Deacon Gatchell leading up to Deacon’s retirement to facilitate a smooth transition to Deacon’s retirement toward a more permanent staffing solution in the future. Jim Frerking will function as “Acting Administrator” of the parish to serve as a “point man” to field questions and concerns that members of the congregation may have and which they have typically taken to Deacon Gatchell in the past.

It is the judgment of the Parish Council that we do not want to rush into more permanent staffing solutions to Deacon’s retirement until we have a more thorough assessment of the parish’s administrative needs.

Open Congregational Forum Sunday, July 26 at 9:15 am To Discuss Possibilities for Future Staffing

The Office of Deacon is not only concerned with temporal affairs of the parish, but it is also intended to be both a pastoral assistant and a help to the laity in fulfilling their callings. Deacon Gatchell, himself, has long been frustrated that some of his chronic health issues have prevented him from assisting in these last two areas as much as he would have liked. At an Open Forum on July 26, we would like to discuss a number of options, including the possibility of extending a call to Pastor Gary Gehlbach to serve in the Office of Deacon. Pastor Gehlbach, or someone like him in the office of Deacon, could be a big help in achieving some of the ministerial goals I have for the congregation:

•  Regular every family visits of the congregation for the purpose of pastoral care

•  Missionary work in the community

•  Follow-up on visitors, prospective members, and contacts

•  Developing a catechumenate (adult sponsors and support of catechumens)

•  Help with youth catechumens in preparing personal prayer books

•  Attention to the membership files

•  More regular congregational newsletters

•  Coordination and assistance of members in volunteer and mercy work

•  Public administrative presence in the office that coordinates and directs temporal affairs

•  Developing more of the Lutheran Catechesis Series

•  Sunday School Curriculum that is coordinated with the Congregation at Prayer

•  Catechumenate materials

•  Lutheran Catechesis Compendium

•  Catechetical Modules on Important Topics

•  Small Catechism for Daily Prayer

My biggest areas of concern are having adequate time to study and prepare for preaching and teaching, individual pastoral care for families, coordinating the mission and evangelism activities of the congregation, follow-up with prospective members, the withering and delinquent. Pastor Gehlbach could be of immense help to me in these areas.

In our discussions, the Parish Council identified priorities: first, we want the leadership to have a firm grasp of the temporal and administrative needs that we have (this would be aided by our 5 administrative groups); second, we want to make certain that we can afford the personnel decisions we make. We also discussed my long standing desire to have a sabbatical for spiritual refreshment and to complete various Lutheran Catechesis projects; and we discussed the possibility of entering into the vicarage program at some point in the future. We certainly encourage conversation about these ideas over the weeks ahead, even before the July 26 Open Forum. The bottom line is that we want to be fiscally prudent and responsible before we move forward with a long term replacement for Deacon. We would like to build consensus within the congregation and not rush into a decision.

Sincerely in Christ, Pastor Bender

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 2014

November 6, 2014

God’s Gift of Marriage and the Renewing Power of Jesus’ Love

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and before His Church to witness the union of this man and this woman in holy matrimony. This is an honorable estate instituted and blessed by God in Paradise, before humanity’s fall into sin.”  This is how our liturgy of Holy Matrimony begins. Marriage is an “honorable estate instituted and blessed by God.”  At a time in which modern man is redefining marriage and attacking God’s institution, it is important for the Church to remain steadfast in defending what God has given, calling the world and her own members to repentance for sin, but also holding up the Biblical portrait of marriage and family as wonderful gifts of God for the good of the Church and all of society.

For us as Christians, the Word of God is determinative. We believe what we believe and teach what we teach and confess what we confess about marriage because God’s Word speaks. He is the Creator. He is the One who has instituted and established marriage. He is the One who gives order to the world in which we live. What God says and what God gives is good, even though sinful man might reject it and chafe beneath it. That is the way of the sinful flesh since the fall. To follow our emotions and feelings, to allow any notion of human love to dictate our actions, to be afraid to speak the truth because it might offend someone we love who does not believe the truth is a recipe for disaster.

In the beginning, before humanity’s fall into sin, the Holy Trinity created man in His image: “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28). God’s gift of marriage is the union of a man and a woman in one flesh through which God intends to continue to bring human life into the world, and to nurture that life through the loving care of a father and a mother. The man and the woman are not merely two generic parents in whatever modern man wants to call family; they are two very different individuals that make up the one flesh union for the giving and receiving of life and love in marriage. This is how God intended the image of God to be reflected in the world. It is a glorious gift through which we participate with God in the self-giving love which creates life!  This is why having children is called “procreation” — a father and mother are not the creators of their children, but they participate with God in the gift of life and are brought into God’s creative work when they come together in the one flesh union and children are conceived, born, and cared for.

Same-sex unions cannot produce the life that God promised as a sign of His blessing upon marriage. Same-sex unions are contrary to God’s Word and the very life-producing order that God built into nature. To put it bluntly: same-sex unions cannot produce life; they can only end in death!  They are contrary to nature. But some might say: “What about love?  What about affection?  What about what I want?  Isn’t this the way God made me?”  No!  God is not the author of sin. Adam’s fall wreaked havoc on God’s creation. It is marked by a radical rebellion against God which constantly chafes against what God has said and given us in His Word. For us as Christians, all human emotions and feelings must be placed under the scrutiny and judgment of God’s Word. That’s what the call to repentance is all about!  It is the realization and confession of one’s sin and then the fleeing to Christ for forgiveness, help, and renewal.

This is what we in the Church must offer to the world: a clear confession about what marriage is, a call to repentance for sin and those struggling with same-sex attractions, and the forgiveness, salvation, and new life that is offered to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We condemn sin and call to repentance not because we are saved by our works, but so that sinners might be saved through the work of Christ. There is no perfect marriage, even among heterosexual Christian husbands and wives. We all need to hear the call to repentance and be renewed by the forgiving Word of Christ. But this is what God promises everyone who hears the voice of the Good Shepherd and believes: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new…For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:17, 21).

Our ultimate comfort and source of strength to live as God has called us comes from Christ, the bridegroom sent from heaven. What God intended for marriage comes to its fulfillment in Jesus!  God the Father sent forth His Son in love for us to be united to our flesh and blood. The Son of the Father was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary to be the husband for His bride the Church. He made the ultimate self-giving sacrifice of love on our behalf by laying down His life for His bride upon the cross. He gave Himself to His bride, withholding nothing from her, and out of His loving sacrifice new life sprang forth through the forgiveness of sins that is received by the members of His body the Church.

Many people who claim to be homosexual or who are struggling with same sex attractions might confess that they simply want to be loved. Many Christians in broken marriages want the same thing too!  But true love—the love that saves, heals, and makes us whole—is the love of Christ. It is not received by rejecting God’s Word, but by repentance and faith in everything He says. True love—the love of Christ for His bride the Church— is received through His words, His absolution, His body and blood. We in the Church must vigorously hold up the Biblical portrait of marriage, but we must also, with equal fervor, hold up the forgiveness, comfort, love, and new life we have in Christ our heavenly bridegroom. Sin breaks everything it touches, including marriage, family, and human sexuality. But Christ’s forgiveness and love renews us and satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts. It is this Gospel that we offer to the world.

In Christ, Pastor Bender

“Once in Royal David’s City”: A Lesson on the Service of Carols

It really begins before the downbeat of the first familiar chord, in which are recollected so many Christmas seasons, before the breath is taken and held in that ever-so-slight anticipatory gasp, waiting to exhale, that something is about to happen. The familiar “Once in Royal David’s City,” the traditional opening of the festival service of nine lessons and carols, began as a children’s song, written by Irish poet Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, published in Hymns for Little Children (1848). In this children’s hymnal, Alexander’s hope was that the “language of verse which children love, would help to impress on their minds what they are, what I have promised for them, and what they must seek to be.” So in this regard, Mrs. Alexander’s poems did not begin in her generation, either. Writing for the Church of Ireland, her work is aimed at catechesis, not merely teaching of doctrine, but the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins and to live in love toward one another. Alexander wrote poems for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, poems regarding the promises of baptism, and poems upon each section of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Ten Commandments.

By teaching the faith and sound doctrine “in a simple way,” children were introduced to the language of faith which they would carry and confess throughout their lives. As a result, these children’s hymns were taught from parent to child and became intergenerational classics. The familiar words “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all” from “Once in Royal David’s City” were to teach the doctrine of the incarnation, an explanation of “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” of the Apostles’ Creed. Equally, we could point to a number of “Lutheran hymns” that function in the same way. Alexander translated St. Patrick’s Latin of the hymn, “I Bind unto Myself Today” (LSB 604), which teaches about the Trinity. Other traditions have incorporated more of Alexander’s hymnody. She wrote the words for the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” teaching from the Apostles’ Creed about God the Father, as “Maker of Heaven and Earth.”  Alexander’s hymn, “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” placed in rhyme the atoning work of Christ, “there was no other good enough, to pay the price of sin,” expanding upon the words, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” The poem succinctly and memorably sums up the satisfaction of Christ’s righteous work upon the Cross.

Broadcast worldwide, “Once in Royal David’s City” touches millions each Christmas season, bringing back the words of the bidding prayer, taking us back to the message of the angels, back to Bethlehem, and back to the babe lying in a manger and the loving purpose of God. For that is what great hymnody does, it brings us back, and this is why we continue in it. Such hymns begin before us, express the great truths of the faith which are believed generation after generation, and recollect the Song of the Church, the song of salvation in Jesus.

Peace’s Annual Service of Lessons and Carols will be held Dec. 19, 7 p.m.

Preus Addresses Suicide in Lecture Series

That a Christian trusts in God and in His many blessings, yet this Christian despaired and gave up on those same blessings is a paradox of Christian suicide, the paradox of a number of paradoxes which confront those who remain following a Christian’s suicide said The Rev. Peter Preus, addressing a crowded Loehe Hall, filled with congregational members and community guests, in the first To Everyone an Answer lecture of the 2014-2015 season on Oct. 19.

The Rev. Peter Bender prefaced Preus’ address with words from Philippians, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9), saying “self-worth lies in having the righteousness of Christ, having our sins forgiven as the free gift of His grace, apart from our merit, is the ultimate comfort for us in our troubles.” Pastor Bender’s words were a fitting introduction to the Gospel-laden presentation that was to follow.

Preus, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Triune God, Brooklyn Center, Minn., spoke of the apparent contradiction of the one who is both Christian and who committed suicide presents—How can one who has faith in Christ also despair of that faith by committing suicide? This paradoxical duality often leads to the false conclusion that the loved one lost his or her faith, leaving the suicide survivor to deal with the burden of the stigma of suicide. This stigma comes from judgment and ignorance of the facts said Preus. The stigma is removed by the truth. In order to resolve a number of stigmas associated with suicide, we as Lutherans must address what we know—what is faith? What is sin?  And what is God’s grace? Preus drew upon examples of clinical depression and its relationship to suicide from his personal and pastoral experience, focusing in his answers to these questions upon saving faith. Faith is trust in Christ as Savior, and it is not equated with positive feelings, cognitive thinking, reasonable opinions, or an understanding of truth. Preus emphasized that faith saves because of what it has: the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

One of the most comforting doctrines is that God keeps us in a state of grace noted Preus. “Baptism is God’s means of protecting us spiritually.” God’s grace is stronger than the sin of suicide. And as a baby who wants out of its mother’s arms, God is stronger than our desire to want out of His care and protection Preus told the audience. Preus illustrated how many of the judgments upon the suicidal and guilt placed upon those who remain after a suicide, arise out of a psychological understanding of faith which desires to “add-on” to faith: faith plus obedience, faith plus reason, faith plus self-esteem, or faith plus optimism.

Preus closed the evening stressing that pastors should not ignore the appropriate need for medical attention nor the sin of suicide with the depressed, but in pastoral care, the emphasis needs to be upon the Gospel as the final word. As the words to the hymn “Salvation unto Us Has Come” proclaims, “the Law no peace can ever give, no comfort and no blessing.” Relief can be found in God’s Word of the Gospel and in His sacraments. Talking about one’s baptism, attending the divine service, and providing God’s gifts of private communion and private confession to the depressed and hopeless brings the future hope of being with Christ in heaven to earth and into this present life, even if circumstances may not change. In consoling the grieving who have lost loved ones to suicide, Preus suggests that rather than focusing upon the effects of sin in depression and disease upon those who committed suicide, comfort for the grieving can be provided by talking about who this person was in Christ as a baptized and redeemed person. Christ died for every sin, despair, and hopelessness, even that which accompanies depression and suicide.

 Editor’s Note: An audio CD of the full presentation is available for free. Copies of Preus’s book, And She Was a Christian: Why Do Believers Commit Suicide? are available at cost ($20). Contact Brenda in the church office, 262-246-3200.

 What Should I Know About Depression?

Not all people with depression will show all symptoms to the same degree. Consult a medical doctor for proper diagnosis. Other disorders show similar characteristics to depression. In an emergency, contact 911. For suicide prevention, the  American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: 1-888-333-2377 may be a helpful resource. Pastor Bender may also be reached at 262-370-1189.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 2014

September 12, 2014

Baptismal Sponsors

The practice of assigning sponsors to candidates for Baptism originated in the first three centuries of the Church during the time of widespread persecution. Respected, mature Christians from the congregation were chosen to “sponsor” adult converts throughout their catechesis prior to Baptism. They were to pray for the catechumens whom they were sponsoring and support them in their catechesis so that they did not succumb to the temptations to return to the life of unbelief. The early church understood the great danger that Satan, intense persecution, and the riches of this world posed for catechumens. They would be tempted to forsake the seed of the Gospel that had been implanted in them (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). At the time of their baptism, sponsors would stand with their catechumens and give testimony that they had not fallen away from the faith into which they had been called.

In the early church, sponsors were chosen for adult converts or entire families. It was understood that children born to baptized Christians were “sponsored” chiefly by their parents who were responsible for teaching them the faith. Sponsors, by definition, confess the faith of the child or adult being baptized, and they should possess a level of maturity in the faith so that they will be able to offer prayer, counsel, and support to those they sponsor.

In the coming years we want to regain the practice of assigning sponsors from within the congregation, particularly for adult converts. The duties of these sponsors would include attendance with those they sponsor at catechesis classes and the Divine Service, assisting catechumens with understanding the liturgy and the local customs of the congregation, praying for their catechumens, and supporting them in other ways with their counsel and help. Together, we pray:

“Heavenly Father, enable our sponsors to be examples of prayer and faithfulness in hearing the Word of God, receiving the Sacraments, confessing sin, and living by faith in Christ’s forgiveness with love toward others. Grant that their catechumens might learn from them to suffer under the cross of persecution and affliction with steadfastness, patience, and joy, to the glory of the only true God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (LSB Agenda).

In Christ,

Pastor Bender

Didache Begins on September 22

Didache is a 24 week, intensive course in the Bible, Catechism, and Liturgy of the Church for the spiritual renewal of our adult members, all new members of the congregation, perspective members, new Academy parents, and for those who simply want to learn more about what we believe and why we worship the way we do. If you haven’t been to Didache before, this course is for you! Classes begin Sept. 22 and meet Monday evenings at 7 p.m. If you are in need of childcare or babysitting so that you and your spouse can attend together, please speak to Pastor Bender.

Passing on the Faith

Families are important. The creation accounts of man and woman made in the image of God pass by quickly. It seems no sooner than God had completed creation, that man rushes toward the fall, taking himself and his family with him. What was God’s gift in creation before the fall, as a place of nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord became cast into the fallen world. Man no longer lives in that Edenic garden, undefiled and unashamed. The family is barred from paradise, as cursed men and women waiting in faith for the promised Son. Generation after generation the story is retold, transmitted decade after decade through families, from fathers to their children.

How the faith is transmitted is a mystery, a hidden thing, an unseen reality of the Holy Spirit. The God who cast the first family out of the Garden of Eden at the same time provided them with skins to cover their nakedness, the clothing of righteousness in the promise of Jesus Christ and with the begetting of children so that faith and families would continue, generation after generation. God’s intention for the family was not Adam and Eve fending off deception and temptation in an idyllic garden, but God’s ultimate plan was Jesus in the Garden–of Gethsemane, praying for His family, His wife and children, the Church. God’s picture of the model family is the image of Jesus Christ on the cross, forgiving sin and pouring out His life for others. Having left His father’s house and handing over His own mother to the disciple’s care, Jesus takes up the bride which His Father had given to Him—the Church (John 19:26–27)—and the two become one flesh. Upon the cross, Jesus vows to His betrothed wife, promising to love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health, forsaking all others until the consummation of the ages and the marriage supper of the Lamb. (See Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 19:6‑9.)

Ever since that first dysfunctional family—Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel—families can be messy business. We find ourselves and our own disordered families reflected in the scriptures. Like Absalom, we are religious rebels, and like the younger son, we are prodigals (Luke 15:11ff), but the Lord is a patient and forgiving Father, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. By His grace, mysteriously, He makes families wonderfully resilient. Jesus is for us, what we fail to be: father, husband, and brother, adopting the orphan and setting the solitary in families. (See Isa 9:6, Jer. 31:32, Mark 3:35, and Ps. 68:2). Within the church, He provides as mother, as daughter, and as wife. (See Matt. 23:37, Jer. 4:31, and 1 Pet. 2:21-3:1). The Lord gives grandmothers (2 Tim 1:5) and grandfathers (Matt 1:1ff) to support parental strengths and reinforce areas of parental weakness.

As a church, Peace models its practices in accordance with the image of the family that Christ portrays and offers freely to all people. In terms of external, concrete realities, the “culture of catechesis” that Peace seeks to live out is not merely the teaching of doctrine, but the teaching of the forgiveness of sin, receiving Christ’s gifts in faith, and living in love toward one’s neighbor. This culture of catechesis, based in the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, allows repentance and reconciliation to be taught, but more importantly, it allows forgiveness to be received. By providing the one thing needful, it allows children to experience and explore the faith in the firm foundation of its realities.

As parents, we take our children to church to learn about Jesus, but we also take them inside the Church, drawing them into the real mystery of faith in Christ. As crucibles of grace, families make us keenly aware of our sin, our powerlessness to save ourselves, and our need for forgiveness. By means of God’s gift and in God’s plan, families point us to the Gospel and our need for a Savior.

To Everyone an Answer Lecture Series Presents ”The Problem of Suicide” with Author and Pastor Peter Preus

The Rev. Peter Preus presents an evening of study and discussion concerning suicide and the role the illness of depression plays in suicide, even of Christians, Sunday Oct. 19, 5:30 p.m. in this first of the four-part To Everyone an Answer lecture series for 2014–2015. Preus will focus his comments on the comfort and hope that the Gospel offers to those who may be wrestling with the loss of a loved one from suicide or struggling with the temptation to commit suicide. Youth groups, young adults, and parents are encouraged to attend. The Rev. Preus is pastor of Lutheran Church of the Triune God, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota and author of  And She Was a Christian: Why Do Believers Commit Suicide? The lecture is suitable for ages teen to adult. Childcare will be available. Chili and soup supper will be provided. All is at no cost.

The Rev. Peter Bender presents “Why So Many Christian Denominations?” on Friday, Nov. 21, 7 p.m. as the second lecture of the series. Pastor Bender will provide a historical and doctrinal overview that explores the major confessional themes and origins of mainline Christian denominations. He seeks to answer, “Where did denominations come from?  What are the similarities and differences?  Where does the Lutheran Church ‘fit’ into the vast array of Christian denominations?  How should Lutherans confess the faith among other Christians and before the world in a pluralistic age?” The lecture is suitable for all ages.

In January, Pastor Bender continues the historical discussion with “Understanding the Origins and Differences Among the Lutheran Churches” on Friday, January 16 at 7 p.m. after the fish fry. Pastor Bender will explore the origin and history of the Lutheran Church, how this confessional movement “fits” into the scheme of denominationalism, and the origin and differences among the American Lutheran synods. He seeks to answer, “Who are we? Where did we come from?  How should we confess the faith among other Lutherans who are not part of our fellowship?”

Guest lecturer, international speaker, and professor of philosophy, Dr. Angus Menuge, Concordia University Wisconsin, will present, “The Role of Apologetics in Catechesis and Evangelism” on Sunday, March 15, beginning with a chili and soup supper at 5:30 p.m. Dr. Menuge will address answers to the questions of the relationship of catechesis and evangelism, and how to equip Christians to face the challenges from modern science.

Kapelle Concert at Peace on Oct. 25

Celebrate the Reformation with Kapelle, Concordia University—Chicago’s premier concert choir Oct. 25, 7 p.m. at Peace Lutheran Church and Academy, W240 N6145 Maple Ave., Sussex. The choir will join with the Academy Choir in an evening celebration of the Reformation. Admission is free.

Kapelle will also sing with Peace’s Senior Choir at Peace’s Divine Services on Oct. 26, 7:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. For more information, phone (262) 246-3200.

Welcome New Academy Teachers

The academy has added two new teachers to fill the vacancies in the lower elementary grades and in Latin left by the retirement of Sue Laubenstein and Anne Schumacher. We welcome Laura Laubenstein and Elisabeth Schneider to the academy. Each was appointed to the office of academy teacher on Sunday, August 24, 2014. The following is a brief introduction to our new faculty.

Laura B. Laubenstein

Teacher, Grades 1–4

Education: B.S. in Mathematics, Carroll University, Waukesha, WI

Montana Department of Public Instruction Standard Teaching License: Secondary (5-12), Math Endorsement

Whole Brain Teaching, October 2013

Capturing Kids Hearts, August, 2010

Acellus Program, May 2010

Like many of our Academy’s alumni, Laura is an icon of the love of Christ, revealing that selfless, sacrificing love that places others above one’s self. Using her giftedness in mathematics, Laura has experienced a breadth of teaching experiences subsequent to her student teaching in the local, Waukesha County area. She taught junior high and high school mathematics through calculus and statistics at Circle Public Schools, Circle, MT. Previously, during her two years at Mandaree High School, a small, reservation school in Mandaree, ND, she worked in math intervention, helping struggling students achieve, fostering relationships with students and their families to attain their good. In returning to the academy as a teacher, Laura exhibits that same love of Christ toward even the youngest of her students at Peace. As Laura explains, borrowing the words of Socrates, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” While no stranger to incorporating technology into teaching, Laura enjoys hiking, camping, and playing with her dogs.

Awards and Accomplishments: Graduated Magna Cum Laude; Delta Sigma Nu Honorary Scholastic Society Award

Elisabeth J. Schneider

Teacher, Latin

Education: B.A. German and Classics—Latin, Knox College, IL; M.A. Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS

Elisabeth knows the importance of studying a foreign language, both modern and classical. Because she so enjoyed learning German, which she has studied since high school, she started studying Latin in college. During her first year, she became captivated by Latin while studying the poems of Horace and Ovid. The language of Rome and classical history so enamored her, she inadvertently ended up with a major in the subject alongside German. Elisabeth’s teaching experience originated as a graduate teaching assistant, planning lessons, lecturing beginning students, and grading exams while working toward her masters.

The opportunity to teach a subject Elisabeth loves at Peace, where Latin is part of an education centered in Christ’s gifts of Word and Sacrament, is an incredible, unexpected blessing for her. As she says, “Latin not only provides a stepping stone to other European languages, but it also opens the door to a closer engagement with the Church’s history.” When not taking care of her family, Elisabeth spends most of her spare time reading, from historical fiction to poetry, but she also enjoys playing the cello.

Sue Laubenstein Named Teacher Emeritus

Sue Laubenstein was such a well-respected teacher and blessing to the academy that upon her retirement, she was named Academy Teacher Emeritus at the congregational assembly August 18, 2014.

Having been with the academy since its beginning, first as a preschool aide, then teaching grades 1-4, Sue’s years of service in the academy was rooted in her faith in the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. She desired to be at Peace primarily to be involved in a church and school that was founded upon the Gospel.

For Sue, teaching is a job that begins in the classroom but continues on through life, so it is fitting that even in retirement, Sue is still involved with the academy as a consultant. Her experience and expertise in teaching phonics and spelling is a valued contribution in curriculum development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 2014

May 2, 2014

But Deliver Us from Evil

We live in an age in which, for many, the existence of Satan and evil angels is not taken seriously. For some, however, the power of the demonic is actually sought after and believed to be the greatest power. The Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer explicitly makes reference not merely to the presence of generic evil in the world, but also to the existence and influence of Satan in our lives. Both the Morning and Evening Prayers in the Catechism include the petition: “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”  By praying this petition twice daily, we are not only made aware of the unseen forces of darkness, but we are also protected from the devil’s assaults upon us when we are awake and when we are asleep.

The Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer is also echoed in the Morning Prayer with the words, “You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You.” In the Evening Prayer, we give thanks for the deliverance we prayed for in the Morning Prayer with the words, “I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day.”  Both prayers underscore the great truth that all deliverance from evil and from the evil one is “through Jesus Christ, the Father’s dear Son” and this is the greatest power on earth.

In Christ, Pastor Bender

The Garden of Gethsemane

 The following is a portion of an interview by Todd Wilken (TW), from Issues, Etc. with the Rev. Peter Bender (PB), Pastor of Peace Lutheran and Director of the Concordia Catechetical Academy, Sussex, Wis. The full interview aired April 15, 2014 and is available for download at issuesetc.org.

TW: In the Garden of Gethsemane account in the Gospels, is Jesus having second thoughts about suffering and death?

PB: Absolutely not. What is expressed in that prayer, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39) is what it means to be a man, what we were created to be in the first place. Adam so blithely threw away this relationship with God, but Jesus shows Himself to be that man, that True Man, the Second Adam, that the first was not—the man of faith and the man of love for the Father. Todd, it is the natural desire to be united to God, and that’s what we see in Jesus, what man was created to be. Faith that is born in us according to the Gospel desires never to be separated from our Lord. The thought of being severed from that is what Jesus is expressing in His prayer. He desires to be with and remain in the Father’s love and life forever. And so, that’s what He is expressing there. It further shows the nature of His passion (which means “suffering”), the nature of His grief. It’s not just the pain that He endured on the wood cross outside the gates of Jerusalem; it is the spiritual and emotional pain of being ripped away from the Father. That’s what He’s expressing there. He’s expressing what we all should desire: to remain in the abiding love and life that comes only from Him, something that Adam so quickly threw away.

TW: Your explanation there is key to getting to the struggle of the incarnation. It is not the physical struggle nor death that causes the sorrow “even to death” (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34), but the “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 26:46; Mark 15:34, cf. Ps. 22:1) prospect that drives Him to sorrow.

PB: There is a mystery that a lot of Christians miss in the suffering of Jesus. It’s something to be believed, not to be explained. In that I mean, there is one God in three Persons: the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet, there are not three Gods, but one God. This eternal relationship between the Persons of the Trinity, this relationship of love, shares fully in the divine nature. And yet, Jesus prays Psalm 22 from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Who can understand this? How is it possible for the Son of God, the only-begotten from eternity, to be separated from the Father? How is this possible? It is a mystery to be believed not to be explained. On the one hand, Jesus’ faith never lets go of the Father; on the other hand, that faith exists under the total darkness of abandonment, under the wrath of God and the judgment of the Law, and the condemnation of hell being poured out upon Him. Who can understand this? It is to be believed, and it describes the nature of Jesus’ suffering which begins with the wrath of God being poured out upon Him. He is the sin bearer, and that’s what the cup is all about of which Jesus is speaking, “Take this wine cup of fury from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it” (Jer. 25:15). But He must drink it. He must die alone. He must make atonement for sin. No one else can suffer this judgment and death. That is what is being expressed in those words. It is a mystery to be believed.

TW: Set the context for us. What has just happened to Jesus and His disciples and what is about to happen, which the disciples seem oblivious to?

PB: What has just happened before Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples is that He has just celebrated the Passover with His disciples in the Upper Room. It is evening, after sundown on Thursday, which means in Biblical times, it is part of Friday, for the day begins in the darkness and ends in the light. On that night He is in the Upper Room celebrating the Passover, that great Feast of freedom from the bondage to Egypt and to Pharaoh. But Jesus, taking over the role of the pater familias, taking over the role of the head of the table, He radically redefines those words of the Passover, showing that He’s the true Passover lamb. He takes of that unleavened bread and says, “This is My body,” and He takes of that cup of redemption and says, “This is My blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins,” the blood that brings about true freedom, not just from Egyptian slavery and from an ancient pharaoh, but freedom from the judgment of the law, freedom from the condemnation of hell, freedom from sin, freedom from Satan, and freedom from death. And all of that is in that cup of blessing. He washes His disciples’ feet. There’s a lot of catechesis which He gives on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith in Christ and to preserve us in that faith. Then, He goes out to the Garden of Gethsemane with all of the disciples, except Judas. He takes Peter, James, and John  deeper into the garden with Him.

That cup of blessing, that cup of redemption that He defined as His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, in the Upper Room, now has its counterpart as a cup of woe, a cup of wrath, a cup of fury from the Lord’s hand, that only He can drink down for us. So, Jesus in the Upper Room with His disciples is fully cognizant that He is the Passover lamb, He is the Father’s beloved Son, and He must do this, for He shares fully in the Father’s loving nature, His self-giving, sacrificial love. So Jesus goes into the Garden, resolutely fixed upon the Father’s word, the Father’s good and gracious will to redeem fallen humanity. Though there is that resolve, it doesn’t take away the fact that this is real suffering. It is not phantom suffering. As one might say, “Oh well, this is really no big deal because I know the outcome of it.” It is the suffering and death that actually brings about the freedom. The reason that the cup in the supper has forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation and that every spiritual blessing is given in the sacrament is precisely because Jesus drank in the cup of our death, for us. And that’s what makes the cup in the Lord’s Supper the cup of redemption and the cup of salvation, but He is compelled to do this. I love that in the Catechism questions and answers, it asks, “What motivated Christ to die and make full payment for your sins?” It is His great love for His Father and for us. We always place the emphasis upon us, but what moved Jesus was His great love for the Father to lay down his life willingly and freely. But it was real suffering, and it really hurt, and only He could do this, to pay the ultimate price.

 A Simple Way to Pray

Concerning prayer, in a letter to his barber, Master Peter Beskendorf, Martin Luther taught a simple way to pray according to a “four-strand wreath” or outline of praying the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Creed as well as other prayers of the Church. The method may be of help, if you, like Martin Luther confessed in his letter, “have become cool and joyless in prayer.” Each commandment, article of the Creed or portion of the Lord’s Prayer can be used in meditation and prayer. Taking up a portion, the specific text is to be prayed: first, as a teaching from the Lord; second, as an occasion or thanksgiving; third, as an occasion for confession; and fourth, as a prayer for the grace, mercy, or forgiveness needed to keep this word in faith and love. In summary:

A Teaching—Speak back to God what He teaches you.

A Thanksgiving—Give thanks to God for what He teaches you.

A Confession—Confess your sins to God on the basis of this teaching.

A Prayer—Ask God for His grace and help to keep this teaching.

Luther desired that the heart be stirred and guided concerning the thoughts of the text. In his example on the Lord’s Prayer, on the fifth petition, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Luther would pray:

O dear Lord, God and Father, enter not into judgment against us because no man living is justified before thee. Do not count it against us as a sin that we are so unthankful for thine ineffable goodness, spiritual and physical, or that we stray into sin many times every day, more often than we can know or recognize.

Luther urged that one make room for thoughts that were abundant upon the text being prayed, not to obstruct them. “It is enough” writes Luther, “to consider one section or half a section which kindles a fire in the heart. This the Spirit will grant us and continually instruct us in when, by God’s word, our hearts have been cleared and freed of outside thoughts and concerns.”

The Cup of Loneliness

Jesus can be found in the most odd places, such as when episode twelve of season two of the television show Mad Men ended with verses of George Jones’ “Cup of Loneliness”:

“Oh my friends ’tis bitter sweet while here on earthly sod
To follow in the footsteps that our dear Savior trod
To suffer with the Savior and when the way is dark and dim
To drink of the bitter cup of loneliness with Him.”

Jones’ lyrics captures in part, Jesus in Gethsemane, praying that, if possible, the cup of suffering may pass, a suffering which included loneliness, illustrated by the sleepy disciples who were not able to pray for even one hour. We can empathize with Christ’s loneliness in the Garden, in part:  despondency in the heart, the taste of salt, the nagging nearness of emotion which lies just below the surface, unconsciously present, tender to touch. Loneliness craves to be filled, like a hunger for food or a desire to be comforted with only the memory of an embrace for consolation. It’s the feeling of broken-heartedness, the precipice of emotion upon which one slippery thought, treading a narrow path of the mind, could easily undo the emotional origami which has been folded and creased to conceal the raw lump that brings weeping, the lament of loss.

Christians are not immune to feeling separated, alienated, or estranged. Loneliness may feel more like aimlessness or boredom. Emotionally, it can be expressed as anxiety, desolation or insecurity. Loneliness is not confined to single-ness nor is it vanquished by marriage, for even in that most intimate relationship, the discrepancy between the ideal and the reality may exacerbate the distress. The brokenness of relationships may promote behavior that reinforces the loneliness, creating a downward spiral of negative expectations and interactions. Further, the lonely may try to fill the emotional hole with more emptiness: illicit sexuality, indulgent drinking, or illegitimate drug use.

While our suffering may be the result of chastening for our sin, Christ’s isolation and separation resulted from exaltation, from the extraordinary work of offering up Himself for sin and from God’s judgment for sin placed upon Him for others. In this, loneliness becomes a beautiful thing, and it is the place of fellowship with Christ that can be found in no other way (Phil. 3:811). Christ’s solitude in the night in the Garden continues a path of separation from the Father inaugurated at conception and carried through the Cross. Yet, at Gethsemane, Jesus is also at the place of greatest intimacy, as the Spirit is poured forth from Father to Son, from Son to Father, in the community of the Trinity in prayer. God is no more beautiful and no more fully present than entering into His sin offering, Christ, transcending all separation.

Nowhere is God more fully known than in His outpouring into His Son, lifting Him up, accomplishing our redemption. No longer, then, must the depths of our suffering be banished or approached with resignation. But now, suffering, even the suffering of loneliness, is an occasion to receive the gratuitous gift of Christ who, in the moment, avails Himself to us and for us. Joined to Christ, as baptized Christians, we are alone no longer; in the moment of our cry that our cup of loneliness may also pass, Christ is there to give us all that the Father has, His infinite peace.

The Humiliation of Christ

And being found in appearance as a man, He [Christ Jesus] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.—Phil. 2:8

Regarding Christ’s humiliation, Luther writes,  “Here Paul with one word opens heaven to us and permits us to gaze into the unfathomable abyss of the Divine Majesty and behold the ineffably gracious will and love of the fatherly heart toward us, that we may feel that it pleased God from eternity what Christ, that glorious Person, should do, and now has done, for us? Whose heart will not melt here for joy? Who can refrain from loving, praising, and giving thanks and from becoming on his part, too, not only a servant of all the world, but gladly becoming meaner and lowlier than anything, when he sees that God Himself regarded him so dearly and so richly pours out and exhibits His fatherly will in His Son’s obedience?” (F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 2:291-2.)

Reception of New Members

The Easter Vigil, Saturday, April 19, marked the reception of new members:

Confirmations:

Abby DePue

Timothy Haga

Tom Landry

Sarah May

Mark Meyle

Sarah Meyle

Transfers:

Frank Kopling

Rosanna Kopling

Kristin Edwards

Eliana Edwards

Elisabeth Schneider

Ann Leque

Sandra Barry

Eric Krueger

Jennifer Krueger

Shirley Kessler

Alan Thornberry

Barbara Thornberry

Profession of Faith:

Judi Smith

Rev. Dr. Wolf Knappe

Paul Kachelmeyer

Susan Kachelmeyer

Additional new members will be received at the Divine Services on the Feast of Pentecost, Sunday, June 8.

 

 

 

March 2014

March 5, 2014

“I’m a Widow”

The loss of a spouse can be among the most devastating losses we can experience in life. The deeper the love and fellowship married couples have had in life, the deeper the pain and sorrow can be when one of them dies. The reason for this is because the one flesh union of marriage, as created by God, is foundational to what it is to be made in the image of the Triune God. The Holy Trinity is a communion of self-giving love among the persons of the Trinity. When man was made in the image of God, he was created male and female—a community of persons—to live together in love for the procreation of children, joyous delight in one another, and the benevolent dominion over the creation. This is why the Scriptures say, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We were created to be in community and fellowship with God and one another. The most intimate of human relationships of love is between a husband and a wife. It is no wonder, then, that the death of a spouse can be so devastating.

In this life, grief is not something that we get over. The sense of loss and even emptiness can endure for the rest of one’s life. This does not sound very encouraging for someone who has lost a spouse or a very dear loved one in death, but it is very important to recognize the devastation that death causes and the threat of loneliness and despair that can sometimes overwhelm us. To still feel the loss very deeply after many months or years is not a sign of weak faith, instead it is the affirmation that God created us to be in communion with Him and one another in marriage and family. Instead of thinking of the death of a spouse as something we should “get over” and that if we don’t get over it there is something wrong with us, we should learn to think of it as our vocation, our calling, to suffer the grief and loss of a loved one with faith in the One who has conquered sin and death for us all.

Being a widow is similar to suffering the loss of other good gifts from God—the loss of health, a physical or mental disability, or the inability to continue in one’s profession. We carry the cross of affliction in only one way: by faith in the Son of God who suffered the loss of all things to save us from death and reconcile us to God. Being a widow is a holy vocation, sanctified by Jesus’ own suffering and death. It is the calling to carry the cross of grief with faith in the grace of God in Christ. It is a holy work of the Spirit of God to teach us through the things that we suffer the sufficiency of God’s grace in Christ and also the joy of living in the hope of the resurrection (2 Cor. 12:9-10). “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Through the losses we suffer, God intends to accomplish an even greater good in us as He transforms us into the image of His Son and prepares us for the greater weight of glory that shall be ours on the Last Day (2 Cor. 5:17). We grieve over the devastating effects of sin and death in our lives, but we grieve as those who have been redeemed from sin and death to live our lives now in the joyous and confident hope of the resurrection and a blessed reunion in Christ with those who have fallen asleep in faith (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Widows have a holy vocation. They live by faith in Christ who suffered the loss of all things for them. They pray for their grieving sisters and brothers who have also suffered the loss of loved ones. They know the pain and sorrow of those who are grieving. Through the things that they suffer, they learn the good that God can work in their lives through the Gospel of His suffering Son. They are enabled to comfort others with the comfort which they themselves have received from God (2 Cor. 1:3-7). And they bear witness through their losses that Christ is the Victor over sin and death, and that the present sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be ours in Christ (Rom.  8:18). He will, indeed, swallow up death forever and wipe away all tears from our eyes in an eternal communion with God and one another that will never end (Rev. 21:3-5).

In Christ, Pastor Bender

Lenten Midweek Sermon Series 2014: The Gift of the Lord’s Supper

2:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m.

The Lord’s Supper is the precious gift of Christ’s body and blood that was given and shed for us upon the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, and salvation. In the Lord’s Supper Christ gives this gift to us that everything that He has done for us might become our own. It is the Supper of salvation and the Holy Communion in the love of God for one another. The Lord’s Supper brings forth in us the fruits of the Spirit and will raise us from the dead on the Last Day. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the feast of salvation that will never end and the center of our worship in time and in  eternity.

Ash Wednesday, March 5: Faith in Christ Is Characterized by Self-Denial

March 12: The Word of Jesus and the Gift of His Body and Blood

March 19: The Sacrament of Redemption from Slavery to Sin

March 26: The Lord’s Supper Is the Gospel Given

April 2: The Medicine of Immortality

April 9: Holy Communion in the Love of God in Christ

April 16: Food for Repentant Sinners

 Luther on Widows

The verses cited for the office of the widow are not difficult to understand: “The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead while she lives” (cf. 1 Tim. 5:5-6). As in all of the offices in the Table of Duties in Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther provides key Bible verses for admonishment regarding the duties and responsibilities, but he offers no further explanation— “what does this mean?” —as he does in the Six Chief Parts.

Few verses succinctly capture some of the angst of the vulnerable widow, whether placed in the office, suddenly or slowly, who no longer has the provision and comfort of her husband. She has neither her father’s family to return to nor her children’s family to care for her. Along with the loss of her spouse, she may feel a loss of God’s concern for her, but God’s merciful heart and compassionate love toward the widow is written in His word to us, upon which we do have Luther’s comments. To those who afflict the widow, God promises vengeance (Exod. 22:21-24). From Deut. 10:18 (“He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing”), Luther draws an understanding of God’s concern. It is the voice of rich consolation, and it is the voice of severe correction, which Luther based in the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God.” “For widows and orphans suffer many things. No one cares for them, but God of gods, Lord of lords, the great, powerful, and dreadful God—He executes judgment for the widow and the orphan.” In His mercy, He admonishes tyrants to do good and love the widow and the orphan. Further Luther writes, “Whether widow and orphans believe or not, He still executes judgment for them and judges the tyrants” (Luther’s Works, 9:112).

In God’s desire to see righteousness among His people, the widow is one toward whom the believer can do his duty and show mercy. God indicts Judah’s lack of faithfulness in the lack of care for the widow (Isa. 1:17) and blesses those who care for them (Jer. 7:6). Regardless of whether the people care for her, the Lord promises to be her husband (Jer. 31:32). The image of the deserted, faithless city of Jerusalem is likened to the solitary widow who weeps with none to comfort her, who is afflicted and subject to treachery (Lam. 1:1ff).  The widow of Zarephath illustrates how difficult it could get for the widow—she prepares to die from lack of meal and oil (1 Ki. 17:9ff; cf. Luke 4:26). In the book of Ruth, there are three widows: Naomi, the widow of Elimelech, and her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, widows of Mahlon and Chilion. Abigail is an example of a wise woman who, after being widowed, David took as his wife. As a counter-example to exemplary faithfulness, the widow Tamar played the harlot with Judah. Yet she, like Ruth, is found in the genealogy of Christ (Matt. 1:3, 5). He took on her flesh for her redemption in the incarnation.

In the NT, the Lord’s concern for the widow continues. The widow of Nain receives her child back (Luke 7:12ff), the widow gives her life in two mites (Mark 12:42ff; Luke 21:2), and Anna is the faithful widow-remnant of Israel (Luke 2:36ff). The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge promises God’s vengeance (Luke 18:1-8). Women surrounded Jesus during his death, burial, and resurrection for Jesus never abandoned the widow throughout His Passion and resurrection (Matt. 27:55; 28:5; Luke 23:27, 55; 24:1, 10). As the Lord promised to be her husband, the Lord has provided for her greatest need.

God’s care for the widow continues in the apostolic church. As Jews left the temple and became Christian, the NT church also had to care for her widows (Acts 6:1ff). Paul writes to Timothy regarding widows within this context. The widow who is all alone (1 Tim. 5:5) is simply by herself. She has set her hope on God. “She must take a risk, because she has no one for whom to care. Such women have been so abandoned that they have nothing left except to hope in God. . . . Therefore, nothing remains for her except to trust in God and pray to him” (Luther’s Works, 28:335). Her constancy in prayer is as one who prays throughout the day in brief prayer: “as she goes out, comes in, eats, goes to sleep, wakes up” (Luther’s Works, 28:3356).

In contrast to the widow who takes care of her family (1 Tim. 5:4) and to the widow who cares for others through prayer (1 Tim. 5:5) is the idle widow. She is self-indulgent, “seeking her own pleasure.” This kind of widow is “‘dead’—dead not in this life but in the sight of God” (Luther’s Works, 28:336). Luther rebukes the widow who does not provide for her family. In this, she denies her faith. It is a denial of the faith to “not care for [one’s] own people as far as body and soul are concerned.”

Luther finds precedence in the OT for the necessity of the care of widows who were devout widows and women who served God, who fasted and prayed at the entrance of the temple. (See Exod. 38:8 and the examples of Hannah in 1 Sam. 1:9 and Anna, Luke 2). It was an old custom that widows were fed and clothed within the temple (Luther’s Works, 28:338).

The devout widow who in piety fasted and prayed in service to the church developed into a symbol reflecting the image of Christ. In church history, widows came to be viewed as an “altar of God.” Her prayers were to be like the perfect sacrifices offered upon the altar in the temple, a “living altar,” upon which is laid the firstborn, tithes, and offerings. Her behavior imaged Christ Himself who is the true altar of God. Likened to the burnt offerings, His prayers were offered for forgiveness of sins and were expressions of devotion, commitment and surrender to God. Likened to the peace offerings, His prayers were freewill offerings that emphasized thanksgiving and fellowship—forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to the Father. So also were the widows’ persistent prayers to be. As Luther writes, “As your need is, so shall your prayer be. Your need does not attack you once and then let you go. It hangs on, it falls around your neck again, and it refuses to let go. You act the same way! Pray continually, and seek and knock, too, and do not let go.” This is the lesson of the persistent widow. “Since your need goes right on knocking, therefore, you go right on knocking, too, and do not relent” (Luther’s Works, 21:234). In this regard, widows are an image of Christ who offers up prayers continually for the sake of His people.

William Cowper: Poet and Hymnist

His words are painted large upon the walls of one of the local chain grocery stores, “Variety’s the very spice of life.—William Cowper” or perhaps the idiom, “God moves in a mysterious way” is familiar, long before you ever sang his hymn (LSB 765). William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”), 1731-1800, was a poet of the 18th Century, co-authoring a hymnal with pastor John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace.” More wondrous and more mysterious, perhaps, is that the life Cowper lived was one interspersed with severe depression, a fact that punctuates the words of his verse, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace.” He was a popular English poet and institutionalized for insanity for two years (1763-65) after failing three times to commit suicide.

Author George Gilfillan wrote that to ascribe “life” to Cowper is a misnomer. “The living death for seventy years of William Cowper” may be more apt. Cowper experienced periods of disappointment, misery, or despair with long-term depression occurring about every ten years. Many authors have looked for a source to Cowper’s melancholic disposition. His mother died when he was six. Soon after her death, he was sent to a boarding school by his distant father where a fellow student delighted in mistreating him. Though the nature of the abuse was unspoken, Cowper wrote, “I well remember being afraid to lift my eyes upon him higher than his knees, and that I knew him better by his shoe-buckles than by any other part of his dress. May the Lord pardon him, and may we meet in glory!” Despite his mistreatment and the misery it caused, Cowper commends his abuser to God and prays for him.

In 1773, Cowper had a dream that he was eternally condemned to hell and held the belief that God was demanding him, literally, to sacrifice his own life. Perhaps in this regard, Cowper’s Calvinism holding wrongly the belief in God’s predestination of sinners to damnation gripped his thoughts. Cowper was no Lutheran, but neither can one conclude that “right theology” would have alleviated Cowper’s melancholy. Martin Luther himself suffered from angst, doubt, and warfare with the devil’s attacks, even after Luther had the revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ. Philip Melanchthon described Luther’s terrors as so severe that he almost died. And, it was during one of Luther’s crises of 1527 that he also composed a hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Unlike Luther who threw the inkwell of scripture at the devil’s gibes, Cowper had the tendency to look for comfort in emotion and nature. In 1752, during an initial depressive episode, he credits George Herbert’s poetry as speaking to his soul. A few months later, Cowper describes a moment when the sun shone bright upon the sea, that at that moment it was “as if another sun had been kindled that instant in the heavens, on purpose to dispel sorrow and vexation of spirit, I felt the weight of all my weariness taken off.” Rather than giving God the credit for this mercy, Cowper developed the habit of battling depression with changes of scenery.

Having tried to commit suicide and failed, Cowper felt the guilt of sin and God’s wrath. In one of his committals to an insane asylum, he had the good fortune of being attended by gospel-believing physician and poet, Dr. Nathaniel Cotton. At his stay in the sanatorium, Cowper read in the Scriptures Jesus’ raising of Lazarus which gave Cowper hope. Secondly, he read Romans 3:25, and immediately he believed it, seeing the sufficiency of the atonement. Despite his conversion, however, Cowper continued to suffer periodically with depression.

John Newton befriended Cowper after a family he was living with moved into Newton’s parish. Newton recognized Cowper’s penchant for melancholy and reclusiveness, visited him regularly, and asked Cowper to contribute to his compilation, Olney Hymns, not published until 1779, which includes “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (LSB 765) and “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” (TLH 157). For over twenty years, Newton would be a sacrificial friend, standing by Cowper through many suicide attempts.

Though Cowper often poured himself into his poetic work, he continued to wrestle with trials, and he viewed them as chastisement from God. Consequently, despite his own feelings of insecurity, he could not be utterly forsaken. Cowper died in 1800 from dropsy, apparently in despair. Cowper lived a life that was fueled by affliction, which spurred him forward in faith and which bore faith’s fruit in hymnody.

 

Cowper’s Poems and Hymns

 Light Shining out of Darkness

God moves in a mysterious way,

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

 

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds you so much dread

Are big with mercy and will break

In blessings on your head.

from Olney Hymns (1779)

 

Praise for the Fountain Opened

There is a fountain fill’d with blood

Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;

And sinners, plung’d beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.

from Olney Hymns (1779)

 

The Timepiece

Variety’s the very spice of life,

That gives it all its flavour.

from The Task (1785)

 

 

 

 

January 2014

January 16, 2014

The Blessedness of Sins Forgiven

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.

When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You. —Psalm 32:1-6 (NKJV)

David contemplates the blessedness of being a forgiven sinner. God justifies us, declaring us righteous for Jesus’ sake, by not imputing our iniquity to us. It has been imputed to Christ, and His righteousness has been imputed to us as a gift of God’s grace. Unbelief and impenitence are characterized by silence: a refusal to acknowledge one’s sin and one’s need for God’s mercy. We waste away spiritually when we refuse to believe what God’s Word says. Faith and repentance are characterized by confession: “I acknowledge my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” This is the reason why Christians pray: with God there is forgiveness of sins, and all our prayers ascend to God by grace alone on the basis of the merits of our Savior. We hide ourselves in the righteousness of Christ. His mercy instructs us and guides us into all truth. Unbelief is stubborn and headstrong, like a horse or mule, and will not heed the call to confess one’s sin and believe the Gospel. The wicked are those who will not trust in the Lord. The righteous are those whose sins are forgiven. The Lord’s promise is of supreme comfort to the penitent sinner: “He who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him” (vs.  10). “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.”

In Christ,

Pastor Bender

Psalms of Individual Laments

The following is a portion of an interview from Issues, Etc. by Todd Wilken (TW) with Pastor Bender (PB) who discussed psalms of individual laments. The interview aired Nov. 23, 2013. The full interview is available online and for download at issuesetc.org.

TW: If the Psalms are the prayer book of the Church, Old and New Testament, what does it tell you that most of them are either community or individual laments to God?

PB: It teaches us the great truth of Luther’s Small Catechism, that the Christian lives in daily contrition and repentance, both individually and corporately. And the first of the 95 Theses said that when our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he willed that the entire life of the Christian be one of repentance. And I think that’s a large part of what Dr. Kleinig was getting at, when he said that really most of the psalms are lament: lamentation for one’s sin, confession of one’s sin, and the fleeing to God’s promise of forgiveness and grace in Christ.

TW: What do we find in Psalm 32? Because it’s not just one of the most well-known, but perhaps one that is best brought forward into the New Testament as the basic message of the Old Testament.

PB:  Yes, that’s exactly right. It begins with these wonderful assertions, these truths which are the foundational bedrock of our faith. “Blessed is he,” or “Blessed is the one” whose transgression is forgiven. You can’t get more at the heart of what Christianity is about than the forgiveness of sins, which is centered in Christ. It is the center of the third article [of the Creed]—holy Christian church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, life everlasting. It is the center of the second article of the Creed, that Jesus Christ redeemed us with His holy, precious blood. And blessedness in the scriptures, for us, is always about a gift of God’s grace. And this is centered in Christ.

TW: When it says, “blessed”—that’s a pretty common word there—in all of Scripture, but especially on the Psalms as well, our general tendency is to think of that as a general state of blessedness, but it has to be something stronger here, when it talks about the general state of forgiveness of sins.

PB: The blessedness is from God, and He is the one doing the forgiveness. He’s the source of the blessedness. “Blessed is the one who is forgiven, whose sin is covered” and notice how the present tense puts that in the reality of what it means to be a Christian. We live every moment of every day in the present tense of Christ’s forgiveness, a blessed state which God does for us. We have forgiveness and it’s ongoing in the flood of Jesus’ blood. The apostle John picks up on this in the ongoing state of forgiveness in his first epistle. That God is doing this, “Blessed is the man whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, whose sin is forgiven” and that’s what gives us comfort in these laments. One of the challenging things when you talk about them as “psalms of lament” is so often people think of them as having no resolution, no comfort. And I think these psalms are better termed or classified as “psalms of individual comfort.”

TW: Why is that?

PB: Because to the extent that there is a lament in them, a confession of sin in particular, it always finds its rest in the free grace of God in the Lord Jesus and in his forgiveness for us.

TW: There’s several ways that the Psalmist talks about this. The first is “forgiven” the second is “whose sin is covered,” then finally, “the man against whom the Lord accounts no iniquity.” I know they all amount to forgiveness, but take each one of them apart for us so that we can understand why the Psalmist would repeat this in three different ways.

PB: Yes, it is a lovely thing about the psalms. It teaches us something about meditation for us as Christians. It is never an inward thing as it is in the East; it’s always an external thing that it meditates on: the word of God outside of our selves. Sin that “is forgiven,” that “is covered,” that “the Lord does not impute iniquity” its talking about the same thing, but from different angles. The first, “blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,” we think of the absolution, an act of God. “Todd, in the stead and by the command of Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” I remit it; there is no punishment. I’ve taken the sin away. The second, “whose sin is covered” picks up on so many of these times in the Old Testament, and Paul will speak about it in the New Testament with respect to baptism, of being covered over with the righteousness of Christ, the great robe of Christ’s righteousness, like in Isaiah, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God . . . for He has covered me with a robe of righteousness” (Isa.  61:10). You see that also in the parable of the prodigal son, where the father wraps this robe of righteousness around his son. And then, the third one, “does not impute iniquity” ties in so well to St. Paul’s forensic justification, that by a declaration, God proclaims us to be righteous, and that is what we are when God makes that declaration. [It is] justification: we are declared righteous by the grace of God through faith in Christ. A lot of people don’t think that forensic justification is very central to the scriptures. Well, it’s all over the scriptures, and it is certainly all over the psalter.

TW: Let’s talk about the two sides of that declaration. The one side you’ve just mentioned, ”being declared righteous.” The other one is “not being declared guilty” in a sense, that sins are not imputed against us. Are both things at work when God declares us righteous?

PB: Both things are true, that God does not impute iniquity to us, is because he has imputed that iniquity to his Son, who in our stead, for us and for our salvation, became the substitute, the sacrificial lamb. And that, Todd, is all over the Old Testament worship life, as the sins of the people were imputed to the lambs, to the oxen, and so forth. You think of the scapegoat to whom was imputed the sin of Israel and then was driven out into the wilderness. In Jesus’ baptism, He becomes the scapegoat. The sin of the world is imputed to Him, and the gospels immediately show Him being driven out into the wilderness. The fact of this blessed status of not having my sin imputed to me or your sin imputed to you, is because it has been imputed to Jesus, who for us and for our salvation offered himself and was offered up by the Father as the sacrifice for sin.

You see this in the book of Genesis, where the son of the promise, Isaac, is offered up by Abraham, and the Lord says to him, “Take now your son, your only son whom you love.” It reminds us of John 3:16 where God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. Those verbs of doing are not only the gift of a package, but the giving up of His Son into death as our substitute. As Abraham and Isaac are walking to Mount Moriah, “Here’s the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb?” and Abraham speaks those profoundly comforting words of the gospel, “the LORD will provide for himself the lamb for the brunt offering.” It’s not just that the LORD will provide the lamb, but the very payment, the very atonement that God demands, the Lord Himself will provide. That’s what this imputation is all about. The ram is caught in the thicket, Isaac is the son of the promise, but he’s not the real one, i.e. the ultimate one. That’s Jesus. He is the substitute ram who is caught in the thicket and offered up for us, who takes our place, and the imputation of our sin is laid on him.

The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Isa. 53, the great Good Friday Old Testament reading, is soaked with that language of forensic justification, that sin is imputed to Christ and therefore, it is not imputed to us. What a blessed state that is! And that means of course, that forgiveness is absolutely full and free, and it covers not a part of our sin, but all of our sin.

“The Kindled Heart: Luther on Meditation”

Meditation is unique to human beings, for even the animals seem to imagine and think. Therefore the ability to meditate belongs to human reason, There is however a difference between meditating and thinking. To meditate means to think persistently, deeply and diligently. Properly speaking, it means to chew over something in the heart. So to meditate means to engage as it were in the middle, or to be moved in the very middle and center. Whoever therefore thinks, investigates, discusses etc. inwardly and diligently, that person meditates. But no one meditates on the law of the Lord unless his desire has first become fixed on it. For what we desire and love we chew over inwardly and diligently. But what we hate or despise we pass over lightly and do not desire deeply, diligently, or for long.

From Luther’s Works (10:17), translation by John Kleinig in Lutheran Theological Journal 20  (1986): 143.

All Sin is Rooted in Unbelief

In this season of New Year’s resolutions, the desire to be better often expresses itself in firm resolves: “This is year, I’m going to  . . . lose weight, quit smoking, stop drinking so much, be kinder, pray more, gossip less.” The turning of the calendar to a new year may prompt a desire to turn over a new leaf, putting behind the weaknesses which ensnare us in the common, garden sins of anxiety, covetousness and lust, envy, impatience, despondency and pride. Weakness manifests itself in misplaced shame, indifference and bitterness, and we desire to be rid of all that weighs us down. We know our sin is a transgression of the Law and offends God who is the source of love and goodness. We know our sin is disobedience, but more specifically, our sinful thoughts and actions stem from unbelief in Christ whom the Father has given in redemptive promise.

Unbelief is man’s fundamental sin and which results in sins which reveal our dissatisfaction with God. Why does anxiety grow in the garden of our heart? Unbelief in God’s providence. Why do we water covetousness? Unbelief in God’s provision. Why fertilize lust? Unbelief in God’s will and desire for you. Why allow the root of bitterness? Unbelief in the wholesale forgiveness given in Christ for sin. Faith confesses God’s goodness, His love for us, His providential care and guardianship by providing for daily needs as well as redemption from death. Yet, unbelief manifests, and often cultivates, a variety of sins, such as those sins for which we make New Year’s resolutions. However, the solution for unbelief, i.e sin, is not resolution, but faith.

Uniquely of the reformers, Martin Luther fleshed out the teaching of scripture that faith provides victory over sin, based upon the writings of John. That faith provides victory over sin is explicitly stated in John’s first letter, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith” (1 John 5:4 NKJV). Luther further drew from John’s gospel that unbelief is the root sin, the sin of man, (See John 3:18, 5:23, 12:48, and 16:3.) In one of Luther’s sermons on the gospel of John, Luther states: “Unbelief is the chief sin, and the source of all other sins.”  And, in a sermon based upon John 3:16-21, the remedy for sin is faith, “for faith makes our stink not to rise up to God.” As Luther writes in his treatise On the Freedom of a Christian, “When the Soul firmly trusts God’s promises, it regards him as truthful and righteous. Nothing more excellent than this can be ascribed to God. . . . When this is done, the soul consents to his will. Then it hallows his name and allows itself to be treated according to God’s good pleasure.”

Similarly, in his “Preface to Romans” Luther writes, “as . . . faith alone makes a person righteous  . . . so unbelief alone commits sin.” Therefore, for “good fruits of the heart” to be present, as in the one who resolves on Jan. 1 to “be better,” there must be faith. The beginning of works begins in Christ. “There is no other beginning than that your king comes to you and begins to work in you. . . . your faith comes from him, not from you; everything that faith works in you comes from him, not from you. . . . therefore you should not ask, where to begin to be godly; there is no beginning except where the king enters and is proclaimed.” (“Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent,” §§19-25).

So, don’t be surprised when your New Year’s resolution “to do better” in your own strength fails. The “fight” against sin is the “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3) as Paul describes it, or as Luther describes it, faith and trust in Christ that is implanted by the word of God through the Holy Spirit. Whether privately in Bible study, corporately in the Divine Service or individually through private confession and absolution. “Behold, your King comes to you” (Matt 21:5).

 

 

 

November 2013

November 1, 2013

Looking Forward to Christ’s Second Coming

 “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. ” – Revelation 21:4

 The end of the Church Year in the month of November and the beginning of the new Church Year with Advent both have a strong emphasis upon the Second Coming of Christ and the blessed hope we have as Christians for Christ’s return in glory.  Christian hope centers in the anticipation of the complete and total enjoyment of Christ for all eternity. For Jesus’ sake, God will take away all suffering forever. But the most important reason we look forward to Christ’s Second Coming is because we shall see Jesus face to face in the resurrection. Corruption, mortality, and the curse of the fall will be no more. In that day, for Jesus’ sake, “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” because Christ has taken it all away in His suffering and death. “There shall be no more pain” because Christ has taken all our pain away. “The former things”—what it is to be a sinner, living in a sinful world, suffering under the consequences of our rebellion against God, experiencing the devastation that evil has brought into the world, the pain and brokenness of sickness and disease—will all have “passed away” forever. The fullness of what Jesus came to accomplish in His suffering and death will be fully realized in the resurrection on the Last Day. In that day the words of Jesus concerning His suffering and death will come true: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

 In Christ,

Pastor Bender

 Advent Midweek Services

Isaiah preached the Gospel 700 years before the birth of Christ. The book that bears his name is rich with the promises of Christ and the hope of salvation for a world that is troubled with sin. This year’s Advent midweek services gives special attention to the lessons from the book of Isaiah: The Mountain of the Lord’s House (Dec. 4), The Rod from the Stem of Jesse (Dec. 11), and The Desert Shall Blossom as the Rose (Dec. 18).

 Post-Christmas Treat

The Church Year Calendar lists the feasts of St. Stephen, the First Martyr (Dec. 26); St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Dec. 27); and the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28) on the three days following Christmas. This wonderful “trinity of feasts” continues the celebration of Christmas as we experience both joy and suffering as Christians.  We will celebrate each of these three feasts on their respective dates at 6:30 p.m. They will be simple divine services, but rich in the treasures of the faith.

Flee Sexual Immorality: The Scourge of Pornography in the Church and Society

 It’s been called “The New Narcotic.” New neurological research reveals that “the effect of internet pornography on the human brain is just as potent—if not more so—than addictive chemical substances such as cocaine or heroin” (Morgan Bennett, “The New Narcotic”). While cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain which induces a “high” effect, and heroin produces a relaxing, opiate effect, pornography triggers both. The result of this one-two punch is highly addictive. Further Bennett writes, “Internet pornography does more than just spike the level of dopamine in the brain for a pleasure sensation. It literally changes the physical matter within the brain so that new neurological pathways require pornographic material in order to trigger the desired reward sensation.” In addition to these chemical and physical addictive effects, changes in individual “taste and desire,” the acquired taste of pornography, has negative social effects which are being recognized by religious and secular groups. Men who spend hours on-line can find “real” women difficult to relate to and be close to. It is no wonder that God says in His Scripture, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18 NKJV).

The effects of pornographic sexual immorality are not solely individual. There are social costs to couples. Girlfriends and wives can feel hurt, angry, and betrayed by their partner or spouse when they discover their habit. Kids are affected, either by strained parental relationships or by the exposure to ever-increasing hard-core images which normalizes the perverse.

While marketed as a “marriage help” to the sexually inhibited or “freedom” to the sexually liberated, pornography perverts the mystery of the one-flesh union, established by God in creation and given in marriage, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24 NKJV). Human sexuality is not arbitrary. It is an icon of God’s purpose in the gospel. It is an icon of Christ and His Church, as Paul writes concerning the one flesh union of Gen 2:24, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Eph 5:32 NKJV).  If sexuality is akin to Christ and his Church, no wonder it is difficult to restrain, wildly beautiful and as glorious as the Church Herself, enlivened by the love of God in Christ.

Pornography, however, does not fulfill God’s intention for sexuality in marriage as giving and receiving. Pornography is intended for a single, solitary purpose. Even secular people recognize this: “Sex, in pornography, is a commercialized product, devoid of emotion, stripped of humanity, an essentially empty experience” (Pamela Paul, “From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm,” in The Social Costs of Pornography, p. 4). Christian sexuality is intended to be flourishing, to bring love, happiness—even pleasure—and new life. Pornography hides the righteousness of Christ in a “pitifully desperate act.” It turns sexuality into a “darkened spirituality,” exchanging the glory of the Immortal for images (Rom 1:21, 23).

Pornography is self-focused and fruitless. No amount of blocking software can alleviate temptation or sin’s effects. The self-loathing and guilt which the idolatry and adultery of pornography creates cannot be resolved with more solemn promises. In the struggle with sin, one may come to think that he has “crossed the line,” feel hopeless, or wonder if he has rejected his salvation in baptism and all that God promises in Christ for him.

While one may turn to sin, whether the gluttony of pornography or potato chips, to deal with the stresses of life and frustrations, the habit can develop into an addictive behavior which leads to alienation from the church body or to a sense of hypocrisy while among the brethren to self-justifying arguments that rationalize the behavior. The Christian-sinner turns from the “faith,” believing in things unseen, to “sight,” believing in those things which have a tangible appeal. In effect, we Christians are confronted with what we are as human beings. Sin confuses us, leaving us beside ourselves, ashamed and often feeling isolated. The devil is pleased to leave us in this state, and if he cannot thwart our faith through despair, he will thwart our faith through tempting us to believe that we can be better through works of the Law, i.e. promises “to do better” and to stop sinning. We try to alleviate the despair of sin with firm resolve, steps or methods, the plan, a book, or counseling which allow us to go to God with a clean conscience. We reach for things we see and put us in control, regardless of the “severity” of the sin. We can experience self-loathing, self-obsession, fear, and in the case of pornography, an addictive lust.

 Whether overt or subtle, all sin is an attempt to trust in ourselves or justify ourselves before a righteous God. Luther understood that works of the Law are no comfort to the troubled conscience. He understood, as we should also understand, our sin is not more powerful than God’s forgiveness. Victory over sin is won in Christ. As Luther writes, “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ” (Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 18). In Luther’s words, “The afflicted and troubled conscience has no remedy against desperation and eternal death unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace, freely offered in Christ Jesus” (“Preface,” in Commentary on Galatians). The Christian must “step into grace,” not by works of the Law but by embracing the freedom of forgiveness in Christ. Hidden sin can cause misery, but when sin is confessed, and the light of Christ is shed upon it, sin no longer has power over us. In other words, take the agonizing step into grace, believing in God’s great love despite your great sin.

 For more information, see: “The New Narcotic”  by Morgan Bennett (http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com) Accessed 10/23/2013; “Pornography,” an interview with Dr. John Kleinig of Australian Lutheran College on Issues, Etc., Sept. 21, 2010 (http://issuesetc.org/tag/porn); The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers, edited by James R. Stoner, Jr. and Donna M. Hughes. Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute, 2010.

The Gift of Friendship: Lewis & Tolkien

November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of C. S. Lewis’ death. C.S. Lewis’ writings have gained in popularity since his death.  Recognized by children and adults for his fictional works, such as The Chronicles of Narnia books, Lewis made contributions in apologetics in Mere Christianity, in sermons, such as The Weight of Glory, and left 12,000 letters of correspondence in response to admirers, fans, and seekers of God. (For examples, read Letters to an American Lady.) Though baptized in the Church of Ireland as an infant, Lewis rejected his faith in adolescence for atheism. Significant to his return to faith at age thirty-two was his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, a steadfast Roman Catholic and family man, famous for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Without Lewis, the world would not have the works of Tolkien, and without Tolkien, the world would not have the Christian works of Lewis.

The two authors’ friendship was formed in shared interests and experiences of life, in the words of biographer Colin Duriez, in the “What, you too?” As a child, Lewis experienced the death of his mother at age nine; Tolkien’s mother died when he was twelve. Tolkien had already lost his father. Lewis, sent to boarding school after his mother’s death, felt his father’s loss through alienation.

The two shared, as well, experience of World War I. Lewis was injured during the war, and Tolkien lost two of his closest friends. They both experienced war’s grotesque images. The two shared a love for language. Tolkien, specializing in Old and Middle English, invented two forms of an Elven tongue, based upon his study of Welsh and Finnish. Lewis, a professor of English literature was a brilliant, medieval scholar. They shared a love for fantasy, myth, and a common employer: Oxford. Their friendship played out over forty years.

Influential to the friendship was the “Inklings,” a discussion group that met for the purpose of reading works that each member had written. The group began before Lewis became Christian. During that time, Lewis shared his poems and translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. Throughout the years, Tolkien shared his works related to developing the mythic world of Middle-earth: The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. In the group, Tolkien also shared his faith. Tolkien helped Lewis to find Christ, elaborating his understanding of the gospel narratives which demanded both rational and imaginative thought. Tolkien developed a “theology of story” or a “theology of language” in which human storytelling is alive with God’s presence. Words carry meaning from a culture’s worldview, but even more, words were a remnant of God’s story in history. From Tolkien’s influence upon Lewis, they both came to believe that stories can come true.

As for Lewis’ influence upon Tolkien, he wrote after Lewis’ death, “the unpayable debt that I owe to him was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more I should never have brought the L. of the R. to a conclusion. . . .” Tolkien found in Lewis a ready listener, an appreciating friend.

While their friendship was not equally influential, Lewis illuminated his friendship with Tolkien in his book The Four Loves which describes affection, friendship, eros, and charity (agape or self-sacrificing divine love). While the loves may move from one to another, as when friends become marital lovers or family affection demands self-sacrificial care of a dependent, friendship involved the recognition of a shared vision alongside of one another, what Duriez described as  “What, you too?” “You like, NASCAR, too?” Or “You’re a computer nerd, too?” Or in the example of Lewis and Tolkien, their “peculiar” interests in language, mythology, and fantasy become less “peculiar” and more shared with one another. For Lewis, friendship is the love that is least instinctive, and it refutes any sexual explanation. Lewis desired to rehabilitate friendship as a virtue, as in the Biblical example of David and Jonathan.

The authors shared common beliefs because of their faith, but one particular idea, “joy” became central to Lewis’s stories, “In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else,” he wrote. The longing of inconsolable joy repeatedly reminded him that there is always more than this created world, and that the things desired in this world pointed to another, very real world. He believed, “If a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given — nay, cannot even be imagined as given” at least in our present space and time existence. Though the longing was felt before he was a Christian and served to point him to Christ, the longing was not extinguished after he was Christian: “I believe,” he said, “. . . that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life.” For Tolkien, “joy” was the presence of grace. It denies defeat, and as a sudden turn, “a glimpse of joy” rends the story world and lets heaven itself come through.

The authors differed, in their views regarding friendship. Lewis saw friendship as a rational relationship, freely chosen, which gave the ability to see the world in a new way. For Tolkien, through friendship, he found a memory of his childhood friends lost in war and an encouragement to continue in life.

The kind of deep friendship Lewis and Tolkien shared derives from Christ’s forgiveness. Lewis and Tolkien shared in a belief in Christ, a “communion of saints” rooted in fellowship in Christ not merely in friendly, social relationships, no matter how deep and influential. The foundation of the “community of holy ones,” known as “the communion of saints” is in the holy things, “Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you . . . Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Lewis described his conversion back to Christ as a sinner “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape” from God. Yet, he was gathered into the Body of Christ and made holy by the Holy One who saves souls and who forms sinners into a communion of saints, a community of believers, the Church. Lewis’s conversion to faith in Christ returned him to the Anglican church of his youth, and Tolkien, brought up Roman Catholic, remained there until death.

 For more on their friendship, read Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez, Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring, 2003.

 “Season to Celebrate”

 The Academy Choir has been selected to appear on WISN 12’s Christmas special, “Season to Celebrate.” Check local listings for broadcast times.