One more phone call

Two or three times a week, I still reach for my phone to call. And yet, cannot. The gulf is to great. And I grieve.

My mother, Phyllis, died one year ago today. My wife and I had spoken to her just four days before she died. A call cut short because my mother couldn’t hear well (and we were in a car) and she hung up. We planned to call her back a few days later, like we always did. We didn‘t get that one more phone call. We knew her death was approaching, she was 88, but the grief is the same.

Over the years, we would visit her once a year (for about 2 weeks), but the phone calls every week were a special blessing. We could talk about whatever was on her mind or mine. Many times we relived events or people in our lives, bringing back some forgotten memories, and sometimes tears or laughter. But always a good conversation.

My grandmother holding my mother in 1927; my grandfather behind my Uncle Elgin.

My grandmother holding my mother in 1927; my grandfather behind my Uncle Elgin.

In 1999, my mother began writing by hand her autobiography (her life up to 1972 when the youngest son was married and gone from home). She had kept diary entries for every day from 1934 to the last months of her life. She asked me to put these “scribblings” into the computer, which I began to do in 2000.

We worked closely (much of it long distance) for the next five years as this writing eventually became a book. That was her lifelong goal, to publish a book. In 2005 I contacted a printer, and we published the book, with three printings over the next three years. It was a privilege to do this for her and with her.

In the process I learned so much more about her. Not only what she wrote, but as we discussed each chapter and paragraph, she would fill in the blanks. I soon learned I had many more questions about her growing up, about my father’s background and family (my father died in 1991). And that sparked even more phone calls, and late nights when we met face-to-face. And always the photos to aid us or provoke our memories.

 

My mother’s parents divorced within a year after my mother was born was born. Her mother remarried in 1932 to Paul Carlson, who became my mother’s step-father. But my mother never addressed him that way. Until he died in 1985, she always called him “Dad.”

Phyllis Staley at age 12

Phyllis Staley at age 12

Paul’s youngest brother, Charley, married a woman named Netsy, just a few years older than my mother. They became good friends and remained so their entire lives. Last summer, both my mother and Netsy were in the same assisted living center. And they died within an hour of each other. My mother’s response to that “coincidence” would have been: “It was meant to be.”

One of Charley and Netsy’s five sons, Brian, wrote this last week.

Take time to recall to memory Netsy Carlson and Phyllis Shields McCoy … cousins …who passed away on the 23rd within an hour of each other. True friends to the end having had one last visit about a week before sharing stories, love, and hugs. It was a beautiful time for me to sit back and watch how these to strong ladies coped with their impending deaths with such bold faith in God and life everlasting through Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. It was a time I will cherish the rest of my life … so peaceful … even now as I think back on it. Blessing to you all.

Brian

So my grieving continues, the missed phone calls, the emptiness of visiting my hometown without my mother, Phyllis. But also rejoicing for she shared our faith in Jesus Christ.

Phyllis Shields (1927-2015)

Happy 88th birthday, Mother. June 9, 2015

Happy 88th birthday, Mother. June 9, 2015

One more phone call…

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Resources for Eschatology and Revelation

From time to time I get requests from pastors, students, and laity about good resources for preparing to study or teach Revelation and eschatology. Another request came in this week. Here is the list of resources I recommend.

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An excellent resource written by an LCMS pastor many years ago. He developed it teaching in his congregation in the 1970s. Includes some very helpful diagrams. I have referenced several times in the last 25 years. Even had the privilege of talking to him on the phone about his book and approach before he died.

Things to Come and Not to Come

Eugene Peterson does an admirable job on Revelation;

Reversed Thunder: Revelation and the Praying Imagination

In between is this excellent Roman Catholic book by Michael J. Gorman: Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness following the Lamb into the New Creation. I used this about three years ago when I was laying out the ground work for studying and teaching Revelation.

Reading Revelation Responsibly

Both Peterson and Gorman invite study of the worship life of the church as expressed in Revelation.

For more academic perspective, this is excellent:

Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics: Eschatology

And for the most thorough treatment of Revelation from a conservative Lutheran perspective is Revelation (Concordia Commentary Series) by Louis Brighton (one of my Sem professors, now retired).

Revelation (Concordia Commentary)

Obviously there many other resources, but this group provides sufficient breadth and depth for your study of Eschatology and Revelation.

What’s Your Perspective?

What’s Your Perspective?

I hope you find this helpful.

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Violence and Our World

The events of the past few weeks have raised violence, front and center. The sermon text on Sunday was Mark 6:14–29 (ESV).

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and abound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not,  20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, gup to half of my kingdom.”

24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.”  25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his hdisciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

This rather gruesome account is timely to say the least. We live in a broken world, with sinners doing what sinners do: sin. The recent events throughout the US and the world make it appear as if violence is not only increasing, but seemingly winning the day, the battle, and even the war. If we had only this text for contemplation, we might conclude that evil does win. A “righteous and holy man” is killed at the whim of a Queen who hated his message.

But did evil win? God had sent John as the forerunner to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God with the appearance of the King (Jesus). His focus was not just pointing a finger at people. Rather his call was for people to repent, each person to repent.

John appeared, baptizing in gthe wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4–5 ESV)

His message hit close to home: repent of your sins. Note what he did not proclaim: “Point fingers and blame others for your sins.” And yet that is often what happens. “Yes, I know my sins, but nothing like those peoples’ sins.” Ironically, John does not allow excuses for sin. Like Nathan before King David (“You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:7),  John is blunt.

Herodias was convinced that if she could have John killed then the accusations would stop—for her and Herod. But the sin remained, the accusation of John stood, because it was God’s judgment, not some wild self-righteous do-gooder. Even killing John did not alleviate the problem. Interestingly in less than 100 years the entire family line of Herod the Great (this Herod’s father) was completely erased.

Context helps

The context of this passage is significant: In the immediately preceding verses, Jesus had sent His disciples out to do the following:

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.  (Mark 6:12-13)

That is, John’s arrest and death were mentioned immediately after Jesus sends out the twelve. It was their proclamation and miraculous signs that attracted much attention, continuing what John began, and that caused Herod to remember what he had done to John.

Not only that, but notice what happens when the disciples return.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

Jesus’ words to returning disciples

This initial missionary trip must have seemed like a mountain top experience for the disciples. The message was heard, people responded, people were healed, demons were cast out. We might expect a celebration meal, regaling others with what they experienced. Instead Jesus responds:

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

Jesus knew the weakness of us humans. With John’s death, it appears as if evil has won a major victory. With the report of the disciples, it appears as if they have won a major victory. But Jesus knows that more is going on than this temporary battlefield report. So he takes them away for rest.

My reaction would be: “Jesus, look what has happened. Why stop now?” The battle against evil is not lost when John is killed. Nor is the battle against evil won by the wondrous things the disciples have experienced.

The Final Confrontation with Evil

Jesus knows that the approaching battle, His battle, will take place on a cross, a sign of defeat for Him, and a sign of victory for His enemies. There it will appear as if evil won once for all. But not so! His death was to pay for the penalty that the sins of all the world had earned. Herod’s, John, Jesus’ disciples, and everyone person in history, including you and me.

But Jesus’ resurrection from the dead showed that the devil’s apparent triumph was an illusion. Sin, death, and the devil could not hold Him or win over Him.

The Message of Victory Continues

For us as Christians, the real message is who Jesus and what He has done. As Paul put it: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Notice that this is not a simplistic statement and then all is taken care of. Paul writes much about the implications of this in the life of the Christian. But unless this is front and center, everything else will fail, no matter the intentions.

The temptation for us as Christians is to look to the sword, power, intimidation, voting, etc. to be the real basis for action in this present world. If so, we have settled for temporary fixes for something much deeper, more profound. At times it will appear as if evil has triumphed, like with John’s death. Other times, we will exult in “our victories” like the disciples. But ultimately the goal of “winning” is not determined by temporary fixes, temporary measures, temporary victories. Winning is losing all and getting heaven.

In a world filled with violence, the only effective, long term message is one of God’s lover for sinners in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All other attempts will be short-sighted, stopgap, and frustratingly ineffective

As Christians we will continue to proclaim the victory of Jesus Christ, even in the face of enemies, or death itself. As P{aul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:54-57)

Mt14

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Trinity Sunday

Sermon on the Trinity based on the Athanasian Creed, May 22, 2016

Trinity Sunday

Athanasian Creed

 

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Law-Gospel differences

C. F. W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel

Thesis I.

The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.

It is not my intention to give a systematic treatment of the doctrine of the Law and the Gospel in these lectures. My aim is rather to show you how easy it is to work a great damage upon your hearers by confounding Law and Gospel in spite of their fundamental difference and thus to frustrate the aim of both doctrines. You will not begin to be interested in this point until you place before yourselves in clear outlines the points in which the Law and the Gospel differ.

The point of difference between the Law and the Gospel is not this, that the Gospel is a divine and the Law a human doctrine, resting on the reason of man. Not at all; whatever of either doctrine is contained in the Scriptures is the Word of the living God Himself.

Nor is the difference, that only the Gospel is necessary, not the Law, as if the latter were a mere addition that could be dispensed with in a strait. No, both are equally necessary. Without the Law the Gospel is not understood; without the Gospel the Law benefits us nothing.

Nor can this naïve, yet quite current, distinction be admitted, that the Law is the teaching of the Old while the Gospel is the teaching of the New Testament. By no means; there are Gospel contents in the Old and Law contents in the New Testament. Moreover, in the New Testament the Lord has broken the seal of the Law by purging it from Jewish ordinances.

Nor do the Law and the Gospel differ as regards their final aim, as though the Gospel aimed at men’s salvation, the Law at men’s condemnation. No, both have for their final aim man’s salvation; only the Law, ever since the Fall, cannot lead us to salvation; it can only prepare us for the Gospel. Furthermore, it is through the Gospel that we obtain the ability to fulfil the Law to a certain extent.

Nor can we establish a difference by claiming that the Law and the Gospel contradict each other. There are no contradictions in Scripture. Each is distinct from the other, but both are in the most perfect harmony with one another.

Finally, the difference is not this, that only one of these doctrines is meant for Christians. Even for the Christian the Law still retains its significance. Indeed, when a person ceases to employ either of these two doctrines, he is no longer a true Christian.

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Walther’s Law-Gospel Theses

C. F. W. Walther spoke to seminary students on Friday evenings at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis beginning in September 1884. For the next year and a half, he provided practical instruction in the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. Now, 132 years later, his words till resonate with a the heart of spiritual care uppermost for pastors.

I have read the book at least six times in the last 35 years. Well worth your time reading and re-reading. Check out CPH.org or Amazon for a hard copy. Or for an online resource, check out:

Walther’s Law and Gospel Distinctions

Here are the 25 theses he presented (took more than 25 sessions to cover all this!).

25 Theses on the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel

Thesis I. The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis II. Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis III. Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

Thesis IV. The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is an remains a sealed book.

Thesis V. The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized — and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists, and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists.

Thesis VI. In the second place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is not preached in its full sternness and the Gospel not in its full sweetness, when, on the contrary, Gospel elements are mingled with the Law and Law elements with the Gospel.

Thesis VII. In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace.

Thesis VIII. In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.

Thesis IX. In the fifth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when thy are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace.

Thesis X. In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.

Thesis XI. In the seventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when there is a disposition to offer the comfort of the Gospel only to those who have been made contrite by the Law, not from fear of the wrath and punishment of God, but from love of God.

Thesis XII. In the eighth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher represents contrition alongside of faith as a cause of the forgiveness of sin.

Thesis XIII. In the ninth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help towards that end, instead of preaching faith into a person’s heart by laying the Gospel promises before him.

Thesis XIV. In the tenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when faith is required as a condition of justification and salvation, as if a person were righteous in the sight of God and saved, not only by faith, but also on account of his faith, for the sake of his faith, and in view of his faith.

Thesis XV. In the eleventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance.

Thesis XVI. In twelfth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher tries to make people believe that they are truly converted as soon as they have become rid of certain vices and engage in certain works of piety and virtuous practises.

Thesis XVII. In the thirteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times.

Thesis XVIII. In the fourteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a manner as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins and are sinning purposely.

Thesis XIX. In the fifteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher speaks of certain sins as if there were not of a damnable, but of a venial nature.

Thesis XX. In the sixteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a person’s salvation is made to depend on his association with the visible orthodox Church and when salvation is denied to every person who errs in any article of faith.

Thesis XXI. In the seventeenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the Sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act.

Thesis XXII. In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person’s being awakened and his being converted; moreover, when a person’s inability to believe is mistaken for his not being permitted to believe.

Thesis XXIII. In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.

Thesis XXIV. In the twentieth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the unforgiven sin against the Holy Ghost is described in a manner as if it could not be forgiven because of its magnitude.

Thesis XXV. In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.

Law-Gospel

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Law or Gospel—How hard can that be?

Law:

Tells us what to do and what not to do. In this use of the Law, it always threatens, accuses, condemns a person.

Gospel:

Tells us what God has done for us in Jesus, who took all the punishment of the Law that we deserve (Christ’s passive obedience for us). Jesus also lived the perfect life (Christ’s active obedience for us). The Gospel proclaims both aspects and forgives, renews, restores—Gospel never condemns.

Application—it’s difficult

It’s relatively easy to distinguish Law and Gospel when reading the Biblical text. Regarding salvation if a person is the subject of the verb then it is Law. If God/Jesus is the subject of the verb it is Gospel.

But in real life, when does this person across from me need to hear Law and when to hear Gospel? Now this becomes difficult, very difficult. In an earlier post I mentioned that we are quick make a judgment and think we have the solution and apply what we have imagined is the right “medicine.” In reality many times we don’t know the person well enough to know whether he/she needs Law or Gospel.

What about you? Can you identify a situation in which you had trouble determining whether Law or Gospel was needed? (Please, no names, just incidents).

20091224-depressed

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