“The Tempter Comes. The Tempter Flees!”

“The Tempter Comes. The Tempter Flees!”

March 2020

Dear Lenten Pilgrims:
                “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil… and when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.’” (St. Matthew 4: 1, 3)

               Imagine it, if you can. Satan comes to Jesus. He is not afraid to come even to the LORD God Himself to try to get Him to sin. He wants Jesus to forget God, to forget His Father, to forget even who He is and what His mission is. 

               Jesus, being fully Man as well as fully God, was hungry, and Satan knew it. So he thinks that he will show Jesus a way to get something to eat. Satan wants Jesus to think that His Father has forgotten Him, but that he—the tempter—will actually help Jesus to fulfill His needs. “Here are some stones,” he tells Jesus, “just make bread out of them.” “No,” Jesus answers him, “I will wait until My Father feeds Me. I do not need your help.” And the devil leaves Him. Jesus did not forget His Father or His Father’s Word. 

               But Satan does not stop. He comes again. He does not give up so easily. Now he comes to Jesus and speaks the very Word of God from Holy Scripture. The devil knows the Bible inside and out. He knows what it says. But he neither loves nor trusts God’s Word. To him, it is a dead letter. He is quite happy to use it for his own purposes, twisting it, making it unrecognizable, and causing people to sin. “The Bible says that God will take care of You,” he tells Jesus. “Therefore, if You hurl yourself down from the highest point of the great temple in Jerusalem, You will not get hurt. Go ahead; Your Father will protect You.” Again, Jesus remembered what God had actually said about trusting in Him, responding, “No, Satan, again you would have Me sin, for I have no right to test God like that.” And again, in the face of God’s true Word, Satan has to depart. 

               But Satan does not get tired. He comes again. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment, with all of the power, pomp, glory, and riches. Satan promises Jesus that all of this temporary, worldly wealth and power is his to give to give to Jesus, if only Jesus will fall down and worship him.  

               But Jesus remembers the First Commandment—He should because it is His Commandment, after all: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Jesus loved His Father with His whole heart and rebuked the tempter, “Get thee hence, Satan!” In other words, “Be gone! Go away! You have no place or power here!” Worship is for God alone, and so—for the third time­—Satan must depart, having failed to entice Jesus to sin.

               We are now entering into the holy Lenten season. Lent begins with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. He goes into the wilderness to face the devil and all of his temptations, slings, and arrows in our place. Jesus faces Satan and hell itself for us, conquering them by God’s Word. From there, He sets His face toward Jerusalem to go to the cross for the sin of the world. There the tempter will think—for a moment—that the victory is actually his. But again he is wrong. The victory belongs to Jesus, and therefore to us! The season of Lent causes us to reflect upon the darkness of our sin and the greatness of our Savior. We focus upon Christ’s Passion and move through Lent toward the Holy Week observance of His betrayal, suffering, and death. As a people sick with sin, Lent points us to the One by whose wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

               Like Jesus in the wilderness, we remember God’s Word and trust in it because this is the Word that conveys forgiveness, life, and salvation to us from the cross of Christ. And this is the Word that drives away Satan, the tempter, and all of his lies.

               So let us remember God’s Word again this Holy Lententide. Let us hear it and receive it with great humility and thanksgiving. Let us receive Jesus in His body and blood as well. It is important that we discipline ourselves and our families into this “good, right, and salutary” discipline of setting aside time to hear more of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

               Your servant in Christ,

               Pastor Steven J. Anderson

The Book of Concord: Part 7: Dr. Luther’s Large Catechism

The Book of Concord: Part 7: Dr. Luther’s Large Catechism

February 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

This month we return to our series on the documents that make up our Lutheran Confessions, as they are contained in the Book of Concord. Many Lutherans have come to believe that Dr. Luther’s Large Catechism was written only for pastors; but this is not true. Dr. Luther begins his short preface to The Large Catechism by writing, “This sermon is designed and undertaken to be an instruction for children and the simple folk.” The Large Catechism is a result of Luther condensing his sermons (on the Ten Commandments, Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Sacraments) that he had preached over the course of a few years and collecting them together into one concise work. His goal in the Catechisms was the same as his goal with those sermons: to instruct and encourage clergy and laity, young and old alike, in the basics of the Christian faith. But the printing and distribution of both Catechisms allowed these important teachings to spread to a far wider audience.

Dr. Luther wrote both the Small and the Large Catechisms with the assumption that they would be “house books” and used regularly in the household for the benefit of all in their growth and knowledge of the fundamental teachings of Holy Scripture.

While the Evangelical Lutheran Church (meaning those churches whose confession of faith is The Book of Concord, which can include the LCMS and other Lutheran denominations) has never required a grasp of The Large Catechism for admission to communicant membership (but only the much easier to learn and memorize Small Catechism, as Luther himself advises), The Large Catechism is still an important resource which every Christian would do well to study and take to heart. It covers the very same aspects of the Christian faith as The Small Catechism, but it does so in far greater depth. While households can successfully memorize The Small Catechism they can also make use of The Large Catechism for more in depth teaching as they grow together in the faith.

Dr. Martin Luther wrote both Catechisms in reaction to the dreadful state of Biblical knowledge in which he and other reformers found the people of God in Germany; both clergy and laity. To appreciate the gravity of the situation he discovered:

Imagine if your pastor couldn’t even recite the Ten Commandments!

Imagine if your church service did not include any sermon, except perhaps on special occasions!

Imagine if, even when a sermon was to be given, your pastor did not know or understand how or what to preach!

Imagine the truths of Scripture being taught neither in the Church, nor at home (since even fathers and mothers were not instructed in the faith)!

This was the state of things in the 1520’s in Germany. With the dawn of the Reformation and the churches in Saxony and other German nations turning evangelical (back to the Gospel), one would have expected an immediate surge in growth in the knowledge of Scripture, but the problem was twofold. One problem was that Bibles printed in the local language were still not widely distributed; but another problem, was that clergy and laity alike were failing to see the study of the teachings of Scripture, and the reception of Christ’s mercy in the Liturgy and Sacraments, as important and beneficial gifts of God.

When the Reformation freed the people from the abuses of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, very often, the uneducated people simply thought themselves likewise free from all the rites, ceremonies, and teachings of the Holy Christian Church as well. Cut loose from both the papacy and the ceremonies of the Church, there was nothing to anchor the people to anything. While they had been set free from the abuses of Rome’s false teachings, there remained a critical need to be anchored to the true teachings of Christ, His Church, and His Word.

A series of visitations to parishes all over Germany was the first step in the effort to restore proper Christian teaching, as well as proper Christian rites and ceremonies, which had been either twisted or lost, so that people could both receive and appreciate the Gifts of Christ. Not just Dr. Luther, but many clergy, princes, city officials, and theologians participated in these visitations.

It was as a direct result of these visits that Dr. Luther ultimately wrote the Large (and then the Small) Catechism. As churches were made aware of their spiritual emptiness and the divine nourishment available to them in the Scriptures, and the ceremonies of the Church drawn from them, a great hunger developed among the people. So hungry for these truths were both the clergy and the laity that The Large Catechism went into its third edition less than a year after the first edition was printed and distributed.

Both the Large and Small Catechisms quickly became standards of Lutheran orthodoxy. Already in the 1530s, church orders (rules handed down by the local leaders) required that instruction be according to Dr. Luther’s Catechisms. In some parishes it was not unusual for portions of The Large Catechism to be read as the sermon for the day.

While the concept of a catechism wasn’t unique, Martin Luther’s approach to writing his was a pioneering achievement. He arranged the Chief Parts differently than any had done in the past. He began with the Ten Commandments, followed by the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, the Sacraments, and Confession. Thus, one can see what God requires (the Commandments) and just how high and out of reach His requirements are. Next, we find how God meets our needs through a meditation upon His Triune nature (the Creed). Then, we learn in the Lord’s Prayer how we can approach God now that He has brought us near to Him. Finally we learn how God comes to us as we struggle in our saint-sinner lives—the means of grace proclaimed in the Gospel and given in the sacraments.

In both of Martin Luther’s Catechisms, we have powerful tools. They were written in war-time (a fight for the Gospel against the legalistic and human-centered papacy). And today we are still “at war,” as we are the Church Militant (a spiritual fight against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh). The Catechisms arm us for this battle as they give us both the Law and the Gospel, proclaiming Christ’s promises to and for us. Conveying the Word of God as they do, they are relevant to strengthen our faith in weakness as they point us to the mighty work our Savior has done and is doing now through His Holy Spirit, in overcoming all that stands against us.

We are at war, but Christ is the one fighting the good fight for us, and He is already victorious. Come soon, Lord Jesus, and deliver us all into the fullness of Your victory! In the meantime, thank God for His teaching and truth that comforts, guides, and strengthens us to endure with certain hope.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

All Things New: 2020 and Beyond

All Things New: 2020 and Beyond

January 2020

               “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” – Revelation 21:5

Dear Friends in Christ:

Another Christmas Day has come and gone, along with all the Services, carols, and family gatherings. Even though the Christmas Season lasts 12 days (The Twelve Days of Christmas), the public decorations quickly disappear and the world’s attention turns to the changing year. 2019 is a big one because it is a so-called “rollover year” – in other years, nineteen rolls over into twenty. There was “2020” merchandise everything: hats, streamers, noisemakers, balloons – even those plastic “2020” sunglasses have a marvelous symmetry! And the newness doesn’t stop with the calendar – as the world will tell you: 2020 is going to be the time for you to renew yourself!

You have heard it before: “New Year; New You!” Make a resolution, the world tells us: Perhaps you should refresh your image in the fashion department. Maybe lose some weight. You might resolve to learn a new language or to travel. That is what the world will suggest. The world will also tell you that the only thing keeping you from becoming that better you is your own fear, or your lack of confidence: New Year; New You!

So how do you think that will work out for you? Will every promise the world makes come true? No. And it should not surprise anyone. “Change and decay in all around I see…” wrote the hymn-writer, and it happens to each of us. Even when we do learn something new, or experience something that changes us for the better, and even when we lose (or gain) some weight, it does not ultimately change the big picture. It does not undo the work of the devil, sin, and death. Sin’s wages always come due, and we all pay that price.

The last year was a challenging year for our congregation. We saw our Parish School close after 59 years, and mourned that loss, as we see things changing around us in our culture, in our communities, even in our families, as fewer people are committed to Christ and hearing the Good News of Salvation that is found in Him. Indeed, when we look at our own sin and the sinfulness of this fallen world it can seem dark and depressing, but there is hope for everyone.

There is hope for every person because God, our Father, has sent His Son in human flesh to rescue us from all the evils of this world, from the devil, and even from our own sinfulness! That Good News if for you and for all! And that Good News is the news that this congregation is here to proclaim. He has sent Jesus Christ in human flesh to defeat death, to take the penalty for our sin upon Himself. Christ did that, dying on the cross, and three days later He rose from the dead! And the Father and Son together send the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify us in the one true Faith along with all other believers in Christ, His Holy Christian Church.

 And this hope is not for this life only; it is a promise of even better things to come.  On the Last Day, Christ will raise each and every one of you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. Behold, He will make you and me – and all things – new! It will be unlike anything we have ever known and better than anything we could ever imagine! The world exhorts you to make yourself into a ‘new you’ every New Year, but the Lord’s promise to you – delivered by His gifts of Word and water, Body and Blood, promise a forever you. Forgiven of all your sins by Jesus, you have life and salvation, and that means you have the hope of everlasting life. No matter the disappointments of this broken world, no matter the things others have done that have hurt you, no matter even the things you have done to yourself, you are forgiven in Christ, and in Him you have hope.

 And that Good News continues to be proclaimed. It is being proclaimed all over the world, and people are still coming to Faith in Jesus, as they always will until the end of time. And that Good News is being proclaimed here at the corner of 53rd and Major, and that will continue, as well. The One who makes all things new continues His saving work!

So is it all about “New Year; New You”? No, thanks. Rather, in Christ, you have New Life through His Word and Holy Sacraments as His belovéd children, now and forever.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

Savior of the Nations, Come!

Savior of the Nations, Come!

December 2019

Dear Waiting People of God:

            Some of the best hymns in the Lutheran Service Book are in the Advent Season of the Church Year. The reason for this is simple and can be summarized in the word of the season: Come. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “to come” or “coming.” St. Bernard said of Christ’s Coming: “In the first coming, Christ comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in Spirit and power; in the third, He comes in glory and majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.”

            The season of Advent, and thus the hymns of Advent, revolves around three inter-woven themes found in the Scriptures. In Advent we celebrate Jesus first coming by His incarnation in human flesh to be the Savior from sin and death. In Advent we also prepare and anticipate for Jesus’ second coming in glory as we confess in the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” For you, the baptized Christian, Jesus’ second coming in glory is good news. We joyfully, and eagerly await His return. And lastly, in Advent we also rejoice, as we are in between Jesus’ first and second advent, that Jesus comes to us here and now with His crucified, risen, and ascended body to be present with us wherever His Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments received.

            St. Ambrose, who was bishop of Milan from A.D. 374-397, originally wrote this hymn in Latin. Ambrose, one of the most well known of the early Church Fathers, is renowned for his theological writings, his bold confession of the orthodox confession of faith against the Arians (who falsely taught that there was a time when Jesus was not God), and his influence in the worship life of the Church. This latter point is especially evident in his hymn Savior of the Nations Come.

            In 1523, Dr. Luther translated Ambrose’s hymn from Latin into German. In 1524, Luther included it in his hymnal known as the Erfurt Enchiridion. It was later translated into English by William M. Reynolds (1812-1876). Johann Walter, the Cantor in Wittenberg, first wrote the tune used today in 1524. Since the Reformation, Savior of the Nations, Come has become a standard hymn during the Advent and Christmas seasons. And it is easy to see why when reading the text:

1) Savior of the Nations, come,

Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!

Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,

That the Lord chose such a birth.

2) Not by human flesh and blood,

By the Spirit of our God,

Was the Word of God made flesh –

Woman’s offspring pure and fresh.

3) God the Father was His source,

Back to God He ran His course.

Into hell His road went down,

Back then to His throne and crown.

4) For You are the Father’s Son

Who in flesh the vict’ry won.

By Your might power make whole

All our ills of flesh and soul.

5) Here a maid was found with child,

Yet remained a virgin mild.

In her womb this truth was shown:

God was there upon His throne.

6) Then stepped forth the Lord of all

From His pure and kingly hall;

God of God, yet fully man,

His heroic course began.

7) From the manger newborn light

Shines in glory through the night.

Darkness here no more resides;

In this light faith now abides.

8) Glory to the Father sing,

Glory to the Son, our king,

Glory to the Spirit be

Now and through eternity.

            The hymn is an Advent and Christmas sermon all on its own. For in these words we hear the confession of the Christian Faith that we rejoice in during Advent, Christmas, and the whole year: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).” Jesus is born as a man for you. And yet Jesus is true God for you. He needed a human nature like yours in order to save you. He needed to be our substitute, to be a perfect man. And He is. Yet, He also needed to be perfect God. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made. Ambrose, no doubt, penned these important words, words that are vital to the Christian faith, in response to the Arian heresy that taught that there was a time when Jesus was not true God.

            In Advent and during the Christmas season, Savior of the Nations, Come not only gives us a beautiful confession of Christ’s person and work, but that who Jesus is as Savior and what He came to do is for us. Jesus is the Savior of the Nations. He was born for all. He lived a perfect life for all. He died for all. He rose for all. And He will come again for all. And when Jesus does return, He will forever cure all our ills of flesh and soul. As God’s baptized children we live here, in the Light of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, certainly in Advent, but all year round as well.

            In many ways, this hymn is the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds summarized and set to music. It makes a fine devotion because it so succinctly gives you the content of the Christian faith, and superbly delivers the Gospel to you.

            Enjoy the hymns of Advent and Christmas. Rejoice in the truth contained there. May the words of Christ in the hymns of this Advent season dwell richly in you as they have for countless Christians who have prayed and sung Savior of the Nations, Come!

            In Christ,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

All the Saints & a Blesséd Christian Funeral

All the Saints & a Blesséd Christian Funeral

November 2019

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – St. Matthew 5:4

            Dear Saints in Christ:

            The first Sunday of every November is a Sunday that we look forward to with both joy and sadness. We observe the Feast of All the Saints (November 1 is the actual day, but just as we observe Reformation on the last Sunday in October, we do the same with All Saints).  Jesus preaches to us from the Beatitudes, the opening words of His Sermon on the Mount, and we hear again, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

            We mourn because we die, and we long for comfort because we grieve. We grieve for many reasons, but it all comes down to death. We know that we die because of our sin, but – thanks be to God – we have the hope of everlasting life through Jesus’ victory over the grave! Our Lord Jesus came from heaven to earth to live our life, die our death, and rise from the grave to sit at the right hand of the Father in glory, interceding for us and sending the Comforter, His Holy Spirit, to continue to work among us and in us through the Means of Grace – the Word and the Sacraments. Baptized and forgiven, we are God’s beloved children by faith.  It is our joy – in all things – to confess this faith.

            One of the most important confessions of our Faith is the one we make when we die and are buried. God’s children die in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body to life everlasting, and the worship that surrounds the death of a Christian must confess this. To that end, your pastor strives to work with individuals and families before and at the time of death to faithfully prepare and conduct the Funeral Liturgy with this Christian confession in mind. The readings, the sermon, the hymns, the prayers, and the visitation – all of them serve to provide Christian comfort to all of us as we grieve and hope together in God’s Resurrection Promises in Christ.

            Now – perhaps more than ever – the world around us is becoming more and more confused about death and dying, and our funerals (yes, often even Christian Funerals) are being driven more and more by our “me-centered” culture, and turned into occasions to express our individuality and provide some kind of emotional catharsis instead of pointing at the consolation Christ gives in the midst of death, which is the purpose of Christ-confessing Christian Funeral Service.

            The answer to this “me-driven” culture that is all around us is to follow God and His Holy Word. The Lord who promised that those blesséd ones who mourn would be comforted is the One who not only accomplishes that comfort through His own death and resurrection, but also consoles us with His gifts in Holy Baptism, His Word, and the Lord’s Supper. The world tells you that you must leave your mark, your legacy behind you; but for the Christian, the only mark that matters is the one placed upon you at your baptism to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified – the one who will raise you from the dead!

            I encourage all Gloria Dei members – as you are able – to consider planning ahead by thinking about the readings and hymns you would like to be read and sung at your Christian Funeral Service. Your pastor would be glad to assist you if you would like help.  I hope to include a Service Planning sheet in an upcoming Gloria Dei Messenger for this purpose. You will be invited fill it out, and return it to the Gloria Dei Church Office.

            And so, this All Saints’ Day and always, we rejoice with all the saints on earth and with all the saints who have gone before us marked with the sign of Faith: the Cross of Christ. We celebrate All Saints’ Sunday in both joy and sadness to be sure, but mainly with great joy: joy in the crucified and risen Jesus, who has born all sins in His flesh and risen for us triumphantly over death and the grave. Let us confess Him with our lips and with our lives in life, and let us confess Him with the confession of our Christian Funeral Service in death, as we sing with all the saints in glory.

            Alleluia, Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!                   

Lent: Success or Faithfulness?

Lent: Success or Faithfulness?

February 2018

Dear Recipients of God’s Faithfulness:

The world equates winning with success. We see this everywhere we look. We see it most clearly in sports, where winning is everything. Recently, a movie has come out about the sad situation with figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, where the desire to win eclipsed everything else. We see it in the numbers of NFL coaches who are fired after a losing season, or a number of losing seasons. But we see this mentality in more places than just surrounding sports. The attitude of equating winning, and being a “winner” with being a “success” is all around us. The world celebrates winning, which it equates with success. If you win, you are a success. If you lose, you are a failure. Nothing else matters. That is the way it is in the world – in sports, in business, in politics, in relationships, in everything.

That is why we have a difficult time with the Church. For the Church is not called to success and to “winning”, but to faithfulness. This can be a difficult jump to make – away from the mentality of success to faithfulness. The Church is called to remain faithful to her Lord. And she does that as she uses what He has given her to use – His Word, His Ministry, and His Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion. Likewise, He has given to His Bride a wonderful setting in which to receive these gifts: the Divine Service. Indeed, the Liturgy itself serves the Gospel as it is drawn from Scripture, rightly divides Law and Gospel, and delivers the results of Jesus’ sacrificial death: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. It also connects us with the Church of the past and the Church in heaven.

We also see the difference between success and faithfulness in the life of our Lord Jesus, especially during Lent and Holy Week. Throughout His life Jesus remained utterly faithful to His Father, even when it meant being nailed to a cross and lifted up to die. Nothing could keep Him from doing all that His Father had given Him to do for our salvation. Certainly, on Good Friday, as He hung on the cross, bleeding, gasping for each breath, dying, He seemed to be the ultimate failure: almost everyone had abandoned Him, even most of His disciples. His popularity had plummeted. The crowds, which praised Him on Palm Sunday, are now gone, and disillusioned: “This one can’t be the Messiah, though we were hoping He was. And who wants to follow someone who is crucified. How could we have been so foolish?”

And yet, this was not the first time Jesus would be thought to be a failure. After His Bread of Life discourse (St. John 6:25-59) “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:66). And when Jesus asked the Twelve if they wanted to leave too, St. Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69).

Then on Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead, He remained faithful to His Father and to His Word. He had told the disciples at least three times that He would be killed and on the third day rise again. So when His disciples saw their resurrected Lord, they were filled with unbridled joy. By God’s grace alone they were forgiven and restored and rejoiced with the risen Lord.

Then, as those disciples faithfully went out to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they too often seemed like failures. They suffered much for the cause of the Gospel and most of them were killed for their efforts. They were not successful according to earthly standards, but, by God’s grace and mercy alone, they were faithful to their Lord. And the same is true today as God’s people are persecuted, and even killed, for being faithful to Christ.

So, let us be faithful, and make that our one desire. Let us treasure and use what He has given to us that we may grow in faith and love. We will not always succeed, but as we live by and in His grace, let us strive to do all things well – in our personal lives and as a congregation. And as we so strive, as we faithfully receive His gifts in the Divine Service, as we learn evermore to trust in the Lord Jesus alone, God will work in us such faithfulness that will lead to eternal life. And that is all that really maters. To God alone be the glory.

Blessed Ash Wednesday and Lent.

Advent 2017: Getting Ready for the Celebration!

Advent 2017: Getting Ready for the Celebration!

November 2017

Greetings in the Name of Jesus our King:

The cold weather finally seems to be upon us and you might be thinking (or singing), “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” But hold on a moment. It is Advent! Much ink (or perhaps: many pixels) has been spilled over the past years about a supposed “War on Christmas,” suggesting that the Christian Festival of Christ’s Birth has been usurped by secular society and has become something other than it ought to be. I might argue that another battle we face is the War on Advent. While Christmas has become palatable to even non-Christians because it evokes celebration, family time, and gift giving; Advent is another story. The attitude of the season of Advent is one of sober preparation and self-examination. In other words, the event of the Birth of the Christ-Child is so important to our salvation – indeed, it is so earth shattering – that we ought get ready for it. And so, the Season of Advent exists for that purpose.

Let’s say you were throwing a party. Before the celebration can take place one might insist that food and drinks are prepared and the house is cleaned up. This is standard procedure, examination, and preparation for the event. Now, what if you found out that your favorite celebrity or some greatly esteemed person was going to be present? Wouldn’t you ramp up your preparations and presentation? Surely, you would.

In Advent we are getting ready to welcome the Christ-Child. We commemorate the coming of Jesus born in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. We also look to the day when that same Jesus, King of the Universe, will return in glory – once and for all – and usher in the new heavens and new earth— eternal life for us. Advent serves as an opportunity for us to prepare our hearts and minds to better receive the greatest Gift and most important Person of all: Jesus in the flesh.

Now what does this preparation look like? Self-improvement? Being as externally “good” as possible? Not quite. Rather, our preparation in Advent is recognizing that we are poor sinners and that the coming of Jesus is not just “nice” but absolutely necessary to deal with our sins. When facing the reality that the King of all creation is on His way can be terrifying. If we are being honest, there is nothing we as individuals can do to prepare and stand upright in the King’s presence. But the Holy Spirit can. Led by Him in the Word, admitting our brokenness in confession and receiving forgiveness in absolution we do assume the correct disposition to receive the King: on our knees and empty handed. And when He comes He lifts us up by His own strength and gives us the gift of life forever with Him. With that Good News we sing with the angels: Hallelujah — Praise be to God!

For your preparation this year, I encourage you to attend as many of our Advent and Christmastide services as you can. We will gather during Advent for our Midweek Morning Matins Services looking at “The Annunciations of Saint Luke” (The Annunciation of St. John the Baptist and of Jesus) on Wednesday mornings at 9am with our school children. Our School Advent Service (“God’s Loving Kindness of Salvation: Jesus!”) will be on December 20th at 9am and 7pm.

We will gather on Sunday, December 24th at 9:30am for the 4th Sunday of Advent and that evening, Christmas Eve, at 7:00pm for the Service of Lessons and Carols. The Christmas Day Holy Communion Service will be at 9:30am. We will gather on Sunday, December 31st, to celebrate the 1st Sunday after Christmas at 9:30am.

God bless you these Advent & Christmas Seasons. Your King comes to you.

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

Elected!

Elected!

November 2016

Dear Elected in Christ,

As you read this newsletter article, you are either preparing to cast your ballot for many elected positions in federal, state, and local politics; or you have already done so. This election season has been long (most would say, too long) and filled with debates, commercials, and commentary that you might have heard (or perhaps you have been avoiding). But as long as you have considered who you would cast a vote for in this election, it calls to mind another “election.” This one has nothing to do with politics, debates, or television commercials, but it has everything to do with you.

You are chosen by God. The Bible uses the word “elected” to describe how you are set apart by God. He has chosen you to receive His grace and mercy. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians and to you about this comforting act of God electing you:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His Will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His Will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory. – Ephesians 1:3-14 (emphasis added)

Notice how St. Paul teaches us to bless God because He chose us even before the world was created! He predestined us to be adopted and to be called His sons! He has chosen us for forgiveness and life and salvation! This election of you by God is good news! It is right to thank and praise God that He chose you, even before your birth.

This, however, does not lead to the Calvinist false teaching that God also elects some people to condemnation. Many Christians, ask that question, “If God predestined me for salvation, does that mean that He chose to condemn non-believers to hell?” Holy Scripture never says that God creates people for condemnation, or that He desires them to be condemned. St. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God our Savior] desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” To go beyond what Scripture says about election is to guess and speculate, and we have not authority from God to do so, which is what Calvinist do. We know that God has chosen believers to receive His inheritance, and we know that God desires all sinners to be saved. What about those who don’t believe? We know only that it is because of their hard-heartedness and sin. Beyond that, we cannot say. Drawn from Holy Scripture, the Formula of Concord (part of The Lutheran Confessions, which our church subscribes to) states this very well for us.

Thus far a Christian should occupy himself [in meditation] with the article concerning the eternal election of God, as it has been revealed in God’s Word, which presents to us Christ as the Book of Life, which He opens and reveals to us by the preaching of the holy Gospel, as it is written Rom. 8:30: Whom He did predestinate, them He also called. In Him we are to seek the eternal election of the Father, who has determined in His eternal divine counsel that He would save no one except those who know His Son Christ and truly believe on Him. Other thoughts are to be [entirely] banished [from the minds of the godly], as they proceed not from God, but from the suggestion of the Evil Foe, whereby he attempts to weaken or entirely to remove from us the glorious consolation which we have in this salutary doctrine, namely, that we know [assuredly] that out of pure grace, without any merit of our own, we have been elected in Christ to eternal life, and that no one can pluck us out of His hand; as He has not only promised this gracious election with mere words, but has also certified it with an oath and sealed it with the holy Sacraments, which we can [ought to] call to mind in our most severe temptations, and take comfort in them, and therewith quench the fiery darts of the devil. (Formula of Concord, Epitome, IX:13, emphasis added)

In other words, Satan tempts you to ask questions about election that God simply does not answer in Holy Scripture in order to plant seeds of doubt about God’s love and goodness. However, be certain that all those who believe in Christ have been chosen by God and receive His gifts, now and forever! Rest in Christ’s peace, as it is His death and resurrection that call you holy and blameless.

In Christ’s peace,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson

The Beginning of the 500th Reformation Year

The Beginning of the 500th Reformation Year

October 2016

Dearly Beloved in Christ:

As we have entered into another October, we soon will find ourselves coming to Reformation Sunday (October 30th, this year). Our Evangelical Lutheran Church (that is, the Holy Christian Faith as rightly confessed in The Book of Concord) has been celebrating this day, the day that German theologian and Doctor of the Church, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses (or Questions) to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church, for almost 500 years. He did this on the Eve of All Saints’ Day, October 31st, 1517. We remember that God, in His mercy, allowed Dr. Martin Luther to rise up to restore to public preaching The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The preaching of that Gospel had been severely curtailed in the Church in the centuries prior to Dr. Luther. Once again the message that Jesus died to take away our sins and win for us eternal life was proclaimed from Christian pulpits.

After almost 500 years, we still desire to remain faithful to that message. This is the message that saves. How can we be faithful to it? We must admit that on our own we can never do such a thing. The sinner always ends up going against God’s will. Nor is faith something we possess and will always keep once we have it. Instead it is God’s gift to us. He gives it to us through Holy Baptism and through His Word. He also strengthens it through the Sacrament of The Altar. If we avoid these means of God’s gracious forgiveness, faith will eventually go away, like water trickling out of a cracked glass. If we stay in the Word and Sacraments, faith will remain strong and bright.

Now we sing: “Lord, help us ever to retain, The Catechism’s doctrine plain. As Luther taught The Word of Truth In simple style to tender youth” (TLH 288:1). Confirmation class, however long ago you went through it, was not graduation day from learning about God. Our Lord wants us to continue to learn about Him. In fact, Dr. Luther once claimed that he had not mastered the Catechism even though he was the author of two catechisms!

What do we learn in The Catechism? We learn from God’s holy Law to mourn our sin and to turn from it in faith to The Triune God. We learn to pray to our Father for needed help every day. We learn to live as His children since He received us in Holy Baptism. We learn to seek His forgiveness when we fall into sin. We learn that through His Sacrament He increases our faith until we depart this life in peace.

In this life, our new man, given us by God in Holy Baptism, will always struggle against the old Adam. That is why we need to stay in God’s Word. That’s why it’s good for us to continue to study the Catechism.

So as we celebrate The Reformation of The Church again this year, and as we look forward to next year’s 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, let us remember that the most precious thing is our Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who died to take away our sins. He is for us, and since He is for us, death and hell and Satan cannot have us. I close with this Reformation hymn, “O God, Our Lord, Thy Holy Word” (TLH 266), attributed to Dr. Luther, because it puts so well the Reformation theme, salvation by grace through faith alone given by Scripture alone:

O God, our Lord, Thy holy Word Was long a hidden treasure
Till to its place It was by grace Restored in fullest measure
For this today Our thanks we say And gladly glorify Thee.
Thy mercy show And grace bestow On all who still deny Thee.

Salvation free By faith in Thee, That is Thy Gospel’s preaching,
The heart and core Of Bible lore In all its sacred teaching.
In Christ we must Put all our trust, Not in our deeds or labor;
With conscience pure And heart secure Love Thee, Lord, and our neighbor.

Thou, Lord, alone This work hast done By Thy free grace and favor.
All who believe Will grace receive Thro’ Jesus Christ, our Savior.
And tho’ the Foe Would overthrow Thy Word with grim endeavor,
All he hath wrought Must come to naught,–Thy Word will stand forever.

My Lord art Thou, And for me now Death holds no dreadful terrors;
Thy precious Blood, my highest good, Hath blotted out my errors.
My thanks to Thee! Thou wilt to me Fulfil Thy promise ever
And mercy give While here I live And heav’nly bliss forever

In Christ our Lord,

Pastor Steven Anderson

September Endings and Beginnings

September Endings and Beginnings

September 2016

Dear Friends in Christ:

The arrival of September is always a marker of endings and beginnings. Ending, of course, is summer with the long days, fun-filled weekends, gardening, and wonderful weather (although, this summer was quite hot and humid, and still is as of the writing of this letter). Beginning is a new school year, a new football season (for those interested in football), and – once upon a time – a new television season, although, with the advent of on-demand viewing, television seasons don’t really mean much anymore. And those things are just to name a few of the endings and beginnings. Here at church September marks the return of our Sunday Adult Bible Class on September 11th at 8:15am (join us for our continued study of Ecclesiastes, followed by a new study), the opening of our parish school, confirmation classes starting, and other activities.

Many of these endings and beginnings are tied into the observation of Labor Day, which is celebrated on the first Monday in September. The long Labor Day weekend is often referred to as the end of summer and many schools and activities wait until after it has passed to begin their fall schedules. The holiday itself was founded as a workingman’s holiday and was tied to the labor movement in the late 1800’s. It was seen as a way to celebrate the strength of trade and labor organizations and the power of the American worker. In the Church Labor Day is a good time to be reminded that while we may refer to ourselves figuratively as ‘laborers in the vineyard’, our status as the People of God has nothing to do with our work. Labor Day in the church, like any other day is a time to celebrate that all the work that matters for our salvation was done by God himself.

God created the world, and even before the fall into sin He had already set into motion His plan to save the world. God’s plan from all eternity, before even the foundation of the world, was to send His Son Jesus into His creation to redeem it. Jesus, true God and Man, did all the work the God required for you to be part of His Kingdom. Jesus bore your sins and the sins of all people on the cross. He died for you and then rose from the dead to show that all the work of salvation was done.

Not only does September contain the secular celebration of Labor Day, it also contains the churchly celebration of Holy Cross Day (also called The Exaltation of the Holy Cross), September 14th. This is the day on which it is believed that St. Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, discovered the true Cross of Christ in 326AD while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It is also the anniversary of the Dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 335AD. Of course, there is no way of knowing the truth of the story of St. Helena finding the true Cross. However, Holy Cross Day has become a day of rejoicing in the Holy Cross of Christ. Rejoicing in a cross?! An ancient Roman instrument of torture and execution? That seems very strange indeed, and is off-putting to many people today, just as Jesus said it would be. However, the Cross itself is a marker of beginnings and endings. For on the Cross ended the power of sin, death, and hell and on the Cross is the beginning of a new era of salvation for all who believe in (that is, trust) Jesus. On the Cross is the end your sin and the beginning of your salvation. On the Cross is the end of your death and the beginning of your life. On the Cross was accomplished the labor for an eternal lifetime with God in the new heaven and the new earth.

So in this month of endings and beginnings, find all of your endings and beginnings in Jesus Christ!

In Christ,

Pastor Steven J. Anderson