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



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