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