Daily Devotions

In October of 2016 Renée and I went to the Shepherd's Canyon Retreat Center, just west of Phoenix, AZ. (Total mileage, driving there and back, 5,200.) They have an excellent program designed to encourage pastors and their wives in their ministries. 
    There's one week of pretty intense meetings. There are group sessions, couples sessions, individual sessions. Know this: there were assignments to be done before the next session.
    My maternal grandfather, who served in the United States Army, and who had been around the world (he's now with the Lord), often said that he "loved the desert." Growing up in Alexandria, VA, and thinking that Washington, D.C. was the  center of the world, I often wondered why he would say that.
    I've come to agree with him. There's a lot of life in the desert, once you get used to seeing it. It's not so barren as we East Coast people, surrounded by mountains and greenery, think it is.
    It's quite different, of course. In addition to the life of the desert, there's beauty, and remoteness, and quiet. There's usually a town somewhere nearby. It doesn’t hurt that the American Southwest also has great Mexican restaurants.
    Our trip there was refreshing, re-energizing, and challenging.
    Getting away is always refreshing, as long as you remember that you're also going to "go back" to where you came from.
    The challenging part was that the counselors kept asking direct questions. They listened to our answers, and had some helpful feedback.
    One of the things they asked that really convicted me was: "Do you spend time in couples devotions?"
    How many of us do? We're busy. We go in opposite directions too much. We get to bed late, exhausted, and ready to collapse. This is true for pastors the same as it is for everybody else.
    Of course many people are surprised to know that the pastor and his family don’t spend enough time in meditation and prayer. I'll appeal to the aforementioned schedule and exhaustion. 
    So, we agreed that we'd add this. Most days (to say "every day" suggests a perfection that doesn’t quite exist) we end our day with a favorite devotional book, and a time of prayer. I pray one night; Renée prays the next.
    Our prayers are for our loved ones, the needs of the congregation and the school, our staff, our volunteers, the prayer requests that have become known to us.
    The devotional book is "A Year with C.S. Lewis." I found this book at Barnes and Noble years ago, and have read from it off and on ever since. Now, nearly daily.
    Many of our prayer topics get covered once per week. We've been praying daily about our search for an Associate Pastor. Given the size of our congregation, the ministries that we conduct (or better, that God conducts through us), and the additional ministry of the school, we need that help.
    The odd thing to think about is the fact that God already knows where this is headed. For us, living in "real time" as we do, there's a Call Committee, a Voters Assembly to take all official actions, interview questions, PIF's and SET's (yes even the church uses alphabet soup; these are informational documents about pastors), interviews, and always, prayer.
    As of today, we do not know who our next Associate Pastor will be. But Renée and I are already praying for him and his family. I would ask you to join us in this. May God's will be done; and may we find it through the working of His Holy Spirit among us.

In His Service,

Pastor Walt


 

"Precious Lord, Take My Hand"

We live in a Stream of Consciousness world. One idea leads to another, and that to another, and that to still another. A few minutes of letting the mind wander and you've gone down another rabbit hole on Wikipedia. It's all perfect for those who are easily distracted.
    This past Monday was Martin Luther King Day; a day set aside to remember a man who challenged our nation to be better. Some commentators noted, but many did not, that he was a Christian pastor, that his faith formed everything he did, and that when he formed an organization he named it the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 
    On Facebook I learned (yes, sometimes the words "Facebook" and "learned" can be used in the same sentence) that Dr. King's favorite song was "Precious Lord."
    I love it, too, so off to Wikipedia I went. I was reading things that I probably should have known already. Not knowing them, I'd read them Monday.
    "Precious Lord" was written by Thomas A. Dorsey, not to be confused with Tommy Dorsey. Our Thomas Dorsey was the son of a pastor and a piano teacher. Hmmmm, so how did he become a writer of great Gospel music?
    "Precious Lord" is a beautiful piece of music. As good as it is, its back story is even more powerful.
    Dorsey was about to leave town to participate in several days of revival meetings. Nettie, his pregnant wife, was asleep in bed. Dorsey, preparing to leave, looked at her and felt that something was wrong. He ought to stay. But he also felt that he'd made a commitment, so out the door he went.
    While he was serving at the revival someone handed him a note. Nettie had died suddenly, but their child was alive.
    Dorsey rushed home. The child died two days later.
    He was angry at God, feeling abandoned, and deeply grieved. What was he supposed to do now?
    While in that frame of mind a melody came to him. He sat down at a piano and worked on it. Then came the words.

        Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand
        I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
        Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light.
        Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me home.

    That was 1932. Dorsey lived until 1993. His songs have touched millions, but none quite so much as "Precious Lord."
    YouTube has many renditions of this powerful song. Everyone ought to see Mahalia Jackson sing it.

In His Service,

Pastor Walt

 

 

The Importance Of The Reformation Today

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason---I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other---my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen.” – Martin Luther, Diet of Worms in 1521

This weekend we celebrate the Reformation and remember the anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517. There are three major reforms that still empower the church today. The first is the Reformation’s emphasis on just Scripture from 2 Timothy 3:15 (Sola Scriptura). Even today, it is refreshing to know that the Bible is enough for us. We don’t rely on the fallible opinions or traditions of human beings that could lead us astray. We base our entire faith on the Word of God. The Bible is sufficient enough to teach us everything we need to be saved. This has freed the church from wrong beliefs and teachings that damage its witness in the world. Knowledge is power!

The second is the Reformation’s emphasis on just faith from Ephesians 2:8-9 (Sola Fide). The church returned to the basics of the Bible, that we are saved by faith alone, not faith plus works. The Reformation didn’t do away with good works, but put them in their proper place. Works are a response to our faith in what God has done for us by grace. It is freeing to know that God has completed our salvation through the work of Christ on the Cross. It is also freeing to know that I don’t do good things for others through coercion, but through genuine love of my neighbor. True generosity is powerful!

The third is the Reformation’s emphasis on the priesthood of all believers from 1 Peter 2:5 (Sola Christus). If Jesus Christ saves us alone, then as a Christian I have direct access to God through Him. Wow! No more going through a priest, pope, or a saint to access God. The Bible teaches that all Christians are priest before God. All Christians can do ministry. All Christians can work to bring people to faith in Jesus. All Christians have a holy calling in their vocation to serve their neighbor. Spiritual equality is freeing!

To people of all nationalities the first Protestants bequeathed in spite of themselves a heritage of spiritual freedom and equality, the consequences of which are still working themselves out in the world today. -Stephen Ozment, "Protestants”

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

Christian Education: Priceless

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” – Deuteronomy 11:18-21

We just started Confirmation a couple weeks ago with approximately 15 confirmation students. Praise God! This year we will be studying Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. What always strikes me is how every section in the catechism begins; “as the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.” Notice it didn’t say, as the pastor should teach your children. Martin Luther emphasized the importance of faith being pasted on through the family, with the help and support of the church. He envisioned his catechism as a home schooling instruction book for the Christian faith that would be taught by the parents to the children. In fact, I always encourage parents to talk about the faith at home. This is one of the most valuable ways we can pass the Christian faith on to the next generation. When we talk about the faith from day to day with our children, we instill in them the importance of God’s Word that will last a lifetime. 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there talking about the faith with mom and dad is worth more than my whole hour of instruction in class. Your children want to know how important your faith in Jesus is, so share it with them as often as possible. Take every opportunity to talk about spiritual truths and how they apply to everyday life. Growing up, my parents talked about the faith with me almost every day. I’m not saying your children will become pastors, but God dose have a promise in the Bible for our faithfulness to Christian education in the home, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).”

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

 

How Can God Be Good?

“(God) desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:4

A couple weeks ago I was asked this question; how could a good God order the genocide of the Canaanites, especially women and children? This question is becoming a favorite of the new atheists these days. I call them new because the atheists today militantly attack the church, unlike the old atheists of the past. Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” is one who raises this question.

There are a few things that strike me as odd with our own reasoning today. First, we live in a culture where nobody wants to judge others, but everyone is quick to judge God. We especially don’t want God to judge us. Does anyone think it extremely pretentious for human beings to judge God on a moral issue, especially when self-professing “humane” beings have now slaughtered over 50,000,000 babies in our own nation alone? Who are we in our limited knowledge, brief experience and feeble reasoning to judge the omnipotence of God? This is the problem that Job faced when he arrogantly argued his case of unfairness before God. He soon discovered that God is God and we are not. His only response when faced with the wisdom of God was, “I have uttered what I did not understand…and repent in dust and ashes.” We need to humble ourselves as human beings. God is God.

Secondly, God does have the right to judge humanity, especially when human beings are committing evil acts. The Canaanites were definitely not victims. They were a disobedient nation who committed every sin in the Good Book. The Canaanites stand as a warning for us all to take our sins seriously for there is a time when God will bring sin to account.

Thirdly, the real question is; how can a good God allow such an evil group of people to go unpunished for so long? Ah, now here is where we see the true nature of God. God is a God of grace and mercy. God is longsuffering with us and forgives the repentant heart. He desires all to be saved. “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ez. 33.11).” If the Canaanites would have repented, and yes they had many generations to do so, God would have forgiven them and spared them.

The same question correlates with us today; how could God be so patient with us? God revealed His heart in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ. Instead of dealing with us like He dealt with the Canaanites, He poured out His wrath on Jesus at the Cross. It is on Him that our sin has come to account. He spared us by His grace and forgave us. Let us then walk in obedience and in step with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, all the rest of our days.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

Good News about the United Methodist Church

It's right to acknowledge good news, and here's some: This past June the United Methodist Church, in convention, voted to exit the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The primary significance of this is that it's always good when a Church confesses the truth about life.

In this case there's additional significance: the UMC was a founding member of the RCRC. Yes, right after the Supreme Court issued its terrible Roe vs. Wade ruling Churches lined up to express their agreement about this new-found "right." It boggles the mind that Churches took this stance, but that's the history of it. The UMC was right there at the beginning.

Consider the courage it took for a church body to re-evaluate its stance on such a major issue. Consider the faithfulness that it took for them to let the Word of God speak louder than the ruling of a court of humans. The biblical word for this is repentance. This truly is a change of direction. We trust that nothing but the work of God could have accomplished it.

Just to review a little: The RCRC is one of those organizations that has changed its name. It began its life as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.

Apparently some felt that to be a little too much honesty, so they switched it to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. As is often the case, when we start anesthetizing the words, you can be sure that something unspeakable is going on. Like the old South's "peculiar institution" or Nazi Germany's "Final Solution," the words "reproductive choice" just sound so much better than to say that we're clinically ending the life of babies.

Happily, the UMC has seen through the fog, and joined the majority of Christians in saying that, whatever the polls or the courts say, God is on the side of life.

Leaving us with an important decision ourselves. Whenever someone returns to the fold, there will always be some who meet it with a begrudging reception. "Well, it's about time." Or even, "Where have they been all this time?"

This is not the voice of Christ! When the Prodigal returns, there's a party. When the lost sheep is found, there's rejoicing.

So let's be glad that our brothers and sisters in the UMC confess the truth, popular or not, about life. We join arms with them, we thank God for them, and we continue to pray that our nation itself would return to God's ways.

God Bless,

Pastor Walt

You're Invited To Mission U: A Culture Of Outreach

You Are Invited To Mission U: A Culture Of Outreach

When: Saturday, October 1 @ 9 am – 2 pm (Lunch provided)

Cost: $10 ($15 after Wednesday, September 28)

Where: Immanuel’s Sanctuary

Speaker: Deb Erdmann

Promo Video CLICK HERE

Online Registration CLICK HERE

Please join us as we examine the secular culture that defines present-day North America and how the church is often perceived as irrelevant. We will identify specific ways our congregation can build a culture of outreach that identifies and address the needs in our community, and explore ways to turn conversations to the Gospel. Finally, we will explore ways the congregation can encourage worship and discipleship inside and outside of the church building.

SECTION ONE calls attention to the huge shift in the secular culture over the past several decades, to the extent that the church is sometimes seen as irrelevant and out of touch.

SECTION TWO focuses on how our church can cultivate a culture of outreach that builds a bridge into our community, and become missional in all that we do. It examines the role of prayer, honesty, and stories to have credibility with those who are skeptical of organized religion.

SECTION THREE will discuss ways to become knowledgeable, active, present, and visible in the community, providing opportunities to share the One, True God in a way that people can hear—and respond. Discussion will be tailored to our region of New England.

SECTION FOUR focuses on how to draw and welcome all kinds of people that Jesus loves into worship and the church, once community credibility is established.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

 

V. How To Understand The Bible: Luther's Contribution

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” – Acts 17:10-11

Martin Luther contributed many ideas that help us understand the Bible today. The first, is that when we read the Bible, we must keep Christ at the center of everything. This is especially true when reading the Old Testament. Do we have to sacrifice lambs on the altar today? No, Christ fulfilled the Old Testament once and for all on the Cross. Are all those weird dietary laws still valid today? No, Christ fulfilled them in His prefect life. The whole Old Testament is an expectation of the coming of Christ. Christ is seen everywhere. Christ is seen in Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, foreshadowing the Cross. Christ is seen in Moses leading God’s people out of slavery, foreshadowing our freedom from sin. Christ is seen in Joshua winning for God’s people the promised land, foreshadowing our eternal reward in heaven. Christ is seen in king David reigning over God’s people and bringing peace, foreshadowing Jesus as the King of Kings and Lord or Lords. When we read the Bible, we look for Christ and find Him everywhere.

The second contribution to understanding the Bible is Luther’s emphasis on Law and Gospel. God’s Word is divided between what God commands of His people and what God promises to His people. The Law commands human action and the Gospel promises God’s action. The Law kills and the Gospel makes alive. The Law is peculiar. It commands us to “be holy,” while showing us that we are not. The Law in the end shows us that we cannot merit God’s love by human actions. Instead, the Law guides us to Christ. He is the only certainty of salvation in the Gospel. The Gospel shows us God’s promise and His action, “neither do I condemn you.” The Gospel brings us life and hope.

Finally, Martin Luther kept the paradoxes of the Bible. “Para doxa” is Greek for beyond belief. A paradox is two “seemingly” contradictory statements that are both true at the same time. For example, Jesus is both God and man. We are both saint and sinner. God is one, yet three persons. Jesus’ death brings life. And there are many more. How can limited human reason explain the supernatural? How can we explain the Trinity? We can’t, but we keep the tension. When we read the Bible it is the paradox that gives the Bible breadth and depth. If you think about it, much of life is paradoxical in nature. Isn’t it true that we get when we give? Isn’t it true that the best things in life are free? Isn’t it true that the humble in life are exalted? Real knowledge is paradoxical in nature and the Bible is full of it.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

IV. How To Understand The Bible: Application

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

Nothing is more important than accurately applying God’s Word to a specific situation. It is great to know what the Bible says, but to be able to apply it is life changing. The application of the Bible’s original meaning to modern day life is called hermeneutics. It would seem that it would be easy to apply the original meaning of the Bible to us today. Wouldn’t we just do what the Bible says? Sometimes, applying the message of the Bible is easy and straightforward. Sometimes, it takes some effort on our part to discover the principle and translate it to our day and age. Take these two examples, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith…”, from Galatians 6:9-10 and “Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing…”, from Titus 3:13. Do both of these passages apply to us today? Well, yes, but in different ways. The first passage is straightforward. Do good to everyone, especially Christians. Paul’s command is as evident today as it was 2,000 years ago. The second passage is more difficult. It applies to us directly. We don’t know Zenas and Apollos, and their trip ended 2,000 years ago. We need to interpret the principle in Titus 3:13 and apply it to our cultural setting. Zenas and Apollos were two missionaries on a missionary journey. For us today, the passage means we all should help support missionaries and their work today wherever we can.  

Four Helpful Principles of Application with Examples:

1)      A verse could never mean what it didn’t mean to its original audience.

Take 3 John 1:2 for example, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” Some “prosperity gospel” preachers interpret this passage to mean that God will always bless us with health and wealth. However, this passage is not a doctrinal statement. It is simply a greeting and a prayer blessing to Gaius from John. The passage cannot have a new meaning for us today.

2)      When a verse speaks to a similar situation as today, we keep the same meaning.

Take 2 John 1:5-6, which says, “And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments.” Loving our neighbor is a common principle throughout the Bible. This passage means the same as it did when John wrote it.

3)      When a verse speaks to a similar situation as today, we shouldn’t add a new meaning.

Take for example Colossians 3:15, which says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Without the context, this passage seems to state that God will give us peace about making a right decision in a difficult circumstance, as if God’s peace is an indication of His will. In context though, Paul is writing about church unity and that we should be at peace with fellow church members for the sake of Christ and through forgiveness. It doesn’t mean we should pray about something until we find inner peace about our decisions in life, as if God will finally confirm that “I am right because I will it to be so.”

4)      When a verse speaks to a situation that doesn’t exist today, we apply the principle to a comparable situation that exists today.

Take Philemon 1:16-17 for an example, “So if you consider me (Paul) your partner (Philemon), receive him (Onesimus) as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” Slavery was the economic system of the Roman Empire and Onesimus was a slave that ran away from his master. Many slaves became slaves to pay off a debt. So Onesimus didn’t run away because of a harsh master, but ran away from his responsibility to repay a debt to Philemon. Onesimus was in the wrong because he didn’t fulfill the requirement of paying off his debts. Today, Thank God, we have an economic system of paid workers. The principle to take from this passage reminds us to be good, honest, hardworking, and reliable workers for our employers. We shouldn’t steal from our employers by cheating them out of the time we work, their money, or inventory.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

 

III. How To Understand The Bible: Context

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Context is king! That is, you cannot understand the Bible without understanding the historical context of a verse. Each book of the Bible was written to a different audience with a different culture, custom and language. Studying the historical and cultural context of the Bible is called isagogics. When we know this background of our audience, we begin to hear the Scriptures through their ears and see the work of God through their eyes. Every book of the Bible was written to address a specific context and situation that was present among God’s people. For example, 1 Corinthians was written to a congregation in Corinth that needed to learn how to practice their faith in loving Christian discipline. Yet, Galatians was written to the church in Galatia to help them understand that salvation does not come from the works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. These two books seem at odds with each other, if it were not for the context. The goal of reading the Bible is to keep all the books in theological balance. We find that faith and works go hand-in-hand and that faith expresses itself in loving acts toward God and our neighbor. These are not contradictions, but  seeing the whole picture of the Bible.

Most study Bibles have an introduction before each book. Read it! In the introduction, you will learn about the author, the date, the audience, the cultural setting, the outline and the major theological themes in the book. Once you have this context, begin reading the book and ask yourself questions about each verse with the context in mind at all times. This should drastically boost your understanding of what the Bible is saying.

Take for example Jeremiah 29:11 above. Is this verse really ALL about you? If you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, don’t worry, God has a plan! If you had a bad day at work, don’t worry, the future is looking bright! If money is a little tight this month, don’t worry, God will prosper you! BUT, Jeremiah 29:11 has nothing to do with your bad day, or financial success. The context tells us something different. In 597 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, sacked Jerusalem, rounded up 10,000 of the leading Jewish citizens, and dumped them in Babylon. Those Israelites lost everything. In Jeremiah 29:5-6 God tells these exiles now living in Babylon, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply THERE, and do not decrease.” Basically, you’re going to be in Babylon a while, 70 years to be exact! It is in this context that God says, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not harm you…plans to give you a hope and a future.” In seventy years, these exiles would be dead! The promise of God would be realized in their children and grandchildren returning to Israel and rebuilding Jerusalem. God did have a plan, but God’s plan was to humble the exiles in a strange land and exalt their decedents. That is a tough message for the faithful living in Babylon! Sometimes God’s plan for us is humility, which is always performed by God for our benefit and our good. Keep trusting in God even when times get tough!

God bless,

Pastor Joel 

II. How To Understand The Bible: Translation

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” -Joshua 1:8

The Bibles that we use today are the result of thousands of years of toil and bloodshed. Many Christians have given their lives so that we can have an accurate translation of the Bible on our bookshelf. Today, Christians are still giving their lives to translate the Bible in other languages. For example, there were four Bible translators who were martyred this year (2016) in the Middle East where conversion to Christianity is punishable by execution. We should cherish the fact that we have God’s Word within our reach every day of our lives!

But how do you select a good translation of the Bible in English? If you look online or go to a Christian bookstore, you will find that there are a hundred or more different translations of the Bible in English. The reason for this is because each translation serves a different function. There are three purposes for translations of the Bible; 1) Bible study (Formal/literal translations); 2) Casual reading (functional equivalence translations); 3) Paraphrase or commentary (free translation). Literal translations are word for word. They are great for study, but may be clunky for reading. Functional equivalence translations are thought for thought. They are wonderful for reading, but may be difficult for word study. Free translations are the most readable and easily understood. However, they cannot be used for word study and one doesn’t know when the translator is translating or giving a commentary. Here at Immanuel, we use the English Standard Version (ESV), which is a word for word translation and is excellent for Bible study. It follows the lineage of the King James Version, but uses the oldest manuscripts (most accurate) that have recently been discovered.

The key to finding the best Bible translation is to decide the purpose that you will use it. As a pastor, I enjoy a literal translation because I need to study God’s Word for sermons, Bible studies, and devotions. But you may want a Bible for easy reading and understanding, so a free translation might work the best. Check out the chart below and decide which translation is best for you.

My Recommendations:

The new Lutheran Study Bible for its theological notes is a wonderful choice. The Life Application Study Bible is excellent for its practical application notes. As always, the Halley's Bible Handbook is great for historical and background information as well. With these, you will be well on your way to understanding the Bible for yourself.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

I. How To Understand The Bible: Interpretation

“Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15

One thing I often hear about personal Bible reading is, “pastor, the Bible is too hard for me to understand on my own!” If you have ever thought this, you are not alone. I also know that everyone can become a comfortable, confident and knowledgeable Bible reader. All you have to know is a few principles to help you read the Bible for all its worth. In the next few weeks I will present some of the principles that will help you interpret the Bible correctly.

The first thing to remember is that every Bible reader is an interpreter. When anybody reads the Bible, he/she brings their own background, knowledge and abilities to help interpret or hinder interpretation. However, we need to be sure that we do not bring a new meaning with us to the text. This is called eisegesis, which tries to force a new meaning onto the text that is not intended. We want to avoid eisegesis! To be sure, the Bible is for us, but it originally had a meaning for the first hearers. In order to interpret the Bible correctly, we need to discover the original meaning. This is called exegesis, which allows the text’s own meaning to be interpreted without our own modern biases getting in the way. Once the original meaning is discovered, the principles and truths of the text can be applied to our lives today. The applying of Biblical principles to contemporary life is called hermeneutics. A pastor’s sermons and Bible studies are the fruits of this process of exegesis and hermeneutics.

So as we read the Bible ourselves, we first want to constantly ask ourselves what the text meant to the original hearers. This is why study Bibles with notes are so helpful. Many times the notes will explain the historical context and the original meaning for us. The second thing we want to ask ourselves is, what are the principles we discovered in the original meaning and how can we apply those principles to our lives today.

Here is an example of correct (exegesis) and incorrect (eisegesis) interpretation of a Bible passage. Take the following passage from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Eisegesis would seek to only apply human experience to the text. So if I am a high school football player and I just scored the winning touchdown against insurmountable odds, I might shout into the crowd of cheering fans, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” So a pastor who uses eisegesis might have a sermon on the triumph of the human will in the name of Christ.

Exegesis would seek to find out St. Paul’s context for writing these words. In so doing, one would find that Paul was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting execution, and thinking about the first church he planted on the European continent in Philippi when he wrote those words. He had sacrificed everything to plant churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). Paul had “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” His secret strength was not found in material things and fluctuating circumstances, but in the firm foundation of Christ alone. So a pastor who uses exegesis might have a sermon on being content in Christ and not in the world, and when we lose everything on earth, we still have everything in Christ by faith.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

"Heaven Really Is For Real"

      Just yesterday a friend posted a video on Facebook that supposedly "proves" life after death. The video is of a woman in her last hours of life, left in a hospital hallway. She dies, and in the grainy pictures of a security camera we allegedly see a shadowy object rise up out of her motionless body, and float away down the hall.

      So the main question is: How long will it be until this is proven to be a hoax?

      I watched the video immediately thinking of the trio of books that came out in recent years on the same subject. They are: "90 Minutes in Heaven" (2004), "Heaven Is for Real" (2010), and "The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven" (2010).

      All three books are about people who have died and, so they say, gone to heaven, only to return to earth and tell their stories. All three books have sold millions of copies. Movies have been made. The authors have been on speaking tours.

      And then Alex Malarkey (God in His wisdom must have chosen the last name) in 2015 disavowed his book, "The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven."

      But how can this be? Many people were persuaded, because the boy "met" in heaven people he'd never met on earth, saying their names aloud to stunned family members.

      Every pastor has been in this conversation many times. "But he knew the names." Yes, and the complexity of the hoax doesn’t make it any less a hoax.

      Just to be clear the other two books have not been disavowed by their authors. They stand by their stories. I, for one, choose not to trust them.

      Not that we deny life after death. We affirm it. Not that we deny heaven. We affirm it.

      The part I've never understood is the constant need for "more proof." Isn’t the clear witness of Holy Scripture sufficient? Yes, people say; but a little more helps. Oh, really? And how does it help when it's proven to be false?

      The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross, He died there, and was buried in a tomb. The third day he rose again. Those are simple enough statements. But are we sure?

      Well, women went to the tomb to anoint His body with perfumes. They expect to find a corpse. They find no body, but are met by angels who tell them that He isn’t here, He's risen.

      They run to tell the disciples. Peter and John run to the tomb and also find it empty.

      He appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

      He appears to ten of the apostles (Judas was dead; Thomas was sulking).

      He appears to eleven of the apostles (Thomas having his doubts removed).

      He appears to Paul on the road to Damascus.

      He appears to 500 at the same time.

      All of these people proclaimed Christ's resurrection as eyewitnesses. They were threatened with death if they wouldn't stop speaking of it, but they refused to stop. All of the apostles except for John were executed. Most of them died in poverty. None gave up their witness.

      For me, that's enough. Is there any reason you can think of that the unified witness of Scripture is not sufficient grounds for accepting that Christ is risen? Having accepted that premise, then the rest of the biblical witness about heaven and hell and eternity falls into place neatly enough.

      I trust these things to be true, without the "help" of a video on Facebook.

God Bless

Pastor Walt

Basic Christianity

38 John said to him (Jesus), “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us.” -Mark 9:38-40

So often we hear more about what divides us as Christians than what unites us. Most orthodox and Bible believing Christians agree on 99% of the core beliefs that are foundational to the Christian faith. This is why Catholics and Lutherans are both working together nationally to end abortion. This is why Baptists and Lutherans are working together here in Danbury to strengthen families and help the poor through the Jericho partnership. And there are many more causes that Christians are united for around the world. In the Old Testament there were twelve tribes, distinct and unique, but all were united as one under the same name of Israel and under the same king. It is similar today, Christianity has many different tribes, distinct and unique, but we are all united as one under the name of our King, Jesus Christ. When Jesus found someone working for His Kingdom, but was not one of His disciples, He said, “The one who is not against us is for us!” Powerful words for us to remember today about other Christians who share our beliefs and passion for ministry, but are not part of our tribe. Below is a summary of fundamental Christian beliefs that I think most Christians agree on. Our beliefs help to unite us and empower us in service to our neighbor. Certainly, “The one who is not against us is for us!”

Basic Christianity

The Bible: It is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is without error in regard to salvation.

God: There is only one God in three persons, who is call the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Man: Humanity is fallen and in need of salvation. The human heart is bent toward sin and evil.

Salvation: Only God can save humanity. Humanity is justified (made righteous) only by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus: Jesus is both God and man. His perfect life, substitutionary death on the Cross and glorious resurrection has won salvation for all humanity.

Christian Virtue: The 10 Commandments; Marriage is sacred, murder is forbidden, stealing and lying are wrong, etc.

Life After Death: There is life after death. The soul of humanity is eternal and there will be a physical resurrection of the dead when Jesus Christ returns. Some will live eternally in Heaven and some in Hell.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

Authentic Or Fraud: The Gospel Of Jesus' Wife

This is the entire manuscript!

This is the entire manuscript!

Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father, “14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” -John 17:14-19

You may remember back in 2012 that a newly discovered papyrus text entitled, the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” was revealed to the world. It sent shockwaves through Christianity. What if Jesus really had been married? Nowhere in the four Gospels of the Bible do we read that Jesus was married! Many Christian scholars were quick to denounce the document as a forgery. For one, the ink used in the document was consistent with 8th century AD documents (700 years after Jesus lived). Secondly, the papyrus that the text was written on was carbon dated to the 3rd century BC (250 years before Christ lived). And finally, the Coptic grammar contained the same errors that are found in the apocryphal writing, the “Gospel of Thomas” (composed by an anonymous heretic 100 years after Jesus lived). The weight of the evidence pointed to this document being a forgery.

However, the reason the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” got so much attention was because of the Harvard professor, Karen L. King, who wrote a book defending the authenticity of the document. Surprisingly, an interesting development happened only a month ago. The same Harvard professor that defended the papyrus’ authenticity has now acknowledged publically that the document “is a probable fake.” She now confirms what Christian experts were saying all along. Surprisingly, the media has not covered the news of this document being a fake as tenaciously as they did when it was touted as authentic. The Bible being true doesn’t have the same pizazz as the possibility of Jesus being married! But, now you know the truth! The Bible is the most scrutinized book in the history of the world. The good news is that it has stood the test of time and the attacks of those who have sought to undermine its truth and authority. The “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is just one more example that boosts our faith in the trustworthiness of the Word of God!

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

What Is The Mark Of The Beast

“This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” – Revelation 13:18

Many people ask me about the mark of the beast in Revelation. Who is it referring to? Today, some believe that the beast of Revelation will be a modern person from the 21st century. The first thing I always remind people when interpreting Scripture is the rule of original meaning. Sometimes we miss the meaning of Scripture because we read it with modern eyes. We have to first find the original meaning of a verse to understand its meaning for our day. St. John was writing to the persecuted Christians in the 1st century. When they read this passage, what would they have thought? St. John asks the readers of the 1st century to exercise wisdom and to physically calculate the number of the beast. St. John also lets us know that the number refers to one man. With these clues, we can deduct that St. John was referring to a real 1st century person. If you back up and read the preceding passage before the verse about the number 666, you will find that the beast has ultimate dictatorial power of people. St. John is also directing us to look at someone who is ruling at the time.

The transforming of names into numbers was actually very common in the ancient world. The reason for this is that many of the languages spoken at the time used the letters of their alphabet as numbers too. The Roman historian, Suetonius, is known for a famous accusation about Nero, which he coded numerically in his work, Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Suetonius revealed how Nero murdered his own mother when he wrote, “count the numerical values of the letters in Nero’s name, and in ‘murdered his own mother’ and you will find their sum is the same.” Gottcha! In Greek, the number of “Nero” and of “murdered his own mother” is the same, 1005. Now, that must mean that Nero couldn’t be the ruler St. John is referring to because his name doesn’t add up to 666 in Greek. However, it is interesting to remember that most of the 1st century Christians that St. John wrote to had a Jewish background and an understanding of Hebrew. If you use “Nero Caesar” in Hebrew, the name adds up to 666 exactly. Surprisingly, some manuscripts have a variant number, which is 616. That is also not a problem, because “Nero Caesar” in Latin adds up to 616 and Latin would become the language of the Church by the 2nd century.

St. John was calling Nero the Antichrist. He was the ruler who instituted the first major persecution of 1st century Christians when, he himself burned down a portion of the city of Rome and then subsequently blamed Christians for the act. Nero was famous for hosting extravagant orgies in his palace gardens at night and lighting the event with Christians burning on stakes. Nero is also the emperor who was in power when St. Paul and St. Peter were both martyred for their faith. Nero is the Antichrist and beast of Revelation who ravaged Christ’s Church. For us today, we know that anyone who persecutes the church is forever known as an antichrist. We also know that no one in this world can overcome the plans of God or Christ’s Church, which we belong to by grace! “He (Jesus Christ) who is in you is greater than he (antichrist) who is in the world.” -1 John 4:4

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

Why I Read Several Bible Translations

            People will invariably ask a pastor: "What's the best Bible translation to read?" Pastors, being uber-geeks, begin to think about questions of Greek grammar, recent archaeological discoveries, and methods of translation. (Which do I prefer, Dynamic Equivalence or Formal Equivalence?)

            Truth is, people are seldom asking that question. They really want to know which translation is the best at expressing God's Word in clear, understandable English, while preserving accuracy.

            The second challenge presented by the conversation is the inevitable "alphabet soup." The modern English-speaking Christian has the choice of: NIV, NRSV, ESV, NKJV, NLT, and many others.

            People being people, there are some who not only have a personal preference, but they think everyone else should share the same opinion. You can’t browse the internet very long before you come across the "KJV-only" crowd. The KJV is an excellent translation. It is not the only good one ever rendered.

            So here's my confession: Many times I love reading the Living Bible. Not the updated (and much improved) New Living Translation; but the original Living Bible, warts and all.

            Its language isn't dignified. Its translation can get a little free. Bible scholars can spend the rest of the day arguing about this or that verse.

            One thing it is, though: it's read-able. It's vibrant, and makes the Bible feel like you're reading a newspaper account of what just happened among us. I love it.

            More than loving it, I often read from it, remembering Luther's words that he "would always remain a student of the Catechism." I'm reminded that the kid inside of me needs to leave behind the seminary degree, the GPA, the desire for "properly sophisticated word choice," and I need to just sit and read the Word, letting the Holy Spirit speak to me through its inspired text.

            Here's a fun sample: I Kings 4:1-6. This is a list of King Solomon's top officials, and in many translations they are referenced by words that make us unclear about what they really did for a living. In the Living Bible it's as clear as it can be:

            "Here is a list of King Solomon's cabinet members: Azariah was the High Priest, Elihoreph and Ahijah were secretaries; Jehoshaphat was the official historian and in charge of the archives; Benaiah was commander-in-chief of the army; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; Azariah was secretary of state; Zabud was the king's personal priest and special friend; Ahishar was manager of palace affairs; Adoniram was superintendent of public works."

            These verses aren't about heavy theology, but they're delightfully straightforward. The same feel exists throughout the translation, which gives us the feel of reading the text "afresh" (if I can use an archaic word here).

            By all means, have a favorite translation. But my advice is: read and compare at least three translations to give the Word a fuller, richer feel. I guarantee that you'll find it rewarding. Even better: God will be present in that reading, and will have something to say to both head and heart.

God Bless, 

Pastor Walt

 

 

Archaeology Is Good For The Bible

"Truth springs from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. -Psalm 85:11

The more archaeologists discover, the better the Bible looks! That is not the case with other major religions. Take for example Mormonism, which claims that there were two great civilizations in North America that are said to have rivaled the magnificence of ancient Israel. Yet, to this day all archaeological discoveries point to the contrary. The Bible is different. The more we dig, the more we find that the Bible’s history is true. Take for example the case of the Hittites. They were the empire located to the north of Galilee in modern day Turkey and Northern Syria. The Hittites were at one time a nation large enough and powerful enough to rival the Babylonians and Egyptians.

Before 1906, the only place that the Hittites were mentioned was in the Old Testament. Many so called “scholars” believed that the Bible had just made them up and that they never really existed at all. The Bible mentions the Hittites in many key moments of its salvation history. In Genesis 23, Abraham buried his wife Sara in a cave on land that was purchased from a Hittite. Even king David, in 2 Samuel 11, is mentioned committing the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, whose husband was Uriah the Hittite. In 1906, the archaeologist Hugo Winckler found the ancient Hittite capital Hattusa, along with its royal archives that contained over 10,000 tablets. The discovery confirmed that the Bible’s history had been true and reliable all along.

Today, archaeologist have discovered most of the major cities, empires, and even some major figures mentioned in the Bible. Unfortunately, most major discoveries receive little media attention. In 1990, a bone box (ossuary) was discovered with the bones of Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest that sentenced Jesus Christ to death. What a monumental discovery that was for all the scoffers of the Bible that claim most of the Biblical figures were imaginary! Yet, hardly any press was given. Rest assured, the Bible’s history is true! Every day archaeology is making new and exciting discoveries that confirm and uphold the faith of Christianity.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

 

Why I Am A Lutheran

Why I am a Lutheran

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:42-47

Every once in a while I get the question, “why are you a Lutheran?” My simple answer is, “well, I am baptized and Confirmed Lutheran.  I also went to a Lutheran school and have always gone to a Lutheran church.” Some people then respond, “oh, you didn’t have a choice then!” That is not exactly true!

The atheist, Richard Dawkins, uses the same reasoning to try and shake the foundations of Christianity. Which, if you have read his books, he never actually is able to do! His reason why most people in America are Christians is because they were born here. You are Christian because you were born in a Christian nation and were raised in a Christian family. If you were born in Israel you would be Jewish, or Muslim in Saudi Arabia, or a Spiritist in Africa. He is trying to make the case that no one actually analyzes their faith intellectually. We just accept the traditions of our parents blindly. But this logic is fallible. All children go through a stage when they question their parents. All children begin to analyze what they have been taught and desire to pave their own way in life.  There are a lot of things that I do differently than my parents. There are also a lot of things I love that my parents taught me. My family has always been die hard Royals fans. There is nothing like Midwest loyalty! I went through a stage when I was eleven and I strayed from the path. I began following the Seattle Mariners for a couple of years. You can’t blame me. The Royals were one of the worst teams in baseball. However, in 1994 the players had a workers strike and the season was cut short. I realized how different the small market Royals actually were when compared to the rest of baseball. Players would take pay cuts to play in KC out of loyalty to the city. I loved that and I have since corrected the error of my ways! The point is that none of us blindly accept anything without evaluating it ourselves intellectually.

So back to the question of why I am a Lutheran. I can’t help it that I was born into the truth! It was a great gift that I am so thankful for. I have since discovered that the Lutheran faith is the most BALANCED of all the Christian denominations I have studied. We have one foot in the historic church and the traditions of 2,000 years of church practice (the apostle’s teaching) and we have one foot in the Bible and its authoritative truth. Most church bodies, either throw out church tradition or compromise the authority of the Bible. Some do both unfortunately. Today, many non-denominational churches are committing the same Christian heresies that were already addressed hundreds of years ago. When we forsake history, we are doomed to commit the same mistakes of the past. You also have the “American Evangelical” churches that don't emphasize the historical sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, and the means of grace. As Lutherans we believe that our faith is God’s work from beginning to end, grace alone! We Lutherans don’t have these problems because we esteem church history. We also have always been known for our rigorous study of the Bible and our fantastic educational system, which is the largest Protestant parochial school system in America. We are a people of the Good Book and we love God’s Word! In the past, when fallible traditions of men have erred, we were the ones who faithfully corrected them with the authority of Scripture. Today, I am proud to be a Lutheran, not because my parents raised me Lutheran (though I am thankful), but because I now understand the Lutheran faith intellectually.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel

Vacation Bible School 2016

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near…For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” -Isaiah 55:6,10-11

God’s Word in the Bible accomplishes God’s purposes, especially when we gladly hear it, learn it, and store it deep in our hearts! It is life-changing to have God’s Word in our lives. We pray that the 95 children who came to VBS this year will also be forever changed.

Thank you to everyone who participated and volunteered at VBS. We shared God’s word and it was another great year!

Our theme this year was Barnyard Roundup. At VBS your children learned that Jesus gathers us together! Children want to belong, be understood, and be valued. They want a best friend forever (BFF) to stand by them no matter what! At Barnyard Roundup, children learned in the Bible that Jesus is better than a BFF! Jesus, our Savior, knows us by name, rounds us up, and brings us home. He is with us always and forever—no matter what!

Psalm 23 was our Bible Memory for the week. This beloved psalm encourages us to trust that our Lord is our Good Shepherd who is with us now and forever, provides all that we need, and protects us. After Barnyard Roundup, by God’s grace and through the Holy Spirit, this psalm will be in the hearts and on the lips of every child, youth, and adult participant. Now that’s a VBS with Purpose!

God Bless,

Pastor Joel