Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent Begins and We Get...

Happy Advent, everyone!!

The season of Advent is upon us quickly this year, it seems.  Advent is the traditional beginning of the Christmas season, of course.  

But today's intense and spiritually fulfilling sermon ("What is All the Hoopla") by Pastor Mankin flashes forward to the arrival and presentation of Christ at that fateful passover in Jerusalem.   As we approach the season celebrating the coming of Jesus, it is important to know where He is headed.... why is here at all.  

He is to suffer a humiliating death on the cross in atone for OUR sins.  Jesus did not come and die for just the sins of Christians but, rather for the sins of all humanity.  Yet it is though hold the faith of redemption in Him who are assuredly redeemed unto eternal life.  

Pastor Mankin explains that while Jesus comes as a heroic, conquering king, he is different.  Unlike heroes and celebrities of the secular world... actors, politicians and sports stars who typically travel either in high security limos or uber high-end cars like Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porches, etc.  

Even the Pope has a special, custom built car that was built for him to tour different locations around the world. 

In stark contrast, Jesus enters Jerusalem and present himself to the teeming throngs and worshipers on a lowly colt, as was foretold in the old testament book of Isaiah.   Jerusalem at Passover is in a frenzied state of celebration.  All of Judaism descends annually to worship and celebrate.  And this year is especially over the top because word has been circulation about this traveling rabbi who is now drawing larger and larger crowds wherever he goes. 

(These same adoring fans will soon turn in extremis on their king and implore the Roman governor of Jerusalem to crucify him.  Crucifixion is a death reserved by Roman law only for the lowliest and most despised of criminals.  Just being a Roman citizen is enough to save even the most hardened and despicable criminal from such a harrowing, brutal, agonizing and long public death.)

Our Savior, this Jesus, who redeems us from our sinful condition,  unlike secular heroes and celebrities, does not grandly transcend the humble conditions of his birth.  He does not buy his mother a mansion but rather promises a mansion for all of His redeemed.   He does not own a stable of expensive sports cars.  He does ride on a donkey.  He does not charge us hundreds of dollars to see him perform.  But, rather, he offers the free gift of eternal salvation given to us freely by His Grace. 

In Jesus, we have the King we really need, rather than the King we want or think we need. 

For a transcript and podcast of today's sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church, please visit http://messiahseattle.org/ and scroll down.  Please remember it takes a few days to a week for sermons to be updated.  

Please also note that this blog does not necessarily represent the views of Messiah Lutheran Church or the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).  It is merely a witness to my personal Christian journey which generally takes a Lutheran perspective. 

Blessings, 

-=Doug 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What Is the Big Deal about the Reformation and Who Was Martin Luther, Really?...

Today is Reformation Sunday, a day that may not mean much to most people,  especially non-Lutherans.  In fact today is the 499th anniversary of the day in which Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, touching off a controversy with the Roman Catholic church that could have cost him his life and, in fact, still exists today.  The church door at Wittenberg was much like Twitter or Facebook today, a place to post messages when you wanted to start a conversation germane to theology and politics.

Luther questioned many doctrinal practices that had evolved in the Roman Catholic church that, upon deep and serious study, he found were contrary to the teachings of Holy Scripture (The Bible).

Luther, a monk in the Augustinian order of Roman C
atholic monks was so serious about his faith and devotion to Christ that, when attending Confession, he had a hard time finishing for fear of forgetting a specific sin he might have committed.  Augustinian priests would joke that they dreaded hearing Luther's confession because he would repeatedly get up to leave but then quickly return to the confessional booth, having remembered yet another specific sin.  This reflected a deep torment that Luther felt under Roman Catholic doctrine.  "If I must do good works and pay penitence to be saved, how much is enough?!"

The Roman church (as Luther would later, somewhat derisively, call the Roman Catholic Church) taught that salvation came not just through  faith in Jesus Christ as clearly taught by Paul in Romans 3:19-28 but, rather through a combination of works and faith.  Many of these necessary works were ritualistic.  The Roman church,  in this context taught that the Rite of Confession was a work of penitence necessary for salvation rather than a comfort to sinners, as the bible teaches.

Luther's differences with the Roman church centered around not only that church's false teachings about the role of works versus faith in salvation (many of which persist to this day) but also the root cause of many of those false teachings, specifically they were a lever to perpetuate the political power that the Roman church exacted on the Kingdoms of Europe that were collectively, at the time, called The Holy Roman Empire.   Exploited the sins of the masses enriched the church with "indulgences", kind of a tax on sin extracted from the masses and the power of perceived salvation or damnation held sway of the kings and princes of Europe in the Dark Ages.

After posting his 95 Theses, Dr. Luther was called before the ruling priests and bishops at the Diet of Worms and told that he must recant them or face excommunication and possible death.   His response was eloquent, sure and bold.   He denounced the authority of priests and bishops to judge men and their worthiness for salvation,  just as Jesus Christ had denounced the "holy" rule of the pharisees 1,400 years earlier.

The key excerpt from Dr. Luthers response at Worms is this:

"Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen"

What Christians and the Christian-curious should understand about Reformation Sunday might include the following:

  • Reformation Sunday is not really about Martin Luther but about Jesus Christ.  Luther was one of many reformers active during The Enlightenment who railed again the Roman church's false and corrupt teachings.  He is separated from those in that he survived being burned at the stake through the expedient of political connections. 
  • Reformation Sunday is about Jesus Christ because we are saved by faith in the resurrected Christ not by works or alms to a political and authoritarian church.  And it is about Christ himself because Christ is God and died on the cross that we may be saved by faith in Him!
  • In the era preceding Luther, for hundreds of years (the Dark Ages) the Holy Roman Empire vested its power over a population that was largely illiterate.  They could not read scripture for themselves, so it was interpreted for them by priests and bishops who had a vested interested in perpetuating their power and rule over the people, directly and through monarchs and nobles who  acquiesced consistently to the Roman church.  
  • Therefore, Luther, as an Augustinian Roman Catholic monk was a reader and studier of scripture.  But, being a seeker of truth, saw the truth of salvation by faith alone throughout the Old and New Testaments, and, perhaps, most pointedly in the writings of St. Paul.  Such as today's sermon text linked above and here (Sermons post a few days after Sunday). 
  • Luther is recognized for his reformation work not just by the Lutheran church but also by virtually all Protestant denominations, with whom, incidentally, he differed as sharply with as he did with the Roman church, primarily on issues of faith and works with regard to salvation.  
  • Luther did not seek to leave the Roman church.  He sought to reform it.   It was his sincere notion that his 95 theses would open a welcomed debate about the true scriptural meaning of salvation in Christ and the that much if not all of Roman clergy would share in his joy and feeling of liberation when he read and finally understood Paul's writings in Romans 3: 19-28. 
  • Once he was excommunicated, Luther sought to name his new church the German Christian or German Catholic Church.   "Lutheran" was actually a derogatory term at the time.
  • While the Roman Catholic church has softened its doctrinal positions on many of the issues raised by Luther, many still exist.  Most particularly,  Roman Catholics are still burdened with a false and works-righteous view of salvation, a critical departure from scripture that is manifest in their communion doctrine, the monastic system and compulsory celibacy in the priesthood (a slippery slope to many problems in the Roman church still today). 
  • Finally, as Lutherans, we are still excommunicated from the Roman church.  The proclamation of excommunication levied by Dr. Luther at the Diet of Worms has never been rescinded. Although we read that, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the reformation next year, a statue honoring Martin Luther will be erected in Rome in a square named after Dr. Luther. 


Next year will an exciting one for Lutherans as we celebrated 500 years since the Reformation.  We hope you will join us in learning about Martin Luther and, more importantly, what Jesus really means to us humans.  How we are already saved by him simply by believing in him, irrespective of what we do.  

Scripture Alone!  Grace Alone! Faith Alone!

Amen,

-=Doug Hansen

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Presidential Election Conundrum for Christians, Is There One?

I have been thinking for a long time about what my Christian faith should lead me to do in this  "election of deplorables".  After all, both candidates seem so greedy and corrupt each in their own way.  The Donald, he of vain big hair and odious self-centered vulgarness has wantonly built towers of profit up and over "the little guy", using eminent domain law to force homeowners to sell in order to make way for his massive constructs of opulence, many of which now block vistas to the rivers for long incumbent New York apartment dwellers, "little guys".

And... just recently we are treated to "locker room talk" that would make most guys I know say, "dude, really?", even in the locker room or wherever.

And on the other hand we have an altruistically oriented candidate who claims to be an active "social gospel Methodist", and says that she "prays daily 'for discernment, for wisdom, for strength, for courage … ”.   (Religion News, 1/19/16).  

A women active in the church, who prays daily, carries a bible in her purse always (ibid) and whose husband was also an active churchgoer during his presidency (unlike our current president).  Despite their naked political ambition and sexual assault enabling, this First Couple seems so well meaning when it comes to the well-being of our citizenry, while Mr. Trump stays high level, promises jobs and a conservative supreme court. 

Yet, the same article quoted immediately above, while largely favorable to Ms. Clinton quotes her in saying what I view as a non-starter as a Christian voter.  Ms. Clinton is on record as saying that churches must knuckle under to her politically correct views on abortion and gay marriage.    We won't rehash the confessional position of my church (LCMS) and other biblically confessional churches versus the theologically liberal protestant churches that are little more than secular charitable foundations at this point.

Or maybe will.  Just a little bit.

Scripture virtually screams to confessional Christians on these issues.  Sadly, we cannot find any evidence in scripture that "God is trying something new" with regard to homosexuality, transexualism and the rest.   To believe that these behaviors and abortion are not sinful is to risk eternal damnation.  And what kind of Christian is willing to walk that tight rope, let alone encourage their parishioners too?   The gist is that turning sin into not sin kills consciousness of sin and therefore kill repentance and therefore risks damning the soul.

Of course many of these "reform" liberal churches such as social gospel Methodist don't even preach on heaven and hell anymore.  Why not?  Scripture hasn't changed.  Oh right.  Scripture for them merely "contains" the Word of God and therefore.... well you get the gist.

Lutheran writerr and Bonhoeffer* scholar Eric Metaxas has written several articles on this topic, today in the Wall Street Journal (you must subscribe to read, unless you Google it) as well as this article in the Christian Post.  In both articles, Mr. Metaxas focuses mostly on what Hillary  will do to the Supreme Court as president and how appointing liberal judges will banish forever the constitutionalist vision of the Founders, especially concerning the true meaning of the first amendment (you know, the one about religious freedom).   While I am sure he is thinking of the the sharpest quote Hillary has had for confessional and Roman Catholic Christians ("churches must toe the line on abortion and gay marriage").  I am surprised that he mentions it only implicitly vis a vis the constitutional/supreme court implications of a Hillary presidency.

Issues etc.,  a popular confessional Lutheran radio network, has leaned into the Christian voting issue recently.   In a recent broadcast and still posted radio segment it is mentioned "Christians don't just vote for ourselves, we vote for the good of the republic, vis a vis Christian values."  Donald Trump has promised to appoint originalist constitutional judges, which should preserve the core values of the Founders and, as Mr. Metaxas says, "at least back us up five feet from the cliff" of no return, constitutionally.  Mr. Metaxas does not see Mr. Trump as a saver of the Republic but mostly a stop-gap in this regard.

What Mr. Metaxas fails to do, in either of his articles (and this is not necessarily a criticism because I am sure he would agree) is point out the most odious manifestation of Hillary's liberal theological and political mandate,  putting churches under the government with regard to abortion, gay marriage and, most probably tax exempt status.  He does cite the Oregon case of the Christian bakers who were put out of business by the state for acting on their Christian conscience for refusing to serve at a lesbian wedding.

So while Mr. Metaxas is broader in his assessment of the danger of a Clinton return to the White House for confessional Christians, I think Ms. Clinton has laid out her own sharp mandate which forces our hand.  Not voting is a vote for her.  And while we can't realistically expect a return to the more deeply Christian principles of past years in our Republic, we can put the odious sinner among us who will keep our churches relatively free of the kind of government restraint we now see in the state churches of secular Europe.

Mr. Metaxas understands that what makes our republic great for Christians is that in it, we have the freedom to be Christians.  This must stand.   Hillary is not a confessional Christian but rather a social gospelist and therefore does not understand that.  She feels that personal sexual expression must take precedence over "biblical dogma" around things like abortion and gay marriage.  She chooses Freud over Jesus in that regard and would likely force our churches to do so as well, by dint of her Supreme Court picks if not executive mandate, based on her past statements irrespective of aging Justices.

I would rather have a repentant vulgarian, self aggrandizing groping womanizer in the white house than an avowed enemy of confessional Christianity.    Indeed, we have had many sinners in the White House, 44 to be exact.  I prefer one who publicly displays at least a modicum of repentance rather than continuing to lie, cover up and generally prevaricate around their own sin nature.

As always, this is just my personal opinion and does reflect any official opinion of my church or the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

*Deitrich Bonhoeffer is a well known Lutheran anti-Nazi martyr that you should know about if you don't.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ruth, Another Woman through Which God and the Holy Spirit Worked to Bring Us...

Today's sermon at Messiah, delivered by Pastor Lassman, tells a story of stalwart faith that transcends pragmatic selfishness and manifests the will of God.

After a woman, foreign to the Jews but married to a Jewish man, loses her husband, she inexplicably insists on staying with here mother-in-law (Naomi) who is trying to "help her out" by sending her home to Moab where she can have a chance to meet and marry a new husband.  Her late husband's battered family is going through hard times, unimaginable to us in modern America.

"No", says Ruth to her Jewish mother-in-law, "Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

Ruth, like faithful non-Jewish followers that Jesus meets centuries later "gets" to a greater degree that even many of God's People (Jews) that there is a bigger picture in store for her and humanity.  One could call The Book of Ruth a "Paul Harvey book" of the Old Testament because there is a "rest of the story" that is HUGE. By insisting upon staying with Naomi, here mother-in-law, Ruth ends up staying in Judah with her mother-in-law and eventually marrying Boaz and having children.

By doing so, she ends up as the great grandfather of King David, who himself is the great-great-great grandfather of Jesus Christ, the Messiah Our Savior.

It was prophesied that the Messiah would be a direct descendent of King David. God worked through Ruth, by Ruth's "illogical/impractical" faith to bring about the salvation of humankind through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As we increasingly learn from research and emerging historical data (but Christians have known from faith),  the Holy Bible is truth and historically factual.  It is important to understand that God's plan unfolds through the means of actions of people both faithful and unfaithful to God.  Ruth's life is a quintessential example of God in the Holy Spirit working through people to execute His will.

There is much more to the story of Ruth than my tiny synopsis of our sermon today can relate, so, please...

Find the Book of Ruth here. A good Lutheran analysis of the Book of Ruth here. And, finally, a transcript and audio recording of Pastor Lassman's sermon here*.

In God's holy name we pray. Amen.

*Sermons at Messiah, Seattle's web site sometimes take a few days to post.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Judging God and Blaming Him for Terrorist Attacks: "God Is Not Fixing This!"...

Our nation's latest homegrown act of terror, the San Bernardino shooting spree by a Muslim couple, has produced an interesting little "meme" with a decidedly anti-Christian flavor. This conversation already has a catchy name. Known as "prayer shaming", it goes something like this: "Those stupid Christians are once again calling for us to 'remember the victims in our thoughts and prayers'. Well guess what, people God is not fixing this and those Bible clingers should be joining us secular liberals in our fight to enact gun control laws that WILL fix this problem once and for all".

Of course, this bigoted line of anti-Christian rhetoric is absurd on its face both from theological and socio-political standpoints.

From a theological perspective, we can say that this is nothing new for God. The Old Testament carries within it a dominant theme of His people the Jews* repeatedly falling away from faith in God and His promised coming of the Messiah and being harshly and violently punished for their lack of faith. How? By God's unleashing of brutal wars and hardship upon them as a people and upon their nations of Judah and Israel, largely by non-Jews. There is a fairly sound argument that this is happening now. Unlike during the aftermath of 9/11/2001, our victim nation does NOT appear turning to God in response to the latest waves of Muslim terror.

In fact, our faith as a nation has sharply waned since 9/11, according a recent Pew Research report only 56% of millennials identify as Christian, as opposed to 78% of baby boomers.

The trend is obvious and harrowingly portentous. Progressively fewer Americans are being raised in a Christian setting with each passing generation. All this while Islamist terrorism is clearly ascendent against the traditionally Judeo-Christian west. It is mandated in their theology. (For more on this topic, see Erwin W. Lutzer's insightful book, The Cross and the Crescent.)

Terrorism is designed to divide its target nations. But the greater reality and, yes the biblical one is that the goal of Islam is specifically and actively to destroy Christianity. They are succeeding by violent and manipulative means that exploit the good but ill-informed intentions of secular and christian liberals, alike.

So, then what about the socio-political or secular realities of this growing menace? The stark reality is that we are in the midst of a shooting war with Islamic terrorists. They are gaining strength at present and we are not meeting that strength. One can argue that the we gained the upper hand in that war with The Surge in Iraq but that battlefront, having been neglected along with a similar neglect on domestic security, namely at our borders and in other areas, has spawned a global caliphate and a wave of attacks in various western countries that is now beginning to gain steam in earnest. In the U.S. and Europe, where gun control laws abound, most of which are largely unenforcible, terrorists are gathering strength in numbers as well as weaponry and we will see more and more of these attacks on soft targets. An organized web of secrecy and deception can easily circumvent laws that realistically only stop law abiding citizens from obtaining weapons with which to defend themselves. For instance, online "chatter" is no longer a reliable source of intelligence, as ISIS and Al Qaeda are now in possession of advance encryption technology.

Gun control laws will not minimize or expose terrorist cells who are rapidly gaining expertise while we attack each other over gun control and other indulgent, contrived and illusory social issues such as gay marriage, ethnic "micro-aggression" and transgenderism. Sharia law will have a short conversation with transexuals and same-sex couples and it will be terminal. This is not about hunting or target shooting. This is about survival in the face of unpredictable, cunning and implacable immoral evil.

Thus we all as a nation, enjoying the fruits of Judeo-Christian liberty whether faithful or not, have a profound vestiture in attacking both the underlying ethic, theology and violence of Islamism by any means necessary or we will be faced with an increasing grim and lurid scenario akin to hell on earth. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, indeed. Or at least don't keep it from the hands of the good guys.

Amen.

*In this context the Jews means the pre-Christian Jews of the Old Testament. The Jewish religion of the Old Testament no longer exists. But that is a topic for another entry. Fundamental Muslim theology hates contemporary Jews and Christians equally. It overtly hates the Judeo-Christian ethic. Islam's God, Allah, is not the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. That is why it is called the Judeo-Christian ethic and not the Judeo-Christian-Islamic ethic.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What if The Passion Had a Sequel?

Mel Gibson or someone should make a sequel his movie, The Passion of Christ.

Even though I have been studying scripture and attending church service anew for about 25 years now, I was taken aback by our Bible reading on the 3rd Sunday of Easter (May 4, 2014), Acts 2:14 and 36-41.

The full sermon from that day is here:  http://www.messiahseattle.org/sermons/2014/5/may-4-2014-third-sunday-of-easter

Sometime after Jesus's crucifixion, Peter is preaching to a gathering of Jews and says, "Let all the house if Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified".   We expect and argument to ensue, for as many in that crowd said on the day of His sentencing, "let his blood be in our hands".

Yet, on this day, as Peter preaches, scripture goes on to tell us that "when they heard this they were cut to the heart" (as their eyes were opened by God to the true divine nature of Christ).  Because their eyes were opened and God removed their defenses they said to Peter and the apostles, "What shall we do?"  How can we ever repay this horrible thing that we have done?

Peter gave them the same advice that all of us for whom died, that is all of humanity... "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone for whom the Lord calls to himself."

As it turns out, according to the same reading, "about 3,000 souls were added that day".   Meaning 3,000 folks became Christians.  Implicit in our text is that most, if not all of these souls were Jews and most, if not all were in the mob that, days before, called for Christ to be hung on the cross.

There are many messages in this text about the meaning of Christianity, including the important one that NO sin is beyond the reach of God's salvation through Jesus Christ.   If murdering Christ Himself is forgiven than what is beyond forgiveness?  Nothing, of course.  A repentent Adolf Hitler or Charlie Manson could be headed to the comforting arms of Jesus Christ to await the Judgement Day and face that day in the peace of salvation unto eternal life.

But, particularly poignant to me, having many Jewish friends and a Jewish stepfather, is the core message of salvation also intoned by St. Paul in Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 that neither Greek nor Jew nor slave nor free man is excluded from salvation, if one only just believes in Jesus Christ as the one true living God.

So, if you think that you are somehow excluded by birth or religious upbringing from either salvation or from the requirement of faith in Christ for salvation, you are plainly wrong.   3,000 Jews, directly involved in the crucifixion of Christ (as is all humanity, btw) were saved on that day by repenting, believing and being baptized.  Again (just so it sinks in) ...regardless of your ethnic heritage or theological upbringing, you atheist, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, lapsed Roman Catholic, agnostic, Moonie, Buddhist, etc., you can also be saved by faith in Christ.  Salvation is at your fingertips.  Do not let it slip through.  Eternal life is a big prize to gamble away by earthly doubt or social conformity.  The alternative is too harrowing to even contemplate.

Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Cult of Ignorance...

Watch this video and reflect upon how Unitarianism and liberal protestant theology is theological multi-culturalism.
If everything is everything.  Nothing is anything, as I am fond of saying...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K26kKDCCV9g