D A R E
L U T H E R A N
Inside this issue:
• A Survival Guide
• What’s with the Collar? • Normal
W W W. H I G H E RT H I N G S . O R G
/ SUMMER / 2009
Worship, Theology, and Roller Coasters… Where do I sign up?
www.ctsfw.edu/christacademy H I G H E R
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Join guys like you, guys who have been encouraged to consider serving the Church as a pastor.
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For more information about Christ Academy, please call us at 1-800-481-2155. You can also find information at the seminary’s Web site www.ctsfw.edu/christacademy or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org June 20–July 3, 2010 Concordia Theological Seminary ✠ 6600 N. Clinton St. ✠ Fort Wayne, IN 46825
Contents T A B L E
FEATURES 4 Knitted Women 8
By Sandra Ostapowich Today’s society says that men are no different from women and women are no different from men. Christianity, however, reminds us that both genders are fearfully and wonderfully made but also separate and unique. To read up on why the differences are important, check out Ms. Ostapowich’s article.
What’s with the Collar?
By Rev. Jeffrey Bloom A lot of Lutheran pastors wear black shirts with funky little white bands around their throat. Are they just trying to mimic Catholic priests? Or is it more that they have absolutely no fashion sense and they can only match black with black? There’s a little more to it. Check out Pastor Bloom’s article to see why your pastor isn’t wearing mismatched polka dots and stripes.We hope.
10 What Does God Want Me to Be When I’m an Adult?
By Rev. Rick Marrs Society can lay it on pretty thick.Teens today are taught to think about college at any early age. From sports to band to singing to writing, youth are pushed to do their best at the youngest possible age, all in the hopes of getting into a good college. But what happens then? Pastor Marrs made a few career changes of his own, and he survived.You will too.
By Miss Mary Karner Lindsay Lohan dates girls and drinks Red Bull. Britney Spears shaves her head. Miley Cyrus poses half-dressed for Vanity Fair. All this may have you wondering,“I don’t do those things. Is something wrong with me? Am I normal?” No worries. Mary Karner’s a normal Lutheran youth, and she’ll tell what the media got all wrong.
14 A Survival Guide for Trouble
By Rev. Tim Pauls You can hardly get on the Internet without seeing some article some where talking about the crummy economy. But it’s all pretty confusing. Recessions, stress tests on banks, bailouts . . . can someone please translate what that means for teenagers? Pastor Pauls to the rescue!
18 Love is No Battlefield
By Scott Yenor There's a lot of talk about marriage in the news today, maybe in your high school debate class too.Who can get married? Why should anyone? To help you navigate popular morality and defend marriage, Dr. Yenor lays a strong foundation.
Volume 9/Number 2 • Summer 2009
20 The Masquerade of Evil
By Mr. Uwe Siemon-Netto Generations of Germans still suffer guilt for what happened during World War II. Even though these people were not alive at the time and are sorry for what happened, they are still ashamed. Americans today suffer from a different kind of humiliation: the shame of not speaking out against the death of thousands of innocent babies.Want to know how you can stand up and make a difference? See Mr. Siemon-Netto’s article to learn how.
24 The Gospel of Twilight
By Mr. Jess Norton The Twilight series is all the rage. From books to movies to parties, vampires are everywhere. Is this the next Harry Potter? Should you read it? Should you not? Is there anything worthwhile a Christian can learn from a book that deals with evil? Mr. Jess Norton has read the books and has a few analogies to the Christian life that just might get you thinking.
26 The Alpha and the Omega
By Prof. Thomas Egger Those goofy Greek letters—the Alpha and Omega—are always popping up around church. What’s the point? Nobody but pastors read Greek anyway! They look cool,but do they mean anything? Prof.Egger says they mean everything,and he’s here to give you a crash course in Greek 101.
COLUMNS 6 Chickens in the Kingdom of God
By Kathy Luder School’s over, and Kathy’s spending a week on the farm with her grandma and grandpa. Grandpa’s in the mood to give Kathy a little lesson in what real life is like out in the country, but she thought she was going to the farm for some summer fun.Turns out, Grandpa has other plans, and Kathy’s about to get a study in why chickens can do more than just taste good and what heaven will be like.
22 Christ on Campus: The Mother of All Conspiracies
By Mr. Mark Pierson You’ve probably seen the previews for Tom Hanks’ new movie “Angels and Demons.”You might have even seen your parents reading The Da Vinci Code. What’s with all these conspiracies about Jesus being married, killing people off, and not really being the Son of God? Who can you trust? Seminarian Mark Pierson sets the record straight.
28 Law and Gospel
Rev. David Petersen Your pastor likes to throw out cool theological phrases now and then, usually ones you don’t really understand like,“the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.”What’s the big deal anyway? The Law is the Ten Commandments, and the Gospel is, um, Jesus, right? Pastor Petersen struggled with understanding all this too, and he’s glad to fill you in on what he’s learned.
HigherThings Volume 9/Number 2/Summer 2009 Editor REV. TIM
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REV. GREG ALMS REV. PAUL BEISEL REV. BART DAY REV. DAVID PETERSEN A FATHER'S DAY TRIBUTE BY ADRIANE DORR: "I love my dad. Not so much when he tossed me up in the air in our living room as a small child and I heard my mom scream, ' Ceiling fan!' but I love him nonetheless." Business Manager
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LYNN FREDERICKSEN REV. JOEL FRITSCHE REV. DAVID KIND REV. BRENT KUHLMANN REV. LARRY NICHOLAS MARK PFUNDSTEIN ___________ Higher Things Magazine ISSN 1539-8455 is published quarterly by Higher Things, Inc., 5009 Cassia, Boise, ID 83705. No portion of this publication may be reproduced without the written consent of the executive editor of Higher Things Magazine. Copyright 2009. Printed in the United States. Postage paid at St. Louis, Missouri. For subscription information and questions, call 1-888-448-2359 or e-mail email@example.com. (This phone number is only used for subscription queries.) For letters to the editor, write letters@higher things.org. Writers may submit manuscripts to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please check http://higherthings.org/magazine/writers.html for writers’ guidelines and theme lists.
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For girlsâ€™ eyes only! (But guys can read it too.)
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by Sandra Ostapowich
“It’s a girl!”
That was possibly the first stitch God made when He began to knit you together in your mother’s womb. (Check out Psalm 139.) By making you you, God placed you into a lifetime of circumstances and opportunities different from those He designed for those XY types.
God intended humanity to be in relationships with Himself and with other people. After all, man by himself wasn’t good, so the Lord created a woman. He could have whipped up another batch of His Adam recipe, but that just would have made more of what wasn’t good already. Instead, God specifically created woman to be in relationship with man to solve the problem of being alone. Neither man nor woman is created to be independent of the other. They both had roles to fill as man and woman, loving and serving each other. Woman was created for a specific purpose—to love and trust the man the Lord gave her. Man was given the opportunity to love and authority to care for the beautiful, perfect creature God made just for him. And then . . . you know the story: serpent, forbidden fruit, nakedness, fig leaves, sin. Sin messes up everything. Every individual is corrupted by sin. All relationships are now corrupted too. We do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves. We pick at flaws and do and say hurtful things to others. What the Lord created to be a relationship of serving the other has deteriorated into selfishness. The inherent desire of women to be in a relationship with a man now has been corrupted by sin so much that we make unwise decisions. Among other things, we’re tempted to compromise our values in dangerous ways to get or keep a man— eating disorders, giving in to go all the way (or most of the way), putting up with mistreatment. As if that wasn’t enough, we’re also tempted to manipulate, compete, and generally do whatever we can to prove that we’re better than men, don’t need men, or don’t want men. Men are sinners too. Serving and providing for the women God gave them was supposed to be a joyous privilege. Now, with sin, they’re tempted to use women for their own wishes, take advantage of them, and prey on their sin-corrupted desires. Relationships can be dangerous. Caution is a necessity. But Scripture tells us that this arrangement of woman trusting man and man loving woman still holds. (Of course, this takes place within vocation; in other words, daughters submit to fathers and wives to husbands, not to the stranger at the bus stop or the loudmouth in the school hallway.) It is still His perfect design for us today because we have another example of it after the Fall: Christ and His Bride, the Church. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in
everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:21–23). Did that make you bristle a bit? “No way! Does that mean she’s just a slave to him, to do whatever he wants whenever he wants? That’s not fair. And worse, that just sets her up to be mistreated! God couldn’t have meant that.” That’s all sin-talk. Repent. Along with that, maybe we should find out what submission is. God the Son became man, taking on all our sins and dying for us.Through Baptism, we are holy and sinless in His eyes. Jesus considered us more important than Himself and gave everything He had to serve us and look out for our good. God calls us, as women, to submit to certain men.We don’t have a problem submitting to the Lord, so why would we doubt that our earthly husbands would do anything less for us? That doesn’t mean we’re commanded to slavishly cater to their every whim while they order us around and threaten punishment for disobedience.That’s not how Christ husbands His Bride. Remember, it says to “submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” The Lord looks out for us.We trust Him to do just that as husbands do for their wives. Submission is really just serving someone as you trust them to do their vocation for you. But you don’t have a husband to whom you are to submit. Now what? The Lord has still provided men in your life to care for you and look after your best interests— especially at church. Your father, pastor, and elders have been given authority from God, not to wield it like a weapon but to serve you. Trust them to do that as you trust the Lord to care for you. God says in Scripture that being a woman is important and wonderful.The universe was not perfectly perfect until God made woman. God knit you together to be a woman, and so you are. He made you His own child in Christ through Baptism, and so you are.You are who you are because He did what He has done for you. It’s an amazing thing to be specially created just to be loved and cherished, not just by God but by the men to whom we submit because they are gifts from God to us as well. We are truly blessed! Sandra Ostapowich is the Secretary of the Higher Things Board of Directors. She serves as the Christian Education and Youth Director at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado. You can e-mail questions and comments to her at email@example.com.
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in the Kingdom of God
by Kathy Luder
Chickens “Chickens don’t just die,” Grandpa said. He was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping coffee.“When you cut off their heads, their bodies shake.”
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I was staying with Grandma and Grandpa for the weekend.The night before, they’d served rabbit for dinner. I tried to be polite, but I couldn’t eat it. Grandma was in the garden. Grandpa and I were alone at breakfast. He continued,“Uncle Jack and I kicked the chicken, back and forth, like a soccer ball, while it spasmed in the dirt. We were laughing at it.” He looked up, his eyes misty.“That’s when Dad showed up. He wasn’t amused.“ He was staring out the window, but his eyes were unfocused. “Because you were wasting food?” I asked. That was Grandma’s complaint against me the night before. “I suppose that was part of it,” he said.“But the bigger part was that we were disrespectful.” “Of chickens?” I asked. “Yeah, of chickens. I never knew Dad was such an ecologist,“ he said with a grunt.“Pesticides and insecticides were just coming in, and he loved them. He never wept or seemed in the least bit bothered by slaughtering animals. He was gruff with us when we fussed.” He paused. He looked into his cup and said quietly, “I think that’s why Jack and I were acting like we did. We hated slaughtering. It was messy, and it was sad. We even felt bad for the mean chickens. But we wanted to be tough, like Dad.” “And that was disrespectful?” I said, incredulous.“You were killing the chickens anyway! Its body was spasming, but it was already dead.You weren’t hurting it.” “No, we weren’t hurting it,” he said.“We knew enough not to do that. Dad said we were making light of the sacrifice, that the chicken was giving its life for ours, and that it came from God. We were disrespectful of the gift.”
Grandpa looked me in the eye and said,“We got a terrible spanking that day. But he never spanked us without an explanation. He never did it in anger. He did it because there was a price to be paid, and he wanted to seal the lesson on our bodies. Boy, was that a whipping,” he said, laughing. “You’re not mad?” I asked. “No, I’m not mad. I’m proud of that. It worked. I learned my lesson,” he said, now sounding mad. His voice then softened as he wiped his eyes,“Anyway, your greatgrandfather was an armchair theologian, like you. He read the Bible and a book of Luther’s sermons in German every day. He liked to preach to us. Mama called him ‘Preacher’ as a joke. It was sometimes tiresome.” He sighed and said, “Now, I wish I could remember more of what he said. But for all I’ve forgotten, I remember that sermon.” “What was it?” I asked, scooting forward on the chair. “It was that idea of the chicken making a sacrifice.The day after the incident, Jack and I were pretty sheepish, ashamed. After breakfast, Dad usually went right back into the fields. But that day, he sat with us, like I am sitting here now, and talked about how God provides for us in this fallen creation.” “Yeah,” I said, nodding. “Remember what happened after the Fall? The Lord provided skins to cover Adam and Eve,“ he said, raising his eyebrows. “Right,” I said, wishing he’d get to the point. “That was the first sacrifice.Those innocent animals died in Adam’s place.They provided an immediate service.They gave their skins for clothing. Adam would have never needed clothing if he hadn’t sinned. His sin made their death necessary. But they also showed the kind of ransom that the Lord would provide to forgive Adam’s sins. In order for Adam to be spared, someone had to die. And it couldn’t be Eve or anyone infected with sin, because that person could only die for his own sins. It had to be someone innocent.” I said,“It was Jesus.” “Right. It was Jesus,” Grandpa said.“God became a man in order that He might die. Because He was innocent, His death was a worthy payment for Adam’s sins.” I finished it for him and said,“Because He was also true God, His death was also a worthy payment for Eve’s sins and everyone’s, for the whole world’s.” “Right,“ he said, pausing.“But I hadn’t realized how the animals played into that.They died because of our sins also. But unlike the Lord, they didn’t want to.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “All animals are scared of humans.That’s because they are the sacrifices. Even though we caused it, and they suffer for it, mankind still has dominion over creation. But now we can’t be trusted. We aren’t good shepherds. We’re the
masters of chickens, but we’re not like the Lord. We don’t lay down our lives for them.They lay down their lives for us, and by it, we live. We eat their flesh and have strength to carry on,” he said. “But when Jesus laid down His life,” I responded,“He did so willingly so that even though we caused that, He isn’t scared of us or angry. He loves us.” “Ever the theologian,” he said with a big smile.“You’re right.The animals don’t love us. But they do love God. Even if it is grudgingly, they lay down their lives for us.” “So we should respect them, treat them with dignity, honor the gift, receive it with thanksgiving,“ I said, seeing where this was going. “Exactly,” he replied.“And if we were without sympathy, if we took their sacrifice lightly, then we would also take the sacrifice of our Lord lightly.” I interrupted,“Because they’re both our fault, and they both give us life.” “Right,” he said, sitting back. I let it hang there for a minute.Then I said,“There is one other thing.” “What?” he asked, surprised. “We will be reconciled to animals in heaven,” I said. He scrunched his eyebrows.“We are already reconciled to God.” “Yeah, but I never thought of this before. GreatGrandpa’s sermon made me think of it,“ I said, excited. “I don’t get it,” he said. I went on,“The ceremonial sacrifices of the Old Testament have been fulfilled in Christ. But we still eat meat, and animals still eat each other. But in heaven, it will be like Eden.‘The wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw.’ We will be at peace with the animals again.” “I guess you’re right,” he said.“I wonder if Dad realized that.” “Even though they are not commanded in the Law, their deaths are still ceremonial,” I said. Grandpa grinned.“Well, you are a theologian! Of course they are. And thanks to Dad and to you, I don’t think I’ll ever say grace before supper in quite the same way again.” Kathy Luder strives to be the best poultry shepherd she can be. It's gone well, except for that one dream where the chickens got their revenge. Now that was creepy.
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Whatâ€™s With the Collar? By Rev. Jeffrey Bloom
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Have you ever wondered why some Lutheran pastors wear clerical collars?
Luther and his associates regarded clerical vestments (including clerical collars) as adiaphora (neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture).There is, however, a significant amount of symbolism behind the use of vestments and especially a clerical collar. First, the black color shows to the world that the pastor is a sinner, dead in his trespasses and sin. By himself, a pastor is nothing. Second, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, the words that come from the pastor’s mouth as he preaches and absolves are in the stead of Christ, and, therefore, are as white and pure as freshly fallen snow.Thus, the white tab is located in the front of the clerical collar.There is also a white Anglican collar that wraps entirely around the pastor’s neck and resembles a dog’s flea collar. Did I just accuse your pastor of having fleas? This type of clerical collar symbolizes that the pastor is not his own master but is leashed by God to speak His Word in all of its truth and purity. Third, the collar is a constant reminder to the pastor that he is a representative of Christ and the congregation he has been called to serve.Therefore, choosing to wear a clerical collar is an act of forfeiting one’s anonymity. In other words, when the pastor wears a clerical collar, he is willingly placing himself under the microscope of scrutiny of those with whom he comes into contact. In doing so, he has a heightened awareness of how his words and deeds can have a positive or negative effect on others and their attitude toward Christ and His Church. If you don’t believe me, try placing a Christian bumper sticker on your car and see how it affects the way you drive your car. Fourth, a clerical collar is a uniform like a police officer or a soldier wear. When you see them in uniform, you immediately know what they are.The same can be said of a collared pastor. Speaking from experience, when I wear a clerical collar, access is much easier at hospitals and other healthcare facilities because the staff immediately knows why I am there. It also proves helpful when visiting the elderly suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. Fifth, a clerical collar communicates that the pastor is to care for the people of God.There are some pastors who refuse to wear a clerical collar because they think it gives the appearance of being Roman Catholic. However, many clergy from church bodies wear clerical collars besides the Roman Catholic priests, such as the Episcopalians, Anglicans, even some Methodists, and others. Of course, there are times when people will greet me and call me “Father.” I used to correct them by letting them know that I am a Lutheran pastor, but anymore I politely greet them and go on my way. After all, I am the father of Jordan, Joseph, Jenna, and Julia. Besides, spiritually speaking, the pastor serves as the spiritual father of the congregation he serves. Sixth, a clerical collar leads to all sorts of fascinating conversations. While it’s been said that it makes the pastor look less approachable, I cannot even begin to count the number of times while wearing a clerical collar that I have been approached by complete strangers with some religious question or simply seeking my counsel or aid. It’s a conversational magnet. Seventh, it defines the pastor as a servant. It has been said that the origin of the clerical collar can be traced back to slavery.The Church adopted the garb of the slave as a visible symbol that the pastor is a servant of Christ and the congregation to which he has been called to serve. Sometimes, the story goes around that a clerical collar is worn as a show of power and prestige, but that simply doesn’t agree with history. Lastly, on a more practical and perhaps humorous note, I never wake up in the morning and have to wrestle with the question,“What should I wear to work today?” Although there are certainly many good arguments for the wearing of a clerical collar by pastors, it is indeed neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. So, whether or not your pastor wears a clerical collar, he has been called by God to serve you! Rev. Jeffrey Bloom is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What Does God Want Me to Be When I’m an Adult? By Rev. Rick Marrs
efore the 1800s, answering lifelong career questions was fairly straightforward for young people. Most of them did what their parents did (e.g., farming, local merchant, trade skill) or whatever apprenticeships their parents arranged for them, sometimes starting before they were teenagers.
That was true for boys, at least. Girls got married and became mothers and cooked and cleaned and milked cows. But in our diverse culture and economic system today, teenagers literally have tens of thousands of career options available to them. While having options is a blessing, having that many options can be overwhelming.Think about how easy it is to choose between two to three flavors of ice cream in your home freezer and how difficult it can be to choose between the scores of tasty options at Baskin-Robbins.Then consider how difficult your ice cream selection would be if that was going to be the only flavor you could have for ten years!
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Teens realize that much hinges on their career selection. Not only will their career choice directly impact how they will spend more than 80,000 hours of their lives, but it will influence their marriage and family, their type of home and neighbors, their socioeconomic status, and the like.This process of career decision-making (and it is a process, not a one-time event) leads to many important, inter-related questions for teens: “Should I do what I’m interested in or what I’m good at? “Should I seek the vocation that will pay the most money, or do something I’ll be happy (yet poorer) doing? “What if I start in one career and then change my mind?
“Who can help me make such important decisions? “And how does God’s will work into all this?”
Help! Who can help? Most high schools have counselors who have been trained to know how to give career guidance to teenagers.They may introduce you to computer programs (like Discover) or inventories (like the Strong Interest Inventory or the SelfDirected Search) that can help you sort out your interests, abilities, values, and decision-making processes. Many of these programs and inventories are available to take online for a fee, but your counselors will likely be able to provide such services for no cost, and they can then help you understand the results. One of the most helpful models used in these programs is called the Holland Hexagon. This heavily researched theory proposes that there are, broadly speaking, six categories of careers and six types of people who feel compatible with those careers. Realistic people prefer jobs in which they are doers, handling mechanical or material problems (e.g., engineers, builders, farmers, athletes). Investigative people like math and
science. Artistic people like art, music, and drama as a way to express themselves. Social people like to help others (e.g., counselors, teachers, pastors). Enterprising people like to work with people also but in more persuasive modes, like business and sales, politics and law, etc. Conventional people are the organizers in life, keeping records and analyzing information (e.g., accountants, administrative assistants, etc). Actually, all people are some combination of all six types, and nearly all jobs require some skills in all six areas, but people do tend to have two or three areas that are of greater interest to them than the others. Simply put, people who find a vocation that matches their interests and skills are generally more satisfied than those who enter a vocation that is a mismatch for them. High school and college counselors can also help you learn to investigate career options. Most teens simply do not know how people in various occupations actually spend their time and energy. It is important to read books, articles, and Web site descriptions about various occupations.Teens can also ask to shadow adults in their work for a day. Many adults are impressed with teens who take such initiative and are intrigued by what they do.
A Word of Warning One modest warning about some career counselors: if you are considering a church-work career, some counselors may subtly steer you away from it. My experience suggests that career counselors are not necessarily anti-church or anti-Christian, but they have subtly bought into the world’s notion that really bright people should seek after high income, high status jobs. If you make good grades and have high test scores, your counselor may suggest that a career in medicine or law or
engineering would be best for you because you can make more money. If you are considering a church-work career, but they push you to consider a higher paying career, this may be your opportunity to gently and respectfully tell your counselor about the hope (and riches) in Christ that are yours (1 Peter 3:15).
What Does God Want? And how does God’s will work in this career decision-making? Our culture would lead us to believe that career choice is only about selffulfillment. However, young Christians should be aware that the Lord has created the infrastructure of our world’s economy. Most people’s work allows them to contribute thousands of hours of good works that God has prepared in advance for them to do (Ephesians 2:10) in order to help feed others (through farmers, truckers, grocers), to heal others (through doctors, nurses and therapists), to care for others (through administrators, counselors, social workers), to educate others (through teachers, administrators, government officials), to protect others (through police, firefighters, soldiers), to build and repair things (through manufacturers, carpenters, mechanics), to share the Gospel professionally (through pastors, DCEs, deaconesses), even to entertain and provide beauty for others (through musicians, actors, artists).These roles are what Luther called vocation, God’s calling (voca) for us all. Beyond our callings as workers, we also have callings as fathers, mothers, children, citizens, and Christians. All of these are blessings to us from God that we are called upon to balance and do as a loving response to Christ blessing us in the Gospel. The Lord will likely NOT Facebook you or send you an e-mail telling you what profession He wants you to enter. But He will provide you, if you are looking, with a variety of possible experiences that you can then pray about and sift through to decide how you think He has gifted you and how you would like to use those gifts. Rev. Rick Marrs, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Before becoming a pastor (which means he changed careers at age 40!), he was a career counselor and taught career counseling courses to other counselors. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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“normal” By Mary Karner
id you know that according to the New York Times the average American is bombarded with 5,000 advertising images a day? Many of these images are included in the average 2.6 hours an American spends watching television every day. I think most of my 5,000 images come from that issue of People magazine I buy every month added with that unfortunate addiction of mine to “E! True Hollywood Story.”
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Thus, like most of us, I’ve seen those headlines about Lindsey Lohan’s short-lived stints in rehab, Miley Cyrus’ racy pictures in Vanity Fair, the always dramatic Britney Spears, not to mention all of Brad and Angelina’s new children. It’s only natural for us to start believing that these images we read about, hear about, and watch are 100 percent normal. After all, isn’t it called “reality”TV for a reason? Aren’t those cameras actually filming in that celebrity’s home? It has to be normal . . . right? Personally, I hate the term normal. It has no concrete meaning. With the power of only two syllables, it defines a select, relative group of people and excludes a majority. It makes us think having a baby at age 16 like Jamie Lynn Spears is “normal.” We come to believe it is “normal” for men to get away with beating women, all because Chris Brown got away with hitting Rihanna. It seems “normal” for most teens to engage in underage drinking since we see those crazy parties on TV all the time. But as Christians, our definition of normal comes from the Holy, inspired Word of God rather than the highly publicized lives and behaviors of popular culture. John writes,“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). This is not to say that God is some strict Father-figure who wants to take away all our fun though. It’s completely the opposite! God wants us to enjoy the life He gave us, and He sets boundaries for us, not as a punishment, but for our own protection and good. So what does a normal, Lutheran teen look like? We know how to have fun within the rules. We laugh loudly. We respect our parents and elders. We go to youth group. We sing our guts out during our favorite hymns. We go to Higher Things conferences. We respect ourselves and our bodies. We help our neighbors. We rejoice in our risen Lord and Savior. And we most definitely “are not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). However, it is also normal for us to make mistakes, to get caught up in the earthly thrills of life and the desires of the flesh, and to be nothing but poor, miserable sinners. Even the apostle Paul spoke of himself,“I do not understand my own actions . . . For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 19). Yet, we repent. We remember and cling to our Baptisms. We partake of the very body and blood of Jesus and receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through it. And we live everyday with the confidence that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We have an awesome gift of already knowing our identity in Christ, instead of trying to find ourselves in a pop culture masquerading as “normal.” Plus, we have the whole body of Christ as our own personal support system and loving community. So dare to be who you are as a Lutheran because you can rest assured that you are an heir to the kingdom of Heaven and perfectly normal in God’s eyes, all thanks to the eternal life Christ won for you on the cross. Alleluia! Mary Karner is a freshman at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A Survival Guide for
Recession! Depression! Economic downturn!
I nominate these as the most overused words of 2009. (“Green” seems last year’s winner, especially when used near “carbon footprint.”) I’m tired of hearing about the economy, but there’s a reason why it keeps leading the news: the problems haven’t gone away.
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Some reports don’t get much sympathy from me: when a professional athlete may have to settle for $20 million per year instead of $25 million, I don’t get too worked up. Sure, it’s $5 million less than expected…but it’s still about $20 million more than anybody reading this article. I’m not jealous. I just think that he’ll somehow manage to get by. A trend that troubles me more is the report that Hollywood is looking to save money by remaking so-called classic movies from the 1980s, like “Robocop” and “Clash of the Titans.” I’ve never heard classic and Robocop used in the same sentence before. Somebody, please make it stop now. Some articles have noted that the current economy has affected teenagers.You’ll be happy to know that you’re now sometimes buying used clothes instead of new, and you’ve even discovered that hoodies without the word Hollister emblazoned across the front still manage to keep you warm. If I sound a little snarky, I’m not making fun of you. I think you knew that already and that these reports are a little patronizing.
By Rev. Tim Pauls
I also think there’s a good chance that you’re experiencing the recession in ways worse than clothes. It might be that your mom or dad is out of work: that makes money tight and things tense around the house. It may be that your college plans took a hit, that you’ll be attending a less-expensive school than your first choice or maybe working for a while instead. And even if the economic downturn hasn’t really hurt you, you probably know someone who’s suffering. Whatever the effects, these are generally tougher times than our nation has faced for a while; and for many, tough times mean worry, anxiety, and a lot of conflicting advice. As a Christian, though, you have a better Word to listen to when money’s tight or in any other time of trouble: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:1–5). First off, you’ve been justified by faith.Through Jesus Christ, you already have peace with God. Some will be thinking that God is out to get them, that He’s forsaken or forgotten them, and money problems are the proof.You know better. God hasn’t forsaken you. He’s redeemed you at the cost of His own Son’s holy blood.Whatever the Lord is up to behind the scenes, you can be certain you’re not forsaken. For Jesus’ sake, you’re His beloved child. That’s our hope as Christians. Confident of that, then yes, we can rejoice in our sufferings. The Lord uses them to discipline—not to punish, but to train. (A disciplined soccer team is not frequently in detention, but one that has taken the drills seriously!) Suffering produces endurance; it’s when we suffer that we appreciate more the faithfulness of God and repent of trust in other things. We endure by His grace and mercy. Endurance produces character; by enduring suffering, you remain as one who has stood the test. But be careful.To stand the test is not to say that you manage to grit your teeth and gut it out until the Lord says you’ve had enough. Rather, to stand the test is to remain the penitent child of God who confesses his sins and trusts in the Lord for strength and deliverance. It is to commend all cares to the Lord and pray,“Thy will be done.” And when you fail to do so, it is to confess that failure and then to trust in God’s mercy again. All of that is the work of the Spirit, for faith is God’s gift to you.That’s the character produced by enduring, by remaining in the faith during the time of trial. Character produces hope—certain hope that the Lord will deliver. In suffering, we learn that things fall apart, savings disappear, health goes away. People leave because they choose or because they have no choice.There is, however, a blessing in this: trouble exposes idols. As much as things and people are gifts from God, they become idols when we ultimately depend on them rather than the God who gives them.Trouble teaches you their limitations, that you shouldn’t put your hope in them; if you do, you’ll be shamed—maybe even lost—when they fail to deliver you. It’s a blessing to know this: as idols are exposed for their failures, the faithfulness of God becomes more apparent. God is not subject to the ravages of sin. He will not fail you. The current troubles will pass.They’ll be replaced by other times and other troubles. When we’re in heaven, it won’t matter to us anymore. While we’re still here, we’re able to look back and say,“The Lord has always been faithful.” So we will look back and say after the troubles of the present time. It’s true even now.You can pray with David, when trouble struck and many doubted the Lord,“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7).The Lord is faithful to you, and He uses this for your good. Ever faithful, He is always your joy. Pastor Tim Pauls is the associate pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and editor of Higher Things. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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For we maintain that a man is justified by faith alone, apa
SOLA - Texas SOLA - Michiga Trinity University San Antonio, TX July 7â€“10, 2009
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Calvin College Grand Rapids, MI July 21â€“24, 2009
Check out www.sola2009.org for more information
art from works of Law.
Christo Gratia Fide Scriptura
Lutheran Youth Conference
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The Marriage of the Virgin. The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht DĂźrer, Willi Kurth, editor. (New York: Arden Book Company, 1936).
H I G H E R
No Battlefield By Scott Yenor
Marriage today is seen as a contract, a voluntary agreement entered by consenting adults. It’s just between the two of them; society and the church, it is thought, must not dictate marriage’s terms.The individuals choose the terms of the contract—how long it should last, what it is concerned with, even who gets to enter into it, or if it has to be “formalized” by a ceremony. But the contractual view often becomes a war of all against all, a struggle ending in divorce and unhappiness. Or, just as bad, marriages do not happen at all as people look for love outside of marriage or see marriage as inconsistent with genuine love. Why is this? A contract is a limited agreement between two or more parties to use each other for certain purposes. We get a contract with our plumber: he fixes our sink and we pay him. We each pursue our interests in arrangement, and neither of us is changed by it.Today’s contractual marriage is similar in that it does not demand that individuals be transformed by the marriage through the happy and unhappy struggles of living a life with someone. Contracts are based on the idea that we can consent to the arrangement; they assume perfect knowledge about the terms. Consider the plumber again. A customer can know what he is getting from a plumber: he gets an estimate for a job. Marriage contracts are based on the same idea that we can have perfect knowledge of the relevant traits of character in a future spouse, but this idea is an illusion. No husband or wife can predict what will happen as they share a life together. Unexpected illnesses, physical disabilities, hard times, or countless other circumstances affect how spouses look at one another. If we enter marriage with thinking we can predict its future course, we are likely to be disappointed. If you would have told my wife when I proposed to her that we would have five kids and live in Boise, Idaho, she may have turned me down! How can we remedy today’s erroneous view of marriage? Let me borrow a telling phrase from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who described marriage as beginning from the standpoint of contract in order to supersede contract—to replace the contract with something greater. Marriage is when two people become one, when two people give themselves to another. Children illustrate this reality of two people literally becoming one; no knife in the world is sharp enough to separate what comes from a father in a child from what comes from a mother. This is why marriage is connected to having children. Having children also changes someone, in part because it brings us eye-to-eye with the great power of creation, and in
part because child-raising demands that we supersede the standpoint of contract and live for another.What parent would think of charging his children for the costs they impose? What husband and wife sit down and try to divide the jobs of the family with perfect justice? Both marriage and family life are defined by love where we do not really count the costs. No parent chooses the particular children that they get, nor do we choose what our spouse will be twenty years down the line. Our feeble attempts to define these institutions as contracts run up against the facts of the created order. Marriage and family life are where we learn to live with and love imperfect people. Studies show that married people are happier, healthier, wealthier, and live longer than unmarried people.This is exactly what I would expect from an institution made by God for the benefit of human beings. All of what we learn about marriage by observing it is captured by the exchange between Christ and the Pharisees in Matthew 19. When the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking Him if divorce is permissible, Jesus responds that Moses allowed divorce because of the “hardness of your hearts.” Hardened hearts are hearts that are not affected by other hearts, hearts that do not allow themselves to be molded with another’s heart.“In the beginning,” when marriage was instituted,“it was not” as Moses commanded. God made human beings man and woman, and in marriage, those two became one flesh. Soft hearts yield to one another, serve one another, and are willing to die for one another. Soft hearts mold together into one. Such love is among the greatest human experiences for it mirrors, however faintly and imperfectly, the love that God has for all people in Christ. Marriage is based on this kind of love, no matter what others who consider marriage a contract might say. Dr. Scott Yenor teaches political science at Boise State University. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Masquerade of Evil By Uwe Siemon-Netto
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(A great blessing of the past few years has been a renewed interest in the doctrine of vocation: that we serve God in the callings of our daily lives. Above and beyond daily activities, Christians also have opportunities to stand for what is rightâ€”sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not.What may, or should, a Christian do in the face of public evil? Whether or not you find yourself raising a public protest about abortion or some other issue, Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto presents some challenging thoughts to ponder in this address to a pro-life rally in St. Louis, Missouri. â€”Ed.)
am German. And I am seventy-two years old. When I was a child, my government killed six million Jews and millions of others in my name.The Nazis did not ask me,“Uwe, may we commit a genocide in your name?” Still, in my name this was done, for I was and still am a German citizen, and so I must live with this legacy. Sixty years ago, Theodor Heuss, the first president of the new, free West Germany, said that those Germans not implicated in the Holocaust must not feel collective guilt. But he added that all Germans must have a sense of collective shame. This sense of collective shame has remained with many Germans till this very day. Today it seems that this will be the fate of Americans, even those who have never harmed a child.They will be plagued by collective shame over the slaughter of fifty million unborn babies—a slaughter committed in their names. Perhaps the best-known Christian martyr of the Nazi era was Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Before he was hanged, he wrote in his prison cell,“The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to disguise as light, charity, historical necessity or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethics, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil.” In our present reality, which is the fruit of the French Revolution, man claims absolute autonomy from God. Hence this has become a godless world. According to Bonhoeffer, Christians are called to “suffer with God in a godless world.” By coining the phrase,“godless world,” Bonhoeffer clearly did not mean to imply that God did not exist. He used the phrase “godless world“ in the same sense that we speak of “godless persons.” But he meant more than that: God allowed Himself to be driven out of this world and in so doing gave us our freedom. Walking with God in a godless world requires standing fast, showing civil courage, and risking martyrdom like Pastor Walter Hoye whose nonviolent pro-life positions have landed him in jail in Oakland, California. Bonhoeffer lamented the dearth of civil courage among most of his fellow Germans. Ah, if only faithful Christians had staged Lenten prayer vigils outside the death camps of Auschwitz or Buchenwald! Of course, they, too, would have been gassed as a consequence or been sent to the Russian front to die. If only the German media had had the guts to report about the gas chambers! But, of course, they couldn’t.The newspapers then were censored.They were part of a totalitarian system. Such audacious reporters would have surely been hanged, decapitated, or sent to Russia, and their stories would have been spiked.
Today in America the media are free. What would a reporter risk when writing about late-term abortion procedures where doctors suck the brains out of unborn babies’ skulls in order to extract their bodies through their mothers’ birth canal? Such a reporter would risk no more than the ridicule from his or her colleagues, which is also the reason why Christians praying and fasting outside abortion facilities, thus saving lives, received virtually no media coverage. So,“who stands fast?” Bonhoeffer wanted to know. Who is prepared to suffer with God in a godless world, he would surely ask on this first day of Holy Week? How are we going to answer Bonhoeffer’s haunting question:“Are we still of any use?” I have been a reporter for fifty-two years. I can report to you that I have seen the answer with my own eyes: down at the slaughterhouse for unborn babies on Forest Park Avenue. You are the answer: you, simple men, women, and children praying and fasting, suffering insults and rude signs from passersby, but also being encouraged by honking truck drivers and the janitors of neighboring buildings shouting, “Bless you.” “I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to resist in times of distress,” wrote Bonhoeffer before facing the scaffold. He added: “I believe that God is no timeless fate, but that He waits for and answers sincere prayers and responsible actions.” This is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s message to you as well, you faithful people who imitated Christ during the last forty days. You imitated Christ by risking mockery and media silence at a time when we are once again witnessing a great masquerade of evil disguised as light, charity of social justice, a masquerade compelling all of us to share a sense of collective shame. Thank you for what you have done and what you will surely continue to do. Remember the words of the doomed Dietrich Bonhoeffer:“I believe that God will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil.” Uwe Siemon-Netto, former religion editor of United Press International, is Director of the Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life, which is affiliated with Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
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The Mother of All Conspiracies:
Jesus and the Gospels
e live at a time when claims of conspiracy abound. From wondering who shot JFK to aliens running the government, the theories seem endless. And since nothing is off limits, the truth about Jesus is under fire as well. In fact, it’s among the hottest conspiracies out there. This is clearly evidenced by the ongoing success of The Da Vinci Code, whose prequel, Angels & Demons, is now a major motion picture, and whose sequel, The Lost Symbol, will be hitting bookshelves shortly.The trilogy is fanciful fiction to be sure. But it is sprinkled with just enough truth that the lines between history and heresy have become blurred.
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Have We Missed the Truth about Jesus? Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who died and rose for the salvation of mankind. At least, that’s what the New Testament tells us. But what if its four Gospels are flawed? What if there are other, conflicting reports about Jesus that should be trusted instead? That would change everything from the Divine Service to all of Western civilization. That we have, in fact, missed the truth about Jesus is precisely the claim being made today, and not simply in novels and movies. On the contrary, quite a few scholars have gotten into the act as well. Hardly a Christmas or Easter now passes by without their opinions showing up in the media, with intriguing catchwords like secret, lost, missing, or new often used in the headlines.Their hope is to persuade people into thinking that Christianity got Jesus wrong . . . on purpose! For ammunition, they point to ancient books written about Jesus that weren’t included in the New Testament.
By Seminarian Mark Pierson
These alternate texts all contradict the four standard Gospels on crucial issues. Namely, they deny that Jesus is God incarnate, they reject that salvation is the work of Christ alone, and they deny that Jesus physically rose from death. But the reason they came to be seen as heresy, so the argument goes, is because certain politicians made it so. By using their power, only one version of Jesus—the version they preferred—came to be known as Christianity. Hence, the Gospel of John was included in the New Testament while the Gospel of Judas was banned. In turn, all subsequent Christians have been trapped in ignorance, blindly believing in a fabricated Jesus. With more than one version of Jesus out there, how do we know which Jesus is the true Jesus? Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the answer is actually quite simple. History Depends on Evidence, Not Speculation Let’s say someone wrote a completely different biography of Abraham Lincoln today.This Lincoln, we are told, fought on the side of the Confederates and died by slipping in a bathtub and breaking his neck. How believable do you think this report would be? It would be laughable and for good reason. First, this author would be removed from Lincoln and all who knew him personally by almost 150 years. So where does this new information come from? More than that, all previous histories written about Lincoln—some of which come from eyewitnesses—would be contradicted. On what basis does this new biography replace the others? In fact, no known evidence supports this farfetched account.
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Rather, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, such as the assassination site and the gun of John Wilkes Booth.Though some people might end up believing this fable, most would easily dismiss it as nonsense. This is the case with Jesus and the writings excluded from the New Testament. Whereas Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John composed their Gospels within a few decades after Jesus’ earthly ministry, none of the alternate Gospels show up until the second century. Some are as late as the sixth century! Where did their new information come from? Similarly, each New Testament author either knew Jesus firsthand or had contact with those who did.That makes for reliable reporting. But the other Gospels were written after those who knew Jesus had died. Why should authors such as these be believed over those who saw, heard, and touched Jesus themselves (John 1:14; 1 John 1:1)? And then there are all the additional evidences that support the four traditional Gospels. More than thirty other texts, each written before any of the later Gospels, all confirm basic facts about Jesus. Some were even written by non-Christian historians. Plus, the archaeology is overwhelming. From an inscription that mentions Pontius Pilate to the site of the empty tomb itself, every artifact found and every site discovered supports Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Gospels or Comic Books? Speaking of laughable, let’s consider what is found in these fanciful texts. None say Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. In the Gospel of Thomas, however, Jesus tells the disciples that she, too, will be saved. How? The same way any woman can be saved—by first being turned into a male! Even sillier is the resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter. After Jesus appears from the tomb, His head stretches higher than the heavens.The cross itself exits next, and it even speaks. One of the so-called Infancy Gospels has Jesus behaving like a kid out of the Twilight Zone. Just as He caused a fig tree to wither, Jesus shrivels up someone who made Him angry. Afterwards, a boy accidentally bumps into this short-tempered Jesus. In response, Jesus kills him on the spot! Only when Joseph begs Him does Jesus restore the boy’s life. Conclusion Some might find it exciting to think they’ve unraveled some sort of mystery about Jesus. But in the end, there is simply no reason to doubt that the Jesus of the New Testament is the real Jesus. Claims of conspiracy are wishful thinking at best and are a dishonest denial of the facts at worst. Jesus is a figure of history, not of myth or legend.Thus, a sober investigation of the evidences verifies that Christianity has gotten it right all along. Mark Pierson was a Lutheran high school theology teacher for six years before attending Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He will start his vicarage year this fall at UCLA’s campus church.You can e-mail him at email@example.com.
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2009 Christ on Campus Conference Trinity Lutheran Church, Palo Alto, CA June 9–11, 2009 Rev. William Cwirla, Hacienda, Heights, CA “The Four Horsemen of Postmodernism— Language Deconstructionism, Historical Revisionism, Moral Relativism, and Scientific Atheism” Rev. Dr. Steven Mueller, Irvine, CA “C.S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith and Implications for Christ on Campus” Also open this year to students. More information online.
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The Gospel of Twilight?
By Jess L. Norton
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Book covers for The Twilight Saga Collection by Stephenie Meyer. Little, Brown and Company. www.lb-teens.com
any of you have probably read the books in the Twilight saga, and many more have probably seen the movie. But perhaps none of you would imagine that there could be lessons for Christians to learn from vampires. But think again. The Cullens have much to teach you about being a Christian. No one could possibly understand better than the Cullens what it means to be just and sinful at the same time. After all, they are the so-called good guys while, at the same time, they are also still monsters. They are vampires. Regardless of how many times they suppress the desire to drink human blood, they still have that craving.They burn for a drink of that forbidden liquid. The Christian is very much the same. We may not want to drink blood, but we are driven by our sinful nature to do other things—sinful things—because, just as the Cullens could not help being vampires, we cannot help being sinners. We inherited this sinful nature from our first parents just as the Cullens inherited their vampire natures from the one that bit each of them.They didn’t ask for it, but they received it.They simply had to learn how to deal with the situation in which they found themselves. But, you may be thinking, the Cullens weren’t all bad, were they? They were bad, but they did not allow themselves to become as bad as they could have been. No matter what, they were monsters, and that would never change.The Christian’s situation is a little different. We are also bad; we are sinners. We will always be sinners as long as we live on earth. But that is not the end of the story for us. You see, the Christian is always a sinner. It is his nature. He cannot help it. But as one of the baptized children of God, he is also justified. At one time, the Christian is both sinful and justified, that is, forgiven through faith in Christ.The Christian has no redeeming qualities. In fact, just like a blood-sucking vampire has no redeeming qualities, both are monsters in their own way. In the books, the Cullens attempt to redeem themselves by use of their self control. Such an idea is surely fiction.The Scriptures clearly tell us that we cannot help ourselves. Every thing in us is inclined toward evil. We will always be sinners just like the Cullens will always be vampires. But that is not the end of the story. In the books, we are told that Carlisle refused to drink human blood because he refused to become enslaved and debased by his nature. We sin. We are too weak. But the bond that was once upon us is now broken. We
are no longer sons and daughters of darkness. We are the baptized children of God. What does this mean? It means simply that we will always be sinners just like the Cullens will always be vampires. But the price for our iniquity has been paid. In the sight of God, we are justified. How can this be? It can be and it is because the waters of Holy Baptism washed away the stain of original sin and guilt from our souls. Our Lord gave us His righteousness.The Cullens try to become better by the exercise of their own wills, but we can’t, and we don’t have to try. Christ made us good when we could be nothing but sinful. So is the whole idea behind the goodness of the Cullens wrong? I don’t think so.There is one point that we do well to note.Though they cannot stop being vampires, they don’t have to give themselves over to the wicked desire that is ever with them.They may be vampires by nature, but they are not as far gone as they could be. Some believe that just because we cannot stop being sinners, we should not try to stop sinning.“Christ has paid for this so I can do what I want,”they say. Absolutely not! That was St. Paul’s answer to a similar question.“Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” So which way is it then? Can we stop sinning, or can’t we? We cannot stop being sinners. We will always be inclined to sin, but that does not mean we should stop trying to avoid it. We do not have to give ourselves over to evil entirely. Baptism frees us from that bondage. We should remember that avoiding sin is not counted as merit for us. We will see heaven only because of Christ’s merit. But since we are children of God, it should also be our desire to live lives that are pleasing to God. And so, as forgiven Christians, we strive for holiness and expect nothing in return, knowing that we have already been given more than we could have ever earned or even hoped for. Mr. Jess Norton lives in Indiana and is currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Religion from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He can be reached at email@example.com
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The Alpha and the Omega H I G H E R
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By Professor Thomas Egger
Self Portrait in the likeness of Christ by Albrech Dürer. 1500. Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
hat does it mean to confess that Jesus Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega”? You’ve probably seen these capital Greek letters adorning the altar, banners, or baptismal candle in your church.To most of us, capital Greek letters suggest college fraternities and sororities, but that’s not the case here! Jesus is not being proclaimed as a member of the Alpha Omega fraternity. Or is He?
In Revelation 22:13, Jesus says,“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”This is one of many New Testament passages that clearly portray Jesus as true God. In the Old Testament, the Creator announced,“I am He. I am the First, and I am the Last” (Isaiah 48:12). And now, here is Jesus, claiming this title for Himself. He is part of that most exclusive fraternity–Alpha Omega–to which only the three persons of the Holy Trinity belong. In the Greek alphabet, Alpha comes first and Omega last. Jesus is, in other words, the A and the Z. Along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He gave shape to all things from the beginning and will one day bring all things to their end, their glorious goal. Jesus is a true man within history, but He also holds all of history in His hands. If you search the word Buddha on Wikipedia, you find the dates 563 to 483 BC. For Muhammed, it’s 570 to 632 AD. If you search Jesus Christ, a range is given: 7–2 BC to 26–36 AD. Now, it is true that during those years, Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, buried, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Still, unlike Buddha, Muhammed, or anyone else, the true extent of Jesus’ life and work for His people cannot be bound by a pair of numbers. No, here we need language like Alpha and Omega, First and Last, Beginning and End! In the Beginning, Jesus was at the Father’s side. “Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). Already at the beginning, He was loved by the Father (John 17:24) and appointed to be the sacrifice for our salvation (1 Peter 1:18–20). It was the Lord Jesus who saved Israel out of Egypt (Jude 5) and who provided water for them in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4). In the days of Caesar Augustus, two thousand years ago, the eternal Son of God became a man. He went forth from Nazareth doing good, healing diseases, and
proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom. He was faithful and obedient in all things, even to death on the cross, dying in our place. On the cross, Jesus cried out “It is finished!” His suffering and atoning work was indeed complete. But His wonderful works for men were not at an end. Death could not hold the Alpha and the Omega. The history of the Church in the Book of Acts is the story of the continuing work of Jesus in the world (Acts 1:1–2) after His ascension into heaven.This work of the Alpha and the Omega continues today. Jesus is reigning over all creation (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20–22). Jesus makes His dwelling place with you and every believer (John 14:23; Galatians 2:20). Jesus especially reveals Himself as present for you when the Church gathers for worship (Matthew 18:20). At the altar in His body and blood, and in His Word that is read and preached, Jesus Himself comes to you, forgiving your sin and recreating your heart. Lutherans joyfully believe that Jesus is present in His Word and Sacraments, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). The End of the age will come one day soon. On that day Jesus, who has been the Alpha, will show Himself to be the Omega. He will return to our world visibly in power and glory. He will say to you,“Fear not, I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17–18). He will raise all the dead and give eternal life to you and to all believers. He will renew the creation in beauty, strength, peace, justice, and love. With Jesus, the End will be a kind of beginning.The feast that begins on that day will never end. And Jesus will reign as our gracious King forever for He is the Alpha and the Omega. Professor Thomas Egger teaches at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Move to the Head
of the Class by Rev. David Petersen The Fifth Petition And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
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What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us. The Lord’s Prayer. Luther's Small Catechism © 1986 Concordia Publishing House. www.cph.org.Used with permission.
Distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel is the most fundamental theological task of the Christian. Luther famously said,“Whoever has mastered the art of distinguishing the Law from the Gospel should be moved to the front of the class and called a doctor of Holy Scriptures.” When I was a seventh grade confirmation student, I heard that quote, and I thought Luther was talking about me. It seemed so simple.The Law shows us our sins.The Gospel shows us our Savior. The Law commands and describes good works, and it forbids and describes sins.The Gospel pronounces God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the love of God, the Good News of declared righteousness.The Law exposes our need for salvation but cannot save us. But the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It actually delivers forgiveness. It declares us pleasing to God by grace. What is so hard about that? It wasn’t that I was unappreciative of Law and Gospel. I loved Law and Gospel. I loved what the distinction meant: that while I was a sinner, accused and condemned by the Law for my failure to live up to its perfect demands, I was nonetheless a saint of God in Christ Jesus, washed clean by His holy death and resurrection. Yet it amazed me that so many Christians were confused by this and thought they were talking about the Gospel when they were really talking about the Law. Were
people really so arrogant as to think they were marginally better than their neighbors and that God would forgive their sins because they tried hard or sinned less than other people? Yes.They were (and are). I was astounded that so many of my friends thought salvation was obtained by works or being good or somehow pleasing God. On top of this, I was sorely disappointed in my early evangelism efforts. I thought I could simply tell them the truth and they would awaken out of their confusion. They didn’t.Thus, in my arrogance, I consigned them to Hell. I look back now at my enthusiasm with serious embarrassment. I had no real appreciation for Holy Baptism. I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t very Lutheran. I was really an Arminian (ask your pastor to explain that particular error to you), and I also thought that faith was mainly a matter of the will or intellect. Worst of all, I was so focused on the right distinction between the Law and the Gospel, and wanting to hear a correct articulation of the Gospel, that I made a law of it. I made the most basic and destructive theological error: I thought I knew who was going to heaven and who wasn’t. I set myself up as the judge and used my emerging theology as the criteria. I substituted orthodoxy, and that orthodoxy by my standards, for grace. Over the years, my love for the distinction between the Law and the Gospel has not lessened. It has grown stronger. But if it is stronger, it is also more nuanced. I am a little more careful than I used to be. I also try to listen more closely to those who say things differently than I do. My life and experience has shown me how often I have been in error and how easily I’ve slipped into a confusion of Law and Gospel even while I was striving with all my intellect to properly distinguish between them.The difficulty is not simply in knowing if a particular statement is Law or Gospel.The most
difficult task is rightly applying Law and Gospel. A friend once told me he was afraid God was not real. I told him God is real and he should believe it.That was true, but it was Law.Telling him that he should believe in God was an accusation. It condemned his doubt. I wonder now if I shouldn’t have told him instead that his fear was a sign of faith’s struggle against his doubt and that his doubt is forgiven in Christ. There is a time for the Law.To tell an unrepentant unbeliever that his doubts did not matter, that they were forgiven, would be a lie.The unrepentant need the Law to expose their need for forgiveness. But the proper work of God is done not through the Law but through the Gospel. Distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel is the most fundamental theological task of every Christian and applying them is theology’s highest art. But, as with most art, the mastery of the fundamentals takes a lifetime of practice.Thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit does not depend on our skill in these things but works through His Word despite us. When Luther praised the ability to distinguish between Law and Gospel, he was not exaggerating.The person who masters it should be moved to the front of the class and called a doctor of Holy Scripture. We may never get there on this side of heaven, but while we wait for the promise of the Gospel to be fulfilled in us, we get to practice. We get to hear God’s Word and let it have its way with us, both convicting and cleansing us. And that is the real joy of theology and distinguishing the Law from the Gospel. Rev. David Petersen is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is also on the Higher Things editorial board. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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Given C a s s i a ,
"Take and eat; this is my body. This is my blood . . . poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27–28).
B o i s e ,
Jesus does the giving; we are given to. Jesus gives His life for us on the cross. We are given His cross-won forgiveness in the Divine Service: in the Word, in Holy Absolution, in Holy Baptism, and His Supper.
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As Jesus gives us His life and salvation in the Divine Service, so we are given to pray in His name, to praise, and to give thanks unto our Father in heaven. We live with love for those around us. For just as we are given the Gospel of Jesus in the Divine Service, so does He give us as a gift to our neighbors.
At next year’s Higher Things conferences, we will rejoice in all that we are given in the Divine Service. Jesus gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. His Word and Sacraments enliven us to give our lives in service to our neighbors. It’s all given to us in the Divine Service: the cross, forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, and service to others!
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