Archive for January, 2011

God’s Final Answer When We Ask: Why?

We believe that God is both almighty and that He is good.  He created all things and we look to Him for every blessing.  It all comes from God and God alone.  That’s what we confess in the Apostles Creed when we say, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

Well, if God is both all powerful and completely good, goes the atheist’s objection, why is the world He created full of suffering?  Yes, we know that suffering comes from our sinful condition and is part of this fallen world, but our answer needs to say more.  Could not God have created a world in which evil and suffering were impossible?

Actually, speculating as to what God might have done, or what kind of universe He might have created, is just not fruitful.  The universe God did create is the only one we know.

In the movie Bruce Almighty, if I remember correctly, God “allows” a man named Bruce to have all power.  For a while Bruce enjoys walking on water, doing miracles, etc.  But then the prayers start pouring in (all by email!).  At first, Bruce answers them all individually, but after a while he gets tired and just starts answering them all with “yes.”  As a result, the world quickly begins to break down in chaos (as I remember the movie).  When the laws of physics start collapsing, God intervenes and takes back control – thankfully!

Why is there suffering?  God is not the cause of evil, but here’s the key.  The world is full of conflicting wants, needs and demands, all by people who are sinfully turned in on themselves.  It’s a condition from which we cannot free ourselves. 

When we ask God, why am I suffering? we are usually protesting that we don’t deserve the treatment we think we are receiving.  We don’t like to admit that we are part of the problem and that the evil we deplore runs right through each of us. Ah, there’s the rub.  Evil is not just out there, it’s in here, in my heart and yours.  That’s what we have to confess when we are honest with God.

But what does God do about evil and suffering?  He comes.  He does not give a three part, logical, reasoned out answer.  God comes Himself.  That’s what we believe when we confess with St. Paul, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  There is no greater revelation of God in our suffering world than this: God Himself up there in Christ hanging dead on the cross.

There God in Jesus went to the bottom of all that ails us, all the sin that kills us.  It killed Him, too, but not for long.  He lived again, rising from the dead in wonderful, amazing victory.  God’s only answer to our question why? is the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So then, also for us, the way to life is through death and resurrection.  When we believers in Jesus suffer, we can remember that the pain is only a reminder that one day we will turn in this present mortal body, corrupted by sin as it is, and receive from the Lord Jesus a brand new body.  “This perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality … thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 57).

And when the Spirit of God working through God’s Law reveals to us the depths of our sin, He calls us to repent, that is, to be honest with God about our condition and to die to sin so that God may forgive us and raise us to life.  This daily dying begins with our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, continues life-long with confession and forgiveness, until we die for the last time and Jesus raises us to life forever (see Romans 6:1-11).

Apart from the cross of Christ, suffering is an unrelenting evil, but in the hand of God, and remembering the cross of Jesus, can we see our suffering as a tool in God’s hand to strip you and me of the things that don’t matter?  So that we concentrate all the more on what He has done for us?  On what He has in store for our future?  On the things that DO matter?  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Oh, I know we still cry out.  It still hurts.  The pain and grief, both physical and emotional, can seem unbearable at times.  But when we cry out, we are crying to the One who knows our condition.  “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).  We look to Him because He will give us His victory, whether now or later.

There’s my answer, and I’m sticking to it!  I’m going to hold onto His Word, receive His body and blood, remember His death and resurrection, and hear His promise, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19).

This is the greatest thing our almighty creating Father ever did: to send, in eternal love, His one and only Son for us.  JESUS is God’s final answer for us.  In Him God’s Spirit now calls those who follow Him to reach out in mercy for all who are suffering. This mercy grows from Jesus giving us a life together through His body and blood given and shed for us.  Alive in His name now and forever, we bear witness to all He has done for us by His suffering, death and resurrection.

Witness, mercy, life together – all from God’s final answer, in Jesus!

What On Earth Is God Up To?

Has that question ever crossed your mind listening to the news?  We know that Jesus is Lord of all for the sake of His Church and that nothing will happen outside of what He allows.  Evil cannot have free reign, no matter what things look like.  God is in control.  The problem is, it doesn’t always look that way.

Perhaps more to the point, what is God up to in your life?  Your congregation or school?  What does the new year of 2011 look like for you?  What will it bring?  What’s going on in your personal life and family?  Is there a plan?  Does God know what He’s doing?  We are tempted to ask, especially when everything is cloudy for us.

 To find out God’s ultimate plan, of course, we have to turn to His Word.  That’s the place where He lets us in on what He is really “up to.”  Just after Christmas, in my church we read from Ephesians 1.  Here are verses 9-10 (my translation, with comments):

“(He has) made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He put forward in Him (Christ), as a plan (an economy, a way of working things out) for the fullness of times, (a plan) to re-head all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth, in Him.”

What impresses us here?  Three times in these two verses Paul uses his favorite phrase in Ephesians 1 – “in Him” or “in Christ.”  God’s plans are always centered in Christ.  His purpose is “put forward” only in Christ.  Without Christ crucified and raised from the dead we cannot see or understand what God is up to.

Secondly, in Christ God reveals to us His ultimate goal, what He is really after, no matter what else we talk about.  God is in the process of re-heading all things in Christ.  If you say, “Wow, that’s cosmic!”  You’re right.  The NIV translates this verse, “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one Head, even Christ.”  (1:10b).  All things means the whole cosmos, everything that exists.  “To bring together under one Head” literally means, “to put the head on again.”

There was a time, you see, when the whole creation knew and lived under its Head.  All things were perfect and the whole universe showed Christ as Head.  “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Then sin entered in and the world lost its Head and began running around like the proverbial “chicken with its head cut off.”  There’s a graphic picture for the world without Christ: running franticly perhaps, but having no real direction (no head) and as good as dead (the life-blood spurting from the headless neck while the unfortunate creature runs aimlessly for a minute or so – excuse me for indulging you in my adolescent memory of butchering chickens with my brother).

Running aimlessly, as good as dead – what’s God’s plan to deal with this?  What is God up to now?  God aims to put the head on again!  To re-head all things in Christ.  How?

He gave Christ into death for us, gave Him up for us on the cross where He took all our sin and evil.  He raised Him to life, and with Him raised also us.  He now gives us His Word to bring life and to reunite us with Christ, our Head.

And THAT is what God is up to in your life, your school, your church, when you hear, read, ponder, study, pray and teach His Word.  Cosmic?  Yes, beyond your imagination.  When a child grows in faith, when anyone is baptized, when people hear the Word of God and take it to heart, when they receive His Body and Blood – it’s a cosmic event!  God is re-heading all things in Christ!  God is giving Christ as Head for YOU.

But when God unites you with Christ, He also unites you and me with everyone else who believes and is baptized into Christ.  We have a life together in Christ.  From that life we are called to be a witness to everything God has done to unite us with Christ and with each other.  And with Christ as our Head, together we reach out in mercy to a dying world so that we bear witness to this eternal plan of God.

So, no matter what else appears to be going on, take heart in this.  God has given you the privilege of being part of His cosmic plan.  You have your life from Christ,  He is our Head.  You are part of God’s purpose to bring life to many more, to unite “all things, things in heaven and things on earth,” in Christ. 

And there you have it!  Witness, mercy and life together in Christ for a new year!  That’s what God is “up to” here on earth, and in heaven above.

A blessed 2011 to one and all!

Pastor Mueller

Blessed Epiphany and New Year

Chapel Sermon at the International Center Concerning Predestination

Ephesians 1:3-14; Responsive Prayer 2; LSB 686

Pastor Collver

4 January 2011

I.N.I.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Do you remember waiting to hear your name called in school or on the playground to participate in an important event or to play on a team or in a game? Do you remember the agony of waiting to hear your name called? Do you remember the comfort and relief you felt when you heard, “I pick him.” “She was chosen to…” Imagine going to high school or college graduation not knowing if you would receive a diploma, but waiting in the audience to hear if your name would be called. As bad as these sorts of uncertainties are in our lives, how much worse it is to wonder and doubt if God has chosen you… how much worse to wonder if you are elect. Friends in Christ, your heavenly does not want you to be in doubt of your salvation. He wants you to have the comfort of knowing that he has called you by name in Holy Baptism. He wants you to know that you have been called, chosen, and elected from the foundation of the world to be his child.

The appointed text for today deals with the doctrine of Predestination. It seems that many people regard the topic of Predestination as mysterious, complicated, and perhaps frightening. Yet our Lord and Savior Jesus himself teaches about predestination in the Gospels, particularly when he said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16) In today’s reading, St. Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus, “he chose you before the foundation of the world … in love he predestined us.” The teaching about Predestination is intended for our instruction and for our comfort as Christians. It is, as Dr. Walther, the founder of the Missouri Synod said, “the golden thread that runs throughout the Scriptures.”

Now I suspect that you have rarely or perhaps never heard a sermon about Predestination. When the people of God do not hear about the blessed doctrine of Predestination they are denied a couple of important truths. First, not hearing about the doctrine of Predestination creates the opportunity for our sinful flesh to arise and convince us that we somehow contributed to our salvation or chose to follow Jesus. As Jesus himself clearly told his disciples, “You did not choose me.” Yet we as sinful human beings, and particularly Americans who believe our destiny belongs to us, we do not like being confronted with the reality that we do not have free will in matters related to God. We do not have the free will to choose to follow Jesus. This teaching strikes against our pride and offends our reason. We want to think we can follow Jesus, rather than recognizing we are “lost and condemned creatures” who are dead in our sins. When you feel that you are more righteous or holy than another person, or when you think you are more deserving than another person, know that these thoughts are not from the Holy Spirit. Repent and seek forgiveness from your Savior.

Second, not hearing about the doctrine of Predestination denies us of the tremendous comfort our Lord Jesus wants us to have in Him. Listen to the text again, “he chose us before the foundation of the world.” In eternity, before the Lord God created the heavens and the earth through His Almighty Word, your heavenly father chose you. This is the ultimate indicator that we did nothing to contribute to our salvation. Before the heavens and the earth existed, before there were atoms, molecules, or cells from which to form your body, the Lord God chose you. This, my friends, is pure, undeserved grace. Your heavenly Father chose you in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. In your Baptism, the Lord God put His Name upon you and made you His own.

There are many things in our lives that can make us doubt whether or not we have the favor of God. Perhaps, things are not unfolding in your life as you would hope. Perhaps, your life is riddled with sin and loneliness. You may be facing hardships and difficulties and wonder why you are afflicted with such things. Know that your Lord even predestined the sufferings and crosses in your life so that you may be conformed into the image of the crucified Son of God. Your Lord has promised to work all things for your good. In fact, even your hardships and sufferings are turned into a blessing for your ultimate good. You see, your Lord does not want you to doubt that he has chosen you when you face hardships. Know that He chose you and chose your sufferings for you so that nothing can ever take you from His hand.

When you face suffering in this life and doubt about the favor the Lord has for you, seek comfort in the cross of Jesus. Seek comfort in the forgiveness of sins. Seek comfort in knowing that you are baptized and that the Lord has put his Holy Name upon you. Know that your heavenly Father has chosen you before the foundation of the world in Christ Jesus.

Unlike waiting on the schoolyard playground, wondering if you will be chosen, if your name will be called. Your Lord Jesus has called you by Name and given you His Holy Spirit as the down payment, the guarantee of your inheritance in the Lord’s kingdom. Now we wait, not to find out if the Lord has chosen us, but we wait to realize what He has already given us in Christ Jesus. Take comfort in the promises of your Lord and in the forgiveness of your sins. Take comfort in the election and calling of your heavenly Father through Jesus Christ his Son.

Go in peace.

Amen.

Walther’s Prayer, “Concerning Predestination,” Selected Sermons, CPH, 1981: 173.

“Lord Jesus, You Son of the living God. You have come into this world to save sinners. Thanks, praise, glory and honor be to You today, on the day of Your gracious and saving birth, that You not only came into the world to save us poor sinners, but also that You as the Good Shepherd followed us, who all like sheep have gone astray, called us to Yourself through the shepherd’s voice of Your sweet Gospel, brought us to faith in You, and also preserved us in the same until today. Oh, how in time and eternity can we sufficiently thank You for this? We did not seek You, but You sought us; we did not come to You, but You came to us. How have we deserved it that You had mercy upon us rather than millions of others? Ah, it is Your undeserved grace alone that we have to thank for this. You saw us lying in the blood of our sins, and behold, Your heart broke, and You said to us: ‘You shall live!’ Oh, Lord Jesus, You today once gave Yourself for us; today we give ourselves to You. Here is our heart. Take it, cleanse and adorn it for Yourself as Your dwelling and rule in it until our death. For this, with all angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, thrones and dominions, with all blessed and chosen ones, we will in heaven give You thanks, glory, praise, and honor through all eternity. Amen.”

† Rev. James Linderman, former Texas District President

Rev. James R. Linderman, former president of the LCMS Texas District, died Jan. 1 of lung cancer at his home in Austin, Texas.  He was 75.

The funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 10 a.m. at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin.  Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 4, at Harrell Funeral Home, Austin.

As first vice-president of the Texas District, Rev. Linderman became the district’s president in 2001, filling the vacancy of Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, who was elected LCMS president.  Rev. Linderman served as district president until his retirement in 2006.

“He was a man who definitely loved his Lord, he loved his family so, and he loved his country,” said his wife of 52 years, Jean

He enjoyed playing golf, hunting, doing crossword puzzles, spending time at the family ranch and being with his family.

As the son of an oil driller, Rev. Linderman traveled with his parents throughout the southeast Texas and Louisiana oil fields during his youth.  When the family settled to farm and operate a ranch in west Texas, young Linderman attended a one-room school.  He later completed elementary and high school in Eola, Texas.

Rev. Linderman was a 1960 graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and held a master’s degree from the University of Kansas in speech, communications and organization.

He also was a graduate of the Basic and the Career U.S. Army Chaplain Schools; attended the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and studied Chinese and Russian history and politics at Long Island University.

Rev. Linderman served as assistant pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston (1960-62) before accepting a call to become an army chaplain.  His 25-year chaplaincy career included assignments with the 82nd Airborne Division, where he logged 57 parachute jumps, and with the Green Berets in Vietnam.  He also served chaplaincies in Germany and in Fort Hood, Texas.

He has received numerous awards and decorations, including two Legion of Merit medals, and U.S. and Vietnamese Senior Parachute Wings.

He retired from army chaplaincy in 1986 with the rank of colonel.  Following that, he served as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Athens, Texas (1986-90), and then as pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, Austin.  He retired from the ministry in 1998.

Rev. Linderman has been a member of numerous Texas District task forces, committees, commissions, boards and study groups.  He also served on the Board of Regents for Concordia University Texas, Austin, and more than six years as a member of the board of directors for Lutheran Social Services of the South, Austin.

He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Concordia University, Austin, in 2002, and was the first recipient of the school’s Beto Christian Leadership Award, presented in 2006.

In addition to his wife, Jean, Rev. Linderman is survived by two children — Lisa (John) Curlee of Georgetown, Texas, and Jeffery (Paula) Linderman of Austin; four grandchildren — Josh (Marisa) DeLong of Killeen, Texas; Justine DeLong of Schwertner, Texas; Kristin (Jerrod) Young of Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Quentin Curlee of Mustang, Okla.; and two great-grandchildren — Christian DeLong and Collin Young.

Memorials may be made to:

  • Linderman/Knippa Scholarship Fund, Concordia University Texas, 11400 Concordia University Drive, Austin TX 78726.
  • Lutheran Social Services of the South New Life Treatment Center, 8305 Cross Park Drive, Austin TX 78754.
  • Lutheran Foundation — Jim and Jean Linderman Endowment Fund, 7900 East Highway 290, Austin TX 78724.
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