Thursday, July 31, 2014

Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians

By Paul Marshall (Reviewed with Molly Ziegler Hemingway)

Christians are the world’s most widely persecuted religious group, according to studies by the Pew Research Center, Newsweek, and the Economist, among others.

A woman is caught with a Bible and publicly shot to death. An elderly priest is abducted and never seen again. Three buses full of students and teachers are struck by roadside bombs. These are not casualties of a war. These are Christian believers being persecuted for their faith in the twenty-first century.

Many Americans do not understand that Christians today are victims in many parts of the world. Even many Western Christians, who worship and pray without fear of violent repercussions, are unaware that so many followers of Christ live under governments and among people who are often openly hostile to their faith. They think martyrdom became a rarity long ago.

Persecuted soundly refutes these assumptions. This book offers a glimpse at the modern-day life of Christians worldwide, recounting the ongoing attacks that rarely make international headlines.

Molly Ziegler Hemingway
As Western Christians pray for the future of Christ’s church, it is vital that they understand a large part of the world’s Christian believers live in danger. Persecuted gives documented accounts of the persecution of Christians in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and former Soviet nations. It contains vivid stories of men and women who suffer abuse because of their faith in Jesus Christ, and tells of their perseverance and courage..

Persecuted is far more than a thorough and moving  study of this global pattern of violence—it is a cry for freedom and a call to action.

Son of Hamas

Worship Notes for Pentecost 8 (Commemoration of Joanna, Mary, and Salome, Myrrhberers) - 2014

Thursday after Pentecost 7
Commemoration of Joseph of Arimathea
July 31, 2014

The Lord be with you

As today is the Commemoration of Joseph of Arimathea, I thought I would start off with a quick word about him. This Joseph (not to be confused with Patriarch Joseph or Joseph the husband of Mary) is mentioned in all four Gospels. He came from a small village called Arimathea in the hill country of Judea. He was a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council in Jerusalem. He was presumably wealthy, since he owned his own unused tomb in a garden not far from the site of Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:60). Joseph, a man waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went to Pontius Pilate after the death of Jesus and asked for Jesus’ body (Mark 15:43). Along with Nicodemus, Joseph removed the body and placed it in the tomb (John 19:38-39). There public devotion contrasted greatly to the fearfulness of the disciples who had abandoned Jesus.

This coming Sunday is the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. It is also the Commemoration of Joanna, Mary, and Salome, Myrrhberers. This commemoration is new to our liturgical calendar. It is an adaptation of the commemoration in the Orthodox Churches of the myrrhbearing women Mary Magdalene, Mary Theotokos (the virgin Mary), Joanna, Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Susanna, Mary of Bethany, and Martha of Bethany. They celebrate them on the Third Sunday of Easter. Obviously the name was put on “a diet.” These ladies are also know in some traditions as “the faithful women.” Joanna, Mary, Salome, and the other women visited the tomb of Jesus Easter morning (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10). Joanna was the wife of Chuza, a steward in Herod’s household (Luke 8:3). Mary, the mother of James (the son of Alphaeus), was another of the women who faithfully provided care for Jesus and His disciples from the time of His Galilean ministry through His burial after the crucifixion. Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27:56), joined with the women both at the cross and in bringing the spices to the garden tomb. These faithful women have been honored in the Church through the centuries as examples of humble and devoted service to the Lord. We will remember these ladies with a special collect Sunday.

For our liturgy we will be using the Service of Prayer and Preaching (page 260). This is one of those services that use the Psalm of the Day instead of the Introit of the Day. The readings then are: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26 (antiphon 26); Isaiah 55:1–5; Romans 9:1–13; Matthew 14:13–21. The Lord’s Supper is not offered in this service. The sermon text will be the antiphon from our Psalm. The sermon is titled “What is Hesed?”

We will sing three hymns. Our opening hymn will be “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (LSB 524). Our sermon Hymn will be “How Wide the Love of Christ” (LSB 535). Our closing hymn will be “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (LSB 525). Our sermon hymn is actually new to us. It was selected by the hymnal review committee as one worth learning. This Sunday will mark the first time we are singing it and it will be a part of our Sunday worship for four weeks. I posted a Bible Study inspired by the hymn yesterday.

Below is a video of our closing hymn, “Crown Him With Many Crowns,” sung by the Lutheran Warbler.

Our Sunday morning Bible hour begins at 9:00 am. We will the fourth and last chapter of Ruth. Everyone is welcome.

What now follows is first a summary of Sunday’s lessons, provided by the LC-MS, and then the actual lessons. I’ve included the Psalm.

Christ Jesus, the Living Bread from Heaven, Feeds the Children of God

By the Gospel of “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5), we are “the children of God” (Rom. 9:8), “not because of works but because of him who calls” (Rom. 9:11). Therefore, “listen diligently” and “hear, that your soul may live.” By His sacrificial death in His flesh and blood, He has made “an everlasting covenant” for us. Since He now calls us to Himself, we come to Him “and eat what is good, and delight … in rich food” (Is. 55:2–3). He has come with divine compassion to save us from sin and death and to feed us with Himself. As our Lord Jesus once took bread, “said a blessing,” broke the loaves “and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds” (Matt. 14:18–19), He also now takes bread, blesses it by His Word to be His very body, and distributes it to His Church by the hand of His called and ordained servants. Just as “they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces,” there is more than enough for His whole Church to eat and to be satisfied (Matt. 14:20).

Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26; antiphon 26
1         Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever.
2         Give thanks to the God of gods,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever.
3         Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever;

4         to him who alone does great wonders,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever;
5         to him who by understanding made the heavens,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever;
6         to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever;
7         to him who made the great lights,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever;
8         the sun to rule over the day,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever;
9         the moon and stars to rule over the night,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever; …

23        It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever;
24        and rescued us from our foes,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever;
25        he who gives food to all flesh,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever.

26        Give thanks to the God of heaven,
                   for his steadfast love endures forever.

Isaiah 55:1–5
1         “Come, everyone who thirsts,
                   come to the waters;
          and he who has no money,
                   come, buy and eat!
          Come, buy wine and milk
                   without money and without price.
2         Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
                   and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
          Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
                   and delight yourselves in rich food.
3         Incline your ear, and come to me;
                   hear, that your soul may live;
          and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
                   my steadfast, sure love for David.
4         Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
                   a leader and commander for the peoples.
5         Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
                   and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
          because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
                   for he has glorified you.

Romans 9:1–13
1         I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—2that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
6         But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Matthew 14:13–21
13        Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Some Quick Notes:

  • Our “Jesse’s Supplies” drive will start Tuesday, August 5. You can still join in this effort, which is in harmony with our Synod’s three emphasizes, “Witness, Mercy, and Life Together.” It will only take an hour or so of you time on August 5th and again on August 12.

  • Our Summer Series, Resolving Everyday Conflict,” has only two meetings left. This series certainly fits in the “Life Together” category in Synod’s emphasis. We will continue to meet every Wednesday.

Well, I pray we will see you Sunday morning.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jesse's Supplies

The Lord be with you

Lamb of God Lutheran has initiated a community drive to collect school supplies for Jesse Boyd Elementary school. School supplies can be anything elementary school children might need, pencils, paper, notebooks, Kleenex, glue sticks, and the like.

On Tuesday, August 5, members of Lamb of God and their friends will gather at church at 6:30 PM and receive their assigned areas. Then we will disperse, placing flyers at the neighborhood homes. God willing, people will acquire some school supplies to donate. Then, on Tuesday, August 12, our neighbors will leave the school supplies out for us to pick up. We will again meet at church at 6:30 PM and each person will retrace their steps, picking up the supplies that have been left out.

The gathered supplies will be delivered to Jesse Boyd on Wednesday for the school to distribute as needed.

There is still time to sign up as a neighborhood runner. If you want to contribute something but you are not in our neighborhood, just contact the church and we will see what we can work out.

Our denomination has had a three-fold emphasis for the last couple of years: Witness, Mercy and Life Together. This little project fits right in.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

How Wide the Love of Christ

A Bible Study Inspired by a Hymn
Text: Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr., 1923-2007
(Lutheran Service Book 535)

(Primary Biblical Reference: Ephesians 3:17b–18)

How wide the love of Christ!
It knows not class or race
But holds our one humanity
Within its broad embrace

How long the love of Christ!
Its patience will not cease
Until this broken world is bound
In everlasting peace.

How high the love of Christ!
Beyond all thought it soars.
And yet upon our passing lives
Unmeasured mercy pours.

How deep the love of Christ,
Descending to a cross!
He bears within His wounded hands
All human pain and loss.

All praise to You, O Christ,
For love whose depth and height,
Whose length and breadth fill time and space
With endless life and light!

“How Wide the Love of Christ” was written by Herman G. Stuempfle Jr. (1923-2007). Stuempfle was a pastor, professor, seminary president, and wildly published author of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. After retiring he wrote the bulk of his estimated 550 hymns, of which at least half have been published. The Lutheran Service Book has 15 of his hymns. (You can find them listed on page 1001 under his name.) Stuempfle was always mindful of the link between preaching and hymn writing, saying “hymns are the sung testimony to God’s mighty acts of grace and judgment,” and creating hymns always remained for him a part of his “fundamental vocation to communicate the Gospel.”

The fact that there are 15 of Stuemphfle’s hymns in LSB accents two points I’ve often made. 1) Church music is the most ecumenical aspect of the faith. Write a good hymn and it will get used, even if the people using are in different denominations. Stuemphfle was a member of the ELCA, a denomination the LC-MS is not in fellowship with and with which we have some significant theological differences. Nonetheless we use these Stuemphfle hymns because they have sound theology and are good poetry. 2) You should not judge a whole denomination by its leaders. Those leaders may represent the majority voice, but not necessarily the voice of all. And now, on to the study.

In Ephesians 3:17 Paul shares with the Church some of what he is praying for in reference to them and us (see 3:14, 20). He prays that we have a specific foundation, which is to be “rooted and grounded in love.” This is not just any kind of love, but God’s love for us in Christ our Lord. So we aren’t talking about how I love a good salad, or how a young couple might fall in love, or how someone loves their best friend. This is the self-giving agape love that flows from the Divine heart. It is the love that compelled Father to send the Son so that the world might be saved (John 3:16). So, in verse 4, we sing “How deep the love of Christ, Descending to a cross! He bears within His wounded hands, All human pain and loss.” Actually every verse in “How Wide the Love of Christ” refers to this amazing love.

In refering to this love which is the foundation for us, Stuempfle works off of Ephesians 3:18-19 to get his wide, long, high, and deep images:

 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Verse one sings of how “wide” the love of Christ is. Verse two sings of how “long” the love of Christ is. Verse three sings of how “high” the love of Christ is. Verse four sings of how “deep” the love of Christ is. Verse five combines it all.

Build on this foundation of Christ’s love our approach to the fallen world is utterly changed. So Paul can write to the Galatians:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)

First we should notice how Paul squarely places the origin of our relationship with Christ, our being built on the foundation of his love, in our baptism. Through baptism God’s forgiveness and love comes to us, even to children (Acts 2:38-39). Of course Paul does not intend to neglect the power of God manifest through his word (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). This foundation of Christ’s love (“rooted and grounded”) destroys the divisions fallen humanity clings to (slave, free, male, female, Jew, Gentile, Republican, Democrat, Southerner, Northerner, etc.). As Stuempfle put it, “It knows not class or race, But holds our one humanity, Within its broad embrace.” The Church is unique, different from anything the world has to offer.

This love of Christ is the very definition of patience, as Peter reminds us:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

The hymn reflects this patience in verse two. That the goal is the maximum number of individuals reaching heaven is reflected in the hymn when we sing of “everlasting peace.” Such peace is found only through Christ. It begins partially here and continues into eternity.

Though the hymn focuses on the love of Christ, we need to remember that none of this is possible without the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us through the Word and Sacraments. That we are built on and grounded in the foundation of Christ’s redemptive love is the Spirit’s work.

Without the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament (the Means of Grace), we would be unable to grasp “the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love in Christ Jesus. But with that work we can be strengthened “to comprehend” it. The Scriptures are to be searched so that the Holy Spirit can help us to grow in faith and understanding. I should point out that “Word” is not limited to the Bible. All good sermons, good Bible studies, good books, good liturgies, good hymns, carry that word. Shoot, even some not so good sermons, Bible studies, books, liturgies and hymns, carry nuggets the Spirit can use.

The results of availing ourselves of the Means of Grace is that we will more readily know the love of Christ and be filled with the “fullness of God,” gladly living as His sanctified people (Ephesians 3:19). To connect to the love of God in Christ Jesus is to connect to who we are becoming as we are transformed into his image (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

This blessing comes to those in the Holy Christian Church. Notice what Paul says about it in Ephesians 4:4:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—

Through God’s grace we are in the Church. We are to regard all believers as being one in Christ, part of the one Holy, Christian and Apostolic Church, the Body of Christ. All are the beneficiaries of the patience of God. All are worshiping our mysterious and loving God. All are recipients of his great mercy. All are justified by grace through faith in him and his atoning death. All are destined for eternity with God. So we join with all the saints throughout time to praise Christ, “whose length and breadth fill time and space, with endless life and light!”

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Worship Notes for Sunday, Pentecost 7 - 2014

Thursday after Pentecost 6
July 24, 2014

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. For our liturgy we will be using setting four of the Divine Service (page 203). We will be modifying the service by including a running commentary (or dialogue) on the various parts of the liturgy. So, Pastor will conduct the liturgy as normal but will pause throughout the service as our commentators share with us about the various portions of the service. Thank you to Karen Hampton, Cyril Kindrick, Wayne Mabb, Lynn Higgins and Kitty Rickert, for agreeing to help by reading the commentary. To accommodate the additional dialogue the sermon will be quite short (under five minutes). The main message Sunday will actually be carried by the liturgy and the dialogue interspersed in the service.

The Scripture readings for the day are: Deuteronomy 7:6-9; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52. The sermon is titled “How Odd”. The text is Romans 8:29.

As with all services named “Divine” in our hymnal, setting four is a Communion service. You may prepare to receive the Sacrament by reviewing the Christian Questions with their answers found in most any copy of Luther’s Small Catechism and beginning on page 329 of Lutheran Service Book. Our opening hymn will be “Lord, This Day We’ve Come to Worship” (LSB 911). This will be the last week we will be learning this hymn and it now moves into the “known” category. I did a Bible study on the hymn back on July 7. You can easily find it by going to the “Bible Studies Based on Hymns” page of the blog. (All pages are listed near the top of the blog on the right-hand side.) The sermon hymn will be “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (LSB 411). Our closing hymn will be “Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name We Raise” (LSB 917). Our distribution hymns will be “O Savior, Precious Savior” (LSB 527), “I Love Your Kingdom, Lord” (LSB 651) and “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing” (LSB 643). I posted a Bible study based on “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing” yesterday. You can scroll down to find it, or use the same method used to find “Lord, This Day We’ve Come to Worship.” By the way, currently I’m posting the Bible Studies Based on Hymns by hymn number.

Below is a video of Westminster Presbyterian chancel choir leading their congregation in our final distribution hymn, “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing.”

Our Sunday morning Bible hour begins at 9:00 am. We will continue in chapter three of Ruth. Everyone is welcome.

What now follows is first a of the summary of Sunday’s lessons, provided by the LC-MS, and then the actual lessons.

The Son of God Has Redeemed Us for Himself
with His Holy and Precious Blood

The Lord our God has chosen us to be “his treasured possession,” not because of any strength in us, but solely “because the Lord loves” us (Deut. 7:6–8). He is faithful, and He “keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deut. 7:9). He has searched for us and found us in love, and He has bestowed on us “great value” by the great price that He has paid on the cross (Matt. 13:45–46). In His joy, He has redeemed us by His cross and gathered us into His Kingdom by the Gospel. Now we are “hidden in a field,” covered by the cross and subject to the persecution of the world (Matt. 13:44), not for destruction, but “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Since we “are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), and because Christ Jesus died, rose again and lives to intercede for us “at the right hand of God” (Rom. 8:34), there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

Deuteronomy 7:6-9
6         “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.

Romans 8:28-39
28        And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31        What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written,
          “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
                   we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37        No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 13:44-52
44        “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45        “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47        “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51        “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Some Quick Notes:

  • As I prepare these worship notes the August newsletter isn’t quite finished. However it will be within a day or so and will be posted on the blog prior to Sunday. Paper copies will be available for those who do not have internet access this coming Sunday.

  • Our Summer Series, Resolving Everyday Conflict,” has now met five times. We will continue to meet every Wednesday, through August 13.

Well, I pray we will see you Sunday morning.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert