In our review this week, Pastor Mark Tiefel takes us through the “The Great Divorce” by C. S. Lewis. At first glance, you might think this book has something to do with the ending of marriage, but by divorce, Lewis is describing the great divergence that exists between heaven and hell. In the book, Lewis pictures a number of people from hell who are permitted to take a bus trip into heaven and interact with the people living there. Lewis is not suggesting that such a trip between hell and heaven is actually possible, but he uses allegory to contrast the differences between the people in heaven and hell. As with anything written by C. S. Lewis, the reader will want to watch out for an emphasis on the human will and decision theology, but the book does a nice job of giving insight into the human nature. We hope you benefit from this review!
In our Word of the Week, Pastor Rob Sauers takes us through a study of the word pastor. There are a number of words that are commonly used to refer to the pastor of a church, including Reverend and Minister. The term pastor is derived from the Latin word meaning shepherd. Shepherd is the term Paul uses in Acts 20:28 where he says, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” We find many of the qualification for pastors listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 2 Timothy 2:24-25, and Titus 1:5-9. Maybe the best summary of the work of the pastor is found in 2 Timothy 4:2 – “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” Your pastor’s main responsibility is to bring the Word of God to you, and this is something he is happy to do whether it’s through sermons, Bible studies, visits over the phone, or in private home devotions. Let your pastor know how he can serve you. And also pray for your pastor. Pray that he would be faithful to God’s Word and that the Lord would give him a love for souls that motivates his work among God’s people.
In our Bible Study, Pastors Rob Sauers and Nathanael Mayhew take us through the book of 1 Peter. This epistle is written by the Apostle Peter most likely near the end of his life. He is writing to those Christians who are “sojourners and pilgrims” in this world (2:11). Though this letter deals quite a bit with the suffering and persecution Christians can expect to face in this world, it often, and rightly called the “Letter of Hope.” That hope is the Christian’s serene and confident dependence on God that is based on the unshakable certainty of the resurrection of the dead which is begun and guaranteed in the resurrection of Jesus. As we study through this letter, we will be encouraged that no matter what suffering comes our way (and we can be assured that suffering will come) we can have a confident hope through our Savior. May the Lord bless our study!
When we think of idolatry we often imagine it to be an easy sin to detect and stay clear of. Thoughts of carved images and statues from the Old Testament come to our minds and certainly no good Christian succumbs to such things. But, there is another side of idolatry that is more subtle. It’s the type of idolatry that takes something good and makes it more important than God. This idolatry doesn’t involve formal worship or a confession of faith, yet it is just as dangerous. Martin Luther once said, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust, is in reality your God.” Our “Not Your God” series takes a look at several modern day idols that can wrestle away your heart faster than you may think.
Not Your God – Freedom
We start off this series with a tricky topic. We have to be careful when defining freedom because the Bible does talk about it as one of the primary reasons that Jesus came to earth. Galatians 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (NASB).” If it seems wrong to think that freedom in Christ is idolatrous that’s okay because it isn’t.
The type of freedom we guard against is different. It comes from a different source than faith and it centers on a different existence than faith. This is the freedom of citizenship among nations of this world. Now, you might be thinking to yourself that freedom in this sense is not a bad thing either. It may not be as important to a Christian as the freedom of faith, but it is still a virtuous thing. If you think this you are correct. Anyone who has grown up in Western culture has been taught to value freedom. Citizens of the United States have fought for this freedom and continue to. And it is a noble thing to stand for.
The problem we face is when our pursuit of this nationalistic freedom overshadows the freedom that Christ won for us on the cross – because they are different. Freedom in this world is a temporary blessing that can be taken away. It serves a purpose for here and now but not for eternity. All rights have an expiration date as all things of this world do. The unique thing about faith in Christ is that while it liberates us from sin, death, and condemnation of the law, (eternal blessings) it does not give us the right to do whatever we chose. In fact, faith actually binds us to our Master even more than before we believed because it engenders a desire to serve God. God’s path of righteousness is much narrower than the world’s path of self-proclaimed rights. Paul described the freedom of the gospel in this way, Romans 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (NIV). You see, no matter who you are and what you believe, you are serving something or someone.
Think of the difference in this way:
Earthly freedom leads me to think I have the right to do whatever I choose,
which leads to an existence without boundaries,
which leads to sorrow and captivity under sin.
Faith freedom leads me to believe that obeying God is the best path for my life,
which leads to an existence within the confines of God’s Word,
which leads to greater blessings for my life and greater glory given to God.
Freedom becomes idolatrous when a person uses it to convince themselves that they are completely independent from any servitude in the world, which is also a great irony because the illusion of total, personal independence is one of the most enslaving philosophies ever. When Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me… (Matthew 12:30 ESV) He dispelled any notion of absolute autonomy. We are always serving something or someone. We live at a time when freedom is offered as an excuse to pursue any self-edifying pleasure. That belief takes something which is noble and forces it to serve as a cover for sinful purposes. This is the freedom that becomes more important than God.
Arguments abound today about free speech and freedom of expression but no one considers the consequences of this so-called freedom. America is becoming more and more polarized on what is acceptable when it comes to expressing or protesting this freedom we have. What our nation has forgotten is that if our highest pursuits and goals are only in temporary things, if there is no higher spiritual mooring for our lives, then we will simply fight and struggle in the same muck and mire that all civilizations before us have plodded through. We can call it the pursuit of freedom if we want – that sounds nice. We can claim to be a greater, more sophisticated civilization – that will calm our insecurities for a time. We can say that we have the right to do what we want – we may from earthly leaders but not from God. Whatever excuses we offer, we will continue to nitpick and fight against our differences if we don’t have anything greater or more important to appeal to than our personal freedom. That’s because we’ll be serving an idol, even if we try to convince ourselves it is something noble.
Remember what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34 NASB).” We are fallen creatures. We can see the worth in something like nationalistic, earthly freedom but if we take it and use it as a cover for sin or a balm for all problems it will be a mirage of true hope. Peter, himself, warned: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves (1 Peter 2:16 NIV). There is only one path to true peace and liberty. This path is not freedom apart from God, however, but freedom given from God and received by faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32 NKJV).”
Freedom in this world is not your god. Don’t let it’s trappings and pursuits over-shadow what the real, true, flesh and blood God did when He came to earth for you. It is for that freedom that Christ set you free.
In our Bible Study, Pastors Rob Sauers and Neal Radichel discuss the Imprecatory Psalms. The word imprecation refers to a spoken curse, and so these are Psalms which speak curses against the enemies of God and His people. One of the more striking examples of this type of Psalm is Psalm 137:8-9 – O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock! Christians have struggled for centuries with questions of how to deal with these Psalms, and so our discussion focuses on how we should understand and use them. May the Lord bless our study!
In our Word of the Week, Pastor Mark Tiefel examines the word “tragedy.” When we think of the terrorist attacks that occurred sixteen years ago on September 11, 2001, many of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when those events occurred. The images from that day are burned into our minds. That is the effect tragedy has on our lives. Many in our country are currently dealing with tragedies due to hurricanes and wildfires, and people around the world are suffering due to earthquakes and other natural disasters. At these times, some people have trouble reconciling how God can be a loving God and yet allow these tragedies to occur. As we consider this word, we will see that while God does allow these tragedies to come into the lives of His people, He is indeed a loving God. He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and because of this, the tragedies that come into our lives can actually be used as tools. James 1:2-3 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” When we face the tragedies of life, Jesus invites us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And so, we wait and trust in Him confidently by faith in the face of tragedy.
In our Word of the Week on this Labor Day, Pastor Nathanael Mayhew takes a look at the Biblical perspective on work or labor. Many people in our world today view labor as a burden or a negative. But God reveals something very different. God has given work as a blessing to mankind. Even in the perfect world God gave Adam work to do in naming the animals and tending the garden. After sin entered the world that labor would become more difficult, but it still can bring satisfaction, and be a blessing to our neighbor. Throughout Scripture, God emphasizes the importance and blessing of labor. But labor also has its limitations. While work is a gift from God, we are not able achive our own salvation before God through our own labor. What we were not able to do, Jesus has done for us. Through His labor (His perfice life and sacrificial death) our debt of sin before God has been paid in full. We are invited to come to Jesus for needed spiritual rest, knowing He has done it all. There, at the cross of Jesus we can find rest for our souls. On this Labor Day we thank God for the blessing of work in this life, but even more, we celebrate the work of Christ for us!
Today on Burden and Blessing, Pastors Nathanael Mayhew and Rob Sauers answer the question, “Why go to church?” As our society has become more secularized and as more and more events are scheduled for Sunday mornings, many people struggle to make regular church attendance a priority. Sadly, when we miss church, we miss out on the blessings the Lord wants to give us that we cannot find anywhere else – those blessings we receive through Word and Sacrament, through Confession and Absolution, and through fellowship with fellow Christians. Our study will focus on the special blessings our Lord gives us through the community of believer in church. We will also consider what church attendance says about how much of a priority we make God and His Word in our lives. We pray that this study will encourage you to see the blessings our Lord wants to give us through the church.