The Hide and Seek of Advent and Christmas

The other day my youngest child Sarah was trying to play Hide and Seek with my wife. It was so hilarious! She doesn’t play by the usual rules all the time. On this occasion she actually TOLD her mother that she was supposed to hide in the office closet while she (Sarah) counted. Now, my wife, being the trickster that she is, decided to hide behind the door instead. After she counted, Sarah came in with her eyes twinkling, asking the questions “Where could she be? Has anyone seen Mommy?” as she looked under the desk and behind the chair and around the corner… And then finally, with gleeful expectation, she yanked open the door to the closet and shouted “There you are!” – only to be heartbroken when her mother wasn’t there. She burst out crying and her mother had to come out of hiding to console her. As soon as she calmed down enough, Mother agreed to play by the “rules”. Leaving nothing to chance, this time Sarah took her mother by the hand, led her to the closet, shoved her in, and closed the door. Now everything was happy again as she went in the other room, counted to ten and once again went through the motions of looking for – and finally FINDING her mother RIGHT where she knew her to be.

Sometimes I wonder about Advent and Christmas. Why such silliness? Sometimes I (frankly) get tired of it. “Preparing” for the Christ Child to be born? Preparing for our King to come? A game that we know the end of. So why play it?

But then I think of what the rest of life is and the games we play with it. They are games we really don’t know the end of. They are risky. They are often scary. Chaotic. They end in tragedy.

How refreshing and wonderful it is, then, to participate in an ancient Hide and Seek of Advent and Christmas: the “playing” out of history, the re-“playing” out of the story of salvation, the story that we know so well. We know that we will find Jesus in the manger and this brings us peace and joy in our lives. We KNOW that we will not be disappointed at the end of our search. Salvation is indeed right in the midst of us!

Just as we know these things even before we start “playing”, we also know what it all means: that we ourselves will be found – hiding in the shelter of the Most High God. And, oh, yes! There will be one who will NOT be able to find us: The Devil!

And so we giggle and laugh in heavenly glee! Praise be to our Lord and Incarnate Savior Jesus.

The new hope of our area: Gambling?

With much fanfare the new casino opened at the race tracks in Wilkes Barre this past week. Over 1500 stood outside in the rain to be the first to crash the doors. It boasts almost 1100 “gaming” machines and is open 365 days a year. But of interest is that this casino is only temporary while the much larger (2000 machines) casino is being built.

Where do we begin on this subject? Does anyone know or care that the church has spoken on the issue of gambling (we won’t call it “gaming”)? Here is a short primer:

1) Gambling (specifically) is not addressed in scripture. As such the church is a bit at a disadvantage in speaking on the issue. It cannot state plainly and simply that every lottery ticket bought and every throw of the lever is a sin. It is conceivable that an individual can participate in gambling and not sin.
2) The church (at least our LCMS) has voted in convention and issued excellent statements concerning the very real and dangerous implications gambling can have for us personally and as a society.

There are many things to consider for the Christian when it comes to gambling and our participation in it:

1) Issues surrounding the 9th and 10th commandments concerning coveting.
2) Issues surrounding the 7th commandment concerning stealing (getting something for nothing – at the expense of someone else!)
3) Issues of good stewardship of what is God’s.
4) Issues of not encouraging OTHERS into sin (even if you can keep yourself free of it!)
5) Issues of the health of the society in general.

Frankly, I cannot, for the life of me, consider how a Christian can in good knowledge and sound mind participate in any kind of gambling. (Of course there is a difference between Mohegan Sun and the Bingo game at the nursing home for a few pennies or even the fund raising raffle for a beautiful painting.)

I do know that there are many in the congregation who participate in gambling activities, and I can only hope that they might be persuaded with reason and sound examination of scriptures and their own hearts, that these activities are most likely not something they should participate in. There are going to be some who will get rather upset with the judgments of the church on this matter. Of course the more strenuously a person objects, the more evidence there is that that person has a real problem gambling!

Consider this fact: The gambling industry in the US: $550 Billion.
And then THIS fact: Total contribution to charity: $158 Billion ($88 Billion to Religious charities)

Yesterday the Catholic Diocese released a study which proposes the closure of a huge slew of its area schools due to lack of students. Unfortunately, enrollment in our Lutheran schools nationwide has also taken a rather terrific nose dive over the last few years. All this is further evidence that, generally speaking, many have forsaken the Christian faith (no matter what they say or like to believe about themselves!).

The question for each of us: What will be our personal commitment be to the faith and the acting out of the life that Jesus gives us through his cross and the forgiveness of sins? Let us stand to the end for the God who stands for us and holds NOT our sins against us!

LORD, COME QUICKLY!

Attached is a document of interest concerning gambling!

Mercy Notes

Pastor Ted Haggart’s “Fall from Grace”?

The news broke terribly a week or so ago about the very popular pastor of a church in Colorado (with 14,000 members!) who (after accusations were made) admitted to sexual sins and resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and was relieved of his duties at the church he started in his basement many years ago.

This man was, of course, a very popular Bible teacher and preacher who espoused biblical positions against homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, etc., etc. A while ago I listened to an interview of him on KFUO, the LCMS radio station out of St. Louis. In that interview he made clear the general thrust of the “Evangelical” churches in the doctrine of works. He stressed how important it was for Christians to be focused and blessed in their holy lives. If you listen to his sermons in general, they are all about the blessed and holy life of the Christian and how to cultivate it. There is nothing unimportant about a sanctified Christian life. However, what is missing from Ted Haggart’s preaching is the clear Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Forgiveness of sins and the trusting of Jesus’ righteousness instead of our own. In the interview he claimed that he himself had not sinned that day as of the time of the interview, and that it was possible to keep oneself generally free from sin. I guess he proved himself wrong.

But what I gasp at are the headlines which are characterized by the line “fall from grace”. Somehow Ted Haggart has fallen from grace! Perhaps that is true if it referred to his relationship with men who only know of works righteousness. But unfortunately the inference is made in all too many minds that somehow Ted Haggart has fallen from the grace of God because of his sin. Perhaps his own teaching encouraged that kind of thinking. That is why I love being a Lutheran. I truly believe the passages like this in scripture:

Rom. 11:5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

Grace is NOT DESERVED! The Grace of God is by definition an undeserved GIFT! Be GLAD you are a Lutheran: A sinner and yet a saint! A life of continual repentance and forgiveness steeped in the life of Jesus Christ our Savior!

Reflections on the state of the nation.

So… things are sorting themselves out these days after the election…

Is the nation better now that the voters have spoken? Perhaps!

The Republicans paid for their sins of corruption! Being in power is a difficult thing to manage for a long time. But woe to those who might think that Democrats are somehow immune to corruption!

Unfortunately, if the war was a major reason people voted for the Democrats, I suspect they might be very disappointed. The Democrats have never had a “plan” to get out of Iraq. They just complained about how bad the situation was and made out that they could somehow fix the problem. I somehow don’t believe the folks who say that the Republicans don’t want to get out of Iraq as much as anyone else. The Republicans knew that the war was unpopular and that it was sinking their party. If they HAD a good plan to get out, wouldn’t you have thought they would have put it into action with all due urgency? The fact is that the situation IS terrible, but there are NO easy answers! Obviously just pulling out of Iraq is the last thing any responsible leader would encourage… The country at this point would simply implode (or explode?) and who would come into the vacuum? IRAN or SYRIA! JUST the kind of countries we want tipping the balance of power in the middle east!

Like the church prays: “COME QUICKLY, LORD!”

The whole situation is a testimony to the fact that going to war (even for the right reasons) is usually not a great idea. The results are always much worse than we ever can foresee.

As for the rest of the story of a divided government, it seems to be shaping up for a bruising fight between the Dems and Bush. Whether anything can get done in Washington over the next two years we will have to wait and see, but I suspect not much!

As the saying goes (roughly): Democracy is absolutely a horrible form of government. It is just that the options are much worse!

Thoughts on the election and sinning boldly.

As always, the run up to the election this year has been trying on all of us. It will all be such a nicer place to live next Wednesday – no matter who wins the election! We all cry out: How can it get any worse? And then it does.

As Christians we can get jaded and despondent as easily as anyone. We look at the candidates and we can’t like any of them. We can reasonably argue ourselves out of even TRYING to figure out the issues and the candidates, much less actually taking the time to vote.

But Christian duty really DOES call us to do what we really don’t want to: participate in the governance of our land. We pray for peace and civility in our worship and hopefully in our daily lives. We all know that it is important. But truly, it is impossible to pray for an end and then not participate in what it demands.

The Christian vote is a vote not simply for a particular candidate or a platform or policy, but a vote for the participation of God in the governance of this land. In our democratic land, you and I ARE the hand of God to bring peace and justice to it. Praise God for it!

Finally, this past week at our Reformation Service, I quoted Martin Luther in his charge that Christians are to “Sin Boldly”. This is especially relevant in the elections coming up. There is no candidate who is really worthy of the call to public office. Every single one of them is sinful and a hypocrite. Our vote really is a choice between lesser evils. But we vote and participate in this sin “boldly” and with true hope in Christ’s already accomplished victory on the cross, the forgiveness of our sin, and the assurance that God works all things for good for those who are called by His grace to love and honor Him.

So vote! There actually is a pretty good (non-partisan) voter’s guide at the back of the church. We have the privilege to apply the just and righteous principles of God to our society in the best way we can. The Lord forgive and be with us all!

The Message of the Church Is not Communicated

A few months ago I conducted a survey of the residents of the neighborhood around the church. I shared the results in a sermon, but they languished on my desk for all this time, waiting for the chance to get them down more permanently. Before they get tossed into the garbage, here they are:

The question: What is the essential message of the Church? (Whether you believe it or not, or what your feelings on it are.)

These are the answers (verbatim) given by 28 individuals who were on the porch or on the street randomly:

I don’t know
Be spiritual
Respect
to learn about God
believe in God
Peace
Believe in God
Teach
No idea
Have faith in the man who died for you and to abide by him and make it to the kingdom come
Following and Teaching of Christ
Don’t sin / be good
to be a good person
Peace on Earth
Teach about God
Jesus Christ is living amongst us
Teachings of God and Jesus
Have Faith
Jesus and the Lord’s love
Discrimination
Don’t know
Do good and be saved
Love, Peace and Unity
Family Values
That people to believe that He was here and not fake
Tolerant of everyone
lead a good life
live right and treat other as yourself
Salvation/Hope

COMMENTARY: Notable amongst these answers is the almost complete absence of Grace, Jesus Christ, Sin and Forgiveness. So prominent is “being good” and works righteousness. Everyone thinks they know what the church is all about. In reality they have not a clue!

Perhaps we all need to remind ourselves of what the essential message of the church really is, and work to share that message with our neighbors and friends and family.