Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sermon for October 25-26

The Festival of the Reformation (October 31)
October 25-26, 2008
Text: Matthew 11:12-19

Dear Friends in Christ,
Throughout the history of the world there have been wars and rumors of war. Rarely are the causes of war pure. Yet rulers of all stripes must weigh the interests and needs of their nations. They must consider the defense of their nation. They must weigh the dangers in the world around them. And sometimes rulers lead counties to war based upon bad information or poor judgement, though with the best of intentions. In our age we find ourselves in a religious war we did not choose and would prefer not to fight. We can protest all that we wish that we did not go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan for religious reasons. Yet, we are fighting there because they are Muslims and we are not. Yes we can say that the causes of the conflict are wrapped up in their religion, not ours. Nevertheless it is a religious war. Most wars throughout history have had a religious component.

In 1618, Ferdinand II became Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. The staunchly protestant Bohemians rejected their new Romanist king. They seized two of his representatives when they came to Prague and tossed them out a window in what is known as the Defenestration of Prague. Ferdinand’s representatives survived the fifty foot fall by having the good luck of landing in a pile of horse manure. Ferdinand felt that the Bohemian treatment of his representatives stunk. Thus began the bloodiest religious war among Christians, in the history of world. Thirty years later when the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Germany had lost half of it population. Central Europe lay in ruins. Lutheranism came within an eyelash of complete destruction. Only the heroic Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus saved the Lutheran cause. Gustavus himself was killed in battle at Lützen in 1632. For his great heroism Gustavus is the only king ever honored by the Swedish parliament with the title “the Great.” He was also called “Der Löwe von Mitternacht” - the Lion from Midnight.

Why are there religious wars? It would seem that religion of all things would not be a thing to fight wars over. Indeed from a Christian perspective, war cannot, of itself, advance the Church. It should be noted, however, that war can be the occasion of the Church advancing, as in the Korean War. The first missionaries to Korea were U.S. military chaplains. Today South Korea is the most Christian nation on earth. Nevertheless, war cannot ever be fought for the purpose of advancing the Church. This does not work. Faith does not come at sword point. Faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ. Religious wars are fought because truth divides. Falsehood always tries to swallow up truth. This forces truth to defend itself. Nor can we assume this to be the nonsense of an earlier age. We may well see more religious wars in the future, perhaps even between Christians. All we can do is know the truth and stand for the truth.

This is what the Reformation was all about. It was people, like Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz and Gustavus Adolphus standing up for the truth of God’s Word. They were willing risk a great deal, even their lives, to advance the truth of God’s Word. Indeed we understand that the Bible is truth. Our confessions teach us that the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures are the only source, rule and norm, by which all teachers and all teachings are to be judged. And also that God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity.

Our text warns about this age, and all the ages of sinful men. Christ warns of those who would attack the Church by force. This would include heathen, such as the Roman authorities and later the Muslims. It would include false teachers who would use rules and legal right to drive the faithful preachers from their pulpits. It would include those officials in our own supposedly Christian nation who would restrict the voice of the Church. Against all of these we must stand, as did our forefather’s of old.

The second half of our text compares people to children calling back and forth to each other, but one acts as though they did not hear the other. This describes this generation in America to a T. The Word of God is preached but people don’t listen. They go on their merry way and ignore what God is telling them. Even within the Church this is all too often the case. A recent survey showed that over half of American Catholics are pro-abortion. This is a shameful disregard for the Word of God. Nor can the Church be held accountable. While we have many disagreements with Rome, this is not one of them. Rome as been most stalwart in teaching the value and dignity of human life. The Church plays the flute, but the people don’t dance. The Church sings a dirge and the people don’t morn.

What price do we pay for not listening to the Word of God. The truth is lost. This is not some academic matter. For without the truth of God’s Word, salvation is lost. We are lost and damned. Christ says that you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. (John 8:32) It is in the Words of Holy Scripture that God lays out for us His plan of salvation. If we reject God’s Word we reject His Salvation.

What then is the truth of God’s Word? What is it that Luther recovered for us at the time of the Reformation? First, Luther taught us a greater understanding of sin and its damning power. Sometimes it is said that Luther discovered that God is not angry with man. That is not correct. Luther understood, more than any of his contemporaries and more than almost anyone before or since, just how angry God is with man on account of sin. Sin is no trifling matter. It is the very power of death itself. Because sin is so very serious, only the most serious solution is workable. Good works, special prayers, intervention of saints and like are of no account against sin. It’s even worse than this, but it makes the point. It is as if a person owed a million dollars and said to the bank, well I have a buck and a quarter. Such is the magnitude of sin. So Luther’s first discovery was man’s futility in the face of sin. Then he was ready to read the great words of St. Paul: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... (Romans 3:23-24) So the truth is that we are sinners, lost and damned by our own power. But Jesus Christ has died for our sins and gives us faith, life and salvation as free gifts. Christ has overcome the powers of darkness and rendered them powerless. So now we can laugh in Satan’s face and stick our tongue out at him and say, Satan, you cannot touch me. Yes, I am a poor miserable sinner. But I am baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, who died for my sins and unites me to Him. Where He is, there I am also, because He has saved me. This is the truth of God’s Word. This is the truth to which we must cling, even at the cost of our lives. For only in this truth are we free from sin and death.

Sermon for October 18-19

The Twenty Third Sunday After Pentecost
October 18-19, 2008
Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Dear Friends in Christ,
“[Christians] are not united on [the abortion issue] because most go under the assumption that WE have the RIGHT to decide what is more important. That WE have a choice in what WE want to see in our churches, in our communities and the country. Does anyone dare these days to say, "THUS SAYS THE LORD!"? NO because polemics is shut down as unloving. Discipline is unloving. Tolerance is the watch-word. Feeling replaces sound thinking. Relationship replaces truth. Sin is no longer REAL sin. The Law is watered down. The REAL gospel is no longer needed, you see, because we are not THAT bad off, after all. Just make us feel good. Don't call my party evil and advocates for a culture of death. It is my party after all!” Thus writes Rev. David Emmons. In this letter, Rev. Emmons describes the situation and attitudes in this country with great precision and accuracy. Many American Christians have abandoned a belief in truth. Thus they no longer are able to speak clearly on moral and political issues. In one of the most shameful things I have seen in recent weeks, a poll showed that American Christians ranked life issues as the seventh most important political issue behind such things as the price of gasoline. It makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian. And it should make you ashamed as well.

In our text, Christ is approached with the question of whether or not we should pay taxes to the government. Christ’s answer is broader and more inclusive than just that question. He says: "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Render. What does the word “render” mean? The dictionary definition that applies here is to give what is due or proper. Wrapped up in that is the idea that we give everything that we owe. This is an obligation both before God and man - both halves. That means that we are responsible to God not only for what we render to God, but also it means that we are responsible to God for everything that we render to man. St. Paul echoes this idea: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7)

So what do we owe to God and man in a republic? We don’t have a king to which we must pay homage and swear fealty. We owe our Christian world view, our judgement, and our vote. Yes, we as Christians must judge. We owe this to God and our neighbor. Some will say we can’t impose our morality upon the nation. Well, someone’s morality is being imposed upon the nation.

In America, we vote by what is called “Australian Ballot”. That means we vote privately, without some official looking over our shoulder. But we are not alone in the voting booth. God is with us. God knows our vote. And we are responsible to God for that vote. We must vote for the things of God and the benefit of our neighbor. To this end, we must be knowledgeable voters. Did you know that most voters make their decision based on the physical appearance of the candidate? No wonder most republics fail! We as Christians owe it to God and our neighbor to be knowledgeable about the issues and the candidates. That means we must invest time and energy in the process.

So what should be our priorities in the voting booth. We as Christians do not think like the world. We have different priorities. So what are they? One: Anything that would prevent the Church from proclaiming the full Word of God. Thus we oppose hate crime legislation because this would be used to prevent the Church from speaking. This is not just fantasy. There are pastors in Canada and in some of the Scandinavian countries who are sitting in jail right now for saying that homosexuality and the ordination of women are sins. This is hate speech under hate crime laws. So our first priority is opposing anything or anyone that would prevent us from proclaiming the full counsel of God. Two: Life Issues. God is the author of life. God determines length of man’s days. God opens wombs and closes them. Abortion and euthanasia are abominable acts before the Lord. They are attacks upon the most innocent and most helpless among us. Neither abortion or euthanasia are loving acts toward our neighbor. We must vote to protect life, much as an earlier generation was called upon to vote against slavery. It took more than a hundred years from the time the fight against slavery was begun by Benjamin Franklin until slavery was finally abolished in the U.S. in 1868. So too will the battle over abortion be a long fight. We might not live to see the end of it. That does not absolve us. We owe it to God and our neighbor to vote for life. Three: Opposition to the homosexual agenda. Here again we have an attempt to call evil good and good evil. We must be guided by Scripture and oppose homosexual marriage and other attempts to redefine the family. The family was defined by God at the time of creation. We cannot redefine it. Four: To stop the advance of militant Islam. Christianity is tolerant. Islam is not. We oppose the advance of militant Islam because it would prevent us from practicing our faith. In countries governed by Sha’ria law, you cannot freely proclaim the gospel. Only after these things come more earth bound things like the economy and the price of gasoline. These issues are governed by our love for our neighbor. We look first at how various policies will effect our neighbor. Our earthly self interest comes last. It like the title of the book written by Chicago Bears running back Gail Sayers - “I’m Third”. Sayers explains, God is first, my fellow man is second, I’m third. This is how we must approach the issue of voting. God first, our neighbor second, me third. We look at our positions and compare these to the positions of the candidates. Then we vote for those who best match our positions as Christians. We owe this both to God and our neighbor. We don’t have the right to decide for ourselves. We must listen to the voice of God.

We have heard a great deal about God’s law today. We need that. As Christians we need to know and understand God’s law. The law teaches us God’s will. Teaching the law is part of the Church’s catechetical task. But obedience to God’s will must be placed into the context of the Gospel. Otherwise, it becomes self righteousness. Why do we seek to be obedient? Because we earn something from God? No. Just the opposite. Our obedience is a mark of our giving thanks to God. We are righteous before God because Christ has forgiven our sins. This is the Gospel message that we so desperately need to preserve. It is a matter of eternal life and death. So we go into the voting booth as redeemed sinners - as people who have been forgiven of their sins and who continue each day to be forgiven. Having been forgiven it is right that we seek God’s will for all aspects of our lives. The reality of being forgiven must never be divorced from any part of our lives. We look at all things through Christ’s eyes. Just as Christ had compassion on us, we are to have compassion on our neighbor. That extends to our vote. And our neighbor includes the unborn and the infirm. Amen!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sermon for October 11-12

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
October 11-12, 2008
Text: Matthew 22:1-14

Dear Friends in Christ,
The American religion is a vague sort of Deistic universalism. About now you’re asking, what did pastor just say? It really very simple, so let’s pull this apart. Most Americans are religious, even if they don’t come to church. There are very few atheists and agnostics in the United States. Just to clarify further, an atheist dogmatically believes that there is no god. An agnostic, on the other hand, just says I don’t know if there is a god or not and if there is a god, I don’t know who he is. But both of these groups are very small in the U.S. - probably less than ten percent of the population. Most Americans do believe that there is a god. The American religion does not really define who god is. They might attach the name Jesus Christ, but it is hardly the historic, Scriptural understanding of Christ. The god of American religion tells us to be nice to one another and doesn’t really tell us anything is wrong. This god helps those who help themselves. And he certainly would never send anyone to hell. So in the American religion, everyone is going to heaven. We call this universalism. Sadly, many Americans bring this false theology into the church. It’s not just out in the community.

I have said many times, that the purpose of true Christian teaching is to show us who God is, what God has done, and what God has promised. Our text teaches a great deal about all three off these questions.

Who is God? He is the King and His Son. God the Father is giving a wedding feast for His Son. Ironically, the guests and the bride are one and the same. The Bride is the Church, for which Christ died and rose again. All the authority of God the Father is given over to the Son. So this parable tells us a good deal about God. While it does not fully explain the doctrine of the Trinity, it certainly points us to the relationship between the Father and the Son.

What Has God done? He has sent His Son to be the Bridegroom. Now Scripture pulls no punches on this. Throughout the Bible we find the Bride, that is the Church, described as an unfaithful whore. For example, in Ezekiel 23, we see the Church of the Old Testament, that is Israel and Judah, described as two sisters named Oholah and Oholibah, who were prostitutes. Israel was a great sinner. Judah was worse. We see this in our text. The invited guests are the Church. But the Church refuses the invitation. The Church continues to play the whore. Yet, Christ marries the Church as His virgin bride. This is what the forgiveness of sins does. It restores the whore to virginity. So what Has Christ done? He has, through the forgiveness of sins restored the Church to faithfulness and holiness. But we must remember that the Church is only faithful through the forgiveness of our sins. When the first guests refuse, other guests are brought until the hall is full. This reflects the gift of salvation. The wedding hall here is heaven. If you are a guest, you don’t deserve to be there. The host is choosing to invite you in. It is a gift.

What else does God do in this parable? “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Later in the parable we read: “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” God saves and God condemns. This is the thing that the American religion so vehemently rejects. They will say, how can a loving god send people to hell? Let me tell a parable of my own. A man was convicted of murder and order to be executed. But the governor of the state decided to pardon the man and set him free. The man then went out and murdered a whole bunch more people. Was the governor loving in setting the man free? No, he did great harm to those who were later murdered. In a very real sense the blood of those murdered is on the on the governor’s hands just as much as it is on the murder’s hands. The real act of love would have been to carry out the execution so that no one else would die. God is not unjust in condemning people to hell. We are born in a state of rebellion against God. That alone would be just cause for our condemnation. But Christ pays the price of our sins and offers us forgiveness. If one then refuses Christ’s gift, are they not doubly guilty before God? Can God then be held accountable for the destruction of those for whom He has died? What more could God have done for them? Further by sending them to hell, they can do no further hurt to God’s people.

Now it should distress us that some will end up in hell. We do not rejoice in the fall another. We rejoice in the in repentance of the sinner. We are to share God’s mind on this and be grieved that anyone would be condemned. But we also must recognize the justice and necessity of it.

What is this about the man who shows up without the wedding garment? First we must ask what the wedding garment is? The wedding garment is Christ’s righteousness. We are worthy to be at the wedding feast if the Righteousness of Jesus Christ is our clothing. This is what we mean by the robe of righteousness. The pastor’s white robe, which is called an alb, is intended to remind us that we are covered over with the perfect righteousness of Christ. How does one get this robe of Christ’s righteousness? It is given as a free gift. So the man is thrown out because He has refused to be covered over with Christ’s righteousness.

This parable is a warning to the Church as a whole and to Christians individually. God doesn’t need you. He can replace you. Your place in God’s banquet hall is a gift from Jesus Christ. He gives that in love. But God’s patience is one of the things about God that is not infinite. It does run out. For those who persist in opposing God and insist upon rejecting Christ’s forgiveness time will run out. The day will come when God will say “get thee hence to hell.” This is a parable of warning and judgment. We dare not ignore that warning.

This parable really wraps up what Christ has done with what He promises. He promises forgiveness and life to those who trust in Him. He promises judgement and wrath to those who reject Him. This parable is a warning particularly against those in the Church who reject Christ. But this parable also gives us a beautiful image of heaven and salvation. Covered in the dazzling garment of Christ’s righteousness we are gathered into the great wedding feast. The most delectable dishes are laid out before us, the finest wine and beer are poured for us. I picture steaming platters of tender meat, sweet grapes the size of apples, pecan pies with fresh cream on top and any other delectable food we can imagine. All this because Christ, the Bridegroom is taking His bride the Church. He has restored His bride to virginal holiness. He does this by tenderly and lovingly covering it with His own righteousness. Yes, there is judgement here. That is because God does judge. But there is the most glorious picture of grace as well. We will be part of that great feast - the feast that cannot end. We will be there because we are covered by Christ.

Sermon for October 4-5

LWML Sunday
October 4-5, 2008
Text: Philippians 3:4b-14

Dear Friends in Christ,
Why are adults still concerned about their parents? Well, because you only have one set of them. When they’re gone, you are on your own. There’s no one else to turn to. Even when our parents our old and infirm, perhaps even senile, they are still our connection to the past. They are our personal history. If they were good parents we also share a bond of love. But even without that bond, there is still something deeper. They are our flesh and blood. It is from their DNA that we came to be. No matter how bad they might have been, if that were the case, we cannot escape them. They are our parents. We are their children.

Why do people have a love for their country? Because these are our people. We share a common heritage. We have a common set of stories - a common set of heros. For us as Americans we are inseparably linked to names like Washington, Adam, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Lincoln, Grant, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur, Nimitz, Abrams, Reagan, and several generations of McCains. These names are not just dusty bits of the past. They are part of our make up. We don’t just read about Captain Parker on Lexington Green. We are part of the story. His words - “If they mean to have a war, let it start here” - echo in our ears. We are witnesses to heroism of Mary Ludwig Hays who when she saw her husband fall wounded at the battle of Monmouth Courthouse, took up his rammer and continued to work his cannon. Names like Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Shiloh, and Appomattox Courthouse are not just points on a map. They are part of who we are. They are the monuments to the fact that we are a people of justice for all. Midway, Tarawa, Normandy, Inchon, Caisson, and Faluja, teach us that we too must not turn from the struggle. Freedom and justice must always be defended. All these things are who we are. They shape us and mold us. The make us act because we are Americans.

St. Paul is making the same point to the Philippians. We don’t live our lives in a vacuum. We are shaped and molded by the things around us. It takes more than saying it, to be something. We can say we are Christians, but that doesn’t make us Christians. If we really are a child of God, it will change who we are and how we live.

Where does this start? With Christ making me His child. We were not children of God. We were born enemies of God. We were born enslaved to sin. We are enslaved to our flesh. Now here we must make distinction between two Greek words. As you learned in school, words have denotative and connotative meanings. So you can have two words with the same denotative meaning, but which carry completely different connotative meanings. So for example, we could say someone is witty or we could say that they are a wiseacre. Both words tells us that the person is quick with their use of words, but one is seen as positive while the other suggests dislike. In Greek we have the words “sarx” and “soma”. Both could be rendered as physical bodies. “Sarx, however, carries with the idea of corruption. It is from this word that we get the English word sarcophagus - which literally means flesh eater. Soma on the other hand refers to the the physical creation of God. It is a positive thing. Usually, in the New Testament, when you see the word “flesh” it is a translation of the Greek word “sarx”. So when Paul in our text speaks of relying on the “flesh” he is speaking of that which is corruptible, that which fails. He’s talking about that which gets old and dies. He is not however speaking dualistically - that is contrasting material and spiritual. He is contrasting that which is corrupted by sin with that which is incorruptible. The material, that is our bodies, are not inherently bad. They are just corrupted by sin.

Paul warns against having any trust in our flesh. By this he means to say that we are not trust anything that has become mixed with sin. Why? Because sin kills. Sin makes everything temporary. Since our flesh is corrupted by sin, everything done by our sinful flesh is sin. Our flesh is capable of nothing else. But Christ makes us His own. He comes and takes up residence within us. So life is now Christ’s life, living within us. Christ incorruptible. He doesn’t get old and die. He doesn’t get sick. He the Son of God the Father from all eternity to all eternity. There never was a time when Christ was not. There never will be a time when Christ is not. Therefore, if we are bound up in Christ, we are bound to that which is incorruptible, that which does not die. Thus, we do not die. We become incorruptible, just as Christ is incorruptible.

If we are indeed bound up in Christ, we are changed. Our actions are no longer our own - that is the works of our flesh. They are the works of Christ living within us. Now we are not saying by this our sin becomes right. Rather that as child of God, our lives change. We seek different goals. Where we do the same things we did before, because these things were outwardly good, we now do them for God’s reasons rather than fleshly corruptible reasons. Where we were sinning, we seek to amend our lives, so that Christ more fully shines through our lives. But in all of this our trust is in Christ. It is Christ who brings all of this to fruition. Only the things of Christ last. The things of our flesh fail. So we must cling to Christ as our hope and live Christ in our lives. So in this sense, each day for the Christian becomes a struggle between the flesh and Christ, between sin and righteousness, between life and death. Only in heaven will the corruptible finally be burned away and only the life Christ gives will remain.

God does not intend for us to struggles against sin and corruption alone. Rather, Christ gather’s His children together into Christian congregations. This is so that we can support one another as we battle the corruption of sin. God intends that we lift one another up and teach one another what it means to live as a child of God. Within the Church many structures are set up to bring people together in Christ. Higher Things is there for our Youth. A new group - the Brother’s of John the Steadfast has been created to draw men together in service to Christ. Both of these relatively new organizations were needed because their older counterparts had largely failed. Such organizations within the Church do tend to come and go. They work well for a time then lose their focus on Christ. Yet, not all such organizations are new. The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League remains focused upon supporting one another in Christ. The LWML continues to work to do Christ’s work here and around the world, supporting missionaries and various care ministries, home and abroad.

Being a Child of God changes who we are. It changes how we live our lives. It refocus us upon the things that are incorruptible - the things of Christ. We trust in Christ alone for our salvation because there is nothing in our flesh which can save us. Being thus changed into a child of God, we live lives that reflect that reality - a reality that does not and cannot change, ever. I cannot change because Christ, our Savior, does not change. Amen!

Sermon for September 20-21

The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 20-21, 2008
Text: Matthew 20:1-16

Dear Friends in Christ,
Pastors are sometimes accused of preaching about what they did all week. Jack Preus was notorious for this. Having been cued in to this tendency, I try to avoid doing that. My life isn’t all that interesting to talk about in any event - though I find living it interesting enough. But this week I’m going to break this rule and talk about my week. First I must say that pastors of very small churches are often not all that busy. I have summer weeks where I do nothing extra. This week was certainly different. Monday was my slow day. Didn’t do too much, other than get ready for our pastor’s conference. Tuesday was our pastor’s conference. Before I left for the conference I got a call that Dick Dahling was in the hospital in St. Paul. I was hosting our conference so I had to lead the service. We had an adventure when Wilma Fink passed out at the communion rail. Wilma’s fine. Just a momentary bout of low blood pressure. I was also volunteered to be chairman of our pastor’s conference. I’ll continue as secretary for a couple more months but we have plans for pass that job on to another pastor shortly. Then on Wednesday morning I had to run into the cities to see Dick. Then there was Bible class and confirmation class. I must say both classes were really good and on task this week. Then I got a call about Gene Bender in the hospital in Eau Claire. I had heard he was in, but hadn’t followed up. I fell down on the job a bit there. I thought at first I was going to have run down Wednesday night. But it wasn’t quite that urgent. I went down to see him Thursday. All this is to say it was a busy week. I shouldn’t complain. For many of our pastors this is a normal week, or even a slow week. But compare this now to some of the weeks this pastor summer. Once when I was vacancy pastor, there were so many calls you had to visit the hospital and several shuts every day, just to keep up. But here there is not so much work to do. As a pastor you have to do the work God sets before you. God doesn’t always give you the jobs you like. God doesn’t always give you the jobs you’re good at. Often times you get a task and look up to heaven and say, “What do I do with that?” Sometimes there’s not so much work. Sometimes there’s a great deal. But every task is a gift from God.

Our text is another of Christ’s parables. It is the story of a man hiring day laborers to harvest his crop. But the point is usually lost. Some background is needed. This is a wealthy farmer. He has a large farm. He also probably has servants to tend his fields. He could go out and harvest. He could send his men out to harvest. He doesn’t have to hire extra help. So too for God. He has His armies of angels. God could have them do anything that He wants. I’ll just bet there are angels waiting in line to preach a sermon - and they could surely do it far better than I can. There is nothing that God needs us to do. God doesn’t need us to preach, teach, help the sick and the poor, aid disaster victims and the like. God could have the angels do all this. And they’d be more than happy to do it.

In the story, the man goes and hires workers for the harvest. These are poor, unskilled laborers. They don’t own land of their own. Without some assistance, they and their families would probably starve. In our world, they would be like migrant farm workers. I remember as a child having migrant workers come begging for work. We were small farmers and didn’t hire any help. Dad was farming to put us kids to work. For workers like those in the parable, just having work at all was a gift.

This is the point of the parable. The work we do for God is a gift of grace. We are privileged to be given tasks for God. It should be our honor to do this work. Sometimes it’s not the work we would choose. But it is the work that God knows to be good for us to do.

We are sinners. We have no right to expect anything from God. In fact, Christ would just in condemning us. We should have no place at all in the kingdom of God. But Christ takes our sins upon Himself and carries them to the cross. He bears the punishment that should have been ours. Then He doesn’t just let us sit around, but puts us to work in His kingdom.

Why are there different levels of work and different times of employment. This represents two things. First, some are lifelong Christians. Some become Christians late in life. The task that the Lord assigns to each Christian will relate to when they became a Christian. Obviously, a person who becomes a Christian late in life, will not labor as long for the Lord as a life long Christian. Second, even among Christians, there are different tasks assigned by the Lord at different times. But these tasks are given in love for the good of each Christian. Christ knows what each Christian needs to be doing to strengthen their faith and the faith of those around them. He doesn’t give us tasks that are too hard for His purpose. Does God ever give us tasks that we will fail to accomplish? All the time. But that doesn’t mean that they are aren’t for our good. The tasks given to us will accomplish God’s purpose one way or the other, some by our success and some by our failure. But in each case, the task was given to us by God as a gift.

In the end, all true Christians, that is those who trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, go to heaven. Rewards beyond that are not revealed to us. Scripture seems to speak of higher honors in heaven for some, such as the martyrs. But it is not revealed to us how this works. So we cannot even seek a higher reward. We don’t know what it would be or how God will award such things. All we can be concerned about is getting to heaven. So in the end, from our earthly perspective, all believers get the same reward. We get the same reward, a place in heaven, because this is a gift of grace. We don’t earn it by our work. In fact, even the tasks God assigns to us are gifts of His grace. They are a mark that we are His child. They are given to strengthen us in the faith and to show us how God intends us to live. I suspect that such lessons might still be useful in heaven. So we as Christians should embrace the tasks we are given. We should not grumble. Nor should we even concern ourselves with the tasks given to others. That’s between them and God. We keep our focuse on Christ and the salvation He has given to us. That keeps everything in perspective. It reminds us that even our labor for the Lord is a gift of God’s grace.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why Do People Believe that Dem's Can Save the Economy?

I am constantly told that the Dem's can handle the economy better than Republicans. Why? What history is there to back this up?

When I was starting high school, it was in the Carter administration. Just for the record Carter was a Dem. We had over 10% unemployment, over 10% inflation, and about 20% interest rates. Today we have 6.1% unemployment, 2-3% inflation, about 3% interest rates. I literally didn't know anyone under 35 years of age who had a full time job. Jobs were that scarce in Michigan, one of the hardest hit states in the Carter years.

What changed from 1978 to 2008? What happened? Ronald Reagan. Just for the record, Reagan was a Republican. Reagan cut taxes and reduced regulation. People had more money in their pockets. They spent more. Jobs started to come back. In fact Reagan's policies were so effective that the whole structure of the economy changed. The prosperity he created is with us to this day in spite of economic blunders by both Bushes and Clinton. In fact the greatest period of prosperity that resulted from Reagan's reforms was from 1992-2006. Clinton only rode the wave of Reagan's economic success. A Republican congress prevented him from screwing it up. In those years, under the leadership of Speaker Gingrich, congress still had a little self discipline.

Electing a Republican will not guarantee good times. Not every Republican knows how to handle the economy. But I've yet to see a Dem who does. There certainly hasn't been Dem who understood economics in my life time. So the majority of Americans might indeed believe that the Dems can handle the economy better than Republicans. All this proves is that majorities can be wrong.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Economic Conspiracies

I generally treat conspiracy theories with disdain. But I got thinking today in the car and a couple of them are worth a chuckle, at least.

The fact is that Bush and McCain don't like each other very much. We've also heard that Bush does not like Sarah Palin. Did Bush suddenly push this "emergency" bailout bill to screw McCain out of the Whitehouse? Ego and the sinful human nature being what it is, one wonders.

Another possibility is that this is a rope-a-dope. In this scenario, Bush knows this bill will sink the economy - especially when compounded with Obama's incompetence and economic plan. Bush is assuming here that Obama will win and then screw the country up in Carter-esque fashion. He's just adding more weight to the millstone. What will really do the damage is the compounding of the effect that Obama will bring. So if by chance, McCain wins, his policies will soften the blow and the effect won't be as devastating. It might even play to McCain's advantage by showing him bring the country back.

Are either of these true? Probably not. But man's dark nature makes such things possible.