Archive for November, 2010

ABC Extra – The Man with the Plan

Have you ever had a plan go south on you in a hurry?  When I was in college, I was in charge of planning the Christmas service for our campus chapel.  The plans did not come together as I expected.  Right before the service, my choir director fell ill and was not able to lead the choir.  My instrumentalists also did not rehearse as they should have.  In fact, there was one instrumentalist who still stands out in my mind to this day.

One of the carols I had planned for the service was “Joy to the World.”  Because this is such a boisterous song, I decided to incorporate some cymbal crashes into the arrangement.  The difficulty was, the only pair of cymbals our college had were monstrous.  Even a gentle crash of the cymbals easily filled the chapel.  My cymbal player, however, did not know this.  Thus, the beloved lyric, “And heaven and nature sing,” was answered by the biggest, baddest, moist boisterous cymbal crash I have ever heard.  In fact, it wasn’t just a crash, it was a smash!  The whole congregation jumped.  And the joy of the song was replaced by snickers at the surprise.

Sometimes, our plans go south in a hurry.  For our planning is never airtight and mistake-proof.  The unexpected can smash even our best-laid plans.

This weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a new series for Advent titled, “Hello!  My Name Is…”  In this series, we are taking a look at the names for Jesus as they are famously given to us in Isaiah 9:6:  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  This past weekend, we talked about what it means for Jesus to be our “Wonderful Counselor.”

In Hebrew, the word for “Counselor” is ya’as.  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, this word is translated as boule.  Notably, boule is often translated as the word “plan.”  A couple examples will suffice:

  • “If this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39)
  • When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His plan, He guaranteed it with an oath. (Hebrews 6:17)

In the first example, the Pharisee Gamaliel notes that though man’s plans eventually fail, God’s plans always endure and stand.  The Psalmist explains it this way:  “The LORD brings the plans of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The plan of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:10-11).  Thus, what God plans to do, He always accomplishes, even when His plan includes the death of His one and only Son, as Peter attests to in his Pentecost sermon:  “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23).  It was God’s plan to kill His Son for the forgiveness of our sins all along.  And God’s plan prevails.

God’s plan prevails.  This is great comfort as we trust Christ, our Wonderful Counselor.  For our Counselor’s plans are sure and good.  After all, He has had our salvation planned from the very foundation of the world (cf. Matthew 25:34) and His plan came to pass with the cross.  Thus, we can always trust His counsel because we know that it is part of His plan.  And whereas our plans can fail, falter, and wind up in disaster, God’s plan remains, is resolved, and winds up in glory.  Trust in the plan, found in God’s Word, of your Wonderful Counselor!

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November 29, 2010 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Help! I’ve Lost My Faith!

Just in time for the stress of the holidays, Concordia Lutheran Church has published a new pamphlet titled, “Help! I’ve Lost My Faith!” In a world and in times where Christianity and Christians are regularly attacked and maligned, our faith can sometimes get shaken.  So I invite you to check out this pamphlet and tell me what you think.  It’s available for download by clicking here.  Here’s a taste of what’s in it:

Every Christian experiences a time when he or she wonders, “Have I lost my faith?” Sometimes, it’s a habitual sin that a person is sure has completely destroyed his relationship with God. Sometimes, it’s a grave tragedy that compels a person to ask. “If God exists, why didn’t He stop this?” Sometimes, it’s a feeling of betrayal which leads one to exclaim, “I can’t believe God would do this to me!” And amidst such pain, frustration, confusion, and bitterness, we can be left wondering, “Has God abandoned me? Have I abandoned Him? Have I lost my faith?”

November 23, 2010 at 10:22 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Many Workers, Same Denarius

One of my favorite parables is that of the Laborers in the Vineyard.  Jesus says:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing.  About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?” “Because no one has hired us,” they answered. He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.” The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” But he answered one of them, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:1-15)

This is a parable, of course, about how all who believe in Christ, whether they have come to faith through baptism as an infant and have labored in the vineyard of Christ’s Church all their life, or whether they believe on their deathbed, finally receive the same heavenly reward.  This is what the “denarius” stands for:  eternal life.  And Jesus’ point is that eternal life is a gift of God’s grace.  It cannot be merited by our piety and works.

In verse 2, the landowner agrees “to pay them a denarius for the day.”  The NIV here makes it sound as though the workers are somehow meriting their award of a denarius because they are getting paid for what they do in the vineyard.  However, in Greek, the word “pay” never appears.  The ESV does better: “After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.”  There is no notion of payment, only a predetermined agreement.  Finally, we learn that the denarius was not a payment at all, but a gift.  After the laborers who began work at the start of the day begin to grumble because they receive the same denarius as those who began work at the end of the day receive, the landowner asks, “Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.”  (And again, the word “pay” does not appear in the Greek.)  “I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous” (verses 13-15)?  It is the generosity of the landowner that leads to the gift of the denarius, not the work of the laborers.  For eternal life is a gift of God’s grace.

Luther explains this well when he writes that in eternity, “In his person none shall be more or have more than the other, Saint Peter no more than you and I.”  Even the most notable saints on earth finally all receive the same heavenly reward.  For, “in short, all are to be alike before God in faith and grace and celestial bliss” (St. L. VIII:1223).  It is important to note that Luther goes on to say that we are indeed recognized with differing degrees of glory for our good works (cf. Luke 19:12-19, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Galatians 6:8-9), but the reward of eternal life itself is universal for all who trust in Christ.

Thus, all Christians are all on their way to the same destiny:  eternal life in, with, and through Christ.  And when the days in the vineyard of this earth get long, that is a great hope.  So lift up your eyes to the heavens!  Your denarius awaits.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
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November 22, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – “We Got Spirit, Yes We Do!”

I went to junior high, high school, and college at three different places, but the cheer at the beginning of our school basketball games was the same.  In order to get everyone hyped up, the cheerleaders would come prancing out and lead the crowd in saying, “We’ve got spirit.  Yes, we do!  We’ve got spirit.  How ‘bout you?” at which time we would all wag our fingers at those on the opposing side of the gym, egging them on to respond.   And respond they did – with the same cheer, except louder:  “We’ve got spirit.  Yes, we do!  We’ve got spirit.  How ‘bout you?”  And this volley would continue back and forth, back and forth until everyone in the audience was hoarse, trying to “out-spirit” the opposing side by sheer volume.

The question cheerleaders ask at the beginning of basketball games is the same question people ought to ask of themselves, though they ought to ask it with a capital “S.”  Do we have “Spirit,” as in the “Holy Spirit?”  The apostle Peter says that we receive the Holy Spirit when we repent of our sins and are baptized into God’s name and family:  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  Thus, if you have been baptized and remember your baptism as you daily repent of sin, there is no question: You “got” Spirit.

Although Christians “got” Spirit, sometimes, some Christians want to know how they can get more Spirit.  More than once, more than one person has asked me, “How can I be Spirit-led?”  Or, “How can I be Spirit-filled?”  Some in the Charismatic movement have made this kind of talk about the Holy Spirit the whole locus and focus of their theology.  According to these folks, you must not only have the Holy Spirit, you must be filled with Him.  And if you are not filled, some in the Charismatic movement would say that your faith is weak and, perhaps, even non-existent.

As a Christian, you “got” Spirit.  But how much Spirit is enough Spirit?  And wouldn’t it be nice to get a little more Spirit?

Being Spirit-led and Spirit-filled is not as mysterious, nor is it as exclusive, as some people would make it out to be.  Not only does every Christian “got” Spirit, every Christian is filled with the Spirit thanks to God who continuously and generously pours out His Spirit into our lives and hearts.  Indeed, this is precisely Peter’s point on Pentecost when he quotes from the prophet Joel:  “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).  The Greek word for “pour out” is ekcheo, meaning not only “to pour out,” but “to pour out lavishly.”  In other words, God, when He pours out His Spirit, does so generously.

Interestingly, this same word ekcheo is used in the Didache, a manual of early Christian liturgical practice, to describe baptism:  “Pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Didache 7:3).  The Greek word for “pour” is again ekcheo.  The picture of baptism, then, is a powerful one:  Just as water is poured lavishly over the head of a person in baptism, the Spirit is poured lavishly into his heart.  In baptism, every Christian is generously filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is often the most overlooked Person of the Trinity.  And yet, His importance can hardly be overstated.  For the Spirit dwells in us, leads us, guides us, and gives us faith in Christ.  As I mentioned in Adult Bible Class, without the Holy Spirit, there would be no Christians because the Holy Spirit is one who converts us to Christ in the first place.  So today, give thanks for the Spirit of God.  Give thanks that you “got” Spirit.  And not just a little Spirit, but a lot.

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November 15, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Lots on the Last Day

This weekend in worship and ABC, we talked about God’s Kingdom and its final and full arrival on the Last Day when Jesus will return to, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “judge the living and the dead.”  This Last Day is the subject of endless conversation and speculation.  Indeed, visions of a gloomy apocalypse are frequently advanced in books and movies packed with foreboding buzzwords like “tribulation” and “antichrist” and “plagues” and “rapture” and “millennium.”  Because there is so much discussion concerning the return of Christ – and so many different theories concerning the precise nature of His second coming – I thought it might be helpful, in this week’s blog, to survey some of these theories and then, to best of my ability, offer a more biblical picture of the end of days.

When it comes to Christ’s second coming, most interpretations of the nature of His coming center around this passage from John’s Revelation:

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Revelation 20:1-3)

The question that has been the subject of much debate is, “What does it mean that an angel, perhaps representing Jesus, comes and binds Satan for a thousand years?”  Four main answers have been given.

The Answer of Historic Millennialism
Historic Millennialism teaches that Christ will visibly return, raise the believing dead from their graves, and set up an earthly kingdom and reign for a thousand years.  This will be a time of perfect peace and prosperity.  After this, Christ will loose Satan for a small time to make his final assault against the redeemed before our Lord finally casts him into hell for eternity.

The Answer of Postmillennialism
Postmillennialism teaches that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20:3 is not to be taken literally.  Rather, it represents a time of ever increasing peace and prosperity on this earth, with more and more people becoming Christians, reaching its climax in Christ’s visible second advent.

The Answer of Dispensational Premillennialism
Dispensational Premillennialism takes different forms, but in its most popular expression it envisions a “secret return” of Christ where believers are raptured into heaven.  Following this rapture, the Antichrist arrives on the scene and a seven year period of tribulation ensues.  The Antichrist allies himself with, and then breaks his alliance with, the Jews, persecuting them fiercely.  Following this seven year tribulation, Christ visibly returns, sets up a perfect millennial kingdom, and then, at the end of a thousand years, releases Satan for a short time to wreak havoc on humanity until he is finally cast into the Abyss and Christ judges the living and the dead.

The Answer of Amillennialism
Like Postmillennialism, Amillennialism sees the “thousand years” of Revelation 20:3 as symbolic, referring to the time of Christ’s Church when the gospel is preached and eternal destinies are changed.  However, Satan still works in this world and Satan’s work will become more pronounced shortly before Christ’s second coming.

I would humbly suggest that, out of the above accounts concerning the end of days, the answer of Amillennialism fits best with the biblical data.  I say this for several reasons:

  • Following two World Wars in the previous century and terrorist threats and attacks in our own century, most people do not believe the world is slowly becoming better and safer or more Christian.  Postmillenialism does not make sense of the world around us.

  • Dispensational Premillennialism is both a relatively new theory, being promoted on a widespread basis by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s, and speaks of a secret return of Christ in a rapture, a theory nowhere promoted in Scripture.  Indeed, according to the Bible, Darby’s so-called “rapture” will be quite visible and quite audible: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).  This hardly sounds like a secret rapture to me.

  • Historic Millennialism has much to it to commend, but does not account for the highly symbolic nature of apocalyptic literature, and specifically the symbolic use of the number “one thousand,” and it essentially promotes a two-fold return of Christ:  first at the beginning of the millennium and then again when He judges the living and the dead at the end of time.  These events are elsewhere pictured as one episode (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46).

  • Amillennialism recognizes that in the Bible, the number “one thousand” is regularly used in symbolic terms to express completeness (e.g., Exodus 20:6, Deuteronomy 1:11, Psalm 50:10, 84:10, 90:4, Isaiah 60:22, 2 Peter 3:8).  Thus, the millennium of Revelation 20:3 expresses the complete time of Christ’s Church on earth.

  • Amillennialism accounts for the fact that Christ’s second coming, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment are portrayed by the Bible one event, not as separate events separated by a thousand years (e.g., John 6:44, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Matthew 25:31-46).

  • Amillennialism, unlike Dispensational Premillennialism, has a long and distinguished history in the Church, being promoted by the likes of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.

On balance, it seems as if a simple return of Christ to judge the living and the dead at the end of days is to be preferred to the more complicated end times schemas of Historic Millennialism, Postmillennialism, and Dispensational Premillennialism.  Christ’s second return of Christ need not be complex and, for the Christian, it need not be frightening.  For Christ’s coming means our salvation, as the preacher of Hebrews reminds us:  “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28).  Come, Lord Jesus!

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November 8, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – All Saints’ Day

Today is All Saints’ Day, a day on which we remember those saints in Christ who have gone before us and celebrate how we have been made saints through Christ’s death and resurrection.  The prayer for All Saints’ Day encapsulates the meaning of this day well:

O almighty God, by whom we are graciously knit together as one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Jesus Christ, our Lord, grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those unspeakable joys which You have prepared for those who sincerely love You; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen!

I love this prayer for two reasons.  First, it appropriately reminds us that there is much to learn from the saints who have gone before us.  Their ways of “virtuous and godly living” ought to be celebrated by us and their insights into God’s Word and Christ’s gospel ought to be studied by us.  There is much to be said for remembering – and practicing – the ways of the saints of old.  However, it is also important to understand that we do not become saints by remembering and practicing the holy ways of these historic Christians.  And this leads me to the second thing I love about this prayer:  It tells us also how we become “sainted.”  It tells us that we become “sainted” by being “knit together as one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Jesus Christ.”  It tells us that we become “sainted” by being brought into the body of Christ by the blood of Christ.  Everyone who is a member of Christ’s body is properly called a saint, even as the apostle Paul says to the church at Corinth: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified by Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).  How are made a saint?  We are sanctified and called by Christ.  Who are the saints?  Everyone, everywhere who calls on the name of Jesus.  Indeed, it is this definition of sainthood that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed when we say, “I believe in the communion of saints.”

In my Adult Bible Class yesterday, I touched on two meanings of this phrase, “the communion of saints.”  On the one hand, this phrase refers to all Christians from all times in all places, both in heaven and on earth.  Nicetas, a bishop in Serbia in the fourth century, explains:

What is the Church but the congregation of all saints? Patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, all the just who have been, are, or shall be, are one Church because sanctified by one faith and life, marked by one Spirit, they constitute one body.  Believe, then, that in this one Church you will attain the communion of saints. (Nicetas in Caspari, anecdota, i p. 355)

A good exposition of “the communion of saints” is also given to us in Hebrews 11, where the preacher takes us through a crash course on the saints of old and commends them for their faith (cf. Hebrews 11:1-2).

Then, on the other hand, I also mentioned that, in Greek, the word for “saints” can be either masculine, referring to people, or neuter, referring to things.  Thus, “the communion of saints” can be taken to mean “the communion of sainted, or holy, things.”  This is the way that Peter Abelard, the great twelfth century French theologian, understood this phrase.  In this case, the phrase, “the communion of sainted things,” was understood to mean the holy things of God:  His Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.  The Lutheran confessors actually incorporate both understandings of “the communion of saints” when they write, “The Church is the congregation of saints [sainted people] in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered [sainted things]” (AC VII:1).  Thus, the Church is made up of the sainted people of God gathered around the sainted things of God!

But there is yet more to this phrase, “the communion of saints.”  The Greek word for “communion” in the Creed is koinonia, a term that, even in secular Greek, describes not primarily communion with other human beings, but communion with God.  For example, the first century Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote of the noble man in his “poor mortal body thinking of his fellowship (koinonia) with Zeus” (Epictetus, Discourses 2.19.27).  Thus, even in the pagan mind, man desired to have koinonia with god, albeit a false god.  This word koinonia was then commandeered by the Christians to describe communion not with false, pagan gods, but with the true God:  “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship (koinonia) of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).  We have koinonia with Christ.  The phrase, “communion of saints,” therefore, refers not only to the communion Christians have with each other, but to the communion they have with Christ.  For without a communion with Christ who is the One who makes saints in the first place, there would be no saints to have communion with each other!

Finally, then, to say, “I believe in the communion of saints” is to say, “I believe that I have communion with Christ.  I believe that He meets me by His Word and holy gifts, cleanses me by His blood, and sanctifies me by His Holy Spirit.”  But saying all that is a mouthful.  And so we simply say, “I believe in the communion of saints.”  A simple phrase that means so much.  For it describes not only who we are, but who we are with.  We’re with Jesus.  And being able to be with Jesus makes me feel like – well – a saint.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

November 1, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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