Archive for December, 2010

Weekend Extra – “Departing ____ Peace”

As a pastor, I have had the weighty responsibility, but also the profound privilege, of counseling with many people who are near death.  Over the course of these conversations, I have noticed some themes have emerged.  Many of the terminally ill are scared of death, which, at least in my opinion, is completely understandable.  Others are worried about organizing their affairs before they pass away.  One theme that always emerges from these conversations is a wish for a peaceful death.  “I hope I die in my sleep,” some say.  “I hope I have friends and family with me,” others say.  No one wants to die in fear or alone.  People want to die peacefully.

This desire to die peacefully is nothing new.  Indeed, in our reading from this past weekend from Luke 2, we are introduced to an old man named Simeon who himself is near death.  Knowing this, Simeon gives thanks to the Lord that He is “letting His servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29).  Simeon believes, even as his prayer indicates, that his death will be a peaceful one.  But why does Simeon believe such a thing?  How does Simeon know whether his death will peaceful or agonizing?

Luke explains why Simeon believes he will die peacefully:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation.” (Luke 2:25-30)

Simeon believes he will die peacefully because he has seen and held the One who is “the consolation of Israel” (verse 25) and “the Lord’s Christ” (verse 26).  Because he has held the One who is peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14), Simeon believes that he will depart in peace.

Notably, when Simeon thanks the Lord for allowing him to depart “in peace,” the Greek word for the preposition “in” is en. This preposition is one of the most versatile in the Greek language.  One Greek-English lexicon translates this single preposition as “in,” “at,” “near,” “before,” “for,” “with,” and “among,” among many others.  In other words, this preposition is a catchall preposition.  Indeed, Simeon’s words could nearly be translated, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart *INSERT PREPOSITION HERE* peace!”

This catchall preposition en reveals a profound truth of the peace that Christ gives us.  For Christ’s peace makes us at peace with God (2 Peter 2:14), near God in faith (Hebrews 10:22), before God as His justified people (Luke 18:14), for God in love (1 John 5:3), with God unto eternity (Revelation 21:3), and among God as we serve His people (Matthew 25:40).  There is no preposition that the peace of Christ cannot cover!  And this makes Christ’s peace a profound peace.

What peace do you need?  Do you need peace with your past?  Do you need peace at work?  Do you need peace for an upcoming decision?  Then pray with Simeon, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart *INSERT PREPOSITION HERE* peace!”  For the peace of Christ covers whatever preposition you might have in this life – or even in the next.  What a precious peace is the peace of Christ!  As Augustine says, “Peace shall be your gold. Peace shall be your silver. Peace shall be you lands. Peace shall be your life, your God Peace” (Augustine NPNF1 8:94)!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from this weekend’s message!

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December 27, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Peace and Passivity

In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held a series of two-week long “Bed-Ins” in Amsterdam and Montreal as a way to protest the ongoing Vietnam War and promote peace.  They simply stayed in bed for their honeymoon, a place they felt was “peaceful,” in hopes of watching peace reign not only in their hotel room, but in the world.  It was during his second “Bed-In” in Montreal that John Lennon penned his famous single, “Give Peace A Chance.”  The lyrics are strange, but memorable: “Everybody’s talking about Bagism, Madism, Dragism, Shagism, Ragism, Tagism, this -ism, that -ism.  All we are saying is give peace a chance.”  Despite his plea, the war did not end until some six years later.

The popular conception of peace can often be deduced from the context in which the word is used.  Contextually, John and Yoko wanted to “give peace a chance.”  That is, they thought that peace, if allowed to take its due course, would eventually carry the day.  And so they took a chance on peace.  And they lost.  The Vietnam War did not end when they wanted.  And many wars have since taken its place.  Peace is not best left to chance.

Jesus conceives of peace in a wholly different manner.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  In a world that seeks only to chance peace, Jesus wants something else:  He wants to make peace.  This is radically different from John and Yoko’s vision of peace.  For their vision of peace was essentially passive.  If people just “gave peace a chance,” peace might carry the day.  Jesus’ vision of peace, however, leaves nothing to chance.  Thus, Jesus’ vision of peace is essentially active.  Where there is no peace, Jesus calls on His followers to make peace.  For Jesus knows that, in a sinful, fallen, broken world like ours, peace must be made, not just allowed.

This active vision of peace is reflected in our text from this past weekend.  The apostle Paul writes to two feuding women:  “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2).  When Euodia’s and Syntyche’s peace is shattered by a feud, Paul does not just sit around, ready to “give peace a chance”;  rather, he actively seeks to reconcile the differences between these two women so that peace may result.  He “entreats” them.

Paul, of course, is simply following the example of his Savior who, when Jews and Gentiles were estranged because of their adherence to God’s Law, abolished “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16-17).  Christ, through the cross, makes peace, both with God and with others, and gives us that peace by faith.  We, in turn, are called to reflect Christ’s effort at peace in our own lives, as Paul elsewhere writes, “Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).

What kind of premium do you put on peace?  Are you content merely to “give peace a chance,” or are you more active in your efforts at peace?  When you get into a fight with someone else, do you go seek them out to reconcile with them, or do you wait for them to come to you?  When you see a marriage in trouble, do you actively speak God’s Word into that couple’s life, or do you simply stay away, scared to confront this couple’s sin?  God’s peace is not a passive idea, it’s an active reality. Finally, this active reality is embodied by Jesus who actively lived, suffered, and died so that we may have peace.  May you actively pursue peace for the sake of others…and for the sake of yourself.

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

December 20, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Repeating the Past

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  So said the Spanish philosopher George Santayana in his 1905 opus magnum The Life of Reason.  If only Santayana was right.  If only it was only those who had somehow forgotten the past who, ignorant of the lessons of yesteryear, repeated them in these years.  Unfortunately, even those who do remember the past, as debase as it might be, often repeat it.  The son who knows his father is an alcoholic drinks excessively himself and develops the same addiction.  The daughter who is bitter and vindictive remembers well the grudges her mother held against others.  The father who hits his wife passes his legacy down to a son who raises his hand to his girlfriend in a fit of rage.  We have no problem remembering past calamities.  But in spite of our well-defined memories, we all too often repeat them.

What reason can be given concerning those who remember the past and nevertheless consign themselves to repeat it?  In our text from this weekend, the apostle Peter reminds us that we are all heirs to “the empty way of life handed to us by our forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18).  The Greek word for “empty” is instructive.  It is the word mataios which denotes the appearance of a thing as distinct from its essence.  That is, mataios allows for a thing to look enticing in its appearance while leading to sin, despair, and death in its essence.  One cannot help but think of how Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6).  Satan tempted history’s first couple with the appearance of wisdom.  But what Satan was leading Adam and Eve to, as appealing as its appearance may have seemed, was, in its essence, sin, despair, and death.

What Satan did with Adam and Eve he continues to do with us.  He tempts us with a thing that has an appealing appearance, but, in its essence, leads us to sin, despair, and death.  Satan tempts us with the appearance of joy through drunkenness.  But that ephemeral joy quickly melts into the essence of regret as we suffer through a hangover.  Satan tempts us with the appearance of pleasure through sex outside of marriage.  But that illusory pleasure quickly melts into essence of pain as a marriage is destroyed.  The temptations of Satan look full and marvelous, but, in reality, they are empty and tragic.  They are mataios.

Thus, it is no surprise that we fall for temptations from our past.  For though we may remember their appealing appearances, we all too often minimize or even forget their essential brokenness.

What remedy is there against Satan’s enticements toward all things mataios?  Peter answers, “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13).  Again, the Greek for the word “given” is instructive.  It is the word phero which refers to something that is not only “given,” but “brought.”  That is, God desires not only to give us His grace, He has actually made provision for it to be brought to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  Indeed, this is what we celebrate at Christmas:  How God was not content to leave His grace supinely suspended in heaven and so deigned to bring His grace to earth in the person and work of Jesus.  Our ancestors, beginning with Adam and Eve, may have handed down to us the impoverished ways of mataios, but our God brings down to us His amazing grace in Christ.  So instead of trying to remember the pain of past mataios so that you can learn from it, instead, rejoice in the peace of God’s present grace.  Because, in the light of God’s eternal grace, mataios loses its appealing appearance.  For we now have God’s grace and its incomparable essence of forgiveness.  And that’s good news.

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

December 13, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Cosmology and Philosophy

Your philosophy is an inextricable concomitant of your cosmology.  Charles Darwin knew this all too well.  Most people are at least passingly familiar with Darwin’s seminal work, The Origin of Species.  In it, he proffers a framework for understanding the origins of human life – and all life – using his mechanism of evolution by natural selection.  In his own words, here is Darwin’s theory in a nutshell:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive, and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.  From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form. (Origin of Species, p. 29)

Darwin begins with the assumption that life, at its root, is a struggle for survival.  He then concludes that those who win the struggle for survival carry on while those who lose the struggle do not.  This is natural selection.  Moreover, those who win the struggle for survival propagate more of their kind and develop “modified” characteristics which further benefit them in their struggle.  This is evolution.  Over time – indeed, over lots and lots of time – these beneficial characteristics continue to evolve so radically that whole new species arise from common ancestors while other, weaker species die out.  This, then, is the origin of species.  This is the origin of our species.  We are the product of the cold hand of evolution by natural selection.  This is Darwin’s cosmology, that is, his view of the laws of the world and, by extension, the cosmos.

But how you view things cosmologically inevitably informs how you view things philosophically.  That is why, after publishing The Origin of Species, Darwin published The Descent of Man, a philosophical take on his cosmological theory.  Thus, Darwin lamented according to the presuppositions of his cosmological theory of evolution:

We civilized men do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.  There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox.  Thus, the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.  No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.  It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. (Descent of Man, p. 168)

Darwin laments that humans work against evolutionary progress through wrongheaded ignorant attempts to save and care for those which natural selection would eliminate.  If evolution by natural selection is the incontrovertible law of the forward progress of life, then to work against it by tending to the weak and sick is to take life backwards rather than forwards.

Most people, of course, are not nearly so bold connecting cosmological evolution to philosophical evolution as was Darwin.  Allowing our sick and maimed to die in the name of natural selection would appall the vast majority us.  And yet, Darwin is simply teasing out the philosophical inevitabilities of his cosmological presuppositions.  He is being perfectly consistent.  Why aren’t we?

The fact of the matter is, the way one views the universe informs and, finally, dictates the morals and ethics one holds.  Darwinian evolution, if it is perceived to be the engine behind the improvement of life, cannot be meddled with by the likes of so-called “do-gooders” who are not really doing good at all.  For such people are slowing evolution’s forward march by caring for the lesser evolved among us.

Christianity, of course, has a very different view of humanity’s place and value.  According to Christianity, human beings are not merely the products of an inexorable evolutionary march, eventually to be displaced as the kings of the cosmos by a better and higher form of life thanks to natural selection.  Rather, we are specially created by God “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27) to be the caretakers of His creation (cf. Genesis 1:28-31).  Thus, we can, and are even bound, not by some unfathomably lengthy evolutionary progress, but by the intentions of our Creator.  And one of His intentions for us is “to love mercy” (Micah 6:8).  So, we are merciful to each other.  We care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Your philosophy is an inextricable concomitant of your cosmology.  So what is your cosmology?  One that is driven by evolution by natural selection?  Or one that rejoices in the merciful, creative hand of our God?  How you answer that question makes all the difference in how you view your life…and the lives of others.

December 8, 2010 at 3:19 pm Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Not Just Mighty, Almighty

My Thanksgiving started out well enough.  Melody and I hosted our family’s Thanksgiving dinner this year, complete with turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings.  The food was delicious.  In fact, everyone had to loosen their belts a couple of notches when we were finished.  Thanksgiving success!  But the most exciting part of my Thanksgiving was yet to come.

After having to turn down tickets three times this season because of previous commitments, I was offered some tickets to go see my Texas Longhorns play the Aggies on Thanksgiving night in Austin.  I could hardly wait.  It didn’t matter that I was full and tired.  It didn’t matter that a cold front was blowing through, dropping temperatures to near freezing.  I was ready for some football!  And so, I arrived at Darryl K. Royal Memorial Stadium, decked out in orange, ready to watch the Longhorns run, pass, and tackle their way to victory in a last ditch effort to get a bowl bid.  And we almost had it…until that interception at the end of the game.  Final score:  24-17.  Aggies win.

It was a long drive home that night.  Last year, the scenario of a losing season seemed impossible.  After all, less than a year ago, we were playing in the BCS Championship game.   We were the mighty warriors of the gridiron.  But what a difference a year makes.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen (cf. 2 Samuel 1:25)!

Even the mightiest of men can fall.  Isaiah puts it well:  “Even youths shall faint and be weary; and young men shall fall exhausted” (Isaiah 40:30).  This is demonstrated time and time again in the pages of Scripture.

In Joshua 10:2, we read about the city of Gibeon:  “Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities…and all its men were warriors.”  The Hebrew word for “warriors” is gibor, meaning “mighty.”  And yet, even the mighty men of Gibeon are no match for the Israelites. For the Gibeonites “fear greatly for their lives” (9:24) because of the Israelites’ success in their campaign against the nations of Canaan and even seek to make a peace treaty with the them.  The Gibeonites’ mightiness fails.

Then, in 1 Samuel 17:51, we read about the Philistine fighter Goliath:  “David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it.  When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.”  The Hebrew word for “champion” is again gibor.  With a smooth stone and a sling, David does what a whole Israelite army cannot:  he slays the mighty man Goliath.  And Goliath’s mightiness fails.

The mightiness of men, be they warriors or football players, fails.  The mightiness of our God, however, does not.

Some 725 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesies concerning Him:  “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” (Isaiah 9:6).  “A child will be born,” Isaiah says, “and he will be called, ‘Mighty.’”  The Hebrew word for “mighty” is, once again, gibor.  However, this mighty One is unlike other mighty ones in the Bible.  For when the word gibor is used, it is often used in conjunction with the word ish, the Hebrew word for “man.”  But when it is used in Isaiah 9:6, it is used with the word el, Hebrew for “God.”  And this makes all the difference.  For when the Scriptures talk about the mightiness of men, time and time again, we watch their mightiness fall, falter, and fail.  But when the Scriptures speak of the mightiness of God, they speak of it in eternal and unfailing terms.  As Nehemiah explains, “God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, keeps covenant and steadfast love” (Nehemiah 9:32).  God’s keeps His mightiness going, as demonstrated through His faithfulness to His covenant promises and His steadfast love to you and me.

Finally, our God is not just mighty, He is Almighty.  That is, He is the supreme Mighty One.  For this reason, we trust that His mightiness will never fail.  So trust not in your own strength!  Trust not in your own gibor!  For you have someone much mightier than you.  And He’s lying in a manger.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Nordlie’s ABC!

December 6, 2010 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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