The Nearness of God

Jesus and guy on bench

June 21, 2017

The Nearness of God

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

Perhaps you have you have read this before, a story that was recently sent to me.

Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youths’ rite of Passage?  His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone.  He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone.  Once he survives the night, he is a MAN. He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own.

The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man!

Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold.  It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.

After sharing this legend, a pastor who is part Cherokee, added: “Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. But, it has a very good lesson for all of us. Even though the Cherokee youth couldn’t see his father sitting next to him, his father was indeed there, ready to fight for his son. We, too, have our heavenly Father with us all the time. The truth is that we are never alone!”

Well said. Your pastor adds this: Whether or not the legend is true, the Word of God always speaks truth. Jesus, who is God and Lord, promised, “I am with you always.”  In every doubt, every problem, every illness, every fear.  Always.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Two Allegiances

June 14, 2017

 Two Allegiances

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:17

two flags

 

Today is Flag Day in the United States, which honors the June 14, 1777 resolution of the Second Continental Congress to call for an official United States Flag. It called for thirteen alternating red and white stripes, and thirteen stars against a blue background, representing a “new constellation.”  It honors the federation of independent yet united states with colors that stand for valor, loyalty, and purity.  Flying that banner shows that we still honor those values, and pray that our nation continues to practice them.

That we are to “honor everyone, love the brotherhood, and fear God” is implied in the pledge to that flag: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As we consider our allegiance to a flag and its country, we remember from last week’s message that we have two allegiances.  While as Christians we always honor God above all else, we also respect that His rule also takes the form of our nation’s civil authority.  When we “honor the emperor”, we respect the authority of God himself. This lessens my often-felt angst about displaying the American flag in church. We do so with the understanding that our nation is a gift of God under His rule.

About 120 years after the United States flag was mandated, Charles C. Overton, Sunday School superintendent from New York, proposed that Christians should also have a flag. About ten years later, in 1907, he teamed up with Ralph Diffendorfer to create one.

It uses the same colors with the same meanings as the U.S. flag. Instead of white stars of the states, there is the red cross of Christ. The red represents His valor, shown in the blood He shed to make us pure. This demonstrated the loyalty of God the Father to keep His promise of a Savior. The national flag reminds us of what our forefathers did and what we are to continue to do.  The Christian flag points to what God has done for us in Christ. That too, is expressed in a pledge: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands, one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.”

With that, we can honor two allegiances, our State, and our Savior. One is for this life only; the other is for this and eternal life. Both are gifts of God. So let us display our allegiances not just with flags, but also with daily displays of valor, loyalty, and purity, in honor of Him who displayed them for us.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

 

Evil and the Two Kingdoms

do not be overcome with evil

June 7, 2017

 Evil and the Two Kingdoms

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them … 17Repay no one evil for evil, … 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God…  20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;  21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. …  4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Romans 12:14—13:4

Without skipping a beat, St. Paul contrasts the two kingdoms of God and how they are to respond to evil. Both kingdoms, the Church and the State, are under God’s authority and are ordained by Him.  Neither is an invention of human reason, nor has permission to usurp authority from the other.  The Church is to do its Kingdom work, and the State is to do its Kingdom work.

By “Church” I do not mean only the institution whereby we collectively preach repentance and forgiveness (Luke 24:47) through the ministry of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacraments.  We are also the Church individually as we personally apply God’s grace in everyday life.

Such is the content of Paul’s 12 chapter of Romans cited above. The Church (collectively and individually) does not curse those who do evil, seek revenge, or is unkind to its enemies.  We are not only to be innocent of the sin of commission, but also of the sin of omission. Therefore, we “overcome evil with good”.  To our enemies we do the opposite of what they do to us.

It is what God did and still does for us in Christ. Though our sin gives God every reason to curse us eternally to hell, he reached into this world with sacrificial love on the cross.  He continues to reach us with love, communicating in Scripture and Sacrament the never-ending and ever-patient mercy of God.

That is not the role that God has given His other Kingdom, the State, as Paul explains in Romans 13.  While the Church is showing mercy, the State has the responsibility to impose order, even by way of punishing the evildoer.  That too is a work of God.

Therefore, a Christian law enforcer or member of the military serves in both kingdoms. He or she will have two vocations: one as servant of the Church, the other as a servant of the State, in one to show mercy and kindness, in the other to punish evil.

The purpose of pointing these distinctions out is that our society gets them enmeshed and confused. When we try to make the State a place of mercy, ignoring the law and not protecting with force those it is to serve, chaos ensues. The Church is not free to fulfill its ministry.  Likewise, when the Church becomes militant it gets in its own way. It presents only the vengeful God, not the Lord known in Christ as one who forgives and restores the penitent.

There are other finer points to this that are fodder for latter discussions, but suffice it to say here that God has ordained two kingdoms.  Pray that each may do its own work, and not that of the other, so that the citizens of both kingdoms will be blessed.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

What Do You Expect?

heb111

May 31, 2017

What Do You Expect?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Expectations are fickle and malleable phenomena. For example, when your favorite ball team is on a winning streak, you watch the game with a different set of expectations than if they were on a losing streak.  During the Texas Rangers recent ten game winning streak, the expectation was that they would just keep winning. During a game in which they trailed, fans didn’t wonder whether they would win, but only when and who would get the winning hit. Likewise, in a losing streak, no lead is safe enough. Fans would expect the bullpen to give up runs that they didn’t allow when they were in the winning streak. Expectations can make someone overly optimistic or overly pessimistic.

That’s why faith is so important. It doesn’t base expectations on recent history or current circumstance.  Instead, faith remembers God’s past actions and rests its expectations on His words and promises.  By faith, in obedience to God, Abraham would offer his only son Isaac on an altar. He expected that God would keep his promise to make him a father of a great nation and raise him from the dead. And why not? Had he not seen God’s faithful promise already fulfilled in Isaac’s birth to his 90 year old wife Sarah?

By faith, we can dare to expect God’s forgiveness for our many sins.  Our expectation is not based on our current behavior or circumstances, for in truth, we daily fall short of God’s will. Rather, we base our expectation on the promises fulfilled by Christ on the cross and risen again for the forgiveness of our sins.

What do you expect from God?  Sin puts us all on a losing streak of sin.  You might expect punishment appropriate for your sin.  However, if by sincere repentance you hold to the promises fulfilled in Christ, then you can expect eternal life. Let faith, not history, or your personal losing streak, shape your expectations.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz