Wednesday, September 20, 2017

#185 Paradox

Smoky Mountain Reflections #185

            “Paradox”: “a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true.” This is one of Meriam Webster’s definitions for this word, but I would like to tweak it a bit for the purpose of this article on biblical paradox, which we may define as a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is clearly biblically true. There are many things that we believe, teach, and confess as members of the body of Christ that are biblically sound but challenge our limited ability to comprehend what God reveals.

            There are a number of easy targets on this topic: miraculous events, Christ’s real presence in the supper, the monergistic nature of faith, and single predestination just to name a few. The last issue of The Lutheran Witness addressed some of these questions, but I would like to address one question this month and process it from a few angles. “Why some, but not others?” Even more specifically, the aggressive version of this question that seeks to paint God as an unjust bully by condemning God for condemning those who are never exposed to Christ or his Gospel. It is often asked something like this: “I do not like your god because he condemns people to hell for being ignorant of his rules. How can they believe in Jesus if they are never exposed to him or his Gospel?” This is not an easy question to respond to, if for no other reason than the fact that oftentimes the person asking is not really interested in hearing the answer. Rather, they judge you as being too judgmental. (See what I did there?)

            However, there are biblical truths with which we can respond to this question. First, I want to point out that this question actually makes an unprovable assumption; namely, that some people are never exposed to Christ’s saving Gospel. This is a logical assumption, but an assumption all the same because we do not know how God, who created time and space, and functions outside of it, still works things out in accord with his nature.  That being said, here are a few examples of what the Bible does have to say about this issue.

            WARNING: those who do not believe the Bible to be God’s word may balk at its citation, but if the God described in the Bible is the topic of discussion, it is only fitting to refer to it as a source. Also, while we cite the Bible, a non-christian must cite themselves or the collective thought of people they agree with. (I will trust in God rather than man, thank you very much. )

God is Just: There are over 300 verses that directly or indirectly assert God’s just nature but here are just a few:
Isaiah 61:8a “For I, the LORD, love justice”, Psalm 99:4 “The strength of the King loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob”, Deuteronomy 10:18 “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing”,
Psalm 140:12 “I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor.”

God wills that none should perish: 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  It is not God’s will that any should spend eternity in a place he created for rebellious disobedient angels, however he does not force his will or forgiveness on anyone.

He suffered and died for all: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world (ALL of it) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Romans 3:23-24 “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.”

            So even though we cannot understand and it saddens us that some reject salvation, we can still know that is not God’s will. Because he is just (fair), he wills that none should perish and he suffered and died so that none would have to.

            The reason there is never a fully satisfactory answer to this question is because the all-powerful creator of the universe wills that none should perish and still some do. This is a paradox, illogical on the surface while at the same time biblical and true. And it should motivate us to share his good news whenever we have the opportunity.


In Christ, Pastor Portier

Saturday, August 19, 2017

# 184 Gender Soup

Smoky Mountain Reflections #184

            Live and let live, that is the siren cry of our society today as the oppressive rainbow descends on every aspect of our lives. “Mind your own business and don’t go around forcing your morals on others.” “I am not a part of your club so I do not have to follow your rules.” Speaking the truth in love is not a walk in the park these days. If you dare say anything that can be construed as derogatory about the LGBTQ….LMNOP agenda, be prepared to feel their wrath. They tell us to live and let live, but are themselves doing anything but. If you do not give at least tacit approval of their message you become a target.

            They claim to want to be left alone but it is not Christians who are trying to force their views, rather, it is quite the other way around. Donate a few dollars to a campaign to legally uphold the traditional and historical definition of marriage, and you’ll be hunted down and fired like CEO Brenden Eich. Ask not to be involved in celebrating their unions with your artistic talents, and you’ll be seen in court! Unless we decorate their cakes, arrange their flowers, and sing a loud song of approval in word and deed, we are shut down, prosecuted by the local and state governments, and pressured by every available “news” medium and market means. I ask you then, who is forcing their views on whom???

            The word “discrimination” gets a bad rap these days. Let’s first define the root word; to discriminate is to discern and recognize a difference and to decide or differentiate. Each of us discriminate every time we make a decision. Discrimination has come to carry a negative connotation when that discrimination is based on race, age, sex, or now, sexual preference. Our constitution speaks only of created beings, but the idea of protected groups is a legitimate development from our court system due to injustices perpetrated by the majority on a minority part of the population in the past. That being said, “We the people” are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, which means that the government does not give them to us, they are ours by virtue of our existence.

            Those of us seeking to live our lives in accord with scripture and God’s help are feeling a bit oppressed by a new social super-clause that seems to override the rights of some citizens to a simple good conscience and self-determination. If you follow most of the wedding service issues, those businesses are not refusing services. They actually do business with and have sold cakes, flowers etc. to the people who are suing them. They are simply asking not to be forced to use their creative and artistic gifts to affirm and celebrate something they disagree with.

            Healthy societies make and enforce laws that protect the innocent, the weak, and the family unit as defined by simple biology. History has shown that when societies abandon the family as their building block, they go the way of all the other PAST civilizations, into decline and eventually destruction. I am not a “chicken little”, the sky is not falling, but we need to speak the truth in love even when we are labeled as bigots for doing so, because it is or duty to love and serve our neighbors.

            As the summer wears on, take a little time to pray for our country and our confused neighbors who think that standing by while the consciences and beliefs of others are railroaded is actually the open-minded and civil thing to do. In the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We are called to speak the truth in love, keep calm, press on, and share and live our faith as a bold witness to His Gospel.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Saturday, July 8, 2017

SMR #183

Smoky Mountain Reflections #183

            “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is a famous line from the second Star Trek movie “The Wrath of Kahn”. (Probably the best of all the Star Trek movies in the opinion of this Trekkie.) Hollywood, however, is not a good place to go when seeking advice on how to love God and your neighbor. So, while “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” seems a very logical statement, it is not very biblical.

            Before you get all up in arms with your American democratic logic and congregational polity, however, give me a chance to explain. There is nothing wrong with deciding things using the democratic process, but there are some exceptions.

            First, we do not decide doctrine by popular vote, we decide doctrine based on scripture. In our particular church body, when a question of doctrine or practice is raised at our triennial synod convention, typically resolutions are made and passed democratically to send the question to our CTCR (Commission On Theology and Church Relations). This is a body of trusted experts and theologians who address the question put to them by producing a report which explains in detail what scripture has to say in answer to the issue at hand. For example, in 1985 the CTCR published a report on “Women in the Church”. In this 48-page document they clearly and biblically answered questions with regard to: headship, authority, the pastoral office, and women’s suffrage. No process is perfect but it is the best way we have at present to address questions of doctrine and practice within our congregational framework.

            Second, sometimes the many may defer to the few in the interest of Christian love. In issues that are not doctrinal, ie. facilities, policies, guidelines, and community involvement, sometimes the majority will choose to do or not do something in order to avoid causing offense or troubling the conscience of fellow members of the body of Christ. Here are a couple of examples:
1.     I know of a congregation that chose not to have beer at their Octoberfest one year to avoid harming the conscience of just a few of their members even though the majority were in favor of having beer at the event.
2.     The second example is from here at Saint Paul. For a number of years some of our members have had to miss Easter Sunday because of a sensitivity to Easter lilies, so our elders and our council unanimously decided that we would no longer have Easter lilies in our sanctuary.

             I love Easter lilies and the people who made the above decision love them as well. However, in Christian love they chose to make it possible for the small number of our members to attend Easter services who otherwise would be unable to. In addition, they asked me to work with our altar guild to find another God-pleasing way to decorate our sanctuary for Easter.

            Now, you might ask what the biblical basis is for such a decision? Well, first, deference in Christian love over non-doctrinal issues seems to me to be a fulfillment of treating your neighbor as you would like to be treated (Mark 12:31 and many other texts).

            Besides that, however, there are biblical examples of needs being sacrificed for the benefit of many, right from the mouth of the high priest Caiaphas, in John 11:50b. “…it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not realize that he was in essence speaking a prophecy that Jesus would fulfill, but in this case the one Christ would suffer death for all mankind, not just the nation of Israel. So, in like fashion we follow Christ’s sacrificial example when loving our neighbor, and we give deference (let them have things their way) as long as their way is in keeping with God’s will. If it is not, we speak the truth in love and pray God’s blessing of enlightenment and faith to light the path of righteousness for us all.

Have a blessed summer,
In Christ, Pastor Portier

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer Matins #182

Smoky Mountain Reflections #182

            I am going to use my reflection this month to talk about worship. This summer we will be offering a third worship opportunity during the Sunday school hour at 10:00. From a practical stand point this offers our congregation and our visiting summer guest more flexibility with a third worship time on Sundays. The service will be a bit shorter to avoid conflict with the two other services. We will use the Matins setting, two of the readings and two of the hymns from the divine service being used that day as well as the same sermon, the Lords supper will not be available at this service.

            So what is the Matins service. Early in the third century daily prayer offices became a regular part of the churches prayer and worship life. Matins grew out of this tradition. Matins means “of the morning” as it was the service that was used to begin the day at first light. The format of the service while ancient most of the elements in its current form is about 1200 years old.

            One of my favorite parts of this service aside from the fact that its music and words are beautiful renderings of God’s holy word is the “Te Deum”. Canticles sung in this manner are an acquired taste but once you learn the tune you start focusing on what it confesses. The Te Deum is an ancient canticle which is believed to have been sung by many of the martyrs of the early church as they marched to their death. The two final stanzas are a little newer being only about 1500 years old and the musical setting is only about 1100 years old. It is in essence, the creed set to music. We will also sing one of my favorite hymns in the place of the Te Deum for part of the summer 941 “We Praise You and Acknowledge You” The tune used for this hymn is quite contemporary less than 100 years old and the Lyrics were composed by a living, breathing, preaching LCMS pastor Stephen P. Starke in 1999.               

            So if you want to give this third service a try this summer, feel free to join us. 

In Christ alone
Pastor Portier


                                              

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sola




                                      Smoky Mountain Reflections #181
We as Lutherans often speak of the three Solas of the reformation, it is even on the cover of our directory this year; Scripture alone, Grace alone and Faith alone. We can traditionally expand this into The Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation: Sola scriptura, Sola fide, Sola gratia, Solus Christus and Soli Deo Gloria.

“Lutherans Engage”, the quarterly magazine for the mission efforts of the LCMS, had an article about   “CLET” The Center for Lutheran Studies in English. This Center is an important place for the training of leaders and pastors for the French speaking mission work in 6 West African countries. This is one of many mission efforts of our church body all over the globe. A sign at the entrance of the center shows a painting of Martin Luther,  the Luther Rose and  the 5 Solas of the reformation.

So, what are these 5 Solas? They are Latin for some important principles.
-        Sola scriptura: Scripture alone is the source and norm for all Christian teaching.
-        Sola fide: Faith alone is what connects the believer to salvation through Christ.
-        Sola gratia: Grace alone, salvation is a gift and no works of man can save.
-        Solus Christus: Salvation through Christ alone.
-        Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone.

The last two Solas are 20th century additions to the first three. Why all this talk of Solas?  Well, you may
remember I warned of the troubles that come with anniversaries a couple months ago, past generations have warned against the distraction of anniversaries. Here is yet another example of such an issue.

            PBS ran a reformation series as well as a number of other news outlets running articles and new pieces over the past few months on this topic. They must all be singing from the same song sheet reducing the Historic three Solas to two and replacing Grace with ….get ready for it…”the priesthood of all believers”.  Talk about cherry picking. Notice they kept Scripture and Faith alone because we can (falsely) take credit for our understanding of scripture and our faith. I say falsely because the Holy Spirit gets credit for both. But to replace Grace alone, which is really hard to take credit for with a completely different topic, reveals that they are trying to pigeon hole Luther into their revolutionary narrative. To do so, would make him the genesis for all sorts of terrible things in history that he and scripture would condemn.

            Luther only promoted and discussed “the priesthood of all believers” in the context of a response to the abuses of the Pope and the Roman Catholic priesthood. But Luther never argues that “the priesthood of all believers” in anyway replaces the Office of the Holy Ministry that God gave as a gift to His church. God’s church is a priesthood to the whole world and He instituted the means through which His Grace was to be delivered to His church.  His Under Shepherds, serving in the office, deliver His gifts of Word and Sacrament to His people.

            Luther sought not to rebel but to return the church to its roots. And the Solas of the reformation are sound principals for us to draw from. We are the beneficiaries of past generations’ pains and struggles for these truths. We, God’s people, hold that Scripture alone is the source and norm for all we believe and teach. We confess that these reveled truths of his Scripture make clear that it is through Grace alone that we can have Faith alone which saves through Christ alone and this is all to the Glory of God alone.

In Christ alone,
Pastor Portier        

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#180 What Christianity is not

Smoky Mountain Reflections #180

            I grow so tired of listening to and reading condemnations of what Christianity is not by folks who blame Christianity for whatever straw man they just set ablaze.

            Christianity is not: hateful, spiteful, ignorant, mean spirited, intolerant, unreasonable, unkind, unfriendly, disrespectful, a political system, license to harm, mistreat, molest, or any other of the myriad of crazy things I have heard people say and write about Christianity. Anyone who thinks or says these things is either ignorant of what Holy Scripture teaches or just plain dishonest. Have Christians misrepresented who and what Christianity is in the past and still do today by doing many of the things listed above? YES! But God’s word does not say ‘read’ Christians to understand what Christianity is, it says to read God’s word.

            Christianity is not a system of faith that is bound to the civil laws and customs of ancient Israel.
            Christianity is not a system of faith that is bound to the ceremonial laws of ancient civilizations.
            Christianity is not a license to do sinful acts that Scripture records and condemns.
            Christianity is not Mormonism AKA the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
            Christianity is not the Jehovah’s witnesses.
            Christianity is not any group that does not agree and confess the historic creeds.
            Christianity is not like all other religions, a list of how to get to God rules.
Christianity is not one of many paths to the same place.
It is and claims to be the one and only exclusive narrow path to the one true God.
And that narrow path is Jesus! Who comes to us.

            So, what is Christianity? It is the house of living stones that tries and fails daily to live up to the exacting call to perfection of her Lord and Savior. And while we are poor reflections of what our Lord would have us to be, we struggle daily trying to be just that.

            Christianity is the body of Christ on earth seeking to love God and our neighbors as He would have us do it. We do the best we can (with His help) following His Holy Moral Law summarized in the Ten Commandments.

            Christianity is the body of Christ on earth seeking to share with the world the value of believing, teaching and confessing who and what the one and only Holy Triune God is, as revealed to us in His word. More importantly we share that he sent His only begotten Son into human flesh to redeem all mankind. God desires that none should perish.

            Christianity is the body of Christ on earth seeking to live lives of prayer with the one and only Holy Triune God, praying for help while loving God and neighbor, praying for all people, places and things around us both near and far, seeking His will in all things. He created everything and is the source of everything.  All pain, suffering and evil are the result of rebellion against Him.

            Christianity is the body of Christ on earth gathering around God’s gifts of Word, Baptism, Absolution and Holy Supper to receive the promises of forgivness and assurance of eternal salvation with and through the means He established in His word to deliver these gifts.

 In grateful response to God’s great kindness and gift of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, Christianity is: loving, agreeable, informed, kind, tolerant, reasonable, friendly and respectful.  It is a system that promotes good citizenship in any political system, license to help, entreat, nurture, or any other of the myriad of wonderful things we as the body of Christ have done and promoted for two thousand years. Selflessness, putting God and our neighbor first, is what Holy Scripture teaches. I repeat - Have Christians misrepresented who and what Christianity is in the past and still do today by doing many of the bad things previously listed above? YES! But God’s word does not say ‘read’ Christians, to understand what Christianity is, it says to read God’s word.

In Christ

Pastor Portier

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

SMR #179

Smoky Mountain Reflections #179

            As we enter the Lenten season I thought I would talk a little about numbers, our church body and how the demographics of our nation are affecting our church. Most of the information in this reflection comes from an article in the Lutheran Witness back in November titled Numerical Decline in the LCMS by Dr. Ryan MacPherson.

            First, the LCMS currently has 6101 congregations with a membership of just over two million souls. On any given Sunday, a little over 36% of our baptized membership attends church. Our church body has seen a significant decline in membership since our peak in 1965. We are however, one of many conservative church bodies who have suffered much less than the more liberal church bodies who have declined even faster. For example the Episcopal and the Presbyterian Church USA, two church bodies that were once twice our size in membership, are now smaller than we are.  There are a number of factors that affect this but a declining Lutheran birth rate and a reduced retention rate of baptized infants are a few of them.

            Historically and even now God’s church is scoffed at, rejected and persecuted. There is little we can do to combat the ethos of the world we live in but we can and should continue to press on seeking to increase His church members while not being disappointed if that does not happen. We must live our lives in accordance with God’s will and seek to share His Gospel whenever we are able. While we can’t change the world, it is helpful to understand what is behind our dwindling numbers so that we can take some steps, with God’s help, to make God pleasing changes that can help the church remain healthy and grow both in spirit and number.

            One of the main factors for our decline was mentioned by President Harrison a few years ago and though scoffed at, the statistics bear out his assertion. It is our birth rate, at 4% in 1956 (4 births for every 100 baptized members) that declined to 2% in the 1970’s and is now just over 1%. Dr. MacPherson suggests that there are seven factors that contribute to this steady four decade decline; delayed marriage,  birth control,   infertility, divorce, student debt, doctrinal change and vocational confusion.

            Dr. MacPherson recommends three things that we might do to help in rebuilding our baptized and confirmed membership;
1.     Revive the teaching of biblical and confessional Lutheran understanding of family vocations.
An emphasis on multi- generational ministry; giving young parents good role models and mentors to help them become better parents and spouses.
2.     Foster inter-generational models of ministry. Our culture persistently mocks elders and drives youth to their peers for advice. Having events or activities that include the whole family, youth, parents, and grandparents can create a 4th commandment friendly environment.
3.     Provide economic and moral support to young families. People are more likely to have and raise more Godly children if they feel the economic or social burden will not be too much and that their community will support them in that endeavor.    

There is actually one belief system that believed and taught celibacy for all its members. They believed that others would have children for them to raise.  That system did not work very well though and they officially closed their covenant book in 1957. Today they have only two official members and soon the Shakers will be no more.

It has always been the health and support of families that provided a biblical model for healthy congregations. While we here at Saint Paul in Sevierville have seen a steady average 5% increase in membership and attendance over the past 23 years, most of that growth has been retirees transferring to the area.  But our congregation has baptized 48 people into God’s church and I have been blessed to conduct 29 of those baptisms over the past 10 years.  Wonderfully, 17 of those were children. We can and should be thankful for whatever role we are called to play in God’s church or in our families, loving and serving our neighbors always looking for ways in support and encourage strong healthy families which can be a key factor in a strong healthy congregation.   

In Christ Pastor Portier