Tuesday, April 10, 2018

#190


Smoky Mountain Reflections #190
            “Consent” has become the new golden standard for our society. If you can establish “consent” between two or any number of adults, then anything they choose to do is thought of as being their business alone, as long as their activities do not negatively affect anyone else. However, this is a very subjective standard for a society. It becomes nearly impossible for anyone to keep themselves clear of the danger of “negatively affecting” others, because the terms are subjective. There are many who like this because it means they can make their own rules to suit their desires, even twisting reality (like attempting to argue that the words “male”, “female”, or “marriage” mean something other than what they always have as defined by scripture, science and common sense). “Consent” can become coercion, derision or some other form of manipulation depending on who defines the word. “Adulthood” is a biological concept which the medical community generally agrees is not reached mentally until the mid-20s or even 30 years old, but even now, there are pedophiles arguing that children can be considered adults, and that as consenting adults, they too can do anything they want.
            When we try to establish behavioral norms without God’s word and guidance, we resign ourselves to a whole sea of often contradictory information and to the whims of our sinful desires. God’s word on the other hand, is objective and inerrant, and provides clear guidance for all. If we follow his word, we will never be in danger of offending God or even our neighbor, unless our neighbor seeks to act counter the word (in which case we should side with God and let the chips fall where they may).
            Parents, grandparents, and Christian communities have as part of their vocations training up their children in the way they should go. If they are doing that, the children will be taken care of no matter their needs, and whether their brains are fully developed or not. If a child is brought up in God’s word, then the confusion of the opening paragraph is avoided by simply following the 6th commandment. Marriage is the only fitting form of consent. When consent is defined as marriage, then rather than there being ambiguity there is an objective reality which binds two individuals together for life. If they are blessed with children, those children have parents who are legally bound to them, and the whole community has a framework to help that union and family succeed. Without these simple pillars holding up the family, history teaches us that society will collapse.
            Many things in the adult world can be compared to fire. When used properly, as fire in the fireplace, they provide warmth and comfort for all. When taken out of their proper contexts though, they can be incredibly damaging, like fire climbing up the wall. Heterosexual monogamous marriage is the fireplace God has made for sexual activity. When a different standard is applied, the fire is removed from the fireplace and the house burns down.
            Sexual activity in any context, whether it produces children or not, has physical (think oxytocin & STDs) and mental effects on both the individuals involved and the entire community. When it is in one-man, one-woman marriage, consent is solidified with a ring and a verbal and/or written contract to provide support, protection, mutual love, and encouragement. This provides for the needs and concerns of all in the community by supporting what communities are made of: people belonging to families. When “consent” becomes the only standard, our sinful emotions and desires remove the fire from the fire place, and everyone has to endure the pain and suffering that that brings, like depression, loneliness, STDs, abandoned children, poverty, and abuse. The community carries the emotional and financial cost of these things, and in our day we see it perpetuated and sanctioned to support the whims of a society that affirms things which scripture condemns.
            Let’s keep the fire in the fireplace so we can all be warmed and comforted by the results of God’s design for intimacy and our families. Let’s acknowledge the biological reality of the clear binary sexual system which God created. Let’s seek to love and serve those who suffer from dysphoric anomalies that are a part of the crosses they bear but do not define who they are. Politics based on race, color, gender, or sexual preference only divide and harm our society. We are all children of the all-powerful and loving God who gave his son to suffer and die for the whole human race (one race). No matter what we struggle with, he invites us to leave it at the foot of the cross and trust in him for eternal salvation.
In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

#189


Smoky Mountain Reflections #189

            As we enter the month of March, we do so with the mantle of the Lenten season draped over all of our thoughts and activities. In this time of worship and reflection I often feel a personal need for a deeper understanding of what we believe teach and confess; to dig deeper into the meaning of all the things we say and do to teach the faith, learning to apply all the great gifts God gives us in and through his word and sacraments. It can be helpful to start with a broad overview, such as orienting yourself on a map. Start with the big picture, then slowly work your way down to the place where you are, and you may gain a fuller understanding both of where you fit in the grand scheme of things and how this functions in your immediate surroundings. That being said, let’s take a little deeper look at why we do what we do in worship.

            First, our church year is arranged according to the insights of thousands of years of Christian worship practices, holding on to and treasuring the best and most edifying ways of teaching the faith. This framework teaches two things very clearly: Jesus’ life and his teachings. The first half (or feast half) of the year teaches the life of Christ; anticipating his birth (Advent), celebrating that birth (Christmas), revealing who he is and what he came to do (Epiphany), anticipating his fulfillment of God’s promises with 40 days of reflection on his journey to the cross (Lent), and celebrating his resurrection (Easter). At the end of the Easter season we kick off the second half of the church year with the celebration of Pentecost. In this half of the church year, we methodically go through the teachings of Christ, seeking the fullest coverage of all that he taught. This pattern of textual rotation is used to direct and focus the liturgy and hymns of our worship. And on top of all that we have special days with feasts and festivals that celebrate heroes of the faith (historic saints) who we hold up as examples of a Christ-centered life as well as other key events in Christ life. These feast and festivals fall on specific calendar dates such as the traditional date of a saint’s martyrdom for confessing the faith.    

            We get a similar focus on Christ life and teachings in every worship service hitting all the high points of that are mentioned above in the feast half of the year while also singing, speaking, confessing and hearing His teaching.  

            When we teach about the faith as Lutherans, we use Luther’s small catechism. When we begin or transfer membership in the church we publicly confess our faith in accord with this catechism. In every part of our Divine Service we are focusing on the six chief parts of the faith, as outlined in the catechism.

            The Ten Commandments: Every time any part of the liturgy, preaching, singing or praying in the service convicts you of your sinful nature or any particular sin, this is the commandments at work in the service.

            The Historic Creeds: After the proclamation of the Gospel whether through reading or preaching, we confess our faith together using the Apostles’, Nicaean, or Athanasian Creeds. Any part of the service that sings, says or proclaims the triune name of God is also a confession of his triune nature.

            The Lord’s Prayer: After we have prepared ourselves in the liturgy to receive the Lord’s Supper and before hearing his words spoken over the elements, we pray together the prayer he taught us.

            Baptism: This is the only thing that we do not do every time we worship, and because it is a once in a lifetime event, we celebrate it greatly when we do. Many people, however, remember their baptism at numerous places in the service by crossing themselves, remembering they were baptized into God’s triune name. The rubrics (red words in the hymnal) suggest the times in the service this can be done.

            Confession and Absolution: We do this at the beginning of every service, because we daily sin much and need to confess that truth to hear God’s sweet words so absolution spoken to us. This gives us great comfort as we enter into the Divine Service, washed clean.

            The Lord’s Supper: Almost every time we worship here at Saint Paul we receive our Lord’s precious body and blood, in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine, given and shed for us to eat and drink for our forgiveness.

            Every time we participate in the Divine Service, we are participating in a short one-hour catechism class as well, and are having our bodies and souls fed and nurtured for this life and the next. God created us with five senses and uses all five of them to assure us of his love and forgiveness for us, in and through the word and sacraments.

Have a blessed Lenten season,
In Christ,
Pastor Portier             

Thursday, February 8, 2018

#188

Smoky Mountain Reflections #188

            Sometimes things line up in very unique ways, and you find yourself scratching your head, saying, “Isn’t that interesting?”. We have such an occurrence this year, and it will reveal where people’s priorities lay, when the differing calendars of the world and the church clash.

            It begins this month on the day that we celebrate romantic love. February 14th (which many know as Valentine’s day) is a day filled with heart-shaped with red boxes full of fancy chocolate, not to mention the flowers, balloons, cupids, and other pink and red reflections associated with romantic love. The traditions now associated with Valentine's day were first written of in Geoffrey Chaucer's “Parlement of Foules” published in the late 1300s. They were set in the fictional context of an old tradition, and did not really even exist before Chaucer! Prior to that, the church simply celebrated him as a martyr for the faith. We as Lutherans (and for that matter, most Christians) who celebrate saints do not even consider this a feast day, but simply a day of commemoration in which we remember his sacrifice for the gospel as a reminder for us to be strong witnesses for the faith. That being said, Ash Wednesday is a much more important day in the church’s calendar, and this year, it falls on February 14th! Ash Wednesday is almost certainly one of the top five most important days in the year for most Christians, even though many American Christians do not even know what it is. So while most of our society will be swimming in pink hearts and chocolates, the faithful will be attending church to have ashes applied to their foreheads and being reminded that they are created from dust, and to dust they shall return. I am not saying, however, that this is an “either/or” proposition; you can celebrate both on February 14th this year, just not at the same time.

            Next, the very highest day on the church’s calendar, Easter, will fall on the day that many Christians joke is the holiday for atheism, April 1st. That is right, April Fool’s Day and Easter come together this year. But don’t worry, I do not think atheists will stop hiding eggs or petting bunnies on Easter (which of course we know is what Easter is all about…wink, wink, nod, nod). No! Easter is about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead, in which he proved his victory over sin, death and the devil, and there’s nothing foolish about that.

            Finally, if I told you that many protestant Christians would be canceling their worship services on a Sunday this year you might accuse me of being ridiculous. However, it is true; thousands of churches will close their doors this year on a Sunday in December, canceling their services so their members can stay home and celebrate our national day of materialism. You guessed it, Christmas day falls on a Sunday. We here at Saint Paul will have our regular 8:30 & 11 AM services on that day, but sadly, many churches will be closed entirely. In fact, many churches do not have Christmas day services even in other years, because it is regarded as “a day for family” (as if gathering to celebrate the holy family and the birth of our savior precluded that).

            Worry not, however; 2018 will not be good or bad based on calendar conundrums. The Lord is faithful; he will be with you always, and He will continue to care for and nurture God’s people whenever they gather around His gifts of word and sacrament. So have a worry-free, blessed 2018.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

#187 sorry for the late post

Smoky Mountain Reflections
December 2017 #187
            (Warning: German contained in the following sentence:) Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt. Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier. dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür.  Translation: Advent, Advent, one candle burns. First one, then two, then three, then four. Then stands the Christ child before the door.  Translation is not one of my better skills, so I will claim poetic license in my translation.  This is a poem that is often heard about this time of year in Bavaria.  It really is quite a nice poem and harkens back to the region’s strong Christian heritage.  Bavarian children do not see the Christmas tree in their home until Christmas Eve.  The ringing of a small bell signifies that the Christ kindl or engel (Christ child or angel) has delivered the tree, the decorations and all the presents.  Their living room has been transformed into a small haven where the family gathers around the solemn occasion commemorating the birth of the Christ child.  These are wonderful cultural traditions that bring Christ to the center of the Christmas experience.  All the candles on the Advent wreath are lit. The warm glow of candle light fills the room as children read the Bethlehem account, and Christmas hymns round out the experience.  The sights, smells and sounds of Christmas and its importance fill the hearts and minds of all who gather for this grand family event. 

            The retailors bypassed Halloween & Thanksgiving this year and kicked off the Christmas shopping  before fall even arrived.  The full commercialization of Christmas on an American scale has never taken a complete foothold in the European culture.  But there is a sad reality in the backdrop of this beautiful cultural story.  Europe with its rich Christian heritage is referred to by most experts today as a post Christian society.  By some estimates, less than 5% of Europe’s population attends church on a regular basis.  Why do I share this sad truth with you at such a joyous time of anticipation?  As we prepare for Christmas during this Advent season, we should keep all of God’s creation in our prayers.  There are some scary similarities between the America of today and the Europe of only 20 or 30 years ago.  If you look at Europe’s church attendance numbers from the 1950’s, you will find over 50% attended church regularly.  Currently a little over 50% of Americans claim to attend church somewhat regularly if you include the CME's (Christmas, Mother's Day & Easter). The actual numbers float under less than 20% of Americans attend church on any given Sunday.  But we, like Europe, are on the decline and reasons for the decline are many and various.  However, we need not fret over these sad truths—just be aware and pray about them. And remember that God is in charge.

            Advent is a time of preparation, and prepare we will this year.  We will enjoy an Advent series produced by Pastor Dettmer Beginning November the 29th @ 7 PM with the theme of Hope and Colossians 1:3-14, Then Dec the 6th Peace and Isiah 66: 1-14, Then Dec 13th Joy and Isaiah 55: 1-11, and Finally Dec 20th Love and Micah 6:6-8. Make time in your busy schedule to attend this year. As we venture back in time to celebrate the birth of our Lord and savior.         

            So, as you prepare your hearts during this blessed Advent season, make use of some form of daily devotion.  It will enrich your Advent experience.  During your daily devotion, pray that your family, your friends, your neighbors, our fellow citizens, and people of all nations, who don’t know and who linger in darkness, that the scales which block faith would fall from their eyes and they would be blessed with the promise that the Christ child came to fulfill, and be filled with the assurance of eternal salvation that only faith in the promised Christ Child can provide.

            For anyone who reads this reflection outside of a certain understanding of your eternal existence, I invite you specially to receive this Christmas, the gift that the Christ child came to give you.                         

In Christ, Pastor Portier


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Lesson #186

Smoky Mountain Reflections #186

            About eight years ago, I asked you what you were you thankful for, what those who started the tradition of thanksgiving as we know it had to be thankful for, and whether there was a common thread in their thankfulness. Let’s explore those questions again.

            Harvest festivals and celebrations of the bounty of fall are common practices in the history of most cultures.  A simple research of fall festivals reveals that Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Hebrews, and Egyptians all had, and some continue to have, celebrations that are tied to thankfulness for the great abundance that usually accompanies the harvest time of year.

            But if we examine the history of the American holiday, we find a thankful spirit when there was little to be thankful for, but much to be hopeful about.
            • September 8th, 1565:  600 Spanish settlers held a service of thanksgiving in Saint Augustine, Florida, after surviving months of pain, suffering, and uncertainty while crossing the Atlantic.  They were not thankful for their pain and suffering, but for their deliverance from it and the hope for what lay ahead.
            • December 4th, 1619:  38 English settlers celebrated “a day of thanksgiving to almighty God”, a day to be kept holy by their charter. Even though that settlement later became part of a plantation, a day of thanksgiving is still celebrated on December 4th at that location.  These cold, hungry, unsuccessful settlers just north of Yorktown had little to be thankful for, but that did not stop them from being thankful—not for their hardships, but for their deliverance from them and hope of what lay ahead.
            • Fall 1620:  The suffering pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts survived due to the kindness of the Wampanoag Indians.  They celebrated the first thanksgiving that is the root of our holiday in the fall of 1621.  These suffering settlers who lost many loved ones in that first winter had little to be thankful for, but that did not stop them from being thankful, hard-working stewards who by 1623 had a very bountiful festival.
            • November 26th, 1789:  The first national day of public thanksgiving and prayer was celebrated, after having been declared by our first president in October of that year.  This young nation was not lamenting the losses due to starvation and freezing and war that were suffered by many in the colonies throughout the Revolutionary War. These bold patriots could have focused on their losses and found they had little to be thankful for, but they pressed on with thankful hearts, working hard to build a new country.
            • October 3, 1863:  President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for the observance of the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday.  This first Thanksgiving came in the midst of our nation’s only and most bloody civil war.  Were we thankful that brother was killing brother and neighbor was killing neighbor?  Of course not!  Lincoln’s proclamation shows that just as God’s word says, we can and should give thanks in every circumstance, no matter how dark or bleak.
            • November 1942 was the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated as a federal holiday designated by an Act of Congress.  Again, our nation was in the middle of a world war.  Did Americans grieve over the loss of hundreds of thousands of their countrymen? Yes, but they also celebrated Thanksgiving—sharing food, family, and fellowship, and thanking God for His generosity.
            • November 23rd, 2017: 452 years after that first thanksgiving in Saint Augustine, Florida, we have a chance to worship and celebrate.  The evening before, on November the 22nd, we will have our Thanksgiving service, and on the 23rd, whether your favorite thing is sleeping in, parades, pumpkin pie, turkey, football, or anticipation over black Friday, remember this: all that you have and all that you are is a gift from God. Take time to thank Him for all His blessings. Take time to thank Him for the peace and comfort He provides through all your pain and suffering.  Take time to thank the Creator of all that is for sending His Son to die on a cross so that you might have peace and love in this life and assurance of peace and love for all eternity.

            That is the common thread of thankfulness that permeates the history of thanksgiving.  This is what all who came before us had to be thankful for in the face of their trials and tribulations.  That, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is something to be very thankful for.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier    

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