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

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