Here are some items from last Sunday’s church services. I will not proofread this—-just to forewarn you!
A. The main text at the LCMS service was Hebrews 10:15-25. That text talks about how believers have confidence to enter the holy places through the blood of Jesus.
The pastor talked about things that sap our confidence. We may fear public speaking or going out on our first date. Maria in the Sound of Music tried to have confidence to become a governess to seven children, even though she had no previous experience with children. The pastor shared about how when he was a child and lived in a small town in Wisconsin, he was intimidated by the big city. He also told about a person in another church that he pastored in the past. This person served the church a lot but preferred to do so behind the scenes. He would clear the furnace, for example. But he did not like to go in front of the church for communion. As a result, there were only two times in his life when he took communion: when he was confirmed as a child, and when he died.
The pastor related another story about a truck driver he knew who had slept with women other than his wife. This man was afraid that, at the last judgment, all five women would be there before God, testifying against him.
The pastor said that we may not have confidence to, say, do public speaking, or whatever we fear. But we can have the confidence to approach God, due to what Christ has done. Christ took on our guilt and shame at the cross.
And yet, hopefully, God’s love for us will alleviate our fear about other things. When the pastor was a high school student doing forensics, his mother sat in the back whenever he spoke, providing him with support. It helped him to know that there was somebody in the audience who loved him.
B. At the LCMS Bible study, the teacher was continuing his series on patristic attempts to conceptualize Jesus’ divinity. Some points that were made:
—-Although Jesus in his life on earth continually said that he and his Father were one, the disciples did not get it. At Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, they were afraid. Ordinarily, the Romans did not just arrest the Messianic claimant, but they arrested his followers as well, and they hanged them publicly as an example of what Rome does to those who resist it. Jesus and the disciples were from Galilee and had a recognizable Galilean accent. Those on the road to Emmaus were running away from Jerusalem! And the disciples hid in the upper room, remembering that was the last place they had all met. It was after Jesus’ resurrection that Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It is due to the resurrection that God was revealed to be Trinitarian. The resurrection convinced them that Jesus was divine, but they had to figure out how that was the case, while God is one. Worship led to reflection, which then impacted worship.
—-Someone in the class shared about a friend who was afraid of death and wanted Jesus to appear to him. After a night of wrestling, the friend concluded that he walked by faith, not by sight. The teacher responded that Jesus actually did showed up to this friend: Jesus did so through the person sharing the story. God does not always speak to us in mountaintop experiences but in a still, small voice. God works through flesh and blood, as when God fills people with the Spirit at baptism, or when Jesus fills people after they partake of the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
—-Someone else in the class asked when a person has the Holy Spirit. Did Peter have the Holy Spirit when he confessed Christ? Was the Holy Spirit latent within him when he denied Jesus? Technically, the disciples received the Holy Spirit later, when Jesus breathed on them (John 20:22), or at Pentecost (Acts 2). When Peter made his confession, he did not necessarily have the Holy Spirit, but God was still somehow revealing to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:17). The teacher replied that Peter had the Holy Spirit at his confession. He said that Christians have the Holy Spirit, yet their sin nature still pulls them towards love of self; when they manage to love God and neighbor, that is the Holy Spirit at work. Christians in the West, though, contend against a culture that prioritizes self: me, me, me, my freedom, don’t you dare tell me what to do! According to the teacher, that is more of a challenge than the atheist snark they encounter on social media.
—-The teacher talked some about the role of Jesus’ divinity in his resurrection. Jesus was one with God, yet there was a rift between him and the rest of the Godhead on the cross, as Jesus asked the Father why he forsook him. Jesus was dead, yet the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him (Colossians 2:9). Jesus’ divinity swallowed up his own death, and that was how he rose. I was wondering if, somewhere in here, there is a way to reconcile the Scriptural statements about who raised Jesus from the dead. Did the Father raise Jesus (Acts 2:32-33; Romans 6:4; Galatians 1:1)? Did Jesus raise himself (John 2:18-19; 10:18). Did the Holy Spirit raise Jesus (Romans 8:11; I Peter 3:18)? Since Jesus is one with the Father, could him raising himself be the same as the Father and the Spirit raising him? See here for the biblical references, and a brief attempt to answer.
C. Some points from the “Word of Faith” pastor’s sermon, and from the service:
—-In Acts 28, Paul is bitten by a viper and shakes it off. People initially suspect Paul is a murderer who has finally gotten justice, then they see that Paul is all right and conclude that he must be a god. People will say all sorts of things about us, sometimes contradictory, but we should shake it off.
—-In Acts 28:23, Paul expounds upon the kingdom of God morning until night to all who came to him. We need more than brief, seven-point sermons, the pastor said. We need deep teaching. Small groups can be a place where we can flesh out details.
—-The pastor frequently used the imagery of “behind the curtain.” Small groups, church, and daily devotions help us to get a glimpse of what is behind the curtain, but only in the new heavens and new earth will we see fully. The pastor referred to divorce: if a person is trying to get happiness this side of the curtain, he or she may see divorce as an option, but he or she is not looking behind the curtain. That is a tough one, for me, since there are people who leave bad marriages and find better marriages. I would not wish for them to have remained in their bad marriages for the rest of their natural lives.
—-The pastor (whom I will call “J” to avoid confusion) told a story about when he was 18 and came to that church. The pastor at the time said to J, “God told me he does not want you on the leadership team.” J was shocked! At his previous church, J’s parents were active, and J made sure that everyone knew who he was, if they did not know already. At the new church, nobody knew J. J is grateful for that experience. He went to another church and found a way to learn and serve. But his experience at the church where he was rejected gave him the background for when he would pastor that very church years later.
—-Someone at the church, a worship leader, gave her testimony. She talked about how she was sexually assaulted in Nigeria three times, then was assaulted when she came to the United States. She struggled to forgive those who assaulted her, but her reflection on Christ’s forgiveness of those who crucified him and Stephen’s forgiveness of those stoning him brought her to a place where she could forgive, even love, those who assaulted her. Such a concept can be easily abused, and has been in churches, which tell people to forgive their abuser and not to press charges. At the same time, respecting the humanity and hoping for the repentance of all people is, in my opinion, a key element of Christianity.
—-The pastor’s daughter talked about the woman with the blood problem who touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed. She pressed forward to touch Jesus, regardless of what the “church” people at the time thought. This was refreshing, in light of the communitarian emphasis that I heard at times, that Sunday morning. Whatever church people may think, we can all personally reach out to Jesus.