St Johns Lutheran Church Willow Creek

Connecting People to Jesus in Rural Minnesota

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Please Don’t Slander Mary Magdalene

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You’ve probably heard the story before: Mary Magdalene was a prostitute who had anointed Jesus with oil and washed His feet with her tears. Not too many months ago I heard this very story being told on a local Christian radio station. It’s obvious that many in modern times have come to believe this story, and, if you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, the story is embellished even further, depicting Mary Magdalene as the woman from John 8 who was caught in the act of adultery. Now, if you were thinking this is all true, you’d be wrong.

Yep, that’s right, there isn’t a shred of evidence in the Gospels that suggests anything of the sort concerning Mary Magdalene. So the question is, where in the world did this notion come from? There is an account in each of the Gospels of a woman anointing Jesus with expensive oil. However, only the accounts in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12 are parallel accounts, while the account in Luke 7 is an entirely different story. Here’s how we can know this to be true.

In Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12, Jesus is anointed with expensive oil by a woman. Each of these accounts tells us exactly where and when this happened: this anointing took place in Bethany during Holy Week. In each of the accounts, when the disciples protest at what they perceive to be a waste of money, Jesus responds that she has done this to prepare Him for burial. Matthew and Mark tell us that this took place in the home of Simon the Leper, most likely one of the lepers whom Jesus had healed. St John does us the courtesy of identifying the woman who anoints Jesus as Mary. But not Mary Magdalene, mind you. Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus.

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.” (John 12:1-3)

Now that we’ve settled which Mary it was who anointed Jesus prior to His betrayal, trial and crucifixion, on to the account found in Luke 7. As I mentioned earlier, this account is entirely different. How do we know? First, the timing and location are very different. At the beginning of Luke 7, Jesus is in Capernaum, and from there travels to Nain, about 30 miles away. Bethany was another 80 miles away, so Jesus wasn’t anywhere near Bethany on this occasion. The timing is also very different, with this event taking place early in Jesus’ earthly ministry. But not only is the location and timing different from the account in the other gospels, but the details are as well. Luke identifies the host as a Pharisee, not a leper. The woman is also identified only as a sinner:

“And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, ‘This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’” (Luke 7:37-39)

Somehow, somewhere along the way, someone threw these accounts into a blender and came up with Mary Magdalene being a prostitute. Yet as we can see, not only did the wrong Mary get credit for anointing Jesus with expensive oil, somehow, magically, she became the unnamed “sinner” in Luke 7, even though there isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest this. Here’s all we know from Scripture about Mary Magdalene: she’s the one from who Jesus had cast out seven demons (Luke 8), she was one of Jesus’ followers present at His crucifixion and burial, and she’s the one to whom Jesus first appeared after His resurrection. That’s it.

So the next time someone tells you that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, feel free to have a little fun at their expense. Ask them to show you in the Gospels where it says that. You’ll have them searching for hours, because they’ll be looking for something that isn’t there. And remember it’s not nice to call a lady a prostitute if it isn’t true.

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A Day in the Life of a Pastor

be_a_pastor

The day began as an ordinary Sunday, but with one contrasting detail from the previous weeks: the bitter cold and biting wind had given way to pleasant temperatures and a gentle breeze. As the pastor strolled from the parsonage to the church, the morning sun glistening on the melting snow and a song bird could be heard off in the distance; the perfect icing to match a perfect day. He smiled in anticipation at the joyful task that lay before him – the proclamation of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to bring salvation to those who trust in Him. As he customarily did, the pastor spent those twenty minutes before the start of the service welcoming worshipers while mentally running through the carefully crafted words of the sermon. Just before the start of the ringing of the bell, the time came for the pastor to don his liturgical vestments, as was his habit to do so during the opening hymn; but upon entering the sacristy, a sudden wave of panic washed over him.

Incidentally, on the Wednesday evening of the previous week, he had been the guest preacher at a nearby church; as chance would have it, on this particular Sunday morning, his vestments weren’t hanging in the sacristy closet, but still tucked away in his vestment bag and lying in the back seat of his car. Silently cursing his forgetfulness while simultaneously grateful that the substitute organist plays at a more leisurely tempo than the regular organist, he dashed out the back door and began sprinting across the still snow-covered lawn. Now mind you, leather-soled boots are never ideal footwear for running, especially in the snow, and as he approached a deep drift left by the recent winter storms, his choice in footwear and path of travel proved to be an unfortunate combination, causing him to lose his footing and tumble towards the ground. Fortunately the impact of his sudden but predictable spill was gently broken by the deep snow, and unharmed and determined, he quickly sprang to his feet, slowed his pace, and arrived at his vehicle without further incident.

After quickly retrieving his vestment bag, he began his return trek toward the back door of the church, careful not to step in the numerous patches of mud and slime left by the quickening thaw. Upon returning to the sacristy, he began to feel his age and physical fitness. He deeply regretted that hasty dash across the snow covered grass; he was in no shape to be doing such a thing in the first place, and it had left him quite out of breath. Yet, thanks be to God (and no thanks to his absent mindedness), he had managed to return to the sacristy and get robed up just as the organist played the final notes of the opening hymn.

As the breathless pastor stepped into the chancel, he gave himself the only advice that seemed sane, considering the circumstances. If I just speak slow enough, I might be able to sneak in an extra breath here and there, and people won’t realize anything different, he thought to himself. Then that cynical voice of reason told him, yeah right, because talking slower than you ever have before won’t seem weird to anyone at all. Slowly but surely, his rapid breathing pace eased and things seemed to be in the clear, but it was all for naught.

Luck was not on the side of the absent-minded pastor. It just so happens that in addition to being terribly out of shape, the pastor had a long history of asthma. Though it had been quite mild for most of his adult years, that sudden rigorous activity had triggered a mild asthma attack that seemed to compound the breathless state that his mad dash had left him in. Bound and determined, he kept up the façade that everything was fine, struggling through the scripture readings and the recitation of the creed. He silently pleaded in desperation to the Lord, beseeching Him to mercifully preserve him and deliver him through what was developing into quite the ordeal. Yet God is merciful, and it seemed to that hapless pastor that God had given him a tenfold measure of mercy that morning.

The sermon hymn that he had selected for that morning, “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart,” isn’t exactly a short hymn; and considering the slow cadence at which the organist played, it seemed like a God-given opportunity to return to the parsonage and fetch his rescue inhaler. This time though, he walked at a reasonably sane speed. Once he had the inhaler in hand, he took a few puffs, slipped it into his pocket, and managed to get back in plenty of time before the conclusion of the sermon hymn.

What had begun as the perfect Sunday, yet deteriorated into a miserable catastrophe, by the grace of God came full circle as the pastor recovered enough to conduct the rest of the service without incident. Though feeling a bit drained, compared to those moments following that initial ill-fated mad sprint, he felt like a young man in his prime. Much to his relief, only a handful of people had noticed that something was amiss, and it appeared as if most in attendance that morning were none the wiser. God is always merciful, and His mercy was in abundance that particular morning. With the pastor’s misfortune came a valuable lesson: a pastor should never forget his vestments in his car, but if he does, he’d better pray that his organist plays with the swiftness of a snail.

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It’s All About the Word (Made Flesh)

Pastor John Bennett

It seems like an eternity since the last time I wrote a blog post. It should, after all, 10 months is a long time. I can’t say why, exactly. Perhaps it’s because I read other blogs, and don’t find mine to be quite as cerebral. Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. It certainly isn’t because I’m too busy. After all, how long does it take to pound out a thousand words on a keyboard?

All excuses aside, this post is one that has been milling about in my head for many months. The inspiration for this post? The countless articles that have flooded social media and e-news outlets for months, articles written by self-proclaimed Christians lecturing other Christians regarding issues related to human sexuality, especially on the issue of gender identity. If you need any examples, just do a Google search for “trans Christians,” “queer theology,” or “queer grace;” but you’ve been forewarned, it can induce nausea for those who firmly stand on God’s Word as the final authority for matters pertaining to human sexuality and gender identity.

The big question here is how did we get to the point where Christians (and I use the term loosely) defend the LGTB agenda, claiming support from Scripture in their arguments? The answer is far more simple than some might imagine. At the root of the question lies the philosophy of “historical criticism,” also referred to as “higher criticism.” This heretical branch of biblical philosophy dates back to mid 18th century Europe and has its roots in the enlightenment period. Without boring you with all the mundane details, higher criticism interprets the scriptures through the use of history, science, and rationalism; and thoroughly dismisses the belief that the Bible, that is, the individual books originally penned by the prophets, apostles, and evangelists and included in the canon of scripture, are the verbally inspired and inerrant Word of God. Instead, if a particular passage doesn’t jive with a scientific theory, such as evolution, or defies human rational, or is supposedly contradicted by some minor historical or archaeological detail, than it’s an error, or the opinion of the author.

Some might wonder if or why this matters. After all, if Jesus died for my sins and rose again, that’s all that’s necessary, right? On a very basic and superficial level I would agree that faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, is all that’s necessary for salvation. Yet to take that approach, especially when dealing with something so potentially poisonous to a person’s faith as higher criticism, leaves the door wide open for absolutely anything. According to the standard set by higher criticism, the theory of evolution is in, while a literal six day creation is out. That which is explainable only by the supernatural interaction of God with His creation, such as the Israelites walking through the middle of the Red Sea on dry ground, the virgin birth, the multiplication of loaves and fishes, the blind, deaf, and lame having sight, hearing, and mobility restored (without the aid of modern medical technology), the resurrected to a glorified body following a brutal execution, or any miracle for that matter, is dismissed as fable. For one to accept higher criticism in all its illustrative glory, the Bible must be thoroughly dissected, resulting in endless arguments whether Jesus’ teachings are His own words, or just the opinions of the Gospel writers. In the end, the Bible for the disciple of higher criticism bears more resemblance to a block of Swiss cheese than it does to the Word of God.

Thus when Christians (again, I use the term loosely) defend and support the LGTB agenda, they must at the same time deny the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scriptures. For them the Bible is a collection of portions consisting of God’s Word included alongside the errors, opinions, and fables injected into the text by the authors. In some cases, the authors aren’t even the authors, just some guy borrowing from some other guy who might or might not have seen Jesus. When they claim Scriptural support for the LGTB agenda, they only make that claim on one of two arguments: either A) Scripture is silent on a specific issue, or B) the author was just recording his own opinion. Thus, since Scripture doesn’t expressly forbid a man to have his penis surgically removed and artificial breasts implanted, or a woman to have her breasts surgically removed and an artificial penis surgically attached (don’t ask how that works, I have no idea, nor do I want to know), it must be OK. Likewise, those portions of Scripture that expressly prohibit same-gender relationships, such as Romans 1, are dismissed as the opinions of the author which were assumed as acceptable for that time.

So why does all this matter, especially in terms of eternal salvation? Quite simply, if you take the stand that the Bible contains portions that are both God’s Word as well as portions that are mere errors, opinions, and fables, you lose any certainty whatsoever that any of it is God’s Word at all. If only all Christians would treat the Scriptures according to the same standard that any court of law would place upon a witness’s testimony: “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Just think the response you would get from a judge if, testifying under oath, you prefaced your testimony with “Some of what I am about to say is truth, and some is opinion, error, and fable.” Ultimately, if a person does not believe in the entirety of Holy Scripture as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, they cannot logically have any certainty regarding anything contained therein.

This brings us full circle to the title of this article: It’s All About the Word (Made Flesh). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) The ultimate purpose of God’s Word is to reveal the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, crucified on Calvary to redeem sinners, risen for our salvation, ascended into heaven, and coming again in glory; yet, if the scriptures are flawed, any certainty of the divinity of Jesus Christ, any certainty that His atoning sacrifice for sins upon the cross is for you, any certainty that His resurrection has conquered your death, destroyed the devil’s claim over you, and transferred you into His Kingdom of glory, is thrown out the window.

This is why it is so vitally important for the church to stand firmly on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture. As soon as a person, or an entire church body (as is the case with the ELCA, UMC, and the PCUSA, just to name a few) denies the inspiration, the authority, and the inerrancy of scripture, one no longer can have any certainty about who Jesus is or what He has accomplished for the salvation of sinners. Indeed, everything is left open to speculation and debate. If we are to know Jesus, if we are to know Him as the Son of God, who entered into our broken existence through His miraculous incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary, if we are to know Him, beyond the shadow of any doubt as He who has accomplished all that was necessary to win for us eternal life, than we must also embrace the entirety of Holy Scripture as the verbally inspired and inerrant Word of God.

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Pastor Matthew Harrison’s Letter in Response to Today’s SCOTUS Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

on June 26, 2015

SCOTUS Marriage Ruling

God is our refuge and strength, 
   a very present help in trouble. 
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, 
   though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 
though its waters roar and foam, 
   though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, 
   the holy habitation of the Most High. 
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; 
   God will help her when morning dawns. 
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; 
   he utters his voice, the earth melts. 
The LORD of hosts is with us; 
   the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:1–7).

A one-person majority of the U.S. Supreme Court got it wrong – again. Some 40 years ago, a similarly activist court legalized the killing of children in the womb. That decision has to date left a wake of some 55 million Americans dead. Today, the Court has imposed same-sex marriage upon the whole nation in a similar fashion. Five justices cannot determine natural or divine law. Now shall come the time of testing for Christians faithful to the Scriptures and the divine institution of marriage (Matthew 19:3–6), and indeed, a time of testing much more intense than what followed Roe v. Wade.

Like Roe v. Wade, this decision will be followed by a rash of lawsuits. Through coercive litigation, governments and popular culture continue to make the central post-modern value of sexual freedom override “the free exercise of religion” enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

The ramifications of this decision are seismic. Proponents will seek to drive Christians and Christian institutions out of education at all levels; they will press laws to force faithful Christian institutions and individuals to violate consciences in work practices and myriad other ways. We will have much more to say about this.

During some of the darkest days of Germany, a faithful Lutheran presciently described how governments lose their claim to legitimate authority according to Romans 13.

The Caesar cult in its manifold forms, the deification of the state, is one great form of the defection from the [true] idea of the state. There are also other possibilities of such defection. The government can forget and neglect its tasks. When it no longer distinguishes between right and wrong, when its courts are no longer governed by the strict desire for justice, but by special interests, when government no longer has the courage to exercise its law, fails to exercise its duties, undermines its own legal order, when it weakens through its family law parental authority and the estate of marriage, then it ceases to be governing authority.

Raising such a question can lead to heavy conflicts of conscience. But it is fundamentally conceivable, and it has time and again become reality in history, that a governing authority has ceased to be governing authority. In such a case there may indeed exist a submission to a superior power. But the duty of obedience against this power no longer exists. [Hermann Sasse, “What Is the State?”(1932)]

As faithful Christians, we shall continue to be obedient to just laws. We affirm the human rights of all individuals and the inherent and equal value of all people. We respect the divinely given dignity of all people, no matter their sexual preference. We recognize that, under the exacting and demanding laws of God, we are indeed sinners in thought, word and deed, just as are all (Romans 3:9ff.). We confess that the “blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins” (1 John 1:7). We confess that God’s divine law of marriage and the entire Ten Commandments apply to all, and that so also the life-giving sacrifice of Christ on the cross is for all. It is a “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:22).

However, even as we struggle as a church to come to a unified response to this blatant rejection of the entire history of humankind and its practice of marriage, “We shall obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Christians will now begin to learn what it means to be in a state of solemn conscientious objection against the state. We will resist its imposition of falsehood upon us, even as we continue to reach out to those who continue to be harmed by the ethic of radical sexual freedom, detached from God’s blessing of marriage. And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians, churches and people of good will who are resolute on this issue.

God help us. Amen.

Pastor Matthew C. Harrison

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President Matthew Harrison: “We speak the truth in love to all” on same-sex marriage

With the upcoming decision next month to be handed down from the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, the president of the Lutheran Church-Misdouri Synod has written to all the pastors of the synod, and his remarks are worth reading for all laity as well. Below is the full text of his letter.

 

Harrison

Dear brothers,

In the face of another radical cultural shift — a denial of God and His creation, a rejection of Christ, the Ten Commandments and God-given natural law (Romans 1) — a great Lutheran responded with truths that are also true for our times:

The lie is the death of man, his temporal and his eternal death. The lie kills nations. The most powerful nations of the world have been laid waste because of their lies. History knows of no more unsettling sight than the judgment rendered upon the people of an advanced culture who have rejected the truth and are swallowed upon in a sea of lies. Where this happens, as in the case of declining pagan antiquity, religion and law, poetry and philosophy, life in marriage and family, in the state and society — in short, one sphere of life after another falls sacrifice to the power and curse of the lie. Where man can no longer bear the truth, he cannot live without the lie. Where man denies that he and others are dying, the terrible dissolution [of his culture] is held up as a glorious ascent, and decline is viewed as an advance, the likes of which has never been experienced. (Hermann Sasse, Union and Confession, 1936)

In just a few weeks, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of same-sex marriage in America and roll out the implications of that ruling for individual states. I expect the ruling to create an alleged constitutional right to same-sex marriage, contrary to God’s created orders, natural law and the inerrant Scriptures. This will be the earnest beginning of a very long struggle for faithful Christians who will, more and more, be driven from participation in the culture. We shall come to know and understand parts of the Word of God like never before. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).

Brothers, the battle has already been won. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has already defeated the foe. Satan surrendered at Golgotha. It is finished.

But what do we do? If the Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage is legal in every state or must be recognized in every state, what is our response?

We stand fast (2 Thess. 2:15). We live in and by our Savior, who calls us to stay the course, to repent of our sin, to be in the Word of God and in prayer. We redouble our teaching on God’s gift of marriage. And we show love and mercy to those harmed by the dissolution of God’s ordering of marriage and family, intended for protection for all. We take legal action where absolutely necessary. “Public remedy, made through the office of the public official, is not condemned, but is commanded and is God’s work, according to Paul (Romans 13)” (Apology XVI 59).

The plan fits the nature of the Church: she is enduring and eternal. She speaks Christ’s forgiveness and peace to men and women struggling with same-sex attraction and heterosexual attraction alike, in and out of season. She doesn’t do flash-in-the-pan or drive-by ministry. She works in the world for the long haul. She doesn’t change her tune or stop her singing. She keeps telling real people about a real Jesus, from black-robed Supreme Court justices to the protestors on the steps of that building to the young people in college watching the ruling unfold to those of us who never imagined we would see this seismic shift in our lifetime. And she lives to demonstrate the mercy and love of Christ (1 John 3:15ff).

Most importantly, she speaks of the One who came for sinners — all sinners — and of the One who showed His love for us by dying for us. She simply stays the course.

That’s why you, dear brothers in the Office, will need our prayers in the days ahead. And you will have them. Legal marriage may be redefined, and outcomes we never imagined will occur. But these don’t surprise or alarm us. The crumbling culture merely proves that what began in the Garden of Eden is still prevalent today, that we are sinners among sinners, that we are all in need of Christ’s mercy and grace. This world is wending its way toward the end (Matthew 25). The story ends well (Revelation 7). That is what those in the pew and those disenchanted by the people in the pew need to hear, and will always need to hear, the most.

Beyond the theological consequences of this ruling, however, there are also practical implications, and I urge you to consider the following:

(1) The Synod’s legal team is carefully examining the potential ramifications of this case. It will likely be a messy ruling that will require time to unpack. We may discover that there is ultimately no constitutional protection for the Synod, its institutions, you or your congregation. We don’t know, but we will be reporting back to you with our findings.

(2) Your congregation should give serious thought to obtaining counsel from your own attorney. Also consider utilizing the Synod’s document on marriage policies for member congregations, which offers sample provisions limiting the use of church property to marriages that are consistent with LCMS beliefs. The day may come when even this legal protection will not be enough, but it may assist you and your congregational leadership in forestalling issues as long as possible.

(3) Be prepared to discuss what marriage will look like in the future. Will LCMS pastors eventually be forced, as agents of the state, to perform same-sex marriages? If that happens, will we be prepared to let the state perform the legal marriage ceremony, while we as pastors provide a religious ceremony for those marriages that are in keeping with our confession of faith as Lutheran Christians? We must have these discussions as pastors and as a Synod, and we may even need to make decisions at the next Synod convention in the summer of 2016.

(4) Know that I, as Synod president, stand with you. What protections will the Synod or even the Constitution offer you? I don’t know. But here is what I am personally sure of: The Gospel is enduring. It never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. We as pastors are called to repent and to be faithful to Him — and to His Gospel — alone. Will we be fined for not performing same-sex marriages? Potentially. Will we be thrown in jail? Maybe. A recently deceased Catholic bishop (Cardinal George) described what I believe we shall now begin to face: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

Make no mistake, the battle has been won. The devil has been defeated. The Victor reigns triumphant in mercy, love and truth. The Gospel knows no limits, but proclaims the gracious kingdom of our Lord to all, through Christ’s Word and Sacraments.

The temptation will be to run out into the melee, to abandon the home front or to give up all together. But we are called instead to repent, to be ready, to move confidently into the future, come what may. We speak the truth in love to all. We share Christ’s forgiveness with each person He sets in our path.

And the Lord will work all things for good, even these trying times. He is faithful, brothers. He will do it.

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

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Religious Freedom?

Pastor John Bennett

If you’ve been paying much attention to the news, it’s hard to avoid the stories regarding the freedom of religion, and the strong criticism that has been levied against those who defend it. Both Indiana and Arkansas have recently passed laws affording the residents of their respective states the ability to defend themselves in court if they refuse to provide services on the basis of their religious convictions. These laws have closely modeled the 1993 bill that was then signed into law by then president Bill Clinton, who said upon the signing of this bill into federal law:

What this law basically says is that the government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion…Let us never believe that the freedom of religion imposes on any of us some responsibility to run from our convictions – let us instead respect one another’s faith.

But at the core of the criticism is not only a lack of respect for the moral, biblical convictions of faith, but outright disdain and hatred for those who hold to the biblical teaching that marriage ought to be between one man and one woman. What is really ironic, and in many ways speaks to the minds of those who oppose the defense of traditional marriage, is that these states (Indiana and Arkansas) and their legislatures are being attacked as passing laws that legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians, when the laws of those states allow no such thing and don’t even speak to the matter of same sex marriage. Besides Indiana and Arkansas, 20 other states have already passed similar laws. In essence, what these laws provide is to allow those who have been accused of discrimination for refusing services on the basis of their religious convictions to have the opportunity to defend themselves, on the basis of their faith, in court. Nothing more, nothing less.

So why all the fuss? Why are we constantly being bombarded with accusations that it’s hateful, discriminatory, or bigoted if we, as Christians, object to that which we are convicted in our consciences, according to the Word of God, is contrary to God’s will and plan for those whom He has created in His image? This brings to mind what Paul writes in Romans 1:21-25:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

As Christians we have an obligation to remain faithful to the Word of God. On the one hand, we must speak the truth in love. On the other hand, we must also reflect the love of Jesus Christ in everything. Sometimes this means allowing our actions to be the primary witness, while waiting for the appropriate time to lovingly speak the truth that God has given in His Word. It is important to remain focused on the ultimate goal: the salvation of sinners. Though it is frustrating and upsetting when we see people of faith targeted specifically because of their convictions of their faith, we must remember that Jesus died for the sins of all, that He loves all, and that He desires the salvation of all.

In closing, I leave you with a link to this article: My Train Wreck Conversion. If you have the time to read it, please do. It gives a beautiful example of what could happen when we reach out with the love of Christ to those who are hostile to the Gospel and the Word of God. May we always be ready and willing to show the love of Christ to those who are in need of it the most.

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Lessons I’ve Learned From a Crosscut Saw

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Pastor John Bennett

Alright, I admit the title is a bit hokey, but I would argue that it’s accurate, at least from my experience. So why such a randomly odd title? A little over a month ago I drove the students from St. Paul’s in Truman to McGowen Farms just outside Mankato. I had planned on getting work done while the kids played, but as chance would have it, with my daughters being on the trip as well, I got roped into doing something that I don’t ever want to do again: cutting logs with a two-person crosscut saw. At one of the stations students could cut pieces off of old phone poles and then brand them with one of the few irons sitting in the fire, and as luck (or the lack thereof) would have it, I was asked to help. Of the three cuts I made, two were for my daughters, so it was worth it to me for that reason alone, but I have never felt so old in all my life. Of course it didn’t help that the saw was rusted and dull, nor did it help that I was sawing with a small child on the other end of the saw, and even though I’m sure it was good exercise, the blisters on my hands and the ache in my back told a much different story. And the great irony in all this? The gentleman who owns the place, after I had finished helping three children cut logs, informs the children that there was a pile of pre-cut wood sitting behind a shed. I had done all that work for nothing.

So what did this teach me, besides the obvious that if I’m ever going to cut wood again I’m getting a chainsaw? I realized that this experience is allegorical for our life in Jesus Christ. Part of the human experience tells us that the reward that is offered is in direct proportion to the work that is done, that everything has a price. Even that which is offered as “free” usually requires some kind of financial commitment. If you want an example of this, if you’ve recently upgraded to a “free” smartphone, you’ll find just how free it isn’t if you call your provider to cancel the plan. One of the greatest gifts we have as those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, crucified and risen for our salvation, is that the hard work of our salvation is something that we don’t have to do, and even if we did we would never be able to do anything to tip the balance between God’s standard of perfection and our inadequacy as sinners. The hard work for our salvation has already been done for us; when Jesus said “It is finished,” He was talking about His hard work of earning for us the gift of eternal life. Favor with God has been won for us by Jesus’ blood, and by clinging to Him in faith, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.

Now, that being said, the good news that everything necessary for our salvation has already been accomplished by Jesus doesn’t mean we should sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we don’t do this work for ourselves, rather we do for the Kingdom of God in joyful thanksgiving for what Jesus has accomplished in us and for us. What is this work? Quite simply, it is to labor for the sake of the Gospel, what Lutherans might refer to as sanctification, living the Christian faith. We accomplish this when we bear witness to who Jesus is and what He’s done for us in what we say and do in our daily lives, we accomplish this through our intentional efforts to share this message of salvation with those who do not yet know this same Jesus as Son of God and Savior, we accomplish this through our financial support of missionaries who are taking this Gospel to the ends of the earth, and we accomplish this when we pray that those who hear the Gospel with their ears might have open hearts to this message, and with us confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

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The Menace of Public Education

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Pastor John Bennett

If you’re reading this, chances are the title got your attention. Perhaps the title is a bit misleading, because this article isn’t just about public schools, but more about the way parents need to be actively involved in their child’s education. It seems in recent years that the trend among parents has been to leave their child’s education to the schools without taking the time to find out exactly what it is their children are learning. As an example, and this is a very extreme example, the board of education for Clark County, Nevada, which encompasses the city of Las Vegas, is pushing for sex education for children starting in kindergarten, which includes teaching them about masturbation, same-sex relationships, and intercourse.

Even though that’s a horrific example, it’s the sort of thing that’s happening in public schools across the country. I think back to the late 1990’s, while living in southern California, that kindergarten students in the Los Angeles school district were being taught that same-sex relations were acceptable. That was nearly 20 years ago, and things are only getting worse.

But the problem of what your children are being taught extends beyond that. Probably the most upsetting element of public school education is that the curriculum is purposefully anti-Christian, promoting evolution while denying the existence of God. Many public schools also serve as agencies of indoctrination, promoting the ideals of liberalism and socialism over conservative morals and values.

So what’s a parent to do? Of course, there’s always parochial school, but this option isn’t always available or affordable. But more importantly, parents need to know what their children are being taught. Ask your children to bring home their text books, ask them what they learned that day, be involved in any way you can to make sure that what your children are being taught is compatible with your faith and values. As a pastor, I’ve noticed that children that attend parochial school are far more likely to be active in church during their high school and adult years than those who attended public school, and it’s no wonder when they’re spend 40 hours a week being taught things that are contrary to what they are taught in church. The bottom line is this: as a parent you need to be the greatest influence when it comes to what your children are learning.

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To Ice, or Not to Ice? That is the Question.

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Pastor John Bennett

It’s been a long and busy summer, and subsequently writing anything for the blog just didn’t happen. But now that summer is over and things are slowing down just a tad, it was about time I sat down to put some of my thoughts into coherent statements.

If you’re on any social media sites and haven’t come across the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” you might be living under a proverbial rock. This challenge involves an individual being doused with a bucket of ice water as a way of raising awareness about ALS, with the challenge being recorded and uploaded for others to view. But in addition to raising awareness about ALS, this challenge has also raised some criticism concerning the ethics of embryonic stem cell research. Because the ALSA (ALS Association) finances research involving the use of embryonic stem cells in their effort to discover a cure, numerous individuals and religious groups have publicly condemned the now famed “Ice Bucket Challenge.” The negative comments range from equating embryonic stem cell research with abortion to the accusation that supporting embryonic stem cell research is condoning murder.

So here’s the question: can a Christian who believes in the sanctity of life and opposes the practice of abortion in good conscience participate in the “Ice Bucket Challenge” or in any way donate to the ALSA? Here’s something to consider. God is the author of life and the gift of a child is a precious gift from Him. For this reason a Christian should not support the practice of abortion. But the argument that either direct or indirect support of embryonic stem cell research is also supporting abortion is inaccurate. It is true that embryonic stem cell research exists because of the sadly prolific practice of abortion, but it is false to say that abortions are performed because of embryonic stem cell research. Women aren’t becoming pregnant for the purpose of having an abortion in order to further embryonic stem cell research. A woman has an abortion because of a conscious decision based on their personal convictions. The murder of those lives that are precious in the sight of our God is something to be mourned. However, does it not somehow give those lives meaning if those embryos meeting the criteria required for the research are then used in an effort to discover a way of bringing a cure to those who are suffering? Those lives that were ended because of an abortion would have ended with or without the existence of embryonic stem cell research.

Now to clarify, I’m not suggesting that Christians should unequivocally support embryonic stem cell research. However, a Christian moved by compassion for those who suffer may, if it does not present a conflict of conscience, support an organization that provides financial support for embryonic stem cell research. And yes, that includes dumping a bucket of ice water on your head. That being said, if the situation were ever to change so that those entities conducting embryonic stem cell research began to soliciting women to have an abortion for the sake of their research, then undoubtedly this research should be wholly condemned by the Christian community.

As a note, the ALSA has stated that they will honor the wishes of those donors who expressly request that their donations not be used to fund embryonic stem cell research. Additionally, the percentage of their resources that fund embryonic stem cell research is not significant. If you would prefer to donate to an organization researching a cure for ALS that does not in any way support embryonic stem cell research, here are some options:
ALS Therapy Development Institute
John Paul II Medical Research Institute
Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center

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Ronin

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Pastor John Bennett
Spoiler Alert! Some of the content of this post will make its way into Sunday’s sermon. If you don’t mind a preview, keep reading!

 

Yesterday I finally got a chance to watch the movie “47 Ronin.” It was refreshing for once to watch an action-packed movie that was void of the profanity, nudity, and bloody gore that is so prevalent in much of the garbage that Hollywierd has peddled in recent memory. Even though the film was filled with a lot of sword play, there was very little, if any, blood. It’s nice to be able to watch a “guy movie” without feeling like you need to take a shower or go to confession afterward. Even Kerrie enjoyed watching it!

The movie is based on events that took place in 18th Century feudal Japan. As the movie explains in the first few minutes, Ronin was a title for a samurai who had failed their master, or whose master had died. The word itself means wanderer, a man without a home, and many Ronin lived the remainder of their lives as mercenaries or hired muscle for criminal enterprises. Because the title was one of shame some chose to follow the samurai code of bushido, ending their life with a ritualistic suicide considered to be an honorable death.

So what does any of this have to do with our lives as Christians? Because our Master is one who has died, we live as wanderers, as sojourners. The unbelieving world despises us, for the unbelieving world murdered our Master. To the unbelieving world we have no place with them. But our sojourning is one of faith. Though our Master is one who was indeed crucified, His honorable death was for our redemption, to win us back from the false master of this world, to claim us as His own, to make us eternal citizens of His unending kingdom.

And unlike those ancient samurai, our Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, conquered death, was raised again and lives eternally. Though the world considers our devotion to our Master as a disgrace, we count it as an honor, for when our pilgrimage, our earthly wandering comes to an end, He welcomes us not as those to do His bidding but as those who will reign forever with Him. I’ll take my Master any day over that of the world!