Monday, October 10, 2011

What is Being Lutheran All About?

While the name "Lutheran" doesn't appear until the time of the Reformation (1530 AD), we trace our roots past the Reformation, back to the first century church of the Apostles, back to the time when God made His covenant with Abraham, back to Adam and Eve themselves.

The Reformation was a time of the rediscovery of "Salvation through God's grace." Martin Luther was a monk and professor at Wittenberg University in Germany. The teachers and pastors at this time taught that your salvation depended on the works you did on Earth. After reading the Bible, Luther discovered "salvation through faith alone." While this brought him great joy, this discovery went against the prevailing teaching.

At the Diet of Worms, the high council of the Empire, Martin Luther stood before the emporor himself. He was commanded by the emperor to recant his writings, or face excommunication and death. Cowed by the power of the emperor, Luther asks for time to think about recanting. He is given one day.

That evening Luther endures a terrible internal struggle trying to decide how to answer the emperor's demands. The next day, the internal battle is over. Before the emperor's council a resolute Luther bravely stands before the emperor. When he is asked to recant or face excommunication and death at the stake, Luther stands and says "Unless the error of my writings can be shown in Scripture... Here I stand, I can do no other!"

Though his decision meant certain death, he stood by his work. He believed that to recant his work was to recant the Bible from which his writings were based. That was the big thing about the Reformation. The re-discovery of the Bible! Everyone knew about the danger of sin and the threat of Hell. But the Reformation stood for the re-discovery about how the death of Christ on the cross paid for all of our sins--the re-discovery of how we were freed from the burden of trying to earn our salvation--the re-discovery of the offer of "salvation through faith alone".

Today there are about 63 million Lutherans worldwide. In the United States, we belong to The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, founded by a group of German immigrants who settled in Perry County, Missouri in 1847. Over the next two centuries the little congregation would grow into an international denomination ministering to the needs of people from all nations. The international headquarters of the synod is located in St. Louis.

Every year, around November 1, we remember the Reformation, the birth of the Lutheran church, and the re-discovery of "salvation by faith alone".

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 2011: The First Commandment

I'll be starting a series on the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were a gift from God which marked us as His people. This is how He wanted His people to live.

The First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me"
What does it mean to have no other gods? Back in the Roman Empire, one of the Caesars wanted people to consider him to be a god. They had to bow to him. They had to bow to statues of him. They had to worship him. Not only that but they couldn't pray to any other gods. In particular, they couldn't worship Jesus. If they did, the government would hunt them down and kill them. That was bad.

What else does "Thou shalt have no other gods" mean? People also used to worship non-living things like statues, or animals. We call them idols. They thought that these statues or animal spirits controlled the universe. They figured if they could make these "spirits" happy, the spirits would bless them and take care of them and maybe make them rich. But in reality all they were praying to were rocks and animals and trees which could do nothing for them. The sad part is that other people have made money by tricking them into thinking that they could control the universe. This was a lie. We call these superstitions.

Now most of us do not worship rocks or trees or humans. Most of us try not to be superstitious. But there is one more meaning to the First Commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods" which applies to us. The first commands that "we are not to have anything more important in out lives than God." We are to put our trust in Him only. But sometimes people put their trust in other things. For example, they put their trust in money. They think: "If I have enough money, then everything will go well in my life." "If only I had enough money, I wouldn't have to worry about bad things happening to me." "If I have enough money then I will be happy."

But scripture warns us that the love of money is the root of all evil. Making "money" your god is evil. Even the world realized this was so: "Money can't buy happiness." Yet, while the world recognized that "money isn't everything," it never seems to tell you what is "everything".

However, the Bible tells us what that "everything" is. The Ten Commandments tell us what that "everything" is. That "everything" which brings happiness, that "everything" which brings security and protection, that "everything" which brings love to you, is God. That's why the Ten Commandments says "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Because God is the source of all good, all happiness, all security and protection, all love. And because of Jesus Christ, you know God. You shall have no other gods because you do not need any other gods. You shall have no other gods because God who is "everything" is here with you. And the God who is "everything" loves you and has plans of good for you and will take care of you always.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 2011: How Lutherans Worship, Part III

I am continuing our exploration of the worship service. Previously we explored the "Service of the Word" where we received grace through the written/spoken Word of God. We will now continue with the third part of the worship service called "The Service of Holy Communion." In the Service of Holy Communion we are confronted by the real presence of Christ. It is here that we receive grace from God in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The Service of Holy Communion

  • Offering/Offertory: The Offering of the people is gathered as the altar table is made ready for the Lord's Supper. Offerings of money are given as an expression of love and gratitude for God's blessings. Along with these gifts, bread and wine for Holy Communion are presented to the altar (by uncovering). An Offertory canticle is sung.
  • The Great Thanksgiving: Just as Jesus, at the table with His disciples, offered thanks in accordance with Jewish practice, so we embody in our celebration a prayer of thanksgiving. The Preface, in which the minister bids us to lift our hearts to God and give thanks, begins with the words "The Lord be with you..." The Preface Proper states the particular reason for thanksgiving: "It is truly good, right and salutary..." It climaxes in the canticle "Holy, holy, holy" where we unite with the heavenly hosts (Isaiah 6:3) and with the church on earth (Matthew 21:9) in singing "Hosanna," to adore God and to welcome the Savior who died for our salvation and now comes to us in the Sacrament. The Eucharistic Prayer, recounting the history of God's salvation, is prayed and terminated with the Lord's Prayer.
  • Words of Institution: The scriptural words which tell us of Jesus' institution of the Sacrament are recited, in order to consecrate the bread and the wine. We pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit that we might be prepared rightly to receive the Body and Blood of Christ which, according to His promise, are now truly present in Holy Communion. We are to confess: our need for a savior, Jesus' real presence, that forgiveness comes through Jesus' death on the cross, and that we receive that forgiveness when we receive His body and blood "in, with and under" the bread and wine.
  • Sharing of the Peace: As we begin the communion rite, the minister shares a word of peace. This is not only a recognition that we have peace with God, but a proclamation that we have peace with each other.
  • The Communion: As the consecrated elements are distributed to the communicants, we sing the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God", John 1:29) as a confession that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are reminded of that forgiveness of sins at the communion rail in the words - "the Body of Christ, given for you..."; "the Blood of Christ, shed for you..."
  • The Post-Communion Canticle: After we have received Christ's body and blood we sing "Thank the Lord... ," a song of rejoicing. During Lent we sing "Lord, now you let your servant go in peace" (Luke 2:29-32), the words which Simeon spoke as he rejoiced that he had seen Christ, a joy we share because we have received Christ in the Sacrament.
  • Benediction--a blessing: The pastor pronounced a blessing using the Aaronic benediction from the Old Testament (Numbers 6:24-26): "the Lord bless you and keep you..."
The legacy of our Liturgical Worship Service is indeed a gift from our forefathers. When we worship, it is like worshiping with all the saints over all time and space, together at the feet of the Father.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

June 2011: How Lutherans Worship, Part II

I am continuing our exploration of the worship service from "How Lutherans Worship, Part I". Previously we explored the "Service of Entrance" of our worship service. Its purpose was to prepare us for worship. We will now continue with the second part of the worship service called "The Service of the Word." In the Service of the Word, the Word of God in written/spoken form is shared. It is here that we receive grace from God by hearing His Word to us. We respond with prayer and confessions of faith.

The Service of the Word (the written and spoken Word)
  • The Scripture Readings: The Word of God in Holy Scripture has always been a major element of Christian worship. We use a three-year lectionary. Three Scripture lessons are usually read at each service. Typically the first reading is from the Old Testament.
    The second reading is an Epistle (letter to the church). It is followed by the Verse or an Alleluia--"Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go..." The climax of the readings is the Gospel. We stand to hear the Gospel, for our Lord's own words are spoken.
  • Sermon, Hymn, Creed: The Church's response to and interpretation of the Word of God follows the Scripture readings. The Hymn of the Day, which may be sung before or after the Sermon, fits the theme of the lessons and sermon.
    The Sermon, usually based on one or more of the lessons, is a living witness of the Gospel, expounding the Word and applying it to our own times and conditions. The Creed embodies the Church's ancient and universal confession of faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed may be used, depending upon the season of the church year. (We use Nicene on communion Sundays.)
  • The Prayers: Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession for the needs of the Church, of society, and a wide variety of individuals form a fitting conclusion to the Ministry of the Word. These prayers vary from service to service according to circumstances of time and place. The people enter into the petitions through the frequent response: "Hear our prayer," or "Lord, have mercy."

Next month, in "How Lutherans Worship, Part III," we'll hear about "The Service of Holy Communion", the part of the service in which we receive God's grace in the sacraments.

God's blessings!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 2011: How Lutherans Worship, Part 1

"He is Risen!" Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Amen!

For centuries the church has greeted one another with the words celebrating the resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ. This is not the only thing which has been passed down the centuries. Our worship is also a legacy, a gift, from our brothers and sisters who have gone before us.

The Lutheran church has done much to preserve that connection. There are two important characteristics of Lutheran worship. First, it is biblical. It is centered around the Word of God. Second, it is Christo-centric. The service points us consistently to the saving work and resurrection presence of Jesus Christ. In it God speaks and gives to us; we respond with thanks and praise.

(Parts of this article come from Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbus, Ohio. Their website is located at:

The Preparation
In most churches, an organ prelude begins the worship. This is not just to establish a "mood," but is itself an offering--a creation of artistic talent for God's glory. The music is often related to the liturgical theme of the day or season, such as a chorale prelude on one of the hymns to be sung. During this time, worshipers may listen, often personal prayers in silence, or meditate on appropriate literature, including the psalms and lessons for the day.

We remember our Baptism by invoking the Name of the Triune God. (It is appropriate to make the sign of the cross which was first given us in the baptismal rite.)

Confession and Absolution
We wish to enter God's Holy Place with "clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24). In response to a scriptural invitation, we confess our sin and ask for forgiveness. The pastor reminds us of God's love and mercy and declares us forgiven in the name of God, who made us His at our baptism.

The Entrance Rite
We begin the Service Proper with a Hymn.

In the Kyrie (pronounced KEER-ee-ay), we greet our Lord as people of old greeted a king when he came to their city. In a series of petitions, a minister asks for peace and salvation for ourselves and for the world, the people joining in the response "Lord, have mercy" (in Greek, Kyrie eleison).

The Hymn of Praise which follows expresses our joy for the gifts which our Lord brings. "Glory to God in the highest" is an ancient song which begins with the angels' Christmas carol (Luke 2:14) and swells into a profound adoration of the Holy Trinity. An alternative is "This is the feast", a modern song based on phrases from the book of Revelation.

I will continue our exploration of Lutheran worship in the Pastor's Pages for the next two months. Next month, in "How Lutherans Worship, Part 2" we'll hear about "The Service of the Word", the part of the service in which we hear the Scripture verses read and interpreted in the sermon. Part 3 will cover the third part of our service, "The Service of the Lord's Supper", where we receive God's grace in the sacraments.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 2011: He is Risen!

He is risen!

So said the angel at the empty tomb. It is the reason for the Easter season. It is the core of Christianity. Through all the holidays of the year be taken over by the secular world, the celebration of the Resurrection will always be ours.

He is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

For centuries Christians have greeted each other with these words. With these words we will begin our Easter Sunday worship services.

He is risen!

So much is packed in those simple words. They are proof that Jesus overcame death, that we have the promise of eternal life and we are children of God.

Jesus calls us to go out and spread that Gospel message to the world.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:18)
 To learn more about what is packed in the words and to equip us to share it with others we have just started another New Members' Class. In our class, we cover the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Baptism, the Lord's Supper and the Office of the Keys. Not only that, but we discuss topics such as:
  1. God's love for us
  2. Our basic sinfulness and need for a Savior
  3. How Christ's death on the cross affects not only their eternal life but also their life now
  4. What it means to walk as a Christian through the power of the Holy Spirit
 Everyone is invited. We meet at 10:30am Sunday mornings in the youth room. Any questions, contact the church office at 626-919-1530.

Wishing you a blessed Easter season!

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 2011: What is an Elder?

Strictly Speaking, the word "elder" in the Bible, episcopos, means overseer. The present day equivalent of the episcopos is the pastor. What we commonly call "elders" today are members who have been appointed to serve the congregation in its temporal affairs and to assist the pastor in ministry. According to the Constitution of Immanuel First Lutheran, the Elders, together with the Pastor, shall be concerned with the spiritual welfare of the congregation.

What do the Elders do?

The Elders do more than just read scriptures during the Sunday worship service. They are responsible for overseeing all the aspects of the service, making sure that the proper elements are available, the altar properly prepared and that the worship liturgy leads the people into proper worship of God. Elders also oversee worship attendance. Primarily they analyze communion attendance and call upon those who are lax.

Elders also oversee the baptisms of newborn children in the congregation, and the proper instruction of new members and youth. In order to foster this, the elders, with the Pastor, provide adult and youth confirmation classes.

Some of the more enjoyable tasks of an elder is the care of shut-ins, members who are unable to come to Sunday worship either due to inability to drive or due to illness. Elders will frequently visit shut-ins, helping with personal needs and with the pastor, serve communion. (Sometimes we get bags of oranges.) In addition to the care of members, Elders are also responsible for the pastoral care of the pastors, praying for them and assisting them with difficult problems of ministry.

One of the tougher responsibilities of an elder, with the pastor, is that of church discipline. Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 state that if a person consistently lives in rebellion to Scripture, they are to be denied the sacrament of communion and removed from the fellowship. The is called excommunication. The process of excommunication is never done vengefully or unilaterally, but in love. The goal is that "the [person's] sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved." The ultimate goal of excommunication is reconciliation, between the erring member and the church, and the erring member and God.

What kind of person becomes an Elder?

1 Timothy 3:1-20 outlines the requirements for an Elder, some of which is the following: "...must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money..."

When the Board of Elders of Immanuel First look for new Elders, several other criteria are used in addition to 1 Timothy 3. Active membership for at least five years and regular worship and Bible study is a sign of a commitment to the church. It is also important that they are familiar with the Bible and have had training in the Lutheran confessions. In order that they have enough life experiences, we expect them to be at least 30 years old.

The position of elder is a great honor and also a great responsibility. We have been blessed by the men who have served our congregation and we owe them our love, respect and support. God bless our Elders.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

February 2011: Sexual Purity

This month, several of our youth will be joining a thousand other youth at LoveFest. Young people are bombarded with sexual images and messages everywhere. Not all of them are good. At LoveFest we'll be learning a lot about what God thinks about sex and about sexual purity.

If you watch TV at all, you find that the concept of "sexual purity" is considered to be almost an oddity. People who are committed to "sexual purity" are considered to be "fanatics". Since the 1960's, our society has sought to free our sexual natures from their bondage to rules and shame. Sexual purity became equated with a denial of our sexual nature. The idea of sexual union being only between "a man and a woman within marriage" was considered repressive and new ways of sexual union became acceptable.

What is sad is that sexual purity, as God sees it, is far from repressive. Sexual purity is not the denial of our sexual natures, but rather it recognizes that we were created as sexual beings. We were created man and woman. We were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. As man and woman, our biological natures complement each other. However, sexual purity also recognizes that, as created beings, we must express that sexuality in the ways that our Creator designed us to do.

According to "This We Believe--Selected Topics of Faith and Practice in the LCMS" God created mankind as sexual. Sexual union in marriage was for enjoyment as well as procreation. Sexual expression of love is to be in marriage and between one man and one woman. Sex is only between a man and a woman. Sex outside of marriage is forbidden. God's will for His people is to remain sexually pure throughout life.

Sexual purity is not a call to be a prude. It is not a call to give up fun or to be a boring person. Sexual purity enhances the value of the sexual union. It is not a call to repress one's sexuality but rather it is to uplift marriage as sacred. Its purpose is not to belittle our sexuality but rather to exalt sexuality in marriage.

For those who are not currently in a marriage relationship, I think it is important to know that they do not "lose out". Their sexuality is not being repressed. It is important to realize that our sexuality is more than just sexual intercourse. Single people are still sexual beings and continue to express their sexuality (i.e. their maleness and femaleness) in a myriad of ways. While it may not culminate in marriage, it is still a part of their daily lives.

Though we are sexual beings, it is also important to know that we are not defined by that sexuality. Many people have tried to excuse sinful behavior by saying, "This is the way I am. I can't help it." In fact, it is dangerous to let our human desires define us. Our human desires have been corrupted by sin. While we are sexual beings, we are more than our maleness or femaleness. We are more than our desires for a man or a for a woman. Where our human desires point us to desire something which God has declared sinful, we are not to express that part of our sexuality. Where our human desires point to godly behavior, we know we have the blessings of God.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 2011: Liturgical Candles

Happy New Year!

Have you ever watched the acolyte lighting the candles during worship? Have you ever noticed that big red candle burning way up in the left side of the chancel (i.e. altar area)? For centuries candles have been a traditional symbol in the church. They are not just for decoration. Light is a symbol of God. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Here is a list of some liturgical candles and their meanings.

Communion Candles and Office Candles

These are the two tall candles sitting on the altar on either side of the crucifix. They are lit during communion services. The other candles are called "office lights". At the beginning of the service, the candles on the right side (facing the altar) are lit first. The candles nearest to the crucifix are lit first. They are extinguished at the end of the service in the opposite order. The imagery is of light springing forth from the altar and returning to the altar at the end of the service.

Eternal Candle

The Eternal Candle is the big red candle hanging high up on the left side of the chancel. The Eternal Candle is always lit. The new candle should be lit from the flame of the old. I've always thought of it as a symbol of the eternal presence of God. However, historically, this was the one candle burning in the church to welcome anyone who desired to receive communion on non-Sundays. (7-Eleven is not the only one open 24/7).

Advent Candles

These are the candles in the Advent Wreath hanging high on the right side of the chancel. There are five candles: three purple or blue, one rose and one white. A candle is lit for each Sunday service in Advent.
Purple or blue? Advent has blue themes. One theme is penitential. As we await the coming of Christ, we are sorry for our sinfulness. This is symbolized by the purple candles. However, a second theme is "rejoicing that the King is coming." This is symbolized by the blue candles for royalty.
The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday symbolizing "joy."
The white Christ candle, in the center of the wreath, is lit on Christmas.

Candlelight Christmas "Hand Candles"

These are the candles the congregation carries at the end of our Christmas Eve service. The light from the Paschal candle is gradually spread hand to hand, throughout the congregation, symbolizing the spread of Christ's love and the Gospel.

Christ Candle, aka Paschal Candle (not the same at the Advent Christ Candle)

This is the tall (3 foot) candle standing by itself on the left side of the altar (i.e. facing the altar). It is a symbol of our Lord's resurrection and His visible presence here on Earth. The candle is lit early Easter morning and is lit every Sunday until Ascension. The candle is marked with a cross, the current year, as well as an Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet). These are symbols that Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. In the center and at each end of the cross, wax nails are affixed to symbolize the five wounds of Christ.
At the end of the Good Friday Service, the Paschal Candle leaves the sanctuary. This symbolizes the death of Christ. Jesus is the light of the world. When Jesus dies, the light of the world is gone.

Baptism Candle

This is the candle we give to children being baptized. It is a symbol of the light of Christ which is now in their lives. The candle should be lit every year on the anniversary of their baptism.

Unity Candles

This is a relatively new tradition for weddings. It consists of three candles,one white candle between two tapers. At the beginning of the service the two tapers are lit, signifying the separate lives of the couple. During the service the flame of the tapers are combined and used to light the center candle. Then the tapers are blown out. This symbolizes two lives becoming one.