December 31, 2005

Mk 1 / Faith trajectories / Tidbits

(For comments on Luke 1:46-55, the seasonal canticle for December, see the background for December and the December 1st Biblog.)

If you have been plugging along with our Daily Lectionary reading through Revelation and Isaiah, you are about to be rewarded by reading one of the four Gospel accounts! (For some background on Mark’s account, see the background for December’s readings.) Today we read Mark 1, which covers the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and some of His early ministry in Galilee. Mark by Divine inspiration omits any detail about John's and Jesus’ conceptions and births and goes right to John’s fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy by preaching in the desert. Mark’s account then moves to the Baptism and temptation of Jesus and Jesus’ calling of the first disciples. Therein note the careful return to a major theme of the account Jesus as the Son of God (1:1 and 1:11). In the exorcism and healings that follow, be especially sure to recognize Jesus’ Word and "Sacrament" model of ministry: teaching and effecting what He has taught (John the Baptizer had taught and then effected forgiveness, too). Note how in going to the synagogue and preaching (1:21), Jesus in His day did not do away with the existing order of worship (anymore than we should do away with that order of worship today). Mark highlights well the people’s reaction to Jesus’ teaching: they recognized His as authority different from that of their regular teachers (1:22, 27). Jesus’ touching the people (as in 1:31) also shows the living out of that teaching. Despite the miracles, Jesus still tried to keep some aspects of His Messiahship a secret (for example, 1:34, 44), so that He would be able to complete His mission of suffering, dying, and rising again to save us from our sins.

A final end of year American religious trend identified by The Barna Research Group of California has to do with what researchers call “faith trajectories” of younger adults (those in the so-called Baby Buster and Mosaic [that is, those born from 1984-2002; also known as GenY or Millennials] generations). These people are said to have few assumptions about a faith life, and so they are pursuing new models, including networks of relationships with faith at the center. Barna predicts the increase in “unique expressions of faith” will increase tension with older believers, but I suggest that if the new models are used as channels for the Gospel message to bring people to the Church where they can be properly assimilated, tensions do not have to increase. With Barna, I pray that the new calendar year can be a year in which all the challenges the church faces can be met with God’s help.

Today’s tidbits are as follows: “The Da Vinci Code” movie comes out next May, but the film based on the fictional book by the same name is already creating quite a stir. You don’t have to wait until May to read a transcript of a chat session with a Newsweek writer who just wrote a cover story on the movie. … Anti-Christian jeans are reportedly hot sellers in Sweeden and on their way to the United States. The designer of the satanic-looking logo says he wants young people to question Christianity, what he has called “a force of evil”. A spokesman for Sweden’s Lutheran church wants the jeans to start a discussion on the meaning of religion. … A federal judge in the Midwest, meanwhile, apparently wants little discussion of religion, as he has reportedly said prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives cannot be made in Jesus’ name, because that violates the so-called “establishment clause” of the U.S. Constitution. Lord, have mercy!

God bless your seventh day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 30, 2005

Ps 29 / Is 64-66 / Biblical illiteracy / Tidbits

Psalm 29 praises the Lord’s all-mighty power and drives home its impact for us: “The Lord will bless His people with peace” (v.11, KJV). The peace that matters is the peace between God and repentant human beings, made possible by the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, Who died on the cross for your sins and mine. In this psalm, the Lord’s power is especially contrasted with that of Baal, thought to be a divinity present in thunderstorms.

With the reading of Isaiah 64-66 this prophetic Old Testament book is finished. Isaiah 64:1-12 finishes the prayer for the Lord’s deliverance begun yesterday; chapter 65 gives the Lord’s answer to that prayer, and chapter 66 reiterates the judgment for the unrepentant and eternal glory for the forgiven. In these final chapters several themes and figures of speech used earlier in the book to communicate them are repeated. In 64:6 note the indictment of all of us, and realize that the “filthy rags” are those a woman uses during her period! In 64:8 our relationship of creature to Creator is again emphasized. In chapter 65 the Lord’s wrath against unfaithful Israel is expressed, but so is His preservation of the remnant (65:8-10). Isaiah 65:17-25 describes not so much the exiles returned to Israel but more so God’s believers of all times and places in the final and full consummation of Christ’s kingdom (the verses may be familiar to you from those read near the end of the church year in the Divine Service). Isaiah 66:2-4 again attacks those whose hearts are not right with the Lord but hypocritically worship Him. Those attacks are harsh, but the condemnation for the unrepentant that ends the book is harsher: everlasting torment illustrated by the worm that does not die (66:24). There is a bit of law motivation for us to “fear” God, but the greater motivation is that brought by the Gospel: a God Who loved us so much “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 KJV).

Biblical illiteracy is a trend The Barna Research Group says is reaching crisis proportions. Researchers say even though Americans think “the Bible contains truth and is worth knowing” and claim to “know all of the relevant truths and principles” they actually do not. Research also suggests the younger a person is the less they know. Barna identified a number of factors contributing to biblical illiteracy, including people thinking they know the Bible (and therefore not thinking they need to study it), the decline of family Bible study, and cultural messages conflicting with the Bible’s messages (and thereby confusing people or causing them to reject the Bible’s messages). Sadly, I would probably say Biblical illiteracy is a problem we at Grace face, though I think daily Bible reading such as we are doing with the Daily Lectionary can help combat the problem.

A few other tidbits follow: a California judge reportedly has ruled against a city’s attempt to recognize gay marriages … Baylor’s outgoing interim president reportedly said teachers and students should be free to question whatever they want to question … and one analyst says recent government monitoring of Muslims could come back to haunt conservative Christians.

God bless your sixth day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 29, 2005

Ps 28 / Is 61-63 / Real Grinch / Church technologies / Family outlook

We will find in Psalm 28 today references to some of the same themes we have been finding in the psalms since Psalm 23. The psalmist starts by calling on God to hear him; note that the lifting up of the hands is in worship and prayer (as the uplifted hands are used in worship today as a gesture of prayer). Then the psalmist calls on God to deliver him and judge his and God’s enemies. Next the psalmist, confident of being heard, offers praise to God, and, finally, the psalmist ends his prayer with a call for God to daily bless and ultimately save His people—a prayer answered most completely in the service of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Reading Isaiah 61-63 today continues the last section of Isaiah, which speaks of eternal deliverance and eternal judgment. Today we read of the Messiah prophetically describing the Lord’s favor (chapter 61), of the Lord’s promised bliss for forgiven sinners (62:1-63:6), and the beginning of a prayer for God’s deliverance (63:7-19). Note how chapter 61 begins with words some of which we find on Jesus’ lips during His earthly ministry (Luke 4:18-19). In chapter 62 note the great reversal God brings about for those who trust in Him, and in chapter 63 note how the speaker recounts God’s salvation history.

You may know the Dr. Seuss story “How the Grinch stole Christmas”, but you may not know there was a real Grinch in Edison, New Jersey, on Christmas Eve this year. An unknown thief reportedly made off with about $8,000 in offerings from a Roman Catholic congregation there. A church official says they will probably recoup most of the money when parishioners cancel their old checks and write new ones, but the official does not expect to recover an estimated $2,000 in cash.

Rapid incorporation of new technologies was another trend reshaping American churches identified by The Barna Research Group that I thought was worth noting here. Big-screen projection systems, websites, and “e-mail blasts to congregants” are said to be used by more than half of all protestant congregations. (I think Barna includes Lutherans as protestants, though I would not.) Barna says the technologies improve the churches’ draw and communication, while also giving an image of the church as culturally sensitive and relevant. I am glad we are using the internet more, though I do not know if our members are ready for “e-mail blasts”, and I don’t think big-screen projection systems are necessary for the Divine Service, though maybe having one available for Bible study is a different matter.

What does 2006 hold in store for families? Focus on the Family’s website is offering a rather optimistic family outlook. While we can support such lobbying and praise God for moral victories in the secular world, we should not make campaigns or battles the be all and end all of the church. The church exists to distribute the forgiveness of sins to the world’s fallen creatures, not create a kingdom run by God’s law in the world. Many of the denominations behind the so-called right-wing agenda have a completely different understanding of the kingdom than we have.

God bless your fifth day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 28, 2005

Ps 27 / Is 58-60 / Mary’s Son / Church Priorities

Psalm 27 is one of my favorite psalms, partly because of a great musical version of it I have heard but mostly because of its great message of trusting in the Lord for deliverance, both deliverance now by receiving His gift of forgiveness at His Temple and also the ultimate deliverance of heaven. Verse 1, in which we confess the Lord as the source of all blessings but most of all salvation, especially keeps our modern problems in perspective (much like Romans 8:31-39). Remember that the beauty of the Lord (v.4) and the Lord’s face (vv.8-9) refer to His gracious favor, blessing, and deliverance. Of verse 14 it is well said that faith is therein encouraging faith, the patient waiting and confident trusting in the Lord to deliver in His way and time.

As we read Isaiah 58-60, we begin a final section of Isaiah’s so-called Book of Comfort. This section speaks of eternal deliverance and eternal judgment. Today we read the contrast between false worship and true worship (chapter 58), Zion’s confession and redemption (chapter 59), and Zion’s peace and prosperity with the promise of deliverance from sin (chapter 60). The essential difference between false worship and true worship is in the attitude of the heart: true faith will produce genuine good works, while hypocrites will go through the motions of repentance without being genuinely sorry for their sins and without trusting in God to forgive them for Jesus’ sake. Note how in chapter 59 Isaiah by Divine inspiration goes from 3rd person plural “they” to the 2nd person plural “we”; he uses three different but common words for sins in 59:12; he introduces the Lord’s plan of salvation after removing any hope of human beings saving themselves; and he uses a description of God’s armor that seems to be at least in the background of a New Testament description of spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:13-17). Finally for today, chapter 60 tells of the glory of Israel as people from nations that once opposed her come to the light she radiates from her Redeemer; these verses are familiar from Advent but also help us begin to look toward Epiphany, which begins with the visit of the magi traditionally observed on January 6th.

Mary’s Son was the focus of a column in the Austin American-Statesman last Saturday, but the column did not go far enough. Bob Lively wrote that “we” have turned Jesus into such a sweet baby that His own Mother might not recognize Him. Lively is right, of course, that Jesus calls us to leave our own egos behind and to pick up our crosses and follow Him. Lively is wrong, however, when he writes that Jesus came to “teach and live an ethic”—Jesus came to die to save us from our sins! Mary’s song, the Magnificat, that Lively comments “is seldom sung today”, is sung in liturgical churches like ours where her Divinely inspired words are correctly understood in part as noting the great reversal that comes about when faith in Jesus, not reliance on one’s own works, is the standard for salvation—that’s a real change in society’s status quo.

The Barna Research Group, which has been doing surveys of Americans regarding church-related matters for more than 20 years, has offered some end of the year trends that researchers say are reshaping U.S. churches. In these final days of 2005, I want to draw your attention to just four of them. The first trend has to do with church priorities. Barna says many congregations ignore key spiritual dimensions such as children, families, prayer, and worship. Barna even went so far as to say that too many churches are more concerned with “filling new buildings” than filling sinners with forgiveness. I can see that as a problem at other congregations—God be praised I don’t think this is a problem at Grace, where distributing the Christ-won forgiveness of sins through His Means of Grace are the #1 priority.

God bless your fourth day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 27, 2005

Ps 26 / Is 55-57 / “Narnia”

In Psalm 26 the psalmist prays for the Lord’s merciful vindication and redemption (the request is especially clear in verses 1 and 12, which serve as bookends, as it were, for the psalm). Again it seems that the psalmist is claiming to be righteous, but the immediate context makes it clear that is not the case—for if it were, then the psalmist would not be praying for redemption. Yes, he claims not to be as immoral as his enemies and not to be in fellowship with those who are evil, but he does not claim to be altogether free from sin. The psalmist also emphasizes his faith (v.1) and regard for the Lord’s house (v.8). Note in verse 8 the connection between the Lord’s presence and His glory, and read John 1:14 in light of that connection. Where the Lord is present He is present to bless, as in the Divine Service when really, physically present on the altar He gives the forgiveness of sins with His Body and Blood.

As we continue to read of the Suffering Servant’s work in Isaiah 55-57, we read of the call to salvation to Jews and non Jews alike (55:1-56:8) and of the judgment on the wicked (56:9-57:21). The invitation in 55:1-7, especially in verses 1-2 and 6, comes in some of my favorite verses in the Bible (yes, you can note that again food and beverage is in view). The invitation is similar to that spoken by Wisdom in Proverbs 9:5 and thus also by Jesus in John 4:14 and 7:37. Notice also the emphasis on hearing leading to living (as in Romans 10:14-18). Isaiah 55:7’s call to repentance is clear, and verse 8 emphasizes how people and God are on different wavelengths (a verse we often turn to in times of disasters). Isaiah 55:9-11 is a great promise to us as we read and proclaim God’s Word. Isaiah 56:7 and the “house of prayer for all people" (KJV, nations NIV) refers to salvation being for more than the Jews (Jesus may be referring to this verse in Mark 11:17). Isaiah 56:9-12 is a sad comment on Israel’s spiritual leaders (and some spiritual leaders today, too). The evildoers commit spiritual adultery and prostitution (57:3 and verses following, note the extended adultery image in v.8), doing such things as sacrificing their children to the idol Molech (57:5 and the specific reference to Molech in v.9). The Lord is not an absent God removed from His creatures, but He abides with those who repent (57:15), promising healing and restoration (57:18). Isaiah 57:21 is a good verse to answer those who claim “their” God would not judge, and it is also a good verse to have in mind in this Christmas season when we hear “Peace on earth” and forget that that peace is only for those of the Lord’s “good will” or pleasure (that is, those who are saved through faith).

“Chronicles of Narnia” was a strong #2 behind “King Kong” at the box office over the holiday weekend (though it leads “King Kong” in the gross since it opened). My brother-in-law and I saw it yesterday with my nephew and older niece, though our dollars aren’t included in that total. I have never read the books, but you do not have to know the story to follow the movie. Creator C. S. Lewis said the story is not a direct allegory of the salvation account from the Bible, but rather he says he includes certain Biblical themes, and the movie naturally brings those out, including the savior king Aslan saying “It is finished” when the war over the satan-like white witch is finished.

May God bless your third day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 26, 2005

Ps 25 / Is 52-54 / Lights go Lite et al.

Psalm 25 that we read today is closely linked to Psalm 24 that we read yesterday, by way of Psalm 24:4 and the lifting up of the soul referred to in 25:1. Remember that phrase means to worship or trust in, as made clear in the parallel phrase in 25:1. One commentary notes that David prays for deliverance, guidance, forgiveness, and relief; the commentary then suggests that they are all related, that God’s forgiveness will lead to His removing the affliction and thus the occasion for his enemies to slander him. Would that it were that simple! God’s forgiveness does not remove temporal consequences of our sin, and even the removal of affliction does not completely end false accusations by enemies. For us I think the prayer for forgiveness can be a major theme of the Psalm, and the confident hope and trust in the Lord are also worth noting. As redeemed children of God we know that our final deliverance from trouble (v.22) will come at our moment of death in this world and the beginning of life eternal in the next.

Isaiah 52-54 continues a section and subsection begun yesterday. We finish reading the subsection dealing with the comfort of the Redeemed (52:1-12); then we read of the Suffering Servant Who atones for our sin (52:13-53:12), and finally we read of the Servant’s offsprings’ future glory (chapter 54). As you read 52:3 think of Dr. Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Creed: “Who has redeemed me … not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death”. Perhaps nowhere else in the Old Testament is our redemption by way of the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection (note 53:11) spelled out so clearly. Our reading of the Suffering Servant Song, the fourth and longest in Isaiah, comes very soon after Christmas; like today, the Commemoration of St. Stephen, Martyr, it reminds us that Christmas is more than a cute Baby in a manger: Christmas is a major step towards victory in a cosmic struggle that has life or death consequences for each person on earth. This Servant Song is likely familiar if you are in church during Lent and Holy Week, and you will note references to it and quotations from it as we eventually make our way through the Gospel accounts of the Passion. Note well the description of us as wandering sheep and Jesus’ dutiful Lamb-like slaughter on our behalf. (Again kudos to Handel for the way the music of "The Messiah" has the sheep all running off in their own directions.) This Suffering Servant Song is rich Gospel, emphasizing how our Lord’s passion was for us! (Don’t let 53:12 make you think of limited atonement—Jesus died for all; the expression can either be understood with the sense of “all” and thus as Jesus’ objective justification or with the sense of the “many” who believe in Him and thus as subjective justification.)

Lights go Lite et al. (and other) Christmas commercialization: those holiday lights I first noted in the December 11th Biblog post have turned into an ad for Miller Lite! According to the Chicago Sun Times, the Martin Agency of Richmand, Virginia, bought the rights to the video footage and have used it in an advertisement for the agency's client Miller Brewing Company. (Or, the agency shot its own footage, depending on which report you believe.) I just hope someone paid the royalties to the Transiberian Orchestra!

Some Germans know today as Second Christmas Day, and the day is Boxing Day in Canada and other English-influenced countries. On that note I give you a link to Anna Quindlen's commentary on the commercialization of Christmas, which commentary I found relatively thought provoking, even if I don't agree with her slam against Martin Luther.

May God bless your Second Day of Christmas!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 25, 2005

Ps 24 / Is 49-51

Psalm 24 is an appropriate psalm for us to read on the Nativity of our Lord, Christmas Day. The psalm may have been used in a procession celebrating the Lord entering Jerusalem via His ark. The Christian church has used the psalm in connection with Jesus’ ascension to the heavenly Jerusalem, but its words are also connected with Advent (see TLH #73) and thus with Christmas. Verses 1-2 recognize the Lord is the King of Glory, for He created, sustains, and preserves the whole world (which founding is referred to figuratively as if it were the Temple itself). Verses 3-6 call to mind Psalm 15 and the moral standards for those eligible to enter the temple, but notice that God blesses and vindicates His faithful children. Notice in verse 4 that “lifting up the soul” is to worship or trust in, and recall the communion liturgy “Life up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord.” Verses 7-10 welcome the King, Who has triumphed over all His enemies, to enter the city and its Temple. The Infant Lord born today was born to triumph over His and our enemy, the devil, on the cross and for us to welcome Him into our hearts and bodies as His temples.

Today we begin a new section of Isaiah that deals with the Servant’s work of atoning for sin. As we read Isaiah 49-51, we read of the Servant’s call in the second so-called “Servant Song” (49:1-13), Israel’s spiritual repopulation (49:14-26), Israel’s sin and the Servant’s obedience (chapter 50, including the third “Servant Song”), and the redeemed’s comfort (chapter 51:1-52:12, though today we just read through the end of 51). The Servant’s call in 49:1-3, 5 is similar to that of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5) and the apostle Paul (Galatians 1:15). Note the mouth-sword connection we have seen before (Revelation 1:16; 2:12, 16; and see Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). Even the Messiah’s labor seems to be a failure (49:4), though faithful Jews and Gentiles are His reward. For, restoring Israel is not enough (for example, 49:6-7). Verse 8 is quoted by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2, and we can say that today also is the day of salvation. Notice the connection between 49:10 and the shepherd imagery such as Psalm 23 we read yesterday. Israel is not abandoned (49:14-15), though consider how the Jews of Jesus day and since have refused to turn to Jesus to be saved! Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, not even a certificate of divorce (which she was never given) could separate her from the Lord (50:1). Note the Servant’s willingness to suffer (50:6) and determination to complete His mission (50:7, carried with Luke 9:51). Isaiah 50:9 seems to anticipate Romans 8:1, 34. The Light that saves comes from the Lord and not from fires of our own lighting (Isaiah 50:11). The Lord gives us a portion of suffering (for example, the cup of 51:17 and verses following), but He does not make us face more than we can endure with His help (note how he delivers Israel in 51:22).

God fill you with His joy on this Holy day, and may you truly celebrate the Christ Mass by partaking of His true Body and Blood!

Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through Whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee? (TLH #85:8)

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 24, 2005

Ps 23 / Is 46-48 / Rome and Canterbury

Perhaps the best known of all psalms is Psalm 23, which we read today. Its six verses speak volumes of comfort to believers. Certainly this psalm is also behind Jesus’ declaration of Himself to be our Good Shepherd in John 10. In Old Testament literature a “shepherd” was widely used as a figure of speech for kings or other leaders, and King David calling the Lord his “shepherd” is significant. (Our English word “pastor” ultimately is traced back to the Latin word for “shepherd”.) Do not let the King James Version mislead you: we “want” the shepherd, for with the Lord as our shepherd, we shall “lack nothing”. Lying down in green pastures beside quiet waters are indicators of a secure and flourishing, refreshed life, of the outcome indicated in verse 3: the restored soul. The righteous path we follow brings honor to the Lord’s Name. The rod of the law and the staff of the Gospel ultimately comfort us even as we pass through death, the portal to life eternal. We eat the meal of the New Testament and are blessed now and for eternity. A song I sang with the seminary Kantorei said of the dwelling in verse 6: “No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Amen.

With Isaiah 46-48 we finish up the section we began with chapter 40, today reading of the Lord as superior to the gods of Babylon (chapter 46), the fall of Babylon (chapter 47), and the Lord exhorting His people (chapter 48). Babylon’s gods are named in 46:1, powerless to stop the captivity of those that worship them (v.2). The fact that the idols of Babylon are powerless prompts the Lord to call His remnant to return to Him (vv.3-13). But, the Lord speaks to Babylon of the suffering it will endure for its arrogance (for example, almost claiming a god-like status for itself, as in v.8). Israel’s affliction, meanwhile, was to refine and purify her faith (48:10). The people are free to leave Babylon to escape its coming judgment at the hands of the Medes and Persians, and Israel’s deliverance from its Babylonian captivity is likened unto Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt (48:20-21). Similarly, God delivers us from our captivity and slavery to sin by redeeming us with the blood of Jesus.

Rome and Canterbury may be coming closer together! The Vatican yesterday reportedly recognized a British ambassador and at the same time called the Roman Catholic church and the Church of England (Anglicans) to strive for "full visible unity". The original CoE split from Rome was for reasons that were more political, but one would think that today there would be significant religious differences, such as differing confessions about the real, physical presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. The union would hardly be a gift to the world, for denying that the Word Who became flesh continues to give Himself to us in the flesh is a denial of Him altogether. May God enable us always to boldly confess the true and full teaching about Him!

God bless your day and your beginning of the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 23, 2005

Ps 22 / Is 43-45 / Snow and ice

Psalm 22 expressing David’s righteous suffering is especially associated with Jesus’ suffering and death as a righteous Man for all of our sins (see, for examples, Matthew 27:35, 39, 43; John 19:23-24, 28). Jesus spoke half of its first verse while hanging on the cross, and we struggle to understand how Jesus could be forsaken by the Father with Whom He shared the same substance. The recollection of the Lord’s faithfulness and deliverance for Israel (expressed in verses 3-5) is said in hope and with confidence that He will be faithful and deliver again; note how in verses 9-10 the Lord’s work is brought down to a very personal level. Verses 6-10 and 12-18 describe the mocking and affliction the psalmist suffers (on v.18 see especially Matthew 27:35). Verses 19-21 calls for the Lord to be faithful and deliver, and verses 22-31 include a vow to praise and a description of the praise the psalmist will lead in the growing worshiping community; the description is said to be the grandest of all the Psalms. The “people yet unborn” (v.31 NIV) also reminds us to take special note of verses 9-10 and that, while it might be taken as suggesting the psalmist knew God from birth, there are other passages in the Bible (such as Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:41, 44) that make it clear infants in the womb are complete people and can have faith.

With Isaiah 43-45 we read of the Lord gathering and renewing Israel (43:1-44:5) and about His being the one and only God in comparison to idols (44:6-45:25). Note the references to Holy Baptism in 43:1-2 and how there we are not set “ablaze”. Also note the court scene described in 43:9-13. Despite all the saving wonders of the past, the Lord does something new with the exile and return (43:14-28), as also with Jesus’ death and resurrection (43:25 and 44:22 have special significance). The giving of the Holy Spirit is foretold in 44:1-5. We are the creatures and cannot argue with the Creator (45:9-12). How can we not have as our God the great and wonderful God Isaiah describes? We answer the Savior’s call to turn to Him and be saved (43:3, 45:22).

As we are now officially in winter, be glad the weather outside is not this frightful where you are in terms of snow and ice. (Thanks to the Biblog reader who sent in that link and to all the people who ask questions and make comments.)

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 22, 2005

Ps 21 / Is 40-42 / Toleration and intolerance / Biblog folos

Psalm 21 is in many ways paired with yesterday’s Psalm 20. The people in this case praise the Lord for His blessings on the king (vv.1-6). In the center of the psalm, another participant in the liturgy, possibly a priest or Levite, announces the reason the king is secure (v.7). Then, the people seem to address the king and speak of future victories (vv.8-12), and the psalm concludes with a verse again addressing the Lord and declaring their commitment to sing to and praise Him (v.13). Note especially how faith in the Lord (v.7) brings eternal blessings (v.6), and remember that the situation is the same for us.

With Isaiah 40-42 we begin reading the second major part of Isaiah, the so-called Book of Comfort—sharp contrast to the preceding 39 chapters’ prophecy of judgment. Chapters 40-48 deal with God’s delivering His people from their slavery to sin, and today we read sections dealing with the coming of God’s Victor (40:1-26), strength for the exiles (40:27-31), the Almighty Lord in control of all (41:1-42:9), and praise and exhortation (42:10-25). Notice especially how even though the exile has not yet happened Isaiah will speak as if it is almost over.

Isaiah 40 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, and it is a favorite for lots of reasons. Isaiah 40:1-12 can all be seen in light of John the Baptizer, though verse 3 is especially noted in the Gospel accounts (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, and John 1:23; though compare Luke 3:4-6). Also, 40:6 and 8 are quoted by 1 Peter 1:24-25, and what a great reminder is verse 8 for us as we read the Bible daily! The “good tidings” of 40:9 are the Gospel, the “good news” of redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 40:11 should be read as background for such New Testament statements as John 10 and for most images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The unsurpassable greatness of God is brought out with rhetorical questions in 40:12-14 (and see vv.25-26), some quoted in Romans 11:34 and 1 Corinthians 2:16 (remember that the Lord Himself is the "Wonderful Counselor" in Isaiah 9:6). More rhetorical questions come in 40:21 and following, and I have sung songs based on this text that will forever bring these verses to life. Anyone who thinks they are neglected by God can take comfort from 40:27-31, picturing the majestic eagles soaring to heights in the mountains. (Note well that the KJV's “wait upon” means the same as the NIV's “hope in”.) The renewing of strength in 40:31 forms a link with the Lord’s speech that follows.

In the Lord’s speech of chapters 41-42, there are a number of things to note. The one “stirred up” in 41:2 and in 41:25 is the same one: Cyrus of Persia who conquered Babylon and then came into Palestine, like other invaders, from the north. In 41:14 the Lord is, most importantly, the Redeemer. The Lord mocks the idols in 41:22-23 and, keeping to that theme, in 41:26-27 highlights His own fore-telling through the prophets. In Isaiah 42:1 and the following verses we have the first of the so-called “Servant songs” telling of the Messiah; notice how this one is quoted in Matthew 12:18-21 regarding Christ. The “new song” of 42:10 (and Psalm 96:1) is because there are new things to tell (not that in our day “old songs” need to be replaced with “new songs”). Notice how in 42:16 the Lord Himself does the things the voice of 40:4 called to be done—likewise for us the Lord calls us to repentance and then produces faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel.

On the topic of toleration and intolerance (and in three different countries): Elton John yesterday entered into a civil union with his long-time gay lover (but notice how one report nevertheless basically refers to this as “marriage"); Canada’s supreme court reportedly said group sex is deviant but not dangerous to a society as “vigorous and tolerant” as theirs; but U.S. military chaplains reportedly have to be careful not to offend people of other religious traditions. A reader who has been going through Isaiah with us emailed a related comment: “When I see all the things that God did to punish nations who turned away from Him, I am amazed that Canada and the U.S. are still standing.” Yes, perhaps Canada’s supreme court judges used the word “deviant” without knowing what it really means (for example, diverging from normal moral standards or behavior).

The first of today’s Biblog folos has to do with ABC News' “Heaven” that aired Tuesday night (first mentioned in Sunday’s Biblog). One Biblog reader emailed about seeing Barbara Walters on ABC’s “The View” Monday, during which the anchor plugged her special. Co-host Star Jones (note the reference to religion in her bio) apparently got into it with her colleagues, as the reader emails: Jones “very clearly spoke about belief in Christ as Savior as the only way to Heaven, and she was under heavy artillery for quite a while.”

Another reader emailed a question about the difference between the mega churches not having services on this Sunday, Christmas Day (first mentioned in the Biblog December 7th), and congregations like ours not having services on festivals such as Ascension Day, since some of the same inconvenience and low attendance arguments are made about both. I might first point out that part of what makes the mega churches' decision so egregious is that Sunday, on which Christmas Day happens to fall this year, is the usual day of worship, while Thursday, on which Ascension Day always falls, is not a usual day of worship. More significantly, though, Lutherans and others have often permitted transferring the observance of Ascension Day to the following Sunday. While I also wanted to say that the Church has celebrated Christmas as a festival much longer than it has observed Ascension Day but can’t say that since both date back to the fourth century, I can say that having an Ascension Day service would certainly not be a bad thing.

The photos of Dallas’ so-called “sacred spaces” linked in Tuesday’s Biblog prompted a reader to email a question about the lack of visual representations in our church building showing Jesus at the right hand of the Father. The window over the altar does have a symbol for each Person of the Trinity, but it shows them in biblical—and thus also creedal—order: the Father on the left, Son in the center (where He is also pictured below the symbol in the window), and the Holy Spirit on the right. There are other representations in the building of the Father (such as the rays of light in the window picturing the Baptism of Our Lord), but Jesus is pictured preeminently since He is our only access point to the Father (see, for example, John 14:6).

Finally on the topic of Father God verses Mother Nature (see, for example, the December 17th Biblog), one reader emailed that instead of referring to “Mother Nature” as the source of unusual tsunamis, category 5 hurricanes, blizzards, and ice storms, the insurance term for them is “acts of God”. That’s a reference I won’t argue with as I remind us all that such are the consequences for the earth of our sin.

Finally, on the topic of what’s going on with the earth, I hope you enjoyed the shortest night of the year last night, as yesterday was the winter solstice! The number of daylight hours will now start increasing (a welcome blessing those of us who swim outside at night) as we celebrate the birth of Him Who is the Light of the World (John 8:12 and 9:5, and see who earns a similar title in Matthew 5:14 by reflecting His light).

God bless your (getting longer) day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:19 AM

December 21, 2005

Ps 20 / Is 37-39 / Intelligent Design / Biblog folos

Psalm 20 is thought to be a psalm or liturgy of prayer for the king as he leaves for a battle. Verses 1-5 are addressed to the king, perhaps by the army or the assembled people of Israel. (Note the location from where the help comes!) Verse 6 changes voice, perhaps spoken by a Levite, and assures the king the prayer will be heard. Verses 7-8 return to the first voice, again possibly the army. Verse 9 is the concluding petition to the prayer; really, it is the only verse actually addressed to the Lord. We, too, can have full confidence in prayer as we pray according to God's will.

Today in Isaiah 37-39 we finish the first major part of Isaiah, the so-called Book of Judgment and Promise, by finishing the section we started yesterday. Chapter 37 tells of the Lord’s delivering Jerusalem. Chapter 38 tells of the addition to the length of Hezekiah’s life (something that actually happened before Sennacherib invaded), and chapter 39 predicts the exile in Babylon. Note especially the work of the Lord Himself in convincing Sennacherib to withdraw from Jerusalem (for example, 37:36, and remember the plague upon Egypt in Exodus 12:12). The change of direction of the shadow on the sundial Ahaz constructed may have been an extension of the day or a miraculous refraction (38:7-8). Hezekiah’s “writing” was essentially a hymn or psalm of thanksgiving (38:10-20), and it expresses well the purposes of God permitting suffering in his life (and our lives!). Hezekiah’s joy over his healing seems to have turned to pride, and his showing of the treasures of Jerusalem to the envoys from Babylon would, as it were, come back to haunt the kingdom (39:5-7).

In case you missed it, a U.S. District judge on Tuesday ruled that Pennsylvania school district could not teach “intelligent design” in biology classes as an alternative to evolution. The Republican (and reportedly church-going) judge called the concept creationism in disguise and said it violated the so-called separation of church and state dictated by the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment. I am not surprised. What Christians need most of all is good religious instruction in the home. We can hardly expect secular society to accept the Bible’s account of creation without first having faith in Christ.

And, now a couple of Biblog folos. I hope you didn’t waste your time on the network news specials regarding heaven and Christmas on ABC and CBS last night (mentioned in Sunday's Biblog post). I watched a few minutes of each and saw enough to know they were as bad as I expected. On ABC the Dali Lama spewed forth on works righteousness and reincarnation, and a camp for the “irreligious” was featured. On CBS, the University of Texas’ own Dr. Michael White was one of the “experts” interviewed to tell a story of Christmas quite different from that in the Bible.

With the upcoming special on The History Channel about the Antichrist that I mentioned in yesterday’s Biblog post, I thought you might be interested in knowing what Lutherans believe about the Antichrist. The following is from the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, one of the normative Lutheran confessional writings: “But it is manifest that the Roman pontiffs and their adherents defend godless doctrines and godless forms of worship, and it is plain that the marks of the Antichrist coincide with those of the pope’s kingdom and his followers. For in describing the Antichrist in his letter to the Thessalonians Paul calls him ‘an adversary of Christ who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God’ (II Thess. 2:3, 4). He speaks therefore of one who rules in the church and not of the kings of nations, and he calls that man ‘an adversary of Christ’ because he will devise doctrines which conflict with the Gospel and will arrogate to himself divine authority.” (Paragraph 39, Tappert, 327.) What a blessing to know that when we pray as Dr. Luther directs us to pray, "the wicked foe has no power over us. Amen."

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:28 AM

December 20, 2005

Ps 19 / Is 34-36 / Tidbits

The beginning of Psalm 19, like Romans 1:19-20, speaks of what is often called “natural knowledge” of God, that which human beings can gather from creation itself (in contrast to “revealed knowledge” of God, which only the Bible gives). Also in Romans (10:18), St. Paul by Divine inspiration uses verse 4 to describe the progress of the Gospel message. Psalm 19:7-11 praises God’s Word for the various things it accomplishes in people. Verses 12-13 are the psalmist and us recognizing our need for God’s law to show us our sin so that we can repent and be saved. Verse 12 is often used against the notion that people are able to list all of their sins, and verse 13 speaks to the sort of mortal sin that can put us outside of the church and make us need to be converted anew. You might recognize verse 14, David’s offering of the psalm as a praise offering, as the prayer I sometimes lead the congregation in before I preach.

Today in Isaiah 34-36 we completely read one section and begin yet another: the first presents additional prophecies of judgment (chapter 34) and promise (35), and the new section transitions from Jerusalem saved from the threat of Assyria to its exile in Babylon, with chapter 36 addressing Sennacherib’s (the leader of Assyria’s) siege of Jerusalem. The juxtaposition of chapters 34 and 35 are typical of the first major part of Isaiah where judgment and promise are often placed side by side. Especially notable in this section is Isaiah 35:5-6, which prophecy Jesus Himself in Matthew 11:5 says He fulfills. The description of the highway that follows in verses 8-10 refers, much as in our day, to a road built to make travel easier, and the highway can bring to mind the narrow “way” or “path” Jesus describes in Matthew 7:13-14. May God enable us to always follow that path and sing in joyous worship as we go (35:10)!

For tidbits today I have the following: more insight into why some of the so-called mega churches are going to be closed Christmas Day, though I guess the idea of God being present where only two or three are gathered (Matthew 18:20) does not occur to them. … One reader sent a link to photos of some so-called “sacred spaces” up in the Dallas area, and I found some written information about them as well. (By the way, when I found the information, I did not have to register, but now following the link takes you to a free registration page.) … The History Channel has an upcoming two-part special on the Antichrist airing back to back on Monday, December 26 from 7-9 p.m. CST and again later that night starting at 11 p.m. (though I doubt it will be all that edifying). … NBC’s new drama “The Book of Daniel” is generating controversy before it even airs; check out the American Family Association’s call for petitions against it. (I've seen the promos for it, and it looks awful.) Horrible representations of Christianity in mainstream media are all the more reason for us to go to the source!

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

December 19, 2005

Ps 18 / Is 31-33 / Bush / Bucks / Box office / Bono

Psalm 18 appears to be a slightly modified version of David’s song of praise recorded in 2 Samuel 22, which song came after the Lord delivered him from Saul and other enemies. The psalm begins with praise of God (vv.1-3), tells of the Lord’s deliverance (vv.4-19), lays the grounds for the Lord’s help (vv.20-29), and recounts the Lord’s help (vv.30-45). Let’s start by taking a closer look at the opening praise of God. In verse 1, two different Hebrew words for “rock” are used, so David isn’t just repeating himself (if you are reading, for example, the NIV or NASB). The Hebrew word translated “fortress” in verse 2 is not the same Hebrew word as the one used in Psalm 46 that inspired Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”, though that Hebrew word is also used here in Psalm 18:2, translated “high tower” (KJV and ASV, “stronghold” NIV and NASB). David took shelter in the Lord, that is, he relied on the Lord to protect him as a rock, high tower, or fortress would be a refuge in battle. Apparently deriving from strong horned animals, the “horn” in 18:2 is a symbol of and term for strength and power, and the expression is found repeatedly in the Old Testament. Altars are said to have had “horns” in order “to focus the symbolic presence and power of God”, and the altar’s horns are where the atonement was made. Here in verse 2, God is called the “horn of salvation” since He is the only source of true salvation (that is, the atonement, the forgiveness of sins). In verse 3, the Lord’s salvation and deliverance move David to praise God, as they should likewise move us.

In the verses after the introduction, the Warrior Lord’s deliverance of David is described in vivid and dramatic militaristic terms. Notice the cherub(im) in v.10 associated with the royal presence of God on the ark and in the Tabernacle and Temple (and in the window above the altar in our church). Contrast the descriptions of the fetters of affliction with the freedom of deliverance. David’s claim of righteousness again is not his claiming to be perfect but rather a confession of devotion to and trust in the Lord, which result in forgiveness and Holy-Spirit-produced fruits of faith. The emphasis on faith is clearer in v.25, and note the humble, repentant attitude in v.27 (and the recurrence there of the Biblical theme of the great reversal). Note the description of the Word of the Lord in verse 30: “tried” (KJV, ASV, NASB) or “refined” (KJV margin) or “flawless” (NIV), where the sense is “purified” or “purged” as by a refiner or goldsmith (as in Psalm 12:6). God’s Word is likewise perfect for us, calling us to repentant faith in order to save us and by that salvation deliver us to the refuge and fortress that is the Lord our God.

Today in Isaiah 31-33 we complete the “Six Woes”, reading of the woe to those who depend on Egypt for help (31-32) and the woe to Assyria (33). These chapters, however, also include some description of the Messianic Kingdom and the blessings it will bring. I think much of it is clear on its own, but I wanted to direct your attention to a few things. In 31:4-5 the metaphor seems reversed (that God is the lion and the shepherds are against God, instead of the devil being the lion and the shepherds God’s agents against the devil). Though the lion might be taken to be Assyria, ultimately God is the leader of the Assyrian army as it attacks Israel, and the parallel structure in the verse sets the Lord as the equivalent of the lion. Certainly the shepherds are the unfaithful leaders who wrongly battle against the Lord and those He has enlisted in His fight. In 31:8 note that, though the Lord will ultimately indirectly use the Medes to cut down the Assyrians, He also will do some of the destroying more directly Himself, sending an angel to kill 185,000 soldiers (Isaiah 37:36). In 33:6 note how the fear of the Lord (we might say “faith in the Lord”) is treasure, which a marginal NIV reading even suggests could be read as treasure “from Him”. In 33:11-12 note that the people produce that which results in their destruction: being set Ablaze! (NIV; “burned” KJV, ASV, NASB). Fire in the Old Testament can symbolize cleansing or judgment (in the case of cleansing, passing through the fire for blessing, and, in the case of judgment, being eternally destroyed in the flames by God’s wrath), but when the expression and context are such as here (note also v.14), being “ablaze” is not a good thing. Finally, in 33:24 note the great emphasis placed upon the forgiveness of sins—this same forgiveness of sins is freely offered to you and to me by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Did you see President Bush’s address Sunday night? I thought he well delivered a generally well-crafted and reassuring speech. However, I do not share the President’s view that an otherwise benign Islam is being exploited by “radical political aims”. Rather, I think Islam has an history of its own oppressive destruction, and any suggestion that Islam is at peace with Christianity is a misrepresentation of history and of Islam’s holy writings themselves. You also know the President has a somewhat generic god when he can in one paragraph refer to Hanukkah and Christmas and then what must be unionistic (if not syncretistic ) prayer. Incidentally, if you were wondering from where the President’s closing Christmas carol quote came, click here.

Your bucks presently say “In God we trust”, but they won’t say that for long if one of the country’s most activist atheists gets his way. The same man who has gone to court to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance now wants God off our country’s money. So reports the American Family Association, which is running a campaign against the move.

Speaking of money, “King Kong” climbed over “Chronicles of Narnia” this weekend at the box office, according to one website. If you click on the link, however, I’d avoid the reviews, where the gay cowboy love story “Brokeback Mountain” is positively said to “resonate” and C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” is negatively called a “Christian Tract”.

Rock star Bono of U2 and Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft and Gates Foundation fame were reportedly named Time magazine’s “persons of the year”. Mother Nature did not win out after all (see Saturday’s Biblog entry), so I suppose if Chiffon Margerine was right we are in a lot of trouble now. MSNBC’s report has a reader poll, but I did not want to vote for any of their choices.

I am glad that you are choosing to read the Daily Lectionary along with us. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:01 AM

December 18, 2005

Ps 17 / Is 28-30 / This just in …

Again under attack from his ungodly enemies, David in Psalm 17 prayerfully appeals to the judgment of the Lord. As in similar psalms we have previously read, David does not claim to be perfect or free from sin, but rather he claims the rightness of his case versus his enemies. Note in verses 4-5 the role of God’s Word. Verse 6 is the center of David’s prayer in this case and the center of all our praying, done at the invitation of our God with His promise of an answer. The right hand of v.7 is in this case the hand of God’s power and authority. In verse 8, the apple of the eye refers to the eye’s pupil, essential for vision and worth protecting at all costs. The shadow serves as a figure of speech for protection, as the shade protects someone from the hot sun, and wings are also a figure of speech for protection, as a hen gather her chicks under her wings (see, for example, Matthew 23:37). The lion in verse 12 brings to my mind 1 Peter 5:8. The call to “rise up” in verse 13 is paired with the call to “confront” the enemies and “rescue” the psalmist. We pray verse 15 clothed by faith in the robes of Christ’s righteousness and confident that when we awake from death we will be in God’s eternal presence. (Note the sharp contrast to verse 14 where the people of this world have their reward in this life.)

Our reading in Isaiah enters into a new section in which six woes are given, five on Israel and one on Assyria; today as we read Isaiah 28-30, we read those woes on Ephraim (Samaria) and Judah (chapter 28), to Jerusalem (Ariel) and those who depend on alliances with other nations (chapter 29), and to the stubborn nation itself (chapter 30). In 28:1, Ephraim, as the capital of Samaria, is called its wreath. The King of Assyria will be the Lord’s mighty and strong one who brings destruction to Ephraim. Contrast the Lord as crown and wreath in 28:5 to the indulgent city of Ephraim as the wreath. In 28:9-13 Isaiah is mocked for speaking God’s Word, but God says that soon they will hear words they do not understand and that His Word will remain hidden to them. (In 28:19-20, even those who understand are terrified for knowing Israel is not prepared.) The capstone of 28:16 and verses following relates back to 8:14 and 17:10, and notice how some stumble over the stone but the faithful use it as that by which they are aligned. The parable of 28:23-28 seems to have the point that God’s action is appropriate in the big picture of things. With 28:19 compare the “Wonderful Counselor” of 9:6 and remember the counselor is not a psychiatrist type but one who advises leaders on paths to victory. Yet, for Jerusalem in 29:10 and verses following the prophets and seers will be meaningless to the people because of their hard hearts. (In 30:10-11 the people even tell the Lord’s servants to be quiet and go away.) Isaiah 29:13 is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15:8-9. In 29:14 the wonders of deliverance have turned to wonders of judgment. Isaiah 29:16 is quoted by Paul in Romans 9:20. Isaiah 29:18 is taken as Messianic prophecy and described as fulfilled in Matthew 4:16 and John 9:39. In 30:7 don’t think of Rahab the ancestress of Jesus but of the name meaning “storm” and “arrogance” as descriptive of Egypt. Note well the call to repentance in 30:15 that speaks to us today, with the threat of destruction looming if we do not answer. Note the good that comes when Israel answers (30:19 and verses following). The Lord had a plan for Israel to bring good out of its afflictions, and He has a plan to bring good out of ours.

This just in: Barbara Walters has a big TV special coming up Tuesday about heaven, in which she will talk to all sorts of religious leaders (none Lutheran) and even unbelievers. (The ABC News website writeup was enough to make me know I don’t need to tune in.) CBS News, meanwhile, is reportedly counterprogramming with a news special about the birth of Jesus (NBC had such a special a few weeks ago).

God bless your day, and may you make it holy by gladly receiving His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:02 AM

December 17, 2005

Ps 16 / Is 25-27 / Pepper Bible / Mother Nature / Holy Days

In Psalm 16 David prays the Lord to keep him safe and expresses trust in Him. Verse 2 has direct application to us when we think that having eternal salvation is not enough—nothing else really matters. Verses 5-6 reinforce that point, as David struggles to be content with what God has given him (the “cup” is what a guest has been offered, and we might think of New Testament passages such as Matthew 10:22-23 and perhaps, to some extent, also of the cup of the Sacrament of the Altar). In verses 7-8 praise of God follows that affirmation. Do not get the “right hand” references mixed up: the Lord at David’s right hand (v.8) symbolizes the Lord sustaining and protecting David, while David at the Lord’s right hand (v.11) is a place of honor and blessing. Especially in the reference to sitting at the Lord’s right hand we see the psalm fulfilled in Christ, Who “ascended into heaven And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty”. In verses 9-11, David thus can pray with joy, knowing he is totally secure. Note how verses 8-11, especially verse 10b, is understood by Peter and Paul to prophesy of Christ (Acts 2:25-28 and 13:35, respectively).

In Isaiah 25-27, we have a fairly joyous section describing the Day of the Lord, its blessing and the people’s praise as the remnant of Israel is restored. Isaiah 25:6-9 is one of my favorite sections of Holy Scripture and the one I have selected as the Old Testament reading for my funeral. The great, last eternal banquet finds New Testament equivalents in such places as Revelation 19:9 and the parables of Jesus (for example, Matthew 22:2-14, Luke 14:16-24). My appreciation of this passage may have something to do with the food and wine described in verse 6, but it has more to do with the destruction of death (vv.7-8, quoted in part by 1 Corinthians 15:54), the joy of the Lord’s vindication that overwhelms all sorrow (v.8), and the resulting praise of God at His completed salvation (v.9).

Other notable verses include Isaiah 26:3, which speaks volumes about the blessing of trusting in the Lord. Related is Isaiah 26:12, which attributes even the things we do to God. Note the extremely clear statement of the bodily resurrection in Isaiah 26:19. Note how the Lord in 26:21 comes out of His dwelling to punish (compare it to earlier where He said He was staying in for a little while). And, the second song of the vineyard in Isaiah 27:2-6 has a little happier result than the first. Remember that faith in God for the sake of Jesus saves us by His forgiving our sins. The Day of the Lord is not dreadful for us but joyous, as we will be in our bodies to dwell with God at the eternal feast.

If you want a better feel for how Bibles were made before the printing press, click here to check out the Pepper Bible, which a Texas man is making and illustrating “the old fashioned way” if not quite in old fashioned style.

In a conversation with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric on the “Today Show” Friday, Time magazine managing editor Jim Kelly made it sound like Mother Nature would be Time’s “person of the year” (you can see video of the interview here, though you may have to advance through some choices to get to it). I wonder what “Father God” thinks about that?

And, as I hear more and more people wish me, “Happy holidays”, I think I am going to start replying with, “And Happy Holy Days to you!” That is, after all, from where "holidays" comes.

Sorry for the delay in today’s post, but God bless the rest of your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 11:58 AM

December 16, 2005

Ps 15 / Is 22-24 / Israel / Religion & society / Tidbits

Some time back, there were allegations of racism against the Motel 6 chain, much like earlier there had been similar allegations against Denny’s, the restaurant chain frequently located nearby. Today’s society expects everyone to be able to stay in a motel, eat a restaurant, and basically be treated the same, regardless of race, sex, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, or transgendered status. You might notice that list does not explicitly mention moral behavior, and moral behavior is the only standard Psalm 15 gives us for who gets to abide in God’s dwelling on His holy hill. (God is hardly politically correct!) This description of the righteous is in sharp contrast to that which we read yesterday in Psalm 14. Always and only do these righteous things, and no one will boot you out of God’s dwelling (see how Jesus puts it in places such as Luke 10:25-28). So, do you and I have a place to stay? Not if it depends on us! God’s standard is perfection, and, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8). But, if we confess our sins and trust God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake, God forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Then, by virtue of Jesus’ perfect life and innocent suffering and death to cleanse us, we are able to dwell with Him for eternity. You might say He's keeping a light on for us.

In today’s reading of Isaiah 22-24, we wrap up the judgment against the nations and begin a new section dealing with God’s fulfillment of history. The specific judgment that begins the reading is against the Valley of Vision (Jerusalem, chapter 22) and against Tyre (chapter 23). Even though the new section deals with mostly positive things, the part we read today tells of God’s common judgment for all guilty of the common sin (chapter 24). In 22:1, 5 “Valley of Vision” refers to Jerusalem because God revealed Himself there in the city that lay between the mountains. In 22:8-11 note how the besieged people of Jerusalem are described as doing everything but turning to the Lord for help, even though He called them to repent (22:12-13). The “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (22:13) philosophy that loves life and scoffs at death can be found elsewhere in the Bible, such as in 1 Corinthians 15:32, where Isaiah is quoted. The foreigner Shebna, who fancied himself a king but was carried away into exile (22:15-19), was succeeded by Eliakim, who was a temporary peg ultimately replaced (22:20-25). Take note of Isaiah 22:22-23, another passage that fills in the context of the “Office of the Keys” (remember Revelation 3:7 and see Matthew 16:19). Note the sort of events described in Isaiah 24:17-23 and recall many similar descriptions of events in Revelation. Also note that the faithful remnant survives and is “left behind” when others are destroyed (24:6, 13, 14-16). The remnant’s song of praise is our song of praise, for God in His mercy and grace spares us the eternal death we deserve and instead gives us eternal life.

I mentioned in an answer to a recent question about Palestine that its takeover by modern-day Israel is a crime calling out for vengeance. Meanwhile, so-called Christian radio talk show host Paul McGuire wants Christians to give more support to Israel, especially in light of recent incendiary rhetoric from Iran--even though the rhetoric may just be political. (Despite the rhetoric, Iran still gets to play in the world cup!) McGuire criticizes people for correctly understanding the New Testament that the Church, all believers in Christ, is the new Israel. Correctly understood, then, we do not need Temple worship in Jerusalem to be restored or any mass conversion of the Jews before the Lord can return. Nevertheless, we pray, as in the Morning Service, that God would “open the door of faith unto all the heathen and unto the people of Israel.”

What’s the relationship between religion and society? Not what you might think. A study out recently suggests a correlation between religion in the United States and its ills, such as murders and sexually transmitted diseases. Though the researcher has been much criticized, a number of statisticians are standing by his data. The other researchers are quick to point out, however, that the established correlation is far from a proven cause-and-effect relationship. I don’t suppose the relationship could be that the Devil works harder where God has success?

As for today’s tidbits, as the flap over Christmas in society continues, you can read two different perspectives, one calling it petty and another calling it a distraction. … Wal-Mart reportedly meets today to court gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendereds. … Just days after Ford said it would do likewise, the American Family Association says it is considering resuming its Ford boycott … The first lesbian couple to be joined under the first U.S. same-sex civil union law is splitting up. … And as the highly-nominated movie “Brokeback Mountain” brings gay love between cowboys to the big screen and tries to move it into the mainstream, gay-advocates hope for box-office success and critics for failure. Lord, have mercy.

See some new questions and answers here, and God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:53 AM

December 15, 2005

Ps 14 / Is 19-21 / Morning Star / Tookie lives on / Ford goes go gay

You could say 1-5% of Americans are fools—if you combine the latest Gallup poll numbers with the first verse of Psalm 14. I mentioned some of the Gallup poll results in yesterday’s Biblog, but I didn’t specifically mention that 5% of respondents said they feel God “does not exist”, with 1% saying they were certain “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1 tells how the fool says “there is no God”, but the psalm also goes on to indict, in one way or another, 100% of the whole world, including even the psalmist (especially verses 1, 3). Notice that there is no distinction based on age, as if there is an age someone must reach before he or she can assent to sin or know the difference between right and wrong. In Old Testament wisdom literature, folly is frequently contrasted to knowledge and understanding (v.2, for example), and the fear of the Lord (not just terror-fear but reverence-fear and trust), something the fool lacks, is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). Verse 4 tells us the evildoers have no knowledge (or “will never learn”, NIV). Ultimately salvation and restoration will come for God’s people, and they will rejoice and be glad.

We hear more about fools as we read Isaiah 19-21, which continues to tell of God’s judgment against the nations: against Egypt and Cush (chapters 19-20), and against Babylon, Dumah (Edom), and Arabia (chapter 21). More than just words, Isaiah is told, we might say, to “act out” part of his prophecy (20:1-6), and he rhetorically calls on the Babylonian soldiers to prepare for an attack he knows they will not withstand (21:5-10). Note 21:10 and recall its adaptation by St. John in Revelation 14:8; 18:2. In figurative language, Edom hears that it will have just a short respite between Assyrian and Babylonian domination (21:11-12). The later qualification of time “as a servant bound by contract would count it” (21:16 NIV, and previously 16:14) either denotes exact time (for neither the contractor would accept less nor the laborer give more), or it denotes less than that time (for surely the laborer would rather work less). Be sure to note that again in the midst of “that day” of destruction that God brings upon the nations we find hope and reason for optimism in the promised Savior (19:18-25).

That promised Savior, Pastor Sullivan reminded me yesterday after reading the answer posted to the question about the reference to Lucifer (KJV, “Morning Star” NIV) in Isaiah 14:12, can refer to Himself as the “Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16, where the Greek word used is that behind our English word “phosphorous”). Similarly, St. Peter by Divine inspiration can refer to Jesus as “Morning Star” (2 Peter 1:19 NIV and NASB, “Day Star” KJV and ASV). In the Revelation reference, there seems to be at least an echo of Jacob’s star (Numbers 24:17), but the primary idea is that the night filled with tribulation is over and the last, eternal day has begun, in which the Church shares (Revelation 2:28). The Bible, written in Hebrew and Greek, does not itself make the connection between the Latin name “Lucifer” and Satan, but St. Jerome (c.345-420) and other church Fathers did. Satan, of course, tries to deceive God’s people by masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). The Revelation verse is behind Philipp Nicolai’s 1599 hymn “Wie schön leuchtet”—see “How Lovely Shines the Morning Star”, The Lutheran Hymnal #343). Related is TLH #546, Burkhard Wiesenmeyer’s recasting of a 1630 hymn by Josua Stegmann that imitated Nicolai’s hymn.

Life did not imitate art in the case of Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the former gang member whose life story was told in a made-for-TV movie titled “Redemption: The Stanley Tookie Williams Story”. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger deemed Tookie to not have redeemed himself by failing to admit the crimes for which he was ultimately executed early Tuesday morning. He may be dead, but Tookie lives on as the debate over his death continues. Christians at least can remember that the government, as God’s servants, can both execute criminals and wage wars (Romans 13:4), a point not made in the Synod’s 1943 explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism but made in the 1991 edition.

The immorality of homosexuality is also made more explicit in the 1991 edition, but tell that to the Ford Motor Company, as Ford has gone gay again! About one week after it decided to pull ads for Jaguar and Land Rover from gay publications citing budget constraints, it was reported Wednesday that the company in a letter Monday said it would not only restore those ads but also expand such marketing. The American Family Association (AFA) in November had cancelled a boycott of Ford, and gay groups said the pulling of the ads appeared to be connected to the cancellation of the boycott. No indication from the AFA yet whether the boycott will be reinstated.

Pastor Sullivan had a wonderful sermon last night at our midweek Advent Vespers, emphasizing how God always keeps His promises. The elders served up a wonderful dinner beforehand. If you have not done so already, mark your calendar both for the Christmas Eve candlelight Vespers at 6:00 p.m. on December 24 and for Christmas Day services at 8:00 and 10:30 a.m.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:00 AM

December 14, 2005

Ps 13 / Is 16-18 / Gallup on God / Peace symbol folo

Little children can hardly stand it when they need something and they think their mother and father are ignoring them. Earthly parents have a challenging task trying to teach their children patience, and, in some ways, our Heavenly Father’s task is even more challenging! Psalm 13 is another example of how David at times was impatient and complained that God was ignoring him; David thinks God’s face of blessing has been turned away from Him. (Verse 2 even seems to suggest that David’s internal heart and soul struggles are examples of the spiritual enemy triumphing over him.) In prayer, David recognizes that God must deliver him from illness or else he will die, and David suggests his physical enemy will take credit for the death. Despite David’s impatience and complaint, he still concludes the prayer with confident trust in God and a pledge of praise for all God’s blessings. Like David, we can be impatient children of God. Yet, God our Heavenly Father never forgets or ignores us. He may let us suffer longer than we would like, but suffering produces patience (here, literally “remaining under”, though another Greek word for patience literally translates “long-suffering”), patience produces experience, and experience produces hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5). Our confident prayer and patient but hopeful waiting can also lead us to praise God—for eternity!

Isaiah 16-18 continues prophecies of judgment against the nations. Today we finish reading the judgment against Moab (chapter 16), and we also read the judgment against Aram (modern day Syria, typified by its capital Damascus) and Israel (chapter 17) and against Cush (chapter 18). Note in 17:5-6 the harvest as an illustration of judgment, and see how Jesus similarly uses it (for example, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-40). In this case, however, being left behind is good, for that which is left is the faithful remnant; in 17:7-8 these people give up their false gods and return to the Only True God. In 18:4 God patiently waits until the right time to execute judgment on the people of Cush and Egypt, but some of them also turn to Him in faith. Suffering and judgment are never pleasant, but the result should be our coming into the Lord’s presence (18:7, where His Name is, He is), where we are truly blessed.

Yet, not everyone who claims to believe in God seeks God out where He is. Results of a new Gallup survey on God reported Tuesday suggests that 94% of Americans “think” God exists, and nearly 80% can say they are “convinced” God exists. (I doubt either of those statements is identical with believing in the Triune God Who offers them free salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, though such faith could be included). Yet, people who say they are convinced God exists make up 61% of the respondents who seldom or never go to church. They fail to realize the greatest worship of the Gospel is to receive the forgiveness of sins in all its forms. Faith can hardly exist if, under normal circumstances, it does not seek the forgiveness and communion of God's Church.

The debate I noted in yesterday’s Biblog over the origin of the “peace symbol” continues. One reader sent in a link to another site arguing for the symbol’s evil origins.

Thanks for that link and to those who sent in new questions. You can check out the answers here, and God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:01 AM

December 13, 2005

Ps 12 / Is 13-15 / Biblog Folos

“Beneath the rule of men entirely great, / The pen is mightier than the sword,” so wrote English novelist and dramatist Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873) in his 1839 play Richelieu (Act ii, scene ii, emphasis mine). Psalm 12 is one of the places where David by Divine inspiration seems to suggest that the tongue is mightier than the sword (see Psalm 57:4 and 64:3-4). As if from every person, curses, lies, and threats attack the faithful, and the only place where the faithful will receive justice for such attacks is from God (see Micah 7:1-7). God is the faithful King Who answers the prayer of the psalmist in vv.5-6, contrasting His perfectly purified words to the lies of the enemies. Right now they may “strut about”, but they will get theirs in the end.

Isaiah 13-15 begins a new section in Isaiah that tells of Judgment against the nations. Today we read of judgment against Assyria (typified by its capital Babylon) and against Philistia, and we begin reading the judgment against Moab. You may remember some of the background information about Babylon covered in the Biblog previously and on the Q&A page; ultimately Persian armies (“the Medes” in 13:17) execute God’s wrath against Babylon and Assyria. Note in 13:8 the analogy to the pain of childbirth (a rich image in the prophets [Isaiah 26:17; Jeremiah 4:31; 6:24] and one Jesus uses [Matthew 24:8]), and think of the mother’s joy after the labor is over as analogous to our eternal joy of the Kingdom after the difficult days leading up to judgment. Another notable rich image is in 13:14 (see 1 Kings 22:17; Matthew 9:36; John 10:11). Notice how in 14:1 and following there is hope and restoration for Israel in the midst of judgment against the nations. In 15:2-3 the shaved heads and faces are signs of great mourning, as is the sackcloth made of goat hair. Remember that in all of these oracles of judgment we are to be reminded of the sins we commit and the punishment we deserve so that we live every day in repentance, trusting in God to forgive us our sin for Jesus' sake.

As an emailer in response to yesterday’s Biblog put it, “If God were ‘fair’, I’d be in big trouble.” Thanks be to God that He wasn’t fair—to Jesus, or to us. One of the biggest miscarriages of justice is that Jesus, Who was completely innocent, took the place of us, who are completely guilty (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is today's first Biblog folo (that's the TV newsroom-ese for "follow-up").

Also in yesterday’s Biblog, I asked if you could identify that which comes from the mouth of the Messiah in Isaiah 11:4. One emailer suggested the “breath of His lips”, as in John 20:22-23. I might more quickly identify the Holy Spirit with the “breath”, and I would probably identify the spoken “Word” as that which proceeds from Jesus’ mouth—words which judge (John 12:47-48) as the sword that divides (Matthew 10:34-35). Of course, there is an intimate connection between the Spirit and the Word (Ephesians 6:17). As on our lectern, you can find a sword and Bible paired in religious symbolism, thereby also bringing in the idea of law and Gospel (see Hebrews 4:12).

The salvos are still being fired in the “war” over Christmas. One of my favorite bloggers recently entered into the fray, and a column by conservative writer Debbie Daniel being circulated by email inspired one of Grace’s members to write the following. “It seems pretty hypocritical to me that people want to celebrate these holidays, without acknowledging the actual meaning of the holiday. Do we celebrate Mother's Day without acknowledging our Mothers? Do we celebrate the fourth of July without acknowledging our patriotism? Then why do people want to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter without acknowledging Christ?”

Regarding the Christmas light display I linked in Sunday’s Biblog, one emailer pointed out the “peace symbol” and suggested it was a satanic symbol, “the inverted chasuble of the Black Mass” (a chasuble is the vestment the pastor celebrating communion wears, often with a pattern of decoration that the peace sign rotated 180 degrees resembles). Well, that story of the peace sign was new to me. There are certainly some claims of a satanic origin for the symbol here, though there are also denials of such claims here and here. Though I am skeptical about Wikipedia, I’m not qualified to decide which side is right on this issue.

Speaking of things I may be qualified to answer, we haven't had any questions about the readings lately! Is Isaiah that much clearer than Revelation? Ask away, and God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:41 AM

December 12, 2005

Ps 11 / Is 10-12

Sometimes things seem so bad that they seem like they will never get better and a person wonders what is left to do. In Psalm 11 it appears that David has been counseled to flee from his enemies as a last resort, but he takes refuge in the Lord and knows that the Lord will deliver him. The foundations mentioned in v.3 that seem to be in the process of destruction can refer to the whole world order, for example, that good will ultimately triumph over evil. What can the righteous do? Take refuge in the Lord! Verse 4 stands out as a bold statement of faith (we might hear it put this way: "God is in His heaven, and all is right with the world"). Note that the Lord’s presence in His Temple is not as if He is removed from earth and ignoring our situations, but His sitting on His throne is a position of authority over all the world: things are in His control, and He makes them work for the good of His Church. God shows mercy to those who repent and receive Christ’s righteousness by faith, but He punishes the wicked. In v.7 seeing the Lord’s face is to have access to the Lord, to be in His Presence, and therefore to be blessed. (Think of the liturgical Benediction from Numbers 6:22-27.)

Isaiah 11-12 finishes a section begun yesterday dealing with prophecy about the Messiah and His Kingdom. Chapter 10 first continues the description of the Lord’s wrath against Israel, then describes His judgment on Assyria, and finishes with a description of the faithful remnant. Chapter 11 is a well-known chapter that tells of the Messiah (how timely in Advent by design!), and chapter 12 contains two songs of praise for the Messiah’s deliverance.

Some key verses to note follow. In 10:5, 15, 24 note how God used Israel’s enemies as a rod of punishment but all the time kept them in His control and punished them for their pride in thinking they were defeating Israel on their own. In 10:33-34 note how the trees that look so high and mighty are cut down and the lowly, dead looking stump shoots up a Branch in 11:1. In 11:2 note the seven-fold description of the Holy Spirit (and see its use in Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; and 5:6) with Whom Jesus is anointed Messiah. In 11:4 note the role of that which comes from the Messiah’s mouth (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 19:15) and see if you can identify what that is. The Messiah brings a dramatic change, described in 11:6-9, and not only will the faithful of Israel be saved, but, as 11:10-16 tells, also those who respond from the Gentile nations. In 12:2, note the quotation from Exodus 15:2, a verse of praise after the Lord defeated the Egyptians in the Red Sea.

God speaks to all of us through the reading still today. The afflictions we suffer are for our benefit. When we repent and believe in the Messiah we have a transforming peace and eternal salvation that lead us to praise God.

Sorry for the delay in posting today, but I had some internet trouble last night at home. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 09:33 AM

December 11, 2005

Ps 10 / Is 7-9 / Comments / Lights

Sometims Christians have a hard time watching the unbelievers prosper in this world; they wonder why God does not punish the unbelievers and bless the believers more. In Psalm 10 David brings similar concerns to God. David grieves that judgment has not yet come on those who revile the Lord, and he boldly prays for God to judge the wicked and relieve those who suffer at the hands of the wicked. Remember the "prosperity gospel" you hear from some preachers is hogwash; Christians will have a tougher row to hoe in this life than unbelievers. Verse 14 struck me as incredibly full of comfort.

Isaiah 7-9 is full of prophecies about the Messiah and His Kingdom. "Messiah", you may know, in Hebrew literally means "anointed", and the Greek equivalent term gives us the title "Christ". Someone anointed generally was a prophet, a priest, or a king—and in the case of Jesus, all three.

Chapter 7 gives us a sign for the Messiah: the virgin's Son named Immanuel. People are not supposed to test God, to ask Him to give them a sign to do or not do this or that. That command against asking for a sign was so strong that even when God told Ahaz to ask for a sign Ahaz still did not do it. Isaiah spoke on God's behalf and gave the sign. "Immanuel" in Hebrew literally means "God with us". See how Matthew 1:23 records the angel telling Joseph that Mary's child fulfills this prophecy.

In chapter 8 God contrasts Himself to the Assyrians. Verses 12-15 are particularly striking and speak strongly to us today. The tribes of Israel surviving in the northern and southern kingdoms (that is, Israel and Judah, respectively) were rejecting God—for them He became a stone over which they stumbled. Nevertheless, God is a sanctuary for those who do not stumble over Him (see Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:6-8)—all of us Gentiles as we hear in chapter 9.

Chapter 9 is probably best known for verses 2-7. (Not all of it may be familiar, however; when I was on vicarage we had to cut out verse 5 from its reading in the children's Christmas program because someone thought it was too bloody.) The prophecy of the Light to lighten the Gentiles is reported as fulfilled in Matthew 4:13-15. Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. I know the King James and other versions punctuate those names a little differently, but, having closely studied that text, I think the more recent translations (for examples, the NIV and NASB) are correct here. (And, having heard and sung Handel's "Messiah" last night as led by the Austin Civic Chorus, naturally I hear many of these words set to music, although the "Messiah" follows the KJV.)

Let me share a couple of quick comments I received yesterday from one reader regarding yesterday's Biblog post. First, the email pointed out Psalm 9:10 as a very comforting passage, and I must agree (see also the similar thoughts in 2 Timothy 2:11-13, what may be the words of hymn known to St. Paul and his hearers). The other comment had to do with Isaiah 6, appreciating both how much of the historic Christian liturgy comes straight from Bible and the figurative reference to the Sacrament of the Altar at which I had hinted.

Finally, though I do not want to make a habit of posting non-faith related links, but I just had to pass along some amazing holiday lights (somewhat faith related?). I was sent the video file as an attachment Saturday, and, as I watched it, I recalled seeing a tease (with similar pictures) for a story Friday night that was going to be on KEYE's Update. I did not see the story on the news, but Saturday I confirmed that the story was about the same display, and I was able to find out more details and a link to the lights on this page. The display has to be one of the most amazing I have ever seen, and I am glad we have it as a video file, now that the owner has voluntarily discontinued the display due to traffic problems. (I'm sure the media and internet coverage had nothing to do with the heavy traffic.)

God bless your day, and may you make it holy by gladly receiving His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:07 AM

December 10, 2005

Ps 9 / Is 4-6 / Tookie / Original Sin

Wow! That was my reaction as I started to read Psalm 9. What a difference there is between the tone of this prayer of David and that of some of the other ones we have read so far. You can just tell that God has started to destroy David's and Israel's enemies. Verse 13 could be a "flashback" to the prayer that God has now answered, or it could be an indication that the enemies still plague God's chosen people. Verses 19-20 also pray for God's continued judgment.

The psalmist begins by saying he will "praise" the Lord ("give thanks to", ASV and NASB). In the Psalms, such praise was not given privately in one's room but publicly at the Temple, directed to God but done so all could hear and join in the praise. Our praise in the Divine Service is similar: what we say to and about God always has a secondary audience, that of someone present who does not know Him but in whom the Holy Spirit can work faith. What a great reason to come to worship if you do not know God! What a great reason for those of us who do know God to invite those we know who do not know Him!

Let me tell you something about Psalm 9 in anticipation of tomorrow's reading of Psalm 10: the two may have been one psalm, possibly separated into two by liturgical usage. One reason for thinking that is that in the Greek version of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX) the two are one psalm. As a result, all the psalm numbers in the Septuagint are one lower for pretty much the rest of the Psalter (the LXX breaks up Psalm 147 into two, so the total number of psalms is 150 in either case).

Isaiah 4-6 finishes up the opening "messages of rebuke and promise". Chapter 4 continues from chapter 3 the description of Jerusalem's glory in the last days. Chapter 5 describes God's judgment on Judah and her future exile, and chapter 6 details Isaiah's call to be a prophet. Remember that the prophetic books like this one are not necessarily chronological—either in the order of the prophecy or in the order of the things they describe happening.

Chapter 4's first verse gives an indication of how devastated the male population will be before the Lord redeems His people. But, as the chapter continues, we hear how the branch (or shoot) that remains will bear fruit. The Lord will cleanse His people, be present with them, and protect them.

Chapter 5 begins with the Song of the Vineyard and ends with God's virtual destruction of the vineyard, which destruction leaves just the branch of the preceding chapter. The Lord has looked after His vineyard, Israel; He has done all that could be done, but the vineyard did not produce good fruit (see how Jesus draws on this image in Matthew 21:33-44; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-18; John 15:1-17). Though the nation will be devastated, God ultimately will call His people home (v.26 and following). The prophecy that first applied to Judah and its exile also applies to us and our exile in this sinful world.

Chapter 6 dates Isaiah's call to the death of King Uzziah. This vision of heavenly worship is part of the background for the worship we read about in Revelation, and our "Sanctus" (Latin for "Holy") of the communion liturgy is drawn on Isaiah 6:3 fused with the song of the people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as in Matthew 21:9. (Martin Luther also wrote a wonderful hymn based on this chapter, "Isaiah, mighty seer, in days of old", #249 in The Lutheran Hymnal.) Notice how something brought from the altar to the lips of Isaiah takes away his guilt; does that bring anything to mind?

Isaiah's call and answer in verse 8 are often misused as if each and every one of us should answer "Here am I; send me". God has truly given each and every one of us a vocation (sometimes referred to as a "calling"), whether it is that of student, father, businesswoman, or grandmother. No vocation is by its nature more or less holy than another. We can sanctify the work we do and please God in whatever vocation He has given us. When it comes to the life of the congregation, there are also various parts to play, but the most important role you have on Sunday morning is to receive God's gift of forgiveness in the Divine Service (and to hear and learn about His Word in Bible class, too).

Note well how Isaiah's faithful ministry (and any faithful ministry, for that matter) is not going to have the kind of results that can be tallied up on a website counter! Rather, God in verses 9-10 says some will only harden their hearts as a result of his preaching. Their persistent refusal to repent will then result in devastation, and, just when it seems like it can't get worse (v.13), it will. Still, even from the the cut-off stump a Shoot will spring.

My call for comments yesterday on the Stanley (Tookie) Williams case prompted one email: "It's nice that Williams has decided to be a good citizen, in jail, but they are not arguing the fact that he killed four people. Perhaps he'll get an eternal reward (if he's not relying on his 'good works' to save him for eternity). Here, he owes the state, in my opinion, especially as he's not helping slow down any others of the gang. What has he really done, besides attract the attention of the celebrities? 'Peace activist' doesn't inspire me. Osama bin Laden probably thinks he is one of those."

In an interview Friday Williams, among other things, described what his life in his final days has been like. He continues to say he's innocent of the murders for which he's sentenced to death. Though he admits he's done other bad things, he claims he's transformed his life. Much has been made of his being a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, but that nomination has also been said to be meaningless.

The kind of personal transformation of life Williams describes is something the Bible tells us that on account of original sin we cannot do ourselves but for which we need the power of the Holy Spirit. As our Lutheran Confessions on the basis of the Bible make clear, our human nature is so corrupted by original sin that without God's Word we would not even be able to recognize just how corrupt we are. Once the Holy Spirit enlightens through the Word, however, we do realize that we are sinful by nature. Of course, God created that nature perfect. Original sin is not a part of that nature by God's design, but since the fall original sin comes with human nature, the way one person might have hair and someone else might not (not that I am thinking of any balding person in particular). Distinguishing between the human nature God created perfect and the corruption the devil worked in the Fall is important, because, if for no other reason, Jesus Christ took on our human nature to save us from our sin. In order to save us, Jesus had to be and was without sin. If human nature in every case included sin, then Jesus would either have had to have been sinful, which He was not, or He would have had to have been not fully human (and He was fully human). Just as God enables us to understand that human nature and the corruption of original sin are distinct, so He will at the resurrection separate original sin from our human nature so that we can dwell with Him perfect for eternity.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:19 AM

December 09, 2005

Ps 8 / Is 1-3 / Comments / Tidbits

Thursday afternoon I did my outdoor swim before the sun went down (it was cold enough in the daylight), but there have been a few nights in recent weeks when I have swum after sunset and enjoyed the clear skies and bright stars. We have no reason to believe David was swimming when "inspired" to write Psalm 8, but in it he does write of the starry heavens prompting him to reflect on God's majesty. David also wonders why such a great God would have regard for human beings, giving them authority over creation. David's words perhaps received greater meaning when the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22) and the author of Hebrews (2:6-8) to apply these words to Jesus Christ, Who humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin and to suffer and die to save us from our sins. God's great love for us in Christ truly calls for praise from the lips of all of us, His children.

As we start Isaiah, I hope you read the brief overview provided in the December Lectionary Background page (also available as a downloadable PDF here, and I pray you will find Isaiah a little easier to handle than Revelation. Isaiah 1-3 is part of the opening section of rebukes and promises. Chapter 1 charges Judah with breaking its covenant, and chapters 2-3 begin the description of Judah and Jerusalem's glory in the Last Days (in some ways not much different from the end of Revelation).

The following things struck me as I read chapter 1. In 1:3 the people are said be worse than simple animals that know their masters and caretakers. In 1:9-10 God's mercy is praised for letting a remnant survive. God in 1:10-17 judges the hypocrisy of those who worship Him without being sincere. A great expression of God's forgiveness is found in 1:18. In 1:21 Jerusalem, as typical of Judah, is called a harlot for her unfaithfulness to the Lord by adulterating herself to other gods. In 1:25 and the verses following God promises to redeem the repentant people of Jerusalem and make perish those who do not repent.

The following things struck me as I read chapters 2-3. The last days of 2:2 begin with the coming of Christ into the flesh and are completed with His coming in glory. In 2:4 note how the instruments of war are turned to implements of peace (but contrast Joel 3:10, where the reverse is true). The fleeing from God's judgment in 2:10, 19, and 21 sounds remarkably like Revelation 6:15-16. The Day of the Lord brings blessings or curses, depending on whether you and I are found to be faithful or unfaithful. Chapter 3 describes the judgment on Jerusalem before the glory comes. Note especially the replacement of leaders and the condemnation of the bad leaders.

Thursday I received several comments on the day's Biblog. One reader emailed that St. John's warning in Revelation 22:18-19 about adding or subtracting to his book, when applied to the Bible as a whole, makes you want to stick as closely as possible to the Bible, and the reader wondered what those who develop unbiblical teachings in order make people feel better would say about those verses. The second comment told of a personal experience where good came out of the death of a close loved one--responding to the story about the murder of a Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Lutheran church member and my suggestion that good can come from that.

Finally, some web tidbits related to matters of the faith. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision on clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams could come at any time after a hearing Thursday. The founder of the Crips gang is scheduled to be executed next week for four murders, but people want his death sentence changed to life in prison because of the good things Williams has done since he's been in prison. Williams still says he's innocent and has refused to tell authorities what he knows about the gang. What has struck me in all the media coverage is all the words laden with religious meaning being tossed about: good works, justification, redemption. What do you think about the case?

Thursday was the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's murder, and Newsweek magazine has a story about the infighting among the rock star's survivors, saying the story is about the Beatle's "afterlife". The irony in that reference did not escape the author's nor my notice, given the lyrics of Lenon's hit song "Imagine", which suggests rejecting the idea of heaven and hell. Without presuming to look into Lennon's heart and know what he believed, after 25 years I doubt Lennon has to "imagine" the existence of the one he's in.

In the December 7th Biblog, after noting that some megachurches are cancelling Sunday services on Christmas Day, I commented that Sundays as a celebration of the Resurrection should be more important. The same day the Rev. Dr. Scott Murray of Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, made some longer very insightful comments in his Memorial Moment on the same piece of news.

And, in other news, Pope Benedict Thursday said being good is not boring, and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", the first move in the "Chronicles of Narnia" series, opens in theatres today (we have the books in the church library, too).

Please feel free to e-mail comments and questions to me using the link on the left side of this page near the top. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:20 AM

December 08, 2005

Ps 7 / Rv 21-22 / Good from a murder?

David is more bold in his Psalm 7 prayer than I usually am in my prayers! For some time David was pursued by a jealous King Saul and his supporters from the tribe of Benjamin. In verses 1-2, David recognizes how fierce his enemies are, and then, in verses 3-5, David more or less pleads innocence and asks God to let his enemies get him if he has done anything to deserve their wrath. I say David is bolder than I am because I know I sin against people, and, if I prayed God to let my enemies get me if I deserved their wrath, then they would probably get me!

David does not think he is perfectly righteous on his own, but David had not done anything wrong to deserve what Saul was plotting. In verses 6-9, David calls for God to judge his cause, and, in verses 10-16, David expresses his confidence that God will hear his prayer, for under God eventually sees to it that all wrongs are righted. Finally, David vows to praise God for hearing his prayer and addressing his need. When, like David, we suffer wrongly, we, too, can rest assured that God will ultimately provide justice. And, when we have done wrong, we, too, can be comforted through a bold prayer for forgiveness. For, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has met our great need for deliverance from sin. So, again like David, we should praise and thank God for answering our prayer and meeting our need.

In Revelation 21-22, the great and final fulfillment of God's salvation is vividly portrayed and the Revelation to St. John concludes. First, in 21:1-22:5, the Holy City comes down from heaven, representing the Church triumphant. Then, in Revelation 22:6-21, there are final words from the angel guiding John, from Jesus, and from John, with the church's part spoken, too. (To me, getting to these two chapters alone are worth wading through the preceding 20.)

The vision of the new Jerusalem combines aspects of the Garden of Eden, the desert Tabernacle, its Temple successor, and the city of the Temple, Jerusalem. God dwells perfectly with His people, and they with Him. Sorrow and suffering are over and gone, as are the enemies and unbelievers. Like Old Testament apocalyptic literature (such as Ezekiel 40-41), there is some measuring of the city that turns out to be a perfect cube, as was the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and Temple. In the Heavenly Jerusalem, however, there is no temple, for the Lamb is the city's all in all. Note the "pearly gates" in Revelation 21:21, but, since there are no more threats to the city, its gates never close, nor does night ever fall and bring fear. Life-giving water flows from the Lamb on the throne. (In John 7:37-38, Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles cried out: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me; and let the one believing in Me drink"; and Jesus pointed to prophecy about Himself that said, "Rivers of living water from within Him will flow." See also Revelation 22:17.) The Tree of Life, blocked from access in Genesis 3:22-24, and sometimes identified with the cross, is again accessible.

Let me anticipate one question, that about the "new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1). "Heaven" in the New Testament can have the simple sense of the sky, so we must not necessarily think that God's "heavenly home" needs to be or will be replaced. Furthermore, the reference to a "new" heaven and earth can mean that the old will be transformed, not necessarily that it will be annihilated and replaced.

In the conclusion of Revelation, the angel affirms the truth of what John has been shown, Jesus affirms the imminence of His return and calls for faith, and John warns the readers of his letter not to alter the book. Jesus says, "Surely I come quickly," and His Church fervently responds, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." How especially appropriate this reading is for our Advent season of preparation for the Lord's coming! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

While we wait for the Lord's coming to us, some already have gone to Him. A member of a sister congregation in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, was murdered last weekend. He was the son of the congregation's secretary, and the pastor dealing with all of this there is a former classmate of mine. By Divine Inspiration St. Paul tells us all things work together for good for those who love God. Can God even work good from a murder? Most certainly. In this case one "good" is that another member of the congregation who works for one of Ft. Wayne's newspapers was able to write about the murder in a column that boldly proclaimed the Gospel. Pray God comforts those who mourn and produces fruit from the seed that was sown.

Tomorrow we begin Isaiah, which book includes God's promise that His Word always produces the work it was sent out to accomplish! God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:17 AM

December 07, 2005

Ps 6 / Rev 18-20 / BiblogQ&A / Tidbits

When one is ill or suffering in some way, pastors often suggest the person pray the psalms, the ancient hymnal of the Church; Psalm 6 is a good example of why pastors make that suggestion. David is suffering in body and soul and knows that he deserves worse from God, but he calls on God to deliver and save him, appealing to God's mercy (lovingkindness, NASB; unfailing love, NIV) and suggesting God's praise is at stake. So, at the end of the psalm, David can confidently say God has heard his prayer and that ultimately his enemies will be disgraced. We can also so pray with David, even if our deliverance comes in our deaths and the shame of our enemies is not revealed until Judgment Day.

Depictions of that final Judgment Day are central in Revelation 18-20. Chapter 18 tells of the fall of Babylon, symbolizing all the enemies of the Church, whose fall is mourned by kings, merchants, and sailors. Chapter 19 tells of the wedding supper of the Lamb (including the text of the "Hallelujah Chorus") and of the rider on the white horse Who defeats the beast and the false prophet. Chapter 20 tells of the defeat of Satan and the one-and-only judgment, said there to be done on the basis of deeds that proved or disproved the existence of faith (the first resurrection of vv.5-6 is said to be a sinner's conversion to faith).

The millennium mentioned in Revelation 20 can be especially problematic. We interpret it figuratively, symbolic of the complete New Testament era (10x10x10), though others interpret it literally, either with a 1,000-year reign of Christ between two judgments and two resurrections or with 1,000 years of peace, prosperity, and total-Christianization before the judgment and resurrection. Those are the three general categories, though there are lots of variations. The Augsburg Confession, one of the authoritative confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, in its 17th article specifically rejects the position "that, before the resurrection of the dead, saints and godly men will possess a worldly kingdom and annihilate all the godless."

Yesterday I received two questions about previous Biblog posts that I want to answer here. The first question had to do with the seventh paragraph of the December 4 post where in connection with the discussion of limbo I claimed that Scripture can be understood to say there is no one who has not heard the Gospel. That statement not only means that by the time of Christ's return everyone will have had a chance to hear the Gospel, but it also means that since Christ's return was imminent already at the time of the New Testament writers that already then the Gospel had been preached to all nations (see, for examples, Matthew 24:14, Romans 10:18, Colossians 1:23).

The second question had to do with the third paragraph of the December 6 post where in connection with Psalm 5 I claimed we should not expect God's forgiveness to come to us directly but should look for it in His Means of Grace. To be sure, we can in prayer confess our sins, ask for God's forgiveness, and receive that forgiveness, but we also want to seek out that forgiveness from the pastor who effects the forgiveness on God's behalf in individual absolution and communion. A lack of desire for receiving forgiveness in those ways can suggest a lack of faith itself (see, for example, Hebrews 10:29).

Finally, a potpouri of tidbits from the web that might interest you: At the University of Texas in San Antonio a student organization named Atheist Agenda is tempting students to trade in their Bibles for pornography, according to MSNBC ... a national group called Beyond Belief Media has declared a tongue-in-cheek war on Christmas, saying Christian conservatives were complaining so much about such a war that it thought it would show them what that war would really look like (the group is promoting a documentary called "The God Who Wasn't There") ... Religion News Services rreports gains and losses on the battle for Christmas, including the involvement of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, a Macy's reversal, and support from Jews and Muslims ... but the Associated Press reports that some churches (!) are going to be closed Christmas Day--so much for every Sunday being a celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, without which Resurrection Christmas would not even matter!

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:17 AM

December 06, 2005

Ps 5 / Rv 15-17 / Away with the manger

Psalm 5 is King David's morning prayer for help against lying enemies. David prays for help to lead a "straight path" life (v.8), so that his enemies have no ground for accusations; David accuses his enemies of lying and prays for God to judge them. Such cursing of enemies is common in the Psalms and recognizes that judgment and punishment belong to God. Though these curses are usually seen as contradicting Jesus's words from the cross (Luke 23:34), whether the enemy is forgiven depends on whether he or she repents in faith. If the enemy does not repent, then God's judgment and punishment are in order.

As with probably all the Psalms, we can most properly put the words of the psalm in the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ. He led the perfect life. Only He was completely without grounds for accusation, but that did not stop the false accusations and false testimony against Him that lead to His innocent suffering and death to save us from our sin. Where David's enemies attacked God indirectly by attacking David, Jesus's enemies attacked God directly. Yet, God used that great wrong for good, as He brings good out of all situations for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

I want to point out one other important thing about this psalm. As in Psalm 1:5, so here in 5:5 sinners cannot remain in God's Presence. Yet, we see in 5:7 that by God's great mercy believing sinners can come into God's Presence with reverence ("fear", KJV), bowing in repentant worship, and there God blesses them and protects them. So, as the historic Christian liturgy reminds us, we draw near to God and confess our sins in order to have Him forgive us through Holy Absolution and through the Sacrament of the Altar. We dare not expect God's forgiveness to come to us directly but rather expect for His forgiveness to come to us through the very means He has established for giving us grace.

Not exactly grace but something else is given to the world in Revelation 15-17. First, John in chapter 15 again sees the church in heaven at worship, this time singing the song of the Israelites after their deliverance from the Egyptians just before the bowls (KJV "vials") of God's wrath are poured out. Then, chapter 16 describes the pouring out of those bowls of wrath, reminiscent in some ways of the plagues (Revelation 15:1) Egypt experienced in the Old Testament (Exodus 7:6-11:10) but again symbolizing another aspect of the whole of the New Testament times. Finally, a new section begins with chapter 17, in which we will see Christ's victory over the Antichrist and Satan, whose power is depicted with the woman named Babylon on the beast.

Three things struck me as I read these chapters. First, people do not want a God Who judges, and, yet, one can hardly read these sections of Revelation and not see that God of the Bible does judge, and, as the angel of the waters (16:5) and angel from the altar (14:18, 16:7) say, He is righteous, and His judgments, even if we do not always understand them, are true and righteous (NIV "just"). Second, the unbelievers with the mark of the beast suffer these final plague-warnings (Revelation 16:2) and still will not repent but blaspheme all the more (16:9, 11), so they deserve God's final wrath yet to come. Third, while there is lots of speculation about the identification of the seven kings (17:10 and following), more important is recognizing, in Babylon on the beast (17:3, who, from 16:19, we already know will fall), the evil partnership of the anti-Christian government and the out-of-faith church. Dr. Luther is one of many who identified the great whore with the papacy of the Roman Catholic church, but we can certainly see it more broadly as all of the forces against Christ's Church. For, all evil forces are to us as Babylon was to the people of the Old Testament and Rome was to the people in St. John's day: a constant threat leading us to repent.

Last night as I drove to the outdoor pool where I usually swim, I noticed how many houses and yards were decorated with holiday lights. I would say Christmas lights, but apparently decorations explicitly for Christmas can get people in trouble! "Away with the manger" was the headline on a story last week in The Detroit News. After a neighbor complained, the neighborhood's association asked a family to remove from its annual yard display a nativity scene (but apparently not the other items), saying it might violate association rules prohibiting displays without prior approval. The next day, WDIV-TV reported the association apologized and that the nativity scene could stay, since the association did not have rules on religious displays. I am glad they worked it out, but, as The Detroit News article indicated, we still have issues with what to call the tree, what to say, and where to shop. Now, who or what is to us as Babylon was to the people of the Old Testament?

Remember, your comments on this Biblog and questions on the readings via email are always welcome. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:01 AM

December 05, 2005

Ps 4 / Rv 12-14 / Laugh at the Devil

Ever carry on two conversations at once? Such an approach to communication can be confusing, especially if you do not keep track of just whom is being addressed. Psalm 4 poses that challenge. The psalmist addresses verse 1 to God, but then he speaks as if addressing verses 2-4 to his fellow human beings, finally resuming his address to God in verses 6-8. We pray with the psalmist for God to hear when we call and mercifully to answer our prayer. When prayers seem to go unanswered (for they are always answered, one way or another), people doubt God hears. The psalmist, however, remembers the Lord's past blessings, as can we, and confidently prays for peaceful rest, knowing such peace comes only from the Lord.

If you are relatively new to daily Bible reading and are sticking with this plan that has us starting with Revelation, today reading Revelation 12-14, then I especially commend you! In some ways starting with Revelation is like coming in at the end of a movie when you do not know the whole story and cannot understand the dialog without subtitles! However, Revelation's connection to our present season of Advent is quite strong (for example, the God "Who was, is, and is to come", Revelation 4:8), and I have been appreciating that connection. We will finish Revelation in three days, so, if you are struggling, do not lose heart!

Today's reading covers most of the fourth vision, which itself is made up of seven visions, six of which we read today. Remember that these are highly symbolic accounts of different aspects of the whole of New Testament time. Especially central in these chapters are pictures of Satan raging (unsuccessfully!) against Christ and Christ's Church. Since we are not going to get every little detail of the visions, we can at least catch some highlights.

Let us start with chapter 12. In verse 5, the Male Child is the Messiah, which leads us to make the woman the Virgin Mary, who also can herself be a symbol of the Church. In verse 7 we have an archangel named Michael, whom some take to be Jesus and who is mentioned in a similar context in Daniel 12:1; to be sure, Michael's victory in the war is the victory that Christ won when He came in the flesh, to suffer, die, and rise again in order to save you and me from our sins. We are afflicted in the desert of this world for a short time (in v.14, half of the complete seven years) because we treasure God's teaching (beware of leaning towards works-righteousness if your translation reads "obey" in v.17). But, we are enabled to overcome through Word and Sacrament (v.11).

Part of our affliction is due to the beasts described in chapter 13, which beasts draw power from the Devil but cannot permanently harm us. The first beast, which combines characteristics of the four beasts in Daniel 7:4-6, looks like it will be victorious, with blasphemies running for 42 months (elsewhere we find 1,260 days or six years, all meaning just shy of complete time). All the earth worships the beast, except for those whom God has elected from eternity with names written in the Book of Life. The second beast, the beast out of the earth, deceives many and brands his followers with a mark.

Note the contrast in chapter 14: the figurative 144,000, symbolizing the complete number of those saved, "bear on their brows the seal of Him who died" (Lutheran Service Book, #837:3 line 2)--that's the sign of the cross put upon our foreheads during Holy Baptism. You may recall my mentioning on Reformation Sunday that a sermon at Martin Luther's funeral likened him to the angel in verse 6, due to Luther's emphasis on the Gospel and worship of God; this angel and the other two assure the Church that the Gospel is ever proclaimed, no matter how dark things get. Verse 13 is also notable: those who die as believers are truly blessed (and right away, without any intervening purgatory or soul-sleep), with their deeds being evidence of the faith that saved them (see Matthew 25:31-46 for an example of how aware those saved are of these deeds). In the harvest scene, note verses 17-20 and notice their interpretation by one songwriter here. (The background on that song here is typical of what I found, though here is more about the original words to the song, and sorry if all this is too Yankee of me.)

Can you laugh at the Devil? After reading today's Revelation reading are you perhaps more frightened than cheered? Rev. Luther Poellot, who authored a book titled Revelation: An Explanation of the Last Book in the Bible (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962) and who before my time was pastor at the church in Waterloo, Ontario, where I later vicared, points out several moments of comedy, as it were, in chapter 12:

(On 12:3 and following) "No other dragon was ever made to look so ridiculous. There he stands, great and ferocious, with his seven heads and ten horns, before a woman who is helpless in the pains of childbirth. One would expect that he would lose no time in killing the mother before the child is born. But no--he must wait until she brings forth her child--a son, Jesus (Is. 9:6; Matt. 1:21). That must have been one of the bitterest pills which he ever had to swallow. But there was even worse to come for him. After the child was born, both the mother and the child escaped from him. If you want to laugh at the devil, read Rev. 12!" (158)

(On 12:13-17) "In spite of his deep guile and great might, he is ridiculously helpless. Since the woman had been given the wings of an eagle (Rev. 12:14), he could not really expect to drown her in a flood. Yet he 'cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.'" (163)

Today the Lord can truly fill our mouth with laughter (Psalm 126:2)! Tomorrow, plagues, bowls, and Babylon. Stay tuned, and God bless!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:09 AM

December 04, 2005

Ps 3 / Rv 9-11 / Limbo(2)

How did you get up this morning? Did you set an alarm clock? Did someone wake you up? Did you maybe just wake up on your own? Last night when you and I went to sleep, did we give much thought to the possibility that we would not wake up this morning at some point? Dr. Luther's Small Catechism teaches us to pray at night: "For Into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things". Whether we wake up for the morning of the next day in this world or for the eternal morning in the next world is truly up to God.

By Divine inspiration, David acknowledges that same fact in his prayer when fleeing from his rebellious son, Absalom. We read that prayer today as Psalm 3. David sees his enemies rising up against him and gives voice to their mocking him and his God, but David does not waver in his faith in God for deliverance and so continues to pray. With David we, too, can confidently so pray, recognizing not only that God watches over us while we sleep and during that day and provides all but also that ultimate deliverance (salvation, KJV) from sin and this sin-troubled world come to us from the Lord through the same faith that leads us to pray.

I really pray that you are not letting the difficulty of Revelation discourage your plan to Be in the Word. Today, with Revelation 9-11, we finish reading the vision of the trumpets. Remember that the whole of the vision represents the whole of New Testament times, from Jesus' first coming until His second. In the Old Testament, trumpets were used as calls to attention and the like, and, the idea is similar here in Revelation. Such calls were sometimes ignored in the Old Testament, and they can be ignored even now, in New Testament times. Revelation 9:20 makes it clear that despite the calamities that befall people in the world many will never repent of their idolatry, murder, magic, sexual immorality, or thefts. Such unrepentance will only continue "'til Gabriel blows his horn" (sorry, I couldn't resist the reference to the University of Texas' fight song after Saturday's 70-3 win over Colorado that put the Longhorns into the Rose Bowl).

At the 7th and last trumpet, "The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15, NIV, and you can hear that in your head to the tune of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus"). Again, the dreadful vision culminates in the triumph of God fulfilling His promises and the worship of all who have long waited for that day. Where so many others get caught up in some long, drawn-out course of events of Jesus' return, as if there were several different judgments, we note well how in Revelation 11:18 the act of judging is one and the same for the dead and living, even though the judgment of wrath (for the unbelieving nations) and the reward (for the prophets and all those who believed God's Word spoken through them) are quite different.

An emailer to me yesterday commented about the Roman Catholic teaching of Limbo that I discussed a little in my December 1 blog. The emailer wrote about leaving the Roman Catholic church in part because of a perception that its teachings were to satisfy human beings. In one sense I agree; I think the teaching of Limbo, though clearly false, was at least a well-intentioned answer to questions that arose on account of other false teachings in the Roman Catholic church. (The priest I heard interviewed on the Today Show concurred with at least the first part of that statement.) Perhaps we can all be thankful to some extent that the Roman Catholic church's contemporary theologians maybe are seeing at least part of the error of their ways. (Incidentally, news came out on Friday that the Lutheran--Church Missouri Synod will rejoin the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue as it discusses "The Hope of Eternal Life".)

The emailer also expressed concern over my statement that original sin makes an unbaptized baby deserve hell as much as anyone else, asking: "Aren't all children born children of God? Would God really damn a baby to hell because he or she didn't have the opportunity to be baptized before they died? I just can't fathom that this tiny innocent baby would go to hell. If there is no Limbo, which always sounded cruel to me anyway, I have to believe that God takes these tiny souls to Heaven to be with Him."

I want to respond to those questions and comments. To be sure when God created the man and the woman in the Garden they were by nature children of God, but after they fell into sin they and their children--including every baby born--became by nature children of wrath, sinful and unclean. Let me be perfectly clear (if the maxim from St. Augustine about the despising of the sacrament damning was not clear): God does not damn people to hell because they have not had the "opportunity" to be baptized; God only damns to hell sinners who do not believe in Him. Tiny babies are not innocent, but they are guilty of original sin, and without their being baptized we have less reason to believe they have the faith that would save them. Now, I can only say with certainty what God says to us, and that is that faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. If there is a plan of salvation for those who have never heard the Gospel (if such people even exists, and Scripture can be taken to suggest they do not exist), I know nothing of it and will not place my trust in it. I can commend such babies who I do not know have heard God's Word to a loving and merciful God, but I certainly cannot expect Him to do anything with them other than what He has said in His Word.

Well, I am glad that God has worked through this Biblog (read that as "Bible-og") to prompt some good questions and, prayerfully, some good answers. Speaking of questions and answers, we now have some questions, which some of you submitted related to the Daily Lectionary, and my answers linked off the main Q&A page. I pray they are helpful. I also pray God blesses your day and that you make it holy for you by gladly receiving His Word in all its forms.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:19 AM

December 03, 2005

Ps 2 / Rv 6-8

No one, it seems, likes being under the authority of another, whether a boss, teacher, parents, or even God. In Psalm 2 the kings who were subjected to the Throne of Israel plan to throw off the bands and cords (KJV; "chains and fetters", NIV) that hold them in servitude, but the Heavenly King makes it clear Who the ultimate authority is and calls them to submit to the Son and be blessed or else be destroyed. From the events of the Garden of Eden forward, human beings have wanted to at least be their own gods, and at least our sinful natures are no different. Nevertheless, God calls us to humbly fall on our knees before Him and submit, promising us forgiveness for our rebellion and eternal blessings when we trust in Him. (If you are at all familiar with Handel's oratorio, The Messiah, you are probably like me and can hardly read the words of this psalm without hearing Handel's music in your head.)

As the first of the seven seals is opened in the first part of Revelation 6-8, St. John sees what have become known as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. We do not need to try to specifically identify any of the riders, though many do try to make such an identification. (For example, some interpret the rider of the white horse to be Christ [see chapter 19], while others say that rider is the Antichrist.) Suffice it to say that the calamities described symbolically here are the same as the ones Jesus describes more literally in the Gospel accounts (for example, Matthew 24). The martyred saints in heaven, meanwhile, seemingly aware of the passage of time, cry out for the Lord's return and for the full consummation of His Kingdom.

Next, chapter 7 describes the sealing in Holy Baptism of the full number of people who are saved and what they do when they are finally and fully gathered. Salvation is, of course, offered to all, but some, instead of the sign of the cross, take the mark of the beast on their foreheads. Unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses who think that the 144,000 is a literal number of people who will be saved, we can see that the 12 tribes of the Old Testament times the 12 tribes of the New Testament times 10x10x10 (a number of completeness) gives us the full symbolic number of the Church, which immediately joins--with victory palms in their hands--in liturgical worship of God for eternity. (And, if you know anything about doing laundry, just ponder for a while the miracle of making a robe white by washing it in blood.)

Chapter 8 tells of the golden censer (a device for distributing the smoke from burning incense) and the seven trumpets. Note that the incense is identified as the prayers of the saints and rises up before God. Recall the versicle and response from the Vespers liturgy: "Let my prayer be set before Thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:2). The vision of the seven trumpets follows and, like the vision of the seals, gives another picture of the entire New Testament era. But, if you are sticking to our schedule of readings strictly, then you'll have to pause mid vision and wait for tomorrow's reading to finish the accounts of the trumpets.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:37 AM

December 02, 2005

Ps 1 / Rv 3-5 / What's in a name

Psalm 1 always reminds me of downhill snowskiing (an illustration I thus used when I preached on this psalm a number of years ago). Every run will get you down the hill, but not every run goes to the same place or has the same degree of difficulty. My most vivid memory of the Winter Park ski area outside of Denver, Colorado, is ending up at the wrong base area and almost missing the train back to town because I took the wrong fork of a run. Especially Psalm 1:6 tells us the "run" or "way" of the righteous goes one place, and the "run" or "way" of the ungodly another place. In skiing there are green circle (easy) runs, and there are double black diamond (extremely difficult) runs; if your skills are only up for the green runs, then you had better not go down a double diamond! When Jesus draws on the rich background of the two "ways" in places such as Matthew 7:13-14 (my text for the Elgin High School baccalaureate service sermon last May), He teaches that the road to hell's destruction is broad and easy, while the road to heaven's life is narrow and hard. Jesus says many go on the broad road and few on the narrow. Standing at the beginning of the collection of the psalms, Psalm 1 calls us to be one of the few--and, lest the Marine slogan come to mind, I will go ahead and add--the humble.

I want to make a few text-related notes about this psalm, too. In Psalm 1:1, do not let the expression "nor standeth in the way of sinners" (KJV) make you think of something like "keeping them from doing something". Rather, in v.1 as in v.6, "way" has more the sense of "path" (or, as I suggested, a skier's "run"); the NASB even translates the Hebrew word in v.1 as "path". In Psalm 1:2, the word translated as "law" is the Hebrew word torah. When we hear "law", we usually think of things like the Ten Commandments; but, while torah can be law in the sense of the Ten Commandments, torah can also be Gospel in the sense of God's teaching that a Savior would come (as He has), and comes even now (as He does), and will come again (which He will). Imagining sinners like us delighting in God's commands is difficult, but it is easy to imagine sinners like us delighting in God's promised Savior.

The first part of Revelation 3-5 reports the letters to Sardis, Philadelphia (no, not the one in Pennsylvania), and Laodicea. Notice the believers' white robes in the letter to Sardis and the key of David again in the letter to Philadelphia. In the letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:20, to be precise), Jesus describes Himself standing at the door and knocking (my grandparents had a painting illustrating this scene hanging on the dining-room wall of their farmhouse). People usually think this is Jesus knocking on the door of unbelievers' hearts waiting for them to use their own strength or decision to open the door and accept Jesus into their hearts, but no one can do that by his or her own power--opening the door is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel call (see, for examples, Romans 1:16; 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 1:6; 2:13).

Revelation 4 and 5 give us a glimpse of heavenly worship. The four living creatures, described beginning in 4:6, bring to mind the writers of the four Gospel accounts: the lion is Mark, the ox Luke, the cherub Matthew, and the eagle John (see their symbols at the feet of their respective statues on the altar in our church). These creatures sing an endless Sanctus (Latin for "Holy"), echoing Isaiah 6: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come." (See the comments on yesterday's reading.) As all the company of heaven is in endless worship, so, too, we join with them in the Divine Service, singing the liturgy God has given us, when He brings us together each week around Word and Sacrament. (And, I just have to point out how the liturgical elements are answered with a resounding "Amen".)

What's in a name? Would you call yourself a "Christian"? How about a "committed Christian"? How about a "born again Christian"? Earlier this week the Barna Group released the results of its latest national survey, which results suggested 80% of U.S. adults call themselves "Christian", and 68% of U.S. adults call themselves a "committed Christian". The survey also suggested 45% of U.S. adults call themselves a "born again Christian" and a similar percentage (44%, but notably not all the same people) claimed a two-part description that Barna has used for nearly 20 years as its own definition of born-again Christians: (1) "have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important" and (2) "will go to Heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior".

I've been known to say that I would neither describe myself as "born again" nor claim those two descriptions of myself. Now, that does not mean I have not made a still-important personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ, nor does it mean that I do not think I will go to heaven after I die because Jesus is my Savior. My statement that I would not claim those two descriptions means my commitment to Jesus is not what matters to me but His commitment to me matters, and my statement means that I will not go to heaven because I have confessed my sins and accepted Jesus as my Savior but because God has in Holy Baptism given me faith in Jesus' work to save me from my sins.

Barna's headline on this survey is "One-Quarter of Self-Described Born Again Adults Rely on Means Other Than Grace to Get to Heaven", but I think, at least based on what the Group has posted about the survey, that that headline may be reading too much into the results--my reason for not claiming the survey statement about getting to heaven has nothing to do with whether or not I am relying on grace to get me there (which I certainly am). The part of Barna's conclusion with which I would certainly agree, however, is "that phrases do not necessarily possess universally understood meaning".

I've already got questions and answers to post, so watch for those to be linked soon from the Daily Lectionary page, and drop me an email with your questions or comments from the reading or this Biblog--the link to my email is on the left side of the screen near the top of this page. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:14 AM

December 01, 2005

Lk 1:46-55 / Rv 1-2 / Limbo

Today's "psalm" is the seasonal canticle for December, Luke 1:46-55, also known as Mary's Song or The Magnificat (for its first word in its Latin version). We certainly join all generations in calling Mary, the Mother of our Lord, the God-bearer, "Blessed". And, the Blessed Virgin sings of the great reversal that God brings about: scattering the proud and putting down the mighty, but exalting the humble ("them of low degree", KJV). God truly helps His spiritual Israel (the Church today), as He has promised, showing His mercy from generation to generation of those that "fear" (understand also "love and trust in") Him.

Incidentally, we sang the Magnificat Wednesday night, as it is part of the Vespers liturgy, which we used in our first mid-week Advent Service. (We also had a wonderful meal beforehand, served by the LWML; you are welcome to join us next Wednesday--dinner starts at 6:00 p.m., and Vespers start at 7:00 p.m.) As we wait for our Lord's promised second-coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, we do well to remember His promises and how He fulfills them for us, even as He fulfilled them for Mary and all the past faithful believers.

One of St. John's first statements in the reading from Revelation 1-2 also reminds us who embark on this plan of reading that we are blessed as we hear all of God's Word, even if we do not understand it all (as we probably won't with much of Revelation). Jesus' coming to us now in Word and Sacrament is a blessing to us, and His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead will also be a blessing to us. For those who do not believe, Jesus' second coming brings judgment, and quite a different response: one of wailing. (The hymn "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending" that we sang Sunday draws on Revelation 1:7: "Those who set a nought and sold Him, Pierced and nailed Him to the tree, Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing, Shall their true Messiah see" (LSB #336:2, lines 3-6).

The picture of Jesus that St. John paints in Revelation 1:13-16 is not one we usually have hanging on our walls (though the seminary in Ft. Wayne has a wall covered with a mosaic of this image). Note well, however, the sword of the Word of God coming out Jesus' mouth, the two-edges of which are sometimes identified with the law and the Gospel. The Jesus so described identifies Himself as God, describing Himself as the first (Alpha, the first letter in the Greek alphabet) and the last (Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet)--which symbols are on the front of our altar at Grace. Jesus was, is, and ever will be (or, "Which wert and art and ever more shalt be" in the words of "Holy, Holy, Holy", The Lutheran Hymnal #246). He has the keys of hell and death--the silver key of the Office of the Keys that retains sin and damns to hell and eternal death, while the gold key forgives sin and welcomes to heaven and eternal life. (There's a nice image of these keys pointing their respective directions here, in the Catechism window of Martin Luther Chapel, at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario.)

Revelation 2 begins the relatively clear specific letters to the seven churches, whereas what will follow in the book is more of a general letter to them all. We do well to take note of the church of Ephesus that tested the false apostles and could not tolerate them. Despite positive things to say about Ephesus, the other churches, and even us, the Lord still finds fault with all and calls for repentance. And, for us, as for them, there is forgiveness when we turn from our sin in sorrow and trust God to forgive us for Jesus' sake.

Some of you may have heard in the news yesterday, Wednesday, November 30, 2005, that the Roman Catholic church may be doing away with limbo! The limbo in question is where Roman Catholics sometimes say babies who die unbaptized go, as opposed to going to heaven or to hell. (For much, much more on limbo, see the article from the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia.) Though limbo is sometimes regarded as an outer chamber of hell, the unbaptized infants in limbo are said not to suffer the full punishment of hell, even though they are said to be denied the full blessedness of heaven.

The priest I heard interviewed Wednesday on NBC's Today Show (for which interview I cannot yet find a transcript to link) said that the teaching about limbo was never officially doctrine, and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church confirms that: "The existence of limbo is a matter of theological opinion on which the Church has never pronounced definitively either way" (3rd edition, p.982). The Reuters' report of the potential change says limbo would have to be "eliminated" from the Catholic catechism. Reuters is a pretty reliable source, but neither Pastor Sullivan nor I could find limbo specifically mentioned in our 1990s' editions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. All I can find in my edition (copyright 1995) about children who die without baptism is that the Roman Catholic church entrusts them "to the mercy of God", which mercy allows them "to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism" (par. 1261). That statement seems to move away from the traditional Roman Catholic belief about limbo and can be understood as a form of universalism, a false teaching that all are saved regardless of whether or not they have faith in Christ, Who is the only way (see, for example, John 14:6).

The priest on the Today Show surprised and troubled me when he said that the babies had done nothing wrong and did not deserve hell. (Some Roman Catholic theologians suggest these children do not deserve hell because they have not yet reached the so-called "age of reason".) The priest did not mention original sin, even though the unbaptized babies have it and thereby deserve hell as much as anyone else. The Biblical and Lutheran understanding of original sin means there is no promise of salvation apart from God's Word and Sacraments--such as the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

To be sure, Christian parents of a child who has been in the Divine Service while in the womb but who dies before Baptism can take comfort that the Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. A baby in the uterus can have faith, just as the unborn John the Baptizer did (Luke 1:39-41), and thus be saved. We say Baptism is necessary, but not absolutely necessary. The theological maxim is that despising the sacrament and the gifts it gives damns, not lacking the sacrament due to uncontrollable circumstances.

Drop me an email with questions or comments about today's readings and this Biblog or with feedback on our Be in the Word pages. The link is on the left side of your screen. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:56 AM