Friday, September 30, 2011

Thought this was interesting @lutheranbible: Check out "My First Hymnal" coming soon ...

The End of the World

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done (Revelation 20:12).

A friend of mine was disturbed after hearing this verse discussed on a late night radio program. It seems that the host and his guest were discussing the end of the world, and the fact that the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012. During the course of the discussion someone connected the coincidence that this verse in the 20th chapter, 12th verse of Revelation was describing the final judgment. And they must have talked at length about how this predicts that the end of the world in 2012, because my friend made a point of finding me, so that I could confirm or deny what Revelation 20:12 was for certain. When I confirmed the verse, he shook his head knowingly. There must be something to this whole "2012 apocalypse" thing; the Bible and the Mayan calendar agree.

I like to listen to Art Bell with the lights off to. However, as a Christian, I remember what Jesus told us about the end:

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24: 36-39).

I asked my friend if, in light of this information, he knew what he needed to do? He said that he did not. I told him that if, perhaps, the end of all things is at hand he, along with all of mankind, must repent. For people who reject Jesus, the reminder that He is standing at the gate is a threat of judgment and condemnation. Believers, however may be encouraged when reminded that the end is near, "for they know that their salvation is drawing near."

This verse from Revelation is a dramatic scene to be sure. The thing that strikes me is, as someone once said, that death is the great equalizer. It is appointed for man - for all people - to die and to be judged (Hebrews 9:27). No one can escape standing before the throne of God. We will stand before the throne and books in which God has recorded all of our conduct throughout our lives will be opened and examined. I don't know about anyone else, but I know the things that I have done, and am not eager to have those things exposed and used to decide my eternal fate. I take comfort in the fact that Jesus has promised me, and all believers, that our names have been written in the Book of Life, and that he has blotted out all of my transgressions by his blood. And, with St. John, I say, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

White House Condemns Possible Execution of Iranian Pastor

White House Condemns Possible Execution of Iranian Pastor - Click the link and read the entire story at Fox News.

The White House condemned the conviction and possible death sentence for an Iranian pastor who refuses to renounce his Christian faith on Thursday, saying the execution would further demonstrate Iranian authorities "utter disregard" for religious freedom.

Youcef Nadarkhani, 32, who maintains he has never been a Muslim as an adult, has Islamic ancestry and therefore must recant his faith in Jesus Christ, the 11th branch of Iran's Gilan Provincial Court has ruled. Iran's Supreme Court had ordered the trial court to determine whether Nadarkhani had been a Muslim prior to converting to Christianity.

Why are we surprised that Iranian clerics don't share our western, primarily American, "regard" for religious freedom? Islamic law has room for only one religion; Allah is the deity of that religion and Mohammad is it's prophet. That they would seek to martyr a Christian dhimmi in their midst should surprise no one, especially if they have been paying attention to Islam since at least 1979.

"Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people," the statement released by the White House read. "That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations. A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion."

On the contrary, this is a fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity. Religious tolerance in Islam bears little resemblance to western, or Christian, religious tolerance. To leave the faith is to place yourself under sentence of death in Islam. Both the Koran and Sharia prescribe the sentence. That is also why it is so important that they defence in this case prove that he was never a Muslim as an adult. If that is the case, Nadarkhani will never have been an apostate. He would simply be a dhimmi.

When Jesus sent out his disciples to call people to repentance, their evangelism method involved neither weapons, conquest, nor persecution. To the contrary, those who rejected the message of the Gospel were to be left to themselves, the obligation of warning the unregenerate sinner of their predicament under the Law and the proclamation of the Gospel to them having been discharged. St. Marks writes:

And he said to them, "Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them," (Mark 6:11).

The act of shaking the dust of their feet is a symbolic ritual, demonstrating God's judgment against those people who reject the Gospel. In the same way the Apostle Paul won converts for Christ by preaching in markets and town squares, and reasoning in synagogues. He, as well as the 72 who are sent out by Jesus in Luke 10:10-11 are commanded to do likewise (Acts 13:51; 18:6). Oftentimes it was St. Paul who was verbally and physically mistreated. He was ultimately murdered for his work to promote the Gospel and serve the church. At no time did St. Paul gather an army and wage a holy war on the cities that rejected his teachings as Mohammad did.

Contrary to Islam, Christianity is an actual religion of peace. Jesus, unlike Mohammad, commanded no conversions by the sword. Those who practice such abominations in the name of Christ are no Christians because they practice a way of life contrary to the commands of the Lord, and contrary to the nature of the new creation they are supposed to be in Christ. That fact that such actions are contrary to Jesus' teachings is easily demonstrated by opening a Bible and reading what Jesus actually taught. One would get a different picture of Islamic religious values by doing the same with the Koran.

Christians everywhere must pray diligently that this brother in Christ be protected and strengthened by God, in accordance with his will, and that, no matter what the outcome, that the Lord Jesus would work these things to the good of those who serve Him, who are called according to his purpose.

Knowing Jesus

Detail from The Weimar Altarpiece by Lucas Cranach the Elder

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him,’” (John 14: 6-7). 

What does it mean to know someone? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, the word ‘know’ can be defined as follows:

To perceive directly with the senses or mind; to have a practical understanding of or though experience with; to be subjected to; experience.
To know a person and to “know of” a person are two completely separate things, though on the surface, they may seem similar. For example, no matter how much factual information one learned about George Washington, regardless of how intimate the details, one could hardly say that they “knew” George Washington. On the other hand, one may not know every aspect or secret detail of his best friend’s life, yet one would not hesitate to say, “I know so-and-so. He’s my best friend.” To know someone – not just merely “about” them – relational experience must take place between the two people. In other words, they must, as the definition says, experience and interact with each other.

How, then, can Jesus tell us in John 14: 6-7, that we could know him? I mean, while that would have been fine for the apostles and everyone else who were alive at the time of Jesus, how could it apply to us today? They could meet, see, touch, talk to, and experience him. How is this possible, though, for us living today? Are we not merely relegated to knowing, as Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts,” about Jesus? How can we have a personal relationship with a man who died over 2,000 years ago?

If Jesus of Nazareth were merely a man, his death on the cross on Good Friday would be the end of the story. Not only would it be pointless to try and “know” Jesus, it would be impossible. To us he would be nothing more than an historical figure, about which we could only memorize factual information. While Jesus did die on the cross on Good Friday, he did not stay in the grave, and it was far from the end of the story. Not only was Jesus 100% a human being, he was – and is – 100% God.

Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, sin entered God’s perfect creation and, as it says in Genesis chapter 3, “…their eyes were opened…” – our human nature was changed. Jesus Christ, in order to restore the relationship between God and man, voluntarily humbled himself by becoming a man. He endured temptation, just as all human beings must, but he lived a perfect life, kept all of God’s law, and died as the final perfect sacrifice for all the sins of mankind on Calvary’s cross. The author of the book of Hebrews says this:

Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2: 14-15, 17).

Christ, our living Savior, calls out to us through the Holy Scriptures that we might know him and have eternal life. “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden,” He says, “and I will give your rest,” (Matthew 11:28). He speaks to us through the Gospels, and all of God’s holy Word. His Spirit comes to dwell in us through Baptism, and He comes to us, to strengthen and preserve us in the faith, in the Lord’s Supper. We can know Jesus – and through Jesus, God the Father – because He is alive, and we can experience and interact with Him.

Do you know Jesus Christ? He wants to have a relationship with you, because it was for you, me, and for all of mankind that he sacrificed himself. St. Paul tells us:

He [Jesus] died for all…God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s’ sins against them…God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5: 15, 19, 21).

Christ was our substitute. He took our place under god’s judgment against sin. By paying the penalty of our guilt, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. Isaiah the prophet foretold this:

Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53: 4-5).

Jesus rose from the dead. He showed himself alive to his disciples, and later, ascended bodily into heaven to prepare a place for us who trust in him. This is the Jesus who wants to interact with you, and give you the gift of redemption that he bought with his blood on the cross. Will you turn from Jesus of Nazareth – true God and true man – the Word made flesh (John 1:1-14).

Now is the day of salvation. Do not turn away from the gift he freely gives. If you do, there is nothing you can do to save yourself from sin and its consequence – eternal death.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2: 8-9).

Thanks be to God that we can know – through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit – Jesus Christ, the risen Savior of the world.