Death is a subject rarely spoken about in social circles. Recently, one of our dear members passed away. It was sad. We really enjoyed his presence and encouragement. Like all people, he was not perfect. He had his “quirks” (as some call them) but….don’t we all? What a blessing to have known his personal testimony of faith; both in private and in our worship setting. He passed away quietly in peace, according to his daughter.
How many people can say that about their relatives and friends who have died? I, personally, have been there as professing unbelievers die. It was never a pretty sight. One (unchurched) man grabbed me by the clergy shirt as he died; yelling out “Don’t let me die!” I had just entered the room, via request by his nurse, and never had a chance to say a word to him. After his demand, he took a deep breath and succumbed to the “last enemy” (as Paul calls it- 1 Corinthians 15: 26); death. His friends and relatives were in the room with him. They were beyond consoling. Sad.
How different it is for those I’ve known who have died in the Christian faith. I’ve ministered for over 40 years to brothers and sisters in Christ who have breathed their last breath in my presence. How humbling it is as they cling in trust to the words of divine promises like, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16: 16) and “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11: 25) These words bring comfort and peace from the throne of grace to the believing hearts of those whose bodies are failing them. They are divinely true.
Recent movies have told about people who have died and come back to life. I, too, have had such an experience. But let us not look to other’s after-life travels to find hope and assurance. Rather, let us continue to search the Scriptures and embrace to our hearts the promises of the Gospel; “the power of salvation to all those who believe.” (Romans 1: 16). In Christ our crucified and risen Savior. Amen!
“Tax Day” (April 15) is almost upon us. What fun! ☹ Heart attacks, strokes, and blood pressures all will increase nationwide as we diligently search to save as much as we can from giving to the I.R.S.; and rightfully so! But let’s remember that taxes pay for our military, police protection, road construction, and improvement, etc. We might cringe at the thought, but even politicians must be paid to keep the aforementioned going. The debate continues as to the degree of efficiency THAT has occurred. But taxes are not a new thing….
Under Moses taxes were levied by the Church; mostly to keep the worship of God going as they moved the Tabernacle from place to place. When the Israelites settled in Palestine taxation assumed a more regular and organized form for the purpose of supporting, not only the spiritual side of society but also the civil side. As politics became more of an issue in Israel, taxes grew. (What a shock!) Finally, when Rome took over, the taxes were imposed to support the conquering army, civil matters (roads, bridges, etc.), and political support… Yes, the politicians have always had their hands “in the pot”, so to speak. Money and power are a strong allurement.
So, should we refuse to pay taxes? No! To do so would be a crime and a sin (we must follow the law) (Romans 13:1) and we could end up with a huge fine and even jail time! Even Jesus paid taxes! When some Pharisees tried to “entangle” Jesus in His talk, they challenged Him on the dreaded paying of taxes to the hated Romans. He showed them a coin, worth a day’s wage, and said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22: 21)
So, as painful as it is….and it IS….let us pay our taxes, and thank God we live in the very BEST country in the world! 😊 What a blessing to live where we can worship freely and work to the glory of Him Who created us, redeemed us, and rose again to assure us of everlasting life. Amen!
Happy Lucas Cranach Day! “Who?”, you say. On April 06, Lucas Cranach the Elder is commemorated in the Lutheran Church as being one of the greatest Christian painters. Born in central Germany, in 1472, he learned the art of drawing from his father. He soon took up painting and drew the attention of Duke Frederick III of Saxony who brought him into his court.
He painted numerous court individuals and branched out, eventually, painting emperors and, most importantly to us in the Lutheran Church, Dr. Martin Luther himself!
Although born and baptized in the Roman Catholic faith, Cranach became part of the Lutheran church; even becoming a close friend of Luther. He strove to convey the Truth of the Gospel, forgotten by so many clergies in the Roman Catholic Church, through his works of art. He was even the godfather to Luther’s first child!
Close to our own hearts, as Lutherans, Cranach made numerous woodcut illustrations for Luther’s German translation of the Bible. Duke Frederick III even conferred on him a printer’s patent with exclusive privileges as to copyright in Bibles. His presses were used by Martin Luther to spread God’s Word near and far. It has been said, if it were not for Cranach’s printing presses, “the Lutheran movement would have died an early death.” As we know, thanks be to God, the Word of God spread as thousands took their beloved copies of the Bible to their homes, to relatives, etc. The printing press of Cranach also sent hundreds of Luther’s documents to parts throughout the world.
Cranach made a bold statement in an era when being Lutheran was not popular but his, God-given, faith led him to proclaim the Truth through his paintings and his other business of printing. He died at the age of 81 in Weimar, Germany.
In this Easter season, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us take a moment to thank God for using his servant, Lucas Cranach, who painted his Savior’s love on canvas and was used by the Lord to print His incredible Word; a message that has spread worldwide and has changed untold millions of hearts. Oh that God would use each and every one of us today in our own vocations to that end!
One of Cranach’s last works is the altarpiece for the Stadtkirche Church at Weimar. There, Christ is shown twice, trampling on Death and Satan, to the right crucified, with blood flowing from the lance wound. John the Baptist points to the suffering Christ, while the blood-stream falls on the head of a portrait of Cranach, and Luther reads from his book the words, "The blood of Christ cleanses from all sin." Amen and Amen! A blessed Easter to all, in Him Who is risen indeed!
O.K. Time to “bad mouth” the Easter bunny….When I was a kid my Mom would sing “the Easter song”. Here it is:
“Here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hopping' down the bunny trail,
Easter's on its way.
Bringing' every girl and boy baskets full of Easter joy,
Things to make your Easter bright and gay.
He's got jellybeans for Tommy,
Colored eggs for sister Sue,
There's an orchid for your Mommy
And an Easter bonnet, too.
Here comes Peter Cottontail,
Hopping' down the bunny trail,
Look at him stop, and listen to him say:
"Try to do the things you should."
Maybe if you're extra good,
He'll roll lots of Easter eggs your way.”
Yes, my parents lied to me about Easter. I never knew about Jesus until I was 19 years old and for years, like my “faith in Santa Claus”, I believed that some rabbit brought me jelly beans and chocolate eggs (which my brother and I ate until we were sick). First of all, it was quite an act of “faith” to believe in a rabbit that could give all the kids worldwide jelly beans and chocolate eggs! “O.K.”, I remember thinking, “maybe, like Santa, he has help.” But when I “busted” my parents unloading the grocery bags full of candy one Easter (I was about six), that dream vanished. Good thing too, because like Santa, the Easter bunny expected me to be “extra good”. Remember, Santa was “making a list and checking it twice; gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” For years I thought I had the old guy fooled because there were plenty of gifts under the Christmas tree every holiday. But my conscience always bothered me about those “naughty and nice” and “if you’re extra good” requirements.
Don’t lie to your kids or grandkids. Tell them the wonderful truth of Easter that sets the conscience-free: Jesus, true God, and true Man, came to earth to suffer, die and rise again to forgive all people all their sin. And through faith in Him, given at your baptism or through the Gospel, you can be absolutely certain of everlasting life. It is a matter of faith, yes; a gift of God the Holy Spirit. But it comes not from a popular singer but from the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He, unlike all others, can be trusted eternally. A most blessed Easter to all! He is risen!
Amen. In Jesus’ Name, amen!
Spring is here! Just a few days ago, the calendar informed me that a whole new season was upon us. Strange that we, in southern California, are going through a “cold snap”; temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below normal! But…. "Spring has sprung”, as they say, whether you see and feel it or not!
The dictionary definition of spring is: “That season of the year in which plants begin to grow after lying dormant all winter: in the North Temperate Zone generally regarded as including the months of March, April and May.” (Webster’s College Dictionary) Well….we in southern California (like the southern portions of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona) virtually never see snow or temperatures dip below freezing. In fact, I’ve seen the temperature go into the 80’s in the “dead of winter” here! We would hardly know it was “winter” as the people in the northern tier states know so well!
Although spring, as a season, is not mentioned in the New Testament, it is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. (See 2 Samuel 11: 1, 1 Kings 20:22, et al). The references, generally, point to that time when armies were ready to march.
In like manner, we may find ourselves in either of two scenarios; spiritually: one in which we are starting to grow in our faith or one in which we find ourselves preparing for “war” against the world, the flesh, and/the Devil.
The Holy Spirit Himself works through the means of grace (the Word and the Sacraments) to plant the seed of the Gospel and, through that message, to “fertilize” our God-given trust with even more strength! Temporally, it may be “winter”, but the Lord might bless us with spiritual "spring"; incredible insight into the wounds, suffering, and death of Jesus. An example would be the 495-page book by Martin Chemnitz (who lived in Luther’s time), entitled “The Two Natures of Christ”! One can never “plumb” the depths fully of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. His “spring”, thank God, never ends!
But then, spiritual “spring” might also lead us to “fight the good fight”; a spiritual war. The world wills to never compromise on its atheism. It hates us; the Christian Church. The “flesh”, with us 24-7-365, tries constantly to steer us in the wrong direction, Biblically. And the Devil….well, he is the “champion” of evil. Enough said about him….
May God’s “spring” be with you always in this Lenten season. Remember all that the Savior suffered for our salvation for in Him, alone, we find the strength to hope and endure the trials that we, His children, endure until we are brought to “eternal spring”; Heaven.
Search the Scriptures for God’s love and grace toward you, remember (daily) the promises connected to your baptism, and partake of our Lord’s Body and Blood when they are offered. In doing so, you will find your spiritual “spring” to be a time of perpetual blessing and preparation.
In Him our Savior,
Pastor William C. Mack
Christ the Rock Lutheran Church
This week we celebrate Saint Patrick’s day. As you may know, that was not his name. He was a “saint” because of his faith in the true God. And while, technically, not the “first” missionary to Ireland, he was the most famous and most successful. After being raised in a Christian home in England, he was kidnapped by rogue Irish raiders (a bit of redundancy there, “rogue Irish”) After years in captivity as a slave, he had a dream in which he was told to escape by way of a boat at a specific location. It is told that he walked out of the tribe of people who had enslaved him and found the boat where he had been told it would be. Eventually, he found his way back to England where he studied for the public ministry. He vowed to go back to Ireland to the pagans and tell them about the true God. As the story is told, he landed just as a bunch of pagans saw him arrive. The custom of the Irish, at the time (fortunately, not today) was to behead invaders and eat their brains. (I guess they realized they needed more…..) Patrick, it is told, leaned over before the pagan warriors were upon him, and picked up a 3-leaf shamrock (not a “clover”….different species) and said, “I have come to tell you about the true, triune God; three in one.” The timing was divinely right. They listened and Patrick would continue preaching in Ireland until his death; many years later. He established churches and even monasteries where future pastors and missionaries could be schooled. He sent hundreds of missionaries to Europe "because of the spiritual darkness that prevailed there" (his words). Most of the missionaries were killed by the Roman Catholic Church because Patrick’s religion proclaimed, “salvation by grace, through faith in Christ, the Son of God alone” (it is in his diary, by the way). Patrick hated the influence of Rome and her “pope”, so even if the Roman Catholic Church today claims him as their own, Patrick NEVER claimed them as his own!
So, in spite of society “coloring” Saint Patrick’s Day as an excuse to get drunk, eat to excess (although it IS hard not to fill oneself with corned beef and cabbage…..Yummmm!), let us remember that it is, even today in Ireland, remembered as a time to celebrate when the true, triune God was brought to Ireland; a saving message that was (eventually) joyously embraced by the whole of Ireland…..(well, most of it, anyway…).
May all of us, Irish or not, celebrate with joy-filled hearts in this Lenten time; remembering that the Son of God, the second person of the Godhead, purchased our salvation once for all time. Through faith, alone, in Him, we know beyond all doubt that we are forgiven and have everlasting life. Unlike the pre-Patrician Irish, we do not want to cut off the heads of those who differ from us. Let us simply proclaim the Truth of Law and Gospel and allow the Holy Spirit, as in Patrick’s time, to determine when and where they will be brought to the true faith. May His will be done. Happy St. Pat’s Day!!! Erin Go Braugh!
“Daylight savings time” is this Sunday (03/14/21). But what, exactly, is it? (Besides being a pain in the neck!) “Daylight Saving Time (DST) is the practice of setting the clocks forward one hour from standard time during the summer months, and back again in the fall, in order to make better use of natural daylight.”
Horrendously, people even “get heart attacks” over this procedure because they “forgot to turn the clocks back!”; hence they are late for church, missed a favorite TV show, etc. It was, originally, meant to help the agricultural business but some, like myself, find it to be irksome (at the least). Some areas in the county (ex.- AZ) don’t observe it at all!
Time, however, is a most precious commodity. Some of the most popular movies produced dealt with “going back in time”. I think we all wish we could “do (something) over again”; regretting that we didn’t make better use of a situation. I, for one, wish I had never, ever eaten candy! Digestive problems in my earlier youth and (too) many cavities created frequent remorse over my foolishness.
What have we done with OUR time on earth? Have we made use of it to the very best of our abilities, as Christians, or have we slacked off and served ourselves, primarily? Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”…(Matthew 6:33) “First”, not “only”….” first”; that is, God’s business is to be primary in our every thought, word, and deed. “Yeah, good luck with THAT one, pastor!”, you might say. True, it is impossible, but God’s law is there to show us our sin (Romans 3:20).
In this time of Lent, we give thanks to God because Jesus came to “make better use of (time)” than we ever could! If we had a “time machine” we would drive ourselves crazy trying to “right the wrongs” we’ve done along the way. Praise God Jesus came and used His time on earth perfectly; living for our credit and dying to wash away our foolish use of the time given to us on earth. Instead of frantically trying to “go back into time” we only need to go to the Hill of Calvary in the Bible and see there our Savior spending His last moments in pain and death for our salvation.
Check out the book of Revelation and see that, in time, you and I and all believers will spend eternity with our best Friend, with all of God’s family, and with perpetual love and joy. The “clock has been set”. He has prepared us with His grace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Wow! February is gone already! Is it me or did this past month go by really fast? For those experiencing traumatic weather, like in Texas, maybe it did not go by as fast as they would have liked! But with only 28 days in February (the shortest month), we see the “beginning of the end”….of winter.
Life is like February; it is short, full of surprises, and makes one “strain” to see better times; hoping for a better life ahead. I guess one could say that February is the “month of discontentment”; it is not “fully” winter and it “teases” that Spring is coming…..soon…..real soon….but not soon enough.
As I look at my 69 years of life, I cannot believe (first of all) that I am that old! And I, like you, have experienced many traumas in life; the loss of loved ones, moving from a culture I knew well (in New Jersey) to one that was alien to me…..Wyoming, etc.
And as God moves us, or keeps us in the same place, we see that life moves faster than we would like. Starting at conception, we “march forward” to the day that we shall die. Through it all, we are frequently surprised but let us admit it, most of the time we “gripe”. Our hard work has not paid off as well as we would have hoped. That “home in the Bahamas” did not quite work out. The perfect body we had at 21 is now in decline….in more than ONE place! The hard-earned cash that we had stored up will not allow us to live QUITE as comfortably as we had hoped. We ask ourselves, “Why?” Foolish greed, laziness, and nonsensical living are part of it. But even the hard-working, frugal Christian can become disappointed (to say the least!) as he approaches the “Golden Years”. There is always more desired, and the sinful flesh will never be content. No perfection on earth.
Thank the Lord that Jesus left Heaven to live on earth. Talk about disappointment! Men hated Him, cursed Him, and crucified Him. But it was all for us; so that we could see that “Spring (Heaven) was coming.” Through the “tunnel of trials” in this life, we see the “light” of Promise; the Truth that, in the end, we shall enter into eternal life. Of that, we are divinely assured.
This life, in comparison to eternity, is short….extremely short! And as we take our last breath on this earth let us remember His promise to you and me: “He that believes and is baptized SHALL be saved.” (Mark 16:16), and “Whosoever believes in Me shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). “Spring” (Heaven) is coming, brethren! “It is written”…..Amen.
This past week has been a “blur” as I ran back and forth to the T.V. and to my office; hoping to catch a glimpse of “hope” for my daughter and her family, and (ironically) my visiting son’s situation in Texas. The unexpected snow and ice storms, extremely low temperatures, combined with the complete loss of electricity, heat, water, and “facility” use had the state in emotional shock. Fortunately, they have electricity now, the stores are starting to open up but, at this juncture, the water situation is not good. God willing, the water will flow once again and “peace” will reign, as it did before, “deep in the heart of Texas." Meanwhile, my daughter, grandson, and son took a respite, via a business opportunity, to fly to Miami for relief. A girl can only last so long without a shower! (I’m told) God provides, once again.
We have been so abundantly blessed in our country. When unusual occurrences “slam” into our daily lives we, too, are often shocked! It is so easy to forget what kind of world we live in; one plagued by sin, death, and the power of the Devil. Nature has been corrupted by Adam and Eve’s transgression but we, in this country, expect “Paradise”, too often. People living in countries where extreme temperatures occur on a seasonal basis, like Greenland, Africa, etc., expect to be “uncomfortable” during certain times. But Americans, by and large, demand to be “comfy” 24-7-365; hence, we prepare (as best we can) furnaces, air conditioners, inside plumbing, refrigerators, etc. But God has a tendency to “wake us up” once in a while; reminding us that this is NOT “Paradise” and that we had better be prepared for our “final journey”; one ending in flames and pain or the other option of being in perpetual peace and enjoyment.
In this time of Lent, we remember that Jesus left His perfect Home to experience the suffering of life, the pain of the Cross, and the horrors of death and Hell for us. His humiliation has guaranteed us a place where there will NEVER be snowstorms, ice storms, thirst, or pain. May His life of suffering encourage us to “weather” all storms in His love for us. Heaven awaits. That is His divine promise.
Sunday, February 14, is Valentine’s Day! We suddenly see all of the red cards, bows, and roses flowing into the stores and, those of us who are married, are constrained, once again, to find the (expected) card and a small gift to remind our spouse that we love them. The greeting card industry “makes out like a bandit”! But why DO we celebrate this day? I tell my wife, at least once a day, that I “love” her. Why do we need a day to point out the obvious spousal, etc., “love”? “It’s a racket!”, we hear.
Like Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, the world has “kidnapped” Christian celebrations. Santa, the Easter bunny, and scary costumes have defined what once were sincere expressions of Christian faith. So, what is “Valentine’s Day” truly about, then, pastor?”
Glad you asked! (Not that you have a choice in my blog!) Ha ha….
Valentinus was a Christian clergyman who served in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, in the 3rd century A.D. Claudius felt constrained to persecute the Christian church. Remember, the Roman emperors declared themselves to be “gods”. While most, according to history, did not believe it, having a literal army to back up your claim really helped “persuade” opinions! And when the Christians professed the 1st Commandment and, “worse” yet, said that the way to eternal Paradise was by God’s GRACE through faith in Christ, the emperor “flipped out”! Christians were crucified, thrown to the lions for entertainment, burned alive at orgies, etc. Most of those persecuted were outspoken believers. Those who chose to remain in Rome suffered quietly; in their homes. But not Valentinus….
He was outspoken against the emperor’s edict that “no young men should be married” (because he felt they could fight better, not having “attachments” at home). Claudius’ son, Claudius II, carried through with the same edict. So “Pastor Valentinus” married couple after couple in Christ. He, eventually, was arrested and brutally executed. All for the sake of his Christian witness for the Biblical truth of marriage.
Claudius, by the way, died at the young age (in MY book!) of 44 years old; poisoned by a friend. Tough way to go. Few remember Claudius but people world-wide celebrate “Valentine’s Day”. But let us remember that he was a martyr for the faith; one who was willing, by the grace of God, to suffer death rather than recant the blessed, holy Word of Truth. So….get out there and buy that card (!!!), flowers, candy, (whatever….) but be sure, most importantly, to hold in your heart the TRUE meaning of this day. May the love of Christ constrain you, and me, to be like Valentinus; faithful to God’s Word. May we be so to His glory.