Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Upcoming Wedding

By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church

I grew up hearing many wonderful things from the pulpit. But few were as great as this:
And I heard, as if were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluiah! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Then he said to me, “Write; blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”
Revelation 19:6-9

I heard about the marriage supper of the Lamb over and over again. You've no doubt heard the language or terminology referring to the church as the bride of Christ. (I invite you to try to tackle the book of Revelation either for the first time, or a second or third. Try using a book, or commentary as a guide. Or perhaps your Bible has some helpful pointers and comments. Keep in mind that as sincere as the various authors are, their interpretations are at best “guess-timates”.
From my own experience, chapters 1-4, and 20-22 are pretty straight forward, leaving the fifteen chapters in the middle somewhat mysterious.)
Its kind of interesting historical note that Christ Lutheran's first affiliation the Iowa Synod, held chapter 20 (the 1000 years or millenium) as an open question. Lutheran's have always debated whether the 1000 years spoken is a literal future time, or figurative. Today they definitely lean toward figurative.

The events of Revelation 19 are yet future and take place up in heaven in the familiar setting before the throne, and the twenty-four elders (see Revelation 4 and 5). Again, just a reminder, we will all participate in this, so pay attention.

So much of the end times discussion focuses on judgment, and it rightly should. But also there is the salvation and glory awaiting the Christian. The Devil wants to water that down as much as he can. As a result, we think, only in two dimensional terms, heaven and hell; and heaven is just an undefined eternity of harp playing. Hell is hardship, even suffering on this earth and possibly some punishment below somewhere. Hell is undesirable, but the Devil's characterization of Heaven is like the boredom of sitting in church for all eternity.
And death is the real culprit, at least in our current mindset, ending our life down here followed by decay and darkness. Life here is perceived as all there is. The Apostle Paul begs to differ in 2 Corinthians 5.
Whatever your influences, attitudes and opinions are regarding the hereafter, the Bible does have a lot of clear things to say about the future.
First of all the Bible speaks authoritatively about the future. That's the nature of the Bible. It seems obvious and like we don't need to say it, but we do. And if you think about it, we will not be dead, or indisposed, but will be active participants in all future events in Scripture.
To be able to accurately predict the future is the ability of God Almighty alone. The devil has not that ability, even though he is very clever.
Second, the Bible is clear about heaven and hell. Every New Testament author has written clearly about the afterlife. It is a clear apostolic consensus. And every one of the church fathers has concurred. This is why it is written in each of the Creeds of the Church.
Third, Hell is always described in serious terms with strong universal warnings. This is also a mighty motivation for the worldwide missionary effort. Rev. Maynard Force a pastor and professor at the Lutheran Bible Institute years ago writes in his paper entitled “Assurance” published by the Lutheran Evengelistic Movement in 1945,
The unbeliever is given a serious classification in God's catalog of sinners. "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."(Rev. 21:8). Notice that the unbeliever is put in the same class as "murderers and fornicators.'' They are together doomed to eternal damnation.
Quoting again from Dr. Walther, we read, "It would be awful if any of you would have to retire this evening with the thought in his heart: 'I do not know whether God is gracious to me, whether He has accepted me as His child, and whether my sins are forgiven. If God were to call me hence tonight, I would not be sure whether I should die saved.' God grant that no one of you will retire in that frame of mind; for he would lie down to rest with the wrath of God abiding on him."
Hence Jesus' most famous statement in John 3:16. Say it from memory. Hell is not suffering on this earth, or hardship. It is clearly the lake of fire the second death—not annihilation as some believe.

And this brings us to Revelation 19:9 “...write blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” Consider this your invitation. “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take of the water of life freely.”
This is not aimless solitary harp playing sitting on a cloud. This is a serious existence in the presence of our Lord Jesus, at the marriage of the Lamb to the church His beautiful bride. We don't have to wait for death to serve Him, it begins now with the time left on this earth.

That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit
Pastor Tom

Friday, June 1, 2018

...God Shed His Grace on thee.

By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church

The choir sang a beautiful rendition of America the Beautiful on memorial day weekend. I’ve heard that even some of our patriotic songs are politically incorrect. I suspect America the Beautiful is at the top of the list.

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.”

Instilled in me from earliest ages from my father to all the other adults around me including the school and church was this respectful patriotism for our country. No one, no one, in this group was blind to the problems we saw on the evening news and read about in the newspaper, nor were they naive to their solutions. It was God and country, in that order.

The song America the Beautiful and my boyhood patriotism, spring from values of freedom, liberation, bravery, service, hard work and love of God and service to your neighbor. What could be wrong with that?

There is even a term coined for it now originating, I suppose, from the invisible politically correct handbook, that term is “American exceptionalism”. What is implied negatively today is superiority, power and privilege. When I first heard it, I had to ask around. Apparently it has been in use on college campuses for a while. My bad, its been nearly 35 years since I’ve been in college. If you look it up, the actual wording used in the definitions aren’t that bad. It is very carefully worded. Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post says it best in a September 12 2013 article, It is actually an old idea, one that until recently was rarely talked about outside of think tanks and academia.

It should be a neutral term, but judging by where it was coined, it is not. It often implies a negative connotation, for those who use it.  In spite of the fact that there are two different types.  According to Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition in a Feb. 2016 article, Conservatives tend to emphasize patriotism and the uniqueness of American values. Greatness is part of the past on which we build.
Liberals tend to see “exceptionalism” as ...a way of atoning for the ways we have fallen short in the past and still fall short today.  Also are failing in terms of policy, education, and in other ways in comparison to the world.

Along with this is the notion that patriotism is a breaking of the first commandment. Again, two words, God and country—in that order. Patriotism is honoring. We are to honor others. Give honor to those whom honor is due, Rom 13:7 (authorities). We are to honor our parents, elders, the poor, our own bodies, widows. Most of all we are to honor our exalted Lord Jesus Christ, Heb. 2:7,9.

Any nation is blessed by God only inasmuch as they are followers of God. Psalm 33:12 “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

Historically, life in America quickly became corrupt and godless, as any population in any place or time in history. There was many bad things from the beginning. The brutal slavery and treatment of blacks and others is an example. My own ancestors saw first hand the brutality of the Indian wars and massacres of the 17th century. The natives were manipulated by the British, and promises broken by our own government. There were many other evils right from the start, but God heard the prayers of his people for revival and renewal and sent the first and second and third awakenings, using Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley and others.

At the very start, God honored our early forefathers’ faith and trust and devotion to God. Others who may not have expressed personal faith, acknowledged their Creator. George Washington did kneel and pray at Valley Forge.

Recent presidents have referred to American Exceptionalism including Donald Trump with his “Make America Great Again.” motto. This is doubly offensive to his opponents because of the term America, and the last word “again”. Barack Obama said America was exceptional, but that was because we were a work in progress, and he apologized for our mistakes around the world. But the 
most famous presidential reference was Ronald Reagan in his farewell address in 1989, where he quoted the John Winthrop’s sermon known as the city on a hill.

City on a hill. What a picture. That was coined by English Puritan lawyer, and future governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. He wrote it in a speech, or sermon, still while on board ship. He talks about the responsibilities of a new nation that was still in its infancy. You can easily look it up and read it. He does paint a picture of this new nation in that way, as a city on a hill, but it’s a conditional “if” from Deuteronomy. Moses warned Israel, then in their infancy about God’s warning of judgment if they forsook God. God’s blessings of Israel in the promised land are all conditional.

It occurs to me that I haven’t given you my definition of how America is exceptional. If you are still reading, I’ll let Abraham Lincoln do it. God has been merciful to us as a people. Abraham Lincoln the 16th president, issued this proclamation on March 30, 1863 while the nation was in the throes of the civil war, and the south was prevailing designating April 30, 1863 (just seven years before our church opened), as a national day of humiliation, prayer and fasting.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation: And whereas, it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history: that those nations only are blessed whose God is Lord:

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisement in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

This is why our country is truly exceptional. Any country that puts God first. It’s God and country period. God have mercy on our nation.

That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit
Pastor Tom

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Ten Commandments

By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church

What are they? Are they relevant to society? Are they relevant to you personally?
I did a quick search of the Ten Commandments and as far as popular news reports, its about whether they should be displayed on public property. Here's a recent example...out of the Santa Fe New Mexican...

Group calls on city to remove Ten Commandments monument

By Tripp Stelnicki “The New Mexican,” Jan 9, 2018 Updated Jan 9, 2018
A nonprofit organization in Madison, Wis., is calling for removal of a Ten Commandments monument from a Santa Fe city park, saying the 6-foot-tall granite tablet is an “inappropriate and unconstitutional” remnant of the Cold War era.
The government has no business telling citizens which god they must have, how many gods they must have, or that they must have any god at all,” the Freedom from Religion Foundation said Tuesday in a statement.
The group calls itself the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics.
The longstanding Ten Commandments monument sits in front of a fire station in Ashbaugh Park on Cerrillos Road.
Santa Fe’s monument drew some attention for its inconspicuous stature last year after the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district judge’s ruling that the city of Bloomfield, N.M., had to remove a Ten Commandments monument from in front of its City Hall. Pagans in Bloomfield had challenged the legality of a monument on government property promoting a religion, and the case drew national attention, while Santa Fe’s stone tablets sat unnoticed.”

So the Ten Commandments are a subject of controversy on this civic level. This goes back to the Supreme Court's first ruling in 1980 a Kentucky statute which required the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools. In Stone vs Graham SCOTUS ruled 5-2 that it violated the establishment clause in the constitution. Not to be confused with Madalyn Murray O'hare and the SCOTUS ruling in 1963 which ended mandatory prayer and Bible reading in public schools.
By the way, on the subject of religious liberty, and the constitution, do you know what is meant by the establishment clause and the free exercise clause?
So much for the civic controversy. How about the general attitude toward the Ten Commandments by the average person on the street? Some may, like the rich young ruler in Mark 10, and Luke 18, say they try to keep it “from my youth...”. And others may blatantly disregard all aspects of the law.
Most however try to find peace somewhere in the middle where they keep some parts of the commandments but quietly and conveniently ignore others. This is the personal side of the Ten Commandments.
Whether its civic and society in general, Supreme Court rulings about their display in schools and court houses; whether it is people's attitudes about them, or your own personal attempts at keeping some or all, of the Ten Commandments, what is their relevance and place in our world today?
Well they are still in the Bible. They were given to Israel following their slavery in Egypt. They, along with the Mitzvot a group of 613 other commands in the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) given to the nation of Israel and followed by Jews today, seen by some as also binding upon followers of God.

They define right and wrong.
They serve as a basis for our nation's laws.
They form the basis for our morals.
They define what sin is.
They reveal the holiness and righteousness of God.
They reveal the path to holiness and way to please God.
They are holy and righteous and good. (Rom. 7)

There's one problem. We can't keep them. James, the brother of our Lord, states if we break one of them, we have broken all of them. (James 2:10)
They provide no power to the user to aid or assist in righteousness.
They continually accuse us of evil.
They create conditions to which we must live and please God.
They create a stronger desire to sin. (Rom. 7)
They create a hatred toward a holy and righteous God.
The law is still essential, and fully in existence in all its glory and power, unchanged from history past through the end of time.

This brings us to the heart of our theology, grace alone. How are we saved? It is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, (Peter's words in Acts 15:11). God imparts through grace, everything the law demands, all its righteous regulations, everything in it's pristine glory—to the broken penitent sinner in Christ. The sinner is actually dead, and unable to even lift himself up, receives the promise and comes alive. Having died then to the law, it no longer has any jurisdiction over her. No more demands, no more conditions, no more accusations. The reborn revived Christian now welcomes the Law as a guide and a rule for instruction.
The Law is essential for everyone must realize they are a sinner with no hope to attain righteousness to please God alone. And in despair we turn to Calvary, where One who was, and is righteous, who already met those legal requirements, willingly hung on the cross to pay the debt of our sins so we can be free.

That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit
Pastor Tom

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Essential Chapter

By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church

Listen again to the familiar verses of one of the most familiar Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem
v 3
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven,
no ear may hear His coming but in this world of sin where meek
souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
v 4
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray,
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel.

Oh lets not hurry away from the stable just yet., Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
...but with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn, They bore Thee to Calvary
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee.

But now as we look into 2018, one of our favorite hymns “How Great Thou Art” v3
...That on the cross my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin;

Before we leave Christmas behind, there is one theme from the heart of the Carols, that we should perhaps take with us into the new year. Its not the beautiful music, or the soothing sentimentality, or even the various biblical themes, of shepherds, and angels, and Bethlehem—all of which are good; but rather it is the message of the forgiveness of our sins. Have you been to Calvary? Have you been to the foot of the cross and laid your sins there?
David, the great King of Israel of the Old Testament was a follower of God. However in the middle of his life he had a serious stumble. And the result of that was what is recorded in Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is now famous with the penitent ever since because it is a chapter of deep sorrow and contrition over something terrible one has done, the pleading for mercy, and then receiving that forgiveness.
Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Paul, are just a few who truly knew what it was to have their sin forgiven and who also have a Psalm 51 chapter in their lives. What a change they experienced!
Hymn writer James Nicholson 1828-1876 also wrote of this experience, Whiter Than Snow (Ambassador page 425) He writes: “Come now, and within me a new heart create: to those who have sought Thee, Thou never said NO, Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Words straight out of Psalm 51.
Do you have a Psalm 51 chapter in your life? Do you know what those other verses in the Christmas Carols are about? The Psalm 51 chapter is mandatory according to our Lord. (Luke 13:3,5) Wonder why nothing is happening in your spiritual life? First check for your Psalm 51 chapter.
How many of us who claim to be forgiven, indeed are forgiven, walk around like nothing special has happened? We walk around as if we've just run to Walmart and picked up some pain medicine. Its just another transaction of many. Think about this. We should be walking around like we've just been cured of an incurable illness! The sky should be brighter, the air fresher, the rain purer. Am I overstating this?Of course our loving God and Savior has granted forgiveness to all sins, every single one. But it highlights our climate today, of a repentant-less relationship to God, and a sin-less salvation.
What is sin? Past generations, are accused of being too “parochial” about sins. Many things were labeled as sins. This was a sin, that was a sin. There were sinful places, and sinful things to put before your eyes. And the list goes on. I believe there is genuine confusion with people about what sin is. Sins have been redefined. Sin is now poverty, its now committed by corporations and people in power. Sin is committed by the wealthy, in their attitude towards the poor. Sin is abusing the environment. It is no longer really an individual or personal thing. How many of the Ten Commandments are not just broken, but completely ignored? When average people do “sin” it is often explained, away, as victimhood, or illness. Yes there is confusion about sin.
But the Bible and our consciences are clear. There are several lists to be warned about, Gal 5:29-21; Eph 5:3-15; Col 3:8-9. Romans 3:9-23 Read some of the sins in the church in Revelation 2 and 3.
An ABC News poll from July found that eighty-three percent of Americans say they are Christians. Are some of these are “sin-less” and “repentant-less” conversions? Only God knows, but there is only one way into God's family, John 1:12. There are a lot of man centered “conversions” today that lack a Psalm 51 chapter. Man centered conversions are for various motives, and are outwardly exciting. Man chooses, man selects, man decides. And the motives are all over the map.
Back in my youth, I saw much of this type of phenomenon. It was heartbreaking. This is the seed sown in the rocky soil, it springs up quickly, but because it has no root dies. This is the seed sown on the path, where the birds came and ate it up, and the seed sown in the thorns. Kids would come to our youth group because of a cute girl or guy or even just an emotional experience, or as a fad, and it was cool, but then would fall away. When men and women don't grasp their sin, they can't and won't confess it—no Psalm 51.
But God centered, or God authored conversions, are the seed sown on the good soil. These all have a Psalm 51 chapter, without exception, because God through His Holy Spirit is authoring a deep conviction of sin and His own loving voice calling them to Himself through the Word. And like David, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and Paul, they fall in love with their dear Savior who died on the cross for their terrible sins.
So many reply, “..Isn't God forgiving, and kind? Isn't God--love?” “After all, God will understand.”
It's good we remember the loving attribute of God, but we forget the other aspects of God, holiness, justice, and judgment. While “...God so loves the world...” John 3:16, He hates sin, (Isa. 59:2).
There needs to be a deep work of conviction of sin in our hearts, a Psalm 51 chapter to give us the joy and hope we've sung about in the Carols just a few weeks ago, and which we will, Lord willing sing in 2018 and beyond, “where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit
Pastor Tom
The Central Principle of the Reformation

By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church

At every turn we are hearing about the Reformation. And that is a good thing. It is a big thing. Its big because its all we know, and have known, for these five hundred years. I wonder how we would have responded had we been the actors in the play five hundred years ago; or today for that matter. What if there were no Martin Luther?
If someone were to ask you, what is the central theme of the Reformation, what would you say?
I'll give you time. Write it here; don't read ahead. ________ ________ _______ __________

____________________ _____________________ _________________ ________________

I know that with some of you that wasn't hard. There are many good answers too. Certainly the need for the Bible to be translated into the common language of the people so they could read it themselves was critical. Also hearing the Mass in your own language instead of attending a service every day/week and being unable to understand more than a few words was also important. Later on you could even have a copy of the Scriptures in your home. Also, being able as a congregation to sing praises to your Lord in your own language was important.
Another answer is the catechism and the critical need for basic Christian education of the young. Too many people, even the priests didn't have a good knowledge of the Bible. Or you might have said that allowing laymen and women to lead and participate in public worship, or even serve communion was the reason for the Reformation.
However none of the reasons above are the main reason for the Reformation. They are all very important results and changes, or reforms, that took place as a result of the Reformation.
Do you have it yet? So what is the answer?
If you wrote justification by grace through faith, congratulations. That's it. But what does that mean?
There is one word in the Bible that makes it unique. One word. It is one word that makes the Bible different from the Koran, or any other holy writ including the Old Testament. It is the word Gospel. (The concept of free grace and justification is indeed in the Old Testament.)
Isn't it surprising how we take words for granted? Justification by grace through faith is the free application of the Gospel, or good news of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross to all hopeless sinners who believe. Justification is a forensic term. Its a courtroom decision by a judge. Now the concept of justification had existed prior to Luther. Justification, by itself, could take many forms.
Conceivably this judge could rule a person justified if they could prove they weren't a sinner. Or, if they could prove that they had done enough good works, and had adequately reformed themselves that they were “cured”. Or perhaps the judge gave a special offer that for a limited time, those who traveled to a holy place, would be justified. And then if a person had been really bad, they then sacrificed their own lives, then they had a chance to be justified.
These are all actual beliefs of millions of people around the world. The fact is there was a person who did prove He wasn't a sinner. Although He was really good, He sacrificed His own life, so that anyone who believed on Him could be saved. This “Man” is wholly God, and wholly man. He is also holy God and the one, and only, holy Man. His name is Jesus.
Here's a few other observations about this foundational Reformation principle.
Justification is free to all, yet most who hear resist and still do not believe. (Matt 7:13,14)
Justification is unconditional, except to believe (Rom 3:24).
Justification is not by any mixture of good works, genetics, birth or title. (Rom 3:20)
Justification is not a process of self improvement, (Luke 23:43).
Justification is right now, not some indefinite future achievement (Acts 13:38).
Justification is by faith, personal. (Rom 1:16,17; Eph 2:8,9))
Justification can and will be refused by a majority of humanity who refuse to give up their own efforts of righteousness. (Matt 7:13,14 Acts 4:12)
Justification is freely and lovingly, and abundantly granted right now by Almighty God in heaven to all who would believe, and trust in Jesus, His only Son for their forgiveness and salvation, both now and for all eternity, with no exclusions, or requirements. It involves the complete forgiveness of all sins, past, present, and future. It guarantees eternal life in heaven in the presence of God, and all the saints of all time. (Rom. 3:23,24; 1 John 1:9-2:2)
What must you do? Believe. (Acts 16;30,31) You can know all there is to know about the Reformation, and even the core principle of justification, and not be justified. What, what? Yes indeed; knowing it isn't possessing it. This is a common mistake teachers make. Simply teaching it, or giving information about biblical truth is good, but not enough. You and I must personally believe it. Surrender your pride and unbelief. Repent and confess your resistance to His love and grace. Will you Surrender yourself to Christ?

I surrender all. I surrender all.
All to Thee I my blessed Savior, I surrender all. Judson W Van de Venter (Ambassador #485)

Ephesians 2:8,9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Romans 10:9,10 “That if you confess with your mouth, the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit
Pastor Tom
The Cities on the Plain
Genesis 13:7-13
By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church

And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock...10 And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. 11 Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east...Lot pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. 13 But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.
We learned early on the three enemies of our souls, the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. From one standpoint three different sources of temptation. As far as the third enemy our own “flesh” or sinful nature (Rom 8:5-7), it seems that people walk around giving the impression that they don't have any struggles with the flesh or the world, or at least it sure seems that way. Blame it all on the devil is certainly easier. The Scripture is absolutely correct when it speaks of all mankind, “There is no one who does good not even one.” (Rom 3:12). In the case of the Christian and baptized child then, they have a new nature but also an “old nature” which susceptible to temptation, (Rom 6:1-4). Temptation is not sin for even Jesus was tempted.
The struggles are real. Even Christians of all ages are caught up in the tangled webs of today's unique digital environment. Many parts of it are good, like the interstate highways, which carry legitimate goods and services. But for more and more, it's a secret cauldron of evil that seems to possess them after giving in to the constant temptations of the lower impulses. And today it captures the children more than ever before, who are even less prepared to deal with these powerful temptations. But once a child gives in, it quickly exhausts them, leaving emptiness, isolated from the rest of the flock, and insulated from the God's joy and peace. The shame and secrecy, then slam the prison door behind them. There is good news. Even though it doesn't seem like it, there is a path to victory. There is hope!
I want to talk about the changing landscape that has made this problem the crisis it is today. We'll never know what motivated Lot to move east but he did. And one cannot rule out the interest in the bright lights of these cities on the plain. Of course they were well watered (Gen 13:10). We could say it was a “business decision”. The new landscape of the cities might have been great for business, but proved to be a disaster for his family.
We may not realize that as Lot's situation changed, ours has too; almost all of the landscape surrounding us has changed, just like the cities on the plain. In less than one generation we lost what I'll call the barriers to many sins of the flesh. In the past, if you dared to indulge, you had to physically go to known establishments where that sort of thing was available. Good or bad, that alone kept a certain portion, maybe most people out of trouble. It was the fear of being seen in “public”. It used to be called the “red light district” or a similar locality. This the Bible calls the influence of the “world”.
Under the old landscape, the home was sanctuary of goodness, or at least could be. The world's influence could be kept at bay—somewhat. There's indication in Genesis that Lot initially located “outside” the city creating speculation that he recognized the risk and was trying to keep his distance. (Gen 13:12)
Our old Adam, (and Eve) could still create plenty of mayhem. And it did. There were a few homes that were not sanctuaries, but caldrons of blackness, homes influenced by the bottle. There were homes with secrets too, just as today. Yet there were many more good homes. Homes with love and where people worked hard and kept busy doing good honorable things, and the worst thing was a deck of cards.
As time passed, there were repeated attempts by this influence to gain entry. It succeeded by arriving in a box. Even then, within this box were sights and sounds that for the most part were good and educational, but also sights and sounds that definitely weren't. The landscape begins to shift ever so slightly.
Then, just as Lot found himself living within the city, Genesis 14:12, one “box” turned to many, like the interstate highway system that carries goods and services across the country, as well as our families to grandma's house, it also transports filth into the very corners of our most private places.
So no longer do those who dare to indulge in their earthly desires have to risk travel to a place of ill repute, but can merely touch the box. And touching that box they/we do now in secret.
Further, even in the old red light districts there were limits, hours of operation, personnel that were needed, as well as Law enforcement, and city ordinances. No more. There is no end, no limit to the evil.
A third change is that in the old system, less than a generation ago, the attempt was made to prevent entry to those under age. It wasn't full proof. But the attempt was made. A feeble effort now is attempted. But there is no real effective barrier to prevent the under age from exposure to the darkest, and vilest things. In fact by some it is encouraged. No one under the age of 20 was even alive to see the barriers of the old landscape. The “red light” district mother warned about is everywhere.
Fourthly, one had to venture out in “public” to participate, or purchase this, now it reigns in secrecy, truly enslaving young and old. But there is power in the name of Jesus.
Some of the darkest, most vile things are being redefined, in the name of progress. They are now encouraged to be taught to the under age through the now tiny box. Now in a hellish trifecta, the devil the world and the flesh team up together in these devices and capture the hearts and minds of young and old.
They insulate and isolate the hearts and minds of the viewers dulling even the deepest spiritual hunger. If he can't make a casualty, a spiritual cripple is just as good.
But there is power in the blood. There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain. And the first thing is to expose this darkness to light. The solution is simple. Satan hates the Light of the World. So here's 5 things we all must do.
Exposure to light. Talk about it. Particularly to the vulnerable. Secret battles are losing battles.
Repentance, and packaging the problem. It doesn't define you. It had a beginning and it has an ending. I John 1:9, Jesus forgives and cleanses .
Understanding the evil trifecta, and trusting God's loving powerful hand of deliverance, (I John 2:15-17) Understanding the forces at work, including our own evil desires, (Romans 8:1-15)
Its a warfare for the soul, not an individual's failure. You're not alone. (Eph 6:10-18; 1 Cor. 10:13)
Flight The Bible says “Flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22)
Like I said in a sermon years ago on Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah, “It doesn't matter if you go to Sodom, or if Sodom comes to you, the result is the same.” It appears Sodom has come to us. We must shine the light brightly to win the victory and open the prison doors.

That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit
Pastor Tom
Heaven Bound in His Loving Arms

By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church

The presiding Bishop of a very large Protestant body, quoted in multiple publications states, “If there's a hell, I think it will be empty.” Wait, what? Okay, is this a pronouncement? Did she get a new revelation from God? Is she speaking as a Bishop, or her own opinion? What is it based on? Should we all change our thinking? What does it say about the soul?
She said Hell is empty! Did it create a firestorm? No, it appears to me its a non issue to the general public and the rest of the media. There have been a lot of changes in mainline churches from lifestyles to morals, and now apparently eternity. And as one person questioned, if “such and such isn't sin, well they better instruct us what sin is.” And I would add, if Hell is going to be empty, they had better ring the bells all over the world and proclaim the good news! And I'm out of a job!
The connection between Heaven and Hell and a person's soul is the ultimate message of the Bible. Sadly, there's no indication in Scripture that Hell will be empty. Lets look at a part of this Heaven bound family. Let's look at a child's soul according to the Word of God.
As I've shared elsewhere, my testimony, or faith story, is wonderful and was a little dramatic. However, I have always maintained the best testimony is the baptized child who never left his or her faith. Stories like mine, again are great, but couched in near disaster and a chain of really unfortunate and almost tragic turns. Think of it, a baptized child safe in the arms of Jesus, turns away due to neglect, or lack of spiritual nurture or rebellion, then returns to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Great ending, but not desirable. And how often to we come to expect that in our churches? Not all return. We don't like to think about such things. We don't like to think about youth or adolescents in such a perilous predicament. But we must understand the dynamics. The seed is already there in the form of original sin.
Let me quote from one of our first faculty in our schools. “Who can be so heartless and cruel as to hold that a cooing infant lying in his mother's lap has sin? If there ever are good people they must be infants; goodness is native with them. However, we adults usually let our sentiments run off with us when we contemplate infants” (Dr. Iver Olson, Baptism and Spiritual Life 1967 p 18) He goes on to say that children are “relatively innocent” He says, “There is just enough truth in infant innocence to make it a dangerous doctrine when it goes out of bounds...They have not been hardened in sin as adults have.” He states that relative innocence is a far cry from absolute innocence. See article II of the Augsburg Confession (p 80 in our hymnals).
It is an unfortunate reality that many previously baptized have begun walking outside of God's grace, having strayed because of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, the three enemies of our souls.
How wonderful then is it to realize that some of you, even reading this, have not gone down such a road, but have remained in God's strong loving arms every moment. You may feel weak, and sinful, your faith flickering, but that spark was never extinguished. How wonderful to be encouraged by parents, friends and fellow church members of God's powerful protection in your life!
(Now by comparison, our dear friends in other churches that practice adult baptism, believe that children before baptism are still going to heaven, until the “age of accountability”.)
For the “mechanics” of biblical baptism, I refer you to the Bible and catechism. We will cover this in depth in confirmation. Here is a couple of pertinent quotes from the catechism.
What gifts or benefits does baptism bestow? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare.
How can water do such great things? It is not the water, indeed, that does such great things, but the Word of God, connected with the water, our faith which relies on that word of God. For without the Word of God, it is simply water and no baptism.
As we reflect then upon the salvation of precious little ones, we can make a few observations. According to the Word of God, baptized children are saved and safe in the powerful hands of our Savior. (Matt 28:16-18; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5 1 Peter 3:20,21)
First, parents need to create an atmosphere where that faith is nurtured. Evil vices, entertainments, habits are replaced by spiritually positive, wholesome alternatives.
These are the ideal homes, but like any ideal, they need to be held out as our goals. The 'real' is often something different—sometimes far different. We all fall short, hence the tremendous guilt in connection with raising kids. Begin by coming to Sunday School and church every Sunday you can. Begin reading God's Word. Do anything wholesome as a replacement to something questionable.
God is gracious, and desires to keep them safe, but they need spiritual nurture and honesty. The devil the world and our own sinful flesh continue to war against their souls. Remember from last month's article mentioning the wolf in sheep's clothing, a deeply disturbing warning from our Lord in Matthew 7:15, read it if you didn't get a chance.
Second, while parents wrestle with the real verses the ideal in their homes, how do we deal with this in the Sunday School? We all feel ill prepared for such important subjects.
Here are a few things parents and teachers can do. If we understand Scriptural teaching about the child's soul, we can tailor our lessons, and conversation to suit.
  • Every parent and teacher can pray. A Sunday School teacher's prayers can follow a child through his entire life.
  • Teach the Gospel which is they have been given grace by our precious Lord Jesus Christ, and need then to be affirmed, and to grow in that.
  • Teach that they need to flee temptation, and evil. That is why good curriculum introduces the Ten Commandments to the third grade level. Its much more than academic, but so that the Holy Spirit can begin to clarify the moral sense of right and wrong. This is the Law. Isn't it interesting that this simple pattern can be applied to any age?
Please allow me one last thought, because this is very important. As the child grows, something important is taking place. The child is gradually becoming aware of their relationship with God. It is what O. Hallesby, one of the foremost preachers and theological professors in Northern Europe from the twentieth century, calls the transition from unconscious faith to conscious faith. He argues that the faith received in baptism is what he calls “unconscious”. That is, it is there, even though the child is not aware of it. But as time goes by, he or she becomes aware of God's love and where they are spiritually, hence a “conscious” faith. The Sunday School can really help here. (Infant Baptism and Adult Conversion Augsburg 1931 p28)
In addition to the Sunday School, these concepts are explained in 1st Communion and culminate later in Confirmation class where this conscious faith is hopefully and prayerfully realized and affirmed.
What about the little “Tommy's” or the ones that are unbaptized? Along with the others, they need the law, a clear warning against evil, and what to do and how to receive forgiveness. Then they can experience God's loving arms consciously in the Gospel. That same formula works for the old “Tommy's” too. Making more and more truly Heaven bound, because Hell unfortunately won't be empty.

That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit
Pastor “Tom-my”