Scripture readings and obituary in memory of Samuel H. Bickel

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In the funeral service of Samuel Bickel, Rev. Jeremy Belter, pastor of Atonement Lutheran Church, read these passages from the Gospel according to St. John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. . . . 

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. . . . 

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! . . .

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. . . .

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spiritwithout limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. . . . 

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. . . . 

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. . . . 

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” . . . 

Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. . . . 

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” . . . 

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 1:1-4, 10-13, 29; 3:16-21, 31-36; 5:17-18, 24-25, 39-40; 6:66-69; 7:6-7; 8:31-32; 20:24-31 (New International Version, 2011)

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At the beginning of the service, Rev. Belter had read Sam Bickel’s obituary:  Continue reading

Christian complaint

Job’s Lament – versified Job 3 raises the question of the role of complaint in the prayer life of the Christian.

Complaint, as opposed to apathetic resignation on one hand and unbelief on the other, comes from the apparent contradiction between the evil experienced and the promises of Christ. In complaint, the theologian of the cross clings to those promises until the attack abates (Psalm 119), not letting his opponent go until receiving the promised blessing.

Further reading: Living by Faith: Justfication and Sanctification by Oswald Bayer

Living by faith, not by sight

Living by Faith: Justification and SanctificationLiving by Faith: Justification and Sanctification by Oswald Bayer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This explanation of the centrality of justification in Luther's theology makes timely contact with atheistic thought.

Some highlights (numbers are approximate Kindle locations):

* Those with God's passive righteousness need not concern themselves with the judgments of others as if they were the final judgment (342).

* The power of God's word can be seen in even the smallest parts of his creation (382).

* God's actions are his words to us (588).

* Believers now have eternal life by promise, not yet by something that is felt (450).

* Make your plans as if God does not exist in order to let him work secretly through the mask of means (484, 487).

* Your justification depends in no way and your success (496).

* "Ethical progress is only possible by returning to Baptism" (779).

* In lament, the believer questions God regarding the apparent contradiction between his promise and the suffering, injustice, and other evil observed in the world (808).

* Judging on the basis of that evil, human reason always comes to the conclusion that either God does not exist or, if he exists, then he is not just (901).

* According to St. Paul's letter to the Romans, if God's righteousness could be judged by the standard of human righteousness, then his righteousness would not really be divine, but merely human (970, 973).

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The nature of God revealed in the cross

Appendix to What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? Matthew 6:33 and Luke 12:31 in the Contexts of the Sermon on the Mount and the Lucan Parables:

Promises of the Creator’s provision for people’s needs in this age abound throughout the canonical writings. Are such promises exceptions to the rule that all Scripture confers hope (Romans 15:4), or do they imply that the hopefulness of Scripture regards not only hope in Christ seated above at the right hand of the Father, but also hope in having an improved life in this world?

Jesus dealt specifically with the relationship between eschatological hope and the needs of this life in his discourse on anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-34), the clarity of which has been clouded by reading preconceived ideas into the text. North American evangelicals naturally see in Matthew 6:33 a blessing only for the few who commit themselves to achievement in a purpose-driven life…

Making God’s gift of “all you need from day to day” conditional on “serving the kingdom of God” would challenge the hopefulness of Scripture. Applied consistently, this interpretation leaves the believer asking, “Am I committed enough that I can depend on God to give me that rare blessing — or even to meet my needs?”

Jesus, however, did not tell his disciples to seek the kingdom, much less to serve the kingdom, in order to secure earthly blessings. (Warren’s changing seeking the kingdom to “serving the kingdom” accommodates the doctrine of eternal security, which makes literally seeking the kingdom unnecessary for believers.) Rather, Jesus relieved the disciples’ anxiety about the needs of this life with the argument that since the Father feeds and clothes even the birds and lilies, he will much more feed and clothe those of much more value. Had he taught that only the disciples have greater value than the lilies and birds, the disciples would have worried about whether they truly seek the kingdom. The thought behind the argument is instead that according to the Father’s love, a man is of much more value than the lower creation (Matthew 12:12). Indeed, the Father’s provision for people’s needs in this age does not depend on their seeking the kingdom, for his love extends to the unjust as well as the just (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35-36; Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-27). Thus, Jesus gave the discourse on anxiety not to motivate the disciples to committed service driven by the prospect of a rare blessing, but to instill in those “of little faith” (Matthew 6:30…) a firm confidence in their Father’s love displayed in his care even for the birds, which “neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,” and for the lilies, which “neither toil nor spin.”

For only with such trust in his love can the disciples seek the kingdom (i.e., eternal life) by faith in the words of Jesus rather than by goal fulfillment or other human efforts (Luke 10:38-42). Since the Father who is pleased to give them the kingdom will also continue to provide everything they need in this age even without their anxious toil, they have nothing to fear and are freed from bondage to money…

This exhortation to seek good things, both of this age and of the age to come, by faith in the loving Father is also found in the address to “Our Father” that precedes all petitions of Lord’s Prayer…

In conclusion, the promises that the Father lovingly satisfies the temporal needs of all sinners are hopeful, but not in the sense of turning disciples’ hope to earthly things. They were instead written to impart strong confidence that he is so benevolent that he valued the whole world enough to give his Son to purchase eternal life for it in spite of its unworthiness. How can I believe God’s love for all people (and thus for me) moved him to sacrifice his Son for us if I do not believe it moves him to meet our needs in this age?

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Modern Reformation

The article “If God exists, why doesn’t he prove it?” appeared today on the web site of Modern Reformation with its New Atheism issue.

With contributors “from Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches,” Modern Reformation describes itself as “the leading voice for confessing evangelicals across the Reformation spectrum.” Should the Lutheran Reformation and the Zwinglian Reformation be considered together as one Protestant Reformation?