Rev. James Olsen
1981 Synod Convention Essay
If I were to write you a letter appropriate to the times in which we live, I would have to refer you to the promises of God upon which faith is built. I would therefore not refer you to your faith itself because that faith of yours waxes and wanes. And if in the light of our times you built your life on something which is stronger one time than another, which today rolls at full-tide and tomorrow recedes, then I should hang my head in shame, for you would be directed to yourself, not to a foundation for what lies ahead. I can do no less in this essay addressed to the 1981 Convention of our Synod entitled,
GOD IS FOR US IN THE 1980’S
A Christian pastor, aware that a brother minister was sorely tried, perhaps even in danger of losing his faith, wrote these words to his friend:
Dear Brother: I am afraid you are not examining the structure upon which faith is built. You are rather looking to your faith itself. Suppose you are out on a drive on a newly constructed road and come to a recently built bridge. Do you then stop to examine your faith in the bridge’s soundness, or do you get out and, examine the structure? Anchoring it are mighty pillars. You know the structure is sound and you proceed.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30. And those he predestined, he also called, those he called, he also justified, those he justified, he also glorified.
31. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36. As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered,” (Ps. 44,22).
37. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39. neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8,28–39)
GOD IS FOR US IN THE 1980’S
1—Through the cross God is for us in our election.
2—Through the cross God is for us in jittery, unstable times.
3—Through the cross God is for us in our challenges of economic uncertainty, of stewardship, and of outreach.
4—Through the cross God is for us in our personal sorrows.
5—Through the cross God is helping us meet the fearsome challenge of substance abuse.
6—And finally, through the cross God is for us in the battle with humanism.
The section from the book of Romans we have quoted is a wondrous, abundant measure of divine promise before which we stand in joy! But for the child of God reading these promises of God we have this question, “How do you know God’s promise is true?” An elderly Christian lady was once asked this same question by an unbelieving neighbor, who more than once had poked jibes at her for her Christian conviction. Quickly, there came this stout-hearted reply: “If God’s promise is untrue, I will lose my soul but God will lose his honor!”
The convention theme is a promise of integrity! God is not about to lose his honor. He will not disown that which He himself produced. (2 Tim. 2,13; Ps. 145,17) We are not surprised the theme beautifully provides both content and application that are especially fitting for the church of the 80’s. The section of the book of Romans from which both our convention and essay themes are chosen is too lengthy to consider verse by verse in this setting, but we will at least seek to mine the riches of a few key thoughts
The Text Itself
What St. Paul brings us in this section of Romans is a ringing conclusion to the whole portion of chapters 5–8; for here he has discussed the blessings of justification by grace through faith apart from human conduct, effort, or merit. Justification itself, discussed in chapters 3 and 4, declared the winning of the war over sin and death! Satan and hell, sin and death are defeated. We need not think that heaven and grace and forgiveness are myth! On the basis of Christ’s redeeming work, we are able to say, and God wants us to say,
God declared the world justified.
I am part of the world,
Therefore, I’m justified.
Two men walked a narrow, dangerous path in a mountainous region high above the village to which they headed. Not far away was a unique, large, lighted cross, visible for miles around. The problem was that one man was inexperienced at mountain travel by night and the path to the cross was unknown to him. The other man, sensing his friend’s dilemma, grasped him by the hand and said to him, “Follow me to the cross. From there the path home is safe!”
Dear lover of the truth, what is it that chiefly characterizes the God who is for us? It is THE SAVING ACT, CENTERED IN THE DEATH OF CHRIST! “He who did not spare his own Son… how will he not give us all things?” (cf. 1 Cor. 8,5ff.) If he can give us the anchor pillar, will he not give us the bridge? Provide the cross but withhold its light for marking a safe path thru the 80’s, and “home”? If God at the cross can create new followers out of old rejecters and new spiritual life out of spiritual death by justifying the ungodly, (Rom. 5,6) and by justifying his enemies, (Rom. 5,10), can he not then protect and nourish his new creatures, when they are facing torrential challenges in the 1980’s?
On the ground of the cross Christianity attains its standing in victory … If the justification of the ungodly sets forth the “God for* us” … it also sets forth his love as the God who protects the new creation (of faith*) with the power of the resurrection and enables it to withstand heavenly and earthly power … The Spirit makes it clear that God’s love is not just a general attribute but the ongoing action of the one who effects salvation on earth … No creature can do anything against his (the believer’s*) Lord and those who hold to him and are upheld by him … God does not merely maintain his right, (to exist for self*). He also graciously brings them (his children*) home and preserves them. This is the triumph of the assaulted.1 (* Our emphasis and parentheses.)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
No; If Christ, the head, befriend me,
If God be my support,
The mischief they intend me
Shall quickly come to naught. (Hymnary 272)
And now, may I put a question to you on the basis of the text from Romans that we are considering. It is this, Is the salvation in heaven of God’s child left to chance? Without purpose on God’s part, fate would surely determine one’s chances of being saved. And in that case, surely the very sins we’ve committed without realizing it would separate us from the love of God in Christ and they would destroy us in hell. So, is salvation by chance? Review those words of St. Paul in verses 28–31:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he ,called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this?
Is it blind fate which hallmarks this convention? No, this is not blind fate. Rather, what hallmarks this convention and together with it, our passage safely through the 80’s, is this: IF GOD BE FOR US, WHO CAN BE AGAINST US? When St. Paul asks what we shall say in response, this is our answer:
THROUGH THE CROSS GOD IS FOR US!
I. Through The Cross God Is For Us In Our Election
The verses from our chapter of Romans, last read, speak of God’s free election of grace, not of man’s costly election of human effort; they speak of perfect purpose, not of imperfect purpose; they speak of love, not of hate; of will to save, not to damn; of undeserved choice, not meritorious choice. In short, they present a teaching to which we cling with joy: Luther, writing in his Commentary on Romans, says:
…(the flesh*) is fully defeated when we learn to know that our salvation rests in no wise upon ourselves and our conduct, but is founded, solely upon what is outside us, namely, on God’s election. Those who have the wisdom of the Spirit become ineffably happy through this doctrine…2 (*Our parenthesis.)
Who are those people entitled to take joy in this teaching? Not the ones who think they wear the title “Christian” by virtue of avoiding this or that wrong or who have done so much good that God must necessarily bless them. Rather, the ones described by Luther as “ineffably happy” are they who place their confidence in this, that the Savior Jesus Christ died on Calvary to take away their guilt and sin. For it is to these, who fear the Law’s condemning voice and these who then turn to the cross for consolation, that God says through Isaiah:
Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you. (Is. 35,4)
“But am I among the elect?” you ask. Dear, friend, if you tremble at God’s Law and are sorrowful over your sin, have this assurance: Everywhere in Scripture God in his Gospel encourages you to believe that your sins are forgiven. Therefore, there is no more barrier separating you from your salvation. The bridge to heaven is sound because it is built of the materials of Christ’s saving work! cf. 2 Sam. 12;13: Ps. 78,38; 85,2; 106,10; Is. 52,3; Mk. 2,5; Lu. 1f.; Eph. 2,13–14; Col. 2,13; 1 Pet. 1,18.
The Structure Of Election
The structure is the whole order of salvation! Before this we bow in humble joy! Note what goes in the structure. In Christ, that is in view of the cross, God loved us and chose us before the world began. (Eph. 1,3–7) By his obedience, suffering, and death Christ has earned for sinners the righteousness which is credited to faith. (Rom. 4,3–8; Gal. 2,16; 3,6) The merit of Christ’s righteousness credited to the sinner is eternal and redeeming in value and covers and drowns sin. (1 John 1,7; Eph. 1,7; Ac. 20,28; Rom. 3,25; Heb. 9,22; Rev. 5,9; Rom. 6,3; Mi. 7,18 19) The central pillars are in but the bridge doesn’t stay half-built.
The merit of Christ is provided us through Word and Sacrament. (Rom. 10,17; Gal. 3,27; Matt. 26,26–28) Through these very means, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains true and saving faith. (Jn. 1,13; Acts 10,44; Rom. 1,16; Matt. 26,28) All who in sincere repentance of sin and true faith in Christ as Savior are personally justified and received as God’s children. (Gal. 3,26; Rom. 8,15; Gal. 4,5–6) All are also sanctified who are justified. (Eph. 1,4) And again, all who claim Christ as their Savior and cling to his merits are provided divine protection against the devil, the world and their sinful flesh; they are kept from succumbing to the forces and pressures of earthly life; and they are comforted in trial and lifted when they stumble. (Rom. 8,35–39) and “through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Pet. 1,5) And at last, we arrive on the other side!
For God in his mercy, has ordained that He eternally saves and glorifies in heaven’s mansions, those whom He has elected, called, and justified. (Rom. 8,30)3
The Lord Is My Shepherd — That Is Enough!
A pastor phoning his sermon theme and text to the local newspaper said his text would be Psalm 23 and his theme, “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” “Is that all?” asked the voice. “That is enough,” replied the pastor. When the Friday edition came out, here is how the announcement appeared: “The Lord is my Shepherd — That is Enough!”
Look back at the sin which troubles, look ahead to the decade’s pressure then, look at the cross. Take your stand below it. View the Shepherd giving his life for the sheep. Then know, that the cost, price and credit of the whole order of your salvation was invested there. Understanding this, you and I too can say, the Lord is my Shepherd – that is enough!
In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime. (Hymnary 262)
Now that we have examined the structure, let us see to crossing the bridge and proceeding onward.
II. Through The Cross God Is For His Church In Jittery, Unstable Times
What a grim year was the introductory year of the 1980’s! Did it set the tone for the entire decade? As the year 1980 closed, the world scenarios of grimness showed Cambodia being starved out of existence; 9,000 dead in El Salvador’s civil torment; terrorists killing scores in Italy; political violence taking the lives of 2,000 in Turkey. Afghanistan began the decade as a prisoner of its “liberating” neighbor to the north; troops came to Poland’s borders in case that country should need “liberation.”4
Goethe once said: “If you have any certainties, let us have them. We have doubts enough of our own!” If applied to the start of our decade his words speak truth. Nations agonizing over crises in interest rates, inflation, energy levels, water, land, food, and pollution are hit by natural disasters. Mt. St. Helens erupts leaving dozens uncounted dead and millions of dollars worth of damage. An earthquake in Italy takes 3,000 lives, another in Algeria the same toll.5 We shudder as once again we hear of attempts on the lives of prominent world leaders, including our own President Ronald Reagan and we ask, dully, “Can it be stopped? It seems we just recently passed this way before! Who is in control?” God is — He is for us, through the cross!
III. Through The Gross God Is For Us In Our Challenges
The challenge of economic uncertainty. As recorded in several leading newspapers and magazines, economics experts confess that they do not know where our economic situation will take us. That expression is surely substantiated by the wild inflation, well into double digits in recent years! High interest rates discourage many from borrowing needed funds, including our own church body. And when money must be borrowed it costs a “leg and an arm” to repay it. What shall or Synod do in these times? How shall you, the individual Christian react?
There is no better place to start than with the words of Isaac Watts:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride. (Hymnary 306)
Especially in economic times such as these, it is in good order for the Christian who wishes to remain in humble faith to pour contempt on his pride, submit himself to the Word of God, and ask himself some scriptural questions such as these: Have I regarded stewardship as ownership or is everything I have—my health, my talents, my time, my abilities, my money—all given me on loan by God? (Luke 19,13; Matt. 25,14)
Do I regard Christian stewardship as a matter of God’s gift of willingness, willingness He has given me, or, as something to be dug out of my own will and strength. (2 Cor. 8,1–4; 12; 16–20) Can I count on God’s promise regarding grace, forgiveness and salvation, but at the same time doubt his specific promises made to faith regarding stewardship? Do his stewardship promises apply to me? I’m his child too, do those promises apply only to others? And, are they less true during hard economic times?
The answers to these questions, of course, lie with God’s Word. Stewardship of God’s gifts to us, which He owns, and loans to us, is always a matter of grace. For on our own, of our own will and strength, we can never manage them to his glory. (Jn. 15,5) And, yes, his every promise applies to his child, in good times and bad!
But if at times we’ve failed to heed God’s word in our stewardship, in being selfish or in not walking boldly on his promise, then in repentant faith we can go to the cross and cry out, Lord, have mercy on us, and He will hear and abundantly pardon. “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you!”
A Christian away on vacation heard from a friend that his local church was in financial difficulty. It bothered him as he went to sleep that night. He lay and thought about the bills that had kept coming in while he was away which the treasurer had to pay and he had not kept up his offering while on vacation. When he returned home he visited the treasurer immediately and gave him the offering envelopes for three weeks. And as he was leaving he said to the treasurer: “I know it must bother you to have to borrow money to pay bills. This costs us all extra money in interest. I’ve prayed that God forgive my thoughtlessness about not keeping up my offerings while I’m away, for I know the bills keep coming. From now on, when my income check arrives, I’m going to make out the Lord’s checks ahead of time and set them aside, so they’re ready to be offered, no matter what!”
Such resolve as this man showed indicates a humble spirit of the kind which pleases our Lord, a strong interest in his church’s welfare, and a willingness to do better. (cf. Lk. 14,11; 18;14)
The willingness of the heart is also a question in regard to stewardship in other ways. We spoke earlier of those stewardship promises. We ought not creep across the bridge on those but walk boldly. A man was compelled one night to cross a wide, frozen river. Notwithstanding the assurances of those who were thoroughly familiar with the area and repeatedly crossed the river’s solid ice, the traveler feared to undertake the trip, but finally began to inch his way over on hands and knees. When near the middle of the frozen stream, he was startled by a team of horses pulling a large sleigh, heavily loaded with logs. “Creeping, are ya,” called the driver, as he swept by. “Don’t creep, walk boldly. It’ll hold ya and then some. It’s as solid as a rock!”
We imagine it might have been holy laughter that swept across an appreciative Scottish audience as their pastor concluded his Sunday sermon. With his finger pointed to a large picture of Christ hanging on the cross, he finished the address for the day in a way a Christian Scotsman might understand and love. He said: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand. All other ground is SHAM-rock!”
Now what are those stewardship promises? DO WE WALK BOLDLY ON THEM? During the 80’s, we don’t need to creep on these in tentative, fearful fashion! Because they’re tied to the cross. They’ll hold us and then some! Because they’re as solid as the Rock himself, because He can’t deny what He has produced. Walk boldly on them! They fit the 80’s. Listen:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the same measure you use, It will be measured to you. (Lk. 6,38)
This is not SHAM-rock, this is the Rock himself speaking!
He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Cor. 9,6)
God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9,7)
God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance. (2 Cor. 9,8)
He (God) … will supply and multiply your resources. (2 Cor. 9,10)
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. (2 Cor. 9,11)
Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Cor. 9,13)
Now stewardship is not a question of giving of time, talents and treasure so that we can become rich. Rather, God makes these promises to encourage us, out of his grace won by Christ at the cross. For he never blesses except on account of Christ’s saving work. Therefore we are not to think our generosity will cause God to bless us in the sense of forcing his hand. Since we recognize our sinful condition, (Rom. 7,14f.) even having done our best, we are ready to listen in humble faith to Jesus’ Word where he says: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Lk. 7,10) And if He does make us rich or keeps us in more humble circumstance, this too He does for Jesus’ sake, and of his infinite wisdom, which knows all things that are good for us.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
This promise surely applies to God’s children living in shaky economic times, times such as the early 80’s. Take God at his word. The structure of divine promise is sound and very much more sturdy than the promise of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Thorstein Veblen, John Maynard Keynes or any other of the great economic thinkers. God is for us! The cross towers above all these who have so greatly influenced modern day economies the world over. And as we have just been reminded from the Word, God’s doctrine of stewardship also towers high above any and all human economic systems, based as it is in his promise made for the sake of that structure standing on Calvary.
Challenge to our outreach and growth. Come with me for a few moments visit to the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics to see what it is like for a church to be challenged in its outreach. Andrei Sakharov, the famed academician writes of Ukraine:
“The arrests, breakings-up of prayer meetings, fines, discrimination in schools and at work, and, as the height of inhumanity, the taking away of children from their parents—all this is the lot of Baptists and to one degree or another of many, religious groups who are inconvenient to the authorities.”6
Here is a recent description of the Russian Orthodox Church:
“It is broken up into thousands of ‘religious associations’ and ‘religious groups’ each of which manifests itself as a separate, isolated object under police regulation … Citizens who want to organize themselves into such a society must all be resident in the same locality, so it is forbidden to create a society of people living in different cities or regions.”7
The Russian Orthodox people reacted by forming themselves into small cell groups and by keeping in touch with fellow Christians and loved ones through the “samizdat,” that is letters and documents printed underground, Still, the church exists! The Word of God is there, still being preached, read, studied, copied and distributed.
Examine the structure that lay behind this lovely, profound hymn verse, which concluded a letter to L.I. Brezhnev, in which Christians protested persecution they were suffering. It was signed by 89 people, addressed to the Kremlin and sent on Oct. 15, 1972. The hymn verse said:
“Threats of death do not frighten us.
The holy flame will not be extinguished with blood,
For already He is near, He who comes to judge
This cruel world, the vale of tears,
For the saints.”8
Why do the nations conspire and the people plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and His Anointed, saying,
Let us burst Their bonds asunder
and cast Their cords from us.”
He who sit in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision. (Ps. 2,1–4)
Let the rulers of earthly nations — any earthly nation — try to rid themselves and their nations of God’s influence! Let them try! God laughs and turns again to the matter of preserving and extending his church!
Come with me now to Peru for a few moments. There the nation’s rulers used to count amongst themselves, the Roman Catholic clergy. Priests in villages and towns forced conversions at the threat of death, made themselves large plantations (haciendas), and forced the Peruvians to be slaves in large numbers. And God laughed in derision at these puny humans who sought to throw off his cords. For at least at one village of several hundred people, He could look down and foresee a congregation of Lutheran Christians, made up to a large extent of the descendants of the slave-owning “ruling class!”
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
And so we also know that if growth of God’s church depended upon material wealth, we would not even be here, for our forefathers were not rich and powerful and wealthy! If it all depended on wealth, then the student-pastors in Peru should be living in richly appointed houses and attending a fine university instead of tending their farms, standing at the factory assembly line and studying by candlelight with the seminary professor who visits their homes made of adobe and straw! And if it all depended on inflation and interest rates and loans and budget, there shouldn’t be a church at all in the Soviet Union, for these are little next to persecution! And if we should be tempted to believe we cannot have outreach under greater economic pressures, then, of course, the church whose members experience 30% inflation and 35% interest rates, should be going backwards! But the Peruvian Church, for example, is moving ahead with a growing seminary, a fact which surely reflects confidence in the God who is for us. And the churches grow!
“Nor things present, nor things to come”
Finally, in assessing challenge to our outreach we conclude our tour of several churches with a visit to Ephesus and Smyrna. Ephesus, according to St. John, had lost her first love, even though the congregation had worked hard and persevered; despite the fact that they detected false prophets, after testing whether they were of God and had not tolerated them; and even though they had endured hardships for Christ’s name and had not grown weary. All this, yet their first love, the love of Christ for them and their love for him, they had forsaken. They were building bridges across the torrent without the chief Pillar. Here were apologetics—without first love; hardships without it; energy without it; and hard work and perseverance without it. Does it sound like the recipe, the right mix, for a self-righteous congregation? But with the cross in the dim, hazy distance, does anyone, any congregation, any synod have anywhere else to turn but to self? (Rev. 2,1–7)
Travel a ways now thru Asia Minor to a sister congregation. At Smyrna what do we find? Afflictions and poverty, yet God said to them, “You are rich!” (Rev. 2,9) Why rich? They had not lost their first love! Then God says to them that he knows they have been slandered. and he adds these significant words: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” (v.10) He tells them they will suffer persecution for a time, but He adds, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (v.10)
Which of these two churches has the structure we want for the 80’s, Smyrna or Ephesus? Oh yes, combined with the first love, Ephesus’ assets would be wonderful! But see what happens when you abandon the love of Christ! If you could choose one of these two churches to belong to in the 1980’s, which would it be? The one has the structure that will avail in our own troubled times, the other does not. The things to come won’t destroy us no matter what they be, so long as we do not leave our first love! That is the key, for He who cannot, deny Himself, promises, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That promise is still good for the 80’s!
So in this section we have looked at these things: 1—We have seen that a church can grow even in poverty. If that is true, do we need to fear the challenge of outreach and expansion? Growth and expansion can be measured in terms of adobe chapels, if need be, not necessarily in edifices costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. It can be measured by purchasing older, less expensive buildings for chapels for our new missions, as well as by starting with land purchase and new construction: by faithful Christians building their own church or chapel such as the Peruvians, who have far less to work with, materially, than we do: by volunteer service in teaching, carpentering, plumbing, remodeling etc.
And, in some of the most important ways, growth and outreach of the church cannot be measured so easily. For example, what precisely were the dynamics at work, but hidden to the eye, with the class that finished the pastor’s evangelism class? In one case we know of, the people for one reason or another did not begin to engage in structured evangelism built around calls in the neighborhood. But how those same people are busy inviting and bringing people to the pastor’s adult inquirers classes, people they know, visit with over coffee and meet out in the world. And in other cases, the more structured approach also brings God’s blessing in like manner.
For it is the power of the Word that moves through people when that Word is applied—that is the dynamic. (Rom. 1,16) And that power does not cost us a thing, all the more important to us when the economic crunch is felt! Talk about growth and outreach, in the final analysis it comes down to teacher or professor addressing his students, pastor his people, and people to people, moved by the Word itself to share it! Now we can talk about growth and outreach under conditions that are far less than outwardly favorable!
2—We also looked at uncertainties. Recall the example of the churches of the Soviet Union where we realize Christians face tremendous uncertainties every day. And we know that uncertainty facing people tends to cause them to look for depth, understanding, love, and especially for unchanging values. “More searching, by more people,” might be words describing an age of turmoil. If ever in our modern era since the days of WWII things have seemed to go bad for America, it in the very era in which we live.
Is this a challenge to growth and outreach for the Synod and for our congregations? By all means, but it is even far more than that. We should look at the 80’s as a decade of opportunity! Because what is ours to give away to a people among whom are many searchers are the eternal certainties of the cross. GOD IS FOR US IN TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE OPPORTUNITY THROUGH THE CROSS! If we start at the cross we can indeed harvest souls for our Savior in the 1980’s. God’s promise in this regard is tightly curled around the cross!
IV. Through The Cross God Is For Us In Our Personal Sorrow, Suffering, Trial, and Burden
In our sorrows there come tears which form, as it were, a special lens over our eyes, through which God prepares for us a sharper focus of the cross. In our sufferings there come reminders of the sufferings of Christ, which merited our salvation and which recall to mind “the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8,18) In our trials there comes a test, not for the Lord to see if we get an “A” grade, or an “F,” but to exercise our faith in using the Word so we become stronger. And in our burdens, there comes a weight placed on our shoulders, the weight of which is designed to keep our feet planted, on the ground at the foot of the cross!
None will deny that our day and age has brought special afflictions on society as a whole: depersonalization; humanism with its situation ethics and new morality; substance abuse; persecution of minority groups; immoral abortions; crime and violence; and trial marriages; and the list is not complete. Though not fully unique to our times it is still an imposing list. And through these surely we see evidence of a God who is impatient with America and angry over the nation’s general course. For some of these matters are truly national offenses and scandals. (cf. Ps. 7,11)
The cry which must resound with clear, unmistakable tones through this divinely blessed and embattled nation, asks, ‘America, be still, and know that the Lord is God’!9
But we wish here to talk at a more personal level, to fathers, mothers, young people, the aged, to spouses, to children who are Christian: Listen, because God has called us according to his own purpose and grace, given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Tim. 1,9) — precisely for that reason of grace — the trials of the Christian cannot separate him from the love of God which is given us in Christ Jesus. (our Romans text, v. 39)
He Can Be Touched By Our Infirmities.
“God is with us in sorrows. There is no pang that rends the heart, … not one which disturbs the body, but what Jesus Christ has been with you in it all. Do you feel the sorrows of poverty? He ‘had not where to lay his head.’ Do you endure, the griefs of bereavement? Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Have you been betrayed? Do not forget that he too, had his familiar friend who sold him for the price of a slave. Have you been slandered for righteousness’ sake and has it vexed your spirit? He said, ‘Reproach hath broken Mine heart.’ On what stormy seas have you been tossed which have not roared about his boat? Never glen of adversity so dark, so deep, apparently so pathless, but what, in stooping down, you may discover the footprints of the Crucified One.”10
All the pain, suffering, sorrow, trial and burden was summed up at Calvary in one word, “abandonment.” Jesus knows the territory well. He has been there. Jesus knew well the answer to the question of why he was abandoned, but he puts it in question form to rivet our attention on the “why;” First, it was to suffer what we could not have withstood; and what was that? The absence of God which is the wages of sin; in other words in abandonment he suffered hell’s punishment, for by definition, hell is God’s absence, the only place from which he is withdrawn. And second, He suffered so to tell you, “In my body, mind, spirit, emotions — in my entire fleshly being — I know what burden bearing is, what trial and affliction are, and what you go through!” And therefore, the writer of the Book of Hebrews has this beautiful, comforting, and encouraging statement to you:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4,14-16)
Therefore, dear Christian, you who believe that Christ was abandoned in your place, if you personally suffer from the breakup of the family; if you personally suffer the burden of a child or spouse wavering between dependence on “liberated self” and dependence on the cross; if your loved one brings to you and your family the worry and tense defensiveness of substance abuse, of alcoholism, of the money-materialism syndrome in hard times; if you bear the heart-rending burden of a child who has joined an occult group; if you experience the testing of your faith in drug or alcohol rehabilitation or suffer far-reaching effects from abuse in your childhood then, you can be sure not only that you are living in the 80’s but also, and far more importantly, be sure of this: THE QUESTION OF ABANDONMENT WAS TAKEN CARE OF AT CALVARY AND CHRIST WILL NOT ABANDON YOU!
Therefore, in concluding this section, through the cross, God is for us in our personal trials! And this is equally true for those who suffer the sorrows and bear the burdens common to all parts of history: untimely death; terminal illness; the loss of occupation and income; persecution from the world; injury from violent crime and the like. For as Luther so strikingly put it:
“He is called the Lord who can and will help in a wonderful, glorious, and mighty way, particularly when the need is the greatest. We are meant to be human beings, not divine. So let us take comfort in his word and, trusting his promise, call upon him confidently for deliverance in time of distress and he will help.”11
In closing part IV, we return to our Romans text, one of those very promises in which Luther bids us take comfort:
What, then shall we say in response to this “If God is for us, who can be against us” He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?
V. Through The Cross God Is For The Christian Family
If answers are to be found to the many perplexities of the 80’s, you will most likely not find them in the halls of Congress, in the humanistic philosophies of the great universities. in the writings of the great economic thinkers of history. You will come to much disappointment if you seek lasting structure in these resources.
The Family Altar. But go and sit down in the family circle of Christians gathered around God’s Word. Building with the power and influence of the Word, this is where the structure is found so sorely needed by all.
How far the holy fragrance of
The family altar goes!
When childhood days are far behind
The beauty of it glows.
I did not heed its counsel then,
Nor realize its worth,
But now I know this shrine to be
The sweetest place on earth.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Prov. 22,6) By Family Altar we refer to that sanctified time when the Bible and a devotion book appropriate to the ages of the children are taken from the bookshelf (or the top of the refrigerator, which works just as well!) and read and discussed. No other time in our scheduling is so important.
“Yes, it is nice to have daily devotion, but so often we are busy and so often we have started it and then quit.” My friend, in answer to that, let me propose three principles to follow: 1—Pray daily that God will bless your devotions in the family circle. 2—It takes work! No area of our sanctification, not a single one, is automatic. Realize this, it will require diligent effort. 3—Let the Gospel shine in your devotions. The Law is needful too. We all need it to remind us of our sins, to curb sinful desires, and to show us God’s will. And, we also need it to make the Gospel shine. But don’t let the Law predominate! For as Loy says in his hymn:
The law is good, but since the fall
Its holiness condemns us all:
It dooms us for our sin to die,
And has no power to justify.
To Jesus we for refuge flee,
Who from the curse has set us free,
And humbly worship at His throne,
Saved by His grace through faith alone. (Hymnary 416)
Effective Christian Parenting. With the multitude of forces in existence today that are putting pressure on us, Alvin Toffler writes:
“The family has been called the “giant shock absorber” of society—that place to which the bruised and battered individual returns after doing battle with the world, the one stable point in an increasingly flux-filled environment. As the super-industrialist revolution unfolds, this “shock absorber” will come in for some shocks of its own.”12
Suffice it to say, the shocks are not just going to come, they are coming! They are being felt now! Whether we talk about ‘future shock’ or after shock, there is one principle of effective Christian parenting I would leave with you that will prevent all eternal shock and much temporal shock. This is the principle: Make the cross the center of your children’s lives.
To do this you will want to correctly divide Law from Gospel at the cross, using the Law to make the cross appear ever more needful and the Gospel to show that the cross meets our greatest needs, in fact, that for its sake, God cannot withhold any good thing from us. For as St. Paul says in our Romans text, if God can give us the chief gift, that is Christ, will He not along with him, also freely give us all things. (Rom. 8,32) Thus you will be teaching your child that God is for the child. And if God is for the child can anyone be against him?
And again, to carry out and apply the principle of the cross at the center of your child’s life, you will want to conduct your marriage in such a way that the child learns to have a high regard for marriage. Luther says it this way in his Large Catechism:
“I say these things in order that our young people may be led to acquire a love for married life and know that it is a blessed and God-pleasing estate. Thus it may in due time regain its proper honor, and there may be less of the filthy dissolute, disorderly conduct which is now so rampant everywhere”…13
Praise marriage to your children, while they are young. And then live by the standards God has set up for Christian spouses. And if you let the Gospel predominate in your home, even while always using and applying the Law, your parenting will bring much good fruit. And why is that? Because by his Word, by his Law and Gospel, God sets up the cross’s message, which tells us: “To view sin correctly look at what it did to my Son;” “to view grace correctly, look at what my Son did on the cross to release you from sin and disastrous consequences.”
Though we are far from having covered the entire ground on which blessed family living rests, we have covered enough of it to say safely on the basis of God’s Word, THROUGH THE CROSS, GOD IS FOR THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY!
VI. Through The Cross God Is For Us In Helping With The Fearsome Twin Problems Of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
If there is anything that can paralyze with fear, of all the many challenges of the 80’s, it is these twin problems; why? Simply because of the incalculable damage being done by dependency on them. Correctly estimating the problem, a pamphlet available from the Wisconsin State Department of Health and Social Services says that,
“Medical, juridical, and traffic accident dangers are in number smaller than the marital, employmental, educational, medical, and economic disruptions experienced by many, and hitting the entire family of the afflicted.”14
Other information from this same agency points out something many of us may not know, namely, that early treatment, judging by studies showing weighty evidence, is far more successful than waiting till the person with the problem “hits bottom.”15 If this is true medically, is it true spiritually? It surely is, because ,as a matter of fact, God’s Word in his Law can cause people to hit bottom spiritually, long before their bodies and minds are damaged by substance abuse, for “the letter killeth,” says Paul of the Law. (2 Cor. 3,6)
Despite the terribly serious nature of the problems, is there hope? Indeed, there is, hope from the cross! One nineteen year old girl, accustomed to substance abuse for several years came to her senses through God’s Word and after her conversion she said: “I have no one to thank but God, both for freeing me from drugs and from sin’s power.” A mother who agonized over her children becoming involved with drugs and alcohol wept tears of gratefulness as she listened to the explanation of these words from our Romans text: “Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Rom. 8,34) Should it be surprising that this same woman, converted in recent years, would also say?—“Now I know why my children are straightening out. It is because of the power of the Word.” So, God is for us in helping with the fearsome problem of substance abuse.
If thou but suffer God to guide thee,
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, what’er betide thee;
And bear thee through the evil days;
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move, (Hymnary 230)
To believers who are in any way fighting problems related to overcome and relieve and control the twin concerns of drugs and alcohol, hear these words: GOD IS FOR HIS CHILD THROUGH THE CROSS!
VII. Through the Cross God Is For Us In The Battle With Humanism
It is a battle the typical college freshman at the state college or university may engage in his required philosophy class, for example, in reading Alfred North Whitehead’s, Modes of Thought, where on page 15 we read: “The simple-minded use of the notions ‘right or wrong’ is one of the chief obstacles to the progress of understanding.”
It is a battle the typical high school or grade school pupil may face in many courses where underlying, rather hidden assumptions, teach that mankind is on a ladder of upward perfectibility.
And what is perhaps true in a large number of cases that, the young people don’t even know the battle’s dimensions, just worsens the situation. How are they to think clearly about the dimensions when more and more, the very language we speak as a nation, language heard day after day in the media, at school, and at home, takes on dress of humanism terminology? A sensitive ear, for example, hears the expressions “if it’s your bag, do it,” “do your own thing,” “if it doesn’t hurt others, it’s o-k,” “I’m O-K — You’re O-K,” “liberated self,” etc. etc., and then realizes this is traceable language.
One can go back to the sources of it, the Humanist Manifesto; Situation Ethics, by J. Fletcher etc.; to the various forms of Humanism, Theistic Humanism (Jacques Maritain, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich), Atheistic Humanism, (Jean-Paul Sartre and several followers of stature), Communistic Humanism, (Lenin, Stalin); and, one can go to secondary sources such as the periodical, The Humanist, published six times a year by the American Humanist Association.
Here, no exhaustive treatise of the subject of humanism can be attempted. Rather, we will merely try to point to two things: 1—Humanism’s religious nature, because of the underlying assumption held by all forms of humanism in common: faith in reason; and, 2—Some pertinent applications. Very briefly, we attempt to get at humanism’s center, first of all.
“Setting aside the question of human worth and dignity… we come at once to the core of the religion of humanism: a supreme faith in human reason-its abilities to confront and solve the many problems that humans face, its ability to rearrange both the world of nature and the affairs of men and women so that human life will prosper.”16
Professing itself to be a combination of various forms of humanism, or an eclectic form, Naturalistic Humanism chooses for its guiding or material principle, “Faith in the supreme value and self perfectibility of human personality.”17 This is according to the editors of The Humanist, who themselves, profess to be naturalistic humanists. Erich Fromm, famed psychoanalyst and author, (Escape From Freedom, Man For Himself), writes:
“All humanists have shared a belief in the possibility of man’s perfectibility, which, whether they believed in the need for God’s grace or not, they saw as dependent upon man’s own efforts.”18
Continuing our look at humanism’s center, we find that the Humanist Manifesto, widely regarded as modern man’s sourcebook for humanistic doctrine and as most formative of humanist sources, provides us the answer as to why it is believed man must put his faith in human reason:
“Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”19 “We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural.”20 “As nontheists we begin with humans not God, nature not deity… We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”21
It may come as no surprise that the Oxford English Dictionary defines humanism as, “the religion of humanity.”
1—We need to be aware that even though humanism is not organized around shrines, temples or churches it is as religious as many movements which call themselves religions, denominations, sects etc. At the same time, it is organized. There are humanist chapters in many parts of our country and they are loosely affiliated with the American Humanist Association. It is also organized in terms of a mouthpiece, The Humanist magazine, and some other smaller periodicals.
2—Since humanism has ruled God out of existence, it follows that man has no accountability, morally or spiritually, except to himself first and then to mankind in general, as indeed is borne out by these words of The Manifesto:
“We affirm that moral values derive their source from human experience. Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction. Ethics stems from human need and interest.”22
This false, unchristian teaching helps explain “do your own thing,” popular philosophy of so many today. No philosophic system is irreligious. Humanism is very religious! And it is in our public schools and universities! Parents, take time to discuss with your pre-teenager or teenager what they are being taught and what textbooks are teaching. You have a formidable task.
God, through the cross will help you with this task, through your conversations with the children, through Christian Schools, and through Christian friends. Let us make make of these resources and not least of all, let us use our Bible classes and worship services to keep our minds and those of our children on the cross, and not on human reason, as the source of our blessing. For through the cross, God is with us in our challenge from humanism!
Through the cross God is for us in our election, an election of free grace, unto salvation. Through the cross He is for us in the many challenges we face m the 80’s and in our trials, sufferings, and sorrows! Our beloved U. V. Koren, our spiritual forefather and Synod President, in contemplating the storms of the sea of life which the Christian must face, put it this way: “He (Christ) is with us in the ship! He, Jesus Himself, is near us as He was near the disciples that time on the sea.” God is for us in the 1980’s! It is what St. Paul testifies in our beloved text from Roman 8. It is the testimony of Job, of St. Peter and St. John. It is the witness of Luther, Gerhardt, and Neumark. It is the victory cry of poor, though growing churches and of those who suffer persecution for his name’s sake. It is the grateful cry of the converted drug addict. It is the battle-cry of triumph shouted against Satan, as we tell him, “God is for us, you fool; you’re the loser thru the cross!” “For neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And therefore, we leave you with this message: Through the cross God is for us in jittery, unstable times; regarding the challenges of an unstable economy, stewardship and outreach He is for us; in personal suffering and in regard to the challenges of substance abuse and humanism He is by our side and will not leave us; nor will He leave the Christian family! In short, there is structure for the decade, structure upon which to build, in which to find strength, and in which we find refuge!
THROUGH THE CROSS GOD IS FOR US IN THE 80’S!
To God Alone The Glory!
Scripture everywhere asks us to believe, not to trust in our “seeing” the concrete results and the physically, materially demonstrable.
Luther, writing on the subject of feelings, composed these verses, which I recall from childhood but which I could not locate in my research:
Feelings come and feelings go,
and feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God,
nought else is worth believing.
Though all my heart should feel condemned
for want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.
How wonderfully appropriate these words are for the turbulent era in which we live, or as one of our beloved hymns puts it in an older edition of the hymnal:
I believe in what my Savior taught,
and trust it whether felt or not.
1 Kasemenn, Ernst; Commentary on Romans; Eerdmans; 1980; p. 247.
2 Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans; Tr. J. T. Mueller; Kregel Publications, Gr. Rapids; 1978; p. 131.
3 Cf. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Tappert; p. 619.
4 Time, “The Year”; January 5, 1981.
6 Religious Liberty In The Soviet Union, Bourdeaux, Hebly, Voss ed’s.; Keston College, Kent England; 1976; p. 80. Keston College was founded in 1969 as an educational charity by Michael Bourdeaux., Sir John Lawrence, Leonard Schapiro, and Peter Reddaway. Their purpose was to found an institute where sources or material available on the religious situation in Eastern Europe, including published material and samizdat (unofficially produced and circulated by hand) would be collected in one place.
7 Opus cited, chapter, “Church and State;” p. 29.
8 Op. cit.; p. 84.
9 Maier, Walter A; America, Turn To Christ; Concordia; 1944; p.184.
10 Spurgeon, quoted in Knight’s New Illustrations; Eerdmans; 1956; p. 641.
11 Luther’s Works, A. E., Devotional Writings, VI. 43; p. 177.
12 Toffler, Alvin, Future Shock; Bantam, 1971; p. 238.
13 Book of Concord, Large Catechism; Tappert; p. 239.
14 “Prevention of Alcohol-Related Disabilities: International Observations,” Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Inc.; by Peter Schioler, who originally presented these comments in abbreviated form at the annual meeting of the Alcohol and Drug problem Association, WA., D.C., August 29, 1979. Schioler is the chief, consultant to the Danish Ministry of Education on Alcohol and Narcotics Problems; Available on request from State of Wisconsin, Div. of Com. Services, 1 West Wilson St., Madison, WI. 53702, Larry W. Monson, Director.
15 Fourth Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health, National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism; January 1981; p.x. Available on request state of Wisconsin source above, (cf. nt. 14).
16 Ehrenfeld, David; The Arrogance of Humanism; Oxford University Press, N.Y.; 1978; p. 5.
17 The Humanist; American Humanist Association; March—April, 1981; p. 16; 18.
18 Quoted by Roger L. Shinn in The New Humanism; Westminster, Philadelphia, 1974; p. 176.
19 Humanist Manifestos I and II; Prometheus, Buffalo, N.Y.; 1977; p. 59. Humanist Manifesto I was compiled by leading thinkers in the fields of government, education, and religion. Humanist Manifesto II is a 1973 up-date of the previous document, which declares itself a “positive declaration for times of uncertainty.” They are available under the same cover.
20 Op. cit., p. 60.
21 Op. cit., p. 61.
22 Op. cit., p. 66.