Thursday, December 27, 2018

Chapter 5: Reality Check -- Priest

To Those Seeking to Walk by Faith in the Culture,

Today December 27th is the third day of Christmas, and the Festival of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist. He was the LORD's great servant through whom the LORD gave to us, His Church, the Gospel of John, John's three epistles, and the book of Revelation. Here is the icon I have shared this day on media:

I purchased this icon in Patmos years ago and it depicts what is described in Revelation chapter 1. Saint John (below) received a heavenly vision. He sees Christ who identifies Himself as the first and the last, the One who died and is alive forevermore. He holds the seven stars in His right hand and the keys to Hell and Hades in His left hand. He stands in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. He sends His messengers/"angels" to His churches. The sharp double-edged sword is His life-giving Word; His Law and His Gospel.

I did not get into these facts in my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture, but they are pertinent to the subject-matter of the fifth chapter on being priests (Christians are identified this way in both 1st Peter 2:9 and in Revelation 1:6).

The average Christian is self-conscious and intimidated about witnessing and evangelizing. "Evangelism" is one of those words among God's people. In the face of invitations to support the evangelistic outreach of the church, one might hear, "let's sign-up for ushering or coffee set-up instead!" These too are valuable, but you get the picture. The real difference, though, is that being a priest isn't a Sunday "sign-up" thing at all. It is rather a 24/7 reality of who and what we are in Christ. The Christian is a disciple, and the Christian-disciple is a priest.

A priest is someone who stands between God and other people. The priest prays on behalf of others to God. The priest speaks on behalf of God to other people. Who is called to do this? Only pastors? No! All of God's people are called to do this. It is what we do!

Why was it discussed in my book addressing the Christian's life in the culture? It was discussed because God's plan is to inculcate the culture with His witness. Why? Because God loves the culture even as it is filled with so many vices. Why? Because God loves the people who live in it! For these Jesus also shed His blood to cover the sins of the world and conquered death so that those who come to trust in Him would have eternal life.

This is a pertinent paragraph from my book on page 81, the "new life" being the life of those in Christ who recognize they are also God's priests:

When this new life is in effect, it transcends a culture increasingly marked by self-centeredness, and yet it is a life that refuses to remove itself from the culture so that the love of God might be known within it. We live in a culture where "the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12), but the God of love leads His people to go the other way. To live in love is to live counter-culturally. This is a life that stands out. This life, however, cannot be forced. It is simply the life that results from faith. It is a life of love where faith is active in the good works that God has prepared in advance for Christians to do (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus said, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). By being dedicated to serving others in their time of need, good works will shine and doors will open for speaking the Word of Christ.

Living in the culture is not something Christians try to avoid. It is rather something we relish, because with it, we have a clear mission from God: to share Jesus Christ. This becomes a priority for those in Christ. Additionally, to live in this great mission, we are protected from sin's influence upon us not to live for others, but to live for ourselves. That is, the Christian's identity as priest teaches the Christian about how to live in the world. We do not go out into the world to lust for the world, but we go out into the world to care for it and to give to it the good news of it's Redeemer!

We learn much about how to do this through St. Paul in Acts 17 where he is described as coming into the midst of the Athenians gathered at the Areopagus. He did not enter their company by telling them that they were wrong, but he entered into their hearing so that he could establish an audience. He looked for a way to have an "in" for his witness to find a hearing. He did so by stating truth and facts about them. He pointed out that they were very religious. This was true. Religion in the broard sense of the word is whatever defines a person's outlook and way of life; it describes what people live for and what they strive to serve. In saying this, St. Paul also made the most of their thoroughness to ensure all dieties were covered (as they were bonified polytheists) and saw his opening in the form of their altar "to the unknown god." As St. Paul began to offer identity for what was unknown (bearing witness to the true God), he quoted some of their poets who offered words complementary to the Christian doctrine of creation and with this, St. Paul was off and running. He had found some common ground, and with all gentleness and respect (1st Peter 3:15), he began to proclaim the Creator of heaven and earth who appointed "a man" to judge, the same man He raised from the dead. So, St. Paul finally got to the Gospel, and three reactions ensued: 1) some mocked him; 2) others were interested to hear more; and 3) some began to follow Christ.

We too are ready for all these possible responses, but we launch by seeking common ground, by striving to know where people are coming from (getting into their shoes so to speak, see 1st Corinthians 9:22), and then looking for any "in" that presents itself. And with the establishment of a real (and willing) hearing: we begin to share in a way that addresses the person in their unique circumstance.

In this fifth chapter I share insights gathered from a good friend of mine, Rev. Mark Jasa. He and I agree that evangelization and witnessing doesn't have to be based on long, intimidating programs that require massive amounts of memorization; it doesn't mean we have to go out soliciting door-to-door; nor does it mean we become obnoxious by blaring blow horns (or megaphones) and bearing big signs. No, instead, we remind ourselves that everyone is facing common concerns: guilt, shame, fear, and death; and that most people (at least) see value in compassion, in mercy, and in love. We simply come to people with real needs who just might be open to the LORD of life who meets those needs with no strings attached. And by the way, if they are open, it is because the LORD has made them to be. He does it all the time, but will we be God's willing priests?

We ought to be, because it is good to be a priest.

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Dr. Espinosa

Friday, December 21, 2018

Wittenberg Trail: Led to Christ

Dear Friends,

In the latest Issue, Etc. Journal, I wrote the article entitled, "Led to Christ." It is in the digital Issues, Etc. Journal, Fall, 2018 that just came out.

The account is about my road to the Lutheran Confession and practice. I was a nominal Roman Catholic, and started attending a congregation of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod as a teenager in order to see a girl! God used these circumstances, however, to introduce me to the Law and Gospel clearly proclaimed and the rest is history.

Why the Lutheran Confession? It all begins with sola scriptura. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit works to bring us to Christ! It is the Word of Christ that creates faith in Christ, which connects us to God's grace to us in and through Christ. It is the Word which unites us to Jesus; the Word alone. And the Word of the LORD endures forever! (1st Peter 1:25)

The Word leads us to know and confess the biblical teaching of sola gratia: we are saved by grace alone! Some express concern towards this. "Are you saying that good works are not necessary?" No, sola gratia does not say this. It says actually that while good works are not necessary for salvation, that they are -- nevertheless -- necessarily evident in the one who has been saved by the grace of God. This leads us also to the necessity of faith.

Indeed, we are saved through faith alone (sola fide). And while we are saved through saving faith in Christ alone, this faith is never alone. Consider Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Don't forget, however, what follows is verse 10: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Being saved by grace through faith alone, we are led by God to do the good works that He has prepared for us before the foundation of the world!

This grace alone through faith alone is in Christ alone. Sola Christus is our one foundation. Consider the great hymn:

The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is His new creation by water and the Word.
From heav'n He came and sought her to be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.
-- Lutheran Service Book #644

By grace alone through faith alone in the saving person of Christ alone -- true God and man -- and His saving work: His life, His death, and His resurrection for us, Christ won for us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation!

All this leads us to confess Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone be all the Glory!

This faith I was led to; this is the faith and practice of the Lutheran Confession. This is why I am a Christian who confesses the Scriptural faith in accord with the Lutheran Confessions.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. Espinosa

Confession and Absolution: A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, April, 2018

Dear Friends,

One of my latest works was serving as drafter for this important project on Confession and Absolution. The writing and research was conducted in response to a national (synodical) resolution to encourage our pastors to employ this invaluable resource which Christ has granted His Holy Church. When the pastor makes use of this gift, then he can also be effective in offering the rite to his flock. Indeed, the gift is for all the people of God! The work came out this past Spring and is available in digital form via:

When you get to this site, see the very top. You can type in a search.

Type in Confession and Absolution

You will be taken to the document and you will be able to download the document! You will have the e-book for free!

"Confession" in God's Word takes on different forms: there is confession of faith, confession of praise, and confession of sin.

The document focuses on the latter, but in doing so, emphasizes how the Church -- through the office of Jesus in the Church -- responds to confession of sin. The response is called "Absolution." Thus, the entire consideration is Confession and Absolution. Absolution is the pronouncement, declaring, and imputation of God's forgiveness through God's Word and Office! It is a very great gift indeed!

At this juncture, of course, the Church of the ancient teaching runs into contemporary complaints: "Hold on! Wait just a minute! It is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus alone that we are saved and have forgiveness! So, why do you claim that forgiveness comes through this rite?"

And the contemporary objection is readily answered. Our salvation and forgiveness was indeed won on the cross by our LORD Jesus Christ and our justification absolutely established by His resurrection! However, we must ALSO receive this salvation and forgiveness 2000 years later in time. Christ's victory must be DELIVERED and given to us personally!

That is, our salvation is both won and distributed. The one without the other will not suffice. Luther perhaps put it best:

"Christ on the cross and all his suffering and his death do not avail, even if, as you teach, they are 'acknowledged and meditated upon' with the utmost 'passion, ardor, heartfeltness.' Something else must always be there. What is it? The Word, the Word, the Word. Listen, lying spirit, the Word avails. Even if Christ were given for us and crucified a thousand times, it would all be in vain if the Word of God were absent and were not distributed and given to me with the bidding, this is for you, take what is yours." ("Against the Heavenly Prophets," LW 40, 212-213)

In this document we explore the Scriptural Witness, the Confessional Witness, History, and Challenges. We continue by considering how this gift helps the pastor as a child of God, for addressing the needs of his unique calling, and then we provide guidance for the pastor on how to get started. Finally, we present how this gift may then be extended to the entire congregation. We discuss the general need, the great benefit for pastor and people, and how this resource may be restored and practiced.

I pray that this work might be of personal benefit for you. In Lutheran Biblical Christianity the gift -- in its individual and private form -- is not mandated, but is free. When it is used, however, it provides a great benefit indeed for troubled consciences. It is a true balm for the soul, and salve for the spirit.

To the glory of Christ, our Savior!

Dr. Espinosa

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Chapter 4: Reality Check -- Disciple

It can be argued pretty convincingly that the terms "Christian" and "disciple" are synonymous. This is almost true. While it is accurate to say that "every Christian is a disciple" and "every disciple is a Christian," the words themselves like facets of a diamond are different angles to our radiant position of being in Christ. The Christian belongs to Christ and when we do (belong to Christ), the LORD leads His Christians to become hearers of His Word (disciples). In fact, the only way a Christian becomes a Christian is through the Word of Christ ("faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ," Ro 10:17), and to remain a Christian, one must constantly be in the Word of Christ.

Abiding in the Word (constantly learning it, praying it, and living it out) is not religion for the sake of religion, but lively interaction with the LORD of the Church who guides and directs His people through His Word that serves as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

We hear of the best of the best in various fields, and they will testify one after another that they must be about staying in the fundamentals, the basic principles of what makes them successful. Great athletes for example must also practice their foundational routines. Christians who are serious about their faith do the same thing: they are constantly in the Word of Christ. This is not merely intellectual review, memory stimulation, etc., but it is engagement with the Word of God which is living and active to create, preserve, and nurture faith in Christ. It is not magic, but it is a Word that is God's and when God speaks to us, He creates the faith spoken.

The Word of Christ (and Sacraments) are to the spirit, what water and food are to the body.

Disciples understand this and therefore are constantly hearing the Word and inwardly taking it in. The spirit of the Christian is kept strong and healthy through the Word of Christ.

It might, therefore, be clearer as to why a chapter on being a disciple might contribute to knowing essential foundations in a book about living in the culture. In my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture, I view chapter 4 as integral for the ability to successfully live as a Christian in the culture.

Too many people go out into the culture and essentially permit the culture itself to form their identities. We start to behave as if the goal in life is cultural acceptance to the extent that cultural accomodation is the end-game in order to thrive in the culture. In this thought-line, then we live to please the culture. We want to match the popular trends, but these are often vacuous and merely sensual. They are certainly not lasting nor are they eternally helpful.

Rather, we should be formed first and then go into the culture so as to make a positive impact for God and other people that they too might know the God of grace incarnate in Jesus. So, we must be disciples if we are to be Christians who are salt and light for the world.

From page 69 of the book:

This doesn't mean that the disciple lives a carefree life, nor does it mean that the disciple does not battle sin or live in the spiritual battle between the sinful nature and the born-again spirit. This doesn't mean that the disciple does not bear a cross or suffer. It does mean, however, that there is one identifiable steady experience, as long as saving faith in Christ remains: the Word of Christ is always a part of the disciple's life, the Law of God is always leading to the confession of sins, and the Gospel of God is constantly leading to the forgiveness of sins in Christ. Such forgiveness gives another life, countering the old -- a life that produces the virtues supplied by the Holy Spirit, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These flow from the faith produced by God's Word.

And now I ask: How important are these virtues to our culture struggling in hatred, strife, and division; how much does our culture -- drowning in self-centeredness and hostility -- need these virtues of Christ? How much does a culture of death need life? How much does a culture steeped in darkness need light? 

Yes, it matters Christian, that you be a disciple. Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jn 8:31-32)

Blessed Advent as you prepare for Christ's coming while abiding in Christ's Word,

Dr. Espinosa

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Chapter 3: Reality Check -- Christian

Dear Faith and Culture Readers,

There is an energy and force that accompanies anyone with purpose and clear identity, especially when their presence brings good and light into darkness. With a sense of mission, we move beyond mere existence. We live with a telos in view, but not merely an "end," but a goal; a purposeful end (and in Christ, one which follows us into eternity, Rev 13:14: "...their deeds follow them!"). Thus, when we speak of the teleological argument for the existence of God -- for example -- it is the argument for God from design. Dawkins sought to discredit the argument through his atheistic book Climbing Mount Improbable. Dawkins then put forth his more familiar work The God Delusion rendered delusional by the apologetic response of Allister McGrath in his book The Dawkins Delusion. 

You, Christian are designed. You have purpose; you have meaning; and with this comes a unique identity and status. By knowing your status, you are in a position to launch for impacting the world with the light of Christ. 

The first two chapters of my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture outlines three forces against the Christian: the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh. These are -- so to speak -- an unholy "trinity" against us. But the LORD does not leave us to face these alone. Chapters 3, 4 & 5 present the counter-measure. Our identity and status is put before us. As one who confesses Jesus Christ, you are Christian (chapter 3), Disciple (chapter 4), and Priest (chapter 5).

Know your true status and launch into a great purpose for living!

From Faith that Sees Through the Culture page 48: 

People with a living faith in Jesus Christ were first called "Christians" in Antioch (see Acts 11:26). This is an exciting identification. It is powerful and profound. It means that we are Christ's. A Christian is someone who belongs to Jesus Christ.

If you know this and you hold to this reality, then everything in life changes. 

Page 48-49:

When faith in Christ is known, this belonging to Jesus isn't in any way a violation of freedom. Much to the contrary, it represents the greatest freedom. To belong to Jesus Christ means that one is set free from the terrible burdens of the world, the devil, and sin. To be a Christian is to be enabled to truly live, to know a proper relationship with God and with other people. Such a life is a great reversal of the calamity described in Genesis 3: shame is replaced by forgiveness; running from God is replaced by seeking Him out; and hostility toward others is replaced by love for others.

Rejoice Christian. You are a Christian!

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Dr. Espinosa

Friday, December 7, 2018

Chapter 2: Struggling on the Inside ("Put To Death So That We Can Live")

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Chapter two of my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture is the rest of my attempt to connect with anyone confessing Christ, and yet discovers -- in those self-disclosed moments of honest reflection -- that their lives are nevertheless fraught with undulation and sometimes, even despair. How can this be? Scripture proclaims with a clarion ring: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2nd Co 5:17a), so how can we experience so much that does not feel like a new creation?

Many are misled by enthusiasts who present Christian conversion as a cancellation of all insecurity; an expiation of all doubt. After all, doesn't St. James teach that we should not doubt when we pray? Of course he does (Jas 1:6). So, what do we make of this? Maybe we are defective Christians. Maybe we are not Christians at all as the devil would have us think.

He is a liar.

In accord with the new creation, the new man who walks by faith, then it is true: this one confesses and prays and praises with all confidence. The new creation knows no doubt. This one prays with assurance because their prayers do not depend on personal sincerity, but upon the promises of God; and HE is completely reliable and trustworthy. This is why the new man has certainty, because God in His grace in Christ can be counted on to cover our doubt, so that the only thing reaching the ears of our Heavenly Father are prayers -- holy and pure -- without doubt. Christ has made them so.

When the Christian prays, therefore, this is faith expressing itself. At the same time, there is the old man, the doubting man, the skeptical Adam, the sinful flesh, the carnal nature...not only does this aspect doubt, but it resists God and fights against God. This is how I discuss it in the book:

The world and the devil bombard us and fight against our faith in Christ. And then the Lord comes to our aid, and we make it worse: we fight Him; we resist Him. The Lord then does something we might not expect. He takes this one making it worse and slays him. And in this case, He lets us drown. Then, with His almighty power and in the most tender mercy and love, He takes the one who is drowned and brings him back to life; He raises us from death; He gives us a new life. We are "born again," "born of the Spirit" (John 3:3-7). We cross over from death to life (John 5:24). The water containing the Word in Holy Baptism drowns the old rebellious life, it saves (1 Peter 3:21), and it raises a new person at the same time. We die and rise all in the same event (p. 39).

When we come before God, in Christ the old doubting one is covered by Christ; and the new believing one comes forth to pray with an open lane to God with all doubts removed.

This, however, is easily forgotten, so that sometimes even before we step foot into the culture to live as God's children and witnesses to Christ, we become paralyzed by our doubts, and our self-condemnation. If you have ever felt this way Christian, you are not alone. But know this: your doubt and all other sin is covered by the blood of the Lamb, and now you are clean before the Living God. Go forth with faith that confesses Jesus. He is your confidence. He is your new life. He lives in and through you and all His people.

Let us go into the culture as God's new people, as His Christians, His disciples, and as His priests. Indeed, these last three points -- Christians, disciples, and priests -- are the basis for chapters 3, 4, and 5. Knowing who we are in Christ; thoroughly understanding our new status and identity is key to living effectively in the culture. This invigorating reorientation is how we proceed to live in faith that sees through the culture.

In Christ's Service,

Dr. Espinosa

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Chapter 1: Struggling with the Outside

The first chapter in Faith that Sees Through the Culture was/is intended -- along with chapter 2 -- to empathize with every serious Christian. Those who confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world, are immediately confronted by forces against them. These forces can easily discourage the Christian. Is it because the culture in the world is atheistic? No, atheism -- relatively -- is not a pervasive worldview. For the most part, people in the United States are pretty spiritual. We should recognize this as we strive to successfully navigate the culture we live in. From pg. 29 of the book:

It would be a mistake, however, to reduce the corrosion of a nation to a lack of morality. There is always a spiritual condition -- and practice -- in the backdrop. Indeed, the United States of America, though being "secular," is not a nation without spirituality. Secularism is not synonymous with atheism. Most citizens claim some sort of belief system. Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, "You can easily see and sense how the world practices only false worship and idolatry. For no people have ever been so corrupt that they did not begin and continue some divine worship. Everyone has set up as his special god whatever he looked to for blessings, help, and comfort" [LC I 17]. This is still happening. And where the world does its best to deny the one true God, the evil one is also there, keeping us religious, but in the wrong ways.

We should understand that as we live in the culture, we do not face an anti-religious vacuum. Much to the contrary, religion abounds (whether or not it is called "religion"). People innately believe in more than molecules and atoms. Any belief system seeping into the soul, however, replacing the revelation of Jesus Christ (understanding the significance of incarnation) comes at a price. Eternal life is lost apart from the author of life and the One who is life: Christ. This ought to alarm every Christian who claims to care about another person who does not know the liberation from religion that shackles dying people with what they must do for their own enlightenment.

The evil one is not irreligious. He carries on as an angel of light (2 Co 10:14). Christians therefore must be wise to this. We do not seek to share Christ with irreligious or unspiritual people, and this fact in itself is set to discourage the Christian from ever opening their mouth for the gospel. Instead, let us not be surprised by what can feel like a suppresive encounter, but let us rather capitalize in a secularized milieu that encourages the exchange of ideas. It is easy to say that no one wants to hear the gospel. St. Paul could have said that to himself at the Areopagus, but he didn't. He opened his mouth for Christ to a bunch of very religious athenians (Acts 17).

In Jesus' Name,

Dr. Espinosa

Monday, December 3, 2018

Faith Is A Gift!

So a fundamental concern I carried with me as I wrote the book Faith That Sees Through The Culture (CPH, 2018) was how easy it is for Christians to become discouraged in the face of the culture. When this happens, we have a tendency to forget to return to our source of faith. It is like the person who is stressing and feeling anxiety, who forgets to breath deeply. It is ironic that just when we need more oxygen, that our habit is to breathe less as we tighten up. We cut ourselves off from the very thing that is helpful. I did not use this analogy in the book, but it is akin to the point I made in the book. We need faith's source each and every day, and not just every once in a while.

From page 16 of Faith That Sees Through The Culture: "Faith, while it eventually impacts every faculty of a person -- including the will (so that faith is experienced also in the will) -- is not reduced to an action of the will. It is a gift from God that God must bring into existence....Through the Word of Christ, God creates and preserves. If this faith is to survive and grow, therefore, it must receive the Word of Christ over and over again."

Sometimes we hear that the Word of God is our "instruction manual," but such a description is reductionistic. It is far more than a book of instruction (though holy Torah is indeed both the holy instruction of law and grace), but it is in itself what the Holy Spirit works through to create, preserve, and nurture faith. The Word of God does more than teach, it feeds and empowers. As we live and interact within the cutlure, let us not forget our life-line. Let us abide in the Word, not every once in a while, but every, single day.

Will you breathe oxygen today? Will you eat food? Will you drink drink? Then Christian, receive the Word as it is even more important than oxygen, food, and drink! It is your food for eternal life and yes, for life here and now!

In the Name of the LORD,

Dr. Espinosa

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Last Day of the Church Year and First Advent Eve Tonight, December 1st, 2018

Faith that Sees Through the Culture has been out for 5 months now and I rejoice to see how it has been received. Please keep me in prayer as I begin my proposal for an exciting sequel. For now, I would like to offer highlights of the first book. We will begin at the very beginning of the book from the Preface, pg. 14:

"There are so many 'two sides of the same coin' in the Word of truth. For example, we correctly confess that God works upon us so that (1) God kills us, and (2) God makes us alive. He uses His Word [to do both]....He reveals that the Word itself is a "both-and" Word, a two-sided Word, a two-themed Word. It is duality."

By seeing this in the Word of God, the Christian is better-able to navigate living in the culture. Such awareness also elliminates the popular contention that Scripture contradicts itself. When people say this, they are often unaware of the dualities. They do not consider the reality and significance of paradoxes. To know these, however, the reader-hearer of the Word is put into a better position to grasp the life-giving Word of Christ!

In Jesus' Name,

Dr. Espinosa

Monday, July 2, 2018

Independence on Independence Day July 4th U.S.A.

In the U.S. we celebrate our independence on July 4th. For Christians, "independence" is a fascinating concept and we should think about it with some care. In order to do so, we need to be cognizant of the two kingdoms in which we live. For the Christian, we certainly enjoy the civil-realm freedom within the left-hand kingdom that is the focus of our Independence Day. We are independent of foreign subjugation. This tremendous reality is easily taken for granted. Recall for example how Israel throughout biblical history was under the thumb of other nations: the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. No wonder they were so eager for a militaristic Messiah (a Messiah of earthly glory and liberation)! In our own history, the tyranny of taxation without representation could not be tolerated. But there have been other threats. The central powers of World War I presented a clear and present danger against the United States. What would have happened if Germany had made an alliance with Mexico? The U.S. had to act if liberty would persist. My father served as a U.S. Marine during World War II in the Pacific Theatre. There was plenty at stake. Pearl Harbor made it very real for us in the U.S. The threats continue in the 21st century. We hear about them daily. For all of these reasons and many more, it is no small thing that we live with civic freedom. To maintain this independence, however, is more than being aware of threats from the outside, there are perhaps even more seriously, the difficulties that come from within. Tocqueville basically warned that with increased laws within, the less freedom would result. The laws of this great land continue to increase. Why? For the perception that "freedom" is misplaced, used improperly, or is in itself divisive. Yes, that's right. For example, the Christian faith has been strong in the history of America. And -- this great faith -- cleaves to an exclusivistic aspect to its gospel: Christ alone is Savior and Holy Scripture in the Christian tradition is the Word of God. These teachings cause offense. They just do. These begin to transgress the popular 11th commandment: "Thou Shalt Not Be Intolerant!" Intolerant of what? Well, you name it, except of course the Christian faith. Pluralism is great until you include the Word of Christ. The famous atheistic complaint that religion is the cause of war and division is funny, since there are no irreligious atheists. Every atheist has a theological position and pursues their agenda religiously. What causes war? The actual answer is sin, which -- ironically -- is an archaic concept to be rejected by enlightened modernists. But there is more to the story from the Christian perspective: if faith is lived out in accord with the realities of the right-hand kingdom (that Christians always live their faith, even -- and sometimes especially -- in the public square), then they are given the God-given ministry to shed salt and light upon this great country. This happens when Christians dig deeper regarding the theme of independence. The Christian version means that we willingly bind ourselves to SERVE others precisely on account of our being set free from sin and death. We are so grateful for our liberation from the chains of sin and the prison of condemnation before God, that our new DESIRE is to love all people. Not some, but all. Christians do this freely and experience the greatest independence that comes from Christ. This means that their mission is to treat all people as loved by God, even if the person they love hates God. Even if the person rejects Jesus, the love of Jesus is still theirs. This the Christian lives in while celebrating both civic and spiritual freedom. As Christians we are now free to show the world -- that inherently struggles and diminishes civic freedom -- that the freedom known in Jesus Christ enables us to love and serve our that they are no longer seen as enemies. It is the hope of the Christian that when those who do not follow Christ, they would see a great love and then hear a great gospel...the good news that God is for them in and through Jesus Christ. And then after receiving this gospel, they would with new-born faith in Christ choose to bind themselves to Jesus and in doing so join the mission: to love people because Christ died for all, rose for all, and lives for all today! Yes, let's celebrate our Independence Day this July 4th and pray for all of our leaders, love all of our fellow-citizens, and serve this country to make it a better country...but let us continue the celebration of true freedom even beyond July 4th; it is a celebration that translates into loving all people in the Name of Jesus every single day of the year!

Announcing! I will be on Issues, Etc. on July 4th about my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture. Issues, Etc. has decided to make my book their "Book of the Month!" What an honor! You can access this 1-hour interview via online and tune in at 3 pm U.S. Central Time.

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory!

Rev. Alfonso "Al" Espinosa, Ph.D.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day: Whose Day Is It?

Whose day is it?

Father's Day. I see the words, hear the words, digest the words, and the day is not for me. I mean, it should be and I must admit that it really is. I am, after all, a father. And a father of eight to boot! So, there it is. I really am a dad, so it's true: I qualify. I know, however, that come Sunday the 17th, I still won't be feelin' it. "Why?" you ask? For two reasons: 1) When I hear "Father," I think of our Heavenly Father; and 2) For almost 46 years (up through late June of 2011), the celebration here on earth was about celebrating my dad. And to be honest, I think there is a third reason as well. Whenever I do consider myself, this is not for me to get, but for me to give...give thanks that I even get to be a dad! Father's day is really a taking-inventory-day to praise God! I get to raise my children with my beautiful wife and we get to be a part of the amazing lives of these kids. Father's Day is about others. On this day, I get to give thanks for these amazing others.

I think the sequence above is the right one: celebrate the Heavenly Father, rejoice over YOUR dad, and praise God for the ones that make you a dad: your wife and your children. This is easily a day about others!

Yes, it is indeed, first-of-all, the day of and for our Heaven Father! No, this isn't trying to be hyper-holy. Someone might object, "No offense to the LORD, but isn't every day already about Him?! Come on loosen up!" But it's all true! The Scriptures say, "In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)." And -- on top of that -- as you well know, we pray to our Heavenly Father every day! We pray, "Our Father who art in heaven." What does this mean? Luther taught: "With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father." What glorious words! The Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth is our true Father and we are His true children...His dear children. This is how we get to approach the throne of grace. This is the confidence we may have before God...true and dear children get to ask with boldness, with confidence, and with power...because they know beyond all doubt that they are loved by their Father. We know this to be true because our true Father gave up His Son Jesus to save us! He loves us more than we can say, He loves us more than we can imagine! How can we not think of our Heavenly Father on Father's Day? It is His day and for us who belong to Jesus, this makes us glad!

Secondly, I feel as though I will never be able to see it as my was always my dad's day. And this made me happy. When I was a little boy, I did something very stupid. I was playing "cowboy" and, in my imagination, I was out in the hot desert. I found a stream and from that stream I drank some water just like Gideon's chosen warriors. The only problem with my make-believe was that the stream was the water running along the curb in the front yard. That water made me terribly ill. The doctor called it scarlet fever. But this wasn't the important part. What I remember was that in the middle of the night I was being carried by my father. He got the town doctor to meet us at his office on main street of our little town. I can still feel myself in my dad's strong arms, carrying me into the doctor's office. It was serious. I almost died. But I was safe. I didn't have a care in the world. My dad was there. This is the reason Father's Day was always about him. On another occasion we were hiking in the mountains. The trail narrowed and, sure enough, I tripped while on that trail and went tumbling down the side of the mountain. My dad leaped down the steep grade and somehow got in front of me as I fell uncontrollably. Again, he saved my life. Of course, I was safe. I was with my dad. For over four decades, the day was always about him.

Finally, when I have been more-or-less forced to make it somewhat about me, I've had little trouble making it more about others still. I would have never become a father apart from my wife, the amazing mother of my children. Even when it's Father's Day, it's Mother's Day (again!). And that's more than fine. They all like her better anyway! But she's good about putting the spotlight back on me. When the light comes, however, it is only there by-virtue of these children that make me a dad! These eight...they are so different, every one of them. But what would my life be without them?! The ones that are easier, give me extra joy; the ones that are harder, bless me with stronger faith...all of them, teach me how to live in love...all of them love me! Unbelievable! And yet it's true! They are truly gifts from the LORD!

Father's Day...whose day is it really? It is truly MY is my day as a father to give thanks and praise to our Heavenly Father; it is my day to remember my amazing father (who I miss so much); and it is my day to give thanks for my wife and my's a great's all about them...and that makes it a great day for me!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Depression, Suicide and Despair

To Those Loved By God,

And that saluation, fyi, is beyond a shadow of a doubt to you, for God so loved the world (Jn 3:16)! You're included. God loves you, yes, even you! Experts warn of a suicide contagion, but the Scriptures have always warned of a great threat (Jesus taught): "[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning." We suffer and perish, because we don't take God at His Word. The devil does not only attack Christians. He attacks all, because he desires that we would all be cut off from the gifts of God. His mission is to destroy.

But how does he do it? I've always been struck by this Word in 1st John and this particular verse right after St. John admonishes us straight up not to love the world (1st John 2:15):

"For everything in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- comes not from the Father but from the world (1st John 2:16)."

When we go along with the delusional evil that all there is in life is our ambitious pursuits and pleasure, we come up dry. In fact, we come up worse than dry, because our souls are more weighed down than ever before. The pursuit of wrong things, can make us even more desperate.

We've been reminded recently about how desperate things can be with the suicides of American fashion designer Kate Spade and CNN's Anthony Bourdain. We are in shock when we hear of these things...these people had so much.

Kirsten Powers of USA Today wrote on June 9th (

"In an interview this year, the comedian and actor Jim Carrey talked about 'getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamed of and more.'"

"If only we get that big raise, or a new house or have children we will finally be happy. But we won't. In fact, as Carrey points out, in many ways achieving all your goals provides the opposite of fulfillment: It lays bare the truth that there is nothing you can purchase, possess or acheive that will make you feel fulfilled over the long term."

And yet the father of lies specializes in this deception.

All the while, there is the LORD giving us His Word...letting us in to salvation and peace.

But it is easy to miss out on the LORD's resources and His offering of healing. My book Faith That Sees Through The Culture was partially inspired by dualities, paradoxes, both-and concepts, at the same time experiences. These are important to be aware of. If we are not, then sometimes we can easily feel like we are losing our minds.

For example, can Christians feel despair? Yes.

2nd Corinthians 1:8: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself."

Are Christians also given relief from despair? Yes.

2nd Corinthians 4:8: "We are hard presssed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair."

How does the LORD help us in our despair? How does the LORD help us when every other pursuit in life comes up short?

1. First, by allowing us to cry to Him. He is not the God waiting for us to get our acts together so that we are impressive in our spiritual life and worthy to grab His attention (if only we had Jedi-like status with the cosmos). No, our God invites us to call upon Him in the day of trouble (Psalm 50:15). And if we are wise, we would realize that this is every day! In this way, we truly learn to pray...we pray because we need it, because God commands it, and because God gives rich promises. The Lord's Prayer is the model prayer, but if you'd like to expand a little then use:

a. Luther's garland of four strands:

(1) Instruction: take a Scripture like Matthew 11:28 and recite it and meditate upon it.
(2) Thanksgiving: Use that Scripture as a launching pad for thanking and praising God.
(3) Confession: Confess to God whatever flows out of this meditation.
(4) Petition: Then pray freely and ask the LORD for whatever you need as you seek His will.


b. Use a Scripture-based version of Lectio Divina:

(1) Requis (rest): use an image of Christ (like a crucifix or a favorite artwork of the LORD) and see it in your mind's eye as you breath, relax, get comfortable, be aware of your body and environment. Take your time and give yourself a chance to feel as though you're less restless and more focused.
(2) Lectio (read): read and recite a Scripture (like Matt. 11:28) seven times. Go slowly and really think about the words.
(3) Meditatio (meditate [upon God's Word]): review the Scripture AGAIN another seven times, but this time highlighting key words and concepts (e.g. for example, Jesus bids you to "come" to Him! what a wonderful invitation!).
(4) Oratio (pray): pray based upon the Word you've been interacting with.
(5) Contemplatio: think back and absorb what you have just experienced in the Word of Christ.
Note: don't make this about mysticism. God's Word has intended meaning. Choose Scriptures in which the intended meaning of God's Word is clear. Make this about knowing the Word of the LORD better, filling yourself with it! For example, Psalm 23:1: Since the LORD is your Shepherd, He will give you everything you need for your body and life!

2. Second, He invites us to find Jesus in one another, among those who confess His Holy Name. These are our true brothers and sisters in Christ. In such relationships we find true friends. We have butchered the concept of friend in our culture. What does the word mean to the world anymore? But a true friend sticks closer than a brother (Prov 18:24). He gives the friend with whom we may practice James 5:16; one with whom we may mutually confess our sins and share God's absolution.

Such a friend can ask, "How are you?" And to such a friend, you can say (if you need to), "Not good!" or "Crappy!" or "Depressed!" These friends we need. Darkness loses its power when brought into the confession is powerful for this purpose.

3. Third, the Holy Sacrament. Christians say they believe the Holy Bible to be the very Word of God. It is true. It is powerful. And yet in spite of all that the LORD says about His Holy Sacrament -- the LORD's SUPPER -- we often neglect it! Shame on us! Let us rather repent from this neglect. Let us hunger and thirst for it. It is the medicine of immortality as St. Ignatius called it (A.D. 110, Letter to the Ephesians 20)! Let us receive this sacred medicine!

I mentioned above that the two despairs partially inspired my book, but more basically I was inspired by the need for people to receive the gospel presented in a simple and unencombered way. I am eager for people to know for example the many spectacular facets of the diamond of God's Good News in Christ. This gospel rescues from sin, death, and the attacks of the devil. The facets that many folks just don't know about like atonement, reconciliation, redemption, propitiation, expiation, and justification are beautiful and invaluable...these give life through the Word of Christ and they shine light upon our darkness whenever we are in despair and whenever we are under attack.

We must hear it loud and clear, with love and compassion, and in power: you are never alone, the LORD is with you!

Please help me spread the word about Faith That Sees Through The Culture:

Amazon is selling it for $14.99

Kindle Edition at Amazon is $14.24

Concordia Publishing House (CPH) has a special going on right now: $11.24

Soli Deo gloria!

Rev. Dr. Alfonso O. Espinosa

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Faith That Sees Through The Culture has been released!

I saw my book for the first time today at the LC-MS Kansas District Convention in Topeka, KS. The release date was originally June 13th, but today -- June 7th -- I was signing copies! Praise God!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Peace and/or Peace?

Ah yes, and then there is the duality of peace!

Luke 2:14: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

But on the other hand:

Matthew 10:34: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth...".

But on the other hand:

Isaiah 9:6: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given...and his name shall be called...Prince of Peace."

But on the other hand:

Ezekiel 13:10: "they have misled my people, saying, 'Peace,' when there is no peace...".

But on the other hand:

Philippians 4:7: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

The U.S., France, and the U.K. fired upon Syria...there is no peace.

The one dying in the hospital and yet holding to Christ...full of peace.

Without understanding the both-and nature of what is in and under Christ, then we easily jump on the dispensational way of thinking: the kingdom of God has not yet come. Where is the peace? Surely, it is rather the case that Satan is alive and well on planet earth (to borrow a phrase -- and a book title -- from Hal Lindsey).

But this misses everything. Genesis 3:15 promised the dragon's defeat. It happened around A.D. 33 on the hill of the skull, outside the city gates of Jerusalem. When Jesus son of Joseph died on a Roman cross resulting in 5 holy wounds: upon his two hands, into his side (we don't know which side, but we speculate his right as this is the side that brings His holy ones to Himself esp on the Glorious Last Day), and upon his two feet. Remember when David prepared to slay Goliath? Do you recall how many smooth stones David collected? They numbered 5. Jesus' 5 wounds defeated the devil. The enemy is bound.

Proof that Jesus is truly the Prince of Peace who fills us with God's peace? Behold, His gospel still breaks people out of the bonds of Satan. Sinners are forgiven their sin; sinners cross over from death to life!

But what about the other stuff? O God permits that stuff. It reminds us never to get too comfortable with this world -- a world not to be despised, but cared for -- and yet a world we're not to be engrossed with. This world with all its troubles reminds us -- even while we are filled with God's peace -- that we suffer from a lack of peace with the world, an appropriate lack of peace. And this is permitted by God so that we never lose the eternal and glorious for the temporal and passing. Hold to the gold, don't worry too much about the vapor.

Being filled with peace when there is no peace...this is the state of the Christian.

Regarding Polycarp -- disciple of St. John the apostle -- "Thus the dialogue went on. When the judge threatened him with burning him alive, Polycarp simply answered that the fire that the judge could light would last only a moment, whereas the eternal fire would never go out. Finally, we are told that after he was tied to the post in the pyre, he looked up and prayed out loud: 'LORD Sovereign God...I thank you that you have deemed me worthy of this moment, so that, jointly with your martyrs, I may have a share in the cup of Christ...For this...I bless and glorify you. Amen (Gonzalez, Justo L., The Story of Christianity: Volume I: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, San Franciso: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984. 44)."

We have peace when there is no peace to be seen. Praise God! We don't need to see it. All we need is Christ our Peace!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Update: My book, Faith That Sees Through The Culture (Concordia Publishing House) is ahead of schedule for release...the 30 day pre-order stage will be here very soon! Please help spread the word!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Holy Week Dualities

Holy week punctuates the love of God in Christ. To see Jesus' love for us is to be enabled to sing the hymn, "What Wondrous Love Is This," with sincerity and truth. The LORD's love through His passion, however, is better recognized when we see the dualities involved the climactic moments throughout the week. Consider first Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday which we observed just a few days ago. What came form the lips of the people? First were the shouts of Hosanna! To have called on Him to "save us (the meaning of Hosanna)!" was to imply, "You LORD Jesus are the One ABLE to save and who WILL save!" This was sheer laud and honor! See, however, the shift that occured. To call it dramatic is painful understatement. The shouts morphed from Hosanna! to Crucify! And while not everyone in Jerusalem knew this startling fickleness that first Holy Week, nevertheless we are reminded of the powerful duality that abides in us. To confess Jesus Christ is to daily call on Him to save -- to keep us in His life and grace -- and yet, that is not all we do, because the born-again is not all we are. Our sinful nature-flesh also cries out Crucify! Even this flesh that is to be crucified (Gal 6:24), is the same flesh that creeps out of us causing us to sin causing us to behave as those who cry Crucify! Here then is what we do: speaking and proclaiming out of both sides of our mouths. What contradiction! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God thorugh Jesus Christ our LORD (Romans 8:24-25)! The Gospel is that even in this contrariness, I am still loved by Christ...that is why His love is wonderous! 

Then there is the mandatum duality, that is the one occuring on Maundy Thursday when Jesus commanded (mandatum = command) "Do this!" What was He referring to? The Holy Sacrament. But here we recognize what might cause confusion. The famous painters entitle their renditions of the first supper as The Last Supper and yet at the same time, it is what the Holy Church also knows as The Ongoing Feast. Talk about a paradox. Which is it? Last or Ongoing? Answer: Yes! It is in analyzing the first Maundy Thursday -- when Jesus was present with His disciples in His body -- that seemingly makes the memorialist argument compelling: "how can one say that the bread is His true body, when as He instituted the Supper, He was in His true body? Rather, the very fact that Jesus was in the body when He referred to the bread as His body demands that his words be metaphorical as in, 'this is the bread that represents my body.' Consider for example, someone pulling their identification out of their purse or wallet and upon presenting their picture-ID pronounces, 'this is me!' We all know what they mean: the ID is a reprsentation of themselves!" The actual text, however, will not bear these mental gymnastics. Among the many figures of speech the LORD used throughout His teaching ministry were indeed metaphor and simile, but whenever these were employed, there were accompanying textual signals and/or explanations of these. Furthermore, the context of the Supper is in the form of a last will and testament. In such a context, the LAST thing one does is use figures of speech; the testament demands straight-forward clarity and legal precision. Lastly and from a more theological consideration: consider the source. Who was it exactly speaking? It is was Jesus Christ, true God and true man. There is one afterall who can be in two places at once. It is Christ. The duality is that the Supper was once established and continually celebrated and administered! Why make such arrangments? For but one reason: to keep you in His ensure you of His real presence...constantly. The wondrous love of Christ for you was not only expressed at Calvary 2000 years ago, but it is expressed every single time you partake of the very same body and blood that hung on the cross keeping you steadfast in the forgiveness of sins. This is truly wondrous love that time cannot restrict nor restrain.

Then there was the duality of Good Friday. The most horrific, grueling, agonizing event in the history of man, not merely for the indescribable physical -- out-of-the cross excruciatiing -- pain, but for the One it was applied to, because this Innocent One was bearing upon Himself the sins of the world...thus He felt the judgment and condemnation for all sinners. On that Good Friday cross was the One who "became sin for us (2 Co 5:21)" and "a curse for us (Gal 3:13)." To confirm the drastic condemnation of this moment on the cross was the LORD's fourth word: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me (Mt 27:46)?" It was true, He became in the eyes of God sinner and curse. God had to turn away since God's eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13). And yet even in the face of all of this darkness (indeed it became dark at 3 pm), we call this day Good! Are we insane? And this is precisely where the paradox comes in: as Gregory of Nyssa and Luther also described, Christ in the Body was the "Worm" that concealed "the hook" of the Divinity of Christ so that when Satan and death swallowed Christ, they also swallowed the LORD of LIFE. That is death received a death sentence; death received a deadly virus; and its otherwise always effective darkness was overcome by the One whose light and light are utterly inextinguishable. Death was destroyed on the cross of Jesus. And this -- indeed without question -- is why the day is GOOD! What wondrous love is this? That He would die to destroy my death! This is love. This is good. This is the duality of death and life on one cross; and life won...for you, and for me.

My book Faith That Sees Through The Culture on understanding biblical dualities so as to help us live out our faith more effectively is coming together! We are at the stage of gathering endorsements. The release date by Concordia Publishing House is still June 13th. Watch for it! Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Now and Not Yet

We are time-bound and oriented. The universe is space and time. We're stuck in it. As time goes on entropy is at work. That in itself, can seem depressing. Scripture records that "our outer self is wasting away (2nd Co 4:16 and I'll get to the good part in a minute)." Stephen Hawking of course met these things boldly. He said, "I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die." With his atheistic vantage point, I suppose he said the best he could say. One can at least strive to avoid the wasted time and energy of living in fear -- at least theoretically -- while admitting desire to continue to thrive. Yes, of course that makes sense. But at a certain point the bold claim that there is no fear can appear as window-dressing. Death is scary. It robs of everything we know in life. It is a monster. To me, to say that "death is a part of life" is nonsensical. Death is the antithesis to life. I intimated above in connection to 2nd Co 4:16, however, that there is a good part. Here is the whole verse: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." My wife and I were walking by some reconstruction yesterday, a large sign said something to the effect that the key to growing old gracefully was constant renovation. It was one of those conventional-cultural ideas that betrays remnants of true and eternal wisdom. God says something to this effect, but in the sense of -- as 2nd Co 4:16 states -- "being renewed." This newness in Christ, however, is a state of being in the One who has surpassed the affects of entropy. Death didn't keep Him dead. His cells no longer succumbed to what is otherwise considered inevitable degeneration. The stuckness to time falls off in Christ who lives in time and yet also beyond it. This is true for the believer in Christ regarding their relationship to time. Further waste and weight comes from living in the past, but whatever is in your past that might lead to present guilt, or shame, or fear, or regret, or bitterness -- or whatever -- has been covered by the atoning blood of the Lamb. St. Paul says, "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind...(Philippians 3:14)." Sure, we learn from the past, but we don't live in it any longer. Furthermore, the renewed life is wise to avoid "living in" the future as well. To do so takes on the weight of the future, we have enough for today. So Jesus: "do not be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34)," though this does not mean we ought not look forward to the good in the future, especially for the glorious second coming, our radiant bodies, the great reunion of those in Christ, and the new heaven and the new earth. In other words, time has been sanctified for the one in Christ. The past no longer enslaves to misery and the future no longer binds to anxiety. Instead, we have today. What of today? What of now? Right now, this moment, you have nothing but LIFE because Christ is your LIFE. How ought this reality impact our outlook? "This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps 118:24)." We do so filled with the LIFE of Christ NOW and yet at the same time, the full benefits of this life of Christ are NOT YET realized (though they are absolutely guaranteed by virtue of our baptism into Christ). For us who are in Christ, the future is not for worry, but for the joy of the full results and manifestations of our lives in Christ: "we will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (1 Co 15:51-52)." Life over death; renewal over entropy; faith over worry and fear are yours in Christ now and not yet. Great news: it looks like the cover for my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture has been made. It looks pretty cool. The release date is still June 13th as of now, but I'm hoping it might be released a little sooner. When the date is firm, there will be a 30-day pre-order period in which anyone can get a significant discount. Thanks for keeping this in prayer! Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, March 9, 2018

"We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us" -- Walt Kelly

I was just recently contacted by the marketing team at Concordia Publishing House regarding my upcoming book Faith That Sees Through The Culture (June 13th release date). They gave me a look at the preliminary cover for the book. It is exciting to see it all coming together. It is a book about biblical dualities and the idea is that when one becomes more aware of the real both-and's in life that one is able to more effectively live in faith, especially as we seek to navigate the culture. We need the view of the lenses that show both old and new versions of man; of ourselves who are in Christ, because both are there. The hubris, angst and acrimony of our time is stifling. And if we allow it, it puts us in a foul way in which complaint and criticism become the emanation of our souls. This is not to say we should never complain. Certainly if one reads the Psalms, we know that there is a time and a place, especially when we can give our soul's complaint to the LORD and who can overestimate the value of confession? Indeed, it is more than cathartic. It is healing when we receive the LORD's gracious response in Christ, namely His saving absolution. I am, however, not talking about that. I am referring to when the complaining and criticism become our constant speech and vibe. When this happens joy is lost, but more than that, we actually end-up contributing to the ills of a sin-parched world. Walt Kelly produced the comic strip Pogo and to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970 he presented his famous line: "We have met the enemy and he is us." He applied it to our treatment of the planet, but the concept goes far beyond that. In Romans 5 St. Paul wrote that God's love for us in Christ was and is so great that "while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (v 10)," and while our old man, the sinful flesh still cleaves to us, we are to crucify this enemy status every day. It is a state that not only hates God, but it hates other people and its complaint and criticism -- though it rationalizes constructive aims -- is often just a contribution to the problem. In the original movie Ghostbusters (1984) they depict the idea of an accumulation of evil. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9: "there is nothing new under the sun." Were any of the writers for the movie aware of Genesis 6 which describes increasing corruption on earth? Verse 5: "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." And Jesus said, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth (Lk 18:8)?" Ever since sin entered the world, the world spreads its depression and violence; and this state puts us on the defensive. When we get this way we begin to succumb to fear and then what comes out of our mouth as well as what we do and do not do begins to counter love. Then, "we have met the enemy and he is us." Let us, however, in Christ go the other way. Ephesians 4:25-32: "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Another Duality: Old Man vs. New Man (Simul)

My upcoming book Faith that Sees through the Culture to be released on June 13th, 2018 by Concordia Publishing House also addresses the biblical duality of old man vs. new man, the simultaneous battle that every true Christian knows from within. Since it is an internal battle, however, it might seem odd to treat this duality as a factor of our lives interacting with culture. When we spoke of the two kingdoms, that was a different story right? From outside of us and within the culture comes to us the Church (Right Hand Kingdom) and Family and Government (Left Hand Kingdom), but what of the internal battle? The internal battle is between the Christian's new, born-again spirit (Jn 3:3-6) and the lingering sinful flesh (Ro 8:3). St. Paul describes a real confrontation: "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do (Ga 5:17)." Contextually, the reference to Spirit appears to be The Holy Spirit who abides with the Christian, but having said this the born-again new man is in complete agreement with the Holy Spirit and against the sinful flesh. Secondly, Ga 5:17 is not presenting a Manichaean dualism in which the powers of good and evil are essentially equal cosmic forces. God the Holy Spirit is stronger than the resistance and rebellion of the sinful flesh. Nevertheless, the Christian is still fully aware of the internal battle. To the extent -- in fact -- that he or she can relate to St. Paul's cry, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death (Ro 7:24)?" For the Christian who becomes equipped with the Word of Christ, however, they learn that it is precisely in his or her interaction with the what is outside of them that impacts the internal battle. That which feeds and excites the sinful flesh comes from the world; and that which feeds and excites the new man comes from the Word of God (extra nos/[that which comes from] outside us) especially as it comes to us from the holy ministry of the Holy Church. Knowing this, our relationship with the culture is radically impacted. This does not mean that we now become separatists who avoid interaction with the world. Not at all. It does mean, however, that we become aware of how we may be impacted and affected going into certain environments designed to appeal to the flesh. We enter into these realms wise, alert, and on guard; prayerful, watchful, and discerning. At times, we will realize that the environment is just too severe and when we must flee immorality (as when Joseph fled Potiphar's wife), but at other times we will find ourselves with the opportunity to counter evil with good; to be salt of the earth and light of the world (Matt 5:13-16); to steer a company to service over greed; and to treat people with dignity (esp when undeserved) instead of be peacemakers and to walk in the Spirit. The internal battle will also lead us to place a much higher premium regarding life together; to seek other Christians, members of the Body of Christ who will bring the gospel of Jesus one to another; especially when gathered in Divine Service, in Bible Study, or simple fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who will not only laugh together while enjoying a game, but also encourage each other in the faith. Yes, our internal battle does indeed affect how we live in the world; it affects how we live, move, and have our being in the culture. It is for us to navigate while realizing opportunities for the gospel and love; and resources to strengthen us so that while living in the world, we are not taken over by it. Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Loss of Order: Relativism

The late Allan Bloom (who in his illustrious career taught both at the University of Chicago and Yale...a subtle shout-out to two of my children who also attended these institutions while retaining their orthodoxy I might add), wrote books, one of them being The Closing of the American Mind, New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1987. His introduction explains the great challenge of the times [when Prof Bloom refers to "they" = baby boomers, generation x'rs, and millennials of course]: "The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable natural rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society...The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years [Bloom wrote this in 1987] has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness -- and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings -- is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past...The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all (25-26)." First of all, let it be clear that Prof Bloom was not commending nor was he condoning the "virtue" of openness. Rather, he was explaining the current state and was launching into describing its devastating effect. It is fascinating, however, to consider that openness is popularly construed as inculcating true toleration and true toleration is essential for at least basic sympathy and compassion (as understood in connection to openness). Conversely, to cut off such openness and toleration, implies that one is unloving. What is loving therefore is accepting, tolerant, and approving of anything anyone else considers to be good. This notion comes up against real challenges. Openness as the supreme relativistic virtue shuts down traditional notions of right and wrong. Even the line of demarcation between good and evil is necessarily fuzzy. Who is to say what is good and evil anymore? In fact, to assert oneself that something is evil is to risk committing evil in such a system. What Prof Bloom wrote of in diagnosing this insidious malady is, however, nothing new. Consider Judges 21:25: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." As a matter of fact, since the Fall recorded in Genesis 3 and as Bonhoeffer describes in his Ethics, our employment of the knowledge of good and evil -- though the categories persist -- are no longer in line with God's employment. In the end, we echo Satan's tempting reconsideration of what God said and says and we ask, "Did God actually say...?" When we do what is right in our own eyes then the question of authority has been answered: we are the authority. If that's the case, however, then there are 7.6 billion versions of individual authorities and sources of truth running around planet earth. God's truth in this view is no longer a given; and it is certainly not objectively true nor authoritative. Lewis in Mere Christianity speaks of a universal law, a law of human nature, an oughtness, however, which persists. We know we should do right -- and there really is a right above and beyond us -- but we don't do it. In the face of this, we have two basic options: a) try our best to repress the objective right, deny it, and pretend that it isn't there & then replace it with openness; or b) repent of our sin and reclaim the truth of the Word of God, the objective and eternal truth of God's Word. Some of it is well known, for example, that it is a sin (a violation of objective and absolute TRUTH) and deadly wrong to murder another human being. This truth might still seem obvious to some, but let it be said clearly: this is an example of an absolute truth in a culture of openness that is becoming increasingly fuzzy, especially in light of the millions of future fathers, and mothers, sisters, and brothers, engineers, doctors, teachers, and pastors who were murdered before they were born. For the soul who mourns this sin, they must know that Jesus came to cover their sin with His blood; that they are utterly forgiven and loved by God in Christ. With the LORD's grace, we are now called to speak for what is right, for what is true, so that we might turn from the post-modern god of relativism that is killing our culture in the name of openness. This is yet another duality of the faith of the LORD Jesus Christ: right and wrong; truth and falsity...yes, these are real categories and to ignore them -- or to try to replace them -- is to sign-up to enter considerable peril. It is my prayer that my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture being released by Concordia Publishing House on June 13th, 2018 might help serious Christians to hold to faith that retains the conviction of objective truth. Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Confusion Between Kingdoms, But By Grace We Nevertheless Stand and Are Blessed!

We find ourselves in a cultural, religious, and political morass. Herbert Schlossberg in his book Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture (Crossway Books, 1990) had already diagnosed our situation back then. If anything his foresight has been confirmed. "...American religion is full of the contradictions and paradoxes that come from the attempt to merge a true gospel with the faltering creeds of the surrounding society (9)." Furthermore, Reinhold Niebuhr aptly observed way back in the 1950's that the predominant national religiosity was a "perversion of the Christian gospel (Schlossberg, 9)," and this -- Schlossberg points out -- has only aggravated the nation's problems. The trend continues and this confusion of religion has brought confusion to politics as so many have sought to merge the two kingdoms! I know this sounds pessimistic, but I don't take any of this to mean that we should therefore live down in the dumps. Not at all. Rather, I thank God for His clarity leading us to understand the state of affairs and more importantly, how He continues to graciously work through it for the sake of His Church. The Holy Scriptures are perspicuous on these matters. To cut to the chase we have biblical insight for distinction between Left Hand Kingdom (power and government) and Right Hand Kingdom (grace and church). But if we choose to merge these and mix these, then we lose the duality and mistakenly make them one. And this merging is what causes things to get really bad. The good news, however, is that no one understands our tendency to do this better than God. The LORD knows and what is more important than how we stray is the LORD's grace. He is by nature merciful. Thank Him! In that mercy He chooses to work through our confusion and He has established precedent in His Word that He works through the current conditions no matter how challenged they might be! Here, I would like to offer the example of King Cyrus the Great and here by the way we also come into an example of the Holy Bible's intersection with external history which by the way strengthens the veracity, reliability, and trustworthiness of Sacred Scripture (in this case in the Old Testament). The Persian King (559-530 BC) conquered the Median kingdom, but when he did he came into conflict with Babylon. He went on to conquer Babylon. It just so happened -- just an amazing coincidence (I'm being facetious) -- that the people of God were captives in exile in Babylon at the time. When Cyrus came into power, he freed the people of God and permitted them to return to their homeland! That is, God used the circumstances to find a way to bless His people! Cyrus did not know the LORD. He was not of Israel. It didn't matter, God worked through Him anyway. The politics were forced to serve God's people. Isaiah 45:1: "Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed." God made Cyrus His "anointed" in order to serve God's purposes for the sake of His people! And Jesus stood before Pilate almost 600 years later. "So Pilate said to him, 'You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?' Jesus answered him, 'You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above (John 19:10-11).'" Jesus was saying, "Pilate, I have given you your authority, now send me to be crucified." And from a human standpoint, the spectacle of Christ on the cross amounted to complete and utter failure on the part of Jesus, the would-be Messiah. Jesus lost. God was dead. And then came the rest of the story. What do we learn from this? God is still here. God is still working. God is still in control. God will bless His people. Let us therefore rejoice. No, we will not live down in the dumps. We will love God and love people around us -- regardless of their politics, worldviews, ethnicities or religions -- we will show them Jesus and even now bring healing to our nation even if through just one person at a time. Please help me spread the word about my upcoming book Faith That Sees Through The Culture being released on June 13th by Concordia Publishing House. In it, we have more to say about the duality of the two kingdoms and our popular approach to church and state. Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, February 19, 2018

2 Kingdoms: A Crucial Biblical Duality

As I anticipate the release of my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture (June 13th by Concordia Publishing House), I am reminded of just how important the two kingdom biblical teaching is. When Luther expanded on the Kingdom of the Left, he did not reduce it to government. This is a monumental point. We are in error if we assume that the two kingdoms -- the left hand kingdom of power and the right hand kingdom of grace -- are synonymous with the current use of "church and state." "Church and state" talk is reductionistic and misses the fuller realms of kingdoms. Too often when we are confronted by senseless and horrific violence, the knee-jerk answer centers upon government. "If only the government would do x, instead of y, then utopia would ensue." When Luther expounded on the Left-Hand kingdom, it always included the family. In fact, the family outranks government when it comes to this kingdom. Consider this Scripture that finds fulfillment, not so much in a village, government, or even from pastors, but is fundamentally from parents to their children: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6)." If we are going to live in the biblical dualities and at the same time have a faith that is clear with both lenses fully functional (both kingdoms in this case), then we will strive to defend and nourish the family. Nothing provides stability and strength to a society like the family. Nothing -- in the Left Hand kingdom that includes government -- comes close to the importance of the family. Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rejuvenation from the Right Hand Kingdom for our witness in the Left Hand Kingdom

As we anticipate the release of my new book Faith That Sees Through The Culture on June 13th, 2018 (Concordia Publishing House), we are constantly challenged by the duality of the two kingdoms. To keep the kingdom of the left or the kingdom of power in proper perspective we need the dual lens. Balance comes only when we also know the kingdom of the right or the kingdom of grace. We feel pain -- vicerally -- and shake our heads at the myriad of problems in the left-hand kingdom which includes the government. And yet, we are informed by the Word of God: "For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Ro 13:1)." This does not mean that what those governments do is always right, but it does mean that God has not relinquished control. And in respect to God working -- for His people -- He is always (not sometimes) working for their good. Even if a nation is in decline therefore, the decline itself will often lead people to remember that their hope is not in the power of men (Psalm 146:3: "put not your trust in princes"), but only in God. Sometimes cultural decline -- as painful as it might be -- is the mediate cause for spiritual revival. This does not mean that Christians are to become passive in culture. Not in the least. We are called to engage the culture. We are called to be salt and light (Matt 5). But to know both kingdoms is to draw strength from the Right-Hand Kingdom (through the Church's ministry of Word and Sacrament), so that we may launch into the Left-Hand Kingdom to be God's witnesses with hope overflowing even in the face of cultural disintegration.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Strength for Faith Lived Out in the Culture: Individual Confession and Absolution

Please check out one of the last blogs below on Individual Confession and Absolution. One of the stories in my upcoming book Faith That Sees Through The Culture is referred to. I discovered the gift of Individual Confession and Absolution with my sister in Christ, Deaconess Patty Kristofic, when she was a parishioner in my first parish St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Covina, CA. It has a picture of a prie dieu (pronounced "pree-dia").

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Faith and Culture Considers Biblical Dualities

Please help me spread the word about my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture being released by Concordia Publishing House on June 13th, 2018. CPH has made some vast marketing improvements and this volume (approximately 250 pages long) will only cost $14.99. An added feature to this book is that every chapter concludes with a discussion guide that can easily be used for Bible Study. The discussion guides reflect on the content of each chapter through this 3-part outline: 1) Uncover Information; 2) Discover Meaning; and 3) Explore Implications. OK, let me share some interesting background information. As I was contemplating a book proposal, I happened to have an appointment with an optometrist and had to get an updated prescription. You know the drill: sit in the chair and then have that big network of lenses put in front of you. What is that thing called anyway? It has a really sophisticated name! It's called a phoropter. As you might recall, it's designed to take you through a series of lenses in order to establish maximum acuity. The optometrist asks, "1 or 2?" You answer perhaps "2." He comes back, "ok, 3 or 4?" And away you go until you find the best lens for your eye and then it's on to the next eye! Start all over again! Typically the eyes yield different results. The process highlights the importance of how the eyes work together for unified vision. If one is off, however, then everything is off! The coordination of two lenses is crucial for clarity. This concept is true in sacred theology. There are many biblical dualities relating to distinct articles of the faith. Time is one of those doctrinal considerations. Christians live in the present, the now, but there is also a sense in which they are to joyfully anticipate (and indeed think about) the future, a particular glorious future that is guaranteed in Christ. That is, they also live in the not yet. Put these two lenses together regarding time: Christians live in the now and the not yet at the same time! How does this impact how we live? How does this impact how we interact with the culture? These are important questions worthy of consideration. This is what the book is about (in taking just one of several dualities analyzed). Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Faith and Culture February 14th, 2018

I am excited to announce that Concordia Publishing House is planning to release my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture on June 13th, 2018. Retail is $14.99 with 25% off on pre-orders that will be available for 30 days up to the release date. My work has as its goal the equipping of serious Christians who desire to live out their faith in the LORD Jesus Christ more effectively. How can this be done? One way is by having a clearer grasp of the lenses of the faith, that is the two-fold dualities that mark key biblical concepts. These include the dualities of the visible and invisible; old man and new man; the inclusive and exclusive facets of the saving gospel; the kingdom of power and the kingdom of grace; the now and not-yet aspects of time; and the major biblical themes of law and gospel. With clarity about these lenses, faith itself becomes clearer for navigating in the culture. As a result, not only can a Christian be more confident about their own faith, but be more productive in serving their neighbor through loving witness and loving action. Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Christ the Life of all the Living!

My first published work was in the book now out of print Let Christ Be Christ: Theology, Ethics & World Religions in the Two Kingdoms (Essays in Honor of the Sixty-Fifth Birthday of Charles L. Manske) edited by Daniel N. Harmelink (Tentatio Press, 1999). My essay in the work is entitled, "The Christology of Martin Luther (in The Great Commentary on Galatians of 1531)." Here we examined Luther's christology both in regard the person and work of the LORD Jesus Christ. The research was fascinating and delightful.

After the work came out, Luther Digest: An Annual Abridgment of Luther Studies, Volume 10, 2002 published a good portion of the essay offered in Let Christ Be Christ.

Proper theology is christological! What follows is one of my favorite Luther quotes from his Galatians commentary (Luther's Works, American Edition, Volume 26, pg 280):

He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: "Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that you pay and make satisfaction for them." (Luther expounds on "vicarious" and here explicates Galatians 3:13 which states in Holy Writ: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'").

Monday, February 12, 2018

Before Concern About How To Live We Must Know Christ

Having studied Luther's christology, I was thrilled to have been granted the privilege by Concordia Publishing House to write the study on "God the Son," as part of The Lutheran Difference series. The Bible Study booklet came out in 2003.

The study covers six major areas of christology, namely: 1) the eternality of Christ; 2) the Incarnation; 3) Christ's impeccability and His active obedience; 4) the vicarious atonement; 5) the resurrection of Christ; and 6) His ascension, eternal reign, and second coming.

In 2007 we followed up "God the Son" with "Creation." In this volume I defend the traditional view on creation. This is a hot topic in Christendom, but I don't hide from the old position. The study covers these six chapters: 1) the distinction between Creator and creation; 2) creation out of nothing; 3) creation in six days; 4) creation that is orderly and distinct; 5) creation fallen from the Creator; and 6) Creation and the Gospel. 

My contributions were just two studies among many and evidently the overall Bible Study series went on to become CPH's all-time best-selling Bible Study series.

In 2010 the studies were complied into a hard-cover book:

In 2014 CPH followed up with a special edition hard-cover celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (the 500th anniversary was in 2017).

Sasse records Luther's strong protest against his followers using the name "Lutheran": "How should I, poor, stinking carcass that I am, come to have the children of Christ call themselves by my dreadful name? Not so, dear friends; let us do away with party names and call ourselves Christian after Him whose teachings we have (Sasse, Hermann, Here We Stand: Nature and Character of the Lutheran Faith, Adelaide, South Australia: Lutheran Publishing House, 1987 paperback edition, p. 33)." The normal designation for Lutherans, however, would become "Evangelical" until this term was more or less claimed by the Reformed. Today, confessional Lutheranism is thoroughly biblical and Christian.