Saturday, June 1, 2024

I had the privilege to give the commencement address to one of our booming LCMS high schools here in South County, California: Crean Lutheran High School. I made several faith and culture observations at the commencement on Thursday, May 30, 2024. Here is the manuscript:

Commencement Address for the 2024 Graduands of

Crean Lutheran High School (LCMS), Irvine, CA

Thursday of the Week of Holy Trinity, May 30, 2024


Esteemed members of the Crean Lutheran High School board of directors, Executive Director Beavers, Principal Moyer, dedicated and gifted faculty and staff, blessed families and close friends of the graduands, and of course, to the graduands: congratulations and all praise and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ for this auspicious occasion. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Our lives are racing. There are real studies which hypothesize that time is accelerating. We are frenzied and the roller coaster is not slowing down. Life is going by at Mach 9. The sense of time passing, and life passing, makes us want to grab all we can as fast as we can. We are like someone in a hot dog eating contest, trying to eat as many hotdogs as we can as fast as we can to win the prize. We embrace carpe diem and all that.

Making the most of the present of course makes sense. After all the wheelhouse of the Enemy is the past and the future, not the present where we find Jesus in the here and now.

Only the unwise live in the past, not holding to what Jesus has done with our past failures, the great causes for our shame, our guilt and self-blame. The devil wants us to live in the past so that the present will not see Christ but be swallowed by defeat even before we get out of the starting blocks.

The Enemy also wants us to live in the future, the great location of the occult. The dark arts that specialize in – again – taking us out of today, so that you will be so busy planning for, anticipating, and looking into tomorrow that you will not see the golden blessings in front of you today.

God wants us to live in the now, because the now is all we really have. It is in time the best time, because in a sense, it is the only real time.

This doesn’t mean that there are not exceptions to the rule: in wisdom we look to the past to be reminded that we have been claimed by God, that He has made us to be His own and He will never break His promise; and in wisdom we look to the future because Christ will come in glory, and He has promised to prepare us to be able to look up to see our salvation drawing near, but outside of these great promises, the past is indeed just that, and the future is not for us to look into.

Instead, we have today, the time that Jesus emphasized as He taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) Someone might ask if these words of the Lord are not also raising anxiety since He said that we will have trouble today.

But taken in context, that is not a bad thing, because such wisdom means that you are ready for the trouble. You are ready to call on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ today and experience – once again – His mighty deliverance.

Marcus Aurelius, the wise Roman emperor, wrote in Meditations: “Begin each day by telling yourself: ‘Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil … [but] none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.” (45)

We are ready for what the day brings because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13) and because we know that no matter what the day brings – even if it is expressly evil confronting us – God will work good for me as I love God (Romans 8:28) and hold to Jesus. Therefore, today is the day of refinement. Today is the day to be stronger. Today is the day of victory with Christ.

But the Psalmist is speaking more than just about time which is itself created. Before verse 24 of Psalm 118, we see that the Psalmist has an eternal perspective, where there is no time. Verse 1 of Psalm 118: “his steadfast love endures forever!” Verse 2: “His steadfast love endures forever.” Verse 3: “His steadfast love endures forever.” Verse 4: “His steadfast love endures forever.” The Psalmist goes beyond past, present, and future. He is preoccupied with “forever.”

And this is exactly what our world dear graduands does not want you to think about as you go forth into the plans the Lord has for you. You don’t have to be rushed. You don’t have to be in a hurry. Because in Christ you have eternity. When the fastest human being who ever ran went into his sprint, he never ran at 100%, but at about 80% he started, and in a relaxed state, he was able to cover more ground faster than anyone else (Usain Bolt). The world, however, wants you to try to move so quickly that you will neglect what is most important. But there is no hurry graduands because the Lord has given you eternity.

To complement the Psalmist’s preference for eternity over time past, present, and future, he writes at verse 17: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

This almost seems to counter a great segment of conventional wisdom. The great Seneca wrote, “Every day, therefore, should be regulated as if it were the one that brings up the rear, the one that rounds out and completes our lives.” (Letters, 58) It is akin to the famous idea, “Live each day as if it were your last.” If you do, then Seneca adds this delightful insight, “If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others. Whoever has said ‘I have lived’ receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.” (Letters, 59)

Fair enough, but he probably did not go far enough. Luther goes further:

[When the Psalmist says at Psalm 118:17: “I shall not die, but I shall live…” God is enabling us to say] “Though I die, I die not. Though I suffer, I suffer not. Though I fall. I am not down. Though I am disgraced, I am not dishonored.” (AE 14, 86) That is, God has done something else about the “day” that is today that human reason cannot grasp. But we can grasp through the Holy Spirit.

The Lord gives us amazing help, says Luther. “The dying live; the suffering rejoice; the fallen rise; the disgraced are honored. It is as Christ says, ‘He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live’ (John 11:25).” (AE 14, 86)

There must be more to Psalm 118:24: On this day graduands, this day, and if we are alive tomorrow, we may say again, on this day: “This is the DAY that the LORD has made.” What is the “day”? The day is Christ. Jesus says in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.”

St. Peter wrote, “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19) And who is the Morning Star? Revelation 22:16b: “I am the root and the descendent of David, the bright morning star.”

If you know Christ as your “Day”/your “Morning Star”/your LORD today, then you will always, always, always…no matter what is going on in this world, have cause to rejoice and to be glad in your Day who is Christ who does not count your life by hours, or days, or months, or years, but by eternity.

This truth graduands we need for our future leaders to have.

Too many of our leaders today are living for the money, the power, the success -- all the dressed-up forms of addiction -- that are here today and gone tomorrow. Who will live for what endures? Who will lead in such a way that will truly help our nation and world? Who will have the temerity to look at the false gods of the age in the face and say, “I will not bow down to you, because your promises are lies that fade into oblivion.”

What leaders will live with the power of conscience and conviction that they are immortal souls with God on their side, who will not flinch to do good and bring about the best for our culture to know God again? Who will stand up for the unborn, the newly born, the aged, those with special needs, the homeless, and the despairing? Who will be able to give their lives away, precisely because they are certain that their lives in Christ will never fade?

Today, we need leaders who speak to matters of gender, tomorrow we will need leaders who will speak to matters of technology merging with humanity on a scale we have never imagined. What of the ethics of these things? Netflix just released a movie Atlas and the protagonist has a conversation with advanced super AI. She is human and she claims that she is real. The AI says it is real. She says she has feelings. The AI says it has feelings. She says she is self-conscious with a real identity. The AI says it is self-conscious with a real identity. She says, “But you were programmed.” The AI comes back and says, “So were you, programmed by DNA.” And that is where the dialog stops in the movie. It should have continued, because we can easily identify the programmers of AI, but as for our “Programmer,” He is God. Our internal information points to Him.

Who will speak this way to a world that is ready to bow its head to the next tower of Babel?

I will tell you who. Those who will not live for themselves, but who will live for others (just like Jesus) who have it figured out that on account of Christ, they don’t ever have to be worried about running out of life.

Who will serve a culture that is already marked by depression and anxiety, when jobs that provide a sense of meaning and purpose are replaced by robots?

Who will serve a culture that is ready to bow down to the gods of this age to tell them that the Living God has never changed?

I pray that it will be all of you, graduands. Every single one of you regardless of the field you enter.

I pray that you will know that you:

1.     Are not trapped in the past of regrets, shame, or guilt.

2.     Are not trapped in the future full of worry and anxiety.

3.     See today as the day when Christ comes to you to strengthen you.

4.     To see that the Best “Day,” the eternal Day Jesus, has given you life that is full of eternal time and energy. No entropy here.

5.     And then to take this gift, and turn around and serve this culture, nation, and world with a grace, and a power and liberality of giving that the world has never seen…so that you all will become the new “greatest generation.”

Yes, Jesus said at John 8:12 (as I already mentioned) about Himself, “I am the light of the world,” and then He said also at Matthew 5:14: “YOU are the light of the world.” Go forth graduands and shine with the light of Christ and know a life – indeed an eternal life – that is better than any other life you could possibly live.

Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Dear Friends,

The "Faith-And" Trilogy has been completed. These books were written with the goal of developing confidence for Christians to walk by faith in Christ. In the first book, Faith That Sees In the Culture, we conduct a survey of biblical dualities and paradoxes to bring clarity to the relationship between faith in Jesus Christ and our lives in relation to the world. In this volume we peer through the lenses of biblical dualities for perfect acuity to see who we are, where we live, when we live, and to whom we speak (just to name some of the dualities). When understanding is grasped in these areas, it is easier to live out faith in the culture.

The second volume Faith That Enages the Culture considers the important task of evangelization but in such a way as to leave programming and marketing devices behind. The emphasis is genuine relational engagement with people while prioitizing the love of Christ when sharing the faith with anyone we might speak to. In this volume I introduce what I refer to as "the engagement triangle," that leads us to a biblical outline for effectively engaging people with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. We begin with Perspective as especially laid out in 1 Peter 3:15, then continue with People and how we connect as taught in 1 Corinthians 9:22, and then finish the triangle with Place as we examine how our unique envirnoment in the culture might serve as a bridge for better communicaton taking St. Paul's example in the Areopagus in Athens, Greece as recorded in Acts 17.

In the third and final book of the series Faith That Shines In the Culture we fortify Christians for celebrating how God shines His light in our everyday vocations/callings in the world since the light of Christ shines upon us through His powerful Word and Sacraments. We step back to consider our daily vocations within the three estates in our lives established by God: the family, the church (local congregations), and the state (the greater society). These are to serve each other and responsible Christian citizenship is to treat all three as both secular and spiritual (sacred). When we do so, we learn to apply the fourth estate which is estate of Christian love (agape sacrificial service) in and through all our calls in the three estates. Here, Christ serves others in and through Christians and we are saved from the temptation to treat our callings as drugery.

Please help me spread the word about the "Faith-And" series.

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Rev. Alfonso Espinosa, Ph.D.

Dear Friends,

Language of course is always in flux and evolving. Case and point is in respect to the word "Christian." The word has taken on a host of possible definitions:

1. It might be held as a synonym for "theism," the belief in a personal God.

2. It might also be used as a word for someone striving for moral integrity and who reveres the ethical teachings of Jesus Christ.

3. It might be a synoymn for civic nationalism especially in the United States, sometimes referred to as a "Christian" nation.

4. It might also be used as another way of claiming to be religious with leanings towards the Holy Bible.

5. It might be a catch-all category for anyone attending a local congregation of a major denomination within Christianity (even if that congregation identifies itself as "non-denominational"). That is, here -- while the actual Christian faith might be offered therein -- there is no guarantee that the attendee actually holds to the Christian faith, but will nevertheless identity him or herself as "Christian."

None of these match historical and orthodox Christianity. That worldview and religious system which rests on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures/the Holy Bible while confessing the divine inspiration and inerrant integrity of its objective truth. Namely, the revelation that the Lord Jesus Christ is the very Son of God -- truly God and truly man -- who lived, was crucified, died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven to lead His Church on earth to know the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and liberation from the power of darkness and the devil. 

In this short volume "A Biblical Response to Liberal Christianity," I discuss the effort of our post-modern culture to distort the meaning of the orthodox Christianity ever since the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment. This movement here dubbed as "liberal" (though the word itself in its original form was in no way derogatory) reflects the particular movement to water down orthodox Christianity and reducing it to sheer subjectivism, relativism, and devoid of the power of God.

The volume is available through Concordia Publishing House.

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Rev. Alfonso Espinosa, Ph.D.