Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Faith That Sees Through the Culture Chapter 10: When Are We?

Dear Christian Friends,

Einstein spoke of the connectiveness between time and space. As time goes, so goes life in and through space. It is important -- to put it mildly -- that we be good stewards of time. The great scientist, however, is not the one who leads us to this joyful management, but Jesus Christ. The LORD taught how to "handle" time: focus on today, the now.

I've been struck as to how modern psychology is finally catching up. Need to destress? Is anxiety an issue? Then practice "living in the moment." This is not rocket science. The Psalmist wrote (and the Holy Spirit continues to proclaim through this Word): "This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24), emphasis mine). St. Matthew records Jesus' teaching: "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) 

As a pastor I stand along side those who suffer. When we are in the midst of trials like trying to cope with disease for example, it is easy to feel discouraged. But I have heard testimony from Christians that it is helpful to get back to this singular truth: "today is all any of us really have." No where does God tell us to take on the future; to bear the load of what may last for a week, a month, or a year (or more). This thinking does nothing but pile on discouragment. 

The truth is that whether one is extraordinarily physically strong, or spiritually strong; or physically weak, or spiritually weak, we are all on the same playing field: all we have is this day. This is the day that matters more than any other. This day the LORD will permit me either to live in faith, or if I resist Him, not to. 

Living in the past is be chained down to guilt, shame, and regret. Here, we must hold to what the LORD has said to us at Isaiah 43:25: "I, I am he who blots out your transgression for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." We can by God's Spirit move on from the past. Living in the future is to bind ourselves to anxiety and worry, but recall what Jesus said about that (Matthew 6:34) above. You know the saying, "There is no time like the present." It's true! St. Paul renders practical and wise counsel: "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15-16).

Fear is the antithesis to faith. To live in constant projection of the future is to live in fear. This makes the devil happy when we do this. We give into his temptation when we do. Instead, the LORD makes the present the time for really living. How? Through His Word and Sacrament that is constantly coming to us now. The LORD is with you now, right now, today! How do you know? Through His Word and Sacrament designed to be yours today. 

We speak of our approach to the Word of Christ: hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Do it now. Do it today. God comes this day as we do. It is even better when we do it in community, with fellow Christians, living as the Body of Christ today! In fellowship which word in the original means to 1) share a common faith...one that is tesified to, spoken of towards and back one to another; and 2) to love each other...serving one another, and bearing each other's loads. When this happens today, this day, then life comes into proper perspective. We learn again about how to live in time and space.

This right view is desperately needed as even many Christians have failed to see what we are describing is the Kingdom of God in our midst. The LORD Jesus proclaimed and proclaims to disciples: "...for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:21b) Where King Jesus is, there is His kingdom. His kingdom is where His Word brings Jesus into our lives to reign, to rule, and to lead.

Too many doubt that Jesus is really leading now in the present time, and in the present space. From Faith That Sees Through the Culture, page 196:

This truth is consistent with what Jesus had proclaimed about Himself after His resurrection from the dead: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matthew 28:18). The words aren't hard to understand. "All" means all. There isn't any authority left over for the devil. Still, even Christians can express frustration. "Why don't we see more evidences of Jesus' authority?" This again is the difference in how God's power is seen and known. Recall that Jesus said clearly, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). He would not permit the purpose of His saving ministry to be confused with secular power. Nothing has changed. The Lord does not need to exert power over the economy or the trends on television to communicate the essence of His kingdom. Even if food and drink are not used rightly but are used in excess, "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking," but rather, as the Scriptures say, "[about] righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:7).

Thanks be to God for these truths, but...

What if when truly living in the present, our loads seem so heavy that we are just downcast even today?! This is where we encounter the duality of Lutheran Christian (biblical) theology: time is a both-and: it is both now and not yet. That is to say, there is one aspect about the future we must hold to:

From Faith That Sees Through the Culture, page 190:

...there is a different aspect of the future that we should not just be thinking about but yearning for. In other words, we have one exception to the rule about living in the present: when it comes to the glorious fulfillment of God's promises of heaven, the resurrection, and the new heaven and earth, Christians should have "eager expectation" (Philippians 1:20). St. Paul said that he strained forward "toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). In this respect, we should anticipate our death, knowing full well that there are marvelous things to come. The psalmist prayed, "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).

And this is exactly where and when we best live in time: in the now and not yet. We live in today, and when we receive the Holy Sacrament of Jesus especially, then the future glory that is promised you and that is in fact already yours in Christ is given to you in the present. In the Body and Blood of Jesus the best for today and the best of the future are yours today! The only reason we say "not yet" is because we cannot see with our physical eyes the manifestation of this glory, but it is there in the Holy Sacrament since this is the Body and Blood of the King of Kings who reigns already today and for eternity.

Jesus masters time and space and for your sake (and for His own glory), He blesses you in these. He blesses your time and space to know Him now and not yet: coming to you over and over again through His Word and Sacrament granting today the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, and guarding your future -- which includes the glory -- that is ready to be revealed in you as you hold to the One who holds you, even Jesus.

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa


Friday, December 11, 2020

New Book: Faith That Engages the Culture is being released early 2021. Download the introduction and chapter 1 at no cost!

Dear Friends,

My new book Faith That Engages the Culture is now in production at Concordia Publishing House! It is scheduled to be released in early 2021. CPH has released a wonderful press release here (please click the link below, the title of the book) which includes the opportunity to download the front portion of the book which includes the introduction and chapter one (there are 12 chapters in total plus a conclusion, along with topical and Scripture indices). The first six chapters lay the groundwork and biblical study for understanding how biblical engagement happens while sharing the saving Gospel of Christ: perspective, people, and place all taken into consideration with chapters dedicated to 1st Peter 3:15 for expounding on perspective; 1 Corinthians 9:22 for elaborating on relating to people; and Acts 17 for cultural considerations which impact the Christian witness. After that, the book launches into application in the face of some of the most challenging issues of our time including science, politics, and personhood in respect to cultural issues which surround us; and then sexuality, addiction, and depression characterizing formidable challenges from within humanity. The last six chapters were aided by my interviewing experts in the respective fields. This was a joy to write and I'm excited about its imminent release.  

Faith That Engages the Culture

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Rev. Alfonso Espinosa, Ph.D.

Chapter 9 of Faith That Sees Through the Culture: "The Lutheran Lens -- Where Are We?"

 Dear Friends,

Polis is the Greek word for "city," thus the things of "politics" pertain to all that the city consists of. "Politics" therefore is not merely synonymous with "state" or "government." The state government is but one estate among others all of which are necessary for the complete community. The full-orbed understanding of politics recognizes all three realms, institutions, orders or estates: the state/government, the family, and the church. To assume that politics is simply another way -- for example -- of referring to the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government in the United States, is to commit a serious reductionism for what comprises the healthy city, the place where people live for all their needs to be met.

And yet the narrow view has been embranced in popular parlance and conceptualization. It's all about "politics" in the sense of treating the government as that which most influences our lives and upon which our lives most depend. This is a lop-sided view and has forsaken the balance for living that God intends for humanity. God makes life complete for us through all three estates, not just one or two. All are crucial for realizing holistic health not just for individuals but for the community.

Furthermore, when an over-reliance upon government takes place, the state itself suffers immensely. The LORD intends that the other orders would positively influence and help government, just as government in theory should help and support the family and the church.

Now at this juncture I've already impinged upon the post-modern high standard of relativism which will inquire at this point: who says that such an arrangement is what comprises a "complete" or "healthy" society? The challange can and will be proffered, but all that this does is get us back to 1) the consideration of Scripture's authoritative status; and 2) the testimony of history. In addition, however, is a third point that challenges people moving away from Scripture: the deterioration of our current culture which has over-emphasized the government. That is, Scripture is forsaken to our determent.

In Faith That Sees Through the Culture, chapter 8 reminds us of the duality of kingdoms: the left kingdom of power as manifest in 1) the estate of government; and 2) the estate of family; and the right kingdom of grace known through the third estate; 3) the church. All of these are necessary for a complete life experience facilitating the reception of God's good gifts resulting in maximal peace among people, and especially for the experience of God's order that brings blessings to lives.

In America we want to limit the discussison to "church and state." The great problem here is that "church" is viewed as just another institution, but one in which religious expression should remain confined. And "state" -- on the other hand -- becomes engulfing and is over-emphasized to the point of the public square becoming disinterested in the values and morals (for example) of healthy families that frankly serve as the scafolding of our society. Furthermore, when those families are fortified by the church then that scafolding is sanctified; filled with faith, hope, and love, exactly what a deteriorating culture requires when hatred and division eat away at its fabric.

When people object to such good influence they seem to do so with the presumption of an extreme "separation" precipitated by Jefferson. In contemporary situations, it is assumed that "faith" should be kept in private homes, congregations, and synogogues. Such an idea is the height of naivete. Faith is inculcated into the DNA, minds, and souls of people. We carry it with us wherever we go and apply it to whatever we do. It is a foolish assumption that we conduct pure compartmentalizations between faith and "objectivity" in our daily lives. No one does this. 

From page 162 of Faith That Sees Through the Culture:

"The great irony of those trying to limit the Christian voice in the public square is that they, too, have a religious worldview when 'religion' includes any position about God. When Christians debate atheists about these matters, it is not that one side is religious and the other is not. Rather, both parties hold theological viewpoints. One says that God exists, and the other says God does not exist. Both belief systems about God easily influence what follows in their respective ethics and morality. These, in turn, further impact the culture for all people." 

On the next page, I assert: "On account of these things, the Christian should never step away from the public square. If they do, they permit others to set the cultural agenda for the place in which they live."

Because God has established all three estates, then all three are also holy even if immoral people are in positions of leadership and power. The Christian, however, knowing that the estates are from God discern who is really in control. Remember that "Christ" means King. Thus, even when Pilate was about to condemn the LORD, Jesus said unequivocally to the governor: "You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above." (John 19:11) The King of Kings was higher than the governor (and higher than all other kings, emperors, parliments, and governments).

Let us be fortified with the knowledge that King Jesus still leads, and let us be the salt and light we have been called to be so that we preserve and defend all three estates in proper "politics": 1) the government; 2) the family; and 3) the Church. In my new book being released in early 2021 Faith That Engages the Culture, we delve more deeply into these things.

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Rev. Alfonso Espinosa, Ph.D. 

Faith That Sees Through the Culture

Faith That Engages the Culture

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Last Days

 Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The West is burning, the pandemic continues, the economy prepares for another crash, civil unrest prevails, sharp political division easily makes one nervous for November, the perpetual changes and chances of today's home life is often stressful, and most of us are feeling a little more (or a lot more) anxious than usual. What is happening on the larger scale, especially when we see the errie spectacle of a red sun over our heads?! The word "apocalypse" is thrown around, and believe me, the rapturists are having a heyday right now: saber-rattling continues between nations, end-time signs are claimed around the middle east, the ice caps are melting, meteors approach the earth, and we are reminded of the increase of wickedness (and of this increase no one can deny).
Are we living in the end times/the last days? Of course we are, but we must keep this in the perspective of God's Holy Word and we must not succumb to the fear that the enemy tries to elicit in us during this time. There is so much more that is going on "behind the scenes," that is glorious and true.
St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty..." (2 Timothy 3:1). The writer of Hebrews says in a straight-forward manner: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1:1-2). The last days have been for millenia, and they are now.
But God, my dear Christians, is unchangeable. Our LORD is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He will never break His promise to hold you so firm that "they [you] will never perish, and no one shall snatch them [you] out of my hand" (John 10:28). In the midst of all the worldly threats, Jesus says to you and me: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:38) and "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). He says to you and to me: "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.' For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you" (Psalm 91:1-7)
Everyday for the baptized into Christ is a day in which the LORD encourages you: "And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1st John 5:4-5) So with a living faith, we heed Christ's Word and hear the Christ who has already conquered death: "The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" (Exodus 14:14, words spoken to the Israelites and completely applicable to the Church today!) And, "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth!" (Psalm 46:10)
We keep everything in perspective according to the eyes of faith in Christ, "for we walk by faith and not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Right now, don't go along with the crowd: do not permit yourself the myopic view of the nightly news that makes politics everything. The three estates must be maintained for this is true life: the government (yes), but also the family (that the world wants to reduce to rubble), and of course the Church (that which the world wants to ignore). All three God works through. We have nothing to fear. God is in control, and He gives us so much to do that we haven't time to sit around and worry. Live in the holy vocations He has given you to live in especially the most sacred one: your baptized child-of-God life testifying to His love and mercy, and then all of the other ones as well as father or mother, husband or wife, child, brother, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, friend (never underestimate the biblical import of this word), neighbor, co-worker, church member, citizen, grandfather, grandmother, grandchild, student, teacher, servant, witness, worshipper, evangelist...indeed, with all of this to do: "Therefore [Jesus tells us], do not be anxious about your life...But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:28a, 33-34) And, 1st Peter 5:7: "casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."
Luther taught how we should live as Christians: be fasting, be watching, be working... the fasting may come in many ways, but what we are doing is not drowning in dissipation, but controlling our bodies; the watching is living every day prepared to lift up our heads as Christ comes in glory; and the working is to be about the work the LORD has given you today as a form of worship to God through faith (Romans 12) and as a way of loving and serving your neighbor. Let us fast, let us watch, and let us work...and let us be ready, joyful, prepared, confessing our anxiety, and receiving God's gifts. "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7) One more thing: remember we are the Church...we do not go along with the stark individualism of our day, but continue to pray, "OUR Father" and to love one another...we are brothers and sisters in Christ; let us know "Life Together" as Bonhoeffer referred to it, and let us encourage one another and all the more as the day of Christ approaches (Hebrews 10:25). We live as described in Colossians 3:16-17: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." And love each other: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)
Jesus loves you. He will not let you go! He has made you an heir of God's Kingdom, He has baked you into Himself in Holy Baptism, He has granted you the Holy Spirit...God walks with you; His Word is your sword and shield. We have nothing to fear. The last days? Yes, and with God on our side, they are blessed days.
In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,
Pastor Alfonso
Rev. Alfonso Espinosa, Ph.D.
Senior Pastor, Saint Paul's Lutheran Church of Irvine (LC-MS)
Vice-Chair, Board for National Mission (LC-MS)
An Author for Concordia Publishing House
cell: 949-379-0883
"...and with his stripes we are healed." -- Isaiah 53:5
Cindy Ackley, Yolanda Espinosa-Espinoza and 171 others