About our Blog. . .

This is the blog of the Campus Ministry of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa.
This ministry is provided by the pastors and congregations of the Westgate Circuit of the Iowa District East of the LCMS.
Pastor Ronnie Koch is the Blogger and Supervising Pastor of the Campus Ministry.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent - the time to prepare our hearts for His coming.

The Christian Church is patiently preparing for the coming of her Lord and Savior Jesus.  In Advent we consider the preparation for Christmas to be a sort of practice for us preparing for when He comes again.  We prepare our hearts for His coming by repenting of our sins, as John the Baptist taught and preached.  To aid you in repentance, I have prepared this study of the 10 Commandments with Self-Examination Questions.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent: How does Jesus come now?

Advent  means “coming”.  The Word of God teaches us that the coming of Jesus, can be thought of as happening at three times.  In other words, the coming of Jesus can be expressed in three tenses:

1.         in the past, Jesus came as foretold by the prophets, born of a virgin in Bethlehem.

2.         in the present, Jesus comes to us as He promised, “I am with you always.”  (Matthew 28:20)

3.         in the future, Jesus will come with glory to judge the living and the dead.

How should we expect to see Jesus coming to us now, in the present?  That question came up for me this weekend at Christmas at Luther.  Performers and audience joined in singing Marty Haugen’s “Carol at the Manger”, the first verse of which concludes with the words, “teach us now where you are found.”

Jesus taught his disciples to find him in their midst (Matthew 18:20) when they hear and believe His Word (John 14:23, 15:5 & 7) and when they receive His body and blood (Matthew 26:26 & 28). As we observe Advent, we can gain great comfort from these promises:  Jesus still comes to us in His Church, in His Word, in the Holy Communion of His body and blood. 

The song, “Carol at the Manger”, does not mention these promises of Jesus. It says instead:

            Holy Child within the manger, lead us ever in your way,
            so we see in ev’ry stranger how you come to us today.

In Matthew 25:31-40 Jesus tells that when He comes again in glory, believers will learn that He has noticed the good works they had done in their lives and, surprisingly, He considers that these good works were done directly for Him.  Therefore, it could be drawn from this that when we help out a stranger, we are with the Lord Jesus.  Many Christian teachers build on this  explanation as an exhortation for Christian charity and works of mercy.  Mother Theresa was quoted in Time magazine as saying, “Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive."

Such exhortation is what Lutherans have called the Third Use of the Law, that is, the Law of God guiding believers to do those things pleasing to Him. It is definitely necessary for Christians to be reminded to have mercy on the poor, to welcome strangers and to help out those in need.

There is cause for concern, however, in this noticeable trend in Christianity to direct people to seek the Lord Jesus in the works of the law that they do for the poor and needy. Whenever folks are directed to find hope and comfort in their own works, there will be one of two equally horrible results:  One is the kind of pride that comes before a fall, where the soul gets all puffed up and full of itself, believing its own self to be the best thing yet and motivated to make sure everyone else, including God, agrees. But the other possible result is despair, because the soul’s reliance on its own works to find a Savior and salvation will never satisfy the sin-laden conscience. For the pride there must be repentance, because it must answer to the Lord Jesus who is coming.  For the despair, there must be the Good News of forgiveness and life, which flows from the Lord Jesus who is coming.

Thanks be to God that the Gospel of Jesus directs you to believe that He is coming to you with His Word of forgiveness and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.  When He comes He brings His love, His life, His salvation and then, and only then, the power to please Him with our lives and works

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Christ on Campus

We have just become a Chapter of Christ on Campus!
Here’s the description from their website about what this means:
  • "As the campus ministry arm of Higher Things, Christ on Campus seeks to connect high-school and college age youth with faithful Lutheran campus ministries and assists congregations and campus ministries in their faithful service to Lutheran college students. The Christ on Campus Chapter network plays an integral role in doing just that."
You’ll be hearing more about Christ on Campus in the future, for now though, I’d like to encourage college students and others interested to peruse the web resources and articles they make available to us at http://higherthings.org/campus/resources.html.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Martin Luther's Birthday

Today is the anniversary of Martin Luther's birth  (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546).

Luther College students in our campus ministry will be watching the Luther movie this weekend. For those unfamiliar with the life and times of Luther I have recommended and distributed copies of  Luther: Echoes of the Hammer.  This new book from CPH is a quick and easy way to learn who's who and what's what in the rapid flow of the sometimes confusing movie.

Earlier this fall I enjoyed watching middle school students engaged in the history of the great reformer as they read Luther: Echoes of the Hammer.  I had to smile when several students in my catechism class told me that they finished it well before it was due; they didn't want to put it down. Some students allowed their siblings to borrow the book.  Parents mentioned to me that they enjoyed it as well, and learned something.

I'm anxious to hear more feedback from college aged people.  The intial reaction is that it's "cool".

Although Luther: Echoes of the Hammer is billed as a graphic novel, I can understand Andrew Craig's disappointment that it fails to meet the expectations he had for a work supposedly done in this genre. But overall, I am in happy agreement with the great majority of postive reviews. Many are welcoming this new tool available to us who teach the next generation about Martin Luther and  his work.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Studying Lutheranism 101

One of the participants in our Monday evening Bible group wrote

I really like this text we're working with and it seems to be really helpful for a lot of people in our group! I know a few have said they've looked at it on their own time which is also great!

The text she is referring to is Lutheranism 101 from CPH, which is proving to be a great blessing to Christians who want to delve further into the doctrine they had learned from the Small Catechism back in their Junior High years.

Isn’t it surprisingly refreshing to hear that there are some college students in this day and age who are actually reading a book?

As a campus ministry pastor, I appreciate how Lutheranism 101 is helping to layout the richness of the Christian faith.  Participants get a glimpse into our Lutheran Confessions with quotes in text boxes throughout the pages marked as “Believe, Teach and Confess.”  Supplementary resources are available from CPH like a study guide, leaders’ guide and power point slides.  I use these intentionally to make the reading of the book truly a Bible Study, and so, by the help of the Holy Spirit, we move from gaining the head knowledge of Christian concepts to truly hearing and believing the Word of God.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Words from Pastor Koren for All Saints' Day

Here are some very comforting thoughts from Rev. U. V. Koren, father of Lutheranism in Northeast Iowa and one of the founders of Luther College, Decorah:

In answsering the question, "Can and ought a Christian be certain of his salvation?" Rev Koren wrote:

"[The Christian] is to believe, i.e., he is humbly and in a childlike manner to rely upon the promises which God has given him precisely concerning [salvation].  Those promises are more firm than heaven and earth and are given just for this purpose, that we are to blieve them, have a firm conviction regarding that He will fulfill them in spite of the devil, the world and our flesh."

"Yes, indeed, God would have us believe that it is unalterably certain that we shall sometime be saved.  For He has given us all these glorious words and promises that we should believe them. He has surely not given them to us that we should doubt them.  "For the Son of God. . . was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.  For the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us" 2 Cor. 1:19, 20.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Reformation Day Sermon on John 8:31-36

“So If the son sets you free, you will be Free Indeed”

That is beautiful Gospel. 

But when the Jews heard Jesus say this, they balked at it.  He 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.”  And they said, “Yeah, yeah, that sounds good . . . but wait a second, you said we will be set free? We are the holy and privileged descendants of Abraham. We’ve never been slaves to anyone, what do you mean, we will be set free?”

And Jesus said, “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

Life can be deceptive.  It is easy for us human beings to get feeling very free.  Many people think that being free, means being in control of all aspects of your life -- being self-reliant, self-determined, self-sustaining.  Unfortunately, many think that they are free because no one, nothing is in control of them, but rather, they themselves are in control of the things of their life and their death.  Does freedom mean that you can say, “I am in control – control of my own destiny, control of my own decisions, free to make my own choices?” 

How’s it sound to you when Jesus says “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.”  Human nature wants to say, “no way, I’m free. And I’m free especially when it comes to sin.  I can take it or leave it.  I’m completely in control.” 

And Jesus says, “You sin. You are a slave to sin.”

Anyone who says that they are free when it comes to sin is like that dog on a long chain.  When the cat goes walking by, teasing and tempting him, the dog runs and momentarily forgets his bounds and limits until the chain snaps taut, and the dog is violently brought back to the reality of his bondage. 

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  You may forget that from time to time but the chain will snap taut and you’ll feel that bondage.  Sins cause hurt relationships and heartbreaks.  Sin brings shame and guilt and disappointment with yourself.  And sin ultimately, for us and for our human race, leads to death.

Today we celebrate the reformation of the Christian Church and the restoration of the Gospel, the proclamation of our full salvation through Jesus Christ.

 But what the reformation also had to do was restore the pure proclamation of God’s Law to the Christian Church.  For the pure Gospel to be rightly told, and heard and believed, you had to have the Law of God rightly taught and understood.  The Law of God is more than just a taskmaster giving slaves more to do, which it does, but more than that, the Law has to show us our depravity. 

When you listen carefully to the Lord, you will hear his law, his clear and awe-inspiring law.  The law will teach you what God wants, in the face of what you want.  The law will give you what God demands, in the face of what you have been performing.  The law will show you God’s perfect plan for life, in the face of your disappointing attempts to live.  The law of the Lord, when you clearly understand it, will make it clear to you that you are not in control. 

Sinful, rebellious human nature has always wanted to be free and in control of its own destiny and so historically errors crept into the Christian Church.  Errors that were meant to allow people to feel as though they could get a little more control over their life and death.  In the time leading up to the Reformation, people were given some things to do so that they could feel in control of the stuff that really belongs to God’s control.  There were pilgrimages to be made, and rote recitation of prayers and the reverence of saints and their relics.  There were indulgences that could be paid.  And people had the feeling that, “here’s things I can do.  And my destiny will be in my control.”  You see, what those things did was weaken the law so that it seemed manageable, like something you could control and deal with yourself.  The reformation restored the pure teaching of the law in all its severity.  Sinners were shown their helpless condition so that they would then clean to Jesus alone and His Gospel as the only help and salvation.

Be careful not to take the law of God lightly.  Don’t ever think it is something manageable, that you can do whatever it might take to control such things.  If you think you have got it all under control and you are living your life good enough to be justified under the law, Listen to Jesus, “If you sin, you are a slave to sin.”

You are a slave pretending to be free, you are just fooling yourself.  You are like a convict who escapes from prison and runs free.  Yes, he may feel free momentarily, but the days ahead will be an existence trapped in the paranoia of constantly looking over his shoulder, constantly on the run, on the lam, constantly limited in where he can go, who he can see, what he can do.  He isn’t in control.  He hasn’t chosen his own freedom.  He would never be free without the declaration of his freedom from another, the state officially declaring Him freed.

In the same way, you can’t find your own freedom, you can’t pretend to be free, you can’t truly be free without the declaration of your freedom from another.

“So If the Son sets you free, you will be Free Indeed”

Jesus, who died for you, who forgives you all your sins, who promises you eternal life in His family, has this to say to you.  You are free. Free indeed.

You are free from sin.  It has been washed away and the guilt and shame are gone.  Jesus knows when you have been disappointed in yourself, realizing that you were just pretending to be in control, when in reality, you were just proving again, that your passions, and your selfishness, and your sinful pride were in control.  Listen to Jesus tell you, “Your sins are forgiven, you are free -- free indeed”.

So you are free from the condemnation that those sins deserved.  Romans 3 the Reformation epistle reading comes true to you today and will be true to you on judgment day.  “[You] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)  when it comes time for judgment, therefore, you are free – free indeed.

You are free to live.  And freedom does not simply mean self determination, being in control of you own life.  No, better than that, you are free to live the life you’ve been given as a Child of God and a part of His eternal kingdom.

You are free from anxiety.  When you sense that you aren’t in control of your life or your death, you are now free from worry and fear about such things.  You are free to sing A Mighty Fortress, Luther’s Hymn based on Psalm 46. No matter what terrors might happen: “take they our life, goods, fame child, and wife, may these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the Kingdom ours remaineth.”

And in all of life, there is no place where we feel more out of control than at the death bed.  The chains of death seem to close in and strangle tight.  And we gasp and we look around for someone who has the key to unlock them.  And no one has ever escaped that slavery of death, except one.  And Jesus holds that key. And He says to you and to me and all the saints, living and departed, “You are free, free indeed.”