Pastor's Blog

RSS Feed

Seek Jesus where He has promised to be!

Jesus was teaching a multitude of people.  It was late in the day.  It was a desolate place and there was nothing to eat. 

The disciples thought it would be a good idea to send the people away into the surrounding villages to buy food. 

Imagine sending needy people away from Jesus! 

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.” 

They said to Him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”

And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, gave thanks to God, and gave an abundance of food to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.

When you are in despair, when life doesn’t make sense, seek Jesus. 

When you hurt, when you suffer loss, seek Jesus.

When you don’t feel like seeking Jesus, seek Jesus. 

You will find Him where He has promised to be—where His people gather in His name every Lord’s Day.

How Christianity elevated children

What impact has the birth of Jesus had on us, our culture, and our morality?   

Much of what we take for granted today is the direct or indirect result of the rise of Christianity, including “just-war” theory, the equality of men and women before God, the abolition of slavery, the first schools (for those unable to afford private tutors), the origin of hospitals and universities, the rise of modern science, and the revolutionary idea that children deserve special care and equal protection under the law. 

Our culture’s concern for child welfare was virtually unknown in antiquity. 

Infant mortality was high, with perhaps 50 percent of all children dying before their tenth birthday. 

Even worse, infanticide was unapologetically practiced not only in Greco-Roman society,. but in many cultures worldwide, including India, China, Japan, the Americas, and Africa. 

Exposing unwanted infants on garbage heaps and dung hills was common, often for no other reason than the child was female.

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “We drown children at birth who are weakly and abnormal.” 

It was not unusual for fishermen in Rome’s Tiber River to dredge up the bodies of infants in their nets.   

Aristotle taught that parents should be compelled by law to expose deformed or handicapped infants, a result of his belief that children are to adults as animals are to humans.

Early Christians, in contrast with their Greco-Roman neighbors, saw children as complete human beings, made in God’s image, and redeemed by Christ. 

To destroy God’s image was an offense against God himself, and given the biblical prohibition of murder, the early Christians were resolutely opposed to abortion and its corollaries, infanticide, and exposure. 

The ancient Christian tombs or catacombs beneath the city of Rome are filled with tiny graves and accompanying inscriptions such as, “the adopted daughter of…” or “the adopted son of….” 

Christians routinely rescued exposed infants, adopting them into the family or caring for them until they died and giving them a proper burial. 

The Christian Emperor Valentinian outlawed infanticide and criminalized child abandonment in AD 374.

Christianity also had a profound impact on reducing the number of children (especially boys) forced into sexual relationships with men.  

Today, sexual abuse of children is a serious crime, but it was not so in antiquity. 

Sex between adults and children was widely accepted in Greco-Roman society.  

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing in “The Week,” argued that childhood sexual slavery was the result of paganism’s view of the cosmos as a celestial hierarchy, ruled by fate, in which those in positions of power and authority could justify any abuse of those below them as being in the service of the social order. 

Into such a world God came, clothed in flesh and, of all things, as an infant, giving dignity to those who are the most vulnerable in the social order.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Jesus gave time to children and assigned them great value. 

“Let the little children come to me,” he said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall in no way enter it.”

The Gospel of Mark records that Jesus then did something amazing.  He took little children into his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them! 

A blessing is a bestowal of God’s grace, the same grace adults require and receive, and Luke’s gospel records that these recipients of grace were infants.

Jesus not only ministered to little children, he also identified himself with them, and they believed in him!

In fact, he pointed to them as examples of genuine discipleship.

When his adult disciples were arguing about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus called a little child to himself, set him amid the adults and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Christ’s inclusion of children as disciples, fully human and requiring the utmost care, was in sharp contrast to paganism, and it set the tone for his followers.

Therefore, when the Apostle John wrote to the church, he addressed his letters to “little children” as well as to adults. 

The high value Jesus assigned children influenced not only his followers, but the world. 

Christianity’s condemnation of abortion, infanticide, and child abuse was the result of its radical understanding of children as fully human image-bearers of God, created to be cherished, cared for, and to be object lessons of discipleship rather than objects to be exploited.

We might assume that the care and legal protections afforded children today were always the norm, but that is not so. 

The cultural transformation wrought by Christianity was so complete that we no longer recognize its importance.     

God’s coming into the world as a child rescued childhood from the literal garbage heaps of paganism and elevated it to the prominence it deserves. 

Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran, Columbus, and may be reached at



A Plea for Christ-centered Hymnody

The article below was published in The Republic in December, 2007, in response to an article that appeared a few days earlier.

When I read the banner on Saturday’s paper, “Contemporary vs. Traditional worship,” I thought readers of The Republic might be treated to a debate or at least an honest discussion of both sides.  I was disappointed, but not surprised.  Worship music is an issue of grave importance to the church-at-large, but any honest discussion of the issue is hard to come by. 

Let me frame the issue in a way The Republic article did not. Of course churches may employ a diversity of music.  That is not the debate.  Scripture does not issue mandates here.  Of course many people appreciate a different style.  Again, that is not the debate.  The debate is theological, and it can be summarized in this question: what is the primary purpose of music in worship?  If you believe that the primary purpose of music in worship is to alter one’s mood, generate energy or stimulate excitement, then you will choose music from the pop genre and, to be honest, it need not be Christian music to achieve those ends.  If you believe that the primary purpose of music is to proclaim the mighty deeds of God in Christ, you will choose hymns. The question is not what we may do. We may do anything we wish.  The question involves the very purpose of music in worship. 

Heart-felt worship is wonderful, but I would argue that nothing is more heart-felt to a repentant sinner than the Good News of God’s love in Christ, faithfully proclaimed in word and music.  What worshippers need is the Law (God’s condemnation of their sin) in all its severity and the Gospel (God’s free forgiveness of their sin for Christ’s sake) in all its comfort and sweetness in both word and music.  In the church, it is not enough to sing of God’s awesomeness or His majesty in a vague or generic way.  His awesomeness and majesty should be linked to His saving work in Christ. 

Pop music is employed in worship primarily for its sound, not for its clear proclamation of sin (our problem) and the Gospel (God’s solution to our problem).  The texts of many pop Christian songs are not bad in themselves.  It’s not what they say; it’s what they don’t say that makes them less than the best choice for Christian worship.  In a culture in which biblical illiteracy is a growing problem, can we afford music that does not clearly and explicitly proclaim Christ and His work?   

There has been an explosion of good hymn writing in recent years due to the growing popularity of the three-year lectionary.  More biblical texts and lessons are being set to music than ever before.  These hymns are more contemporary than many of the praise and worship songs popular today and they come from a variety of backgrounds—Roman Catholic and Protestant, African and Hispanic, to name but a few.   There is no lack of sing-able, Christ-centered material out there, but many in our churches are not aware of it because they are not being exposed to it.   

We may employ any music we wish in worship.  The question is: what music most clearly and explicitly proclaims the work of Christ?  Answering that question goes a long way toward providing clarity and unity in the church’s song.


The Bible was written to be read with your ears

Would you rather hear someone give a speech or read a transcript of it?

nullI think most of us would rather hear a speech and here’s why.

Oral communication tends to be more effective than written because it involves gestures, movement, rhythm, rhyme, and changes in tone that provide meaning and keep the hearer interested. 

Written words may be more precise, but spoken words have a more powerful effect. 

Spoken words can move you. 

A message delivered by a voice is more powerful than a written one. 

When God communicated with the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he spoke.

Moses gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai to speak God’s Word to them.

The spoken word is the original and essential form of the Gospel. 

Jesus went throughout Galilee proclaiming the good news, “The time has come.  The kingdom God is near.  Repent and believe the good news.”

God’s word was spoken before it was written, and it was written in order to be spoken.

The four gospels were circulated to be read aloud in early Christian worship services.

The Apostle Paul wrote his letters so that they might be read aloud in the churches.

God communicates with us through the ear rather than the eye.

The God of the Bible is one who speaks. 

Seeing is reserved for the life to come, not for this life.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face.”  

Again, Paul has written, How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

God can speak to you any way he wants, but ordinarily he will speak to you through those whom he has called and sent.

Spiritual growth and maturity come through the ear.

Be thankful for the written word of God, but do not use the written word as an excuse to ignore the preached word.  

I have heard others say, “I don’t have to attend worship services because I can always read my Bible at home.”   

Having a Bible is no guarantee that you will read it, and if you read it, you will learn that we are called to meet together.

No one is to be a stay-at-home Christian unless he or she is unable to attend, and then we go to them to speak God’s word.  

The Bible is a necessary record of what God has said, but the written word should always lead us into fellowship and discussions with others so that we encounter the word that is spoken. 

The written word of God is the measuring rod we use to guide our preaching and to determine the legitimacy of the preaching we hear.

Many of our biblical ancestors believed in God without any script.  They encountered the word of God by means of a voice, either directly from heaven or, more commonly, through a called individual. 

To encounter the word of God in its fullness, hear it proclaimed in a sermon or read aloud in a worship service or Bible study. contains many translations of the Bible which you can hear read aloud.

As author Eugene Peterson has noted, “There are still communities that get along without any written language, but none that survive without speech.”

Speech is that important.

Similarly, while the written word of God by itself has the power to convert and transform individuals, neither that individual nor the Christian community cannot survive without the spoken word. 

The Bible is widely available and should be studied daily, but it is better to read it aloud and hear it proclaimed in a public setting.

By God’s grace, that living voice will travel from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life.

Long ago, God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah, “My word that goes forth from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Are we alone in the universe?

The Bible is silent on the subject of extraterrestrial life, but many believers and unbelievers are not.null

“Exotheology” is the term used to describe the theological issues raised by the possibility of life on other planets, and it has become a hot topic in recent years. 

In light of the Bible’s silence, Christians may have a variety of opinions regarding alien beings, but those responses ought to reflect what Scripture does say about life in general. 

First, the heavens declare the glory of God.  The cosmos, and everything in it, bears witness to his majesty. 

Scripture reveals that God calls each of the stars, and each one of us, by name.      

He is the author of life in all of its forms.

Second, God has bound us to his word and his means of grace, but God himself is not bound. 

In other words, God is free to do and to create whatever he wants beyond what he has revealed to us in Scripture, but what he has revealed to us is what he calls us to hold fast and not abandon, for the life of the world and for the sake of all creation.

Third, the claims of Christianity are not earth bound, but cosmic in scope. 

Jesus died to redeem all creation, and if intelligent life is discovered elsewhere, our response would be the same as it has been down through the ages:  to evangelize, to share the love that God has revealed to us through the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.

Fourth, the belief that there has to be life on other planets is not based on observable evidence but on an unproven and unobserved assumption:  that life arises spontaneously from non-living matter. 

From that unproven assumption it is further assumed that since the universe is vast and the number of habitable planets is supposedly large, the odds are overwhelming that intelligent life exists outside our solar system.

But what if we start with a different assumption—an observable one--that life arises solely from life?  That ultimately points back to a Creator.   Since life would have to arise from his creative activity alone, it is just as logical to assume that intelligent life is limited to earth as it is to assume that it must exist throughout the universe.

Finally, there is the Fermi Paradox, named after physicist Enrico Fermi. 

The paradox is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of numerous advanced alien civilizations and the complete lack of evidence for the same.

At lunch in Los Alamos back in 1950, Fermi sat with other scientists discussing a cartoon in The New Yorker which showed cheerful aliens emerging from a flying saucer. 

That prompted Fermi to ask, “Where is everybody?” 

Based on the assumption that life arises from non-living matter, the universe should be teeming with evidence of other civilizations, many of them far more advanced than our own.

The Drake Equation, named after astronomer Frank Drake, predicts that the number of civilizations in our galaxy whose radio signals we might be able to detect would be in the thousands.

And yet, after decades of searching, we hear nothing. 

That does not mean that extraterrestrials do not exist; it means only that we have no evidence for their existence.

However, the existence of extraterrestrial life has become almost an article of faith among many in the scientific community. 

The belief that life must arise from non-life virtually requires the existence of extraterrestrials. 

The thought that we might be alone in the universe seems unbearable to some, and it points to a need deep within all of us, the need for transcendence, the longing for contact with someone or something beyond ourselves, which is really a religious need.

While we lack evidence of alien civilizations, there is strong evidence that we have been visited by someone not of this world, someone who loves each of us enough to have already initiated contact with us, not in a threatening way, but in a gracious, forgiving way.   

The Hebrew prophets predicted him, and he fulfilled their words by dying and rising from the dead.

He is as near as your Bible and he is as close as his people who gather every Sunday to hear his words spoken by faithful ministers. 

Perhaps we are not alone after all.

A Famine makes the heart grow hungry

A famine makes the heart grow hungry

Food that repels you when you are full suddenly becomes desirable, even necessary, when you are hungry. null

On a wilderness survival course many years ago, I was so famished that I could not wait to cook the rainbow trout I had caught, so I devoured it raw. 

America today is a land of abundance, and most of us have more than enough to eat, but we live in the midst of a spiritual famine—a famine of God’s Word. 

The prophet Amos spoke of such a time as this.

"The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD, "when I will send a famine through the land--not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. 

Notice that the famine is a lack of hearing God’s Word, which suggests that either it is not being spoken faithfully or, if it is spoken faithfully, it is being ignored.

In Amos’ day it was most likely both, as I believe it is now. 

God’s word is life itself, but when we reject it, God will withdraw it, allowing us to experience life apart from “the bread of life,” his life-sustaining Gospel.

Today the media, the education establishment, the entertainment industry and our own government banish and even disparage biblical truth or label it as bigotry.

Biblical truth is marginalized, if not forbidden, in the centers of power today. 

Yet that is not the greatest scandal.

Christian ministers self-censure in the public square, neglecting to pray in Jesus’ name or to speak his name at all in order to appear respectable and gain favor with the elites.

Even in so-called evangelical churches, much preaching today is about the Christian rather than the Christ, and important biblical themes such as God’s wrath and the Day of Judgment are avoided.      

Timothy George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School, writes that preachers today deal with God’s wrath the way the Victorians handled sex, treating it as shameful, embarrassing and best left in the closet.

Yet God’s wrath will not remain in a closet. 

It is already evident in the form of lawlessness--whether in our city streets or in our highest public offices.

The more you watch the evening news, the more famished you become, and the more you hunger for some word of comfort and for truth that is no longer spoken openly.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will not hunger.”

Jesus satisfies not just any heart, but the heart that seeks relief from the wrath and judgment of God.

Without God’s wrath, we will have no hunger for God’s mercy, and the cross, where God’s mercy is revealed, will have no appeal.

But for those who hunger for transcendent truth as well as the forgiveness of their sins, the table is set and the host invites. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Our unnatural way of marking time

You’ve probably heard of “The Monday Blues,” “Hump Day,” or “T.G.I.F.”  

They bear witness to the frustrations and joys known as the workweek, those five days in which we look forward to the weekend.   

But why should the week be seven days in length?   

Why not six days, or eight, or ten?

And why bother at all to measure time by the week? 

Organizing time into a seven-day unit is not only unnatural, it was also unknown to most of our ancestors.      

Ancient civilizations marked the passage of time in a variety of ways, but it was always connected to something happening in the sky—the daily sunrise and sunset, the monthly lunar cycle, and the annual revolution of the earth around the sun. 

The calendars of the ancient world are rooted in these regular manifestations of nature.

Measuring time by the week was unknown among most ancient civilizations because the concept of a seven-day unit of time corresponds to nothing at all in nature.

No astronomical events occur on a seven-day cycle.

And yet today, virtually every society conducts its business weekly, as well as daily, monthly and yearly.      

How did the week gain such status?

Answer:  the Bible.

The concept of a seven-day cycle was unique to ancient Israel and is enshrined in the opening chapters of Genesis.

The first three days of creation involve the creation of the various domains:  the sky, the earth, and the sea. 

The next three record the creation of those who will inhabit the domains:  sea creatures, birds, livestock and human beings. 

Finally we read, “On the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day from all the work he had done.”

The Israelite week is unnatural in that it is completely independent of the movement of the celestial bodies.

Since the nations other than Israel tended to worship the sun, moon, and planets, God’s imposition of an unnatural seven-day week upon Israel suggests that he is unique. 

He is above nature and he alone should be worshiped.

God’s rest on the seventh day would have far reaching implications for humanity in another way.

The New Testament picks up this theme of rest and applies it to the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

The creation week in Genesis finds its fulfillment in the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry when he entered Jerusalem to be crucified for the sins of the world. 

Laying down his life and finishing his work, Jesus then took his rest in the tomb on the seventh day before rising from death on Easter as the firstborn of the new creation. 

And just as God provided ancient Israel a day of rest from the burdens of labor, so God now provides eternal rest to all people who labor under the burden of sin and guilt.

This good news of forgiveness and freedom from condemnation is for all who put their faith in Jesus, and it went global.

The spread of Christianity enabled the worldwide success of the week.

The Roman Emperor Constantine officially adopted the seven-day week in AD 321.

Afterword, it spread to Arabia, to China, to India and beyond.     

Today, nearly all of the world’s population organize their time by the seven-day cycle which has no counterpart in nature, given by God who is above nature and first described in the biblical account of creation


Image result for church autism