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Jesus: Our Brother, Our Savior, Our Lord

Yesterday, the Son of Man traded places with the son of the father (bar Abbas) so that we may wear the Father’s robe and live in His kingdom. Tomorrow Jesus does what all the big brothers of Scripture failed to do….  He completes the work God sent Him to do — to seek and to save we who are/were lost — the younger rules over the elder.  And yet Christ is both Adam’s younger brother, both being in the flesh sons of God, and His older brother, being begotten of God before all eternity.  And if you look at the track record of brothers in the Bible, you see the theme of older/younger played out.  Cain killed Abel.  Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, and chosen by God over Ishmael.  Jacob ruled over Esau, taking his birthright.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.  Yet it was Joseph who saved his brothers from starvation.  And David, Israel’s second and greatest king, was the youngest brother chosen by God over all of his brothers and anointed by Samuel.  Are you starting to see the pattern?

Jesus, the firstborn of the resurrection, came in the flesh to live among us.  God often told His children, “If you obey me and do all the things I have commanded, I will be your  God and you will be my people.  I will come to you and make my dwelling place among you.”  Well, we chased him away through our sin, our idol worship, and self-indulgence.  So He sent His Son, His one and only Begotten Son, to make us His people once again.  He sent our Big Brother after us to drag us out of the bars, brothels, wars, movie theaters, sports arenas, fast boats, fast cars, fast planes, internet, hotels, motels, highways, homes, gutters, jails, pits, darkness, blindness.  He sent Jesus to get us and bring us home.  And Jesus gave up His birthright as the first born from before creation, not counting equality with God something to be grasped, in order to bring us home.  He traded His life for ours, so that we may wear the white robe of righteousness, the robe of children of God, and stand with Him in His kingdom.  And because of the work of Christ, Jesus calls us friends.  He can call us that because He has entrusted to us as part of our inheritance, the work that God gave Him to do.  And so now, because Jesus has overcome death, because He has given us life, we are able to carry out the work of Christ on earth as His hands and feet.

The Gospels do not spend much time at the empty tomb.  In fact, the angels tell the disciples and the women who seek Christ at the tomb, you will not find Him here.  But Jesus always told His disciples to find Him at the Cross, for that is where we truly and finally meet Him.  The empty tomb remains our hope for eternal life, and our symbol of new life.  But it is a life that requires us to be as Jesus, and go after our little brothers and sisters and bring them home.  And we do that by taking up the Cross and bringing Christ to them.

Have a blessed, joyous, happy Easter.  He is Risen!

O Emmanuel — God is With Us

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, hope of the nations and their saviour: come and save us, O Lord our God.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

O Emmanuel,
Rex et legifer noster,
expectatio gentium,
et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos,
Domine, Deus noster.

O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.

Reflections on the Proclamation of the Gospel and the Reformation

The Reformation of the Church, ignited in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of the Theses on Indulgences, is and always has been about the proclamation of the pure Gospel as set forth in sacred Scripture.  The “Treasury of Daily Prayer,” from Concordia Publishing House had as part of the readings for today a paragraph from Martin Luther’s sermon on John 1:29 – Behold the Lamb of God.  The pure Gospel, as Lutherans and orthodox Christendom proclaims it – we have strayed from time to time from this proclamation – is and always has been Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.  It is not an intellectual concept that can be grasped by man with his own faculties.  Instead it is something that can only be received by faith, for faith, through faith.  For Christ draws us into His story of the cross.  His story becomes our story.  His life, our life.  His death, our death.  His resurrection, ours too.  His freedom, our freedom.  For if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.  It is our eternal hope, and a promise to which must cling.  It is Christ Himself.

I give thanks to God for the faithful who have gone before us to pave the way for the freedom we have in Christ.  He gives His saints the courage to stand before kings and princes, in the face of great persecution to bear witness to the hope we have in Christ.  I give thanks to God that He used Martin Luther “to hatch the egg that Erasmus laid,” and I pray that you do too.  If you have not read any of Luther’s sermons, you should.  Do not form your opinions of Lutherans on any crass opinions you have heard about Luther’s physical infirmities, or other fantastic insights into his psyche.  Instead, read what he has to say for he points to Christ.

In the Sermon on John 1:29, Luther reflects on John’s proclamation of the Christ who approached the river Jordan to be baptized:  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Here Luther gives the Gospel, the pure Gospel proclamation of Christ:

May you ever cherish and treasure this thought. Christ is made a servant of sin, yea, a bearer of sin, and the lowliest and most despised person. He destroys all sin by Himself and says: “I came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the monks stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me.

Such benefactions of God might well provoke us to love and to laud God and to celebrate this service in song and sermon and speech. It should also induce us to die willingly and to remain cheerful in all suffering. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin, yes, with the sin and the death of the entire world! He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.” No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God. And who would not gladly die for Christ’s sake? The Son of Man performs the basest and filthiest work. He does not don some beggar’s torn garment or old trousers, nor does He wash us as a mother washes a child; but He bears our sin, death, and hell, our misery of body and soul. Whenever the devil declares: “You are a sinner!” Christ interposes: “I will reverse the order; I will be a sinner, and you are to go scotfree.” Who can thank our God enough for this mercy?

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Jn 1:29). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1999).

Moses and the Plagues, Sunday School Lesson, October 30, 2011

Exodus 5-10

Click to hear the Issues, Etc. discussion of this week’s Sunday School lesson with Deaconess Pam Nielsen.

This week we enter into the story of God’s redemption of Israel from out of the bondage of slavery into which it had fallen in the land of Egypt.  God planted Joseph in Egypt to preserve his family.  In the great famine that plagued the world for seven (7) years, all people were drawn to the land of Egypt, and to Joseph who was placed in charge of the land by Pharaoh working as God’s chosen instrument.  God used Pharaoh in this way to make Himself known to Joseph’s family, especially his brothers.  God once again uses Pharaoh to make Himself known.  This time, however, it is to reveal Himself by His name, יהוה (yhwh) to all the world.  For He is the God who kills to and makes alive, He wounds and heals.  He is the one and only God, beside Him there is no other in all the world.  Deuteronomy 32:39.  And in using Pharaoh, God hardens his heart, that is God gives him courage and strength in opposition to Moses’ request.  Exodus 9 tells of the plague of boils, oozing, horrible sores that afflicted man and beast throughout the land of Egypt.  Until now, it was Pharaoh who had changed his mind, becoming more and more resolved not to let Israel go.  Yet this time, the plague of boils affects even Pharaoh.  The text does not tell us if he actually received the sores.  It does tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not that Pharaoh hardened his own.  The plague must have touched Pharaoh in some way to at least cause him to waver a bit.  Yet God would have none of it.  He would make his NAME known in all the world, that there is one God and one God only, and He would make it know through these slaves in the land of Egypt.

This is a strange work, foreign to the nature of God.  To think that He would actually turn someone against His divine Will in order to reveal His name and who He is to the world.  And yet, to make us alive, God must first kill us.  Death and sin and killing were caused by man’s rejection of the Word of God, by our disobedience to His command.  So God hardening the heart of Pharaoh should not seem so difficult to grasp.  For He uses man as He is, sinful, opposed to God, and gives him over to his own sinfulness to wallow in it.  See Romans 1.  Sometimes God acts with us as He does with Pharaoh, hardening his heart even more than Pharaoh had done for himself.  In our stubbornness, we refuse to heed His Word, rejecting it and steeling our hearts and minds in opposition to it.  For we want to be in control of our own destiny, our own lives.  God uses this stubbornness and opposition against us, gives us over to it.  Sin is heaped upon sin until man is broken despairs of his own ability.  And yet, all the while, God is at work using His Word to turn us to Him, to bring us to our knees in solemn repentance, begging for mercy, for forgiveness.

Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get our attention as in the case of Pharaoh.  It shocks our consciences and senses to think that a good and gracious God would give us over to evil and to our own sin.  It does not comport with our darkened sense of goodness and justice.  And yet, because of our sin that has turned us completely away from Him, God works on us in ways that are strange and alien to His nature and to who He is.   To we who are dead in trespasses and sin, God’s work seems wrong. For His nature is mercy and love.  He is the God of creation, who creates and gives life.  And yet when He kills, he does not take our lives away — He uses it to create new life within us.  So what seems bad to us is God working on us for our good.   And the suffering of the plagues of sin that we must endure is something good, for it disciplines us, corrects and rebukes us, and turns us back to God and, as we will see next week, the Cross of Christ.

 

 

Joseph Rises to Second in Command to Feed Egypt and the World, Sunday School Lesson, October 2, 2011

Joseph made ruler in Egypt

Image via Wikipedia

Genesis 40-41

Click here to listen to the Issues Etc. interview with Tom Nummela of Concordia Publishing House.

This week’s Sunday School lesson focuses on Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams.  While he was in jail, two key persons in the Pharaoh’s service, his baker and cupbearer, were jailed because Pharaoh became angry with them.  Both had dreams while in prison.  Joseph was given the meaning of their dreams by God, and the interpretations came to pass — the cupbearer was restored to his position and the baker was executed.  The cupbearer soon forgot about Joseph as he went about the service of his master, the Pharaoh of Egypt.  After two years had passed, Pharaoh was troubled by some dreams.  He called together the magicians and wise men of Egypt, and no one could interpret them.  It was at this time that the cupbearer remembered Joseph.  He was brought before Pharaoh and was given by God the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams — 7 years of plenty, and 7 years of famine throughout Egypt and the world.  Pharaoh made Joseph the second in command, in charge of all Egypt

From the very pit of despair and humiliation, God raised Joseph, at the right time, to feed the people placed in his care as well as the known world at that time.  41:57 tells us that the famine was so severe that all the world came to buy grain from Egypt.  The story of Joseph is a story of the Christ whom God sent into the world to save mankind and to feed all those who come to him not with food for the belly, but with the bread of life.  This story also shows how God cares and provides for you and for me.  Joseph held fast to the hope that God would deliver him from this prison, that he would preserve and protect his life.  Joseph did not become bitter or curse God, and God did not forsake him.  Joseph confessed the truth of God in the very presence of the Pharaoh.  And God raised Joseph up to be the second in command, to sit at the right hand of Pharaoh, the father of Egypt.  Not because of what Joseph did or the confession he made, but because God’s plan for salvation had been working since before Joseph was sold in slavery in Egypt.

God took what was low and humble, and made him great.  Such is the work of our God, to create life from nothing, to make hope out of despair.  And we, like the magicians and wise men, are powerless in these divine matters.  And we can sit in awestruck wonder, and sing vague songs about God’s majesty and awesome power and love and how it makes me feel and seek that experience and encounter with the divine in some sort of mystical union with God, or we can take heed and listen to the Word He gives us that HE is at work in your life for you in Christ, providing, protecting, and preserving your very life.  Not so that you can stand before Him as He is in His full Majesty and Divine power and Glory, but so that you can live here in this world, today, carrying the Cross as a disciple of Christ, taking Christ to the world.

Be “Authentically Christian”

The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren posted Pope Benedict’s remarks at The Augustinian Cloister where Martin Luther became and served as an Augustinian monk.  The Pope has a keen eye for Lutheran Theology, and, as some of the comments to McCain’s post suggests, BXVI knows our theology better than a lot of Lutherans out there.  Benedict observes that Christianity as we know it is changing dramatically.  Despite the fallenness of this world, the sin and depravity, even among Christians the primary question is no longer “How do I receive the grace of God?”  And yet, as it was for Luther, this question needs to be the question of our time:

The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Christocentric means Christ centered.  Martin Luther, and orthodox Lutherans that follow his example, preach the cross — Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification and the redemption of the world.  It is clinging to the cross and, as Paul teaches, seeking to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.  It is living your life in the shadow of death under the cross with the present reality of serving in the kingdom of God and His Christ as a son or daughter, bought with that life giving blood.  Being Christ centered means not abandoning the cross so as not to offend so-called seekers or visitors.  It means not hiding who you are so as not to turn people away.  For if we do, we abandon the very source of the Grace of God and the life giving power of the blood of our Savior.  And yet every ounce of our being as Christians should be dedicated to knowing Christ and Him crucified so that He can live and accomplish His saving work through us as His hands and feet in this fallen world.  Jesus will accomplish His work with or without me, and in spite of me and any obstacle I throw in the way.

Pope Benedict observes that Christ and His cause is the source of what we have in common as Christians.  He is the beginning and end of our faith and heritage.  This common witness to Christ is what has enabled Christians across denominational lines to make ecumenical progress toward unity.  Sadly, however, the impetus to water down Christianity, to remove the moorings of Christian denominations from the Body of Christ as grounded in time and space of this reality in which we live, the willingness to compromise doctrine in order to achieve so-called unity risks any ecumenical progress accomplished to date:

The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.

The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.

The task for Christians in any age of this world, as Benedict points out, is always to bring the person and work of Christ into our present reality.  Christ is a reality who is present and active in this world.  He is not merely an idea from a book.  Nor is He simply a historical fact or a mythical figure.  No person, idea, or thing has made such an enduring impression on this world and its inhabitants — ever!  God in the flesh made manifest for us to restore this fallen world and fallen humanity to a right relationship with Him — the Triune God.  Christ entered this world to bring truth and certainty to man, to bring light to the darkness brought on by our doubt and sin.   And yet we deny Christ when we say that to be a Christian is to know nothing, that all each of us has are questions, questions that lead us each, individually, to seek and find our own way.  Claiming to be wise, we become fools.  Even in the church.  Benedict’s point here seems to be that the roots of faith must be laid deep, nourished and fed so that we live it out to its fullest.  Put another way, we are so deeply rooted and steeped in the faith handed down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles, that it makes us who we are called to be — carriers of Christ in this world.  Lights shining in the darkness, pointing to the cross.

So what is the Question of our time?  Are we concerned with what God’s position is toward us individually?  Or are we more concerned with standing before Him on our own two feet to experience something?  Is the question of our time here and now how can we make Christianity be “authentic” or “relevant” in the culture of today?  Or is the question, “What does Christ mean to take up your cross and follow me?”  What does it mean to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified?  Who is Jesus?  My buddy?  My friend?  My coach?    In our zeal for being relevant, do we sacrifice the reality of who Christ is and what He did in the past and accomplishes now in the present through His disciples?  I think it is a call to be “authentically Christian” or  really be a Christian — be who Christ called you and me to be.

Remembrance of Zechariah and Elizabeth

Today is the remembrance of Zachariah and Elizabeth, father and mother of John the Baptist. From the “Commemorations Biographies,” Lutheran Service Book, LCMS Commission on Worship:

Zachariah and Elizabeth were “righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Zechariah, a priest in the Jerusalem temple, was greeted by the angel Gabriel, who announced that Zechariah and Elizabeth would become parents of a son. Initially Zechariah did not believe Gabriel’s announcement because of their old age. For his disbelief Zechariah became unable to speak. After their son was born, Elizabeth named her son John. Zechariah confirmed his wife’s choice, and his ability to speak was restored. In response he sang the Benedictus, a magnificent summary of God’s promises in the Old Testament and a prediction of John’s work as forerunner to Jesus (Luke 1:68–79). Zechariah and Elizabeth are remembered as examples of faithfulness and piety.

[From “Commemorations Biographies,” Lutheran Service Book, LCMS Commission on Worship]

The Action of a People — Leitourgia and the Lord’s Supper

Liturgy.  It is a word despised.  Tradition.  Your mom and dad’s Oldsmobile.  That stuffy old stodgy worship, filled with the “Thees” and “Thous” of Ye Olde Englishe, days of yore gone by and passed beyond our present contemporary expression.  Stiff and wooden, the organ plays, reminding us of the wooden teeth of old George Washington.  Days gone by, no longer relevant.  We are sleeker.  Cutting edge.  No longer do multiple melodies reign in music.  It is the thumping base…  driving rhythms of the bass guitar…  the sultry voice…  moving….  pulsing… pounding…  it is energy…

Liturgy… repetition… you speak, we respond…  ordered…  formal…  stuffy…  it does not speak to me.  it is hard to understand.  “make haste o God to deliver me.”  but, i need to experience God, feel His presence…  if i do not feel, experience for myself, it is not real…  your tradition, i cannot relate to it…. your truth does not speak to my experience… i need it to be relevant.

We fear what we do not know.  Reject what is outside of our experience.  Yet we seek connection, common understanding….  we look for points where we can come together…  do not turn me away from the table of the Lord…  we commune together, despite our differences…  Leitourgia.

“‘Liturgy’ is the name given ever since the days of the apostles to the act of taking part in the solemn corporate worship of God by the ‘priestly’ society of christians, who are ‘the Body of Christ, the church.’  The Liturgyis the term which covers generally all that worship which is officially organised by the church, and which is open to and offered by, or in the name of, all who are members of the church.”  Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy.

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The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

I have been basking in the glow of the Ascension of Christ and meditating on the mystery of this God-Man who has received all authority in heaven and in earth from God the Father.  He now sits at the right hand of power, and reigns and rules over all creation and heaven as the only begotten Son of the Father.  The right hand is not located in time and space, but transcends it.  It is a mystery how this right hand of power can be at the same time in heaven, yet everywhere.  For Christ cannot be truly God and man if He is limited in time and space.  He would not then be part of the economy of the Trinity, being less than the Father and the Spirit.  No, he IS truly God and truly Man, fully human.  John describes this God Man, the risen and ascended Christ in his vision in the book of Revelation.  Christ lives and rules and reigns in through and among us.  To Him be all glory and honor and and power forever and ever!  Amen!

Vision of the Son of Man

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord — Sunday School Lesson, May 1, 2011

The Marys, Peter and John the beloved disciple.  All go to the empty tomb the morning after the Sabbath.  The first day of the week.  A new week.  The angels tell them, “Jesus is not here;  you will not find Him in a tomb.”  The tomb is empty.  There is nothing there but messengers.  Heavenly messengers relaying a message from the risen Christ.  They go away despondent, not understanding that our God is the God of the living.  Christ cannot be found in the tombs of the dead.  He leads us from death to life.  New life for all who follow Him.

The disciples go about their lives.  They are met on the road to Emmaus and do not recognize Him.  Christ, however, opens their eyes and makes Himself known to them in the Word and in the Sacrament, the breaking of the bread.  He reveals Himself to the 10 and then to the 11 apostles.  Behind closed doors.  In a locked room.  Christ makes Himself known to them, and He makes Himself known to us.  He is risen.  Christ is alive.  He makes us alive too.

Click here to listen to Deaconess Pam Nielsen of Concordia Publishing House discuss this week’s Sunday School Lesson on Issues, Etc.