Theology for all!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Beyond The Surface -- Rev Irvin Stapf, Christ Lutheran Germantown

 Don’t settle for surface comments, even mine!

 
An editorial recently printed in our Frederick newspaper asked the question, What is an American? It was by Fred Fransen, President of Huntington Junior College in W.Va. He pointed out that our country was founded on ideas or principles that have endured up until recent decades. It is again time for Dr. Fransen to take a hard look at those values.
 
It seems to me that this means looking beyond the surface declarations to the substance upon which declarations are made. This is what I was referring to last week on the issue of abortion rights which has become central in our current election cycle. I pointed out that several other moral issues precede the need to consider an abortion. This need to look beyond the surface is apparent, or should be, in most of what we hear and read.
 
I’ve said that my basis for writing is as a Christian seeking to base my judgments on the values and will of our Lord as understood through God’s Word in Holy Scripture. It is pointed out that much of Mr. Trump’s support is from a large block of Evangelical Christians. But again, this is a statement that needs to be examined.
 
An article in The Economist Weekly of March 2021 asked the question “What is an evangelical Christian?” After looking at recent history since Jimmy Carter’s presidency in 1976, the article noted that “white evangelicals have established themselves as America’s most cohesive and influential religious voting block. ... They have become “the bedrock of the Republican Party. After insisting throughout the 1990's that character mattered, and that Bill Clinton was morally unfit for the presidency, they threw their support behind Donald Trump, a thrice-married rake.” It was then asked, “So what do evangelical Christians really believe?”
 
A recent article in World magazine noted that “some Americans who self-identify as ‘evangelicals’ to pollsters do not actually attend church regularly. Increasingly, the term is used more in a “political, cultural sense than a theological church sense,” said political scientist Ryan Burge. He predicted these “cultural evangelicals” will make up about 12 percent of Trump’s self-identified evangelical voters in 2024. Others have said that they are willing to overlook Mr. Trump’s moral issues because he is the only one who can beat Mr. Biden.
 
Thomas Edsall of The New Times had an article entitled “The Deification of Donald Trump Poses Some Interesting Questions”. I’ll let the article’s title speak for itself. You can look it up on the internet if you care to. I’ve already declared my personal opposition to Mr. Trump for President. I’ve said enough about that and it is not my central issue. I’m looking at the shallowness of our evaluations and our need to stand firm on a foundation of well-considered values.
 
Jesus, on trial and standing before Pontius Pilate said, “I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38) That is our challenge, to determine what is the truth. I leave it with you to seriously consider. It is a very serious question and one that can lead to some personal sacrifice and pain. It certainly did for our Lord.
 
 
(Words we can trust: Jeremiah 18:1-6; 29:11; 31:3,
                  & above all Romans 8:38-39)
Irvin F. Stapf, Jr.
Pastor Emeritus
Christ Lutheran Church, TAALC
Germantown, Md. 
cell: 240-285-4472

Sony Walkman? -- Rev Irvin Stapf, Christ Lutheran, Germantown

 I am a grandfather and therefore about 40 years removed from raising our five children. But I still think a lot about that era and what my wife and I did with our kids. There were certain patterns in which both Audrey and I were raised, and certain values that we together felt were important. It was these values that guided our family life. I expect the same is pretty much true for other families of my generation. We could list several examples but I'd rather get to the central point at which I'm aiming.  The Walkman!

 
Of course, one has to be close to my generation to even remember what a Walkman is! They were a portable cassette tape player in the 1960s and '70s. Though they still exist but have graduated to playing CDs rather than tapes, and now even those are well outdated. In any event, it was a big thing with 1970s teens. They had headphones or earbuds and listened to their favorite music as loud as they wanted not bothering anyone else. But back to my parenting. 
 
I never allowed our kids to have a Walkman. I felt that it closed them in from the world and from others. I remember our vacations in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We would walk along the boardwalk, lots of people around, and many kids all in their own world. I know our children didn't like not having them. And it was not that their music was bad. It is just that when one is distracted in that manner they are not aware of, or more importantly looking for the beauty and interesting things around them in their present world. Or for that matter in conversations with those close by. 
 
Now move that image 30 or 40 years forward into our time and we can see how this has been multiplied many times over, and with adults included. I'm not opposed to technology. We are all immersed in it. It has its uses obviously, otherwise, I wouldn't be typing this on a laptop and sending it to you over the Internet. But I am opposed to those things that close us into ourselves apart from those around us, and make us unobservant of the beauty and interesting things in our world. ... Did you notice that little green sprout popping out of the ground in response to those few warmer winter days even when there was still some snow around?
 
Life has meaning. That life is around us all the time in the world God created. There is life in the clerk at the grocery store, and just maybe that clerk needs a bit of life that we might share with them. Life really doesn't come through a smartphone, but through one who learns that many things around us really are pretty neat, that that person really is important to me, and maybe I have a bit of life I can share with them.  Give it some thought. Life in this world God has given us really does have meaning.
 
 
 
(Words we can trust: Jeremiah 18:1-6; 29:11; 31:3,
                  & above all Romans 8:38-39)
 
Irvin F. Stapf, Jr.
Pastor Emeritus
Christ Lutheran Church, TAALC
Germantown, Md. 
cell: 240-285-4472

Monday, February 5, 2024

Politics-Rev Irvin Stapf, AALC

Observations on the American Political Climate

 

I have never gotten involved in politics except for my own voting preferences. But this year is different, at least in my making some comments about what is happening nationally. Our country is in total confusion and grabbing at straws, primarily because we have lost our central anchor point in our Judeo-Christian foundation. America has been the so called world leader, but we are now in a position where we don't even know how to lead ourselves. I know these are statements of an "old man" whose values are grounded in another era. I thank God for that, even though that other era was no utopia either. At least it didn’t have me submersed in an electronic screen, and it allowed me to use my imagination, look out at the world asking questions, and develop real relationship with people who became a part of me.

 

What does Make America Great Again mean? I wrote above that we have lost our central anchor point in our Judeo-Christian foundation. That doesn’t mean that we are not to allow other faiths to worship as they wish, but we have taken the whole aspect of inclusion to change the very foundation of our souls.

 

I can’t continue what I’m seeking to share by using veiled references to a candidate. I am totally opposed to Mr. Trump for President. But that doesn't mean I'm recommending another candidate. That's my own personal voting preference. Rather, I look at what is happening around our country in those promoting their favorite candidate.

 

Many have pointed out that President Trump appointed the conservative Supreme Court Justices who were the balance in overturning the legalization of abortion. For many the opposition to abortion has become a central determining issue. I’m opposed to abortion also, but there is far more to it than that. Abortion, presented as a women’s right over her own body, is only the end point of many other moral choices we’ve allowed to become normal and assumed values in today’s world. Consider the devaluation of marriage and family; an economy that requires the employment of both spouses in order to have the lifestyle they want; thus pushing off child bearing to a later age when it is more difficult or not at all; removing sexual intercourse from the bond of a covenant marriage and making it an assumed part of a longer term dating relationship; along with the easy availability of contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. The affects of all of these and more are seen throughout western society.

 

Mr. Trump is hardly an exemplary leader in areas of sex, marriage, and family. And while that is not a political leaders primary function, if they have not sought to govern their own life in these fundamental areas I am not going to look to them as a good national leader. Making America great is meaningless without a solid and consistent moral base.

 

An LA Times article questioned whether humans can survive democracy. A better question is whether democracy can survive fallen humanity. ..... “A democracy can only be sustained if informed citizens operate within a moral framework. This, in turn, requires an understanding of the world as it actually is, especially what it means to be human. Elected representatives who can’t distinguish good from evil, or “man” from “woman” can hardly be expected to enact policies that allow men and women to seek the good.”

 

There is much more to say about our need for good leadership, but one must not look only at narrow issues that seem to satisfy surface policies and only give the appearance security, prosperity, and a good life. 

 

 

(Words we can trust: Jeremiah 18:1-6; 29:11; 31:3,

         & above all Romans 8:38-39)

Irvin F. Stapf, Jr.

Pastor Emeritus

Christ Lutheran Church, TAALC

Germantown, Md. 

istapf@comcast.net

cell: 240-285-4472


Sunday, January 28, 2024

Sites I Like



Hey Team! It's ya boy Cam Swanson, right here on the Wittenberg Project! Check us out on YouTubeWittenberg Project YouTube, and feel free to email us here: projwittenberg@gmail.com. Just wanted to highlight some websites that I utilize. Check em' out! 

https://reformation500.csl.edu/

https://resources.lcms.org/

https://wels.net/

https://files.lcms.org/dashboard

https://online.nph.net/

https://www.lutheranrenewal.org/

https://www.projectwittenberg.org/

https://lutheracademy.com/lutheran-dogmatics/

https://weidnerinstitute.thinkific.com/

https://www.cph.org/





Thursday, January 18, 2024

Thoughts on Sin - Rev Irvin Stapf, Christ Lutheran AALC

 
Irvin F. Stapf, Jr.
Pastor Emeritus
Christ Lutheran Church, TAALC

Germantown, Md.  

Sin - now there is an interesting word to start a mid-week morning. But anyone who has read even parts of the Bible know the word and have some thoughts about what sin is. Sin calls attention to laws or values established by God. We don't relate it to civil laws. We don't say we have sinned when we go over a speed limit regulating traffic, or an error we've made in paying our taxes. No, to sin speaks of breaking a commandment we believe has been established by Almighty God. Even then we try to soften the word, just as we do with speed limits, by saying that what we did really isn't so bad, it was in the tolerance allowed by the speed camera's setting.

 
There is a lot more to sin than that. Sin is certainly a matter of violating the Ten Commandments, something we do that is against God's will. But sin is even more than that. Sin is part of our nature. In our Lutheran worship service the pastor begin by declaring, "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  The pastor then invites the congregation to take a few minutes in silent prayer to confess the individual sins our  Lord brings to mind. These are our individual known sins that we've committed against God during the past week.
 
We continue our prayer of confession saying, "Most Merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you by thought, word, and deed,  by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves." This is the second part of what sin is all about. It is who we are. It is our fallen nature. In the presence of Almighty God we can't just sluff this off with some excuses about everybody being the same, and anyhow God is loving and forgiving. Yes, both are true, but they are not a "get out of jail free" card. 
 
The words that follow in our prayer of confession hit me very hard when I have to say them. I understand the reality of their truth. "We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment." Sin is what I do, and also part of my nature in rebellion against my Creator and Lord. I cannot escape this with any excuses or self-justifications. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" St. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23. It was St. John who declared "if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not is us."(I John1:8)  It is the truth that we have inherited our sinful nature from the rebellion of our first parents. (Genesis 3) This rebellion from God explains so much of what we see continually in the evils of the world around us. There is no other ultimate explanation and there is nothing mankind can do about it.
 
However, our Sunday's liturgical confession doesn't stop with our deserving eternal punishment. We appeal to the mercy of our God.  "For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will nd walk in your ways to the glory of your holy name. Amen."
 
It is then that we are able to hear from our pastor God's gracious words. "Almighty God in his mercy has given his Son to die for you and for his sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
 
There is no sluffing off. No self justification. No excuses. No confessing one little sin and being done with it. We fall humbly before the mercy of Almighty God and come to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ where alone we are assured that our just condemnation before God has been paid. Our debt is satisfied. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."(Romans 8:1) What else can we say to that but "Thanks be to God."
 
Yes, we will sin again. Yes, our human nature is to rebel against our Creator. But because of the depth of God's love He has provided the way for us to come to Him in the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The sentence of eternal separation has ben satisfied. We are able to serve God and others in the love of God given to us in Jesus Christ. AMEN.  
 
 
 
(Words we can trust: Jeremiah 18:1-6; 29:11; 31:3,
                  & above all Romans 8:38-39)

Friday, January 12, 2024

Back At It!

 Greetings in 2024!! 


     I'm excited to announce that I'll be back blogging, podcasting and producing content for the Wittenberg Project blog and podcast. Stay tuned!


Cam 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

HAVE NO FEAR Matthew 10:5a, 21-33 Sermon

 

Predictions, projections, and best guesses—everyone likes to state what they think the future will hold. Meteorologists forecast the daily weather, sports journalists predict the outcome of a championship series, pollsters project the probable winner of an election, news commentators declare the direction of the nation, and futurists explain what the world will be like a few decades hence. In addition, our daily conversations are sprinkled with future talk: “Who do you think will win?” “What are your retirement plans?” “What will your son do after graduation?” Often these amateur prophecies are not fulfilled exactly as stated: Partly sunny turns into a downpour, the underdog becomes an upset victor, a technological breakthrough changes the way we live, and an unexpected event alters our plans. With biblical prophets, the story reads quite differently. Inspired by God, each of their predictions would come true, in exact detail. The Gospel of Matthew provides amazing examples of the power and accuracy of God’s prophets who had foretold the coming of the Messiah. From his humble birth by a virgin (see Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2), to his crucifixion (see Psalm 22:14, 16–17) with criminals (see Isaiah 53:12) and resurrection from the dead (see Psalm 16:10), Jesus did what the prophets had predicted—he fulfilled every prophecy and fit every description of the Jewish Savior. As you read this Gospel, follow the dramatic story, predicted in detail centuries before, of Jesus, the Messiah, King of kings and Lord of lords … and your Savior too.


Bruce B. Barton, Matthew, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), x–xi.

Matthew 10:1-33

English Standard Version

10 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans



Christ told his disciples to go to the Jews first with the Gospel. 


This doesn’t mean that Christ was only giving the Gospel to the Jewish people. It just meant that moment in time in Jesus’ ministry, he wanted the Gospel preached to his cultural group first. 


Today, that causes me to think.  Here in this church, it’s easy to assume that everyone has a complete grasp on the gospel message. It’s easy to assume that our Lutheran, Christian group gets it. But do you realize that as Christians, we need the Gospel just as much as non-believers do? Do you think here in America that Christians understand the Gospel? I believe there is tremendous confusion even in our churches about who Jesus is, what he accomplished, and why it matters. I believe we have to have a clear understanding of the Gospel before we can go out and preach it. Because make no mistake, the pure Word of God will challenge and create a reaction in those who hear it. I do not believe you can be a Christian in today’s world and escape some kind of persecution for your faith. This is why Christ tells us to be both wise and innocent. We are in a world where Christianity is becoming more and more hated. But have no fear. Jesus has us covered. 

Persecution Will Come – 

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.


Sheep/Wolves

Serpents/doves

Get flogged, dragged before leaders

Don’t be nervous; the Spirit will speak through you.

Families will betray each other

All will hate you because of Christ

Endure to the end to be saved. 

Leave if you are persecuted. 

Israel still needs the Gospel.

A disciple is not above his teacher, but may be like his teacher. 

If they called Jesus the devil, what will they call you? 



Jesus likens the enemies of the Gospel to ravenous wolves. That is serious language that we should not be taken lightly.  Then he says that we should be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. I know that there is the serpent in the Garden, but in the Eastern parts of the world, serpents are revered for their wisdom and intelligence. I married a Chinese woman; serpents are respected in their culture. We have to be cunning and pure to make it in this world. We’re gonna get persecuted. Today, all around the world, Christians are being martyred, thrown in jail, they’re having their property confiscated, all these things. Families are turning on each other. In many cults and other religions, family members will in fact disown you or turn you in to authorities if you convert to Christianity. And that’s getting off easy. Jesus predicted the utter hatred the world will have for us. But the Spirit of God will give us boldness and wisdom to speak in front of people, wisdom that the world cannot contradict (Luke 10:10). But those that endure will be saved. Remember this Christian walk is a marathon. Maybe an ultramarathon. Jesus also said to expect opposition, but don’t foolishly throw our lives away. If we are persecuted in one location, it’s okay to leave. Jesus said that he would never be beneath us, but we could be like him. Now if we are like him, and they called Jesus the devil, of course people will say horrible things about us. But have no fear. Jesus is near. 

Now what did Jesus mean by saying that the disciples would not go through all the towns in Israel before the Son of Man came?  Because of the events of the book of Acts, it seems more likely that Jesus was referring to events after his resurrection. The meaning of his words would be that the task of the mission to the Jews would be so great and so difficult (for many would refuse to believe) that it would not be accomplished even by the time of his second coming.


Bruce B. Barton, Matthew, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 209–210.


It’s hard sometimes to see Christ being near us when we are being persecuted. Since the time of Jesus, his followers have endured some of the most horrible atrocities. 


Besides being put to death they [Christians under Nero’s persecution] were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clad in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified; others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night. Tacitus, Roman historian

Bruce B. Barton, Matthew, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 208.


Hebrews tells us in chapter 11 Verses 35-38 Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.


This is referring to a lot of the saints of the Old Testament, but in Jesus’ time and after his time ,the church faced horrible persecution from the Romans.  And today, many Christians are still being martyred. But Jesus tells us to have no fear.

Have No Fear

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.


Don’t fear the authorities. 

The covered will be revealed, the hidden will be known

Repeat what I say in the dark in the light

Proclaim what is whispered on the housetops.

Don’t fear those who have no say over your immortal soul. 

No sparrow falls without the Father.

Our hairs are numbered.

Acknowledge Me; I’ll Acknowledge You.

Deny me; I’ll deny you.  



Christ is describing the great love that the Father has for us. He says that everything that is done to us as his believers will be revealed and exposed to the light. Christ says, we cannot fear those who have no immortal hold on us. Why should we be afraid of them? Even the sparrows don’t fall from trees without the Father being there. And if our hairs our numbered, how can we doubt the incredible love which the Father, Son and Spirit all have for us? 




For one thing, Jesus never commands us to meet insults with more insults. 


STICKS AND STONES Jesus was accused of being Beelzebub, and he told his followers to expect the same treatment. Words are powerful weapons, and Jesus’ disciples can count on hearing a good number of bad ones slung at them. When you’re the victim of intimidation or slander, keep your cool. Jesus took those knocks too. Instead of getting testy, try laughing a little, and if that doesn’t quiet the name-calling, try a solid, forthright, clear-eyed comeback such as, “Would you please stop? That hurts, and it’s not true.” Trading insult for insult is never Jesus’ way.


Bruce B. Barton, Matthew, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 210.


WHEN BAD NEWS COMES During the Vietnam war, the worst sight in the world (State-side) was two dress uniforms walking up to a door. It meant a casualty at that house, and many tears were shed at those doorsteps. Bad news comes. People without an anchor—without God—are shaken to the foundations. Grief strikes us all with bitter arrows, but God’s people rest in hope, respond with courage, and live on by faith. God’s care for each of us is greater than the enemy’s hatred. Grieve when bad news comes, but don’t fear. Have No Fear. 


Bruce B. Barton, Matthew, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 212.


It has never ceased to amaze me that we Christians have developed a kind of selective vision which allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities and yet almost totally pagan in the day-in, day-out guts of our business lives … and never realize it. Keith Miller


Bruce B. Barton, Matthew, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 213.


Folks, we can trust in the goodness of Jesus Christ, even in the face of persecution. With Christianity being more and more marginalized, we can know that the hairs of our heads are still numbered, and the Lord has our back, always.