Concordia Classical Academy

2101 Lor Ray Drive, North Mankato, MN 56003 • 507.388.4336

pastor becker | Concordia Classical Academy

Pigs at the Manger

Pigs at the Manger.

In the Christmas Children’s Christmas service there was a pig at the manger. There was a dog too. The youngest children were dressed as animals gathered around the manger in the stable.

Now, a Bible scholar can tell you that it is historically inaccurate for pigs to be at the manger. Old Testament regulations designate pigs as “unclean” animals that are not kosher to eat. No pigs would have been allowed anywhere near Bethlehem. It was the height of shame that the prodigal son, when he had gone to a far country and squandered his inheritance was reduced to tending pigs. It was on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, in Gentile territory, that Jesus cast a legion of demons out of a man into a herd of pigs. How fitting for both of them.

But, theologically, how fitting that there should be a pig at the manger, because that is exactly why Jesus was born. Jesus came to be with those who are spiritually unclean, filthy pigs like us. He came to live with us and to die for us so that we can be made clean by his unlimited grace and forgiveness. Because Jesus was born, we are all welcome not only at his manger but at his banqueting table in heaven. Peter, before he was invited to the home of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, saw a vision of a sheet full of unclean animals such as pigs and was told to eat them. As a good Jewish boy, he refused, but was puzzled by the vision until he realized that it God was telling him something not about pigs but people. He realized, as he told Cornelius, that “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation.” (Acts 10:34-35)

But what about the dog at the manger? Dogs were considered unclean and excluded from Jewish areas as well. The Gentile woman at Sidon knew what Jesus meant when he responded to her request for help, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26) But she also was right when she said that the little dogs get to eat the crumbs from the table. God wants his children to share his blessings with others.

There is an old fable about a dog in a manger who has no desire to eat the cow’s hay but growls and keeps the cow from it because he like to lay there. A “dog in a manger” is one who keeps from others what is intended for them but doesn’t make use of it themselves. As Christians, we are not to be a dog in the manger with God’s word and the good news of the Gospel which God intends for everyone. If we want to keep it to ourselves, it is a sign that we are spiritually asleep and don’t really understand what God’s word is for. It is for sharing with everyone.

This is why everyone is welcome at our Lutheran school.

Life for the Dead

Don't let your young children see this article. It is about
zombies. You may know that Zombies is the theme and name of a new hit
movie. You also know that "zombies" are people who are dead, but they are
still walking around and doing things as if they were alive. (OK, kids, if
you are reading this, there is no such thing as real zombies!)

But, the Bible says, there really are people who are the living
dead. This is why Jesus told Nichodemus, "You must be born again." (John
3:7) Paul writes to those who have been born again, "You were dead in
trespasses and sins." (Eph. 2:1) People who are physically alive, walking
around and doing things, are spiritually dead on the inside without faith in
Jesus. James writes, "Faith without works is dead," (James 2:26) but the
opposite is also true. The world is full of zombies. Even churches are
full of zombies, even though they usually don't look like zombies until some
temptation trips them and they fall flat because they don't know what to do.

Zombies in the movies go around doing bad things, like killing other
people to turn them into more zombies. Spiritual zombies may do bad things,
but may also do a lot of good things, at least things that appear to be
good, but they don't do them for the right reasons. They may do them
because it makes other people like them or because it makes them like
themselves or because they think it will make God like them. But the only
reason that makes us do real good things is that we are already made to be
good people, living people, by God's grace which makes us righteous by
giving us Jesus' forgiveness through faith in him.

So, how do you get rid of zombies? It is only by baptizing them and
teaching them what God has done for us through Jesus. God's Word, by the
work of the Holy Spirit, is what causes faith and so gives real life, life
that will last forever.

This is why Lutheran schools don't just teach children to be good.
They don't just teach good Christian and moral values. Oh, they do teach
this, because God's law tells us what it is to do good. But Lutheran
schools teach much more than "do this" and "don't do that." Lutheran
schools constantly teach about what Jesus has done for us with his life,
death, and resurrection from the dead. This is the only way we can be truly
good and the only way we can be made alive. This is how, when we die,
instead of turning into zombies, we return to real life again.

Good Shepherd Fields

Several acres of land around Good Shepherd Lutheran School are planted to grass for use as youth soccer fields known as "Good Shepherd Fields". We have a contract with Mankato United Soccer Club, which maintains the fields in return for their use, along with our church and school. The grass was seeded and began to grow last fall, but also needed to be "overseeded" to so the grass would more quickly grow thickly and be ready for service as a ball field.

Good Shepherd Lutheran School is like Good Shepherd Fields. What is sown here is the Word of God in the hearts and minds of students. Many have already had God's Word sown in them at home and on Sundays and it has begun to grow. But there is great value in the "overseeding" that happens every day in school. This helps the students grow stronger in their faith so that they are ready for the "heavy traffic" of Christian service to others in their community.

In Mark 4:26-34, Jesus tells two parables about the growth of seed, illustrating the work of God's word. In the first, he notes that it grows by itself and in stages, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain and then the harvest. The first point is that God's word works. We don't need to wonder if it is worth the effort of sowing it or if it will really make a difference. It certainly will. But we don't see the results all at once. It may take a while to see signs of faith and then the fruits of faith in life. It is God's job to make it grow, but it is our job to be sure we keep planting it generously and to be ready to go into the harvest fields as soon as God sends for the sickle.

In the next parable, Jesus speaks of the tiny mustard seed, which grows into the largest garden plant with branches where the birds make nests. The point here is that the kingdom of God, those in whom God's word grows, makes a difference in the world. Several Old Testament prophets picture kingdoms as trees that give food and shelter for birds and animals. This is a way of saying these kingdoms provide benefits for various groups of people. The kingdom of God is not a "tree", a political kingdom, but nevertheless has an impact out of proportion to its size. Jesus' word may have seemed "tiny" compared to the powerful words of Roman rulers or wise words of Greek philosophers of the time but have outlasted and out grown them. The people of God's kingdom now provide "shade", that is, help, protection, shelter, comfort, etc. to many others in their communities and around the world.

As the grass planted on Good Shepherd Fields around our school provide a benefit to others in our community, the seed of God's word planted in the hearts of students in our school prepares them to have increasing and enduring faith and also to serve in ways that benefit others.

Juggling

Picture yourself going through a school lunch line. You are handed a carton of milk. Then you are handed an orange, then a sandwich. Your hands are getting full, so you shift the milk to the crook of your arm. You are handed a bowl of soup. You are handed a spoon and napkin. You stick that in your pocket. Then you are handed a tray. "-Aargh!" you may think, "I can’t hold any more!" Of course, the tray is not one more thing to hold. It is what will help you hold everything else. If you went through the line the right way, you would have gotten that first.

We are used to juggling many things that demand our time, energy and attention in life. We have family relationships, our health, our job, etc. All of these things are important and are gifts from God. Our church and religious faith may seem like one more thing to add to this teetering pile. Actually, God intends for it to be not another obligation but the tray that holds together all of his other gifts in life for us.

There are other things people try to use as their tray. Some see science as the answer to our problems, so this may be the "template" that determines what we try to hold on to, how it fits into our life and how everything is taught in school. Some may see relationships as the primary starting point, so the emphasis is on getting along and accepting others, and decisions about where to go to school or church are based on where one’s friends are or where people are friendly. Others may see physical health as the "main event" so the most important thing about school is the sports program, and getting our rest after a busy week may take priority over getting up to go to worship on Sunday. If our job and income are the bottom line, our work schedule may determine whether we worship or not and affordability is the main criteria in school choice. Unfortunately, these approaches can be like trying to use our sandwich or bowl of soup as the tray to hold everything else we need. We can end up with a big mess.

For Christians, a relationship with God is not just one more thing or even the most important thing in a crowded life. It is the foundation of real abundant life. In a Christian school, religion and the Bible are not just one more subject in the curriculum. This is the platform on which everything else is built, including science, health, relationships, vocational skills and all the rest of the good things God wants to hand to us.

Questions and Answers

Questions and Answers

Have you heard this one before? A Sunday school teacher was asking her students, "What has four paws, a wagging tail, floppy ears and a wet nose?" A little boy raised his hand and answered, "It sure sounds like a puppy to me, but I know the answer is ‘Jesus’." Yes, as a bumper sticker has said, Jesus is the answer, but what is the question?

In Christian teaching, in the church, the school, and the home, getting the right answer often depends on asking the right questions. In fact, knowing the answer is often not even helpful without knowing the questions. A student, for example, can copy all the right answers from another student’s paper, but unless this student understands the questions, he or she has actually learned nothing.

What is so special about education in Lutheran schools? It is not only in the kinds of answers given, but also in the kinds of questions that are asked. Lutherans continually emphasize the importance of understanding and properly using the law and the gospel. The gospel gives us the right answers. The law raises the right questions.

Questions which are naturally on the minds of many are, "How can I be prosperous?" "How can I be comfortable?" "How can I be powerful?" etc.. If "Jesus" is given as the answer to those with these kinds of questions, such people will not properly understand Jesus. God’s law answers questions about what is good and right and what we should want and do. But this is how it raises important questions, such as, "How can I do what I know is right?" "How can I be made right with God?" "How can I be saved?" Jesus is the answer.

A rich and powerful young man once asked Jesus, "What must I do to be saved?" By asking about salvation in terms of what "I do" he was asking the wrong question. Jesus’ answer pointed him back to the law. There is the answer to questions about what I must do. This led the disciples to ask, "How can anyone be saved?" Aha! Now, that is the right question, and the answer is that this is only possible for God. He himself must save us through Jesus.

Giving the wrong answers to the questions raised by the law, pointing to a person’s own good works, feelings, or outward circumstances, produces misunderstandings: despair, fear, anger, rebellion, and hatred of God. The right answer to the questions of the law is the gospel. We are helped by Jesus.

Yet, the truthful answers, "God loves you," "Jesus forgives you," "God promises you eternal life," "God wants to bless you,” when given to those who have not learned from the law to ask the right questions, are apt to lead to complacency, pride and apathy.

God’s word teaches us that Jesus is the answer. God’s word also teaches us what are the important questions. This is the way to true wisdom and understanding.