Friday, December 30, 2005

Pocket of Thoughts

Ok, to prove I'm still alive, I'm finally going to post again (I know its been over a month!) but I've been greatly enjoying the holidays! Merry Christmas to everyone!

So here are a pocketful of thoughts that I've been carrying around, meaning to post for some time now. They are unrelated quotes that I've picked up, especially from my theological ethics course.

1) Gerhard Forde, from "The Captivity of the Will" said something to this effect (I'm paraphrasing) concerning the debate between Luther and Erasmus : "Luther starts with the presupposition of bondage and ends up with freedom, whereas Erasmus starts with the presuppostion of freedom and ends up with bondage." I'll have to read the book to get the exact quote, but food for thought!

2) Avery Dulles (Roman Catholic theologian) commented regarding the ecumenical dialogue between the ELCA and the RCC in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), saying "I always hear you Lutherans saying, ‘yes'. I won't know what your 'yes' means until I hear you say 'no.'"

3) Adolf Koberle in the "Quest for Holiness" makes this remark regarding reactions against the forensic doctrine of justification: "Those who advocate an 'undogmatic Christianity' are, of course, utterly incompetent to raise any objection." (p. 91) :)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sermon on Mark 13:33-37

In the name of Jesus, Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel reading. As we begin this new season of Advent, we begin a new year in the church. A new cycle in the ongoing remembrance of Jesus Christ’s life and His working for our salvation. Advent is when we remember Jesus’ coming for us, in the past, present, and future. As the church moves toward Christmas, we call to mind Christ’s first coming to us in the manger—to enter humanity on our behalf, to redeem us from sin. We also call to mind the daily, weekly coming of Christ to us in His Word, and in His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. And finally, we call to mind the future second coming of Christ to us, on that Last Day we call judgment day. The Day when Christ will usher in a new heavens and a new earth by His Almighty power.

We’ve been jolted to alertness by the signs of the end. Like an unexpected shock we’ve been awakened by the images of horror on the daily news. Destruction rains down on the world from all sides, as the world continues its slow decay in sin. The creaking bones of creation groan with the pains of childbirth, as this old creation is dying away with its corruption and evil. Making way for something new. But we don’t always perceive the coming of the new. Still oppressed by sin, both ours and that of all humanity, we are pressed in on all sides by wars and rumors of wars, terrorism, and crime. Still bound to this earthly flesh, we suffer the effects of sin as natural disasters and the onset of aging, disease, or death tries to choke out our hope.

Sometimes, when we look at the state of the world around us, we want to shout out like the prophet Isaiah did, saying “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” We long to see the Lord’s coming, to release us from this decay and suffering. Sometimes we wish that He would come thundering down, the heavens split open, as rocks and mountains quake from His glory and might. Yes, to make His name known to His enemies, so that the nations would tremble at His presence. To see God acting in His unrestrained glory and power, to bring us to relief from this groaning, dying creation. And it’s not a bad thing to wish for this coming. Isaiah did, long before Christ first came, not in power and glory, but in humility and weakness, born in a humble straw bed. Born to swallow up sin in His body and to put sin to death on the cross, once for all. Born to rise up from death that we might have life.

But Christ will come again, and this time it will be like Isaiah predicted—the heavens rent open, Christ descending from the heavens in the plain sight of all humanity. The powers of the heavens will be shaken, and the Son of Man will come in power and great glory (Luke 21:26-27). But when shall we see His second coming? Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading that we do not know when the appointed time is. So what does that mean for us, who are still waiting for the relief of His coming? Well, for starters, it means that we should be aware of the signs of His coming. As I mentioned earlier, most of us have been jolted awake by these signs, especially in the past few years.

There seems to be an increasing amount of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and general lawlessness. Perhaps these things seem distant from us here in the Midwest, in Detroit, Michigan. But it’s not just the dramatic global events that are signs of the end; persecution and hatred of the Gospel are also warning signs Christians have faced through the ages, and this can strike anywhere, even within our own families. Jesus said that even the members of one’s family could become their enemies on account of the Gospel. And if we have been hearing God’s Word and His preaching, we should recognize all these as signs that the end is near. But these signs are not new. They have always been present from one generation to the next in varying degrees. So we also need to watch that we do not become lulled into forgetfulness or complacency while all these signs circle us constantly.

But it is also important that we do not become obsessed with these signs of the end. The point is not the signs themselves, or when the exact time will be…but rather the signs remind us that this world is and always has been dying…in preparation for something new. But it is possible for us to become so focused on the collapsing world around us that we lose sight of the promised hope of Jesus Christ—a promise that will not fail us. For in Christ’s coming is the coming of that new creation, the new heavens and new earth.

Indeed, sometimes we do see Christians who get wrapped up in the warning signs of the end. They try to read current events into the book of Revelation or other prophetic books, like some cryptic timeline, and lose sight of Christ’s saving work in the process. Certainly the current events are signs of the end that have been prophesied in Revelation and other books. But it is foolish for us to try to predict or guess when Christ will actually return, as if we could catalog these signs like an end-times checklist, “Now X, then Y, and Z…and Jesus will return!” No, the hour of His coming must remain unknown to us all. Christ says it could be anytime, “in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.”

Though this expression isn’t familiar to our ears, it would have been for Jesus’ first century hearers. Evening, midnight, the rooster crow, and dawn were the times when each of the four Roman night watches ended, at 9, 12, 3, and 6 o’clock. But the significance for us is that Jesus calls us to be ready for His coming at any time. It is also significant that He pictures His coming at night, which shows that the second coming will be when we least expect it. Jesus said that His coming will be sudden, like the days of Noah, when people were eating and drinking and marrying. Think of times when His coming would be completely unexpected: when things seem peaceful or at rest, like at Thanksgiving dinner, or during a young couple’s wedding. But Jesus’ sudden and unexpected coming will not be a fearful thing for those who are watchful and alert in faith, but only for those who are spiritually slumbering. Rather, for us it will be the kind of sudden and unexpected joy like when a long separated friend returns home to his loved ones, or when a parent first hears the news that they are going to be a grandparent!

Spiritually, it already appears that it is now night, as the darkness of the world and sin try to cloud out the Truth. As I said before, we can fall into the danger of dwelling on the darkness and grim signs of death around us in the world, if we let them obscure our faith in Christ. It is possible for us to succumb to despair, and lose sight of our hope, or become forgetful of Christ’s promised return. But the Holy Spirit tells us “you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thess. 5:4-5).

Since we are all children of light, therefore, we should be watchful and alert, so that the day of the Lord will not “surprise [us] like a thief.” This watchfulness is what the Lord calls His servants to in the Gospel reading. He uses an illustration of a man who goes away on a journey, leaving His servants in charge of their own work. And He specially instructs the doorkeeper to stay awake and be watchful, but He also extends this instruction to all people, that they be watchful. For we do not want to be caught sleeping when the Lord returns to His house. So how do we as Christians remain watchful, and not be caught sleeping?

From St. Paul’s letters, we learn that being watchful includes casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light (Rom. 13:11-12); praying at all times for all the saints and for pastors to boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:18-19); and to be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:6-8). So what does being alert and watchful have to do with wearing all this spiritual armor, and being in constant prayer? Are we going into battle or something? Yes! We are constantly engaged in spiritual battle, and we need the armor of light for protection. For we are to be watchful and alert especially of our adversary the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Every day that we wake, we face new attacks of temptation. Not even the home is a safe haven from temptation, as the Internet and the television can be like pipelines of junk pouring right into our homes if only we open the floodgates.

In a world filled with darkness, Satan is always prowling, seeking to pounce on a slumbering Christian, or a Christian who is not dressed in their spiritual armor of faith, love, and hope. So we are easy targets for Satan when we drift away or ignore God’s Word and Sacraments, which arm us for the fight by creating our faith, building up our love, and sustaining our hope. And prayer! Every Christian should constantly be about prayer, as St. Paul tells us—praying for all the saints and also for the pastors, who need to boldly speak God’s Word. For we are all in this battle together, keeping watch for Satan, building each other up by prayer.

It is seriously difficult for us as Christians to always maintain this watchfulness. Like when Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and told them to watch and pray. Jesus told Peter to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk. 14:37-38). Like the disciples, we too have a willing spirit, but our flesh is weak. We are told to be watchful and alert, but how easily we fall asleep. We are told to pray constantly so that we do not fall into temptation, but how easily does our prayer-life disintegrate, as other priorities push prayer out of the way? All too often, we are not the watchful servants that Jesus calls for, but instead we fall into spiritual slumber.

But thanks be to God that Jesus forgives our sinful spiritual slumber, and constantly calls us to watchfulness in faith! When Jesus came to earth He was ever-watchful for temptation and constantly alert to Satan’s attacks—and thanks be to God He resisted them all! And Jesus lived a life of constant prayer, for His disciples and His followers. Jesus prayed for all believers, that they would have eternal life by believing in Him, and that the Father would guard and keep them in His Name (John 17). In praying this, Jesus did not ask that we be taken out of the world, but rather that we be protected from the evil one—Satan (John 17:15). So that when we feel besieged by the world, and assaulted by the dark images of death and decay in these latter days, that we would not lose hope, and that Satan would not harm us. For God wakes us through His Word from our spiritual slumber, and calls us to faith in Christ.

For Christ our Lord has died on the cross to take away death’s sting, by destroying sin. And He has risen and ascended to prepare the kingdom of heaven for us and all believers in Him. For by His first coming to die on the cross, Jesus has made possible His second coming, to reign in glory. And He will take us home to the Father’s side, where all the darkness and suffering of this world will be a forgotten memory, as we dwell in eternal blessedness. And at that second coming, Christ will indeed come down as the heavens are rent open, and the mountains will quake at His presence, just as Isaiah foretold. And we will all see Him of whom Isaiah said: “No eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him.” God surely does act for those who wait for Him, and for His saving action, we watch and wait and pray. And for we who believe, His coming will be one of joyful surprise. Amen.

The peace which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

2005 Student Advent Devotional

For anyone that is interested, the 3rd and 4th year students of Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne have written a Student Advent Devotional booklet with daily readings, prayers, and devotions for this coming season of Advent. If you are interested in reading them for your Advent devotions, they are available in PDF format at the CTSFW website. Look for the link in the upper left hand corner titled "2005 Advent Devotions" or here is the direct link. I hope they are a blessing to you this Advent!

P.S. There is an error that we are working to correct, a reduplication of the Dec. 2nd and 24th devotion.

****Updated 11-29-05, the error on Dec. 2nd is corrected.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Consistent or not?

I came across this article about a recent letter that the 65 bishops of the ELCA sent to Congress regarding proposed budget cuts. Here is the relevant portion:

"For example, all 65 synod bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have signed a letter to members of Congress vehemently opposing the proposed budget cuts, saying in part, "The Biblical record is clear. The scriptural witness on which our faith tradition stands speaks dramatically to God's concern for and solidarity with the poor and oppressed communities while speaking firmly in opposition to governments whose policies place narrow economic interests driven by greed above the common good.""

Now what I find peculiar about this is how willingly and in fact vehemently the bishops of the ELCA will take a stand on this political issue and claim that The Biblical record is clear on this matter. Does anything strike you as odd about this? I certainly agree with what they say about God's concern for and solidarity with the poor, and that God speaks firmly against tyrannical governments. No problem there. But what I find odd about this is that the ELCA is willing to say the Biblical record is clear. What about the clarity of the Biblical record on homosexuality or gay marriage? What about the clarity of the Biblical record on women taking positions of authority in the church (i.e. pastors)? And there are certainly other things where the ELCA has departed from the clear Biblical record, suggesting or even expressly stating that the Biblical record is in fact not clear on these matters. How can the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America step to the plate so quickly on social/political issues, and hold up the Scriptures as authoritative and clear, and then on doctrinal and ethical issues, the Biblical record is somehow obscure or open to our reinterpretation? You can't have it both ways, in my opinion.

I'm not addressing the concern of the budget cuts here, as I'm not well enough informed of the situation, or whether it actually qualifies as being an example of the tyranny of government and the oppression of the poor. I just want to point out the inconsistency of using the Scripture as your 'weapon' only when it suits your own purposes. If we are to submit as Christians to the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, then we must hear what it says concerning all matters, not only those of our interest.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I'm still alive!

So since I've been lax in posting, and since some folks (mutti et al :) have been asking what I'm up to, I thought I'd give a brief update! The eighth week of classes begins tomorrow, and I am trying to begin work on a couple of papers that have me interested. Overall my class load has been light, but I've been trying to focus my free time on getting research together and starting these papers. One of them is for a class on 1 & 2 Chronicles, and I'm examining the relationship between the Solomonic temple and the temple of Ezekiel's vision in ch's 40-48. We'll see how that turns out. The other paper is my master's thesis paper, which I am also preparing to begin writing this quarter. The topic I'm loosely working with now is understanding how the Scriptures speak of judgment in relation to Christians--adressing some questions such as "When is judgment forbidden for Christians? What is the realm of human judgment vs. the realm of God's judgment? When are Christians going to or commanded to judge?", etc. Hopefully I'll learn a lot from my research into this issue, and it will also be helpful in understanding how and when Christians are to exercise judgment in the church today.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Objective Justification

Ok! I promised I'd post this week, since I've not been posting since my return to sem...so here is an interesting quote on objective justification that I came across in class. It pertains to both separating faith from its object (Christ) and the fact that justification is externally and objectively true.

"If someone were to say to the fanatics: 'Here is bread, but it has a nourishing power only if it is eaten by him who is hungry,' or: 'this medicine has its healing power only when a sick person takes it'; then they would themselves realize that this is nonsense. But so also the Gospel has its power not only where a penitent hungerer for grace hears it, but also when it is proclaimed to the godless. That of course is true: he who does not eat the bread, him it does not nourish; who does not take the medicine, him it does not heal; and he who does not believe the Gospel, him it does not comfort. But even a fanatic ought to see that the power of the Word does not lie in man, as little as the nourishing power of bread lies in him.

"From the claim that the Gospel and Absolution are not efficacious in the case of the impenitent, the most dreadful consequences follow: Thereby is denied Christ's all-sufficient merit, the redemption and reconciliation of the world, for then faith must always be conceived of as a work which must be added, in order that there might be forgiveness in the Gospel. Then it follows that Christ's merit is not all-sufficient. But if Christ's merit is not all-sufficient, then also Christ is not true God. One could not then with a clear conscience preach the Gospel to anyone or admit him to the Supper, of whom one were not certain that he believes. Now to be sure, as regards the latter, no one is to be admitted to the Sacrament unless he be examined and confess that he believes; but whether he tells the truth or dissimulates I cannot know, for I cannot look into his heart. So I do what God has commanded me, and am certain that I truly absolve all; whether they benefit from it, I do not know. The fact is, however, that a justification is not only made possible, but has been acquired and has occurred."

Quote taken from p. 34, "Justification--Objective and Subjective: A translation of the Doctrinal Essay read at the First Convention of the Synodical Conference in 1872", trans. Kurt Marquart, CTS Press.

Friday, September 02, 2005

False Self-Image

Some musings on Law and Gospel:

The Law, when it is preached or taught to us full-strength, convicts us and makes us squirm because it forces us to face the person within us--the person we ourselves hide from and that we hide from others. The Law unveils our deepest and most wicked impulses, impure motives, and base desires. It shows us that at our core we are not what we want to be nor what want others to see and know. God's Law cracks the facade, exposes our weaknesses (if at first only to us) and leaves us burdened with the guilt of this dark self-realization and exposure. So what are we left with? We are left perfectly helpless, ripe for the Holy Spirit to send us His comforting Word of Gospel, that our sins have been forgiven by Christ Jesus' death on the cross. For He has truly seen the depths of our hearts, of the wickedness, malice, the sugar-coated deceit, and the white lies that we use to protect our flimsy facade. But with the sharp two-edged sword of His Word He exposes our sin, however deep-rooted, with the edge of the Law. But once we have been exposed and brought to repentance, the edge of the Gospel becomes the blessed weapon that wards off Satan's attacks and accusations--yea the Word of God, that sword that Christ yields--it not only wards off Satan but it slays him. For Satan is a marked man and his time is near. In Jesus' death on the cross He bore the full weight of our sin and its accusation, so that we might be taken up clean before our heavenly Father. So that as we are forgiven, washed clean by Christ's blood, we no longer hide beneath a facade of what we want to be or wish people to see. But we boldly stand in all faith, clothed in Christ's righteousness, standing before God justified--declared innocent--not standing as what we in our sin wanted to be, but standing as what God wants us to be--namely righteous, pure, and holy. So that when God sees us He sees not our guilt, not our facade, but Christ's righteousness. And all the accusations of Satan fall like so many dead flies, for his eternal end is near...as our eternal beginning has come in Christ Jesus! To Him be all glory and praise! Amen.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

America's Fictional God

A few weeks back, I was stuck in a hotel watching movies, and happened to see part of the Jim Carrey flick "Bruce Almighty." One of the things that stuck out to me was that when Morgan Freeman, who plays God in the film, gives Bruce (Carrey) his powers, one of the conditions he gives for using them is that 'you can't violate anyone's free will.' I didn't get to see the rest of the movie to see how that theme plays out, but I think its a humorous and somewhat accurate caricature of how most Americans see God. God is a benevolent old man, with great powers, but He doesn't dare transgress our free will. So apparently 'free will' is greater than God.

I thank God that He is not bound or limited by our 'will', nor does He wait for us to take the initiative before He acts. Thank God that He did not consult us first before decided upon His course of salvation for us in sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross. And I thank God that He did not leave it up to my 'free will' (or lack thereof) before He chose me by His grace (John 15:16) and saved me in the waters of baptism. A god that is subordinate to human 'free will' is not a god I would want to worship. But the Triune God of the Scriptures is no such thing. Truly God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is worthy of all worship for bringing salvation to humanity despite all the sinful opposition of our human wills.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sermon on Matt. 16:21-26

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel reading.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

Dear Christian friends: if we stop for a moment to reflect on what St. Peter blurts out in this passage, we should be astonished at his audacity. What in the world was he thinking? Can a man rebuke God? Rebuke is more than just voicing your disapproval. It’s a harsh correction or reprimand against a wrong course of action. It was as if Peter was saying to Jesus, “Lord, you’ve chosen a terrible course of action. How could you think such a thing? You can’t suffer and die!” Peter obviously forgot who he was talking to—the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator of All things, the Son of God walking here on earth. So what was it that had Peter so set against Jesus’ course of action—what we might call the way of the cross? Well first of all, he had been infected with the thinking of the world, or as Jesus called it, “setting your mind on the things of man.” And second of all, because of that, he was now serving as a mouthpiece for Satan. And Jesus harshly rebuked him in return: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” In the passage just prior to this in Matthew, Peter had actually served as a mouthpiece for God the Father, when he made the true confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. At that moment, his thoughts were literally the thoughts of God, as the very words he spoke were given to him by the Father. But how quickly his thoughts had turned back to the thoughts of men.

But Peter’s foolish rebuke was more than just his impetuous personality getting the better of him. His words were typical of the way we as humans think—trying to keep Jesus away from the cross and constantly setting our minds on the things of men, rather than God. And all too often you’ll hear unbelievers, and even Christians (!) rebuking or correcting God. There’s an ongoing struggle in humanity between the way of the cross vs. the way of the world. And it’s this worldly way of thinking that leads us to challenge God’s way of doing things—which is the way of the cross. Of course I already hear the silent cries of protest: “But I’ve never rebuked or corrected God!” Maybe none of you have ever made such an audacious rebuke as Peter’s, but let me show you how this can happen today.

I don’t know how often I’ve heard people say that they’ve thought of a better way of doing things than God has. I know that I have even had such wicked thoughts. For example, have you ever thought that it was just really unfair of God to only grant salvation through the name of Jesus? I mean, what about all those people who never heard? Wouldn’t it be fairer if God sent everyone to heaven, regardless? Or at the very least, it would certainly be more loving if God let all people into heaven who were really sincere in their beliefs, and led a really good life—even if they didn’t believe in the Triune God. Have you had thoughts like these? I know I have. And you and I must repent of them. Why? Because like Peter’s situation, we are claiming to be wiser, fairer, and more loving than God. We don’t usually realize it, but when we make such claims, we are basically saying that we are more loving than God! Stop and think about who we’re talking to! The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator of all things! The God who IS LOVE.

It’s a serious sin to have such arrogance against God, and what has happened is that we’ve given the upper hand to the way of the world, and denied the way of the cross. I don’t for a second deny that these are some of the hardest things for Christians to understand, but don’t think that our limited scope of knowledge is an excuse for the kind of pride that makes us think we are wiser or more loving than God. Even with ‘pious’ intentions. Peter had pious intentions when he told Jesus that He must never go to the cross, suffer, and die. He thought he was saving Jesus from suffering and death, and ultimately from making a serious mistake. And the Lord had a strong rebuke for such pride: “Get behind me Satan!” And the Lord has a strong rebuke for such talk from us. But even though it stings, and is embarrassing to be rebuked by God’s Word, the pain and embarrassment fade as the sin is forgiven by Christ. Whereas left unchecked, this poison of devilish, earthly thinking will sicken our soul unto death. But Jesus died precisely to take that poison—to soak up our sin and to take us after Him so that we could be free of worldly ways and sin. This is why Jesus had to go the way of the cross.

So Jesus calls us to repent—to change our thinking—and deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. What does it mean to deny ourselves? It includes forsaking our own ideas about how God should do things, and accepting that God is infinitely wiser and more loving than we are. To deny ourselves is to put away our sinful flesh, with its twisted thoughts, its sinful words, and its hurtful actions. It’s to admit that this whole sinful flesh of ours is woefully dead in sin, and that we can’t redeem it. It is to say, “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in though, word, and deed….” To deny ourselves is to admit we have done wrong, and we need help. More than just help, we need salvation—a total and complete rescue from sin and death. And this is why Jesus had to go the way of the cross.

So what does it mean then, to take up our cross? Didn’t Jesus die on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to? Yes He did. If Jesus died only as an example for us, and by ‘taking up our cross’ He meant for us to follow His example in patient suffering, death, and resurrection—we would certainly fail. The cross of sin is not ours to bear. Neither being old and wise nor young and energetic; neither being rich enough nor poor enough; or even being ‘Lutheran enough’ enables us to carry that cross. The cross of sin is far too heavy for any of us to bear. No, Christ took the heavy burden of our sin and laid it upon His cross. He took up our heavy yoke and gave us a light and easy yoke. Christ bore all our sin on His cross, and forgiveness comes to us as pure gift by faith in Him.

So what is ‘our cross?’ Or where do we find our crosses? The answer is that our cross comes from following Jesus, and we find our cross in our vocations—our callings in life. Christians have many vocations or callings—the places in life where God has called us to serve our neighbors in love.

Many of you have the vocation of father or mother or grandparent to a child—all of you have or have had the vocation of being a son or daughter to your parents or guardians. These are only some of the numerous vocations we have in our family. Some of you served in a vocation as a factory-worker, a businessman, a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, a clerk at a store, or maybe a manager. These are just some of the vocations we have done in our work. And there are also vocations in the church—the Pastor, the choir and choir director, the Sunday school teachers, the students and the hearers. And if you don’t fit into those first few categories, I know you all fit in the last two! But our vocations are as countless as our relationships to our friends, family, co-workers, church members, etc. Vocations are the callings in life where God has placed us to serve one another in love. And these vocations are where we find our crosses.

The crosses we bear in our vocations are those sufferings that come from faithfully following after Jesus. Crosses are sufferings that are God-chosen, not chosen by us. Suffering that Christ teaches us to endure by His example of patience and humility. Crosses appear in all of our vocations—the rough marriage, the frustrations of raising children, strife in the family. A worker that faces financial troubles when the economy is bad, sometimes even being jobless for a time; or having to work under a difficult or unfair employer. A student who struggles to learn, or gets picked on in school; the pressure to cave in to using drugs or participate in underage drinking. And the greatest crosses we face are those related to our Christian faith: facing ridicule for believing in Jesus and His way of the cross—what seems foolish to the world. All these crosses and countless others are what Jesus calls us to bear as we follow Him.

Our temptation is like Peter’s, to try to skirt suffering—avoid the crosses. But all of our crosses and trials in this life are God’s way of testing us and strengthening us to resist temptation. It’s not a game for Him, but seriously real. We are being tested and made firm by our crosses, so that we will resist Satan and our sinful flesh in the time of temptation. Our crosses teach us about our weakness and dependence on God. Because we can’t even bear our crosses alone. Understanding our cross isn’t always necessary or even possible, but they should always be directing us back to Christ. Suffering builds endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Our crosses don’t save us, they strengthen us for battle. The one cross that saves us is Jesus’ death on the cross. For only His suffering is redemptive. Yet because He was despised by the world and suffered for it, so must we face the scorn of the world.

And though from a worldly perspective it may not seem wise for us to go the way of the cross; to follow after Jesus is ultimately what Jesus means when He says that whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it. Because the enticements of the world—money, power, possessions—may delude us into thinking we’re gaining the world; but it is all for nothing when we die. For gaining the world is to lose our soul. But to take up our cross and follow Jesus is to lose our life in this world. To surrender ourselves to the way of the cross—faith in Jesus Christ, and the suffering that comes as a consequence. But to lose our life here is to gain it for eternity! For even though we stumble and fall in this life, carrying our crosses, Jesus has gone before.

And it was Divine Necessity that brought Him to THE cross at Calvary. It was divine necessity that He “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” No obstacle of Satan’s could prevent Him from fulfilling God’s will for Him. No worldly ambitions could swerve Him from His cross. No pleadings from His disciples, even Peter—could deter Christ from losing His own life at Calvary for our sake…because He was to find both His life and ours in His resurrection! For in crucifying and burying our sin, He broke the bonds of death for us as He rose again from the dead—truly finding Life eternal.

So when we lose our life for Christ’s sake, we ultimately find it in Him. That’s why there is no gain for us in the world—because to gain the whole world is to lose our life. But Christ lost His life to gain the whole world of sinners. He gains what we have lost and gives what we could never have gotten: life eternal. This was why Jesus had to go the way of the cross. The small sufferings we endure in this life are but a short struggle until this earthly life is over and we have eternal life with Him. We may stumble with our crosses in this life; often times the journey is too much for us. But Christ our Savior carries our crosses with us, restoring us by His Word of forgiveness, and by His sacraments that make that Word visible and tangible to us. Promises from God that we can literally grasp, touch, eat and take hold of. Giving us the very life and forgiveness He promises, in a way that we can take hold of and say “This is for me!” For Christ Himself is present with us through His Word and Sacraments, directing us and strengthening us on the journey home, as we bear our crosses for a little while until the resurrection is fully ours in Him. In Jesus name, Amen.

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Zoom Zoom Sputter

Well, after completing my vicarage, I had one exciting trip home. What should have been a two day trip turned into a four day affair. I left Sunday after church and then decided to stay one extra day in St. Louis at my friends' place. Then I left early Tuesday morning to drive the last leg home, and was making really good time when my engine died just before the I-55/ I-80 interchange, which was about 6 hours from Detroit. All of a sudden the engine just stalled and I coasted to a stop, fortunately I still had a shoulder because I was about 50-100 feet from a construction zone w/ no shoulders (thank God!). So after examining the oil, antifreeze, etc, and determining that the engine hadn't overheated and the fluids were fine, I tried to restart it---which it did, and I was preparing to merge back into traffic when it stalled again, and this time I couldn't restart it. I ended up walking about a mile to a factory and they let me use their phone to call AAA. They came to tow the car, and by the time he arrived, he was able to start it to drive it up onto his flatbed truck. So I got to the repair shop and they said it was about an hour and a half from closing, and that even if they got to look at it, they'd probably need till the next day for parts. I said no problem, I've got two sisters in the Chicago area and I'll go stay w/ one of them. They gave me a free loaner car (meanwhile I'd found out that one of my sisters was out of town) so I drove to my sister Dori's place about 1 hour away. I waited at their house about 2 hours before I tried calling back to my parents only to find out that BOTH sisters were out of town! What Luck! (Murphy's Law). So I drove back toward the car repair and found a motel for the night. In the morning I talked to the mechanic and they said they ran the car for 2 hours and couldn't get the engine to fail to reproduce my problem, and drove it for 12 miles and couldn't either. They said the diagnostic computer said everything was o.k., including the fuel pressure. Nevertheless, they suspected a weak fuel pump was the culprit, but at a $600 repair, they said they didn't want to replace that on a guess. I was thankful for his honesty. He told me that the engine
would fail again, and there was no telling when it would happen. So I drove
on towards Michigan, praying the whole way that God would let my engine make
it home (or at least to the next stretch of road with a shoulder :)
Fortunately God kept me safe the whole way home, and it didn't quit in any
construction areas. But it did die on the freeway once again in Indiana, but after
10 minutes I got it started again. I drove to Battle Creek Michigan where I
stopped at a rest area and couldn't get it started there for over a half
hour, but finally got it going and made it safely home Wednesday evening.
Needless to say, God heard the prayers of everyone praying for my safe travel,
and despite the difficulties, things could have gone far worse. I was
curious to see how much weight was in the car when I got home, and my dad
and I weighed the luggage and found that I had 1100 lbs in the car
(including my weight) and the max. cargo capacity according to the owner's
manual is 850 lbs. :) Well, that probably had something to do w/ my engine
being overstrained (did NOT overheat), but I did take it very easy and slow to be gentle on it ;) God is good, this is true.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Time keeps on ticking...

Vicarage is nearly over! Tomorrow after church I'm heading home! Since my computer will be disconnected and I'll be traveling, I probably won't post in the next ~2 weeks...but I'll be back. I feel like this is a significant milestone in my education, and only one year left!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Final Sermon for Vicarage! Isaiah 55:1-3a

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is Isaiah 55:1-3a,

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.

I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t go shopping for groceries when you are hungry. According to some people, if you shop while you’re hungry, you are much more likely to buy more junk food or unhealthy food choices. Or you end up buying more than you need. I don’t really know if this advice is generally true, but I know that when I shop hungry I do tend to buy more snack food. Regardless of how true this advice is, here in today’s Word to us from Isaiah and also in the Gospel reading, we hear Christ calling the hungry to Him for food. In fact when God issues this call for us to come, He expects that those He calls are more than just hungry.

The Words of His invitation describe our condition. “Come, all you who are thirsty…” We are thirsty, but not just for physical water, which only satisfies for a short time, and then we are thirsty again (John 4:13). Rather, we are thirsty for a ‘living water’ that if we drink of it we’ll never thirst! (John 4:14). This living water that eternally satisfies our thirst is Jesus Christ. Without Him, our souls are parched and dry and thirsty. Without the living water of Jesus Christ, we choke on the dry dust of our sin, as we labor in this life for water that doesn’t satisfy. For on our own we are in a desert of sin, lost with only mirages of water always just beyond our grasp.

“You who have no money” further describes our condition. Not only are we hungry and thirsty, but we have no money to buy food! But are we talking about physical food and physical hunger again? No! The food we hunger for and that God offers is food that will delight our soul. But without money, we are no better than beggars, unable to ‘shop’ for our sustenance. Martin Luther expressed this truth a few days before his death, in the last words he ever wrote: “We are beggars, this is true.” Truly, we are beggars, with no spiritual goods or merits to offer God to purchase the spiritual food we so desperately need. We can spend our life toiling away after what does not satisfy, laboring for earthly food, for earthly pleasure—but it never satisfies. The void of physical hunger can only be temporarily filled, and then we hunger again. But the void of spiritual hunger can’t be filled by any earthly bread. And we don’t have money to buy the bread that can. And we can’t labor enough to earn the bread that satisfies our spiritual hunger. We are spiritually destitute in our sinfulness, without the means to help ourselves. No amount of good works will enable us to ‘pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’ or give us greater ‘purchasing power.’ Instead, we must come as beggars, humbly holding out our hands to be fed at someone else’s cost; by someone else’s labor.

And we all know the hungry, thirsty, tired and poor aren’t far from death if their needs aren’t met. Their life hangs in the balance until someone delivers them. And such are we. Spiritually we are like the crowds of people in today’s Gospel lesson—the feeding of the five thousand. We are sick, hungry, and thirsty. So where did the disciples want to send the crowds to be fed? Away from Jesus! The disciples said, “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” But Jesus doesn’t send the people away, He feeds them right there by a miracle! And Jesus doesn’t send us away when we come like beggars to Him for food. For He alone is the ‘food that endures to eternal life’ (John 6:27). He is the bread of life. And He knows that He can’t send us away to be fed—we have no money to buy food!

So in the book of Isaiah He issues us the most remarkable call! “Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, buy and eat!” How can we buy and eat without money? Because He charges nothing! The words ‘buy and eat’ in verse 1 become ‘listen and eat’ in verse 2. “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Apparently God isn’t too concerned about us shopping hungry! He’s not worried about us ending up with ‘junk-food’, because when we ‘buy’ food by ‘listening’ to Him, we ‘eat what is good.’ When we hear God’s Word, the good news about Jesus’ death on the cross, we are fed what is good. Our hungry soul is fed with the richest of fare, truly a meal to delight our soul! For God calls us to “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”

Hear and live. We all come here today as spiritual beggars, whether we knew it or not. And whether we knew it or not we were born into sin, which left us spiritually thirsty, hungry, and destitute. Yet Christ calls us to hear and live! Hear what? His Word. Hear what Jesus said after He fed the 5,000: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus told them and us that His flesh is the food they need, because the bread that He was going to give for the life of the world was His flesh. When Jesus went to the cross, His flesh was given up to death for the life of the world. He was nailed to a tree and killed, so that we could live. His death prepared a banquet of life for us! God is calling all beggars to come to His table, to buy and eat without cost. He’s calling the hungry and the thirsty to hear and eat what is good, so our souls will delight in the richest of fare.

God the Father spared no expense to prepare this banquet for us sinners, as Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” God paid the ultimate price to give us eternal life, and that price was the death of His own Son Jesus Christ. So that we truly are fed at someone else’s expense, and by someone else’s labor. The expense was God’s, in sending His precious Son, and the labor was Christ’s, who by His perfect obedience and death on the cross prepared such a feast for us. And though the Father gave Jesus up to death, He did not lose Him, but got Him back when Jesus rose again from the dead. So that through Him He will also graciously give us all things. And what a banquet it is! Could a beggar ask for more? Could we have hoped for anything better? See, it’s really not so bad being a beggar when you know where the feast is, and Jesus invites you to the banquet! And so we also find other beggars in need of Jesus Christ and invite them to where the food is, when we tell people the Gospel.

We who were thirsty have been invited to come to the waters—the living water of Jesus Christ, poured out in a soul-cleansing flood in our baptism. What a blessing to see [____] washed in that soul-cleansing baptism this Sunday! A reminder of the gift of water and the Spirit poured out on each of us in our Baptism into Jesus. A life-giving stream for our thirsty souls. We who were hungry and destitute, with no money to buy the spiritual food we needed have been given wine and milk and the richest fare to delight our soul. The pure spiritual milk of God’s Word nourishes us constantly as we grow up in our salvation (1 Pt. 2:2). And the wine and bread that we gather this day to eat and drink are far more than empty symbols and physical food. No, a table is spread before you with bread and wine that are the body and blood of Jesus Christ—a holy supper to take away your sins, by the eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood. The richest meal we poor spiritual beggars could ask for. A holy supper where Christ is both host and feast. Truly His body and blood are a delight to our soul as they cleanse our soul of guilt and join us in Christ’s one body. Thanks be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that He has called us to hear His Word and come to Him—that by hearing Him our soul will live. For His holy food truly satisfies—because through it we will endure to eternal life with Him, because Jesus fills the void of our spiritual hunger. Amen.

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Submission to Gov't cont'd

Since the discussion I posted awhile back on "Submission to government or Independence" is still ongoing somewhat
here, I decided to start a new thread.
Rick Ritchie posted this comment:
Do you have a definition of revolution? Do we just go by the historical label?
The Continental Congress was called in part to respond to the king's actions, one of which was to restrict the activities of the Massachusetts legislature. So you have a legal question as to whether or not the king had the right to restrict such activities.
The term 'insurgent' itself begs the question.
While I would likely side with Bonhoeffer against Sasse, I don't see even Bonhoeffer's action in the same light as the American Revolution. You would have a better parallel if when Hitler dissolved the German parliament, it had continued to meet and it called for armed resistance.


So to offer some balance, perhaps, I offer a quote from Gene Veith's book that I just read, "God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life."
Revolutions can be lawful or unlawful. The French Revolutionaries guillotined their old rulers, abolished the law, and instituted a new legal system by force. The Communist revolution and the Nazi revolution installed regimes that were illegitimate, thus lacking any valid authority. The American Revolution, by contrast, tried to build a legal case, grounded on the necessity of parliamentary representation and other rights of citizens as found in English law. The American Revolution was not resolved until the Treaty of Paris, in which the King of England himself granted the colonies independence. (Christians who worry that the United States government is not legitimate because the Revolution violated Romans 13 need not worry. The ruler himself agreed to let us go and, in the treaty he signed, assigned legal authority to the American legistlatures.)
Then Veith goes on to describe when its permissible to disobey authorities: namely when they pass laws that violate the Law of God.

Now, this doesn't necessarily settle the issue, Rick, but its a slightly different perspective, closer to yours I'm guessing. Veith even seems to agree in some way with Sasse in that the legitimacy of the American government came AFTER the revolution, though for different reasons. Sasse argues that the legitimacy came from the new government fulfilling the God-ordained duties of government, while Veith seems to find the legitimacy coming from the sanction of the King of England. You asked me my definition of revolution? Well, I again freely confess that I'm not adequately informed about the precise historical sequence of events, including your reference to the Continental Congress. My definition of 'revolution' would simply be this: either open or secret rebellion against the government. As such, I don't believe anyone has that vocation or calling to be in rebellion against government (that's how I read Sasse, not Veith). Yet while both the government may be acting outside of its vocation (and therefore acting without divine authority) and also the revolutionary is acting outside of any God-given vocation--God still can perform His 'alien-work' of punishment and wrath through the revolutionary against the government.

In a similar vein, I don't see Bonhoeffer's actions in plotting an assassination as a legitimate vocation/calling from God. Yet had things gone successfully, God could have used Bonhoeffer and co. as God's instruments of wrath against Hitler. I guess the issue there is whether assassination is ever legitimate in the eyes of God. How would one determine when assassination is or isn't legitimate? Who would determine if a leader or government were sufficiently tyrannical? No, that is why I believe that such actions are not permissible, for the sake of an orderly society and government.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"Sharing the Eternal Truth with an Ever-Emerging Culture"--a response

Just the other week I received an email containing this article by Rick Warren, explaining his philosophy or method of outeach:
Sharing the Eternal Truth with an Ever-Emerging Culture. Here follows my response and attempt at offering a Lutheran critique of Warren's principles of evangelism.

First I want to say that I do admire Warren's passionate desire to spread the Gospel, and his enthusiasm for evangelism. But his whole premise in this letter is that the church should be changing as rapidly as the culture. A few examples:

--Warren says, "In other words, someone who prefers a choir and more traditional music can worship in that atmosphere, and then at the scheduled time, see the exact same sermon as those worshiping in our main auditorium. This is duplicated across our campus with an acoustic worship, another aimed at Gen-X, and so on. "

This is one of the biggest mistakes of 'church growth' in my opinion. He openly admits that they are trying to make worship that will appeal to specific ages, music-styles, and tastes. This is NOT what is meant by being all things to all people. I think that Dad gave a good explanation of how Paul gave up his rights to work as a missionary among the Jews and Gentiles. He gave up Christian freedoms that he had, in order to reach others. He didn't go out and get a Greek drama troupe together and put on skits, or try to make other culturally-conditioned appeals to the people. I've heard it wisely stated that "The Church that seeks relevance has already made itself irrelevant." You simply cannot create worship styles to appeal to every different person. What if I prefer to worship with Jazz music? Country? Bag-pipe music? American Folk? Heavy metal? Will the church provide a new service for every worshipper who isn't satisfied with the worship style? The practical consideration is also this: that only in a church the size of Warren's, or with at least several hundred to a thousand people could you actually even begin to meet such a goal. But the underlying flaw in my opinion is the premise that worship should be catered to the desires and tastes of the worshipper. In fact Warren even takes it a step further and caters worship to the unbeliever/non-church goer! It's beyond me why he goes to the unbeliever for advice on how to design his church and worship. Paul told us "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom. 12:2). Warren's variety of church deliberately seeks to imitate or conform to the world and its culture to attract more people. He even goes so far as to say, "And I think that means if you're in California, you should have a California culture church. If you're in Ohio, you should have an Ohio culture church. If you're in Mississippi, you should have a Mississippi culture church." Contrary to this, I believe that worship, rightly understood, does not begin with US, but begins with God. Worship begins with God's gracious outpouring of His gifts to us through Christ Jesus. These gifts are wrapped and delivered to us through the Word and through Baptism and Communion. The wondrous gift of the Gospel of Jesus' forgiveness of us can't help but evoke a RESPONSE from us of praise and thanksgiving. So worship understood this way has no interest in appealing to the worshipper, but rather it flows from and is shaped by the Word of God that reveals and delivers salvation from Christ Jesus to us. The Christian church has worshipped with the historic liturgy for nearly 2,000 years, and it has in itself been relevant to people of all cultures, beginning in the Mediterranean Basin, including Greece, Rome, Northern Africa, and West and South of Israel the church spread to Ethiopia and India. And the church never saw fit to abandon the liturgy to create a culturally specific worship service de novo in every new land. The liturgy did grow and slowly evolve everywhere Christianity spread, but it can hardly be claimed that it is just the 'white-European' or even 'Germanic' worship service. Its much older than that. The contrast is sharp between this and Warren's philosophy of worship, because his idea of worship intends to try to appeal to specific age groups, music styles, etc; whereas the historic liturgy never has the intention of trying to make itself appealing. This relates to the other main premise of Warren's that I think is flawed: that to reach out to people in the culture today, with all its technology and media, we have to wrap the Gospel up in a clever, attractive, almost specifically targeted marketing scheme.

For example, Warren says:
--"In other words, our message of transformation must never change but the transformation of our presentation should be continual, adapting to the new languages of our culture. Consider this: the word contemporary literally means "with temporariness." By nature, nothing contemporary is meant to last forever! It is only effective for a while and only relevant in that particular moment -- that's what makes it contemporary."

So he suggests that our 'presentation' needs to be as 'temporary' as our changing culture. That 'it is only effective for a while, and only relevant in that particular moment.' The first problem I have with this is that it suggests we need to 'clothe the Gospel' in something else, to make it attractive, appealing, or relevant. If this is the case, why in the world would we clothe the eternal unchanging message of the Gospel in something less? Why dress the Gospel in admittedly 'trendy clothes' that are acknowledged to be short-lived or faddish? Shouldn't our presentation of the Gospel rather reflect its stark foolishness in the face of the world (1 Cor. 1)? The message of the cross that was so central to the early apostles' preaching (1 Cor. 2:2) is radically 'a-cultural'. It is eternal and unchanging, relevant to all ages, races, social classes in and of itself, because it addresses our universal common need--forgiveness from our sins and deliverance from death! A message that is so entirely cross-cultural and eternal, shouldn't be packaged into something that tries to fit the Gospel into something that is so narrow and specific and temporary that its driven to appeal only to a specific slice of American culture. This leads to the second main problem I have with this premise: namely that the Gospel message needs such 'packaging' to be effective! The Gospel doesn't become effective, or even 'more effective' by the trappings that we might add to it, rather it goes out from God's mouth and accomplishes the purpose for which He directs it (Isaiah 55:10-11). The Gospel is effective on its own, and it alone will produce the change in men's hearts that brings people to believe in the Gospel. That is why the Gospel message, of Christ crucified must be put forward in all boldness and at all times! When all of this 'packaging' and marketing takes front seat instead, you end up with the situation Warren himself describes, having to reinvent yourself constantly, because "What is considered contemporary and relevant in the next ten years will inevitably appear dated and tired in 20 years." If it is the Gospel itself which is in focus, not the 'trappings' of culturally-conditioned worship practices, then there is no fear of 'appearing dated and tired'--because the Gospel is eternally relevant! Thus I favor the liturgy (in my Christian freedom) as the best medium for presenting the Gospel in worship. The liturgy is not focused on itself or it's own relevance, but rather is literally 'full' of the Word of God itself, as nearly all the songs and responses of the historic liturgy are drawn directly from Scripture or are paraphrased. When the Gospel of Christ is central and in focus, then the message is automatically relevant!

Warren emphasizes:
--"The only way to stay relevant is to anchor your ministry to unchanging truths and eternal purposes but be willing to continually adapt how you communicate those truths and purposes."
But what does it convey about your message of 'unchanging truths and eternal purposes' if you are "constantly adapting; we've changed styles of worship, programming, and outreach many, many times in the last 25 years, and we'll continue to do so because the world keeps changing." Should an elderly person (let's say an unbeliever) who finds Warren's "Gen-X" worship unappealing therefore conclude that the message is irrelevant to them? Or vice-versa? Perhaps part of the problem of trying to run the treadmill of relevance is that the very attempt to 'be relevant' is getting in the way of the message that already is relevant on its own!

With that said, I do certainly agree with Warren that there are methods of outreach that are probably not the most helpful--like for example 'door-knocking.' But even here, it is not the method itself that does or doesn't make the Gospel effective. It is the Gospel message itself that is 'effective' to convert lost souls. And it can do so effectively wherever the Gospel is proclaimed--at a stranger's doorstep, to a friend or family member, from the pulpit of the church, or in a prison. But the question of 'Where am I most likely to find a person who will at least listen to me tell the Good News about Jesus?' is the question to be asked instead, I believe. The reason that telling a friend, family member or co-worker about the Gospel is more likely to see results than 'door-knocking', is because the people that you actually know are more likely to listen to you in the first place. Warren rightly points out that most people don't want to be bothered by a stranger at the door.

At another point Warren says,
-- "In almost every single sermon I preach every point has a verb in it -- something to do. What are you going to do now that you know this godly truth?" and then describes the reason for this as follows: "our entire purpose driven process at Saddleback is designed to move people, not only into intimacy with God, but also into service for him, where they'll experience a deep and broader faith in the midst of community and ministry."

The problem that I have with this is that his message of preaching seems to center around 'giving you a purpose' which he seems to equate with giving you 'something to do.' This message is the LAW, not the Gospel. What the Law instructs us to do in our Christian lives, regarding good works is certainly a necessary element in preaching--but it must never become the 'purpose' or central feature of preaching. The reason is that the Christian message is NOT centered around what WE are to do, but what Christ did for us (1 Cor. 2:2). Preaching that centers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately the only thing that will generate both faith and obedience in the Christian. Its interesting that Warren gives the message of 'what you are to do' such a prominent place in his preaching when he just a paragraph earlier criticized churches that provide a 'list of rules' for living. Isn't that exactly what Warren is doing by focusing his preaching on 'our purpose' and what we must now do? From my friend Wildboar's review of the "Purpose Driven Life" (here: Lutheran-critique of Purpose Driven Life ) I know that Warren provides 164 'steps' to finding your purpose driven life. What a 'list of rules' to follow! I certainly affirm the need to preach about the good works that are commanded for the life of the Christian, but when this supplants the message of the Gospel as central in the sermon, you no longer have a message that saves (Rom. 8:3-4), but a message that brings wrath (Rom. 4:15, 5:20, 7:7-25). And neither is the Gospel message of Christ and the cross just an introductory doctrine that we grow out of once we've become Christians. The message of Christ and the Gospel can never be absent from preaching. You never know whether an unbeliever is out in the congregation, who might be visiting, and this could be the only time he or she will ever get a chance to hear the Gospel. But even more importantly, the message of Christ and Him crucified must always remain front and center because this is the very message that forgives our sins and regenerates us to lead a life of good works (Eph. 2:10).

There is much more that could be said, as Warren's article spans such a broad range of topics, but I hope that this was enough to cover the main points. The Gospel, not the message of what we are to do, must be central, and that Gospel is in itself relevant to all ages, races, cultures, etc--and doesn't need our packaging to become more relevant or effective. Please let me know if there's anything you think was unclear, or if you found my critique of Warren to be unfair in any way. There is a drastically different frame of thinking behind all of this, and I think it shows how true it is that doctrine (teaching) and practice are so closely connected.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pro-life apologetics

I just listened to an excellent discussion of Pro-life apologetics on Issues Etc, with guest Scott Klusendorf. One of the statements that really struck me, pertaining to the Schiavo case was this: "Terri Schiavo had no duty to get well." How true. Just because a person may not be able to recover from their handicaps, does not make their life any less valuable or worthy of our protection. Listen to the program here and here.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Sermon on Isaiah 44:6-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is Isaiah 44:6-8, (I’ve made a slight revision of the first verse to match with more accurate translations)

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come—yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

When the prophet Isaiah recorded these words, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was witnessing the Northern Kingdom of Israel fall to the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians were a ruthless people, known for their cruel warfare. It was a time of fear and uncertainty for both kingdoms of Israel, as their borders were pressed by this great and fearsome enemy. And in 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom fell. One of the earlier emperors of Assyria, Shalmaneser III, had boldly claimed that he was “the mighty king, king of the universe, the king without a rival, the autocrat, the powerful one of the four regions of the world, who shatters the might of the princes of the whole world, who has smashed all of his foes as pots” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p.120). Arrogant claims for a mere man—even for a great emperor—claims that verge on putting himself equal with a god. When men deny or forget God, they themselves become ‘gods’—legends in their own minds.

In many ways, the situation of the people of Judah was comparable to the one we find ourselves in today. Only we face the hidden threat of terrorists, posing danger on every side, with no respect for life, as we were so painfully reminded in London the other week. But the similarity is not only in that there was the constant threat and uncertainty of war—but that Judah found itself surrounded by polytheism—pagan religions that believed in many gods. Today you can find a small but growing number of self-proclaimed ‘neo-pagans,’ who are polytheistic, but the greater threat that we face in our times is that of religious ‘pluralism.’ The idea that all religions have an equal claim on the truth; that no single faith can claim to teach ‘absolute truth.’ Both for Judah then, and us now, the pressure is to give in and admit that our God is really no different, or at any rate not much better than any of the other gods or religious paths out there.

So this prophecy from Isaiah addressed their fundamental need to know who the true God is. They needed assurance that they had One True God who was able to deliver them from the hands of the Assyrians. Did they have a God strong enough to save from the might of the Assyrians, who boasted god-like powers in demolishing any nation that stood in the way of their imperial conquest? Ultimately, Judah would go into exile for their sins, but not under Assyria, whose boastful claims of power crumbled under the rise of a new Babylonian empire. And likewise we need the same assurance of the One True God so that we aren’t lost in a multiplicity of religions, and so that we know there is a Redeemer who can and does deliver us from the captivity of our sins.

First God declares who He is: the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts. He directly claims kingship over Israel, His chosen people, but no less does He claim kingship over all the earth (Ps 47:7). As such, He demands that He alone be worshipped: “You shall have no other gods beside me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Part of the problem in Isaiah’s day was that people were worshipping the true God alongside worship of false gods—mixing true and false worship. Or, they would try to worship God in ways that He had not commanded, especially by offering sacrifices at unauthorized ‘high places.’ This idolatry and religious pluralism is what ultimately led Israel, and later Judah going into exile. And so we ask ourselves today: do we fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Or are we caving in to the claims of religious pluralism? Have we conceded to put Jesus as one god among many in the religious pantheon?

Its also interesting that God calls himself “his Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts” and says “I am the first and I am the last.” In the New Testament, we find Jesus saying almost the same exact words in the book of Revelation: “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13). Jesus is our Redeemer, the eternal God from the beginning to the end, who redeemed us from the curse of the law and our empty way of life. So even here in the Old Testament, Jesus is referred to as the Redeemer, the first and the last. Not only is He the first and the last, He also says “apart from me there is no God.” This is especially important today as pluralism claims that God reveals Himself in different ways to different people. Contrary to that, God is only revealed through His Son Jesus, the first and the last. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (John 14:6-7a). Anyone that rejects Jesus, God’s Son, cannot truly know God the Father.

So when God declares in Isaiah that apart from Him there is no God, He follows this up with a challenge to any would-be ‘gods’ to prove themselves. How can they compare to the true God? He says, “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come—yes let him foretell what will come.” God defies anyone to show himself to be God’s equal. The first part of the challenge is this: let any so-called god recount salvation history. Let’s see if any false god or prophet of a false god can show that he is eternal, just like the LORD is first and last. Can they recount what has happened since God established His ancient people? This may seem to be an odd challenge, until we remember that the record of salvation history, from Adam and Eve until now is really God’s “track record”—the proof throughout history that He is the true and only God who redeems His people. This was one of the primary ways that the church throughout the ages gives praise to God—by recounting the great deeds of salvation that He has done for us. Can any false god display such knowledge, or carry such a track record? But that is still too easy. The second part of God’s challenge is greater: let any pretenders also “foretell what will come.” Let these so-called gods predict the future—tell what is going to be! God alone knows the future with certainty, as He demonstrated time and again through His prophecies and their fulfillments, culminating in the fulfillment of all the prophetic word—Jesus Christ.

But again we come back to Judah, encircled by pagan enemies who would lead them into exile, mocking the true God; and to us, Christians encircled by competing religions and claims for truth, who mock any claim to one God as ‘intolerance.’ Yet from long ago God has called His people to believe that He is the One True God, and that all other gods are no gods at all. A God who is unapproachable in His majesty, enthroned in glory, armed with the might of the heavenly hosts, the armies of angels. Yet this almighty, powerful God, King of Israel and King of Kings and Lord of Lords, speaks gently with tender words to His people, His frightened creatures. Though surrounded by enemies both physical and spiritual, God whispers “Do not tremble, do not be afraid.” All these things—the persecution of the faith, the groaning of all creation under sin, the sin dwelling in our flesh—all of it has been proclaimed and foretold to us from long ago. Our life with its fears and dangers, and most of all with the challenges to our faith, happen just as He told us, from times forgotten. Yet He has set forth an eternal people of His choosing—throughout time He has set apart the godly for Himself (Ps. 4:3). He protects and redeems those who believe, and sets their feet on steady ground—the Rock of His Son Jesus Christ. Though a horde of demons and enemies of God should oppress us, the LORD of hosts is on our side, commanding the host of heavenly armies.

And the LORD calls us His witnesses! We are God’s witnesses of this salvation—seeing in Christ’s death on the cross His deliverance for us, and bearing witness of that salvation to others. Seeing Jesus as the very Rock of Refuge in which we hide securely from all evil. We have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side has made Him known. Do you know what this means? What we have seen and are witnesses of? Only the most amazing thing ever! The God who is unapproachable in majesty has revealed Himself in humility to us as our Redeemer! The God who dwelt in heavenly splendor came down and met us here on earth, for the purpose of redeeming us to Him by dying on the cross for our sins. A thing utterly unheard of from any other religion! So we can truly say “Is there any God beside Him? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one!”

He is an eternal God, the first and the last—not a god that comes and goes with the latest trends, or only appeals to one age or culture or race or social status at the expense of others. But rather He is the eternal and unchanging God, who is relevant to all people at all times, because Jesus is more than just a quick fix for our ‘felt needs.’ He is instead the eternal answer to our greatest need, that unites all of humanity, regardless of age, color, or social standing. That need is release from sin, the universal problem of mankind, which meant death and separation from God. And there is no other god that is equal to the task of fixing this great separation. For no other god exists than the One God Jesus Christ, who has bridged the gap and approached us because He was unapproachable.

Truly an incomparable God! What can any other god offer? Only the One True God, Israel’s Redeemer, offers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation by grace—as His free gift to us, paid (redeemed) for by His own blood. What other God suffers for His children, His own creation? What other God does not demand that that we earn our way into heaven, but rather descended to earth Himself to give it as a gift? What other God would suffer an ignoble death to pay for the crimes and sins His creation committed? Truly, there is no other Rock but Jesus Christ. Every religion claims a god or gods of power, but none have a God of mercy like the True God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And no other religion ever claimed that God entered human flesh, died and rose again from the dead. Truly, a God like no other—a God who comes to us. And a God who would have us believe in Him and not fear false gods and the enemies of Christ Jesus. For we need have no fear when we are secure in the Rock who is like no other, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Friday, July 15, 2005

New and Improved! version 2.0

Well folks, I've finally done some tinkering with my blog, beyond the bare essentials. I've added a blogroll of the blogs that I read or browse, and I also changed my profile to include my email address, so that if anyone wants to send a private comment instead of posting publicly, they may choose to do so. If you want me to link to your blog, and don't find it on my list, feel free to shoot me an email.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Good advice for the young book-worm (me)

"It is not many books or much reading that makes men learned; but it is good
things, however little of them, often read, that make men learned in the
Scriptures and make them godly too. Indeed the writings of all the holy
fathers should be read only for a time, in order that through them we may be
led to the Holy Scriptures. We are like men who study the signposts ad never
travel the road. The dear fathers wished, by their writings, to lead us to
the Scriptures, but we so use them as to be led away from the Scriptures,
though the Scriptures alone are our vineyard in which we all ought to work
and toil."

I read this Luther quote today, and it happened to be while I was relishing the opportunity to begin reading the Church Fathers, which I purchased on Libronix software. He makes a good point about better learning coming from reading and re-reading few good books instead of the tendency (like mine) to just keep reading endless piles of books. I still greatly look forward to reading the Fathers, but its an excellent reminder that the Church Father's goal was to point to Scripture, which should be our true vineyard. A vineyard wherein lies Christ the True Vine!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Will heaven be boring???

Have any of you ever thought, as a child or as an adult, that heaven might actually turn out to be boring? I think as a child I had thought like that, but have long since abandoned such a notion. Yet I've heard it crop up again in various places, even among adults, which has caused me to ponder, "Why do people think that heaven will be boring?" Some of the images that no doubt lead to such a notion include: floating around on clouds playing harps and/or singing hymns to God for eternity. Maybe this picture of heaven seems almost as bad as getting stuck at choir practice for eternity :)

First off, I'd like to poll the readers here of what suggestions they have for the root cause behind the notion that heaven will be boring. (Ok, you with the short attention span :) --if you've lost interest already, please skip down to my third point and PLEASE read the sermon [it's not mine! :) ] )

Secondly, I propose my theory: I think that much of this fear of a boring afterlife is due to a subconscious gnosticism that views heaven as being the realm of disembodied spirits, rather than the fleshly bodies that Scripture teaches will be raised imperishable with Christ (1 Cor. 15). I think that even those who believe in a resurrection of the body sometimes drift subconsciously into this way of imagining heaven. And since there is much in this creation that we love--the beauty of creation, the sensations of physical pleasure, the enjoyment of food and drink, fellowship, etc; and since we tend to think of heaven apart from physicality--we fear that heaven will be sterile and lifeless. When people think this way, maybe the best they hope for is that there will be some ethereal bliss, but it all seems rather unexciting in comparison with life on earth. In contrast to these notions, I think that reminding ourselves of the physicality of the resurrection--having glorified bodies--indicates that heaven will very much be a place where we enjoy physical pleasure and beauty. I think of heaven in terms of the Garden of Eden, only far far better. But far more important than any of that is the fact that in heaven we will be with our God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the presence of our God and Savior, what could ever be dull or boring? After all, that is what we were created for--fellowship with God. If there were any fleeting pleasures that we enjoyed here on earth in our fallen state, apart from God's intention for us--how much more shall eternity be unimaginably greater?

Thirdly, while I was contemplating this post, I happened to read an excellent sermon by Pastor Mike Hintze of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Westminster, MA. He just happened to address this very question in his sermon, and I obtained his permission to post it here. I hope you'll read it: it captures the point far better than my ramblings. Here it is:


GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST. The text is Philippians 3:18-20
18] I TELL YOU ... WITH TEARS, MANY PEOPLE LIVE AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST. 19] THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION, THEIR GOD IS THEIR OWN APPETITES, THEY'RE PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF. THEIR MINDS ARE SET ON EARTHLY THINGS. 20] BUT OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN.

I wouldn’t want to you think that I was, like, fixated on fireworks or anything, but since you bring them up, remember the ones at Ft. Devens? Holey Moley: Just coming at you and coming at you, colors and lights exploding and exploding ... And a couple of you who were teenagers back then came up to me after and said, "Wow, what's HEAVEN going to be like?” Now, if they'd said that in certain circles: "I can't wait for HEAVEN" – somebody would’ve arranged therapy for them, wondering what was wrong with those kids’ lives that they'd rather go sit on a cloud and be bored to death for ever and ever.

What was wrong with those kid’s lives? Nothing. They were healthy, bright, funny, and surrounded by people who loved them. They had it as good as it gets in the richest and freest country on earth. So why’d they want to go sit on clouds and get bored forever and ever? They didn’t! Where do people get this idea that Heaven could be boring? Like when you're tired of life, they put you to bed in Heaven? But Heaven is not being put to bed. Heaven is being let outdoors for the first time in your life! Big, bright, loud, gorgeous! FREEDOM! Nobody who's ever seen out into Heaven has ever been bored. Stunned, yes. Blown unconscious, frequently. Bored, never.

So where does the bad rap come from? It comes from Satan, who’s scared to death that human beings might look up and long for something more. And it also comes from people who, first, don’t want to believe that their sins have cost them anything they’d really want, and who, second and always, want an excuse, as the Holy Ghost says, V. 19] to keep THEIR MINDS SET ON EARTHLY THINGS. Not just enjoying earthly things, but SET ON them, as if "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was all there could ever be. Somebody says, “But Pastor, those’re good things.” Gee, ya think? They’re wonderful. But all of them: this short life, and political liberty, and the pursuit of happiness till you’re dead – all of them put together, they’re not worth one human soul, and if they become the only thing, if they have become the first thing, they will certainly cost your soul.

No, eternal life, eternal liberty, and the pursuit of eternal joy – nothing less is enough for a human being. But as I say, people who want to keep their heads glued to the ground are glad of an excuse not to look up. So, to their way of thinking, if you want to believe in a dull, white waiting room in the sky, fine. That's no competition. But they most intensely don't want anything big, bright, gorgeous, and alive overhead. Because that big, bright, gorgeous, living thing might turn out to be GOD, and not the nothing kind of God who’d run a nothing kind of Heaven, no, but the GOD who comes at you bigger and brighter and way more gorgeous than you ever were and coming at you and at you like singing lighting – Him they don't want to know about. Because how could anything on the planet compete with that? How could they keep THEIR MINDS SET ON EARTHLY THINGS with that overhead? Therefore, they keep their heads down.

The Holy Spirit says, V. 19] THEIR GOD isn't the real GOD. THEIR real GOD, He says, IS THEIR OWN APPETITES. He means that what they actually live for and long for is to feed their own bodies and their own self-worth – such tiny gods. And, to top it, He says, same verse, they’re PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF: PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THAT, in any clear moments, they ARE ashamed of. PROUD of such tiny ambitions, PROUD of how much of this tiny turf they’ve acquired; PROUD of how they serve their little appetites, PROUD of how they stimulate other people’s appetites, PROUD of how smooth, how worldly **, how open-minded, how open-mouthed... And at the same time, PROUD of how nice they are and how well they live – while they duck the One they’re supposed to be living for.

Don’t join them. The Holy Ghost says, V. 19] THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION. We’re here to help them, not to join in. THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION. We’re here to help them, not to join in. Remember Noah’s Flood. REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE. Remember her: She was on her way out when she was destroyed.

And St. Paul says, V. 18] I TELL YOU ... WITH TEARS, MANY PEOPLE LIVE AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST. When he wrote that, he was crying for his neighbors and also crying because some of the people he was writing about at least used to claim that they were Christians. And now, he says, they’re living AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS. They’re not saying that they’re ENEMIES OF THE CROSS, but they’re living like it. What does that mean?

THE CROSS OF CHRIST is the Judgment of this World and the Open Door to Heaven. ENEMIES OF THE CROSS live as if this world were never going to be judged, and as if the Door to Heaven can wait. The CROSS says about the whole world, "This Property is Condemned" and the Cross says, "This Way Out!" But if I want to keep my MIND SET ON EARTHLY THINGS, who wants to hear, “This Property is Condemned”? If all I really want is here – who cares about a way out? Who even wants to think about it? Think about it!

But you know people who don’t want to think about it because, as far as they can see, it just hurts to think about it. Isn’t it hard enough to be locked into a life that's going nowhere but DESTRUCTION while the walls close in: every day one day less, and no time to do, no room to be –while you and the world go gray together – isn’t that hard enough without hoping that there could be something more, when there’s no hope that I could get it? I mean, isn’t it hard enough to satisfy my own appetites, without trying to satisfy God? Isn’t it hard enough to keep up my own self-image, without wondering how I’m coming across to a Holy Judge?

Sometimes, isn’t it hard enough to have hope enough to just keep going on earth, without being haunted by a yearning … So what's the use of longing? Why make yourself ache? And anyway, who wants it? It's just clouds and harps and boredom and .... And then there were these two teenagers looking up and out with shining eyes, longing for HEAVEN. Why? They’d figured they'd learn to like it? No. V. 20] Their HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN. It’s where they belong.

How? Were they amazingly holy? Ask them; they didn’t think so and they were right. It wouldn’t have occurred to them to be PROUD of how much they served God. That really would be being PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF. No. They belong in Heaven because all the things they ever could have been ashamed of were nailed to CROSS OF CHRIST. They belong out there because God came in from the wide Outdoors after them, into this gray, little world, in one small human skin, the God who’s like singing lightning all in one tiny human nature – I tell you, His whole life was a countdown to His Ascension TO FILL THE UNIVERSE! But first, first – you know, He was offered all the world and all the glory of it and He said, “Are you serious? When I could have Peter? When I could have Audi and Liv?” First, He said, “Give Me that CROSS!”

The great, bright, gorgeous, living God of Heaven took our DESTRUCTION in His body, took the DESTRUCTION, and took it, till He was a small, grey, cold, dead thing. He took our DESTINY to give us His DESTINY, all the way up and out into the wide, bright, outdoors. Because of His CROSS, God is satisfied, and you come across to God as paid for and Heaven-ready.

Since you’ve been BAPTIZED into His cross, BAPTIZED into that Judgment, BAPTIZED into that Open Door, BY WATER AND THE SPIRIT through faith, BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH. And CHRIST IS RISEN! We’re BAPTIZED into that life; which means that life in us: that brightness, those colors, that shout – the life of the wide Outdoors inside us, sealed and waiting, like a firework. Beloved, we may be cardboard on the outside, but inside, it’s a countdown to a launch into ANOTHER COUNTRY, another life, a new world, where we belong now, TO WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIS NAME - HE GIVES THE RIGHT TO BE CHILDREN OF GOD, BORN AGAIN FROM HEAVEN. And if God's your Father now, where's your Home?

OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, and that explains so much about us. I mean, look: our Father loves us here and now, and Christ is WITH US ALWAYS TO THE END OF THE WORLD, so how come we’re still not satisfied? It’s because OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN. Or why do things get to us so much? They didn’t used to, but now you look around you and you could just cry when you see what’s going on. Well, of course. You don’t belong here anymore. OUR HOMELAND'S IN HEAVEN. Or, look: our sins are forgiven, nailed to the CROSS, washed in the Water and the Blood and gone, so how come sinning hurts worse than it ever did before? Because we’ve had a taste of what it means to be well. OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, where everything’s straight and clear and sharp and fast, and love blows free as wind. You, child of God, you just want to run free in your own country. And every hard thing here makes us miss it, and every sweet thing here – "spacious skies and purple mountains’ majesty" – every sweet thing here makes you ache for more, till you can't go anywhere without the brightness calling you.

Not even to the fireworks. I watch all the hundreds of people there on their blankets, going, “Oh! Oh!” like little kids. Oh, Christians, we’ve got to love them; we’ve got to take them with us. And I look up at the fireworks and I watch the pyrotechnical display and I know why those teenagers had to think of HEAVEN. I mean the colors and the lights exploding at you louder and louder, till you ought to be afraid but you can't be. And then comes what has to be the finale - I mean, the sky’s alive and these huge fountains of fire shooting up from the ground - and it goes on and on and it isn’t the finale at all, because the finale’s still coming and my God, I'm Homesick!

I want where it's brighter and brighter and louder and louder and the color and the shouts and then comes the finale, and it's not the finale, cause here's another, and another, and another, past anything that I ever dreamed about and then comes the part where you ride the fireworks and then comes the part where you fly tumbling through the glory, and then comes the part where you realize that everything you've seen so far was only the hem of His robes and you lift your eyes and you see HIS FACE, and then comes the part where you go off like fireworks in the glory and the splendor and the love and know once and for all your HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, because your HOMELAND IS Him. Amen.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Submission to the Government or Independence?

Perhaps it was just coincidence, but I happened to be reading an essay by Herman Sasse this Fourth of July, that addressed several of the pertinent questions about the rise of new governments from the anarchy of revolution, and the fall of old governments that have neglected their God-given responsibilities in the maintenance of peace and justice. Some of those questions might be whether citizens have the right to rebel against government; what constitutes legitimate government; and how does a government become established as an authority under God? So on this Day of Independence, I thought I'd offer some particularly illuminating (and possibly controversial) quotations from Sasse's essay, "The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession." (For those who don't know Sasse, he was a German-born pastor/theologian who was a contemporary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and though he vigorously opposed the Nazi's he was not of a like mind with Bonhoeffer in regards to how this opposition should be carried out.)

First of all, regarding "legal government authority," Sasse writes, "There can be no doubt that every revolt against the legal governing authority is a grievous sin according to Lutheran doctrine. It can happen that governing authorities are overthrown because of grievous guilt, that the revolution comes as the judgment of God upon them. But the insurgent never has legal right...He can be the instrument of divine wrath, but his rebellion remains guilt. As God does his 'alien work' in the midst of war, so may he also allow the outbreak of human sin in revolution in order to fulfill his angry judgment. Anarchy follows revolution. From anarchy a new power arises, and the question is whether such new power can be a legally constituted governing authority. We must answer this question in the affirmative. For as far back in history as we are able to see, every governing authority once arose from anarchy....Any political power which has arisen out of anarchy may become a God-given governing authority, if it fulfills the tasks of the office of governing authority. "

So according to Sasse, the American Revolution was clearly a sin in revolt against the governing authority, but we may see it as the overthrow of a corrupt government by God's angry judgment, using the instrument of human rebellion. And though the action was sinful in God's eyes, that doesn't mean that our new American government was from that point on an illegitimate government, for once an authority rising from the anarchy begins to fulfill the tasks of a governing authority, it may become a God-given governing authority. So what about the fall or decline of a government. Here I thought Sasse's words were particularly prophetic--they might as easily have been written as an editorial on the state of the nation today (he wrote the essay in 1930).

Sasse continues, "A governing authority which bears the sword in vain, which no longer has the fortitude to decisively punish the law breaker, is in the process of burying itself. A state which removes the concepts 'right' and 'wrong' from jurisprudence and replaces them with 'useful' and 'injurious,' 'healthy' and 'ill', 'socially valuable' and 'socially inferior,' [a state] which in the place of the principle of remuneration places the principle of innoculation, a state which in its civil law dissolves marriage and family--such a state ceases to be a constitutional state and thus the governing authority. A governing authority which knowingly or unknowingly makes the interests of social position or class the norm for the formation and definition of law, or which allows the norms of the law to be dictated by the so-called 'legal consciousness' of the time, sinks to the level of raw power." [qtd. from p. 97-98, "The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession", by Herman Sasse, in the volume of essays, "The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, Vol. 1" CPH, 2001]

Now I know that it has become fashionable these days to decry our government for all manner of reasons, while taking for granted the great freedoms we enjoy. This is not my intention here--I am proud to be an American, and thankful for our freedoms. But what I want to ask here, is this, "Are we not witnessing the very things Sasse describes?" The waning ability to punish wrongdoers, the relativizing of right and wrong, and the dissolution of marriage and family? If so, are we not also watching our country "burying itself?" Food for thought.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Sermon on Romans 7:15-25a "Saint and Sinner"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The sermon text is Romans 7:15-25a,

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In our Christian lives, it’s often easy to become disheartened or discouraged as we examine our lives. We feel deeply grateful for the forgiveness of our sins that Christ has given, and we desire to do better to show our gratitude. But as we look over our lives, and see the struggles against sin that we so often are mired in, we begin to despair, and wonder if God is really at work in our lives. It seems as though things aren’t changing sometimes. We expect more ‘progress.’ We find ourselves ‘stuck in a rut.’ Or perhaps we seem to have gotten past one particular sin, and then it returns on us and we feel defeated. And then there are some sins that we know and hate, but we can never seem to conquer them. No matter how hard we try to resist one or another sin, it always seems that somehow we cave in to temptation. And we are left spiritually and mentally exhausted. Does this sound familiar?

Dear Christians there is a reason for all of this, and its not because your Christian life (i.e. your sanctification) is failing, or that God isn’t helping you. In fact, part of the problem is the very mindset that looks at it that way. When we expect that kind of constant upward progress, defeating our pet sins one by one, inching ever closer to the so-called ‘victorious Christian life’—we are setting ourselves up for either hypocrisy or great disappointment like I’ve just described. You see, God has in fact set us apart for holy living—that is what the word ‘sanctification’ means—set apart to be holy. And God has prepared good works for us to do, He does desire for us to turn away from our old sins and walk anew in Him. But what He hasn’t done is to set us free from the Law in Christ, only to put us back under it again with new and higher demands! And God doesn’t promise a so-called ‘victorious Christian life’ here on earth where we will have risen to higher and higher levels of perfection and defeat of sin. But why, you might ask, do I say that having such an expectation of our Christian life will lead either to hypocrisy or disappointment? The answer is twofold. The first possibility is that by creating such a false standard (not given by God), and then expecting to meet it, this will cause us to become convinced that we have kept it (in which case we become hypocrites, for none of us can say we have no sin). Or the second possibility, if we are honest with ourselves and see our sin, is that this will produce despair as we realize we are not conquering our sins and/or rising to higher and higher levels of holiness, and therefore have not met the false standard. So put away your measuring stick! Really! This way of looking at your Christian life is not Biblical, and therefore is not spiritually healthy or productive.

So instead, when we look at our life honestly, we see it as St. Paul describes in today’s text. Rather than finding ourselves victoriously free from sinful thoughts, desires, and actions, we still find these things woefully present within us. Sometimes we lift up our hands in frustration and say with St. Paul, “I do not understand what I do! For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do!” And the tongue twister goes on! Despite our desire to do good, so often we find ourselves doing just the opposite. But in doing so—in doing what we hate—we recognize with St. Paul that God’s Law is indeed good. For both by desiring what is good and hating what is evil, we are in a small way acknowledging the objective standard of God’s Law being the determiner of what is good. Even if we find ourselves unable to do the good like we want to.

So we find a great disparity within us between our desire to do good, and the actual action of doing good. As reborn believers in Christ we have that desire to seek and obey God’s commands, but it doesn’t always turn out to be that easy, as I think you can all testify from experience. The sin dwelling in us, in our flesh, proves to be a great and compelling force still active in our bodily members to produce sinful desires and actions. Even though we know in our mind and heart what is good, we still find it so easy to put the members of our body to evil work. Our tongue is a restless evil, from which so easily we can pour out words of spite, hatred, or slander. Our hands can so easily take what is not ours or even be turned into weapons to hurt another person. Our eyes are so easily lead astray to lust after what is not ours. Our feet can easily lead us to places where temptations are sure to defeat us. And above all, our mind is susceptible to all sorts of evil thoughts such as greed, jealously, lust, hatred, etc. And so with seriousness and sadness, we confess with St. Paul that “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature.”

It really is as Paul describes: a war or fierce battle within us. Through our rebirth by baptism into Christ, we have entered into the great spiritual warfare between good and evil. When we want to do good, evil is right there at hand with us, coaxing us or even driving us to sin! As reborn, we delight in God’s Law, His just commands; but we find a contrary ‘law’ at work in us in the members of our body. This contrary ‘law’ Paul calls the ‘law of sin,’ which wages war against the law of God. The battlefield is drawn and the war is raging, and the battlefield is in us! In our flesh! And with our eyes opened by God’s Word to see this battle taking place, we become aware of the great power of sin in our lives—the power Paul calls the ‘law of sin’ waging war against the ‘law of God’ or the ‘law of my mind’, which is the desire we have to do good. Awakened to this spiritual conflict within us we see why the false expectations of a ‘victorious Christian life’ are unreal. We realize that we can’t underestimate the power of sin that still dwells in our flesh. Because that power of sin can lure us into the false security of an illusioned victory over sin like I described before: falsely thinking ourselves to have defeated sin. Or on the other hand, that power of sin can lead us to despair of God’s grace when we find ourselves locked in this constant combat against sin.
But St. Paul would also have us learn and believe that this battle can’t be won by denying that sin is our real problem, or by self-reliance. If we rely on ourselves to win the battles, we have already lost! The very law of sin at work in our members makes us a prisoner of that law of sin in our flesh. And where else is it easier to fall into despair than in the prison of our own sinful desires? Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? All our failures and desperation are wrapped up into this great cry for help. We’ve come to the point of realizing that our own efforts are helpless, and that only rescue from outside can save us. Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! He will deliver us from this body of death!
Jesus Christ waged the ultimate war against the power of sin, and its fruit: death, when He died on the cross. For there on the cross all the weapons of sin and Satan were shattered with a deafening blow as Christ spoke those conquering words of victory as He breathed His last, “It is finished!” And back He came from death after three days of rest to rise as the invincible conquering hero, the immortal Son of God! And now all that remains is the clean-up work and the gathering of the human harvest of those who were once enemies of God, to make them believers in Jesus our Savior. And since the sinful flesh that we were born with still lives alongside our new redeemed, reborn inner man until our earthly body dies—we still face that ongoing struggle or warfare within us. But by the Word of God we know enough not to fight on our own. No, instead, having been drafted by the Holy Spirit into God’s army, we wage war against our own sinful flesh by the weapons and powers of almighty God!

As we daily enter this battle with our sinful flesh, we take up God’s weapons against our sinful nature. One of these weapons is repentance, which is a powerful attack against the flesh. In repentance we acknowledge and expose our sin, calling on Jesus Christ to forgive our sin—which He of course delights to do. He crucifies our old sinful flesh with Him on the cross through our Baptism, and raises us new and alive, enlivened by His grace and the Holy Spirit to “suppress the old man so that the new [man] may come forth and grow strong” (LC, Baptism 75-77). So our daily repentance is really a return to our Baptism, the great weapon by which our old sinful desires are crucified with Christ, and the new man is raised again to be set apart as holy to God, which again, is the sanctification I talked about earlier. And through Baptism we set out to do good works not alone, by ourselves, but with Christ living in us. Through our baptism Christ not only takes away our sins, but also lives and moves in us to seek and do the righteous deeds of God’s Law that we delight in by our inner being. So that we can say with St. Paul that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). And no matter how much it may seem to us that we are not succeeding or progressing in the battle against sin, Christ has not abandoned us, and we can continue to return in repentance for our sins, to be restored by His forgiveness, available through His Word, through our Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. We are literally surrounded on all sides by forgiveness! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord for delivering us from this body of death! So as often as we find ourselves besieged by sin in our lives, and in fact even when we are not aware of the sins that we are doing, we should constantly repent and seek God’s everflowing forgiveness through Word and Sacrament. And so doing, by repentance and Christ’s forgiveness, our sinful nature is attacked, weakened, and put into check, so that Christ can produce good works in us. This is the realistic view of our Christian life, shown by the words of St. Paul in today’s text—a battle against our own sinful flesh, but the promised victory in Christ Jesus!

Now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.