Monday, October 29, 2007

Why I hate missions

How is that for a provocative title. Why I hate missions - and quite often, I find I do. Do I hate teaching people about Jesus? No. In fact, I think that is the most wondrous thing the Church can do. Do I hate people overseas? No. In fact, I love traveling the world and rather enjoy studying other cultures (as evidenced by undergraduate majors in Classics and Japanese History).

No, when I say that I hate missions - I mean the whole attitude that falsely glamorizes mission - as though you aren't going God's Work unless you are out in the boonies somewhere playing Great White Hero to some poor savage. There are two aspects there that comes up my characterization of mission that get me riled up (if you can't tell). Let's look at these.

1 - Those poor people. I hate the arrogance I see and hear from mission administrators an supporters (and some, but not all, missionaries). They are not ignorant peoples. They are not backwards folk. They are people, our brothers and sisters, hopefully soon to be brothers and sisters in Christ - and worthy of our dignity and respect, not disdain. I remember when a missionary to Africa was talking to the congregation where my dad was vicaring, and a member asked the missionary how he could stand to live among those "savages". This missionary looked at the woman and said something along the lines of "Murder is virtually unknown among them, a once in a generation occurance among them - and this is a country that kills over a million unborn a year. Who is the savage?"

To often I see so much European arrogance sweeping in with the idea of mission - we are going to come and not only bring them Christ, but bring them society and civilization and make their life so much better - and we'll bring them along nice and slowly until they are ready for things. The Patronizing approach that all too often comes with mission baggage makes me sick.

2 - There is work here, good work to do. Through the four years of seminary, whenever I mentioned that my undergraduate major was in Japanese History, I would be asked/told, "Oh, you must be wanting to be a missionary." Um - no. I actually don't want to be a missionary - if I end up one, I end up one - but that isn't what I want. I wanted to be a pastor - plain and simple - and if I did go overseas, why would I want to go to Japan where there is an established Lutheran Church -- am I going to give them such great insight and wisdom on how to preach Christ to the Japanese?

No, there is work to do here in the US - in a small little town in a small little Congregation - and it is just as important as being a pastor in Japan. The looks of - disappointment - when I said I was going to stay in the US, of people thinking "what a waste" (which I was actually told once - it's such a waste that I don't put my knowledge of Japan to work) angered. Some US congregation doesn't deserve a pastor - a pastor here is a waste? Spitting nails.


I think the reason why I can get so frustrated with the focus on being "missional" - whoever created that word - is that it is artificial. It's an attempt to be self-serving - look at what we are doing for Jesus - look at what I am giving up to serve the Lord, see I have no running water. It's disrespectful to the people where we go, and it shows a wrong reason for going.

I have friends who go and teach overseas - and I respect them so. I have classmates who are now overseas and simply seeking to teach (most of them returning to their homes). Wonderful. I sincerely mean that. Indeed - I could even see myself somewhere other than the US some day (Spain, Italy, Ireland - the places where I have traveled and seen that the Gospel is so hidden) - but not for glory, not because I'd be a missionary (oooOOOooo) - but because the Word should be preached.

Somehow our focus on missions has shifted off of the Word that is preached and onto the fact that we, see, look at us, we are preaching. See all that we do - see what we bring. And it makes me sick. Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Reformation Sunday – October 28, 2007 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus +

While going around town here recently, I saw an advertisement for a Revival. This is not an uncommon thing in Oklahoma, so it shouldn’t have been surprising – and it wasn’t. However, being as it was so close to Reformation day, it made me think. The Missouri Synod in its 160 years of existence has always shied away from Revivalism – some of C. F. W. Walther’s great writings dealt with why Revivalism wasn’t that good – why it shouldn’t be our focus. What is needed in the Church isn’t revival – the Church is in need of Reformation.

Revivals tend towards making people excited – let’s get people excited about being Christians! Being excited isn’t a bad thing – but is it the main thing? Let me give an example. Notre Dame football has been bad this year, historically bad – and ESPN has been showing some of the Friday Night pep rallies they’ve been having – and they’ve been exciting, people are getting fired up – and come Saturday, the football team still loses. That pep rally doesn’t fix the problem – the problem is the team is playing poorly. The football team needs to get their act in gear, that’s what will fix things – and no pep rally can do that.

A revival is basically a religious pep rally – let’s get fired up. Not a bad thing to be fired up – but does it make you a better Christian? It’s not a bad thing to be enthusiastic – but does your excitement give you growth as a Christian? Hear what Christ Jesus says. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There’s the key. What causes freedom, what sets us free? Is it our excitement? Is Jesus standing here like a cheerleader telling us to be aggressive, be be aggressive? No. Abide in Christ’s Word, and that Word, that Word of Truth will set you free. The Word causes freedom. And that is why we are always in need, not of revival, but of reform.

As Christians, we need to be reformed, reshaped by Christ and His Word – because the simple fact is sin breaks us down. Sin makes us careless, sin makes us sloppy. Sin makes us indifferent, and we don’t put into practice what we know we ought. Excitement doesn’t counter sin. Basketball season is coming up, and if Coach Cue sees that the team isn’t rebounding well, he’s not going to say, “Boy, I hope we have a good pep rally so the players will be excited and rebound well” – he’s going to put the team to work on rebounding, teaching them how, reinforcing what they have learned and stopped using – put them back into shape – reform them. Likewise, for the Christian, it doesn’t matter how excited you are if you are doing the wrong thing, if you don’t understand God’s Word. Listen. They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Do you hear the passion in their response? Do you hear the self pride – we are the offspring of Abraham! How can you say such things about us? They had passion, they had excitement. The only problem – they were wrong.

Now, they misunderstand Jesus – they think at first Jesus is thinking about physical slavery. Not Jesus’ point, but even if that was Jesus’ point – they would be wrong. Let me ask you a question – had the offspring of Abraham even been enslaved? Let’s see – there was Egypt – yep, slaves there. Moses, the Exodus, all that. Let’s see – the Babylonian captivity, where Jerusalem is burned down and they are dragged off to Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach, Abendigo, Daniel – all those guys. And even in Jesus day – they are ruled by the Romans – not quite slaves, but a conquered people. Yet they have fierce excitement and pride. But it’s misplaced, and they don’t understand, they don’t see what is truly happening.

But this is worse than not understanding history – this is worse than not recognizing the political realities of the day. Hear again the Words of Jesus. Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That’s the point, that’s the true bondage these people had. A bondage to sin. Sin comes up and fights their wills, thoughts of wickedness come unbidden into their mind – cruel words come out of their mouths – hands designed for love and service to the neighbor work his harm. That is the bondage that Christ speaks of – being trapped and caught in sin.

That danger lies in wait for you. How often does sin try to trap and enslave you? How many things that you know are wrong seem so, so right? How many pet sins do you have – things that you sort of just end up doing – and certainly don’t want anyone to know about them? This is the struggle for us human beings – the struggle against sin. This is the attack we face – Satan trying to break us and shatter us – lead us down the path to hell with the allures of sin.

And the problem is – we forget that sin is the main problem – and that it’s a problem we can’t solve on our own. The Jews of Jesus day had forgotten how dire a problem sin was. Oh, we’ll be fine, we’re children of Abraham. That’s what their hope was, that was their solution – and it was a false solution. They were in need of Reform – being shaped again into what believers in God are to be. In Luther’s day – the Church had strayed, had fallen into error. The focus was more upon what you did, your works that evened out the score against your sin – and Christ was now the angry judge who would see if you were up to snuff. The Church was in need of reform. And what of our own day? What does the Church at large bandy about as being important? Learn how to get your share of blessings from God – live your best life now! Is life about the body – is our time here on earth going to be our best? I thought that would be heaven! If you find life boring we’ll make it exciting for you! We’ll entertain you, put on a good show! Is Church really about entertaining you – well, if it’s about entertainment, no wonder people stay home and watch tv – after all, there’s no remote in the world that will let you swap between pastors when one doesn’t get you fired up like you want him to. The Church today is in need of reform.

Reform, being reshaped – whether you are talking about the Church at large, or a congregation, or an individual – only comes about by the Word of God. We sing that in the classic reformation hymns. “With might of ours can naught be done.” The sin I’m struggling against – isn’t going to be conquered by what I do. “But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected.” Christ has to do it – if there is to be reform – reform in your life, in this congregation, in the Church it must be brought about by God – it must be brought about by a return to the Word of God, and a renewed focus not on excitement, not on what I do for Jesus, but a renewed focus on what Christ Jesus has done for me by going to the Cross and shedding His blood to win me freedom and forgiveness from sin. It has to be about Christ – that is what He tells us. The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. As slaves to sin, we’d have no rights, no ability to call upon God, no hopes of heaven – none of that. No rights to the house of God. But the Son, it’s his house – and He is in charge, and so if He declares you to be free – then you are free. What the Son says works, what the Son says happens. What the Son says – His almighty and powerful Word does.

And so, my dear Christian friends – we are to be always in the Word. Our focus and attention is to be given to the life giving Word of Christ – to see more and more what He has done for us – because that’s what Satan doesn’t want you to see. Satan will try to put your focus elsewhere. Maybe pride in your heritage – We’re good Jews and children of Abraham – our family’s always been members of this church! Repent, and look to Christ. Satan will try to put your focus elsewhere. Maybe pride in your strength and works – okay, I’ve sinned a bit, but look at all the good I’ve done – All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. Your works aren’t up to His standards – Repent, and look to Christ. Satan will try to put your focus elsewhere. Maybe what you have decided – I feel revived, I’m going to give my heart to Jesus – see how excited I am for Him! What then becomes of our boasting? It is excluded – for we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Satan wants us to look at ourselves, who we are, the strength of our feelings, what we do, even what we are doing for Jesus – just so long as we don’t look at Jesus. But God’s Word wrests our eyes off of ourselves – and by the Word that strengthens our faith and shapes us once again we look at and see Christ. And that is what we are always in need of, every day – to be kept and preserved in faith in Christ, looking no where else, trusting none other than Christ Jesus to be our Savior.

That is why we celebrate Reformation Day – why we observe this week every year. Not just because of what Luther did long ago – but because of what God is always doing with His Word, reshaping, reforming us – forgiving us and setting us free from the bonds of sin. Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word. Amen.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Judging, Creating, and Activists

One of the things that I find annoys me most about our political setup as it is currently practiced in the presence of Activist Judges. A Judge is supposed to judge - look at a situation and see how it applies to the stated, written law - and then apply that law to the situation. Did the person violate the law? If so, what punishment does the law prescribe a violation if there is one.

The problem is that with the advent of Judicial Review in the US we have established a tradition of allowing judges to de facto create laws if they declare a current law to be "unconstitutional" - like Miranda rights. You have to be read your rights - everyone who has ever watched a cop show or a cop movie knows this. There was no law passed by congress on this - rather it was a result of the case Miranda vs. Arizona in 1966 - where it was determined that if a policeman did not inform a suspect of their right to remain silent, the police were violating the suspects 5th amendment right to avoid self incrimination. What? Where did that come from? Yet - that's the way it is, and we shrug.

I find it disgusting. Is have Miranda rights nice - sure - but let the Congress do that - making Law is their job. I despise it when judges try to "fix" things - their job is simply to judge the current law - not create the law. Even if Miranda rights are a good idea - it's not the courts job to create - but simply to judge.

Now, why all this here on a theological blog? There are many people who cringe when they hear certain folks talk about the Congregation's right or the Individual's right to "judge" doctrine. And why? Because just as there are activists judges who forget what judging is to be - there are Christians and Congregations who used this language to justify anything they do - they are just exercising their right to judge doctrine.

Judging has nothing to do with whether or not you "like" something in doctrine and want it taught. Frankly, I hate the idea of hell - I know people probably headed that way and I dislike it - but I am bound to preach and teach it - because it is what Scripture teaches. I must go by what Scripture teaches. This is also what every Christian and every Congregation must do - go by what Scripture says. To judge doctrine doesn't mean to give an opinion on whether or not people like a doctrine, rather, to judge doctrine describes the idea that a Christian or Congregation is to search the Scriptures and to test the Spirits, as it were - on any theological idea - show it from Scripture.

This is vital - and we ought not let the abuse of an idea sour us on the right and proper use of an idea. In this country, do activist judges annoy me? Yes. Does that mean we should get rid of all judges? No, we need them. Likewise - do some people or groups misuse the language of the "right to judge doctrine" in a way that is horrid? Yes. Does that mean we should get rid of it - no.

Rather - we need to teach as Pastors (you know, those who are Pastor and Teachers) - and constantly point to Scripture. What does the Word say, what does the Word say - behold our constant refrain. Indeed, we need to avoid the idea of "this is what I say" but emphasize this - "Behold what the Word says - and we are bound to this, and we abandon it only at the risk of eternal damnation." Don't lament that people abuse the "right to judge doctrine" - teach them what it actually is - and as a result the importance of the clear statements of Scripture.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

7 True Things. . . sort of

Here already, for you, my faithful readers - I have already given 10 - 10 fundamental truths of preaching. But that is not enough - always the demand comes for more, more! My good friend Pastor Chris Hall has tagged me for "Seven True Things." I am now supposed to give 7 more true things - true things about myself. So here it goes.

1. I really enjoy listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio. Sometimes he can be arrogant, but he approaches sports from an interesting, intelligent angle. My wife thinks he is arrogant - and he can be. Of course - I can be arrogant too (and that's a free bonus truth for you).

2. I find theological indifference to be more annoying in a person than someone who believes something silly but can at least defend it. Actually, that's true not just for theology - but for philosophy, history, any type of discussion. As long as you can defend it - I will respect you. You don't have to defend it well - but if you do that is fantastic.

3. Part of being a Cubs fan is relishing losing, falling short, waiting for next year. In the back of our heads, we all think things will be so much sweeter when we get there - and if we were honest, I think we'd be a little scared of losing the lovable loser moniker.

4. I find I am not worried about the Synod at large - because, even having gone to the Synodical Convention, I've never had to deal with the Synod at large. I've never been part of the big wigs - I don't belong to one of the royal families - and I don't hang on the latest issue of the Concordia Pulpit for my sermons or the latest book from CPH for my bible studies. Synod at large - who cares. My congregation - I care about that. My neighboring congregations - yeah, what hits them hits me. But the abstract Synod - I can't control what happens there - I'm not going to lose sleep - but as for me and my house, we will follow the Lord.

5. Having been spoiled before my dad went to the Seminary - and by necessity not spoiled afterwards - I believe that spoiling a child is the worst thing you can do. A lesson that needs to be learned is that the world doesn't revolve around you - and it is scary when that lesson isn't taught until after you leave home. Either you get into a lot of trouble in college or turn into someone who acts remarkably like a Baby Boomer stereotype.

6. A bizarre Contrast - I firmly believe that I would have excelled in any major I had chosen at college (with the exception of the arts themselves) - and yet, when I look at what I have studied, I realize I could have done them and mastered them so much more. Even as I rattle off knowledge and people get all impressed (I had a member extol how well I know my Scripture - um - not as well as I should) I see how much more not only I ought to know, but that I "should" know and would have known if I had been diligent with my studies.

7. I love OU - I am a big Oklahoma fan -- but when it comes to men's basketball, I'm still an Indiana fan. But I'm torn. Part of the reason why I am an Indiana fan was Knight was still the coach there when I was at OU - and working in the athletic department I had no respect for Kelvin Sampson - never saw the Men's Basketball students there. But now Sampson is at IU and is breaking NCAA rules. Confused am I!

Oh - and if it works, I'll tag Beecroft, Esget, Beisel, and Mackey (just leave a good comment here, my friend)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A random - not quite theological post

I just found out that Nathan Fillion ( ) - who played the exquisite Mal on Firefly - and the evil crazy preacher Caleb on Buffy - attended college at Concordia Alberta. Is he Lutheran? Who knows - but at least we can take some credit for such a fine actor.

By the way - go watch Firefly - good show, even if the preacher on the show takes a mythological approach to Genesis 1-11. Seriously - reward yourself this reformation day time period with some mighty fine television on DVD. You could be a Browncoat someday too.

((muttering -- "Browncoats. Firefly fans get the cool nickname. I'm Pastor Brown. . . people who read my blog should be Browncoats."))

See - Pastors are people too. We have interests outside of just Church things. I'm a Cubs fan (and hence I understand the theology of the Cross). I like watching Japanese Animation - in part because I find Japanese culture fascinating, and nothing explains a culture like shows aimed at 8-14 year olds.

And you need to have a life outside of the Church too. Why? Your people do, and if you can't relate to the world outside, how are you supposed to be able to relate to them? And by this I don't me that you need to try to be "hip" and learn the "lingo" - cause you won't get it right and you will seem fake -- probably because you are being fake. But no, have a life, have some depth, and let that depth show -- and that way, when something comes up, you won't be just that religion guy - but you will be that religion guy who knows and understands what it's like -- whatever it may be.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Trinity 20 – October 21st, 2007 – Matthew 22:1-14

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

The air is finally getting a bit more chill – the days are shorter and shorter – and we in the Church are approaching the end of the Church Year. Advent and a new year will soon be upon us, but for now, as the End of the Church Year approaches, we hear Christ teach us with parables which warn about the end of times, what we need to know and remember so that we are prepared for the last days. And so it is fitting that we look at this parable this morning. Christ has just entered Jerusalem, and He knows what is coming, so He again warns those who would ignore His Words of what the cost will be of forsaking God's Word. Listen.

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again, he sent other servants saying, 'Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.' But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. This is the first part of the parable, and the people in Jesus day would have known this for what it was – a history of the people of Israel. Here the people of Israel were – God's chosen people, the people whom God had declared to be His people – the people that would proclaim to the rest of the world the glories that God would do in redeeming the world, the people from whom the very Messiah would come. To be an Israelite meant you were to be ready for God's Kingdom to come, for the Messiah to crush the head of Satan as was promised to Adam and Eve – to wait to see all nations blessed through Him as was promised to Abraham. And. . . many just didn't care. How often the people of Israel fell away. . . where only a small remnant remains. Indeed, many thought that living the mundane, day to day things of life was far more important than spending any time or attention on God. Indeed, Israel would even stone the prophets, kill the ones sent to them. And God even burned Jerusalem to the ground – the Babylonians came and wreaked havoc and chaos. And it was all happening again in Jesus day. Once again, especially now that Christ was here – the same thing. Rather than desiring to hear the Word, people doubted. Even miracles done by Christ were mocked – He casts out demons by Belezebub. Indeed, as Jesus speaks this men are plotting to put Him to death. A sad story – and it ends with God having Jerusalem once again destroyed – burned to the ground in 70 AD by the Romans.

But Jesus does not just warn the stubborn doubters here. Then He said to his servants, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.' And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Again, another warning – this time not to the people who ignored Christ, but to the very people who heard, who listened to Him. There was a warning to these folks as well. They have been invited, God has called them – but what would they do with His invitation. Imagine for a second that you have been invited to a fine party – a wonderful celebration – dinner at the governor's house. A great a wonderful thing – something none of us here would earn. How would you respond? Would you at least try to clean up a bit, or would you show up in shorts and a ratty t-shirt, or maybe jeans still with the muck of the field on them? If you showed up in gritty dress – it would be a grave insult, and you'd probably get kicked out.

Here is what Jesus warns those who listened to Him. You have been invited to the Kingdom of God – you have been called into God's presence. Recognize what a blessing this is, and don't take it for granted, don't treat it as a common thing. What Christ does changes the world, and you don't get to simply plug on as you were – repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, turn away from your sin. And some don't. Some who are invited say “alright, way to be Jesus” and then just shrug along. They fall away – they are like those seeds that take root quickly but are burned up by the heat of the sun – they are like the son who says, “Yes, I will” and then does nothing. And that is the way of damnation – and many fell away.

So then, how does this apply to us here? I would hope you would see it, but let's spell it out. We are in the same situation. Many of us have been raised knowing God's Word, part of God's people from the days of our youth – Baptized and covered with Christ's Righteousness – given the wedding garments we need for the heavenly feast to come. Some of us were invited later, called simply by God's mercy to be here amongst His people in His house – invited to His feast here at His altar for the forgiveness of our sin. But there is a danger that lurks for us. The danger of indifference. The danger of neglect. The danger of breaking the 3rd commandment. Remember the Sabbath day. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching or His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. What do we see in the parable but people despising the Word of God? The king invites you to His feast! Eh. . . I'll pass. The king invites you to his feast, here are your garments – eh, I'll just keep on what I had on, thanks. It's a despising of the Word that is warned against. The folks of Jesus day – some of them ignored the Word of God and despised it. Likewise today, is not the temptation to despise the Word present? But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business. The more things change, the more they stay the same. While the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. Oh, of course the people who preach the Word of God are never treated disrespectfully today. . . the more things change. That's the warning.

So what is to be done? What is the right response to Jesus’ Words? Remember who you are. Hear again who is invited to the feast – And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. What defines you as a Christian isn't you – isn't how good you are. You aren't made ready for Christ by what you do. Your actions are to be a response to God's love – your actions are never the cause of God's love. Rather – what are you? A guest – one invited, one called. Ponder this – God Almighty has called you into His kingdom, called you to His feast. And He has provided for you all that you need to be at this feast. You have your wedding garment – you received it at your Baptism where you were washed clean by water and the Word – where you were prepared for heaven. Hear the description of heaven that John gives – After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes. . . then one of the elders addressed me saying, 'Who are these, clothed in white robes, and where have they come from?' I said to him, 'Sir, you know.' And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Washed in the Blood of the Lamb – those who live, those who see their lives in light of what Christ has done. The ones who as Isaiah says come with no money yet eat – the ones who are abundantly pardoned by God. That's how we live – as Christ's forgiven. That's how we are prepared for heaven – by receiving again and again Christ's forgiveness – by remaining in our Baptism – by continuing to be whom God made us to be in the waters of holy Baptism. That's how we live – coming to Christ's own table and receiving the Blood of the Lamb to make us whole, to keep us clothed in Christ and looking no where else. Simply receive what God has done, remain in His Word and continue to delight in the forgiveness He gives us. That is what God desires for you, that is what He calls you to, that is why He sees to it that His Word is still proclaimed to you even here and now – that you might not forsake the gift of life He has given you, and rather that you might remain in the 1 true faith unto life everlasting.

The dangers remain the same – for we will always be tempted to abandon the Word – to crave the things of life more than we do the Word of the God. The excuses we face and fight against are the same ones our grandparents fought, and the same their grandparents fought. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever – and He continues to provide for you forgiveness and life – He has invited you to His feast and given you the garments of His righteousness – washed in His blood shed upon the Cross for you. And so as we face these evil days, with all the temptations that there are – we remain who Christ has made us to be – His own forgiven people, and we delight in His forgiveness. God preserve us from all temptations that would have us despise His Word. Amen.

The Point of Apologetics

Apologetics never save anyone. No one by their own reason or strength believes in Jesus Christ - not you, not me, not the skeptic down the street. Apologetics are not Gospel. Apologetics are law.

I don't know if we often think of them this way - but what does the Law do? It shows us our sin. When we are arguing apologetics with people what are we doing? They have objections, and we show them how their objections are stupid - and the best we can hope for is for them to admit that their objections are stupid. "You're stupid" is a law statement.

Apologetics kill. They kill human vanity and trust in reason. They tear down artificial walls that man throws up. And that's it. Apologetics are a valuable tool - but they can't be the only tool in our box. Demonstrating the plausability of Scripture or the veracity of the historical record doesn't create faith. Hopefully though, like the Law, it might help pave the way. Useful - yes. Vital - in some cases. Viviving - never.

Monday, October 15, 2007

On the way to Pastor's Conference

Over on one of my friend's blogs, I got into a slight discussion over what the Lord's Supper is - not really in depth - but one of my friends said (paraphrased), "Well, Methodists basically believe in transubstation" - and as the discussion went on, it became clear that he thought a spiritual presence was enough for the "basic" part of his description. So there was just a bit of theology on what Rome believes (for my Roman Catholic friend jumped in) and then I tossed in terms like "real presence" and now "bodily presence" to help explain some of the differences. . .

And I had a sad thought. I enjoyed that convo so much - even though it sort of shanghaied the original post (was about radical evangelicals on the west coast active trying to punish gays - and my comment about -- well, duh, there is a big stream of reformed thought that approves of the use of force to make people see the light) - but I enjoy discussing theology.

So why is it that I fear I will discuss more theology with my gay lasped Methodist and Roman Catholic housewife friends than I will at my district pastor's conference? And what does it say that I may be right?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tomorrow's sermon

Trinity 19 – Ocotober 14th, 2007

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

You don't think like Jesus does. Don't take that as too stinging a critique – but it is true. You don't think like Jesus does. I don't think like Jesus does. The folks who produced and translated the very bible I had at hand when I wrote this sermon don't think like Jesus does – and none of us will completely on this side of heaven. Here on earth, in sinful flesh, our thoughts don't quite measure up. And as an example of this – if I were to ask you what our Gospel text was – to give a title for it – what would you say happens, what is the big deal in it? My bible entitles it “Jesus Heals a Paralytic”. Oh yeah, it's the story where Jesus heals the paralyzed guy! That's what we think, that's our gut reaction to this text – and we completely miss the point. This story isn't about Jesus healing a guy who is paralyzed – that's not the focus, that not Christ's focus – and oh that we thought like Christ, that our focus was the same as His focus, that what we willed was what He wills. Let us spend some time today looking at what Christ sees as important, what Christ stresses, and God grant by the power of His Word that by this we are shaped.

And behold, some people brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, My Son; your sins are forgiven.” People don't see things like Jesus does. What do you see, when you hear those words what images are conjured in your head? A poor man, lying helpless on a cot or stretcher, carried by sad, worried friends who lay him before Jesus? Is that what you see? A pitiful paralytic, and sad friends. Would that you saw what Jesus sees! And when Jesus saw their faith! Jesus doesn't see some sad and pathetic fellow – Jesus sees a man of faith, a man who loves and trusts in God. We see the frail body, we pity this man because he is weak and can't move – and Christ Jesus is moved by the strength of the man's faith. We don't see things like Jesus does.

If you want more proof, hear again Jesus' Words. “Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.” What did you see when you saw the paralytic? A man in dire need of healing? A man who needed to walk again? That isn't what Christ saw. Christ Jesus saw a sinner in dire need of forgiveness, a man who needed God to forgive him his sin. And so Christ tends to what He sees, what He knows is the bigger problem. Yes, this man lying on the ground in front of Him is a man of faith – but like all mortal men this paralytic was a sinner, a man who struggled with his sin daily, and probably struggled against anger and resentment and coventousness in a battle more persistent and harsh than you or I can imagine – and God grant that we never have to face what this man faced. But there were struggles – and the depths of those struggles, and the times when the man failed, the guilt that he bore for unkind thoughts and his failures – that's what Christ sees, and that's what Christ deals with – Take heart, My Son; your sins are forgiven. Jesus forgives the man and does away with the sin that hounds him.

Do you see things the way that Jesus does? Do you see sin, your sin, as the greatest problem in your life? What troubles you more – your lack of money or your lack of righteousness? What do you think is the bigger problem in your life – your ailing physical health or your spirituality that isn't what it should be? Which is the bigger problem – that you don't know enough good people, have enough friends and are lonely, or that you don't know God's Word like you ought? What troubles you more – the things of this world, with all it's vaunted treasures, or your sin? What's the bigger problem in your book – that your life isn't everything you could wish it could be – or that daily you struggle with sin, and daily you fail and give into sin? Which is the bigger problem?

We see what Jesus says is the bigger problem – which one He deals with first. Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven. Christ sees the true problem and He cuts to the chase. Jesus sinners doth receive. Christ Jesus does all that is required to fix the true and great problem, the root of all problems – the blemish and stain of sin. Christ Jesus marches to the Cross, will let nothing stand in His way – yells at Peter “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan” when Peter tries to disuade Him from the cross. Jesus sees what is important, knows what we truly need. And if only we saw it too – if we actually learned to beat down our sinful desires and simply live in Christ's forgiveness – delighting in it, rejoicing in it, viewing everything in our lives in light of Christ's forgiveness. Everything else would be small potatoes, brief, flickering annoyances that we know will be laughter on the morrow.

But sometimes, dear friends, the problem goes deeper than just not thinking like Jesus. And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This Man is blaspheming.” This Man is blaspheming. He's a liar. He can't do what He says! How can He forgive people – how can this Man give out God's mercy and righteousness to people. By what right can He do this? That is what the scribes were thinking – and so they look upon Jesus with disgust and disdain. They don't believe it. They hear what Christ says, they hear the Word – and they think, how can that be?

Jesus doesn't let this stand. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think such evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” - He then said to the paralytic - “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. It is one of the most dramatic moments in Scripture. There Jesus is, and He has just forgiven this paralytic's sin – and people start complaining, start thinking evil thoughts. And Jesus calls them on it – why do you think such evil. . . this is serious, how often does Jesus flat out call something evil? And then, in the middle of addressing these scribes, Jesus turns to the paralytic and tells him to rise and walk. See – I have authority to forgive sins! Do you see what Jesus thinks is important, what message Jesus wants to get across? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . . That's what Jesus thinks is important. You need to know that I can do this – that I can deal with sin! The physical healing, that's secondary. Just an object lesson. All too often we are blind to broken souls – we can't see them. But we can see a broken body. Oh, look, Jesus heals this broken body – maybe He actually means it when He says He deals with my broken and contrite spirit! Jesus' point here is all about the fact that His Word forgives sins – that He has this authority, and that He isn't afraid to use it.

Now the question is – do you believe it? Do you believe that God's Word is powerful and does what it says? Do you believe that there is authority on this earth to forgive sins? That's what we claim here. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins. Do you believe that? That God by His Word heals your spirit here in His house, that it actually happens? Given and shed for you – all your sins have been forgiven by Christ the crucified, go in peace? Do you believe that this actually happens?

This is one of the things that we in America, that the Church in America across the board is dealing with. People don't believe it, people don't believe that the Word of God actually has power. “Oh, I don't get anything out of Church.” I forgive you your sins. “Oh, I had better things to do.” Take and drink, the blood Christ, shed for you and for the remission of all of your sins. “Oh, there are just some things there that I don't like.” This is the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God. And it even has affected us Lutherans. We believe it, but sometimes I wonder if we really appreciate it. We say the words – but then we flitter off. We confess in the Catechism “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Christ Jesus my Lord, or come to Him, but that the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel” - but when numbers are down, do we strive to focus more on the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit work when and where He wills, simply tell our friends and neighbors and let God do the work, or do we wait for the next Synodical program to come along, the next neat trend that will pack them in? We sing God Himself is Present – and yet not once have I been asked to have service more often here so that we can gather together in the presence of God and hear His Word together. In fact, the past month I haven't done Matins and nary an eye has blinked – and most mornings that includes my own eyes. I can't get up in the mornings now – oh well, I could do it later. . . but it doesn't happen. When it gets down to it – do we realize, do we appreciate, do we understand the miracle that goes on every time God calls us together in this place? When I look, when I examine myself – I have to say the answer is no, not like we ought.

But you know what – that doesn't cheapen what happens here at all. Is God's Word somehow less powerful because we don't appreciate it like we ought? Is God's Word somehow less true because we tend to blunder along like dunderheads? Is God's gift of forgiveness to us weakened because we spend so much time looking at all the flashing lights of the world? No. Because what makes God's Word work isn't you, it isn't how excited or how dedicated you are. No – forgiveness is about God – it's about Christ Jesus and what He does for you – He is the One who is doing it, it's on His power, it's His authority, and that's why it sticks. And in His great mercy and love, He still calls you here to His House, and He gives you His forgiveness over and over again, and you receive it and have life in His name. And that is real, and that is true, and that is the most important thing in your life. Yes, your sinful nature riles and fights against God – but Christ Jesus has had mercy upon you and has forgiven all your sins. And He shapes you by His Word – makes you to think like Him, see things like He sees them – so that you might know His forgiveness and rest securely there in. Take Heart, my son; your sins are forgiven. Amen.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Gates of Hell!

One complaint that is raised against Lutherans in terms of things they rejected at the time of the Reformation that were common practice in the Church is as follows:

1 - These things were common practice.
2 - Jesus said the gates of hell wouldn't prevail against the Church.
3 - Are you calling Jesus a liar by saying that the Church was doing vile things?

Let me be clear. My stupidity does not equal the gates of hell. The stupid things that my congregation has done do not equal the gates of hell. The tomfoolery my synod engages in does not equal the gates of hell. Generations of stubborn Germans being stubborn Germans does not equal the gates of hell. A 1000 years of Popes being antichrist does not even equal the gates of hell.

Now, can my stupidity cloud the Gospel? Yes - but it doesn't destroy it, any more than a passing cloud destroys the sun. Can a congregation's or synod's stupidity "hide it under a bushel" as the song goes? Sure - but God's Word still is there.

See, here is what it gets down to. God's Word does what it says. Now, we in our stupidity might ignore it, obscure it for others, dance around it - but God's Word is there, it carries on, and through it God creates faith - even with all sorts of sinful stupidity.

So the Church has been stupid and ignored the Word and added myths on top of it. Doesn't trump the Word. And I am going to lose no sleep (except for the sleep lost in writing this post) wringing my hands about lost traditions of dubious quality. People really don't trust the Word - all over, no one trusts the Word of God to do it's work - and yet the amazing thing - God still calls people to faith by the Gospel, even as we don't appreciate it. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

(P.S. Your theology is garbage! Listen to my theology! I'm a Man! I'm 30!)
P.S.S. If you don't get that watch and

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Help my unbelief!

In many ways I have always thought the most impressive statement by a simple person in the bible is the father, who in response to Jesus' question if he believes that HE can heal his daughter says, "I believe - help my unbelief!"

This is the heart of the Christian life, the Christian daily struggle against sin. I love using this image, especially in bible classes - and as I have a tendency to start a verse and have the people finish it. . . I'm afraid I'm conditioning them to shout out "Help my unbelief!" whenever they hear the words "I believe."

The thing is - maybe it needs to be shouted. I think that perhaps as a Synod we have forgotten that second part - help my unbelief. We have forgotten that the only reason why we have belief is that God indeed helps our unbelief. It's that whole third article thing - I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength. . . .

We (that is the Synod) love the focus on "I believe" - see what we do, see what we are doing for Jesus, see how we grow, grow, grow (irregardless of whether or not even from a simply worldly view if our "actions" are impressive). We have forgotten the "help my unbelief" - that we exist as a Church not to be a place where people get to show Jesus how cool they think He is, but we are fundamentally a place where God helps His people's unbelief through His Word.

As the Church - our focus needs to be on "help my unbelief." In fact, the times when the Church has gotten into the most trouble is when belief has simply been assumed or those who were weak in belief were looked down upon.

When asked what a Pastor's "job" is - the standard, rote answer is "preach the Word and administer the sacraments." We can shorten that. "Help people's unbelief" is a briefer answer that says the same thing. Would that we as a Synod were to remember that!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Tomorrow's Sermon

October 7th, 2007 – Trinity 18 – Matthew 22:34-46

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord +

Arrogance is one of the most dangerous things in the world. Think on what you yourself have done when you've been arrogant, when you've been over confident. Think on the times when you've been sure you were right, only to find out you were wrong – when you knew that you were better than the other person, only to have to eat humble pie. One of my favorite lines from a movie deals with this – Your mouth's writing checks your body can’t cash. Arrogance can leave a person in a world of hurt.

The Pharisees approach Jesus with a spirit of arrogance today. But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked a question to test Him. The Pharisees and Sadducees didn't get along well – they were almost like two opposing political parties, two rival factions. And so the Pharisees in Jerusalem hear that Jesus has just smacked down the Sadducees – and with arrogance they think, “Ah, well, where they've failed, we'll do better! And we'll put this Jesus in His place!” And so, they decide to test Jesus. They ask a question – Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? Trap question. Trap question. When you are asked to pull out one item, you are simply opening yourself up to criticism. For example – if I were to ask which is more important, Baptism or the Lord's Supper – if I were to be mean and cruel, I could criticize you no matter what you said – by defending what you didn't pick. Or if you are asked which of your children you love most – you can't answer that safely. No answer will be a good one. So this is the question that Jesus is asked. The only thing is – He was addressed as Teacher. If He's the Teacher, if He is this wise Rabbi, He should know the answer to such a simple question – so Jesus isn't allowed to not answer either. It is such a delicate trap.

So Jesus doesn't let them spring it. He doesn't answer the question. Which commandment? He doesn't give a commandment – rather He explains what all the commandments mean. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sould and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love Your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Brilliant. Alright – first I'll explain the great commandment – Love God. Completely. And just in case you might complain about ignoring the neighbor – the second one is like, is tied into it. Love your neighbor. And that's everything in the Law – everything else written in God's Law is just an expansion, and explanation of these two ideas.

Love God, Love your neighbor. Jesus kind of boils it down rather simply there, doesn't He? Yet, we make it hard, quite often, don't we? Love God, Love your neighbor. There's one thing not on there that we wish were – Jesus doesn't say “Love yourself.” He doesn't say “To thine own self be true.” Love God, Love your neighbor. And that, dear friends, is where the rubber meets the road in our lives. Love God – but what about then times when God doesn't let everything in your life go as planned? Love God – but what about when you don't like the way things turn out? Sometimes we don't want to love God because things didn't go our way. Same thing with the neighbor. Love your neighbor. Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor if it is easy. Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor if they are nice and will love you back. Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor after you've taken good care of everything you want. Love your neighbor.

Love God, Love your neighbor. Simple. Covers everything – every question of what you should or shouldn't do – all of those times you aren't sure what to do – ask yourself – how do I best show love to God and to my neighbor – and you'll see what you ought to do. What you ought to do. But the doing is hard. The doing, doesn't get done. The best laid plans of mice and men both wither away and crumble. We are frail people – frail mentally and emotionally and spiritually and physically – and the simple fact is we don't always do what we know, what we know we ought. Think on the times you've given advice – how often has it been the case where the person asking for your help knew what they needed to do – just didn't want to do it and were hoping you would give them an excuse not to? That's the way we work. We don't fulfill the Law – and while we are still in this life on earth – we're not going to. Oh we are to strive to do so – we are to try to show love – in fact we are to support and encourage each other in showing love. That's what our ladies in the LWML do – I've seen them myself encourage each other so that they do more good than they would have done on their own. But there's always more to do – and it's always more than I want to do. And the Law always demands more and more – and we are left broken and beaten, tired and spent.

Then, Jesus decides that He should ask the Pharisees a question. It's not a trap – but rather, He's going to make them realize something. Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him LORD saying, 'The LORD said to my Lord, sit here at my right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.' If then David calls Him Lord, how is he his son?” This is the question that Jesus asks of the Pharisees. And we know the answer – He is David's Son according to the flesh, for He was born of the line and house of David – but He is David's Lord because He is God – the Messiah would be Emmanuel, God with Us – God in Human Flesh – so He is both David's Son and David's Lord. We know and see that Christ is claiming to be both True God and True Man right here.

Here's the thing, dear friends. The Pharisees knew it too! And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions. The Pharisees knew their scripture. The Pharisees knew the bible – and the idea that the Messiah would be God is no mystery. Even Eve knew it! When Cain is born – most translations drop the ball here – but when Cain is born Eve says - “I have gotten a man – the LORD” Eve thinks she's given birth to God Himself – and well, we all know that Cain wasn't the messiah. But Eve knew that God would be born from among her descendants, for that was the promise made in the garden of Eden. That was the promise made to Abraham to bless all the world through His Seed – through the Messiah that would be a descendant of him. All the prophets in pointing to the Messiah proclaim that He would be God visiting His people.

And this is what Jesus points out to these Pharisees. Who is the Messiah going to be? He is going to be True God and True Man. And the Pharisees knew it – and they knew that they were behaving horribly towards Jesus – they weren't loving their neighbor – and more than that – if this Jesus were truly the Messiah – then they were directly treating God Himself horribly! And they are shocked into silence. Some repent – Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimethea. Some conspire to put Him to death before He might do them any more embarassment. In fact, they even charge Jesus with blasphemy.

So what do we learn from this all? What is the difference between the Pharisees and Jesus? Well, let's see. Where is the Pharisees' focus? The Law. What I do. What do I have to do, what about me, me, me? Now, what is Christ's focus? Let's look at the promises of God about the Messiah – let's focus on what God is going to do for you and how God is going to bless you. That's the difference, that's what makes all the difference in the world. You see, the Pharisees had a backwards approach. Their focus was upon who they were, what they did, how they could impress God with all that they do. You know, God is awfully hard to impress. If I walk outside and throw a 70 mile an hour fastball I'm not going to impress a major league baseball player. If I shoot 90 on a round of golf, that's not going to impress any professional golfer. If I can't impress other people - how in the world is anything that I do going to impress God? God says, “Let there be light” and there is! Well, just You wait God until You see what I can do! Yet that was the Pharisees' approach – they sought to impress God with their holiness.

That's not the way that it works, dear friends. Rather this – God comes to you, out of His great love and mercy He comes to you and gives you every blessing of both body and soul – indeed He gives you the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus upon the Cross in order to cover every lack that you have. And then, in response – we show forth love. Oh, we don't do so perfectly, we don't do so completely – we still sin – But God comes to us in love and fills us with His love, and that can't but help to spill out. He is the vine and we are the branches – when He has drawn us to Himself we cannot help but bear good fruit. Which is why Christ always seeks to draw your eyes to Him – why Jesus wants our focus to be upon His love for us and what He does for us. When Peter sees Jesus – he walks on water. When Peter looks elsewhere, he starts to sink. Seeing Christ, seeing what He has done for us and freely given to us is to shape every aspect of our lives – from our earliest moments where we are but little children who have been brought to His house to the very moment of our death – where like St. Stephen we look up to heaven and behold the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God. God's love predominates everything in our lives and shapes and molds our lives to where we are His instruments of love and service. And when we err – when we become arrogant and proud in our sinful actions, when we become stubborn or cruel or lazy – what does God do? He calls us to repentance and gives us forgiveness again and again – reshaping us – just like a chef sharpening a dull knife or the farmer fixing a busted piece of equipment – God makes us to be new people through His forgiveness.

This is what Paul says to the Corinthians – I give thanks to my God always for you because of the Grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus. . . as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same I say to you – for God has given you Grace and Mercy through Christ Jesus, and by the power of His Word and His Sacraments He sustains you – and so you wait, you wait for Christ to return, and in the mean time you be whom He has made you to be – His servants who live not to impress God, but simply to reflect His love to any and all who need it, as best you can, and who receive and rejoice in God's forgiveness for those moments where you fail. God preserve and keep us in the One True Faith all of our days. Amen.

A theological pet peeve

There is something simple and fundamental that too many people forget. An office conveys responsibility and duty and authority - it does not convey ability. For example - let us say that I am made a deputy of the Lahoma Police department. I would have authority and duty, I would have new responsibilities - but being deputized would not suddenly improve my ability to run after criminals or fire a weapon or even investigate. The abilities are. . . what I have. Now, I could get training - but I'd still be who I am.

Whoever gets elected president gets new duties and authorities - but his or her abilities don't change. If you get hitched, you don't suddenly have new abilities. An Officer in the military has duties, but that doesn't mean he has the ability to rightly carry them out. He had better have them already, or he'll be a bad officer.

Likewise the Office of the Public Ministry. Pastors have been placed into an office - not granted super powers. Call and ordination convey responsibilities and authority, not an innate ability to perform. Otherwise there'd be no need for Timothy to take care on who he lays hands on - otherwise there would no need for there to be qualifications.

Why do I bring this up? Every Christian has access and the ability to use God's Word. The power is proper to the Word - it is Christ's power so the Body of Christ possesses. Every Christian has the ability to forgive sins.

Now, some are worried that this might diminish respect for the Office of the Public Ministry - if everyone can forgive sins - why do we need pastors? Just because you have an ability it doesn't mean that you have the right or ought to exercise that ability.

My favorite, slightly coarse example. 15 year old daughter comes home and announces that she is pregnant. Now, sex outside of marriage is not right - it is not proper, it shouldn't be done - but pregnancy isn't a result of the estate of marriage - it's a result of sex. However, sex should only occur within that estate - but sex outside of that estate isn't somehow powerless.

While all might have the ability to forgive sins and speak the Gospel - not all are given to do this publicly. Not everyone is called to be a pastor and teacher - not everyone is called to be made available specifically to provide forgiveness to people who (apart from his office) would have been strangers.

Is there a lack of respect for the OPM? Eh, perhaps, perhaps. In some places, yes. But you don't build the correct respect for an office by claiming it has power intrinsic to it that it doesn't. You build respect by showing the importance and uniqueness of that office. And too many folks forget that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Theological Nightmares

Much to my wife's consternation - I have taken a shine to the show "Kitchen Nightmares" or the BBC's predecessor - "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares." The show has Gordon Ramsay (of Hell's Kitchen fame - and a fab-o chef in his own right) show up at floundering restaurants and spend a week there - revamping the place - fixing what needs to be fixing in terms of equipment, approach, menu, staff, etc.

Now, Ramsay is foul and curt - but you know what? He is an excellent preacher of the law - at least as it applies to the civil art of running a restaurant. He is rentlentless is seeing that people fulfill their responsibilities - and acknowledge where they are lacking. Coarse and vulgar in so doing - but still dead on accurate.

Perhaps my favorite scene so far comes towards the end of an episode. It's a restuarant in New York, and the general manager has been lazy and not doing his job while the restaurant falls apart. First point - Gordon tells the guy that he has been stealing from his boss with his shoddy work (alright people, what commandments does this tie into?). But the best scene comes at the end - and everyone else in the place has turned their act around, they see what they ought to do - except for this manager, who still is deflecting blame - and his boss is about ready to fire him (and not even replace him - he's that useless) - and this manager comes up and starts getting all defensive how he's been a good worker.

Gordon walks up, leans over by his ear and whispers "You're guilty." Oh, I'm not guilty. "You're guilty." Over and over - until the guy just quits and runs away, just convinced that Gordon was just a meany who cost him his job.

This is the way the law works. It's not nice. It's harsh. It's persistant. It doesn't make us feel nice. And it never lets go - it is persistent in showing us our guilt. Now, the Law is quite useful in civil matters - it shows us where we are doing stupid things - but it never lets up. And it can annoy people. But we need to remember that we need that annoyance - that our lack should stand out to us, that we should learn to flee it. Watch Kitchen Nightmares and learn how the Law works.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Joys of Public Confession. . . and Absolution

Apparently there is a good discussion going around on the appropriateness of using the words "I absolve you" in the corporate confession in the Sunday Morning service and whether or not simply using a declaration of Grace would be more appropriate - not because I absolve you is not true - but that it may not be appropriate for every single person there as there may be those whom the pastor would not individually absolve.

(Note - if this doesn't fit exactly right - 1, I haven't read the stuff itself from a specific journal, simply comments around it, and 2, tough, that is what I am writing, and I am not attributing this position any individual. If you wish to state your position here -feel more than welcome - but don't go screaming that I misrepresented you - this blog is not about you - it's my ramblings. Now with that out of the way).

I love having corporate confession and absolution - and I wouldn't give it up for the world. I love having it when visitors come in, when Uncle Joe the baptist walks in. Why? Because it teaches so clearly what we believe. It sets the ground rules for everything that is to come.

1 - I, a poor, miserable sinner. . . You can't come in our church unless you know that you are a poor, miserable sinner. If you desire to live by your own righteousness, there is nothing here for you.
2 - ... temporal and eternal punishment... and this fact that I am a sinner has serious consequences. My mouth is writing checks my righteousness can't cash - and if left to myself I am up the creek - therefore I must flee to God for refuge.
3 - In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ. . . the Pastor ain't here cause he's a swell, or a nice guy - but he's here because of what Jesus Christ has said and commanded, and he's simply doing what Jesus not only would do but wants this man to be doing right now.
4 - I forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost - and people marveled that God had given such power to men. The fact that God gives to man the ability to forgive sins throws every protestant American for a loop - even though Jesus does miracles simply to demonstrate that He can indeed forgive sins.

All this is taught in that simple Confession and Absolution. I wouldn't abandon it for the world - in addition to the true forgiveness it gives it simply and elegantly establishes the frame work for everything else that goes on in the service.

But what, but what about those who don't believe? First - let the Spirit work through the Word - who knows, they may actually learn to repent and live. Second - it establishes what is going on - and if they cannot make this confession - they know that they don't belong - they can feel it, they know that they are foreign to this place. Let not the rejection of truth disuade you from the proclamation there of.

But aren't there other truths just as true that we could proclaim there? Why do we need to? It is not sloppy to say this absolution corporately -- don't you think hypocrites can come to private confession and absolution - especially if the Pastor praises it? (see what a good Christian I am. . . hee hee hee). I have never seen into the heart of may, I do not know who is a hypocrite either one on one or in the crowd - and my job is not to judge the hearts of man but rather to proclaim Christ and in His Stead and by His command declare sins forgiven.

But what about known sinners? Then hope their repentance is sincere, and hope the Spirit works on them - and leave it in God's hands. I'm all for corporate Confession and Absolution.

An Epiphany for my bible class

I am in the middle of Oklahoma. Oklahoma is strongly anti-Roman Catholic. It's the heart of the bible belt. As such, this impacts the general thoughts of Lutherans here. To be sure, Lutherans have quite a bit of "anti-papism" in our own self-identity, and rightly so. But - especially in Oklahoma - there are times where we can over villify Rome - and often for the wrong reasons.

And with this as background - I believe a few of my folks had an Epiphany in Bible Class on Sunday. We are going over the Augsburg Confession, and we hit Article X on the Lord's Supper. I asked the question "Who are those who deny that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present in the Supper" - which is appropriate as this article condemns those who deny this.

And there was silence for just a moment. And I encouraged and asked again. Then I got an answer.

Then Muslims.
Then Jehovah's Witnesses.
And after a bit of prompting, a new member to this Congregation, who has been Lutheran for probably 30 years but was raised 7th Day Adventist said, "Well, most other protestants."

And the Epiphany was on - better than I could have planned. I was looking for Protestant denominations from the start - I figured "Baptists" would be the first thing I heard. It wasn't. Upon hearing protestant, I actually listed out some of the denominations - do Baptists believe Christ is truly present? No. . . what about Methodists? What about UCC?

Jews. . . Muslims. . . Jehovah's Witnesses. . . and all those other Protestants out there.

I think some people at this congregation had been somewhat surprised how much I would harp on protestant denominations - and granted, it would be textual and in sermons where the text pretty much demands the topic of harping be addressed - and I'd nail Rome too - but how often I would hit upon the nice little baptists or the fly by night churches in the area surprised some people.

Jews. . . Muslims. . . Jehovah's Witnesses. . . and all those other Protestants out there.

And what do they all have in common? They call Jesus a liar. They call Jesus a liar when He says, "Take, eat, this is My Body." And I think that sunk through.

We had then a bit of a discussion - okay, I talked - about the somewhat akward position Lutherans have in theological discussions. Quite often we rail on Rome - but on some debates - we side with Rome and rail against the other protestants. And I was gentle - I said, "I know you aren't used to thinking this way - but I grew up in Chicago, which is basically 1/3 Roman, 1/3 Lutheran, and 1/3 Protestant [not precisely accurate, should be 1/2, 1/6, and 1/3 - but for the discussion]. And so I was used to being in theological debates where sometimes you'd be with the protestants against Rome and sometimes you'd be with Rome against the Protestants."

And it's so nice to talk about the Anabaptists when some of your members live in the town of Meno - as in Meno Simmonds - as in the Mennonites who live 5 miles west of here.

False doctrine is bad - and it's just as bad from a Protestant and is it from a Roman Catholic - and I think some people just realized that. You know, two families, the two that know that - they were out of town last Sunday - perhaps it was good that they were.