Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Seductive Allure of the "different"

There are days when things just don't seem to work right when I am sitting here in front of this computer working on a Sermon. The fact that I am writing a blog post here instead of typing a draft of the sermon is a sign of that. The fact that this post is coming on a Tuesday instead of Monday is another sign.

There are just times when a Pastor will sit down, see the text, know what he wants to write. . . and nothing comes out. Or what does just doesn't sound right - it sounds tired, it sounds old, it sounds like something we "all know" anyway. It sounds boring.

Yesterday I had a productive day. The sermon didn't want to write, so I did other things - hymn planning, bible study writing, e-mail devotion writing, shut-in visits. A good day. I figured I would put the sermon off until Tuesday morning instead. Tuesday morning is here, it is bright and early - and sure, there are 700 words or so on paper - but. . . eh.

So, why do I write this? Because we should understand that these days come, that this is the way in which Pastors will on occasion struggle. We are to handle the Word of Truth, we are to rightly divide that - and on occasion that can just seem like old hat.

So what do we do in response to this? Now, in the world the typical response is to change - to spice things up a bit. Go to Arby's for lunch, because different is good. Boredom is the chief sin, not being always entertained and enthused is the great fear of society today. So - go do something different, find something new. Find something flashy.

Just think on the past month. How have you responded to boredom - I need something new. Let's go rent a new film instead of watching what we have. Let's go out and do something, something different. Now - I'm not saying that this is fundamentally wrong - nothing wrong with enjoying the diversity of blessings that are present (unless we end up coveting various things - which we can come close to far more often than we like to admit).

Now - here is the danger, especially for pastors. I've seen people who have wondered, who have lamented how once solid pastors have fallen into religious stupidity, who fall off the bandwagon and get on the praise band kick - who start preaching theological schlock. Why do they do this?

My answer - I'm guessing they get bored. They get bored with Christ and Him Crucified - we all *know* that. So we can do as Pastors what we do with the rest of our life - we do something different. Let's do something to spice up Sunday morning, let's put some snaz on the sermon - talk about some neat law idea. I'm bored - something must change.

And here, dear friends, is where Satan is so subtle. Here is where temptation is so alluring. Change is needed - but not change in what is preached, or the service. Change is needed - the classic Christian change - repentance. If the Word seems. . . eh. . .that isn't saying something about the Word, that's saying something about me, about my sinful nature, about my approach.

Repentance is needed. Prayer is needed. Time spent in thought about the Word rather than just glossing over it, assuming that you know about it. That's hard. That involves the long, hard look in the mirror. That places the problem with one's own self. And that isn't pleasant. So, do we take the easy route - just start trying something different, or do we repent and pray?

Lord, defend your pastors from taking the easy way!

P.S. Pastors - how often do you find you have weeks like this? I find it happens maybe three or four times a year. You guys get this ever? This analysis make sense?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Today's Sermon

Easter 6 – April 27th, 2008 – John 16:23-33

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
Christ Jesus has promised us the comfort that comes from the Presence of the Holy Spirit, has promised that the Helper will be our bulwark in the days of our lives that we lead until He returns. He gives to us another gift in our reading today. Listen. Truly, Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Now, we can hear these words of our Lord Jesus Christ – and our eyes can light up, like kids on Christmas day seeing the presents under the tree. Anything? Really? Well, I want this and I want that. . . and remember God, you promised! All too often we can hear this verse and believe that we have found the ultimate promise, the great cracker jack prize of religion. We can hear this verse, and we start acting like little kids, and not the trusting little child who is the example of faith – but the whining complaining kid you see yelling at their parents in the mall, getting ready to throw a tantrum. Behold the sinful nature at work. God offers us a great gift – and too often our first thought can be “ooOOoo – I can get more stuff. I can have a better and easier life here.”

What we can forget, dear friends, what we need to remember when we look at our Lord’s Words here is that prayer is a gift to us – but prayer is not the ability to control God. This verse isn’t about you having the ability to tell God what God needs to do. This verse isn’t about you having the power to let God know what you want and when you want it. This verse isn’t even about God making all your finances and health and earthly power run smoothly and strongly. If that were the case, why would Jesus say at the end of the Gospel lesson – “In the world you will have tribulation”? If prayer makes God do things my way, I’m not having any tribulation! No, prayer isn’t us giving orders to God. Listen again to what Jesus says. Truly, Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. We hear this, and our ear can key in on the words “whatever you ask” – and we think those are the most important words here. They aren’t. The most important words are “in My Name”.

Prayer is not a promise that you get to control God. Prayer doesn’t mean you get to be the boss. Prayer is in the Name of Christ. So what does that mean? It means that we have received a wonderful gift from Christ – and this gift is that when we approach God in prayer, we approach God in the Name of Christ Jesus. We approach God as those forgiven by Christ, those bearing His Name – we are the ones who are blessed – blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. That applies to us. Christ is promising that by virtue of your Baptism, by virtue of the fact that that God claimed you and placed His Name upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism, you will always have access to God, and you will know that God will always hear the prayers you offer in the Name of Christ – that they will not be ignored, that you will not have to wonder if God likes you enough to listen – but rather you know that on account of Christ Jesus you are no longer separated from God because of your sin. Rather – you are forgiven – approach and pray in confidence.

Okay Pastor, that’s all nice and good – so we pray in Jesus’ Name. It says whatever you ask – doesn’t that mean whatever? Whatever you ask in My Name – whatever you ask with My authority, with My promises that I have given to you. It’s not just “whatever you ask” – it’s whatever you ask in Christ’s Name. That is a key thing to remember. Prayer isn’t about our power, prayer isn’t about the strength of our faith. The prayer of a righteous man doesn’t availeth much because that man is cool and can tell God what to do – it availeth much because he is righteous – that is, he has been justified by Christ, he looks to Christ for salvation, he looks to Christ for forgiveness – and as a humble, forgiven servant, the righteous man prays in God’s Name – with Christ’s authority – for what Christ has promised him.

You see, prayer always is to relate to God’s Word. When we pray in God’s Name, our prayer must be God’s Word. To do something “in someone’s name” is to claim that you have that person’s permission, that person’s command. I, Eric Brown, couldn’t just decide to go and sign your name to a new house mortgage – I don’t have that authority, in that aspect I can’t act in your name. Now, if you make someone your power of attorney – they can – they can act in your name because you have given them instruction to act in your name. You speak, and then they can act. Same thing here. Christ speaks in His Word and gives us authority to act according to His Will. It doesn’t mean we can do whatever WE want – but rather we can take what we have heard from Christ and use it.

Christian prayer is always in accordance with the Word of God. Your prayers in the Name of Christ Jesus are in fact simply to echo the Word of God that you have heard. Any prayer that runs contrary to the Word of God is not in the Name of Jesus. Not really. As a silly example – would, “O Lord, help me rob this bank, o Lord, help me mug this little old lady” be a good prayer? No, of course not – and God’s not going to bless that. We don’t shape God by our prayer, we don’t force God to do what we want with our prayer. Rather this – we let God and His Word shape our prayer – we let Christ teach us how to pray and what to pray for – that we learn to live in agreement with, to live under God’s Word.

This is why James instructs us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. Do it. The Word of God has an impact upon you, it shapes you. Go forth and do it, be whom You’ve been made to be. Our prayer is shaped by the Word of God, and we pray for the things that God has promised – and everything else we leave in His hands, trusting in His love. As an example. Are you sick or suffering – I can’t point to a verse in Scripture that says that God will get rid of your illness. I can pray, If it be Thy Will, heavenly Father, restore this person – I can take that to God but I leave that outcome in God’s hands. However, I can pray that God give you patience, that God comfort you with His Word of forgiveness, that God give you endurance and peace in the midst of your struggles. Why? Because that is what He has promised – those are fruits of the Spirit that are ours now. We hear what God has promised us – and that is what we know that we can ask of God and know that we will get. You don’t have to wonder if God will see you through trials – He has promised to. You don’t have to wonder if God will give you strength to fight down temptation – He has promised to. You don’t have to wonder if God will work all things unto your good – He has promised to. And so these are what we pray for, so that we might see these promises of God made real in our lives, that we might remember God’s Word and be strengthened, be encouraged, that we might endure.

For you see – prayer is a gift God gives you not so that you can try to make the earth into your playground, not to try and make it into some self-centered so called heaven on earth – but rather a gift to help you live out your days on earth until you reach heaven. Hear again Jesus – I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. That is the purpose of prayer – that is the reason Christ has given us this gift. That we might have peace, that we might be confident that Christ Jesus has overcome the world.

The reality that shapes our lives as Christians isn’t that God is super cool and powerful. The reality that shapes our lives isn’t that God can give us neat stuff. He can, but we aren’t a bunch of pagans trying to pester some deity into giving us more goodies, we aren’t out telling God how to do His job. Rather this – the Cross of Christ Jesus is the reality that shapes our life. We behold Christ Crucified, and we know that He has conquered over sin – our sin – that sin that even now clings to us and makes us want selfish and stupid things – we behold the Cross and see that Christ has conquered that sin – that it is done away with and destroyed, that we are forgiven. We see the Cross, it is held before our eyes in the midst of whatever trial, whatever tragedy, whatever suffering we see in this world, and we know that we’ll see all these things in the world for we know that the world is broken with sin – but we see the Cross, and we know that this world full of sin has been overcome by Christ – that through Christ we have the victory over sin, death, over the world that tries to bog us down. And to pray in Christ’s Name is nothing other than to know the Cross, to understand it better. To pray in Christ’s Name is nothing less than praying to be kept in God’s Word, to hear again and receive again the forgiveness we need, to have our faith strengthened, to be led away from temptation and delivered from evil, to have help in beating down our unbelief – or in otherwords, to pray in Christ’s Name is nothing less than praying that God would give to us all that Christ won for us upon the Cross – all that He gives to us in His Blessed Word, all that He gives to us in the waters of Holy Baptism, all that He gives to us in His Supper. Prayer in Christ’s Name is always simply that we would better know, better understand, better live out what Christ has done for us.

Truly, Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Christ has claimed you, placed His name upon you – has said to you that all that He has won and accomplished by going to the Cross and dying and rising again is yours. Does the world get you down – pray, speak forth to God His own Word, His own promises – and know that by the power of God’s Word He will create in you a clean heart, He will renew a right spirit within you, He will never cast you away for you come in the Name of His Son – and indeed, he will restore unto the Joy of His Salvation – for it is Christ’s desire that your joy in His Salvation always be full. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed – Alleluia. Amen

Friday, April 25, 2008

Don't Panic (part 2)

When something seems strange or bizarre - Don't Panic! Instead go to Rev. Cwirla's Blog and read his wit and feel better.

Pastor Cwirla is one of my favorite speakers - he's just funny - and he may be just as weird as me. I mean that as a compliment. And he has wonderful insight. Go and read.

Working both sides of the Commandments

So Pastor Hall got me thinking about the 8th commandment after his excellent post. To sum - whenever one points out stupidity or false doctrine, folks start saying - "don't violate the 8th Commandment!" That seems to have become the mantra of the Synod Bureaucracy.

Now, I can understand the importance of the 8th commandment. My sermons are here - if you've read you've seen me harp to no end on the dangers of gossip. Yes - we are to show love and put the best construction on everything. But here is the problem that I have with how the 8th commandment is abused today.

When Luther explains the commandments he rejects the idea that they are simply negative. The 5th commandment is not just "Don't kill" - it's not just "Don't physically harm" - but rather also implies "Do help, do physical good to your neighbor."

The 8th Commandment isn't just "Don't tell lies" - it's not just implying that we don't speak - rather it informs how we are to speak. Our words are to be words that show and demonstrate love to our neighbor. And here's the thing that people don't realize. If you are acting like a snake and a viper - it is me loving my neighbor to point out your heresy so that you don't lead others to hell.

"But, but, but you need to put the best construction on everything!" Good. You don't mean to be teaching false doctrine - you don't want to be evil - but you are, so people, stop up your ears and refuse to listen to them - spurn them as you would the Super Apostles of Galatians.

You see - the 8th Commandment is also about truth. There is a love of truth - and a love of He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The 8th Commandment directs us towards speaking truly - not towards being silent and all just getting along.

The 8th Commandment is about being faithful - faithful to the God who shows love and mercy to sinners - not about being faithful to some Chamberlinesque peace-in-our-time approach to false doctrine.

We know what we must say. Especially those of us who occupy the Office of the Public Ministry. We must know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified - and if something is not Christ and Him Crucified - we must speak against it. Know nothing but Christ.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What's up?

Alright - a St. Louis Pastor nails so much about why I am disappointed/frustrated/upset and/or disgusted with the Synodical Hierarchy right here .

Somethings are still done well. Good things still happen - I know. People are still faithful. But sometimes - man, I just feel like vomiting.

One Vision? No Thanks.

I think I have come to the conclusion that I dislike the idea of "vision" when it relates to the Church. I dislike it when people present me a vision, a plan, a goal, a dream. I always have - and I couldn't put my finger on it for the longest time. One Vision - no thanks (unless you are talking about the Queen song they used in the movie Iron Eagle - that's one "One Vision" I like).

Here is the problem I have. When you have a vision, when you share a dream, you are communicating an idea that you have created. None of us actually see the future - we don't know what will happen - so our "vision" is always something of our own creation. And then we will present our vision. If we have enough power we may even declare that our vision is the One Vision that will unite everyone.

First - pause for a moment. How arrogant is that? Did not our Lord teach us to pray "Thy will be done"? We don't see the future - how do we get off on thinking that our creation, our hopes are the hopes that ought to be - that our idea of the future is what should be? More over, where do we get off thinking that we have the right or duty to dictate to people what they should want the future to be like. If you are sharing your "vision" you are telling people the way things ought to be. It's arrogance.

But arrogance isn't enough to sour me on something - I can enjoy a bit of chutzpah every once in a while. I know arrogance doesn't belong in the Church, but God can use even the arrogant. There is more.

Second - Where is your focus when you place it upon a vision? It's upon something you created, something from yourself. And your goals change - you act in a way to bring about your vision. You start doing not what is right according to God - but rather you do that which is right in your own eyes - in your own vision. You have a goal, a place in the future - and you think on how to get there. . . what needs to be done to accomplish a goal - not what is your duty, not what is your responsibility.

I think "vision" thinking is pretty much fundamentally unethical. It skews your focus. Is it my job to try to mold the future into what I wish it to be, or is it my job to. . . do my job?

I find I don't want to hear about vision. I'm sick of it. Let's hear about something else - let's hear about faithfulness. Let's hear about people who spend time not searching the myriad what-could-bes and trying to fashion them, but rather spend time searching the Word of God, learning what it says, the truth, the timeless, eternal truth that it declares - and seeing God's Word strive to be faithful.

Can't we all just be faithful? Can't we be content to trust in God, that God will actually be God? That we don't have to try to outthink the Lord and take our handy-dandy shortcut to the promised land? Can't we just be faithful? Can't we remember the 3rd article of the Creed as much as we remember to point out the 8th commandment when someone doesn't buy our vision that we create (go read what Pastor Hall nails about the 8th commandment ).

Not by my reason or strength, not by my vision or planning, not by what I do does the Church grow - but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, the Holy Spirit has enlightened us and sanctified and preserved us. Why can't we simply be folks who faithfully hear the Word? Why can't we strive to be more faithful doers of the Word - not like the people who look at themselves in the mirror and then forget what they see because they are too busy with their visions inside their mind?

Luther - he didn't have a vision. He was faithful. Athanasiaus - he wasn't engaged in 5 year plans. He was steadfast. Igantius of Antioch - on his way to the lions of Rome he wasn't trying to share a dream. He was praying that he not falter, that he remain faithful.

The Papacy had visions. Dictators have visions. CEO selling junk that no one really needs have visions. But none of them are faithful. Why, oh why, does it seem that the higher ups in my church would rather be like CEOs (best construction - right there) than be like Luther or Athanasiaus? Lord - I believe, help my unbelief!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Today's Sermon

I was a little late in posting, I know, but here it is.

April 20th, 2008 – John 16:5-15 – Easter 5

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
And 40 days after He rises, Christ ascends to heaven. Jesus knows that this is what He is going to do, it isn’t a surprise to Him. And so, that Maundy Thursday night, where He prepares the disciples for the events to come – He points them to after His ascension. On that day the disciples will be slightly confused – Angels will appear to them and ask, “Why are you staring up in the sky, He will return.” But what of the meantime? What of the time between Christ’s ascension and Christ’s return – what about the times that you and I, brothers and sisters in Christ, what about the times we live in? The disciples were confused – what do we do if Jesus isn’t standing here right in front of us. Our Lord knew that the Disciples would feel this, so He speaks to them the Words of our Gospel lesson today. In fact, note what He says. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Christ here speaks of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost – that is the Helper, that is the One who will come.

Christ today teaches us about the Holy Spirit. Now, I tremble to start talking about the Holy Spirit – not because it is difficult to talk about the Holy Spirit – but rather so many people blather on and on and say sometimes stupid, sometimes vile, sometimes down right blasphemous things about the Spirit – and as such it could be very easy to turn this sermon into a nice long rant about people who just don’t get it. And that’s not what this sermon is to be about. Rather than focusing on the foolish, empty words others spew forth about the Spirit – let us instead give heed to the Words of Christ Jesus our Lord, and from them learn what the Spirit does.

I’m going to do something unusual for me, and I’m going to start at the end of Gospel reading, the last three verses, for they are very important in understanding how the Holy Spirit works – and once we see how He works, we’ll look at what He actually does. Our Lord says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All the that Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” Twice, two times our Lord uses the word “speak.” Thrice, three times, our Lord uses the word “declare.” Do you see the emphasis here? How does the Holy Spirit work, how does the Holy Spirit accomplish everything and all the things that He does? By the Word – by Speaking, by Declaring – these are actions involving the Word. The Spirit takes that which is Christ’s, that which belongs to the Very Word of God incarnate and declares it unto us! The Spirit takes that which He has heard, that which the Word, Christ Jesus, has said to Him, and that alone is what the Spirit speaks.

There is a connection, dear friends, a connection which we cannot emphasize enough – a connection between God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t a loose cannon just bouncing around all over the place looking to smack people upside the head. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God. The Spirit has tied Himself to the Word – not because He has to, but for our benefit. You see, God could do anything – but you and I, we can’t. So, what God does is He ties the Spirit to the Word – so that we know where to look, so we know where to listen, so that we don’t wander blindly, vainly searching for God – but so that we know that God comes to us through His Word. You never have to wonder if God is active in your life, you never have to wonder if God is present here. It’s simple – where the Word of God is present, there the Holy Spirit is present and active. We don’t grope around blinding searching for the Spirit – the Spirit is found where He has been promised – wherever the Word of God is spoken, wherever it is declared – wherever it is read.

Dear friends, ponder this – when I say Word of God, I’m not just referring to reading Scripture. I am referring to whenever God’s Word of truth is declared, indeed, even when we speak out God’s truth, the Spirit is there. We are taught in Scripture that no man sayeth that Jesus is Lord – not a one of us says Jesus is Lord – except by the Holy Spirit. A few moments ago we confessed the Creed, we said that Jesus is Lord, that He is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. When that was spoken by you, the Holy Spirit was present. God Himself was there at that confession. In fact, whenever you speak out God’s truth, when you speak to a friend what the Scriptures teach, be it Law or be it Gospel – the Holy Spirit is there – God is present using your Words and making them His own. When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity there the Holy Spirit is present, active and working in the Word.

And this dear friends, is how you can tell if the Holy Spirit is present, how if what is spoken is from God, or if it the babblings of egotistical men. Does it agree, does it come from the Word? Listen again, “He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak.” There’s the way it works. What’s the sign of the Spirit? Is it whooping and hollering? Nope. Tongues? Nine, Nyet, eeih. Is it big, powerful, emotional speaking? Nope. It’s simply this – is what is Spoken in agreement with the Word of God? Not is it flashy – for God doesn’t promise Himself to come with flashy words, not is it a dynamic speech – for all sorts of charlatans can speak with pretty words – but does it declare what God has taught in His Word? If it does, if a person speaks rightly about the Word – about what you have been taught and trained in – then it is safe. Otherwise, it ain’t from God, no matter how much a person might jump up and down and insist that it is. The Holy Spirit always works in and with and through the Word – He has tied Himself to the Word, so that we might not be led astray, but rather into truth.

So what is this Word of God that the Spirit speaks? Christ tells what the Spirit will say, what right and proper preaching will deal with. And when He comes He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. That’s what the Spirit speaks about, that is what our preaching is to be about. It’s not to be about wealth and power, it’s not to be about 7 simple steps to whatever. Our preaching is to be about Sin. God is concerned with Sin – because all sin pushes us towards unbelief – all sin pushes us away from the Word of God. All sin tries to kill faith. And so the Holy Spirit will speak concerning sin. He will warn us of it – for sometimes we slip into it without thinking, and foolishly harm not only our neighbor, but also our own faith. He will speak of sin to show us that we have a need for a Savior, lest we become to prideful, and in our folly start to forget God. The Spirit will speak out a Word of Law, so that those who hear the Law will be crushed, will despair of their own righteousness, their own goodness – and so that they will be prepared to repent, to turn by the power of God away from their sin. This we need, for our lives are to be ones of continual repentance. If Sin is not condemned, the preaching is not of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit will also speak of righteousness – and note here – because Christ goes to the Father. When the Word of God speaks of righteousness – it’s not talking about how you are a nice person – God’s law shows us that we aren’t. Rather this – Christ is righteous – and we have the proof – See, He rose. See, He ascended to the Father – the Father is well pleased with what the Son has done – the Son is righteous – and the Spirit takes what is the Son’s and declares it to you – the Spirit takes that righteousness that is Christ’s and by the Word delivers it to you. In other words – forgiveness – justification – the fact that because Christ is holy and righteous He can speak His Word of forgiveness and life unto us. Christian preaching will be about the forgiveness that is ours through the death and resurrection of Christ. The Word gives and declares forgiveness. That’s why preaching should always be about forgiveness. That’s why when we think of the Sacraments – what are they for? One baptism for the remission of sins. Take and drink, this cup is the new testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. The Word is given to us for forgiveness on account of what Christ has done – and preaching is always about this.

Finally, the Spirit will speak of judgment. There is judgment. For the ruler of this world – indeed, for those who reject God, reject God’s Law, reject God’s Gospel – there is condemnation. Judgment is there, and the Spirit warns people of that. Satan is defeated. As Luther would have us sing, “He’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him.” But also this – you have been judged – but judged righteous, declared, that wonderful word, declared righteous on account of Christ. This world is judged, Satan is judged and condemned – but you, dear friends, you have been declared righteous, declared forgiven, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – the blessings that Christ has won have been given to you – and so you can stride through the trials of this life boldly knowing that your salvation rests solely upon Christ.

This is the comfort that Christ gives to us, this is the comfort that we are to use and rely upon now in this time between Christ’s ascension and His return. We live by the Word of God that the Spirit declares to us – and we live only by that Word, we trust only what the Spirit declares. For that is life, that is our hope, that is our help and our salvation. God grant that we always give heed only to His true Spirit, and cling solely to His Word. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pump Up Your Church

The idea was that growth was the most important thing. You had to get bigger at all costs. Bigger meant you would be more effective. Bigger meant you would reach more people. Bigger even meant more money. So you decided that there needed to be changes so you could grow. And you looked around - you saw what others were doing. They were getting bigger. So you did it too. Who cares if it went against your values, who cares if it went against how you were raised. You did it too, and you got bigger.

Later, maybe, if you were honest, you admitted things. Sure, you were bigger - but you weren't as healthy - you weren't as well grounded. Things tweaked you more easily. More nagging. That healthy whole wasn't there, as some parts just got too big for their britches, wanted to throw their weight around. But you were bigger. There were more people who followed what you did. There was more money coming in. Isn't that good?

No, it wasn't.

Steroids were bad for baseball.

Steroids were bad for the health of the players who used them - although I can understand the temptation to use them. Steroids lead to a sloppier, less elegant form of the game (only now are we beginning to value advancing the runner and things like that again). Steroids led to players being caught up in lots of nagging little injuries that just kept bothering them. Of course they did - because the Body was forced to do something that it was designed to do.

The Church is a Body. A church growth mentality is like steroids for the Church. The focus is the same - the question isn't an existential one, it isn't what is this Church and what are we supposed to be (in Christ) any longer. . . the question shifts away from Christ, away from the Word - and out to an ideal. Growth. We must get bigger. And the thoughts become how do we get more people here.

Not how do we feed people rightly and give them good food - how do we get more people here (maybe I should have done a comparison to McDonald's instead of steroids)? What does it take to accomplish our goal? And anything goes - and when anything goes - we lose our center. We aren't focused on Christ anymore. We don't even trust Christ to take care of His Church - instead, we are focused on what we need to do.

And then the nagging comes in. Sure, you might get some people in. . . but then there is anger, dissention, division. We need to do X, no we need to do Y, how come we can't do Z like we used to, I liked Z! And decisions are made on the basis of what we want, what we like.

And if you don't like it. . . well, maybe this isn't your home anymore. Things break down - and people leave jilted. . . but also taught wrongly - taught that the purpose of Church was to do what they wanted it to. Christ is gone from the picture, even from the ones who like something "good".

Well, but then, finally, when the old naggers are gone, things are finally settled - and we have a happy church. But we need to grow. . . and it starts over again. Sure, new people cycle in - it's exciting. . . but others slip out. Dozens, maybe hundreds join each year. . . and yet. . . we're still the same size we were. . . a little bit bigger than we started, but the growth doesn't keep up. Well, what are we doing wrong now - we need to get bigger. . .

More desperation. Different cocktails of worship and programs. . . maybe that will work. Change the pastor, this one is stale. Still. . . more join, but just as many leave. And then. . . not even that. There is a decline. You aren't the hip place to be. Too many people have cycled through and on to another place.

The Church starts to break down. It isn't cool. People who used to sway things. . . they don't any more. They take their ball and go home. Others start leaving - it's just not as exciting anymore, I don't get anything out of it. . . where have all the people gone?

And then you are broken. But it's okay - you get told by the experts that a congregation only has a limited life span - that they only last so long. So start a new one - new place. Sell off your building to someone else. Come up with a new, witty name - that will attract them.

And off you go again. And Christ - lip service in reality, that's all.

Don't do drugs. Church growth is a drug.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Or "Brown's Guide to Outreach."

One of the things that seems to be popping up more and more is a focus on immediate conversion - we have to go out and win souls for Jesus because people are dying and going to hell and if we don't stop them they will burn forever! That seems to be the attitude, the feel that I get. Think about it. Do not appeals and exhortations to "mission" seem almost. . . panicked? As though if you don't knock on 15 doors this very hour billions of people will burn forever?

Thus - I say - Don't panic.

Let's remember a few things about how we go about outreach.

1 - Busily working doesn't mean panic. You watch a farmer try to bring in their harvest. They are busy. They are diligent. They work hard - but they don't panic. Yes, the fields are white and harvest waiting - so we go and work - we speak the Gospel - but we don't panic. Besides, if you panic, you get sloppy. You don't work as well. You rush by and get sloppy.

2 - Whoever said results are immediate? We teach that the Holy Spirit works faith through the Word when and where *HE* wills. You speak to a friend or a neighbor today. That doesn't mean that they will be in Church this Sunday with the Catechism completely memorized. It may take time. Rather than thinking of what must be done now - look around at your friends, indeed, even perhaps your own life. How many times do you see examples of where someone wandered long and far before being brought or restored to the Christian faith? This happens - why the Holy Spirit allows it - I don't know, I'm not God. But let God be God. Speak the Word faithfully, calmly, lovingly - and let God do what God wants to.

3 - It's not your work anyway. See - this isn't to say that Christians should be silent and say nothing - quite the opposite, we are to speak. However, we need to remember "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives within me." We need to remember that Christ has other sheep that He is going to gather - perhaps even through you. But it is God, ultimately who is active. Outreach isn't a burden on you - it's not something to get all worked up or freaked out about. Our Lord will give you His Words to speak when He wishes you to speak them. Study, learn, be prepared for this - but don't panic about it.

Outreach should be like breathing - just something that we do casually, calmly, as a matter of course. In fact, it should be something that we end up doing not even thinking about it. Now - what would happen if you panicked and started thinking, "Oh, I've got to keep breathing, got to breathe faster, got to breathe faster"? You'd hyperventilate and pass out. No air, flat you go.

Likewise - when it comes to speaking the Gospel - don't panic. Simply let Christ use you - otherwise in your panic you'll not take His Word in nor will you share it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Read a little Luther

How often we forget our own advice when things come crashing down upon us!

So, the last few weeks many of us have been all aflutter over things going on in Synod - the whole Issues etc thing, and then also the whole specter of trashy doctrine trying to overwhelm us -- do we not realize this is nothing new?

What I have been doing this morning (for my Church History Class) is looking over Luther's 2nd Galatians Lectures - and the introduction and the first lecture is so appropriate and so comforting to the fears and trials we are facing right now. So read. I often say that we would be a lot better off if we read more Luther - I had forgotten to read myself.

So - you may head to this site and take a look at the introduction and the lecture on Chapter 1:1-3 (and then read on if so inclined) and be comforted - and reminded of what it is that we preach, why we preach it, and why it shouldn't be surprising that it is opposed.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

April 13th's Sermon - Easter 4

Easter 4 – April 13th, 2008 – John 16:16-22

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia + Amen
So, by now does that opening seem a little. . . old to you? Christ is Risen – we know – and Easter was three weeks ago, isn’t it done? Now, in the Church, we are in the Easter season for 7 weeks, but socially, you don’t see many Easter decorations out and about anymore. The Cadbury Eggs have already been marked down and sold off, the lilies are fewer and fewer, and things seem like they are just back to normal. A joyous shout of Christ is Risen/ He is Risen indeed, Alleluia – that almost seems out of place now.

It’s not that Easter isn’t worth celebrating this long – it’s not that we shouldn’t continually rejoice – but our celebrations in this world – it’s just hard to have them last this long, isn’t it? It makes sense. Life in this world is hard. It’s hard to focus even unto today on the joys of Easter when that’s three weeks in the past, three weeks of hardship, three weeks of aches and pains, three weeks of busy-ness, three weeks of perhaps sore trials and sorrows, three weeks of things that have gone wrong, terribly wrong. How do we keep up, how do we maintain the joy of Easter for this long?

Jesus knew that this would happen. You see, Jesus knows us and understands us better than we ourselves do – He knows and understands the burdens and struggles that we face in this life, the challenges and sorrows – how it can wear down a person. So, on the night when He was betrayed, there in the Upper Room with the disciples, Jesus takes some time to speak to His disciples about what life will be like after the Resurrection – words of comfort that make up the entirety of John 16, that set the stage for what life will be like in the New Testament Church. And those words are what we will be looking at until we celebrate Pentecost – those words are the words the Disciples kept in their minds as they waited for the Holy Spirit. So, even though we may be tired and worn with care, let us listen to our Lord’s Words from the Gospel and see what gifts He gives us through them.

A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me. This phrase gets repeated three times here in this passage, and although the disciples didn’t see then and there on that evening what Jesus meant, with the benefit of time and the writing of John’s Gospel, we see. That Thursday evening would yield to Good Friday – a mere 24 hours later and the disciples would have seen Jesus Crucified, put to death – taken away from them. They wouldn’t see Him any longer. Christ knows this is coming – but He also knows the resurrection is coming. They will see Him again, He will come to them after the resurrection and be with them. But His Words are true again - A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me. Christ doesn’t hang out with the disciples very long after Easter. On the 40th day He ascends – and there is sorrow and wonderment. But as the disciples learned from His death and resurrection – this parting is only a temporary one. The One who has gone to the Father will prepare for them a home for all eternity. While they don’t see Jesus in the days after the Ascension, that is only for a little while – and then will come to them the joys of being reunited for eternity with Christ in Heaven.

What we remember, what we know, dear friends – is that we here now are living in that same little while of the disciples. We know that the day shall come when we shall see Christ face to face, whether that happens when He comes again, or whether we should die before the last day – either way, we shall see Him. We live out our lives in that time of the little while – but what we remember is the same thing the disciples remember. Christ died, but Christ rose – He is good to His Word. If He says that for a little while you won’t see Him, but then you will again – His Word is true. We, likewise behold Christ’s death and resurrection, and we know that He will be true to His Word. That is why we can confess that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead, that we expect the life of the world to come. We know it is coming.

But that doesn’t mean that our time, the little while we have here on earth, that doesn’t mean that this little time won’t be filled with difficulty. There are struggles and trials and sorrows – some that others cause us, many that we foolishly cause ourselves. While we still are sinners in this sinful world, there will be sorrow. Hear how Christ describes this: Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. The disciples would see this quickly. How they must have lamented when Christ was crucified. I can’t imagine. And yet, as they would soon understand, even that sorrow was turned to joy at our Lord’s Resurrection. They have seen the pattern – sorrow turns to joy. And this is what the Disciples remembered as they went out after Pentecost day to preach the Gospel. In their work, in their lives, there was much sorrow. There were persecutions, there were stonings and crucifixions of their own to face – all while the world rejoiced. For the Early Christians there would be lions to devour them while the crowds cheered. There would be faithful people hounded by the wicked. But always, there was the promise of joy, joy to come, joy that is theirs with Christ.

We must learn and remember what they remembered – for God is true to His Word. Does the world around you rejoice as you suffer? Do people seem to delight in making your life more difficult? Do you have to always be wary of the next scam or raw deal, do you have people who would rejoice to see you stumble? Yeah – and that’s the way it is in this world. And when we look at that – it’s easy to get down, to get overwhelmed, to get depressed. But there is a truth that we remember. Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia. That is true. The Sorrow of the Crucifixion moves into the joy of the resurrection – and we need to learn from that how God Works. He does not abandon us, He does not forsake us – but rather we can know and be sure that our sorrows turn to joy – that whatever it is in this life will indeed pass – that these sorrows will not overwhelm us – and that all of them will eventually yield and go away at the return of our Lord.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Again, another example to learn from. Sorrow leading unto joy. Childbirth is a mighty painful thing – and frankly I don’t like pain at all. Yet, women go on through it, and then have the joy of their child. God sees us through trials and into joy and happiness.

But notice something, and this is important. There is going to be sorrow in your life. There are going to be days that don’t feel all that great – there are going to be times when the world around you rejoices at your suffering. That happens. Jesus tells us that this will happen. So don’t believe people who say that it won’t. Don’t listen to the false preachers who claim that all the joy in the world can be yours right now and forever – because all the joy of the world is hollow and vacant and fades away. There will be sorrow in this world, because this world is full of sin – and anyone who tries to convince that in this life you can completely avoid sorrow – they are trying to sell you on the joys of sin. But that isn’t our joy. Our joy is that which comes from God. And so dear Christian friends – we don’t live our lives as Christians trying to pretend that nothing bad will ever happen, we don’t live our lives for the sake of our stomach or our wallets – we don’t approach this life fearing what may or may not come. The Christian life is different. Listen to what Peter teaches us – For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. Sorrows and suffering and injustice comes – that happens – but how do we face them? We face them mindful of God. We know the promises of God, and we know that those promises are true. We have seen the world do it’s worst to our Lord and Savior – and yet He rose again. We have seen Christians before us tortured and put to death even – but they have the joys of heaven before them now. We have seen even our friends and loved ones who have fought the good fight of faith – and it is a fight, it is a struggle – and we know that they now rest from their labors. And they faced all of this mindful of God – as do you, for you too remember Christ’s death and resurrection and know that it is your own – that just as Christ was raised, so too you will be raised – and that joy no one can take away.

So yes, dear friends, we are right to repeat our cries of Easter joy – we are right to gather here on Sunday, on the Lord’s day, the day of His resurrection, no matter what sorrow we face. Christ has conquered all – and we know that our sorrow will turn to joy. This is most certainly true. Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia – Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Acting Confessional vs. Sounding Confessional

Of the distinctions that I think it is important for the Confessional Pastor to bear in mind, this is one that is sort of the hardest to pin down precisely. As Lutherans, especially Confessional Lutherans, we are used to thinking in terms of speaking - we confess, we speak. That is fine and good. However, there is more to being a confessional Lutheran than just words.

Our Confessions contain the true exposition of Christian Doctrine. We also speak truly about Good Works in those confessions. As such, we should remember that we ourselves ought to strive to act properly and in accordance with God's Word. To be a Confessional Lutheran doesn't mean that you just speak things that are right, but you demonstrate that love in your actions.

Too often we will hide behind our confession - well, sure, he shouldn't do that, but he's solid doctrinally. We will use the fact that someone sounds nice to excuse poor behavior, or bullheadedness, or even as a shield to be a bully. And this is folly of the highest magnitude! Why?

If you don't like a person, you don't listen to them. It doesn't matter if they are right, you write them off. This is problematic for Confessional Lutherans, because your actions can reflect negatively on the Confessions. Now, this isn't a call to be suddenly touchy feelie, or that you need to sing Kum-by-ya with folks - but rather this. You need to act like a decent human being and treat others with respect. You know, that whole love your neighbor, not just in word but in deed.

Knowing the Confessions, knowing solid Doctrine is not carte blanch to be a jerk. We would do well to remember that sometimes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A History Update

Thursday night we will start to look at John Calvin in our History class. It will be the last part of the 15th Chapter of the Church History that we have been looking at. The section ends on page 200. 123000+ Words. Many typos.

If you want to look at the History, you may click here and enjoy.

Pushing vs. Preaching

Again, the Confessional Pastor must remember that there is a difference between Pushing and Preaching. What do I mean by "pushing"? Pushing an agenda. As a pastor, your job is simply to preach and teach - to proclaim what Christ has done, to open up the Scriptures.

Perhaps we can present a negative example. How often, oh Confessional Pastor, have you been frustrated or disgusted when hearing a speaker begin pontificating and thought - I'm so tired of this. . . stuff. How often have you heard a "speaker" and thought, "We'll that's just eisgeses and not the point of the text at all!" You know how frustrating that can be.

Beware that you do not do the same! We are servants of the Word - we deal with what Scripture says. We place ourselves underneath the Scriptures, and our focus is to open them up to those people whom we serve. You know what that means? It means our pet bugaboo might not be appropriate to bring up on any given Sunday. It means that when people ask us a question during bible study, we ought to answer their question rather than use it as an opportunity to speak about the glories of Ablaze. . . or the glories of whatever pet idea you push.

This plays in with that whole speck and log in the eye thing. We can see clearly when someone who teaches false doctrine abuses the Scriptures. We ought to look and see if we are abusing the Scriptures. Why? Just because we teach something that is "true" or "right" doesn't mean that it is profitable or appropriate to teach it at a specific place and time given a specific text. If we do so - we aren't opening the Word - we end up pushing our agenda, and there is no promise attached to our agenda.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Addendum to Nice vs. Necessary

Let me add an addendum. When I make the distinction between nice and necessary, I am writing in terms of people wishing to "improve" a congregation - not writing in defense of a minimalistic, let's get rid of everything sort of approach. A pure reductionistic approach isn't right - and someone who would argue "Well, we don't *have* to have something nice" is coming from a radically different approach than what I am writing to here.

My concern is for the faithful "Confessional" Pastor who comes upon a practice/custom which is perhaps less than ideal. You can live with that. You don't need to fix the customs. Preach, teach - do that which is necessary - and let the nice things come later. I'll come up with an example (even though I hesitate to do so). I've been here nearly four years, and the American flag still flanks the altar. Is that "nice"? Well - I don't like it - it should be, if it is present in the Church, on the level of the congregation and not of the altar. I know it doesn't quite fit from a strictly theological point of view - I've gone to worship in a foreign country and been distracted by a different flag, a flag not my own by the altar. I see that there is something not quite appropriate there.

But how many of my people have that experience? Not many. So - shall I move the flag, the flag that has been there for decades, the flag that is part of this congregation? Eh, probably not. I've mentioned it to a few people - who knows, maybe in a decade or so we will move it. It's a minor point - and the congregation can be quite solid theologically and thoroughly Lutheran with it there. It's not a necessity to move it - so let it stay.

In our strive for making a Church how it ought to be we need to remember that what is "needed" isn't always what is nice. It's a shame if we fight about things that are nice, things that we ought to be able to put up with - and then have people write off good, solid theology because it's the stuff that "stupid, unpatriotic pastor talked about."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Nice versus Necessary.

Another difference that we need to remember is that there is a world of difference between that which is nice and that which is necessary. There are few things that are necessary to have a Lutheran Congregation - The Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. That's it. That's what is needed - and if you have that, you have a congregation that is good, right, and what it is supposed to be.

And rightly administered. . . well. . . that's right according to God's command. That is administered so people actually get God's gifts. That isn't talking about a beautifully designed service or proper usage of flowers on the altar. Is the Gospel preached - are the sacraments administered? If so - it is enough.

A lot of times, pastors can get hung up on things that are nice. . . but not necessary. Take for example - chanting. I love chanting. I think it is beautiful. I love that the LSB has included the pastor's line for the chanting of the liturgy - but I don't chant here at my congregation. I may never. It's not something they've done, and it may never be introduced. And that's okay. Chanting is nice. . . I think it adds something to the service, reverence, a sacred character perhaps. But it isn't necessary.

As pastors, we should focus on that which is necessary (or avoiding that which is necessary to avoid) and let the niceties be. Let the niceties develop as they come - bring in the ones that can be brought in, useful for instruction - but don't let a focus on the niceties consume you.

It's important to remember this, because what I think is "nice" - someone else might not think it nice. And then, you have a fight over what is nice -- and that becomes a matter of opinion. You can't win that one. Now, necessary - you can point to Scripture on the "necessary" points. . . but if something is nice. . . eh.

There are a lot of things in congregations that pastors rush to change, things that. . . well, probably could be done more nicely. But how is a pastor's time better spent - working on making something nice - or dealing with the necessities? It's not my duty to make the church "Nice" - I am not an interior decorator or a master of ceremonies - I am a steward of the Mysteries of God - that is where my focus should be.

Besides - how much trust and political capitol can be burned up in trying to fix a "nicety" that ultimately doesn't matter? The question isn't just whether or not something is a hill to die on - it's a matter of whether or not the hill should even be bothered with in the first place.

Now, where is that line between nice and necessary? Not always easy to see - probably right along the lines of "does this practice counter the Gospel or negate the sacraments?" Then go from there. There is a lot that we could easily put up with if we focused on what was necessary - still doesn't mean that I don't cringe when I see plastic individual communion cups - but those little plastic pieces still get Christ's Blood to people - I guess they get the job done. Not the nicest, but they do what is necessary. And then I don't cringe as much. . . .

No congregation will ever be as "nice" as I would ideally want it to be - and I'm not going to worry about making mine that way. Ain't my job. Rather - preaching Christ and Him crucified -- and let the niceties sort themselves out in due time.

Today's Sermon

Easter 3 – April 6th, 2008

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
Who is your Shepherd? That is the question this morning – who is your Shepherd? Now, I’m pretty sure you probably were ready to answer – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Very good – that is the right answer – The LORD is, Christ Jesus is. But, what does this mean? What does it mean that the Lord is your Shepherd, what is distinctive about this, what does this teach us about our Lord? What does this LORD who is your Shepherd do – what makes Him a Good Shepherd? Christ Jesus is playing off the 23rd Psalm when He speaks the words of our Gospel, when He says that He is the Good Shepherd. He is using imagery to teach us – so let us look with care at the Words He speaks, and learn again what it is to be a sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd.

I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Before this verse, Jesus in the beginning of chapter 10 had been speaking about those who were thiefs and robbers – who sought to hurt and destroy the sheep. And then He says this – I am the Good Shepherd – the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. How do you know who the Good Shepherd is, how is He identified? What makes the Good Shepherd stand out from the throng all around? Jesus says, “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” How different, how strange! Isn’t that backwards? Isn’t the sheep there to serve the Shepherd – to provide Him wool to sell, sheep’s milk perhaps – even perhaps to be the roast lamb or mutton stew when guests and visitors come by? If anything the sheep might have to give its life to it’s master. Your cows, your steers – there may come a time when you have to sell them off, send them to the slaughter house, make profit off of them. That’s why we keep animals, to get something out of them.

Not so the Good Shepherd. He doesn’t demand that His sheep be killed for His sake – no, He lays down His life for His sheep. How do you know, how do you recognize God, how do you see God at work? When you see the Shepherd lay down His life for the sheep – when you see the One with power, the One who could demand service rather seek to serve. John’s Gospel is especially concerned with demonstrating that Jesus is God – John calls the miracles “signs” – things that point out who Jesus is – but in all of John’s Gospel, the greatest sign, the largest indicator that Jesus is God is His Crucifixion. Do you wish to know who your Shepherd is – behold the Cross, see Christ Jesus thereupon, laying down His life to redeem you, to buy back His sheep whom He loves. In this, doing that which is so contrary to the way things work here in the world, so opposite of how things go – Jesus demonstrates His love for you. This is how He shows it to you – He breaks down any and all barriers that would separate you from Him – sin, Satan, death – all of these He breaks down upon the Cross. He desires that you have His life, His strength, His love – and so He strides forth from the tomb and gives you His forgiveness and life – He rises so that you may have life. This is the Shepherd – this is the LORD – and you cannot know God or understand Him apart from Christ’s death and resurrection. If you ignore the Cross, you might imagine a God who is strong, or powerful, or even kind and gives you goodies. But it is there, upon the Cross, that you see who God is – I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the Sheep.

Your relationship with God is shaped, is defined by what Jesus did upon the Cross. You are who you are in Christ because He is the One who died and rose for you. Because He paid the penalty for your sin you need not be eternally punished, and because He rose for you, you now have true eternal life. That’s what we see Christ doing by going to the cross. But not everyone acts like Christ. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. A hired hand has no true investment in the sheep – they just belong to somebody else – their loss is the other guy’s loss, so be it. A hired hand is there simply to see what he can get out of it, what is in it for me, why should I do this, what benefit do I get? And a hired hand certainly isn’t going to die to save some sheep. Sorry boss, we were attacked and I needed to hightail it out of there.

How often does someone you hoped in, someone you relied upon, end up turning out to be just a hired hand? The hopes you place, the help you need – you look up and they are gone. The support and protection you wanted – vanished – and trouble comes barreling your way and you are left on your own. Happens quite often, doesn’t it? People fail you, people disappoint you, people don’t do for you all that you expected them too, all that their duty would say that they ought to for you. In fact, how often do you yourself act like a hired hand? How often do you feel annoyed when others need you? How often do you wish to say, “Not my problem?” You see, this is the way the cookie crumbles here in the sinful world. We don’t relate to each other here like we ought. All too often, when we look at each other, our thoughts are on what do I get, what’s in it for me, why should I bother because I’m never going to get my share back in this – I’m just going to forget it all – after all, am I my brother’s keeper? We can so easily go off on our own and abandon others, write them off – eh, if the wolf gets them, better them than me.

The reason this happens is because of sin. Sin makes you selfish, makes you focus upon yourself. All sin puts the individual as the highest priority, all sin seeks to serve itself. The hireling seeks only what is best for himself. When you sin, whatever sin it is, you are simply putting your wants, your desires, your likes above and over your duty to serve and love others. That’s what every sin is – it’s running away to save and serve yourself at the expense of your neighbor.

But Christ Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Good One, the One without sin – the One without that selfish impulse. When He sees you, He doesn’t just see another drain on His time, another problem that He’ll have to deal with. He sees His own sheep, His own, the one that belongs to Him, the one that is His, that He cares about. You’ve been sealed as His – in the waters of Holy Baptism you were claimed by Christ – you’ve been marked as His own – receive the sign of the Holy Cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. He sees you as His own – and so He will serve you – He will never abandon you – He will stay and fight for you – for He is the Good Shepherd, and if He is willing to lay down His life for you, no wolf will ever snatch you away from Him.

I Am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock – one shepherd. Christ has claimed you as His own – you are His. And how do you know this? Because of His Voice, because of His Word. Christ Jesus puts His life giving Word to work in your life, by His voice calls you out of darkness into His marvelous light, calls you into His fold, into His House, into His Church that here you may be fed with all that you need for your spiritual growth, that you might be kept steadfast and secure in the one true faith – that you might always heed the voice of your Shepherd and not go wandering off after some false prophet trying to lead you to the slaughterhouse. Christ Jesus uses His voice, His Word, to gather His sheep together.

Today, in America especially, we can see all sorts of different ways people try to gather sheep on their own. Promises of wealth and a better life if you simply follow a few, simple rules – all about what you do. Promises of happiness beyond compare and God’s blessings – if you just make the right donation. Even within our own Synod – there are wild ideas of what we ought to do to get people to come to Church. What can we do to get more people in the doors – we’ll do anything to pack them in. Plans of men and marketing strategies as though we weren’t congregations but rather franchises trying to sell fast food burgers to the world. And in all this, the Word is sort of pushed to the side, the Word is forgotten. Do not forget, but hear! And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, One Shepherd. Who does the acting here? Is it left up to the sheep to find the shepherd? Must we somehow seek Him out? No – The Shepherd will bring the Sheep. And How? By the sound of His voice. By the Word. It is God who grows His Church – and He grows it by the proclamation of the Word. Your task isn’t to try and grow the Church – you can’t force that. Rather, what falls to you is to tend and give heed to the Word – to see that the Word goes out unhindered – to see that Christ’s voice echoes out from this place. Break down that which hinders the Word, like sin, and see that the Word is cherished and proclaimed, be in the Word yourself that you yourself might grow, that you might be a healthy sheep. Be in the Word – for the Word is the power of God unto salvation. It is God’s power for your salvation, it is God’s power for salvation for your friends and neighbors – it is the way in which the Shepherd gives you all that is His. Give heed to the Word, listen to the voice of the Shepherd, and delight in His salvation.

Who is the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd is Christ Jesus, who lays down His life upon the Cross so that He might call out to you, His forgiven sheep, and by the power of His Word make you lie down in His green pastures. No deceit is found in the mouth of Your Shepherd – only the Words of life, the Word of forgiveness and comfort which He gladly speaks to you. He is Christ the Crucified, who has risen from the dead and calls you unto life as well. This is the hope of the Christian Church, to ever be in the fold of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ is risen (He is risen Indeed, Alelluia) Amen.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Teaching vs. Manipulation

One of the things which we can forget today - and indeed any day when there are heated issues and opposing points of view, is the difference between teaching and manipulating. There is a very important difference here, and if it is forgotten, we can become sleezy.

I'm sure that most Confessional Lutherans would argue that when it comes to moral Christian behavior that the ends do not justify the means. There is a right and a wrong - and we don't allow wrong behavior for a good cause. That doesn't float. Our attention and focus is to be on acting properly, come what may - even if doing that which is right means suffering for us. It's what our Lord does, it's what we ought to do.

Pastors are to be teachers. So what does it mean to teach? When you teach, you are focusing on informing, on proclaiming the truth. You are providing information - and what happens with that, you can't control. We see that in Scripture - some people love Christ, some hate Him. They both heard the same teaching from our Lord. Teaching is always focused on the the truth being clearly stated. Get the truth out!

Manipulation, on the other hand, focuses on the end result. Manipulation has a different Algebra. I want X result, so what must I do or say to get there? The focus in manipulation is upon the ends - and using the best means to get there. Now, Manipulating quite often involves telling people something, even something true, but telling them to change them into something you want them to be. Manipulation is focused on a change - get the change done!

We are called to be preachers and teachers, not preachers and changers. Our focus is to be on the Truth. The problem is, all too often we can see something going on, and our thought is, "How do I get this improved, what do I do to make this better?" We start thinking in terms of manipulating our congregations, trying to remake them into an image we would like them to be.

And the thing is, this is so anti-Lutheran. I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel. . . but if I plan and plot this rightly with my reason and skill, within 6 months my congregation will be doing _________.

But we are trying to make good changes. . . yes. So what? The next guy after you may be trying to make lousy changes - and all you've done is taught your congregation to be flexible. Our job isn't to change - we teach, we proclaim the Word. Thus there is a solid foundation that people have, so that when winds of change come along the people can evaluate the change on the basis of the Word. The focus should be on teaching the Word - and let God act in that Word. Let "good" changes come. . . or if they don't come in your time, so be it.

We can't live on the basis of the ends - because we don't see them all. I might not see positive changes - so be it. Let Apollos see the fine harvest - it's the Lord's field and I am to tend it with the Truth.

And of course, this gets to the root of matter. Are things done poorly today because there were bad changes or because for generations we stopped teaching the truth - where we watered down what the laity got? Build the foundation by the truth, and let God bring about what changes He will. Otherwise our "victories" are empty and pointless. What good is it if someone does something nice if they don't know why. Good practice won't "teach" good doctrine - it may reinforce it, but if someone doesn't know why they are doing something, it's not going to be that effective at teaching.

Differences we ought to remember

Over on Hall's blog, he mentions that Confessionals can be just as bad as the libs when it comes to tomfoolery in a congregation - pushing changes to make some sort of ideal. This is a position I have held (somewhat unpopularly amongst some) for a long time. I replied to Pastor Hall with 2 different ideas that even pastors who desire to be faithful to traditional Lutheran doctrine can forget. There is a difference between:

1. Teaching vs. Manipulation.
2. Necessary vs. Nice.

I think I am going to expand on each of these here.

And I'll plan to expand. How about a difference between:

3. Preaching vs. Pushing.
4. Acting Confessional vs. Sounding confessional.

Alright - let's see how this turns out.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Unity vs. Civility

If you click on the left side over there on Pastor Hall has perhaps the best review of President K's response to Mollie's article. I instead, will write about a specific topic - the difference between unity and civility.

The convention this summer was quite civil. There were very few points where tempers flared, and it was generally a place for discussion - even discussion on topics that were sorely disagreed upon. But Civility is not unity - in fact, the fact that things can be thought of as "civil" shows that there is no unity.

Civility basically means that there was. . . niceness. . . that there was a respectful tone kept throughout - that we didn't beat each other to death. We played, by in large, nicely (except the scarlet letter L for those who filed the lawsuit - but hey, even that was overturned). If there is unity, if we are all in one accord - you don't notice civility. It's not surprising, it's not something to comment on. Civility is a cease fire - Unity is two formerly warning nations saying, "Having two nations here is foolish, let's merge!" Different thing entirely.

How often do we sadly settle for civility instead of unity and peace?