Saturday, July 31, 2010

The World and Death

Many people have lamented that Christianity is on the decline. I don't have to list names, I'm sure you can think of many different articles or speakers and the like. However, why? What is bringing about this decline? We are seeing an increasing love of the world. There is much more in the world that entices, that pulls Christians away - the dissipation of life are pulling folks away.

But why is the world so much more enticing? Is money and lust and power just that much better today than it was in the past? No - people still could run after these like fools in the past, just as people do today. Is it technology - that we have such easy access? No - Satan has always made temptation and vice seem easy.

No, the big difference that I see is our attitude toward death.

Today, I get to bury a friend and colleague - the Rev. Joseph Myers. He died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 61 (and he didn't look 61). He was in good health - and then there is death. He's the second youngest person I will have buried - the only person younger was in horrible health, lungs destroyed by smoking, and Kerrie fought a good multiple year battle.

No one saw Joe's death coming. . . and that's why Christianity is on the decline; that's why the world's appeals are so much stronger. We forget about death - we push it out of our minds - we all assume we've got our 80 or 90 years coming to us if we stay healthy. There's not a person who I've talked to who hasn't been not only shocked at his death, but also *surprised* by it.

Think about that. We will find death to be surprising.

Now, contrast that to the Centuries past. Death was never surprising. Oh, it's occurrence might be shocking, might be tragic - but unexpected. No. There was the knowledge that death comes to us all, and it probably will come sooner rather than later. And so there was this understanding, this knowledge that the fleeting joys of this life were temporary - it was the joys of the life to come that are lasting.

But we don't see that now. Now, we all know that we have miles to go before we sleep - so we might as well live it up in the meantime. This comes out in our approach to God, our approach to worship, our hymns. In old hymns. . .you almost always died... but who cares, in Christ you will live forever, you will be raised to new and better life. Even the old classic American hymns that Lutherans will sometimes denigrate do that - Amazing Grace, Rock of Ages - you die at the end - but who cares - Christ has risen and won me salvation.

The modern song. . . not so much. And the thing is, we don't miss it. Death doesn't necessarily hit us so soon. I remember being at high school in Minden, and a classmate died in a car accident. Now, Ryan was my third classmate to die, in addition to a grandmother and others. But for some of the people in the school, he was the first person they knew, really knew, who had died. And they were 15.

We push off death (here one might rant against the video games and say that we desensitize... but no, we have no experience of it to desensitive. Actually, sanitized urban life probably does more to keep the experience of death away than anything else), we pretend it doesn't come. And the thing is, Christianity has never been just about having your best life now, about being all that you can be, about having run and rock and roll. It was about conquering over our old foes Sin, death, and the Devil.

Is it any surprise that when one foe is treated as a myth and that another is a stranger that the appeal of sin would be that much greater?

Remember, you too shall die. But in Christ Jesus, because of his death and resurrection - death can go suck it, it shall not keep you, for it could not keep your Lord and Master, your Living Head, Christ Jesus.

This is the Christian faith.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Are We Surpised? Really? It's not that big of a deal...

So, many people are shocked that author Anne Rice announced that she is no longer a Christian - which comes on the heels of her decision a few years ago to no longer write anything Vampire and instead write about Jesus.

There's shock and horror - how could she repudiate her faith! And then there's the accusations - she never really, really, really got it (like I do). Or the shrugs - she made all this vampire stuff popular, let the tramp burn!

Here is what she wrote:

"I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

This really has nothing to do with being "Christian" -- it has to do with the idea that being a Christian means you are supposed to be socially conservative.

But, but, but - aren't the Scriptures opposed to homosexuality? Yep. If she wants to defend homosexuality as a life-style, she is wrong and in error. It happens.

But also note what else is there -- anti-feminist. Anti-artificial birth control. Anti-Democrat. Anti-secular humanism. Anti-science.

In other words - she doesn't want to be conservative. That's all. Simple as that. And you know what -- um... can one be a democrat and still be a Christian? Sure. Can one think that women should get equal pay for equal work. . . or even think that women should be able to work and still be a Christian? Sure.

(A note on women working - yes, yes, yes, you will say the woman's place is in the home. Now go read Proverbs 31 and then tell me if your idea of a housewife includes purchasing and managing the property, producing goods, and selling the produce of the house)

Here's the hint. Anne Rice is/was a member of Rome. Rome says that they are Christian. . . so she's repudiating Rome. She still wants to confess Christ (with what errors, I don't know, everyone has personal heresies of a sort) but can't stand the things Rome is forcing her to believe. So she says that she won't.

Now, I can sympathize with that. If she had said, "I refuse to hold to the enforced celibacy of priests, I refuse to be forced to do good works to merit the salvation Christ has already won for me, I refuse to bind myself to Aristotelian ideas about the Supper - I simply want Justification to be the focus" - then we would have said, "A-ha! She has become a Confessional Lutheran!"

Rice is rejecting Rome -- and what has she become? Well, pro-gay, feminist, pro-birth control, Democrat who likes science. Let's assume that she still likes things liturgical and the like. Well, isn't that sort of a liberal Episcopalian? Eh, she'll end up there or some other such place. Hopefully she get enough of the Gospel is bits and spurts that her faith is not washed away completely. Who knows.

But it's not that big of a deal. Now, if she were going to write more Vampire Novels - maybe some more good Vampire Mythology stuff like "Queen of the Damned" - now that would be a big deal.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Implication of Freedom

I find that many folks despise freedom. Freedom means that there are options - that you may do this or you may do that or even this third thing - and that all are fine. Act as you think to be fit. And if you are free to do something - how you use that freedom is okay (provided you don't use freedom as a pretext to sin). Freedom means that if it is not sinning, it's okay to do.

The problem is, we don't like having multiple options. How many of you like getting merely a participation ribbon? How many of you like having a game where you are simply free to play and no score is kept? Not many, I'd wager. And we do the same thing as regards our life - we want to know who is the best (and hope that it is us). We don't want to be content with the freedom God has given us, we want to know what is *best*.

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't strive to do what is best, that we shouldn't seek to be as loving as possible... but we are called to freedom. That means what some other sap thinks is best for him may very well be different than what you think... and that's okay. It means we aren't keeping score - it means that you answer isn't necessarily the *best* answer for everyone. And that's okay.

Freedom means other people get to do things you wouldn't - things you have no interest in doing - and yet they still please God in doing. Freedom means you don't have to plumb the hidden will of God and pretend you know things beyond Scripture (hmmm, does God really, really, really want me to hire this plumber...maybe I should pray and wait for the Holy Spirit to give me a sign). Just go. Be free.

Seriously. Go enjoy the options and opportunities God gives you. For Freedom Christ has set you free. Try your best. If God wants you going in a different way - He'll turn you. You don't have to try to out guess Him. You don't have to have everyone else do the same things as you, think the same things as you, pat you on the back for everything to validate you as the best - just go be free. Confess your sin, receive forgiveness, and enjoy the blessings God gives you.

Freedom is a good thing -- but it means that I don't get to elevate myself over my neighbor, I don't get to win over him, I don't get to prove that I'm better by having his acclaim. And that is distasteful to the sinful flesh which wants to dominate over others and take away their freedom. Thus is life in a sinful world.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The 3 Laws of Heresy

I posit that Heresy is like Physics - it behaves in some generally predictable ways. Hence, here they are, the three Laws of Heresy.

1. A Hersey moving away from truth keeps moving away from truth. So, what does this mean? Heresy never just stops with a little error, with being a little off, It keeps getting worse and worse. This is something that one can see historically. Once you end up denying something like the Sacraments, your theology about the Person of Christ continues to decay -- this Law is what led the Puritans of the Northeast to basically fall apart into Unitarian Universalism. This can also be seen in ordination issues. Once you ignore Scripture to let women be ordained, that heresy is going to keep moving further away, and you will lead into homosexual ordination and the like.

2. The popularity of a heresy is proportional to the personal Charisma/Power of it's proponent. Whenever there is a heresy, it's purpose is to pull and distract people away from the clear Word of God. The power for a heresy isn't anything from God, it comes from man. Therefore, the more Charisma, the more worldly sway and power that a person has, the more popular the heresy will be. That's why heretical sects end up being so strongly cults of personality.

3. For every heresy there is an equal and opposite heresy. You had Nestorious and you had Eutyches, you had the Judiazers and you had Marcion, you had Calvinism and you had Arminianism. Every time someone departs from the Scriptures in one direction, another person will depart from the Scriptures in the opposite way.

These are the three Laws of heresy, and historically, they hold true.


The brilliant theo-physicist "George" writes the following, which is worthy of front post notage:

I do think there are relativistic laws though.

The faster you're moving relative to the truth the harder it is to tell how fast other people are moving from the truth.

The point is -- that if you are a heretic, it's not really so easy for you to tell how heretical a different heresy is. E.g. fellowship between ELCA and UM, PCUSA, etc.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

So sick of the Law

The flier/fund-raising-appeal/guilt-trip arrived in the mail. "Two Children die every minute - what are you doing about it?"

Oh, guess it wasn't a fund raiser. . . it was an ad for a CPH children's book. It's about how children can get involved in helping to fund anti-malaria projects.

This is how we advertise a children's book about helping your neighbor? Really? This is how we get out information about the LMI (Lutheran Malaria Initiative - a joint project between Lutheran World Relief, the LCMS, and the ELCA)?

Well, other than buying this book, what can I do? The flier tells me where I fit in.
Pray - makes sense.
Learn - I am supposed to learn more about LMI, and help my community as well.
Advocate - I am supposed to write my senator or representative and tell them to send money to malaria programs.
Give - I am supposed to hold a fundraiser.

I am just so, so sick of the Law. It ruins everything, turns any kindness or goodness to ashes. If you are so moved to show kindness to those with Malaria - wonderful. But why, why do you think you have the right or authority to tell me that I should contact my congressman and tell them to spend money?

Yes, loving the neighbor is a wonderful thing. Go love your neighbor. Love him to the best of your ability. Encourage others to love their neighbor - let them know of opportunities that they have that they might not be aware of. . . but come on, enough with the guilt trips. There's always more than enough of the poor in need of support, there's always more than enough causes to champion. Don't try to use the law to guilt people into acting in accordance with your particular whim.


Yes, it's nice that my "purchase will help save lives by connecting people to the Lutheran Malaria Imitative and its mission." But I really want Church and Churchly mailings to be something more than "Lutherans are a powerful force for change!"

And not once, not at all is Christ Jesus mentioned in this flier. Not even a generic mentioning of "God".

I am so, so sick of the Law, and social "change" - whatever direction it takes, even if it is something that is fine and righteous, is nothing but the Law. Why? Because it can be talked about without reference to Christ. Ugh.

Just. . . ugh.

The Passing of Rev. Joseph Myers

Yesterday afternoon a Pastor in our circuit, Rev. Joseph Myers, passed away in his sleep unexpectedly. What follows is the e-mail (slightly amended with additional info) to the pastors in the Circuit.

+ + + + + + + + + + + +


By now most of you have heard that Joseph passed away yesterday afternoon in his sleep over in Eastern Oklahoma. Again, not much is known at the moment. Mary has asked Tim [Dorsch - Pastor at Zion, Fairmont] to preside at the funeral, and it sounds as if Ladasau-Evans will handle the specific arraignments. As such, please do keep Mary, the people of Immanuel [Lutheran Church, Garber OK], and also Tim in your prayers as plans comes into shape.

While unexpected and shocking, we know that these sorts of things are what happen in a sinful, fallen world. This is part of the Law that we proclaim to our people every week. This is what Joseph himself faithfully and diligently taught his people as well. We know these sorts of tragedies have happened, do happen, and will continue to happen as long as this world lasts.

But we are not just preachers of the Law - we proclaim the Gospel, the death of Christ Jesus to take away our sin which earned our death, and His resurrection, which is the proof that we who have been claimed by Christ as His own, joined to Him in Holy Baptism, and nourished by Him through His own Body and Blood in His Supper shall have not only forgiveness but a resurrection of our own come the last day as well.

Joseph preached this - and with great joy even now he sings this victory of Christ over death with all the saints who have gone before. His time of having his voice be used to preach is at an end; now that voice is gladly part of the company of all heaven.

While I myself wish this day had been much delayed, it is for Joseph's blessing, it is for his care and benefit. We are right to mourn, but we mourn for the loss that Mary has suffered, the loss that Immanuel has suffered, the loss the we ourselves have suffered. But we know that on account of Christ Jesus' great love for Joseph and for us that the time of our mourning will come to an end, that we will indeed see and hold and rejoice with our brother Joseph and all the saints on the day of the resurrection of all flesh and even on to forever more.

The meantime, the time between then and now is rough. But this is why we proclaim Christ and Him crucified, why we are determined to know nothing but Christ, to have our eyes fixed upon Jesus, for He is both the author of our faith and the one who brings it to completion - and the completion of our faith is the resurrection of the dead. This is why we confess "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." All thanks be to God who has redeemed not only his servant Joseph, but us, His most unworthy servants as well.

Christ Jesus be with you this week,


We praise You Lord for Joseph
A shepherd, faithful, true,
Who with both love and zeal
proclaimed new life in You.
May we who still here labor
Likewise proclaim Your cross
Until the resurrection
removes all pain and loss

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Purpose of the Law and Gospel

The Law has 1 major purpose. It is to kill. The Law takes something, binds is, holds it in place, and then slays it. The Law is the electric chair, it is the firing squad, it is death.

The Gospel has 1 major purpose. It gives life. The Gospel takes the life and salvation that is Christ's, and it gives to a person, breathes it into a person, and then they live.

The Law is good. We need to be killed. We need to be bound. My pride - it needs to be bound and killed. My sinful flesh - it needs to be bound and killed. My sinful desires - it needs to be bound and killed. But if we stay there, we simply remain dead.

The Gospel, though is better, for it creates. The Gospel takes the man slain by sin and rises Him to new life now. The Gospel takes the flesh doomed to die on account of sin and makes it to live pure and perfect forever. The Gospel makes man to be again what Christ is.

This is what your preaching shall do, oh preacher! Do not dither. When you preach the Law, it is to bind and kill and you had better make sure you have the right would and bind the wound that needs binding; you had better make sure you have the right target and kill only what needs killing. Anything else than binding, anything less than killing is no longer Law but self-congratulatory self righteousness which pretends that the dying shall live.

When you preach the Gospel, you are to preach Christ and His life into people. This shall not be mixed - it shall not be Christ and your works, for that doesn't give life. It shall not be Christ and sappy sentimentality, because sentimentality doesn't make dead bones to live again. If it is not utterly and totally Christ, is becomes no longer Gospel but sanctimonious palaver which kills anyone who is honest enough to know they aren't the pollyanna your preaching described.

Be blunt. Preach the Law in its sternness, preach the Gospel in its Sweetness.

Going to Hell in a Handbasket - 3 Responses

There is a phrase I like - "The World is Going to Hell in a Handbasket." It amuses me - I think the idea of going anywhere in a handbasket itself is amusing. And then the accuracy of the phrase describing the world - simply getting worse. And that's the simple fact, the world is always getting worse. If we make an "advancement" somewhere, somewhere else just gets worse. The world is always in decay -- and when you are in the handbasket, whatever time you are in, you know it's getting worse - and even more wondrous, if we could turn back the clock, it wouldn't feel any better. Only Romanticized views of the past think that it's better back in the "good old days".

So - how do we react to this persistent reality of the world? There are three response that arise:
1. The Antinomian
2. The Legalistic
3. The Christian

The Antinomian sees these changes in the world and decides that we must accomodate the culture. Get rid of anything that might offend so as to hope to save folks (because it's our actions and skill and power that save folks) - the bait and switch of theology - the welcome all to save all. But this destroys the Gospel, because if you do not see your sin, you will never have faith in your Savior, for you won't need Him.

The Legalist sees these changes in the world and desires to fix them - to stop the slide into depravity. And the solution - law. If we can just convince people to follow the rules, then things will be better. And there is movement, there is momentum, let's tighten the laws and rules beyond what Scripture says -- because that pesky freedom is being abused. This doesn't stop the slide of culture, and more over it gives more people simple reason to reject the faith in a bait and switch move -- because they reject what the Legalist says they end up assuming they should reject what Christ says as well.

The Christian though sees these changes in the world, shrugs, shakes his head, prays for his neighbor, and then says, "Well, y'all can do as you wish, but me and my house, we're going to follow the Lord." The Christian doesn't try to fix the world with his ideas, either way. He is content to focus upon the Word - and let the Word of God do what it does.

Or to think of it this way with an analogy - the Field Goal Post. 10 feet high, 18.5 feet wide. Now, imagine a man placekicker plying his trade.

The Antinomian thinks we should cheer and support a person even if someone misses field goals all the time - great job, you win, I support and validate you! Yea!

The Legalistic thinks, "Some of those kicks are really close to missing, if we don't do something, he's going to just miss more and more -- alright, now, unless you hit this target that is 20 feet high and only 9 feet wide, you haven't done well. And kicks that are still through the uprights are treated as failures because they are too close to missing.

The Christian simply says - oh, that one missed. No good. Oh, that kick is through - it's good! Now kicker, continue practicing, continuing kicking -- but as our Quarterback leads us to 60 point wins, well, you have the victory because of him, and it never comes down to you.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

No sermon today

There's no sermon here today because Seminarian Jay Hobson, fresh off of vicarage, delivered a sermon today in my stead. And he did very well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Doubting the Word: Legalism and Arminianism

Legalism doubts the power of the Word. Specifically the Gospel and its power. You see, the fear of Legalism is that the Gospel and it's power of life and salvation. . . just really isn't enough and you have to add some good law and order to make sure that the new life flows.

What follows is a response I wrote on a facebook post asking why, if one thinks that we have no impact upon election why we do any speaking since it's all predetermined.

"The point probably is that it isn't *we* who impact souls, but rather the Word of God that does -- and even if we fail to speak the Word as we ought, God will use others to speak the Word of life to people. Nor is that Word of God made better or stronger or more effective by my own strength or power.

On this we are to be like the Sower of the Seed - we cast the seed, and it simply falls where it wills. We are instruments for God to show His love -- and it's God who is at work through us - it is not I who live but Christ who lives within me. So let us speak because that is who we are.

I didn't see the spot in the document in particular - but the Formula is clear the that Doctrine of Election is to be pure comfort -- in other words, someone who tells you that people are going to hell because "you aren't doing _____" can go stuff it, for God will not loose one of those whom are His - for neither heights nor depths or even my gross incompetence can separate them from God's love.

Well, why do anything? Um . . because we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that we might walk in them. . . or in other words -- because we do, because we are, and when our sinful nature is thrust down by the preaching the Law and the Gospel -- these good works happen. If you are a branch attached the Vine. . . you grow. It's what happens. And you don't grow by focusing on your growth, or trying really hard to. You grow because the Vine gives you growth.

So enjoy the life and love and salvation you have - God is in control. It's all about Him. Enjoy His gifts, delight in His salvation. . . and you know what? He will open your mouth, it will show forth His praise, and that Word will accomplish what He wills -- and I don't need to browbeat you to make it happen."

You see, the bit of assumption in the question was the legalism that comes with a bit of Arminian background we have in the US -- unless there is a direct cause and effect, I can't get a person to act. That's a bit of backdoor, subtle legalism. And it's common. If we don't tell people what they have to do and what good it will cause, they won't. Legalism always assumes that there must be an obvious profit or we won't act.

The thing is -- everything is about the power of God and His Word. And so often we don't realize it.

Not What, but Rather Why

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

We all know this text. This is what you hear at it seems like every single wedding - and if it's a church with people other than the pastor doing the readings, there may be a slight, breathy sigh before the word "love". This text gets so sentimentalized it can make one ill. But let's consider it.

Allow me to make a statement. If you do not understand God's Love, and if you do not view things in terms of love, you will not understand either the Law or the Gospel. That is the point.

As for the Law, our Lord Jesus Christ sums up the law by saying, "Love.... love God, love your neighbor." Love is the encapsulation of the Law. If you neglect the idea of love when considering the Law, what do you become? You basically become a Muslim. The purpose then of the Law becomes a matter of merely doing what God says to placate Him - fulfilling the divine checklist. But, as St. Paul says, if you do not have love - nothing.

God's Law is not primarily focused on "what" we do, as a Muslim would posit - but it is focused on "why" we are to act. We are to act for the benefit of the neighbor - we are to act in love. Whatever we happen to do it is to be based in love -- and should we do the most wondrous of things neglecting love, we miss the boat.

This is the Gospel. . . not that merely Christ fulfilled the Law, not merely that He did a divine checklist - but rather that He did this "for you". For you is the essence of the Gospel - and the Gospel is Christ fulfilling the Law. This "for you" explains why Christ does what He does - it is always for you.

And if you don't understand this Gospel - if you don't understand that Christ has done it all for you, you won't understand the Law. The Law commands us to focus on others -- and if we are worried about doing "what" we have to do, we will be fundamentally worried about ourselves and not our neighbor. What must I do to be holy, what must I do to inherit eternal live. These are questions that have no thought of love and miss the boat.

Every act you do, every decision you take, it is to be based on showing love to God by showing love to your neighbor. What you do - eh, if it's not done for the right way - a noisy gong, useless and in vain. Rather this - strive to show love to your neighbor. Act in their best interest as best you can - and believe that Christ Jesus has acted in your best interest for life and salvation.

Or, as Paul says in Galatians - "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

That's it. It is as simple as that - show love. How? What must I do to show love? These questions show you aren't getting the question. In all that you do, in whatever you do, whatever you happen to be doing, be showing love. The what isn't nearly as important as the why -- it doesn't matter whether or not you eat the food sacrificed to idols - show love to your neighbor either way. If eating would harm the neighbor, don't. If eating doesn't harm - eh, do it if you wish.

Or as Paul says again, "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." Again - the focus is not on what specifically you must do - but why.

Show love. Help your neighbor to grow and mature. IF they are freaked out by things - don't freak them out (even if it means you let yourself be circumcised) unless they view their thing by which they are freaked out by as the essence of Christianity (instead of love), and then oppose them (but even then, out of love, because if they have lost the focus on love, they need it back). Because once you no longer focus on Love, you will slowly no longer focus on Christ's love for you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why Every Pastor Should Read Ignatius of Antioch

"The Work (of the Christian, of the Church) is not a matter of persuasive rhetoric; rather, Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world." - Letter to the Romans 3:3

If we understood this today, there would be so much less theological tomfoolery. This is why every pastor should read Ignatius of Antioch.

Let's get some other gems from the letter to the Romans.

"It is good to be setting from the world to God, in order that I may rise to Him" Rom 2:2

"Do not talk about Jesus Christ while you desire the world." Rom 7:1

"I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want His Blood, which is incorruptible love." Rom 7:3

Just. . . wow.

Thus sayeth. . . the Lord?

Sometimes folks in the Church, especially in the Church, feel compelled to speak on political issues. And in many ways this is sort of expected. I was talking to an old friend of mine from High School who is now a pro-migrant worker activist, and she was interested in knowing my opinion... not merely because I am a smart fellow who can analyze things, but because I am a religious leader, and the impact of religious leaders upon immigration issues has been great.

Historically, clergy have had a major impact upon society - and often from the pulpit. There were revolutionary preachers - there were abolitionist preachers. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement were members of the clergy. And even today, and even within the LCMS, many of the folks who speak out against Abortion are preachers. And then, also, many of the pro-migrant, pro-homosexual leaders tend to be clergy as well. Pious preachers will take to their pulpits and say, "We as a country, on the basis of God's Word, need to do X" - whatever X may be.

I am extremely hesitant to do this. On any policy.

Why? Because there is a nuance that I think we can forget about preaching. Our preaching is to be authoritative, and our authority is nothing but the authority of Christ to preach His Law and His Gospel - Thus sayeth the Lord. There are many things that I can say on topics that are hot button today on the basis of Scripture. Abortion on demand is wrong, because the Scriptures depict and describe human life, specific, known individuals, as beginning at conception. I can say, "Don't do this wantonly." I can say to the woman who has and is repentant, "I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Those are the things in scripture. Thus sayeth the Lord.

I cannot say, "As candidate X supports this policy about abortion, you cannot vote for him in good conscience." I can't. Not with the authority of Scriptures. I can say, "his policy would allow wickedness to remain legal" - I can say, "his approach would not fix everything entirely" - but how do I mandate voting in this specific time from the pulpit? Can I say, "this policy alone should determine your vote"? Where on the basis of Scripture can I say that? There may be other issues, indeed, issues involving life and death that are rightly important. How do I mandate that? How can I say, "This issue must be more important than all others"? Moreover - what about the actual politics - OK passed a law mandating an ultrasound before abortion. I think that's horrible policy from a strategic point of view - it's just going to rile up pro-abortion (okay, pro-choice) folks with rhetoric about, "See, they are just trying to rule people's lives". Am I bound to support this? What if I don't want candidates who support these sorts of measures because I think they are counter-productive in the long run? How can I say from the pulpit, which is in the Lutheran understanding an implied, "Thus sayeth the Lord", that you must vote X and not Y on this issue?

I can say conclusively "Love your neighbor". I can even tell people, "When you vote, do not consider just your own interests or whims, but consider what policies best show love to your neighbor." But I don't think I can tell you, "Policy X shows love - candidate Y is the loving candidate." I can say whether some specific act is right or wrong for you to do - but that doesn't mean I can tell you whether you think in our society an action should be legal or illegal (I actually tend to think that defending liberty socially means defending the rights of people to do precisely the things that you would never do). I can say it's wrong to not wantonly skip Church - I can say that "Thus sayeth the Lord" - but I certainly would never advocate criminalizing skipping Church.

Sometimes we as pastors can want to shape the Kingdom of the left - our society. That's fine - but we need to remember that this is part of our duties not as pastors (for pastors are not given that task by our government), but part of our job as citizens. You want to campaign for someone, fine (Ron Paul in 2012!). But it needs to be clear that these are your thoughts as a citizen, as a part of the kingdom of the left - not your pronouncements as a leader in the kingdom of the right (not voting for Ron Paul is not a sin).

Clergy have weight, we have power, we have authority given by God. And as such we should say what the Scriptures say. But we must remember that, in spite of what has happened often in the history of America and often happens now by political preachers today. We in the LCMS know not to fall into the Social Gospel - we ought not fall into the Social Law either. Saying, "You must vote this way" is a binding of conscience, it is nothing but the creation of law - and the Lord doesn't tell us any specific policies we must support. You are free - free to love your neighbor. Be content with that.

Teach people - instruct them in the Way of the Lord, and encourage them to vote their consciences which you have informed on the basis of the Scriptures. But when you preach, when you bind consciences. Trying to fix this world, this country, which is to pass away is not worth this binding, nor is it our duty as Pastors.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

So behind the times. . .

So, I was looking over at the the Star Wars: The Old Republic website (remember, when it comes out, we need to all get on the same server) and I saw something that, well, I just don't know. Apparently in their developer blog about sound they note "No Star Wars game would be complete without orchestral music, of course".

Now, if I were a well meaning proponent of Contemporary Worship and part of the hipster crowd, I would tell the folks at Bioware that orchestral music doesn't "resonate" with people today and isn't hip, and so therefore should be avoided.

Oh, wait. I don't believe that.

Why is it that Star Wars nerds realize that music conveys emotion and mood and that certain styles are appropriate but this is such a hard concept for many folks in theology?

You can see their actual video about the music in The Old Republic (which is AWESOME) Here

A Heartfelt, Emotional Appeal

To all those who are in any positions of planning or power, please, above all else, do not try to be cool. Do not try to be hip. Do not try to have the edge of pop culture - for you are Lutheran, and therefore you are culturally 15-20 years behind the power curve.

Exhibit 15236 - I just received a flier for the 34th Biennial LWML Convention. Its theme?

"Being with Jesus - Living on the Edge"


Yep - the summer of 2011 - the summer of living on the edge. You know, I'm pretty sure that the theme of my high school's prom in 1994 was "Living on the Edge" - you know, right around when the Aerosmith song came out.

Do not, please, please, do not try to catch a cultural wave. I remember in the Sem a pastor quoting a new song from the radio -- and it was 8 years old. Do not try to be hip. Do not try to be cool. Do not try to do something to appeal to the kids. You will just show your age.

Instead - I urge you - be yourself. Be whom God has made you to be. If you are a bit of a fuddy-duddy - be a good, God pleasing fuddy-duddy. If you are someone who delights in Lawerence Welk - delight in the oompha sounds. If you are a freeze-dried hippie - be a good, God pleasing hippie (although respect the rules of the land when it comes to what you smoke)!. And if you are a nerd, then by all means be an awesome Christian nerd of awesomeness.

And then, when it comes time to gather around God's Word - put aside your preferences. . . and let's be joined together around the Word and the Sacrament, the liturgy of the Church. Many people, many nations are gathered - we don't need to try to immitate any one culture, we don't need to try to draw specific groups in with our misguided hipness - be who you are, but then come together with people who are different from you together in Church - not a Church that shapes itself to your whims, but conforming yourself to the Church and adding your voice to Her song.

Because really - while you might enjoy it, only you and your _________ friends will enjoy the crazy stuff you do. Please, don't become a cultural tyrant over the Church and turn the Bride of Christ into a cultural poser.

"The Nobility of Failure"

The book The Nobility of Failure by Ivan Morris was one of the best books on Japanese History I have ever read. It deals with a series of "failed heroes" - people who tried to accomplish a goal, but failed, and then became heroes in Japanese Culture.

Why? How could they become heroes? Because their devotion to their cause, even when it was clearly lost, showed their "Makoto" - their sincerity, their purity of heart. Japanese History has a long history of creative changing of sides - the fact that these people don't jump ship shows how much they support their position, and thus garners and earns respect. (If you have seen the movie "The Last Samurai", it is based loosely on the life of Saigo Takamori, who led the Satsuma Rebellion. He is one of the heroes that Morris profiles)

What is fascinating about this, and what we might learn from this, is that with these heroes the focus isn't on winning or survival - but remaining true to their principles. And in fact, in many cases because they remain true, because they don't sell out, those principles are then extolled and have more influence. Of course, this all ties into the Bushido - the Way of the Warrior. Do you know what the Way of the Warrior is? The Way of the Warrior is to die.

Now for something that isn't really syncretistic. . .

Let us compare this approach to what our approach to this life as Christians are to be. Are we called to be faithful, or to do whatever we need to do to be on the winning, popular side? Are we to love our life in this world, or do we lose our life in this world? When all the tides of the world say "do this", do we capitulate or do we resist and say, "As for me and my house, we will follow the Lord."

Or to put it another way - the way of the Christian is to die. . . to die to sin, to die to self, and to live to and with Christ.

And sometimes, when we are in that moment of dying to self, when we are holding our ground as the world runs off around us. . . on whatever issue it is where the world is pressuring us - abortion, homosexuality, women's ordination, retaining the liturgy - our old foe loves to come to us and say, "Your cause is pointless -- all you are going to do is drive yourself into the mud and drag your family and your congregation down with you. Give in, go with the flow, it's just the times."

We are called to resist - to bear witness to the truth - even at expense to ourselves. And this is not merely for our own benefit (for remaining faithful even unto the crown of life everlasting IS for our benefit), but also for the witness and encouragement and hope it provides for others of the faith.

This is something we see throughout history.

Then the early LCMS rejected revivalistic theology and insisted on doctrine - many in the US viewed it as a drastic failure. It was a wonderful thing, and ought to shape us today.

When Luther was declared an outlaw - again, he bore faithful witness.

When the various saints and martyrs were sent to their death, it was a failure (except in terms of entertainment value) in the eyes of the world - but again, hope and inspiration for generations of the faithful. I'm particularly favorable to Ignatius of Antioch in particular ("I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.")

And of course, the highest example would be Christ Himself - the world saw the cross as scorn and shame and foolishness - when in reality it was the Wisdom of God for our salvation.

Stick to your guns, Christians! Don't think like a win at all cost American - rather, be faithful above all things.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"I will choose Free Will"

Today at our circuit confessions study we will be looking at the Formula of Concord, article II - which deals with Free Will. This is one of those biblical doctrines that people hate, hate, hate. Why? Well, the basic contention is this - apart from God, without God acting first, fallen, sinful man can do nothing - not a thing to impress God, earn His respect, please Him, or anything. Unless God grants faith and knowledge of Him, man cannot move towards God.

Now, there's plenty in Scripture to support this. I like Ephesians 2:1 - But you were dead in your tresspasses. Dead. Dead don't do jack. Or John 15:5 - I am the vine, you are the branches, whoever abides in me and I in Him will bear much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. And of course, John 14:6 - I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life - no man cometh to the Father but by Me (oooOOOooo, that's King James, I've had that one memorized a long time).

Well, if we are dead. . . and we cannot do anything apart from God - who has to act first, God or Me? Or think agriculturally - which comes first - the vine or the branch? Indeed, Jesus even tells us that unless we are united to Him (which He starts, cause we are dead and He is the vine which gives life), we aren't coming to the Father.

Scripture is clear - yet why do so many people today espouse decision theology? Why do so many people want to make faith a choice that they make? I had thought a lot of this was based upon our culture - that we are voting happy. We have "Democratic" elements - we are used to the people having power that they then grant to those above -- which is just what decision theology is. . . a man choosing to make God His god. This is why a lot of "outreach" strategies almost seem like political campaigns. "Vote Jesus by coming to our church."

(Terrifying thought of the morning - somebody has seen this, and come October there is going to be a Vote Jesus program. . . Lord have mercy!)

But it has to be more than just our modern political bent. This was a popular theology even 400 years ago when Europe was still in a sort-of Feudal system. No - I think it's just simply about power. People want power - they want to be the ones in control - and safely so.

Any pastor can tell you about power plays in the Church - which let me tell you, those tend to be ugly. Or think about your job, your family. Oh, man - things can get messy. Why? There's a conflict of wills - if you try to rule, someone else pushes back. Even if you don't try to control things, people probably will throw weight around with you.

But you know what - let's say you take a strong Decision Theology approach. You state, already ignoring Scripture, "I decide for Jesus!" What's going to happen? Now, someone tries to boss me around, I might do some bossing back (oh sinful wretch that I am). What's God going to do? He's not going to thunder from the heavens saying, "No Chuck, it is not that you chose Me, it is that I chose you!" Well, sort of He has - John 15:16 - it is not that you chose Me but I chose and appointed you - but if you ignore the Scripture. . . well, God doesn't yell back.

It seems safe to toss your weight around with God and His Word. And in fact, this has spilled on to other things. No women pastors - bah, who cares what the Scriptures say! Or hey, let's make up some new rules to prove how awesome we are - no drinking anyone! What, wine gladdens the heart and Timothy's supposed to have some for his stomach and nerves - bah, silly God.

Of course, going back to the Garden, this all makes sense. You will be like God - that was the promise. And ever since then, sinful man has been trying to argue his rights, his power, his authority over and against God -- even in the Church, even among those who claim that they believe (and often that they have decided to believe).

The band Rush had a song called free will - and it deals with how one might view life; and it's rhetoric is skewed toward. . . yep, free will. The final line of the chorus is, "I will choose the path that's clear/ I will choose free will." All about claiming power for yourself.

Great song musically - but lousy words. Always be wary when claiming power for yourself. This is why we Lutherans used to always end things SDG - Soli Deo Gloria - to God alone be the Glory. Maybe it would be good to start this again.

(To vote in favor of adding +SDG+ to the end of this post, press one. To vote against adding +SDG+ to the end of this post, press two)


Monday, July 19, 2010

A Luther Gem

Consider the following Luther Gem that is making it's way around the internet:

"Get used to believing that Christ is a real Savior and that you are a real sinner. For God is neither joking nor is He dealing in imaginary affairs, but He was deadly serious when He sent His own Son into the world and sacrificed Him for our sake, etc. (Romans 8:32; John 3:16). Satan – who is alive and well – has snatched these and similar reflections, which come from soothing Bible passages, from you memory. Therefore, you are not able to recall them in your present great anguish and depression. For God’s sake, then, turn your ears my way, brother, and hear me cheerfully sing. I am your brother. At this time I am not afflicted with the desperation and depression that is oppressing you. Therefore, I am strong in my faith. The reason I am strong in the faith – while you are weak and harried and harassed by the devil – is that you may lean on me for support until you regain your old strength."

Note especially that end. . . therefore I am strong in my faith - and the reason. Not because I am awesome, not because I am great - but so that while you are weak and Satan is beating the tar out of you, you may lean against me and I may speak God's Word of life to you so that you regain strength.

And of course, the opposite is true - there will be times when I am weak, when I am beat down and weary - and that those times it may be that you are strong. Why are you strong? Because of your own awesomeness? No - but so that you might speak a word of comfort to me and bolster me to stand in the face of Satan.

Everything in our life, even the strength of our faith, our confidence, those moments of surety which we have - these are for our neighbor, these are so that we might love the neighbor.

I think this is what Romans 1:17 means - consider Romans 1:16-17 - "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17)For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

God's righteousness is revealed, is spoken by me in faith, for the sake of your faith. God's righteousness is revealed, is spoken by you in faith, for the sake of my faith. We constantly proclaim the Gospel to each other, bolstering each other, lifting each other up - and thus we live.

It's a wonderful, wonderful observation. My life is never about me - Just as Christ's life was never about Himself - it's always about you (whoever you happen to be).

Evangelism Myth 8 - Study is really where it is at

The ads I get on my facebook page depress me. Seriously, they do. It knows that I am clergy, so it throws up ads that should appeal to me as a member of the clergy (did you know that I could get a bachelor of theology on-line. . . oooOOOooo. At least a few ads offer me a doctorate). Well, many of the ads are for outreach/evangelism programs. And I saw one that pointed to another myth of Evangelism - Small Groups are what really are important.

The idea is that the way in which people really grow is to gather into small groups and study the Word together. This is a very old idea, reaching all the way back to the roots of Pietism (Gads, Lutherans, what ills we have unleashed upon the world in that one! And then Rationalism - the German people are swine! Weep for your heritage, German Lutherans, weep you bullheaded krauts! Okay, I think I'm better now). The idea of Pietism is that what truly mattered was one's deep felt personal relationship with Jesus, and that this could only be fostered in small groups called conventicles, where there would be prayer and study of the Scripture.

Now, don't get me wrong - I love bible studies. I think they are fantastic for growing in the understanding of God's love for you. I end up teaching four bible studies during the week (and they're all small group, I guess. . . show up to bible study more often people!), and now that my Seminarian is home, we study all the time. It's great to study - you can pause, dive into things.

But Bible Study isn't the liturgy. What's the difference between Bible Study and the liturgy? In Bible Study we look at what God has done - see it, try to understand it. Nothing wrong with that - in fact, that is very good (like an excellent vegetable side served with dinner). But what happens in the Liturgy? Christ's forgiveness is given to us. The Gospel is proclaimed, forgiveness is distributed, Christ is present in His Word and in His Supper.

This is the different. In Bible Study I can study God's love - I can look at it, examine it, contemplate it. In worship, I receive it, I have it preached into my ear, I have it placed upon my tongue.

In a Bible study I can see and learn the depths of sin - it in worship where I hear, "I forgive you all of your sins."

In a Bible study I can about how the prophets talked about how Christ would come - in worship I hear, "Take and eat, this is My Body, given for you."

In a Bible study I can learn many things from the Word - in the worship I receive the Word of life.

Bible Study is wonderful and should be encouraged - but the true center of a Christian congregation is the Divine Service where we receive the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. This reception is the most important thing. Too often this passive reception of God is replaced by some good old fashioned active learning.

Be in Church - be passive there and receive from Christ His goodness - something the latest plans completely and always overlook.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

If you don't already should look at Pastor Peter's latest post which tells of an Orthodox Archpriest from Belarus speaking to the PCUSA convention.

It's wonderful. . . and insightful.

Trinity 7 Sermon

Trinity 7 – Mark 8:1-9 – July 18th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So today in our Gospel lesson we see the feeding of the 4000. Why? Why does Jesus feed these people? This seems like a simple question, and in reality it is. It’s a simple question – but it is a vitally important question, and a question that false teachers and false prophets will twist and turn and tie into knots in order to try to manipulate you and lead you astray. So what we will do this morning is look in detail at the answer to this question – Why does Jesus feed these 4000 people – and then we will see how this applies to us.

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He [that is, Jesus] called His disciples together and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” Why does Jesus feed these 4000 people? One word – compassion. Jesus has compassion – that word “compassion” in English means to share the passion, to share the feeling, to share the suffering – commiseration. The Greek word here is “Splagchnizomai” – literally feeling in one’s guts – Jesus sees the crowd in their hunger and it is gut-wrenching. Jesus looked upon the crowd, He saw their need, saw their hungry faces, and He felt it, and He knew He had to act. Or in other words, Jesus loved them. Jesus loved that crowd, and as He loved them, when He saw them in need He felt compassion. And so He calls His disciples to Him, and He teaches them. Do you want to know who your Master is, oh Disciples? Then look out on that crowd, that dusty, dirty crowd – your Master is one who sees them not with revulsion, not with disdain, but with compassion. Jesus teaches the disciples one very important thing – He looks upon people with compassion, with love.

I’m sure you here all know that – I’m sure that none of you are shocked at this. But let me warn you – here is the twist, here is where some preachers will teach falsely. Why does Jesus have compassion upon these people, why does He love them? Some false teachers will say – “Well, because they were there following Him – look at how hard these people worked to follow Jesus, look how much they sacrificed for Him, of course Jesus is going to pay them back.” And you can guess what will follow – some sort of guilt trip or sales pitch – now you need to do this or that, and then God will have compassion and bless you. Put some more money into the plate, into my pocket, and then God will bless you. All Law. But that’s not what Jesus is teaching here – Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh, I owe these people something because of their devotion” – He says, “I have compassion”. When you have compassion, it’s because you’ve seen something bad, something horrid, something rough, and you feel sorry for someone. Do you think Jesus feels sorry for these people because they’ve listened to His preaching for three days? I mean, do you really think that Jesus is sitting there thinking, “Oh, it’s so horrid that these people are actually paying attention and listening to the Word of God being preached – I wish they never would have come”? No – He has compassion upon them because they are hungry. Because they are weak – they are so hungry that if He sends them home they will faint and pass out on the way.

This is the thing – Jesus has compassion upon these people not because they are strong, not because they are such good, dedicated people, not because He owes them something. He has compassion upon them because they are weak – and Jesus can’t stand to see them suffer. Jesus says, “Look at them suffering – I can’t stand it – it is gut wrenching. I must do something, I must act.” And the first response Jesus gets is sort of lousy – And His disciples answered Him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Well, yeah Jesus, we get that things are tough, but what can ya do? We’re out here in the middle of a big old dry area and there’s no bread to be found here. We can’t do anything – oh well. Even the disciples are weak – they can’t do anything to help out.

And so what does Jesus do – He takes the bread that the disciples have – 7 loaves, and then, “And He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the people.” Does the same thing with some fish – and what do you know, everyone eats. Jesus can’t stand seeing those hungry people – so He acts – He acts purely out of His great love for them, and He cares for them.

So what does this mean? What does this teach us? Dear friends, this is the exact same reason why Jesus Christ came down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary, why He went to the Cross and suffered and died. Because He had compassion. There in heaven, our LORD saw the suffering of sin – saw what happened to His creation after Adam and Eve fell, saw their pain, saw their sorrow – even saw that they brought it upon themselves by their own foolishness. He saw your sin, your pain, your sorrow. And He had compassion. He said, “I must do something, I must help, I must save” Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven – and it is this compassion, this love that Jesus shows most fully in going to the Cross. There He literally has compassion, there He literally feels what we feel, as all the weight, all the burden of our sin is placed upon Him. There he feels what we fear most – death. He shares in it with us – He has compassion, because He must. Jesus’ compassion tells us about Him. Jesus goes to the cross because we need Him to, because if He doesn’t we are damned forever and there’s nothing we can do about it – but our Lord has compassion upon us – and He is nailed to the cross and He dies.

The Cross - that is the sign of Christ’s love for you – love that He gives freely. It’s not something you earn, it’s not something you have to work for, it’s not something that you get only if you are a strong enough Christian, if you are a good enough Christian. Which is good, because you aren’t. You are weak. Of yourself, you are nothing but a poor, miserable sinner. Every one of us here is – and there’s not a thing any of us can do to earn God’s love, to earn His respect. And we don’t need to, whatever the false prophets out there in the world say. His salvation is simply out of His love for you, it is as Paul proclaims His free gift to you – and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. It all starts with Christ’s love – it’s what we learned when we were little – Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak. . . but He is strong. There upon the Cross, when the world thinks Christ is at His weakest, there He is strong for you, there He takes upon Himself the stripes and chastisements that your sin had earned, there He takes up the wages of your sin. Because He has compassion. And on the third day, your Lord strides from the tomb, He bursts open the bonds of death – He says the wages of sin are no more because I have conquered them and destroyed them for you – and now He gives you His life to share.

But I don’t want you to think, dear friends, that this is just some story about something that happened 2000 years ago, far, far from you. Do you not know that Christ Jesus sees you and has compassion upon you? Right now, today? You ought to – how often do we sing “Lord have Mercy” in this service? It would be right stupid to call out to God for mercy if He wasn’t going to do anything about it, if we thought His time of showing love was just something in the past. No, Christ Jesus your Lord knows the trials and burdens and struggles with sin that you face – the ways in which Satan smacked you around this week – and I know Satan smacked you around this week, because life in this world is harsh, is coarse, and Satan loves to toss His weight around, loves to fling temptations one after another at us and wear us down. Christ Jesus sees these struggles you face, and He has compassion on you. How could He not – for you have been Baptized, you have been joined to Christ. Last week we had that wonderful passage from Romans – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? How can Christ not have compassion upon you – He’s joined Himself to you in Baptism. Indeed, He has made you to share in the benefits of His death and resurrection. You’ve been with Him 3 days, the three days of His death and His resurrection. But the simple fact is that in this world, we still get kicked in the teeth – and until the Last Day when we are all raised to new and perfected life, Satan will keep kicking. And life here will be hard, and without Christ’s constant support, we will grow faint. Hmmm, so what did Jesus do when those people there in the text who had been with Him three days were going to grow faint and weary? And He took the 7 loaves, and having given thanks He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the people. That language isn’t an accident – what does God do for us, in fact, what’s going to happen here in just a few minutes? Christ Jesus will take bread, give thanks, break it – and then through that bread, in with and under it, He will give Himself, His life, His salvation, His righteousness to you – He makes His disciples, His servants, His pastors do that for His people even to this day, even in this small, rural place. He does this to make you to live with His forgiveness, to keep you strong and firm in your faith and trust of Him – to keep you strong until you reach your true home – the New Heavens and the New Earth of the resurrection.

And all this, all this which Christ does for you is free – it is His love, it is His compassion which He has for you. Let no one steal this love away from you, let no one twist you with false teachings, let no one make you think for a second you must earn this. Christ Jesus our Lord has compassion upon you, and He gives you Himself so that you may have life everlasting with Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Guest Shall Always Rule

In the US commercial world there is an old adage - "The Customer is Always Right". Now, if you have worked in retail, you know that the customer isn't always right. . . however, you are to attempt to meet and respond to their needs and or perceived needs - you are to please the customer if at all possible, even if it means degrading yourself or just giving stuff away.

We almost have this same type of attitude that has built up in the Church - "The Guest Shall Always Rule". Our thoughts and such are that we think we must do whatever we can to satisfy the visitor -- don't worry if worship is as good as it could be, worry if it is visitor friendly. Don't seem too ________ so you don't offense visitors. Don't tell people they can't commune.

What made me think this is a quote from Professor Quill - "It [the Communion Statement] was really nice. 'This is our tradition. Please don't be a jerk and ignore our tradition.'" Now, said in his wonderfully winsome way, this points to something. Churches have tradition, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with a Church doing things their way.

If I show up at a Roman Catholic Church, I don't expect them not to say a Hail Mary for fear of offending me. If I go to an Evangelical Church, I don't expect them to skip the altar call because it might offend some visitors.

The guest doesn't rule the joint -- he's a guest. He can see, watch, even ask questions - but he's still a guest. I saw a comment on another blog where a person was just incensed that he wasn't allowed to simply walk on in and commune at an LCMS Church. Why would anyone have to right to walk in any place that isn't their's and think that they have a right to anything?

Passion or Compassion?

One of the wonderful pithy quotes from Dr. Quill was that people really like the phrase "I have passion for the lost". That's one of those good catch phrases - it seems to be the right thing to say.

I don't think it is the best phrase. How about this? "I have compassion upon sinners". That seems much more Christ-like - He has compassion all over the place - He sees the wretchedness of the world and desires to show love - love that isn't in anyway self-serving.

Our passion for the lost can be misplaced -- sometimes it can be a passion for their respect and admiration for how wonderful a leader I am. Sometimes it can be a passion for the money in their wallet. Sometimes it can be a passion for being able to tell the other pastors that you have a growing Church (and so you must be doing something right). These are the temptations Satan likes to piggy back on to our own passions - the foe always twists our desires.

But, consider compassion. With compassion, one doesn't look at one's own desires - but rather is focused completely on the sad state of the neighbor and how you can show him love. There's nothing for Satan to piggy back on if your focus is on compassion, on the neighbor.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Even Star Wars Gets It

You know, even Star Wars gets it. Part of the fall of Anakin Skywalker is this thought that only if he had done more and more he could have saved ______ - be it his mother, Padme, whoever. And this leads to impatience and an abandoning of right and wrong for the sake of the goal he desires.

In the latest Clone Wars book (yes, I'm a Star Wars nerd) he even says this straight out - and Obi-Wan has to smack him down - you rush in, you let your emotions take control, and Count Dooku lops off an arm.

When we become overly emotional about anything in the Church, when we become too concerned about what WE are going to do, we become impatient and stop looking at things in the light of the Scriptures. And that leads to the theological dark side.

The Final Quill

Day 24
- Who are you to judge? Well, who ARE you to judge? 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 - Judge within the Church.
- A lot of things in Rome have their roots in good things. Take the Rosary. Let's have a necklace that reminds people to pray.

Day 25
- Don't feel less a Pastor if you can't sing. . . [of course] you'd never be ordained in Luther's day.
- My daughter's not allowed to date - but she does at school. I hate the guy.
- Don't become guilty if you know the difference between a good hymn and a bad one.

(Honorary Scaer: "Baptism is like marriage. How? You tell the people to not take pictures and to shut up.")

Day 26
- Often they will say, "Many of us are upset". How many does that mean? 1000? 400? 40?
- That's how I do my sermons. I read it over and over and pretend its memorized.
- Ultimately, whatever the polity of the congregation, they can eat you up or love you.
- Never say or write anything when you're really angry.
- I said, "Okay, I'll keep that under consideration," and she didn't know what to say.
- Jesus is abused in every way.
- The only time I take it [the Supper] in my hand is when it is distributed by a layman or a Seminarian. I mean, I'm ordained, I might as well commune myself.

Day 28 (who knows where 27 went)
- I was blunt with them, but in a nice, collegial way.
- Wednesday we'll look at Church discipline, or the lack there of
- Did I mention this? Sometimes I start talking and can't remember what I said.
- I don't know if you bless him or not. "The Lord make you Lutheran."
- Oh, you wouldn't want to commune here; I was going to pour Blood in your mouth.
- It [the Communion Statement] was really nice. "This is our tradition. Please don't be a jerk and ignore our tradition."

Quill 29
- I will show mercy in spite of my legalistic statements.
- If you don't like that I show mercy to others - tough.
- I hate by-laws and Constitutions.
- Don't hide under the Gospel to avoid what you should do.
- This Church [versus] Pastor thing is a set up.
- Alright, let's move on. This is fun; we're not supposed to have fun.
- If there's any question (over who is the Presiding Minister) it's probably your wife.
- What if you have a doctor who performs abortions, but he's the best giver because of all the money he's making off of dead babies?

One of the best classes I ever took.

More Pastoral Practice with Quill

Day 10
- (Concerning when he first was a prof) Everyone seemed preoccupied. I thought they [the students] were mad at me. Now I don't care.
- (of CoWo) Suddenly, you're singing to Jesus, but you thought it was a love song.
- I'm more worried about the boys listening to this stuff and what they want to do to my daughters.

Day 11
- Never throw a hymnal! What do you think this is, a paperback "God's Word to the Nations"?
- If you are only speaking the words then you have to DO it well.
- Isn't God's Name bigger than some dumb mormon?

(Honorary Scaer quote - "Celebrating Mass in the Chapel is like going on a date with your mother)

Day 12
- Most Pastoral Newsletters are the most boring things.
- We call it "Early Communion". The Greeks would laugh. . . "You do it 7 years too late!"
- Okay, I'll tell you pastoral practice - don't do it [infant communion].
- Don't make it [infant communion] your cause. It's a stupid cause. Baptism is pretty good.

Day 13
- (Concerning student sermons) I've been happy with the ones I've read. Maybe there are some lemons in there.
- As Good Lutherans we don't force you do to this [Private Confession], so we don't do it.
- ... and you're like a referee. Your shirt isn't black, it's black and white.
- You want to sing that [Everything is Thine Own]? Okay - open up your wallets.
- Just tell them to open up the hymnbook... the 55% that like it.
- I knew I couldn't go to the DP. . . I might want a call.
- My wife works in development, so sometimes she hears things she can't tell me, and she doesn't, but she tells me that she heard something she can't tell me.
- I was just blessed with one [a wife] who could keep her mouth shut.
- You don't have to go around calling it [Private Confession] a sacrament. Just call it what it is [forgiveness].

Day 14 - with special guest Rev. Matt Harrison (his quotes in italics)
- I think half his {Harrison's] books are in German. I would put them there just to impress people but he actually uses them.
- Some of you guys are going to just sit at your computer and do nothing... I see some of you are doing that already.
- (Speaking of some "missions) You're not building churches. You're building Pietistic groups sitting around the kitchen table waiting for Jesus to come back so you can feel good about it, but you're not building churches.
- What happens if you have leitourgia and not martyria? Anglicans.
- A recent survey said 60% of clergy in England believe in God. Wow, the numbers are up.
- Didn't you love Tetzel... he sounded just like Billy Graham.
- You gotta get out, and I don't care what Scaer says. You've got to visit your people. I visited Scaer, that's probably why he doesn't like home visits.

Day 16 (Day 15 is missing, who knows)
- Any former teachers in here? I don't like any of you.
- I love going to Confession and Absolution - I'm a saddist.
- I hate teaching this stuff, I hate teaching about sin.
- I don't really care if you are sorry, I want to know if you are going to be disobedient again.
- I bet kids feel guilty over snipey little things.
- (Warning students) There are women who are unhappy with their marriage and you are the perfect man.

Day 17
- You're going to see blood and crap and everything. Everything goes when you die.
- Somedays you will pray, "Oh Lord, I wish there was more canon law." Then you come to your senses.
- Who is he [Walther] quoting here? Luther? Himself?
- Of course, that was a Church Growth Church, so they were happy to get another warm body.

Day 18
- Sinners are still going to weasel out of doing things right.
- Why'd you have to go marry a guy? You had a wife, your kids, and a bunch of boys to go have fun with. (I can't remember who he's talking about, but it's a fun quote)

Day 19
- Meg Ryan. You could almost be in love with her she's so cute.
- That's [Wedding Coordinator] a good job for a deaconess, isn't it?
- The funeral director will kiss up to you because they know that you just cut them off like that.
- It's [unity candle] symbol, it's ritual. It's not like a football game where you have to explain everything.
- Let them be glad that these two people are in love - it won't last long.
- This is my one shot - I've got all these visitors, I'm going to make America a better place.

Day 21 (ask me not where 20 went)
- We've had a lot of good papers [about something practical in Church] and they aren't just about organizing a bus for your church.
- I always mosey into the room as though I have all the time in the world.
- "I was healthy and didn't appreciate [communion], why should I have it now?" Because you are dying, and God wants you to have it.
- That's [reading a prayer] is better than praying from your heart, because your heart is full of lust and adultery.
- It's almost worth having people get sick so you can do it [Compline at a visit]

Day 22
- And right after the prayer for suicides is the rite of ordination. I don't know if there is a connection or not.
- You don't want to commend someone to death if they are still fighting and you don't know if they are going to die.
- I don't know why you are here if you don't like to talk, but there are times you just need to be quiet.
- (having scored a point in an argument on theology) So I nailed him again. . . no, I made my point and shut up.
- (On calling one a saint) Normally we wait until they've been dead a while, then we have the Pope check them out.
- You can always find a rubric to back you up.
- I was all prepared to go after the Masons, but there weren't any.

Day 23
- You called it a service, it was a "civic event" >=o)
- (on dealing with the ELCA) I think its important to keep the door open, but on your terms.
- God hasn't put me here to clean up the ELCA or the Congregational Church that doesn't believe the creed.
- (At Drew where he did his Doctorate) Half the Graduate School is divorced women who are trying to find themselves.
- Shut up for the first year and lay low.
- "You know, we do things different out here, Quill, this isn't the midwest." Oh gee, I'm in a different culture. Do they speak English here?
- (on the delinquent member) I don't hate you and I don't hate God, I'd just rather drink on Saturday night and beat up my dog.
- You're going to make mistakes, but don't be casual about it. Lose sleep over it.
- At the first congregational meeting I told them that they are not Elders, that's me - and they were relieved because their kids are terrible.
- You tell them in a nice way, "If you want to sneak back here at dusk and have your service, fine, that when the pagans do their service."

Pastoral Practice - Fall 2003

I am going to admit something here once again - I didn't really take that many notes at the Sem. I'm just not that big of a note taker. I wouldn't have been the person to transcribe Luther's lectures or anything like that.

So, upon finding my 4th year note book, I didn't find tons of notes - I simply found what I wrote: Quotes from professors I thought to be amusing or insightful. Here are some of those quotes from my 4th Year "Pastoral Practice Forum" class taught by Dr. Timothy Quill. Here is the wisdom of the first three weeks of class. Enjoy and learn.

Day 1
- It's [the class's] purpose is to teach you to be as winsome as me.
- That's sort of like a famous Prof. here who never finishes his sentences.
- We need to talk about sermons. Since half of you are Psyc majors your sermons will sound like self-help stuff... we'll have to.
- That's what a lot of people think Pastoral Theology is. . .get a paperback and do it.
- It was amazing, I actually used dogmatics to bring comfort to someone.

- The best theologians will be pastors because your thinking goes on in the parish.
- In one sense we are thought of as professionals. We can read and write and have an education.
- Go to your Father Confessor. Don't go to your D. P. He doesn't have an altar, he shouldn't have a [confession seat - Bikkestool]. Oh great, I suppose that's on tape.
- (Speaking of being at a service in Africa) I couldn't understand any of it. "mumumum Hakunah Mutatah Hallelujah!" (Then turning to a student from Kenya) I bet I'm hurting you.

Day 3
- Anyone can say, "God Bless you," but the Pastor, it's his job.
- I can't believe that he'd [Dr. Scaer] say that [he doesn't care]. I know it. I've actually seen him in Pastoral Situations. It's amazing.
- Sunday morning is pastoral care, because that's when you shape people for the time when you only have 5 minutes.
- Every Sunday morning you are preparing people to die.
- It's a problem if you're in the ELCA and are in with the Anglicans who have Apostolic Succession in everything but doctrine.

Day 5 (Day 4 was a guest lecturer)
- People think, "Let's get Bishops back. Then all our problems will be solved." They will, unless your Bishop is a son of a Bishop.
- Too often pastors exercise authority that they don't have, like what kind of pipe organ they have. You have authority. That's Word, Sacrament, withholding Communion. That's enough to keep you busy.
- He likes to tell his testimony so he can vicariously relive his past.

Day 7 (No notes for Day 6 - maybe Quill was confused and we rested)
- I'm going to have Matt Harrison come. You should come. He's going to give you a book.
- If you are willing to go anywhere, you'll be much happier. If your wife isn't willing, you'll be miserable.
- I asked for Montana... then they sent me to Connecticut, the epitome of the wild west.
- It [sexual indiscretion] could happen to anyone. I just thank God that I haven't had a "Vavoom" secretary. Okay, I did for a while, but she wasn't my type.
- If you want to say "In the stead and by the command" on Sunday you better remember it during the week.
- Some of you will wimp out and we won't recognize you.
- I found out they were what you would call a liberal congregation.
- I had a gal so riled up that she had to go to the bathroom.
- (After he took a call) They ended up calling a real conservative guy that they got fooled on in the interview. I guess the Holy Spirit does work.
- You can fool the laity [into thinking you are liberal]. "I have a passion for the lost. I'm into missions."

Day 8
- The Christological nature of the Priesthood means God is talking to you [hearers of sermon]
- When you preach, always keep in mind you have real people there.
- (Quoting one of the Lithuanian students) He said, "I think they should give all female pastors the weekend off."
- The Church was frightened because the two previous guys were losers. I was just normal, so I looked really good.
- If you aren't clear that you should take the call, don't.
- I never told them what I wanted unless I knew it was going to win.

Day 9
- My dad still witnesses to people in the restaurants or hookers on the street.
- Then Billy Graham said the Missouri Synod was a sleeping giant... and we believed him. All we had to do was become Baptist.
- We've got a 1000 member Church and only two pastors. How can I visit them? I'll just get on the computer and find a youth program.
- (Speaking of a parish event) It was just a bunch of old men and guys who couldn't get dates.
- We had a fish fry. A lot of Catholics came and we got money from them.
- Oh, I'm not out of the loop - I could tell you things.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Evangelism Myth #7: By Grace Alone, not "By Grace, alone through you"

As per Pastor Sullivan's request, let's address the "wondrous" myth in Evangelism circles that completely blows out of the water the doctrine of election. The Myth is this - that yes, of course we all know God uses means, but YOU ARE that means for THAT person, and if you don't get out there and beat the bushes, they will BURN FOREVER.

Now, if you want a full, thorough beat down on this approach, I'd recommend Rev. Heath Curtis' excellent paper - it's a fantastic, fantastic paper. Take some time and read it when you can.

But, in brief, let's think about this. I am told that people are going to go to hell unless I tell them about Jesus. Isn't that sort of Egotistical? I mean, has God elected, chosen little Billy for salvation, but because I'm a lazy slob, Billy ends up in hell? Really? That sort of makes me rather important - it makes me and my actions the hinge, dare I say it makes my speaking the article upon which Billy stands or falls.

Hmmm, Scripture tells us that God chose us before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). We are told that nothing can separate, can pull us from the love of God that is ours in Christ (Romans 8:38-39). But if I become a lazy slob, oops, guess that no longer counts for Billy.

See, here is the thing. God works through means - people are called and brought to faith through the proclamation of the Word. But here's the thing - if you drop the ball, if you SIN and do bear witness. . . why do you think that God won't use someone else. When people want the crowds to be silent on Palm Sunday, we are told that the rocks themselves would cry out.

We are saved by Grace alone - only for the sake of Christ. That means God doesn't need you. Oh, He will use you - He wants to - you are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for Good Works (including the speaking of the Gospel to those in your life) that you might walk in them. Go - do this. It's good.

But God's grace to people does not come only through you. This is just crass egoism with either leads to a brash self-righteousness (look at all I, Me, what I have done for Jesus) or horrible despair (I didn't talk to _____ enough, and now he's dead. If only I had told him one more time, then God could have saved him. . .).

It's not about you - it's never about you, never, never, never about you. It's about Christ. Proclaim what Christ has done for you. . . just know that if you fail to, God will use someone else to accomplish what He wills.

There's actually a great scene from Babylon 5 that teaches this - the Inquisitor has come to see if Delenn, the leader is "worthy" of leading, if she can fulfill her "destiny" - and is basically putting her to the question, over and over and over. And Captain Sheridan comes to rescue her, gets caught, and is about ready to killed - would you trade your life for his. . . "if I fall, another will take my place, and another, and another." (Now, there is some other wonky theology, but if you are a Bab 5 nerd like me, you can see the clip here)

This is what we should remember - evangelism is never about our glory. We are always utterly replaceable in our service - if we fail, if we fall, God will raise up another in our place. There's a line of pictures on the wall here of the pastors who were here before me - if Christ tarries in His return, there will probably a line of pictures after me (God grant it for the sake of this Congregation!). His will shall be done - His elect shall be called and brought to faith - may God simply grant us humility so that we neither take the glory for this, or in our sinful stubbornness refuse to be the workmanship which accomplishes this.

Evangelism Myth #6: More = Better

One of the things that comes up when looking at the Evangelism/Outreach schools of thought is the normally unstated assumption that more people is always better. "Well Pastor Brown," one might say, "Of course MORE people is better - isn't that the whole point of Evangelism and Outreach, to bring in MORE people?"

Yes, while the goals of Evangelism is to bring Christ to more people (note - not more people to Christ, that's the Holy Spirit's job), the simple fact that more people show up to something doesn't mean that it is good.

Partially this is because we forget that in the Scriptures good preaching will often drive people away. Read John 6. Read John 8. Remember, most people want to kill Jesus (and don't try this, "Oh, most people liked Him" stuff. . . really? Then why were the people so willing to stone Stephen and look upon Saul with approval for ordering it?) Paul preaches - and how often does he get reject, hounded out of town, and then finally killed?

"Growth" or "Everyone liked it" isn't the biblical sign of quality. Nor is it the sign of quality in this world. Consider food. Lots of people eat at McDonald's. It's the most popular restaurant we have. Would anyone say that this means that McDonald's is the best food in America? The healthiest? Is it even the best fast food, or the best hamburger? No. It's just the most popular.

This is the thing - we aren't simply to be concerned with getting people in the doors and doing whatever we have to in order to make them stay. We are to be concerned with preaching Christ - and you know what - sometimes that means people don't come. Sometimes it means people revile you. Sometimes it means your family and friends lambaste you for your "backwards" beliefs.

But this isn't bad. "Success" isn't a fruit of the Spirit. Faith is. Let us consider being faithful being more important than being successful. Then let God tend to the results of His Word that we simply proclaim.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hard discussions, not elections

So, yesterday, Rev. Matthew Harrison was elected to be the New President of the LCMS. So, what does this mean?

It doesn't mean a new golden age for those who are more conservative in their outlook.

It doesn't mean that the armies of Synod will march and drive out before them those whose positions are loose.

It doesn't mean all the strange things I didn't like last month will disappear.

If these are our hopes - our hopes are foolish and will fail. The election of Rev. Harrison means one thing - that now we can have the hard discussions, that now we can look the problems we have in the face because that, more than anything else, is something I think Harrison will lead us towards.

President Keischnick loved to talk about how united we are - how we are One Synod, One People - we are UNITED. . . but only with a few small differences. Compared to the rest of the world, I suppose - we aren't as fractured as the ELCA or the Episcopalians. However, those differences that are here in the Missouri Synod are real and they are important.

President-elect Harrison acknowledged these differences and the pain they caused with his first words from the podium yesterday - he acknowledged that for many his election brought pain and suffering and dissappointment. In other words, he acknowledged that we aren't unified - but rather that there are divisions among us that we can't just sweep under the rug - that a 52%-48% vote, or even Harrison's 54%-45% election won't fix.

We are going to have to talk - and this is something Missouri hasn't done in a while. We have fallen into this horrible pattern - this egoism of congregationalism run amuck where we think like this:
A - I am in the LCMS.
B - My Congregation does X
C - Therefore, to be LCMS means one does X

No, it doesn't - it means you do X - whatever that X is. And there are a lot of variables. We have many things that we are going to have to talk about.

1. Worship and its Style - there is a drastic divide among us as to what worship is, how it should be done, what its goal is. Liturgical (high or low), or blended, or contemporary (and of what sort)? Is uniformity to be craved, and if so to what extent? Is worship primarily care of the congregation or outreach to the lost? How does culture shape worship and to what extent should it?

2. The Office of the Ministry - What are the duties and rights of a pastor? How should these pastors be trained? To what extent should there be lay ministry(or perhaps "localized" or "location specific" ministry would be a better term, because once you are designated for Word and Sacrament, you are by definition no longer lay)? What needs to remain limited to men? What needs to be limited exclusively to pastors?

3. Role of Synod and Districts - we've opened up a restructuring can of worms - the restructuring of this convention will have ripple effects, and additional changes will need to be made in districts and the like in response. Should all districts be like Oklahoma - merely part-time volunteer (now under a regional VP)? Should we enlarge the districts? Should our districts be restructured to mirror the Synodical structure, as the districts are simply an extension of Synod? How much distinctiveness will districts maintain?

4. Outreach and Missions - what is our outreach and mission focus going to be? What is outreach? Will we continue in Law-heavy outreach plans, or will there be something else? How will Ablaze continue? Will we start training more foreign pastors at our Seminaries?

There are many more questions -- but the thing is, now is the time to talk about them - to hash them out - in our circuits, in our districts, to come to a proper understanding of who we actually are - to see where those differences lie - and then to hash them out on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions.

And this may lead to the most uncomfortable question of them all. Are we really two different Synods. . . or even three? Is it time for Lot and Abraham to go their separate ways, departing in peace from each other?

I don't know - but now I think we will be encouraged to have these talks - that our theological conferences won't be "model" - they will be messy and rough and difficult. But now I think we'll be able to talk a bit more directly.

In doing so - remain charitable, remain kind - argue your position well, and if you cannot defeat your opponent, maybe you need to reconsider your own. And study the Scriptures - read Luther's Scripture commentaries - study the Confessions.

Our circuit here has a monthly confessions study - I call on all of you to get one started in your own - especially with the guys you "don't like". Man up - get together, look at the AC and then ask yourselves what this means. And let's go from there.

Lord have Mercy upon us.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why Change?

Why change? This is a simple question - why should one change?

Don't get me wrong - there are good reasons to change. If you are unhealthy, it is good to change your diet and exercise patterns. If you are overspending, it is good to change your spending habits. Change is good *if it corrects a wrong*.

However, I find that often the rhetoric of change today is not involved with fixing something that is wrong or broken - but rather is someone egotistical and prideful. Sure, what we received might have worked then, but this is now, and the problems of now need new solutions and so we must change. This is an egotistical thought - it sets forth the the problems I face, my difficulties, are much greater than those that came before.

Or sometimes we want a change so that we can make our mark, leave an impact. Is this a good cause for change - to merely stroke our own ego so that future generations remember us?

Or maybe we want to make a change to attract other people. This too is Ego - I will draw people unto myself.

This is partially why change in the Church should be done with patience and care. Too often the sinful flesh and human Ego barge on in on the ideas for change and corrupt and twist them.

We see much change that this convention. In fact, everyone at convention wants some sort of change, most likely. Ask yourself - why change? Is it to fix something that needs to be fixed, or is it matter of pleasing your ego?

The Work of the Church vs. the Work of God's People

There's a lot of talk about the work of the Church. Is it what is going on in Houston, at the Synod level? Is the real work of the Church mission work and outreach, going to strange lands, or talking to even local strangers? Is the work of the Church this or that?

I think we get two things messed up. We seem to think that the work of the Church is whatever I am doing. If I am a Synodical official - what's going on in Houston, that's the work of the Church. If I am a mission planner - planning mission, that's the work of the Church. If I'm a missionary, well then, that's real Church work. Or no, if I am a parish pastor, that's real church work and those lousy burecrats need to get a real job. Or if I'm a parishioner, maybe I think, "We need a pastor who will pound the pavement and do some real Church work."

Well. . . you know what - I think it's sort of strange to even talk about the work of the Church at all, as though it is 1 specific thing. The Church is One Body, with many members. If you are an administrator - it's YOUR job within the Church to administrate - but that's not the whole of the Church's work. If you are a pastor, it is YOUR job to preach and teach and administer the Sacraments - but that's not the whole of what the Church does. If you are a parishoner - it is YOUR job to be a hearer of the Word - but that's not the whole of what the Church does. If you are a neighbor, it is YOUR job to be a neighbor - but that's not the whole of what the Church does.

Why do we desire to aggrandize our own specific and multiple vocations to which God has called us by saying that it is the work of the Church? Does a mouth say, "ah, talking and eating, that is the true work of the Body!" Does an eye says, "Seeing, and then closing so the Body can sleep and rest, that is the work of the Body!" It's silly.

Don't worry about doing the work of the Church - you of yourself are not the Church. You are a member, and you have various duties that God has given to you. Simply rejoice in those - and don't pretend they are any more important or wondrous than the duties given to anyone else. Be faithful to what you have been called to be.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Another Round of Hotel Room Theology

Yes, once again, I am in a hotel room - this time sort of for business. My lovely wife is taking her RN certification, and as her loyal husband, I am playing her chauffeur and caretaker today, so that she need worry about nothing and merely study and prepare herself mentally for the test (which at the moment involves sleeping in - I did not marry a morning person). As such, here I am in a hotel room, gazing out upon Oklahoma City from the 8th story quite contentedly.

So, I am away from Church on a Monday morning. This is my normal, intense office work day - the day where I put my nose to the grindstone and get a sermon draft out, e-mails and updates and the things like that. And quite possibly, I'll still do that here. It is amazing to think of the tools we have been provided by God in modern technology. Here I sit, typing on a laptop, able to access multiple translations of the Scriptures, including the Greek, with access to 85% of the tools I would ever want sitting on my lap - and I haven't even really worried about being portable.

I know many folks are away from their parishes this week. Rejoice in the fact that you can still do some of your work and planning, that you can quickly and easily contact folks who need contacting, that God has made it so that your travels do not isolate and completely cut you off from your duties at home - and this holds true whether one is a Pastor, a parent, a friend - whatever. The fact that I can sit in a hotel room and go about my business is a wondrous thing.