Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Week Four of Advent

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today's Reading: John 1:19-28
Daily Lectionary: Isaiah 40:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17

John answered them, saying, "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. "It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose." (John 1:26-27)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. As Christmas approaches, the world reaches a near fever-pitch of commercialism: stores trying to get every last customer in for the last big sale, lights and trees and decorations and Santa and reindeer and secular Christmas songs. It's really overdone and gets old quickly.  But in all of that, there's very little Jesus. The world rushes toward Christmas without any idea of the Who behind Christmas. There comes One whom they do not know.

Many people cry out “Keep Christ in Christmas”, but even that can become an overused slogan. What does it even mean? The truth is, few people, even many Christians, rejoice that Christ was born for this reason: to grow up and die. John the Baptist isn't exercising some super-humility when he says that he is not even worthy to untie Jesus' sandal. He's pointing out that the Lamb of God is far above us by being so far below us. Jesus came to be not the greatest, but the least. Not the best but the worst. Not the holiest, but the most sinful.  Even though He was all of those good things, He took on all of those bad things for your sake. For your salvation.

The preaching of John the Baptist is that the One who comes after him— Jesus— is the Savior. Jesus is the One who is going to save the world by His death and resurrection. He is the One who will send the Holy Spirit, baptize sinners, absolve them and give them His Body and Blood to eat and drink. He is the Lamb of God who was before all and has saved us all.

Just because Jesus' name is still remembered as the “reason for the season” doesn't mean people know Him.  The real “reason for the season” isn't so much “Jesus is born” as it is “Jesus is born to grow up and suffer and die and rise as our Savior.” In that, the preaching of John the Baptist is fulfilled and your salvation is accomplished. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Stir up your power, O Lord, we implore You, and come among us, that by Your grace whatever is hindered by our sins may yet be speedily accomplished through Your mercy and satisfaction; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (Collect for Advent 4)

This devotional taken from Higher Things Advent Devotional 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Very Grateful Christmas

Wow, I have such a hard time being grateful for some gifts I receive at Christmas. I really have begun thinking though, that I can be quite picky and really want to show my children how to receive presents graciously and gratefully.

I think in our culture there are so many choices, so much to be had, that we have learned to be quite picky and yes, even if we feel like we are picking the quality things out of of all the junk, can still just end up being ungrateful.

It is still VERY DIFFICULT for me and all the gifts at Christmas still make me nervous (the quantity and the quality) but I've tried to convey the message that one quality gift is worth far more than 10 not so quality gifts. I've given up trying to explain but I think some family members have become afraid of me! Yikes, I've become too opinionated about some things!! Anyway, it's hard to have a simple Christmas when there is just so much out there. I don't know if this is a good analogy but it reminds me of when I was trekking in Nepal. The Annapurnas is a popular trek and there are teahouses (basic bed and breakfasts) all along the way. But there are people who do the trek and bring their full camping and cooking gear the whole way (a good 18 day trek). We would be eating breakfast prepared by our small hotel with a group in a pitched tent right next to us struggling and truly roughing it, even in the pouring rain. I admired them and thought it would be fun to camp but it almost seemed pointless and exceedingly difficult when there are amenities all along the way. You just want to say, "hey, come on inside where it's warm and dry; it only costs a few dollars". That's how I feel about my lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, we are very blessed financially. We have more than enough to live and our fair share of "stuff". However, living on a social worker's salary does not look like "more than enough" to most people. I've travelled and know how truly wealthy we are but we do not do and have all the stuff some, but certainly not all, of my friends and family do (lawn service, monthly hair appointments, clothing budget, latest technologies, and lots of monthly bills and payments). Sometimes my lifestyle starts to seem pointless when I see the amenities thrown out all along the way by friends and family.

What I am getting at is this: all year we would have to budget and scrimp and buy used and consigned items and then at Christmas all these things given seemed like a waste. But then, Christmas is a beautiful gift. It doesn't make sense. It's not something we deserve, earn, work hard for, scrimp and save for. That is the thing I truly need to remember. I wish that gifts were truly gifts again. A gift is not "Let's spend $20 on each other" or just something you give to reciprocate to those who give you something. A gift is a gift. Period. It should be something we could never repay. You love someone, you're thinking of them and you give them a gift. It may not even be a material item but could be your time and thoughtfulness. It may not show up at Christmas time at all.

Of course, God's perfect gift of his Son is the only gift that lives up to that highest standard. It is a gift in the truest sense of the word. We deserve nothing close to it and could NEVER repay it. Thank you God for your most precious gift and help me to just receive that gift. I, with embarrassment, asked my pastor what my purpose is. I asked, "If there is nothing I can do, if it's all in God's hands, then what is my purpose?" Without hesitation, he replied, "Just receive His gift". I could have cried. That was it; no reciprocation. He did not add, "and then join us each Sunday at church" or "then go spread the word". It really is that simple.

Sweet extended family, I'm sorry for all the times I've complained about, frowned at, thrown away, given away, and simply did not appreciate my gifts at Christmas. What an ungrateful, spoiled girl. The thing is, God knows I'm going to blow it and make a mess of my gift, not appreciate it, or even think it's way too outlandish and unpractical but he's going to give the gift anyway and expect not a thing in return.

Authored by my wife, Shelley

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Advent devotional...

The following is straight from the Higher Things Advent Devotional 2010:

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

December 10, 2010

Daily Lectionary: Isaiah 26:20-27:13; 1 John 4:1-21

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of
God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you
know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come
in the flesh is of God, (1 John 4:1-2)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Don't trust what is preached. Test it. That's
what St. John says. Just because someone claims to be a Christian or even a
Christian preacher, don't believe it, just because they say it. Test them to see
whether they are preaching Christ faithfully. How do we do that? How do we
recognize that what our pastors preach is right? How do we tell the difference
between true preaching and false preaching? St. John gives us the answer:
Everyone who confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is of God.

Advent reminds us that God comes to us―that Jesus comes to us, in the
flesh. As a man. Born of a woman. Born into this world to be like us without sin.
True God and true man. God-with-us. God-in-the-flesh. Many religions deny
that Jesus is God in the flesh. Many others deny that Jesus really came as a
man. Either way, they're wrong. Jesus came in the flesh so that He could suffer
and die for your sins. Any preacher who denies that Jesus did this is a false
preacher. Any preacher who makes little or nothing of the fact that God became
a man to take away your sins should not be trusted, but avoided.

But there's more coming in the flesh that Jesus does. He tells us to take eat
and take drink His body and His blood. He tells us to feast upon His flesh so
that we will have eternal life. To confess that Jesus comes in the flesh also
means to confess and believe that He comes to us in His Supper in His flesh
and blood. That is, He still comes to us in the flesh to save us and forgive us in
His holy Sacrament. Beware of any preacher or teacher who denies this, too!

Jesus comes in the flesh for our salvation and comfort. He comes as a man
to die for our sins and rise again. He gives you His flesh to eat so you can be
certain that your sins are forgiven. That is the preaching of the true Holy Spirit,
the one who delivers this flesh-having God to you for forgiveness and life. In the
Name of Jesus. Amen.

O Lord, we praise Thee, bless Thee and adore Thee, In thanksgiving bow
before Thee. Thou with Thy body and Thy blood didst nourish Our weak souls
that they may flourish: O Lord, have mercy! May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary,
That our sins and sorrows did carry, And Thy blood for us plead In all trial, fear
and need: O Lord, have mercy! (LSB 617:1)


I would like to expand on the sentiment put forth by the writer of this devotional, Rev. Mark Beutow, when he states:
Jesus came in the flesh so that He could suffer and die for your sins. Any preacher who denies that Jesus did this is a false preacher. Any preacher who makes little or nothing of the fact that God became a man to take away your sins should not be trusted, but avoided.
On the surface, this appears that we should be waiting for a preacher to say outright Jesus didn't do what the Bible said He did; that being He died on the cross for our sins.  And then avoid that kind of preaching.  We should.  Absolutely. However, many pastors will not be so straightforward about it.  Instead, you will probably hear a sermon about how you can have your best life now, how you should be more disciplined to follow Christ more closely, how you should be reading the Bible more, how if you just practice the presence of God a bit more, you should put God first in all parts of your life, etc.

As I am typing this blog, I just read a status update by Pastor Rick Warren:  "To learn humility,study the passion of Jesus. The cross is the ultimate example of humility."  This is what this devotion, I believe, is also speaking to.  Rick Warren is turning the cross into an example.  The cross is not an example.  We cannot be humble enough to warrant God's forgiveness.  It is only Christ and His death on the cross that can do that.  The cross as an example makes what Jesus did a complete farce.  This is the preaching we should avoid at all costs!

All these things:  reading more, following more closely, doing this and that just a little bit more; these things don't bring forgiveness.  These things are what you ought to do to make God more pleased with you.  Their focus is what you can do.  We are dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2).  We are dead.  Our only hope is that God came in flesh in Jesus Christ.  He lived as a man and died as a man for our sins.  That is the blessed hope Advent brings.  God came in the flesh and died for our sins.

My plea is that you will test the preaching you hear from your pastor.  If he is preaching that we are all dead in sins and trespasses, but Jesus came in the flesh and died for your sins; then be very thankful.  If your pastor is not, avoid that teaching at all costs.  Find a church where you will hear the Law and Gospel preached correctly.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Second Sunday of Advent

The following is an advent prayer that I wanted to share on this second Sunday of Advent.  This prayer was found of Pastor Will Weedon's blog.  Blessings to you during this Advent season.

From An Advent Prayer from Starck's Prayer Book

Through sin we had become aliens, yes,
prisoners of Satan and enemies of God.
But by Your most holy Advent
all our losses are made good.
O grace abounding!
Love unspeakable!
For Your sake, O Jesus,
the strangers are made friends,
the prisoners are set free,
the enemies of God are made His beloved,
sinners become God's children,
the fallen are raised.
O holy Advent,
by which we who were condemned to death obtain life,
by which we who were fallen from grace
are clothed with glory and honor on Your account.
For this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance:
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (p. 50)

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.  (Revelation 22: 20-21)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jonathan Fisk and Law and Gospel

This video is really good at explaining the difference between the Law and Gospel, and how they should be preached, and how they are actually taught in many churches.  This concept of Law and Gospel and how they are distinguished in a sermon is EXTREMELY important.  It cannot be understated as Rev. Fisk will point out in the following video:

(Warning:  His videos are extremely edited.  It's perfect for those with ADD.  You may have to watch it a couple of times to fully understand the content as you may struggle with how the video was edited.  But I think it is well worth your time!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Week of Advent

Advent and the beginning of the Church year started this past Sunday.  My family will be going through devotions and spending time celebrating Advent.  There is a specific resource that we will be using that I want to share with anyone reading this here blog.  It comes from Higher Things, an organization within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod set up to to assist parents, congregations, and pastors in cultivating and promoting a Lutheran identity among youth through conferences, retreats, publications, and the internet.

One of the resources they developed this year is an Advent devotional that can be found here.  I wanted to share an excerpt from today's devotion (Wednesday of the First Week of Advent):
In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  Perhaps you've seen the sign on the billboard that says, "Don't make me come down there! - signed, God."  The implication is that we're misbehaving and if the Lord gets mad enough, He's going to to come down to earth and do something about it!
But God DID come down to earth.  The Father sent His Son to become flesh in the Virgin's womb so that He could grow up and die for us and take away our sins. . .
The Bible teaches us that God made all things in six days and that even when His creation was ruined by sin; He didn't abandon it, but sent His Son to save and redeem it.  And how?  By His Son's advent in the flesh.  The Son, by taking on a human nature in Christ, demonstrates that God is not afraid to touch what He has made.  Rather, He takes on flesh to save creation.  To save you.
This is Good News.  We have sinned and rebelled against God.  We have done our part in ruining in God's creation.  God has already come to 'deal with us,' so to speak.  In great love and mercy, He has come to save us.  He made you and me.  He has saved you and me through Christ in His birth, His life, and His death on the cross.  Praise be to God for His grace and mercy!

Advent does not only celebrate that Christ has come, but that He will come one last time!  Hallelujah!

Jesus came, the heav’ns adoring,

Came with peace from realms on high;
Jesus came for man’s redemption,
Lowly came on earth to die.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Came in deep humility  (Lutheran Service Book 353, Verse 1)

Jesus comes on clouds triumphant,

When the heav’ns shall pass away;
Jesus comes again in glory;
Let us then our homage pay,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Till the dawn of endless day. (Lutheran Service Book 353, Verse 5)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

This Is Why I Am A Lutheran!

(at least being catechized, and will be one soon)

Well, on to one of the reasons why me and my family are becoming confessional Lutherans...

Read this wonderful entry at Barely Keeping Up!

All I can say is:  Amen and amen.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Ongoing Misadventures of Celebration

This is a sequel to another post a wrote back in September.  I wrote of this church I pass by on a daily basis and, more specifically, some of the stuff that shows up on their church sign.  Well...  the most recent one is quite incredible, as you can obviously spot over on the side of the page.

You are marked for greatness.  You are marked for greatness.  Really?

I am taking a wild guess that the pastor, when endorsing this message to be put up on the sign, had missed the following scripture from the gospel of John:
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:25-30 (italics mine)

You being marked for greatness is pretty much the exact opposite of what is taught in scripture.  I understand that in regards to distinguishing between Law and Gospel, that to apply the idea of humbling ourselves comes under the Law.  It is not what saves us, but what is expected of us under God's Law.  Unfortunately, we are dead in sins and trespasses (see Ephesians 2).  We cannot do righteous acts of our own accord.  Our good works are as filthy rags (see Isaiah 64).   Even though, we cannot humble ourselves on our own accord, as I will point out later, exalting ourselves which we do by our very nature is open rebellion towards God.  And this is what this church is apparently encouraging.  I do want to point out that this is not the only church promulgating this message.  It can be heard and  seen throughout the Christian landscape.  Sometimes this straightforward, but usually a bit more subtle. 

So let me explain.  And I would like to cite Lutheranism 101 as a help in formulating the following ideas.   With this explanation, there comes with the cliche:  I have some good news and I have some bad news. 

The Bad News

A lot of people, even Christians, think that too much has been made of sin.  Sin is thought of as illicit fun, something just off the mark of some dumb rule made up by religion.  And stupid rules, well, they are just meant to be broken.  After all, life is about fun and happiness, joy an self-expression, isn't it?  Sin is the act of betraying God.  It is rejecting His will and His ways.  It is any thought, word, or deed that is contrary to the will of God.  Sin creates such a huge gap between us and our Creator, and that gap exceeds our ability to describe its extent.  We are guided by a compass that cannot point true north, and therefore we are completely unable to navigate toward God.  In fact, we are active rebellion towards God.  We are by nature weak, ungodly, sinful, and an outright enemy of God (see Romans 5:6-10). 

To recognize our as nature as sinful does not mean that God created mankind as disobedient or that our created essence is sinful.  God created and declared all that He created as "very good" (Genesis 1:31).  Original sin does not come from God.  We are the ones who have rebelled against God thinking we know better than Him.   That we can depend on ourselves to do what is right.  We determine what is right in our own eyes.  I daresay it goes so far  in regards to our nature, that we cannot willfully decide whether or not we want to follow God.  In our fallen state, all we desire and all that we crave is glory for ourselves.  And this is the very notion this church sign is encouraging people to do.  The church sign, whether or not it was the intention, is to openly rebel against God.

The Good News

"God shows His love for us that in while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). 
This is Christ's work alone.  On our behalf.  We cannot do good.  God truly has a response to our sin.  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Why is the issue of us being able to make a decision for God, the issue of us having a free will, such a big deal?  If we could make that decision, then the statement on the church sign would be an accurate portrayal of who we are.  We would be considered great on our own.  But the Scripture tells us something completely different.  God says to people who are now believers, "You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked" (Ephesians 2:1-2).  Not dead physically, but dead in a very real spiritual sense.  What can a dead person do?  A dead person is completely unable to change or cooperate or even ask for help.  Dead people are passive-- as in totally passive.

That is the reason why the Bible calls conversion to faith in Jesus being 'born again.'  It is commonly taught in many churches that to be born again means to make a decision to ask Jesus to come into your heart.  Consider the birth of a child:  what did the child being born do?  Nothing.  It is the mom who does all the work in child birth.  Similarly, in conversion, or being born again, the one who does all the work is the Holy Spirit.  And to ponder on this, much comfort can be found.  For it does not depend on us at all, but on God wholly.

Our justification is not by what we do or who we are.  Before God all our achievements and fame in the world are vanity.  We cannot prepare ourselves to be justified by Him.  It is Jesus, and Jesus alone.

The author of Hebrews writes the following:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, italics mine)
Christ alone.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End (Rev. 22), He is the Author of life (Acts 3), He is Our Redemption, Our Righteousness, Our Sanctification (1 Cor. 1), He is Word of God Rev. 19).    Jesus is the FOUNDER and PERFECTER of our faith.  When He said on the cross that "It is finished," He meant it.  Now that is some good news.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ambrose and Mysticism

I thought that this article by Chris Rosebrough was worth passing along.  The following is the statement he quotes from Ambrose of Milan::
“The things which God wishes to be hidden are not to be examined; and the things which He has made manifest are not to be rejected, lest we as ingrates be improperly curious toward the former and damnably ungrateful for the latter.”

This part of my journey to becoming a Lutheran has been one of the hardest.  It has been so ingrained in the way that I think about God is that He speaks to me through a quiet voice, and therefore gives me more information in regards to mysteries of the faith.  Ambrose nails it when he states that God has made 'manifest' through the Scriptures all that I need to know regarding Christ and the salvation He gives as a gift and that it would be to my detriment to reject and disregard that in favor of searching for more of God in places that He has left hidden.

Very good stuff!  Thanks for sharing this, Chris.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Luther in his Smalcald Articles

Part III, Article XIII. How One is Justified before God, and of Good Works.

1] What I have hitherto and constantly taught concerning this I know not how to change in the least, namely, that by faith, as St. Peter says, we acquire a new and clean heart, and God will and does account us entirely righteous and holy for the sake of Christ, our Mediator. And although sin in the flesh has not yet been altogether removed or become dead, yet He will not punish or remember it.

2] And such faith, renewal, and forgiveness of sins is followed by good works. And what there is still sinful or imperfect also in them shall not be accounted as sin or defect, even [and that, too] for Christ's sake; but the entire man, both as to his person and his works, is to be called and to be righteous and holy from pure grace and mercy, shed upon us [unfolded] and spread over us in Christ. 3] Therefore we cannot boast of many merits and works, if they are viewed apart from grace and mercy, but as it is written, 1 Cor. 1:31: He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord, namely, that he has a gracious God. For thus all is well. 4] We say, besides, that if good works do not follow, faith is false and not true.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Public School Parents' Guide to Homeschool Parents

"We all know that there are a lot of misconceptions about homeschoolers, and, while most of those tend to be centered around the kids, there are a lot of misconceptions about homeschool moms (and dads), as
well. . .

THIS is great commentary on how non-homeschooling parents tend to view homeschooling parents.  And it does a fairly good job of cleaning up some of these misconceptions.  I happened upon this from the Barely Keeping Up blog.  Thanks for posting it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reformation Day and Halloween...

Well.... Reformation Day is nearly upon us.  The day is more commonly referred to as Hallowe'en.  On the surface,  they do not appear to have much in common, but the following blog post I happened upon that links the two in a fairly effectual manner.

Here is the post about Reformation Day and Hallowe'en on the Past Elder website.

Happy Reformation Day/ Hallowe'en!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Church and membership...

Here is a GREAT POST from Pastor Eric Brown at Confessional Gadfly.

I haven't been in Lutheran circles very long, but I personally haven't heard much rhetoric from the pastor or from other members of the congregation about how we need be more active.

This may be one of the biggest reasons why I left the evangelical church.  I heard this type of rhetoric, especially from the pastors, in a church I attended for a couple of years in the Raleigh area.  It was this guilt-laden talk that pushed me and my family out of the church for a couple of years altogether.  A person apparently couldn't do enough to please the 'machine,' so to speak.

What believers need to be reminded of and need to hear over and over is this:  Jesus didn't die on the cross for us to get crackin' and be active members!  He died for our sins.  He knew we were/ are sinful, and He came to serve us!

26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   Matthew 20:26-28  (italics mine)

This is not say we aren't to do good works or not to serve those around us. Good works will certainly be fruit of His love and grace given to us!  Christ in us moves us to love others, show compassion, and engage in others' lives.  But many churches teach that good works are essential and necessary to maintain a relationship with God.  Many teach that we need active members if the church and the kingdom is to grow.  God ultimately is the builder of the kingdom, not us.  We are completely dependent on God.  Trust Jesus and His work on the cross!  You have been forgiven of your sin!  Believe!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Empire Strikes Back - Behind the Scenes

I found the following article on Vanity Fair with some snapshots behind the scenes from the movie, The Empire Strikes Back - the best movie sequel of all time, in my opinion.  These shots are really, really good:

and my personal favorite...

Search your feelings.  You know it to be true!

Enthusiasts and Visionaries...

Enthusiasts, per Luther, are those that do not base their doctrine and practice on the Scriptures, but claim that the Holy Spirit teaches the Church without the necessity of a scriptural norm.

The following quote is taken from the editor's note to Article VIII (Confession) of Luther's Smalcald Articles in The Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord:

Luther never intended to abolish private Confession and Absolution, only to do away with the errors and abuses that had come to be associated with it.  A particularly great abuse was the requirement for a complete enumeration of sins.  Luther insists on the biblical view of God's mercy and grace, which comes by the external, objective, and outward Word.
Radical reformers taught that people should seek God outside of His Word, looking instead to their inner feelings, thoughts, and other so-called spiritual experiences.  (Luther calls them enthusiasts or Schwarmer, a German word for the buzzing of bees).  Many make the same claims today!  This error is rooted deeply in all people as a result of the Fall.
From the article itself:

In issues relating to the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word [Galatians 3:2, 5].  This protects us from the enthusiasts (i.e., souls who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word).  They judge Scripture or the spoken Word and explain and stretch it at their pleasure, as Munzer did.  Many still do this today, wanting to be sharp judges between the Spirit and the letter, and yet they do not know what they are saying [2 Corinthians 3:6].  Actually, the papacy too is nothing but sheer enthusiasm.  The pope boasts that all rights exist in the shrine of his heart.  Whatever he decides and commands within his church is from the Spirit and is right, even though it is above and contrary to Scripture and the spoken Word. 

All this is the old devil and old serpent, who also turned Adam and Eve into enthusiasts.  He led them away from God's outward Word to spiritualizing and self-pride.  And yet, he did through other outward words.  In the same way, our enthusiasts today condemn the outward Word.  Yet they themselves are not silent.  They fill the world with their babblings and writings, as if the Spirit could not come through the apostles' writings and spoken Word, but has to come through their writings and words.

This is a huge problem across the spectrum of the church today.  This mentality that whatever is on one's heart is paramount.  However, one's thoughts and feelings are completely subjective.  It sounds very spiritual to say that God speaks to us through various means such as our heart, through visions, through dreams, through encounters with people throughout the day, etc., but it is spiritually deadly to do so.  We can be so easily led astray by our emotions or random experiences.  Many of the people I hear who proclaim that we should listen to ours hearts tend to say things that exalt themselves.  They idolize their hearts, their thoughts, their own deeds.  It is as Luther penned:  Self-pride.  To know better than God's Word  that has already been proclaimed is pride.  Peter warns us:

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.    2 Peter 2:1-3
A preacher who can stir emotions is considered filled with the Spirit while a sound expositor of Bible truth is considered dead and dry. Emotional enthusiasm becomes the standard by which all religious experience is measured. The Word of God is inconsequential.  The Holy Spirit abides within every born-again believer. He is the believer's Comforter and Teacher. Without question He utilizes the means of inward impressions to direct those within whom He abides. Never, however, does the Spirit of God work contrary to the written Word of God!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Luther's First Hymn...

Thanks to Chaplain Mike from the Internet Monk for a good post on Luther's hymn writing and spotlighting his first hymn, Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice.  I am appreciating the hymns we sing in the Lutheran service. Compared to the 7/11 type song (7 words repeated 11 times) and how it gets so monotonous, the hymns in the Lutheran Service Book that we sing are so rich and beautiful and seem to carry much more weight.

The first commenter from the Internet Monk blog asked a good question that I want to do some research on:

Question: Did Luther compose his hymns with the goal of
a) having them be broadly acceptable all churchgoers,
b) pushing his own theological agenda, or
c) same as b, but unconsciously?

He also asks:
I also wonder about the transition between this style of hymnody, and the Catholic liturgy which it replaced. Some PBS special explained that his songs were actually sung more as political anthems (or football club songs?), with a much faster tempo and more enthusiastic elocution than is customary for churches today.

If anyone has any information regarding this, please feel free to post any comments.

Lutheran Liturgy and the Divine Service

Liturgy may sound incredibly boring.  But give this post a read.  It may change your mind regarding liturgy and contemporary worship services.  First, a bit of scripture that may not appear to apply to this topic, but read further:
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”    -Matthew 20:20-28

This may seem to be strange place to start when talking about a 'worship' service, or as Lutherans call it, the Divine Service.  The liturgy of the Divine Service is one of the things that drew me to the church we are attending now, but it was also one of the things that created a shock to my system at the same time.  It is something I have never been accustomed to.  After talking with the pastor, being in the service for a few weeks, and researching why Lutherans design the service the way it is done, it is making much more sense.

My wife and I have been meeting with the pastor on a weekly basis to talk about the church, our faith, and Lutheran theology.  This past Thursday we talked in some detail about each of the elements of the Divine Service that is followed each Sunday.  Something the pastor said in passing hit me like a brick.  He mentioned Matthew 20:28 - 'the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.'  As with what I hope all my other posts have been stressing, this points out that WE are beggars.  In need of God's mercy.  We have nothing to offer Him except our sin and trespasses.  This is truly paramount, in my opinion.

The following is taken from Lutheranism 101:
Though the Divine Service may simply be called a 'worship' service, these words Divine Service say much about the focus of the worship service and what happens.  This most important worship service for Lutherans is 'divine' in that it finds its source and origin in the triune God Himself:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Worship can be a troublesome word.  Who begins the act of worship? What or whom is being worshipped?  It is at this point where we can become confused and begin to think that God has come to be entertained by us, that somehow what we and do in the worship service makes us more worthy of God's free gift of love.  NOTHING (italics mine) in the worship service- not the candles, not the flowers, not the music, not the prayers, not the praise- makes us worthy of anything before God.  We do not appease God's wrath, nor do we earn His forgiveness by anything we do. Rather, it is "Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10).
The key to understanding the way Lutherans worship is realizing that God initiates a holy conversation:  He speaks first.  Only then do His people respond, not the other way around. . . Because of our sin, we cannot come to God; God must come to us.  This is what takes place in the Divine Service.  Through the Word and Sacraments, God speaks to His people.  He reminds us of our sinfulness and failure to love completely, and He then forgives us and assures us of the grace we have in Jesus Christ.  If worship begins with you or me, honestly it going to be terrible worship:  self-centered, egotistical, one huge "me-fest."  That may sound appealing, but in the long haul of life, such worship is boring, gasps for air, and is ultimately a dead end.

As I compare to the many other various worship services I have been a part of, it offers a distinct contrast.  How the focus is God entering our lives.  How we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and He offers us His life, His grace, and His mercy.  To reminisce on some of the types of worship services and songs I've sung in worship of God, and as I look back, many of the songs were sung, not in His name, but mine.  How much of it was really about me and how I can approach God and surrender my life, etc.  That is not the true state we are in.  I am in need of Savior.  I have nothing to offer an almighty God, other than my brokenness and sin.  He has truly come to serve me.  The Lutheran Divine Service is specifically designed to remind us of our need and to remind us that there is a Savior who enters into our lives and saves us.


For additional resources for Lutheran liturgy, you can

1) Go to http://www.gottesdienst.org/

The German word Gottesdienst (literally, "God's service") may be defined as both "divine service" and "public worship." The first and fundamental definition has to do with God's sacramental service toward man in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. The subordinate definition portrays man's sacrificial service toward God in the offering of hymns, prayers, etc. We propose that the historic Divine Service of the Western Christian Church is more than the cobwebs of antiquity. It is a theological treasure, which is most needed in today's Christian Church.

2) To view the structure of the Divine Service, here is a sample:  St. Peters LCMS Divine Service Setting 3 Sample

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Confessional Lutheranism...

For those who have been reading this blog, you may have noticed a trend.  That I am writing through a Lutheran lens.  Confessional Lutheranism is fairly new to me.  I have been doing a lot of reading and listening to various podcasts within Lutheran circles over the past 5 months or so.  I have been reading through Luther's Small Catechism, the Book of Concord (the Lutheran confessions), The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel by CFW Walther, On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde, and various confessional Lutheran blogs.  The podcasts I have been listening to are The God Whisperers (Pastors Bill Cwirla and Craig Donofrio), Issues, Etc. (Todd Wilken), and Fighting For The Faith (Chris Rosebrough).  All are really good resources. 

Me and my family have been attending an LCMS church (Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod), Our Savior Lutheran near downtown Raleigh, over the past couple of months.  My wife and I are really enjoying it!  There is a huge difference in what we are experiencing in a Lutheran service compared to the other types of church services we have attended throughout our lives up until now.  We have lived in evangelicalism pretty much all our lives.  There is certainly a culture shock, but so far, we have really enjoyed this change.  This change has been great.

There’s nothing more special, in my estimation, than God’s grace and mercy through Christ. Although I don’t deserve it, God has called me to faith by the Holy Spirit and calls me His beloved child! It’s such a comfort to me that although I am a sinner, in God’s eyes I am also a saint at the same time, because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross. The Lutheran emphasis on Word and Sacrament is powerful; daily my sins are forgiven and I am renewed. Through God’s Word and Sacraments I am empowered by the Holy Spirit to live as one of God’s children.

Two of the things I have discovered about the confessional Lutheran church that I love are:
1)  The ancient Christian liturgy, free from emotionalism, sentimentality, and sappiness.  Pop-evangelicalism is saturated with this stuff.  The sole purpose in many evangelical churches is to engage in one's subjective feelings and to scratch itching ears, so to speak.
2)  The emphasis on Christ's death and resurrection.  How He has done it all.  I am completely hopeless on my own in regards to my salvation AND sanctification.  If I could do any of it on my own, the cross was pointless and was a fool's errand.  The Good News:  It wasn't a fool's errand.

For those who read this blog, this Lutheran talk may sound completely strange.  But for me, it has truly been life giving.  That is not to say that now that I feeling I becoming Lutheran, that all others have it wrong.  Lutherans rule, Baptists drool.  Nothing like that at all.  It is in Christ that life is found.  Not Luther.  But I have found that confessional Lutheranism speaks to Christ and His work much more than any other evangelical church I have been a part of.

If anyone, who after reading any my meager writing, wants to know about Lutheranism, I have ordered two copies of a recently published book entitled Lutheranism 101.  One is for me to read and keep for reference.  But I bought a second one to hand out.  If anyone is interested at all, please leave a comment on this post.  I will pick randomly from anyone who posts with a question or comment regarding Lutheranism.  This is a weak attempt at trying to get a civil dialogue regarding Lutheranism, modern evangelicalism, and theology, in general.  I will make a decision regarding the winner of the book by this Sunday (October 9, 2010).  If anyone else is interested in this book, follow the link above.  Concordia Publishing currently has it on sale for $14.99 through October 31, 2010.  I have not read the book yet.  I am waiting for its delivery.  But every review I have read makes it out to be a good resource and reference for Lutheran history and theology.

Please feel free to comment on this post or any others I have written earlier.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Imagine a Church...

"Imagine a church that is both evangelical - proclaiming the free forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ - and sacramental, centering its spiritual life in the regenerating waters of baptism and the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion.

Imagine further a church that is strongly grounded on Scripture, but yet avoids the solipsism of individual interpretation in favor of a comprehensive, intellectually rigorous and imminently orthodox theological system.

Imagine a worship service that features both strong preaching and the historic liturgy. Imagine that this is a historical church with a rich spiritual tradition, but without legalism.

Imagine, in short, a church that has some of the best parts of Protestantism and the best parts of Catholicism. Finally, imagine that this church body is not some little made-up sect, but one of the largest bodies of Christians in the world.

Such a church might seem like what many Christians, disaffected by both the vacuity of liberal theology and the shallowness of American evangelicalism, are dreaming of. Such a church exists. It goes by the admittedly inadequate name 'Lutheran'."

As quoted by Dr. Gene Edward Veith

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another attempt at relevance...

Thanks to Chris Rosebrough for this find. Here is a link to his website where I found this video.

As I related in a recent post on relevance, this is complete garbage, and is not life-producing at all.  It turns Christ and His gospel into a literal joke.  Good grief.

Life Groups Music Video - "Thug Life" from East Coast Christian Center on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Introduction to the Lutheran Confessions, The Book of Concord

Paul T. McCain, a Lutheran pastor and publisher at Concordia Publishing House, posted a link on his blog where a friend of created a very good introduction to the Book of Concord, the Lutheran confession.  This is a wonderful and concise description of what confessional Lutherans believe.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Church and the foolishness of relevance...

Growing your particular church or congregation by engaging in relevant marketing doesn't grow the kingdom of God.  But that is the current fad.  Relevance reigns supreme in many local churches nowadays.  Proclaiming Christ and Him crucified for our sins does grow the kingdom. That is what God uses to kill us and to regenerate us. He resurrects us. Spiritually, He raises us from the dead.  Law and Gospel.

People, who are dead in their trespasses and sins, who show up at a church focused on being relevant and not focused on Christ and His atoning sacrifice, end up being burdened with more law as they hear how can they can/ should better hear from God, can/ should be better parents, can/ should create better relationships, etc. We are comforted by how good we are, and how we almost have it. In some cases, we hear that we ourselves can totally do it. God meets us part of the way, all we have to do is just a couple of more things. Then we can arrive. Right. (Sarcastic tone, by the way). This is scratching itching ears.

St. Paul writes to Timothy:

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

2 Timothy 4:1-4  ESV

The biblical gospel goes something like this:
It starts off with some bad news. Really bad. We have screwed up. We have rebelled against God and His law. Romans 3 states that "None is righteous, no, not one; No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no does good, not even one." Everything within a person is selfish, seeking its own glory.

The law requires that we love the Lord with all our hearts, love our neighbor as yourself. We all fail at both of these all the time. God's law states that we shall not murder (hate), lie, steal, covet, etc. We all fail at those, also. Bottom line: You are a sinner. So am I.

But it doesn't stop there. Thanks be to God. We are sinners in need of a savior. We have one in Jesus Christ. His blood covers our sin. His death and resurrection puts us in right standing before God. We all will stand in front of God. If we stand in front of Him in our own righteousness, we don't stand a chance. We can't be good enough.

Isaiah 64:6 is, perhaps, one of the most cited verses to show that we should not (and could not) rely on our own righteousness for our salvation. This leads to the concept of imputed righteousness of Christ to cover our unrighteousness. God offers the only solution – He sent His Son, Christ, a free gift from Him, and Christ pays the penalty of our sins.

We need preachers in our churches teaching this. Preaching the proper distinction of law and gospel. Preaching forgiveness of sins and repentance. Jesus and Him crucified. Instead, the vast majority of churches desire to be relevant, instead of being Jesus-centered. What is important is that they get more people in the door. Numbers are very important, if not ultimate.

Chris Rosebrough, of Pirate Christian Radio, put forth 95 New Theses. Seven of these theses hit the nail on the head when it comes the relevant machine that has infiltrated the church:

6. Relevance, self-help and pop-psychology have no power to work true contrition over sins and faith in Jesus Christ.

11. In the name of relevance, our Lord Jesus Christ is reduced to a life-coach whose “gospel” assists and motivates people to achieve the objectives of their self-centered delusions of grandeur.

25. Purveyors of relevance claim that self-help, life-applications and biblical principles are the means to reach the unchurched because they meet people’s felt needs.

26. Yet a person’s greatest need is one he does not by nature feel, namely the need for the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ.

28. The true need that mankind is seeking but does not know is justification by grace through faith for Christ’s sake.

29. Since justification is through faith and not through works, natural man neither seeks it nor desires it.

30. Therefore, the teaching of justification by grace through faith is neither seeker-sensitive nor relevant to a world that naturally seeks self-justification.

Relevance in the Church is lethal. And it is viral. It has reached many parts of the Body. It has nothing to offer a person except more law. No gospel. No good news. Only death. Our hope is found in Christ and His work alone. Not ours.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lutheran-style Evangelism

I loved this post from Scott Diekmann of the Stand Firm blogsite.

He quotes from Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller regarding evangelism as the confessional Lutheranism views it:

..."Evangelism Training" will be nothing more than continued study and meditation on the proper distinction between law and Gospel.

...the central act of Evangelism is not asking the unbeliever to come to Jesus, but rather, in the name of Jesus, forgiving their sins. Evangelism is the Church speaking the Absolution to the World.

Absolution. What a wonderful word. We have been forgiven by Christ's work on the cross. This is unbelievably good news.

Friday, September 17, 2010

You Can Do It

On my daily trek from work back to the homestead each day, I drive by a particular church. The church sign for this church changes on a regular basis. Maybe once a week or so. This week, the sign caught my attention a bit more than usual. It reads: You can do it!

Wow. Nearly speechless. To be honest, this is the kind of stuff I have been taught in nearly every church I have been a part of.  Ultimately this type of teaching will lead to one of two destinations:  self-righteousness or despair.  Despair can possibly lead to agnosticism or atheism.  The person will come to the end of themselves, and think, this CAN'T be done!  This thing has been a complete sham!  I'm done!  Gone!  See ya later!

If your church is teaching this kind of tripe, I would recommend that you confront your pastor and/ or elders. If they don't listen, go away as fast as you can, and don't look back. This is the complete antithesis of the gospel. The question you should be asking is: If I can do it, why do I need the cross? There is no need for Jesus, His cross, or His resurrection. If you are being told that you got the goods, that you can do it, there is really no reason why you would be hearing much of the cross and the Jesus' atoning sacrifice.

Here's a quote from Dr. Normal Nagel:

The cross alone is our theology. These are the words of Doctor Luther and, too, of every Lutheran sermon. If the cross is not in the sermon, it is not a Lutheran sermon. Or if you can take the cross out of the sermon, and it can get along just as well without it, it is not a Lutheran sermon. -- Dr. Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons, p. 290.

I have been reading this book entitled, 'On Being a Theologian of the Cross.' It is a commentary on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation by Gerhard Forde. Luther differentiates in the Disputation between essentially two theologies: The Theology of the Cross and The Theology of Glory. Forde writes:
[A theology of glory] operates on the assumption that what we need is optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem. Theologically speaking it operates on the assumption that we are not seriously addicted t sin, and that our improvement is both necessary and possible. We need a little boost in our desire to do good works. Of course our theologian of glory may well grant that we need the help of grace. The only dispute, usually, will be about the degree of grace needed. If we are 'liberal,' we will opt for less grace and tend to define it as some kind of moral persuasion or spiritual encouragement. If we are more 'conservative,' and speak even of the depth of human sin, we will tend to escalate the degree of grace needed to the utmost. But the hallmark of the theology of glory is that it will always consider grace as something of a supplement to whatever is left of human will and power. It will always, in the end, hold out for some free will. Theology then becomes the business of making theological explanations attractive to the will. Sooner or later a disastrous erosion of the language sets in. It must constantly be adjusted to be made appealing. Gradually it sinks to the level of maudlin sentimentality.

Theologians of the cross, however, operate quite differently. They know they cannot we can't be helped by optimistic appeals to glory, strength, wisdom, positive thinking, and so forth because those things are themselves the problem.

The thing is this:  If anything, we have this promise of the cross, persecution and affliction. “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) But this is a temporary, earthly persecution. “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:6-7)

Don Matzat, in an article for Issues, Etc., gets to the point with the following:
Living in a theology of the Cross never makes you any "better" than anyone else. Every day in every way you are not getting better and better. In fact, the preaching of Law and Gospel will not lead you to an awareness of your holiness, but rather to greater awareness of the depth of your sin. As a result, you will develop an ever-increasing faith in and appreciation for the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

Your witness will focus upon the work of the Cross, not upon your experience of getting saved, sanctified, or becoming more spiritual. You have taken no step toward God or arrived at any higher level of holiness. You don’t talk about your spirituality. You talk about the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

When dealing with these issues on the radio, I often encounter opposition. People will fight to defend their theology of glory. I often challenge them to share their testimony without ever talking about themselves. I have developed the pet phrase, "This thing called Christianity – it’s not about you!"

Martin Luther accurately defined sin as man turning in on himself. While a theology of glory continues to turn you to yourself as you measure your growth in holiness against a plethora of spiritual experiences, the theology of the Cross turns you away from yourself. As a result of the conviction of the Law, you forsake your own good works and spiritual experiences and cling to the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Hills Are Alive... in Salzburg

Salzburg Watercolor by local Salzburg artist
Jay Nordlinger of National Review Online has written a series about the single most beautiful place on the planet, in my opinion.  Salzburg.  The series, entitled Salzburg Souvenirs, can found here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Recently, the yearly world-renowned Music Festival (Salzburger Festspiele), took place.  It begins in late July and goes on for five weeks.  It exhibits various pieces of opera, drama, and classical music.  Salzburg, the home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, draws many musicians from around the world.  It is also the area in which part of the musical The Sound of Music was filmed and where part of that true story occurred.

Some friends and I spent a couple of weeks in Germany and Austria.  Bavaria and Salzburg and the Alps.  It was all really a wonder to behold.

My favorite memory while in Salzburg:  Got a break from the guys for awhile.  Found a place to get a sausage and a beer.  Found a tree to sit under, and it happened to be close to a classroom where a couple of students were practicing.  The sound of a piano and a violin wafting on the breeze.  I'm not sure I've had a better sausage and beer in my life.

My dream is take the family back to that area at some point in the future.  I only spent two or three days the first time.  It did not do the place justice at all.  I would love to spend at least a month or so there.  Hiking in the Alps, listening to world-class music, enjoying the great food and beer.  Not being there leaves a feeling of homesickness.

Here's just a bit of a visual tour.

Friday, August 27, 2010

He's Drinking for Two Now

A little Irish tale...

Mike walks into a bar in Dublin, orders three pints of Guinness and sits in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each in turn. When he finishes them, he comes back to the bar and orders three more.

The bartender asks him, "You know, a pint goes flat after I draw it; it would taste better if you bought one at a time."

Mike replies, "Well, you see, I have two brothers. One is in America, the other in Australia, and I'm here in Dublin. When we all left home, we promised that we'd drink this way to remember the days when we drank together."

Mike becomes a regular in the bar, and always drinks the same way: He orders three pints and drinks them in turn.

One day, he comes in and orders only two pints. All the other regulars notice and fall silent.

When Mike comes back to the bar for the second round, the bartender says, "Please let me offer my condolences on your great loss.

Mike looks confused for a moment, then a light dawns in his eye and he laughs. "Oh, no," he says, "everyone's fine. I've just quit drinking."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque and The Constitution

I was wrong. President Obama is right. I don't like it. Not at all.

First, I must give all credit to Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio and Fighting For The Faith. He has recently done a show where he spends the entire broadcast talking about the Ground Zero Mosque and the controversy surrounding it. This is the LINK to that specific show. It is a little over 1.5 hours, but very well worth listening to, as well as his other shows.

Here's the gist. There's a whole lot of shouting back and forth over something that probably WILL NOT happen. Read this LINK. And you also check this PIECE from the NY Post. From the sounds of it, this was a business venture that went bad. The company wanted to develop some condos or something of the sort, but needed the additional property adjacent to the piece they already own. They didn't have the capital for it. They still don't. According to the NY Post piece, as of August 8th, 2010, they have not raised near the amount of funds to complete this project. Whether it is condos or a mosque.

So why all the hub bub, you ask? Why are the likes such as Nancy Pelosi, Pres. Obama, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly entering the verbal melee? Over something they all probably know will never happen in the first place.

The conservative wing of this debate have mostly admitted that constitutionally, this group has the right to build a mosque. But they ask, "Is it wise?" On the surface, this sounds like a great question. I bought it completely. Sure, they (the Mosque builders) have every right to build a mosque on private property no matter where, but is it "wise" to build it so close to such a sensitive place? But this is the wrong question. The only question we should be asking is, is it constitutional?

Normally, people like Gingrich, O'Reilly, and Beck are lambasting Obama and the left for destroying our Constitution on a daily basis. But on this issue, these guys are doing the very same thing they attack the left on. They are attaching feeling and sentiment to this issue, despite its constitutionality.

The First Amendment to our Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We all need to be VERY careful! If this debate turns into an actual suspension of a group's right to freedom of religion and freedom to assemble to having private property to do as they wish, because it is 'unwise', then the same argument could be made of any other person or group.

For example: Imagine a pastor preaching to a congregation and teaching things that others deem as 'harmful' and 'dangerous.' The very same thing that many are saying of this group and the building of this mosque. If we suspend the rights of this group, then the very same thing can happen to Christians down the road.

We cannot suspend anyone's freedom to assemble, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech because we feel it is 'hurtful' or 'unwise.' If we do that, it is only a matter of time before hearing and preaching the gospel of Christ on your own private property, i.e.- your church, will be considered 'hurtful' or unwise' by others, and your rights will be suspended, also.

Again, I want to point you back to Mr. Rosebrough's show. He goes into much more detail, and lays out this argument much more succinctly. I would just reiterate this. We all need to be careful. Whether you are liberal, moderate, or conservative. Our constitutional rights are being attacked from all sides.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Explanation of Saint and Sinner (Simul Iustus et Peccator)

A friend posted the following on her facebook page. It got me thinking. First the post:
"going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car"~ thanks Mrs. Baldree for this one...Mrs. Baldree was my childhood Sunday School teacher and you didn't have to ask her if she was a Christian, you knew by the way she treated others and how she acted without ever casting judgment on others....a shining example for so many Sunday Christians out there

I want to focus on the bit about how she knew her teacher was a Christian. That she knew it by the way she treated others. In the Gospel of John, Jesus states:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34-35 ESV)
We WILL be known by our love for one another. This sentiment is absolutely true. However, I believe the sentiment of acting right (in the case of the earlier statement, how the teacher acted without ever casting judgment on others....a shining example for so many Sunday Christians out there) is an utterly false understanding of what makes one a Christian. The notion that Christians at church or anywhere are a bunch of hypocrites is completely false. But this is what we have been taught either at church or out in the world. "They say they are a Christian, but they sure don't act it!" The very essence of being a Christian is understanding that we are completely incapable of doing good. Paul writes to the Ephesians (chapter 2, verses 4-5) that God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were DEAD in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. It is by grace in which we have been saved -- made alive.

Our righteousness as Christians is not found in our love for one another. Loving others and other good works are not what makes us in right standing with a holy God. It is Christ and Him crucified for our sins.

Righteousness through Christ is called an “alien” righteousness because it did not generate from us. It is not our righteousness; it is His, and His alone. It is an alien righteousness because it came from without, and now it is in a foreign land. It does not belong here; it is an alien righteousness. In Latin, this is called simul iustus et peccator: simul, simultaneously; iustus, just; et, and; peccator, sinful. This literally translates – simultaneously righteous and sinful. It is a term that I believe was termed by Martin Luther during the Reformation of the 16th century.

Martin Luther recognized that even in a state of regeneration the believer still lives in the world and still in fact does commit acts of sin. The doctrine of "simul iustus" is not an excuse for lawlessness, or a license for continued sinful conduct; rather, properly understood, it comforts the person who truly wishes to be free from sin and is aware of the inner struggle within him. This is not to deny that the Christian may ever "improve" in his or her conduct. Instead, Luther was wanting to keep Christians from either relying upon or despairing because of their own conduct or attitude.

This concept is evidenced as Paul writes in Romans, Chapter 7. Notice that he speaks in the PRESENT tense, as he is currently a believer in the death and resurrection of Christ, but still struggles with sin.

Paul writes:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. . .
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Romans 7:15-20 ESV)

There is no attempt to redefine sin to make it anything less than what it is. Rather there is a stark recognition of the dialectic of the Christian's acceptance before God and the fact that he still sins. Luther's phrase to describe this condition was that the state of the Christian between regeneration and ultimate glorification is simul iustus et peccator, at once just (or justified) and sinner. This is not a condition that will ever be transcended in this life. Rather, the believer must always rely on the finished work of Christ for his or her acceptance before God.

John wrote in 1 John:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
(1 John 1:5-2:2 ESV)

Christ did not come to make us better people. Nor to be a good example of how someone should live. He came to make dead people alive again. This is the gospel. THE GOOD NEWS! As the old hymn aptly states: My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness! Amen!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Joel Osteen and Ham Sandwiches

Good ole Joel Osteen. Now I know he's preaching a false gospel. This video recently went fairly viral.

This video reminds me of a joke I once heard... Enjoy!

A priest and a rabbi are sitting next to each other on an airplane. After a while the priest turns to the rabbi and asks, "Is it still a requirement of your faith that you not eat pork?"

The rabbi responds, "Yes, that is still one of our beliefs."

The priest then asks, "Have you ever eaten pork?"

To which the rabbi replies, "Yes, on one occasion I did succumb To temptation and tasted a ham sandwich."

The priest nodded in understanding and went on with his reading. A while later, the rabbi spoke up and asked the priest, "Father, is it still a requirement of your church that you remain celibate?"

The priest replied, "Yes, that is still very much a part of our faith."

The rabbi then asked him, "Father, have you ever fallen to the temptations of the flesh?"

The priest replied, "Yes, rabbi, on one occasion I was weak and broke with my faith."

The rabbi nodded understandingly. He was silent for about five minutes, and then he said,

"Beats the hell out of a ham sandwich, doesn't it?"

In honor of Joel Osteen, I say we come up with a Pig and Shellfish Day! Eat up and be free! I love me some bacon and shrimp! Yum!