Friday, November 11, 2011

How Lutheranism Saved Me from American Evangelicalism...

I just finished reading a blog post from Chaplain Mike on The Internet Monk website.

He wrote a wonderful piece about what Lutheranism has meant to him.  His points regarding Word and Sacrament, the pastor not being a CEO, but a pastor, and the doctrine of vocation were some of the things that brought me such great relief and a breath of fresh air upon arrival into Lutheranism.  He didn't mention Law and Gospel specifically, and hope that he does later in this series, but that was for me, The Thing, causing me to make confessional Lutheranism my home. 

I also think Chaplain Mike is right when he points out that American evangelical church has bowed down to pragmatism and relevance, and has cast off biblical fidelity.  This cannot be overstated.

I can completely identify with his leaving American evangelicalism behind.  I wandered about in the 'post-evangelical wilderness' for some time, completely unsure of what to do.   Gratefully, I have found a home in confessional Lutheranism. It steadfastly points to me that Christ has come to serve me, a wretched sinner.  I have nothing to offer but my sin.  My trust has to be completely on what Christ has done for me, not the other way around.

I am eagerly anticipating more of this series regarding Lutheranism from Chaplain Mike.  I would highly recommend checking out this blog post by Chaplain Mike and the upcoming series on Lutheranism.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Altar Call - Greatest Hits

I found this at fellow blogger Eric Carpenter's website, A Pilgrim's Progress.

My personal favorite: C'Mon (The Extended Remix).


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why We Use the Liturgy...


Great read about Lutheran liturgy by Rev. Cwirla...

Top Ten Reasons Why We Use the Liturgy
By The Rev. William Cwirla
(posted at Higher Things

Why the Liturgy? First a definition and a disclaimer. By “liturgy” I mean the western catholic mass form as it has been handed down by way of the Lutheran Reformation consisting of the five fixed canticles – Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Pardon the Greek and Latin, but it sounds cool and we still use ‘em. “Liturgy” also includes the assigned Scripture texts for the Sundays, feast days, and seasons. Most of what I will say about the liturgy of the Divine Service will pertain to “liturgical worship” in general.

Now, why do we worship according to the western, catholic liturgy?
  1. It shows our historic roots. Some parts of the liturgy go back to the apostolic period. Even the apostolic church did not start with a blank liturgical slate but adapted and reformed the liturgies of the synagogue and the Sabbath. The western mass shows our western catholic roots, of which we as Lutherans are not ashamed. (I’d rather be confused with a Roman Catholic than anything else.) We’re not the first Christians to walk the face of the planet, nor, should Jesus tarry, will we be the last. The race of faith is a relay race, one generation handing on (“traditioning”) to the next the faith once delivered to the saints. The historic liturgy underscores and highlights this fact. It is also “traditionable,” that is, it can be handed on.
  2. It serves as a distinguishing mark. The liturgy distinguishes us from those who do not believe, teach, and confess the same as we do. What we believe determines how we worship, and how we worship confesses what we believe.
  3. It is both Theocentric and Christocentric. From the invocation of the Triune Name in remembrance of Baptism to the three-fold benediction at the end, the liturgy is focused on the activity of the Triune God centered in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Worship is not primarily about “me” or “we” but about God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and my baptismal inclusion in His saving work.
  4. It teaches. The liturgy teaches the whole counsel of God – creation, redemption, sanctification, Christ’s incarnation, passion, resurrection, and reign, the Spirit’s outpouring and the new life of faith. Every liturgical year cycles through these themes so that the hearer receives the “whole counsel of God” on a regular basis.
  5. It is transcultural. One of the greatest experiences of my worship life was to be in the Divine Service in Siberia with the Siberian Lutheran Church. Though I spoke only a smattering of Russian, I knew enough to recognize the liturgy, know what was being said (except for the sermon, which was translated for us), and be able to participate knowledgeably across language and cultural barriers. I have the same experience with our Chinese mission congregation.
  6. It is repetitive in a good way. Repetition is, after all, the mother of learning. Fixed texts and annual cycles of readings lend to deep learning. Obviously, mindless repetition does not accomplish anything; nor does endless variety.
  7. It is corporate. Worship is a corporate activity. “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” The liturgy draws us out of ourselves into Christ by faith and the neighbor by love. We are all in this together. Worship is not simply about what “I get out of it,” but I am there also for my fellow worshippers to receive the gifts of Christ that bind us together and to encourage each other to love and good works (Heb 10:25). We are drawn into the dialogue of confession and absolution, hearing and confessing, corporate song and prayer. To borrow a phrase from a favored teacher of mine, in church we are “worded, bodied, and bloodied” all together as one.
  8. It rescues us from the tyranny of the “here and now.” When the Roman world was going to hell in a hand basket, the church was debating the two natures of Christ. In the liturgy, the Word sets the agenda, defining our needs and shaping our questions. The temptation is for us to turn stones into bread to satisfy an immediate hunger and scratch a nagging spiritual itch, but the liturgy teaches us to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
  9. It is external and objective. The liturgical goal is not that everyone feel as certain way or have an identical “spiritual” experience. Feelings vary even as they come and go. The liturgy supplies a concrete, external, objective anchor in the death and resurrection of Jesus through Word, bread, and wine. Faith comes by hearing the objective, external Word of Christ.
  10. It is the Word of God. This is often overlooked by critics of liturgical worship. Most of the sentences and songs of the liturgy are direct quotations or allusions from Scripture or summaries, such as the Creed. In other words, the liturgy is itself the Word of God, not simply a packaging for the Word. Many times the liturgy will rescue a bad sermon and deliver what the preacher has failed to deliver. I know; I’ve been there.
Ten is one of those good numbers in the Bible signifying completeness, so I’ll stop at ten. I’m sure there are more.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Tree of Life With Ev'ry Good

A beautiful new hymn that was introduced to me by my wife.  It was sung during the distribution of the Lord's Supper last week.  (Unfortunately I missed going to the Divine Service last week).  The hymn is written by Pr. Stephen Starke.  A beautiful hymn of justification and Christ's work on the cross...




The tree of life with ev'ry good
In Eden's holy orchard stood,
And of its fruit so pure and sweet
God let the man and woman eat.
Yet in this garden also grew
Another tree, of which they knew,
Its lovely limbs with fruit adorned
Against whose eating God had warned.

The stillness of that sacred grove
Was broken as the serpent strove
With tempting voice to Evil beguile
And Adam too by sin defile.
O day of sadness when the breath
Of fear and sadness, doubt and death,
Its awful poison first displayed
Within the world, so newly made.

What mercy God showed to our race,
A plan of rescue by His grace
In sending One from woman's seed,
The One to meet our greatest need -
For on a tree uplifted high
His only Son for sin would die,
Would drink the cup of scorn and dread
To crush the ancient serpent's head.

Now from that tree of Jesus' shame
Flows life eternal in His name:
For all who trust and will believe
Salvation's living fruit receive.
And of that fruit, so pure and sweet,
The Lord invites the world to eat,
To find within this cross of wood
The tree of life with ev'ry good. (LSB 561)


Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.   (Revelation 22:1-2)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Will of God...


The following is a devotional from Higher Things.  A wonderful reminder who actually does the will of God...


August 14, 2011 - Sunday of the Eighth Week after Trinity

Today's Reading: Matthew 7:15-23
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Just because you call Jesus Lord doesn't mean you're in. Whoa! Wait a minute! What does THAT mean? It means simply this: Not everyone who claims to be a Christian really is. So how do you know? How can you be sure? Jesus says that everyone who does the will of His Father will enters the kingdom of heaven.
Okay. Checklist time. Do you love God above all things? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Don't lie. That's God's will. Have you done it? If not, don't get all and say, “Lord, Lord!” to Jesus.
But Jesus tells us also that God's will is that we believe in the One whom He sent, that is, believe in Jesus. And here we begin to realize that the doing of God's will is not something we'll ever be able to do. It is something that must be done for us, otherwise we're doomed. Or, to put it another way, if you call out “Lord, Lord” because you think you've done God's will, you're in trouble. But if you call out “Lord, Lord,” because only the Lord can save you then you have the promise of a Savior.
First of all, Jesus did the Father's will. All of it. He loved the Father perfectly. He loved others perfectly, even giving His life for ours. He obeyed the Father's will to save sinners. He obeyed and kept every Law and commandment. That is Jesus doing the Father's will. The will of God is that those who don't keep His Law are doomed. So Jesus did that, too, when He suffered for our sins and died for them. Then He rose again, defeating death.
Now He still carries out that will by the Spirit who has brought you to faith in the waters of Holy Baptism and who keeps you saying, “Lord, Lord” the right way by the words of Absolution and the Supper of Jesus' body and blood.
In accomplishing salvation and delivering it to you, Jesus is doing the Father's will. And because you are in Him, you have done the Father's will. And your “Lord, Lord” is the confession of a Savior who won't let you down. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Grant to us, Lord, we implore You, the Spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot do anything that is good without You, may be enabled to live according to Your will; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen. (Collect for Trinity 8)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kelly's Blog » What makes the Christian faith relevant to daily life?

Kelly's Blog » What makes the Christian faith relevant to daily life?

Another excellent blog post I read recently.  It is a response to 'relevance' and how much of the Church  is doing what it is doing in the name of it, and more specifically, it is a response to the recent crazy NASCAR prayer.

Here's a segment from the blog post:

There’s an alternative way for faith to be relevant to daily life without all conversations with God sounding like texts to your BFF, or for the administration of the sacraments to resemble Senior Week at the ocean, or for the catechesis of children to look like a trip to Six Flags, etc. etc. In fact, nothing could make faith seem smaller and more irrelevant than this. If the message of Christ crucified and the forgiveness of sins is true, then the message is always relevant and always gloriously good. Attempting a bait-and-switch with the Gospel is to tell people that the candy coating is the truly good stuff, and the Gospel is the bitter pill that you’ve tricked them into accepting along with the candy. In fact, could it be that people might actually find some value in something of transcendence, something counter-cultural, timeless, and stable– something that’s not about advertising and bait-and-switch? (italics mine)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Grace Must Be Obtained Before Baptism?

Great piece from C.F.W. Walther.  Found on the Gnesio blog:  Grace Must Be Obtained Before Baptism?

Walther nails it.  It is preposterous how the Anabaptists and those today can turn a precious gift that Christ has given us, into a work.  The blog post is worth the read.

I liked this quote specifically:

Every heresy that has sprung up was caused by the heretic’s inability to believe that man becomes righteous in the sight of God, and is saved, by grace alone. That is the real rock of offense against which all heretics, all false teachers, dash their head. But there is no escape from this dilemma: either believe this truth or see what will become of you.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What the Gospel is and is not...

The gospel is NOT:


  • therapy.
  • God having a dream for your life.
  • God having a plan for your life.
  • casting a vision for your life or for church.
  • having our best life now.
  • having a purpose for our lives.
  • becoming debt free.
  • building and having healthy relationships.
  • about getting rid of the 'Eeyore' mindset.
  • making a decision for Christ.
  • that we can be used by God.
  • about being effective and successful.
  • about being on mission for Jesus.
  • having a better walk with Jesus.

The Gospel is:

  • Christ and Him crucified for our sins.
  • All the world being redeemed by Christ's shed blood on the cross.
  • It is Jesus and His work for us.
  • Christ and His victory over sin, death, and the devil.

The Gospel has being truly hijacked by much of the 'Church.'  I hear so many sermons about all the things we can do, need to do, ought to do, etc.  It is truly grating.  If we can do anything at all to please God on our own, then Christ's death on the cross was completely pointless, and He was nailed on it in vain.  It would be one thing if these sermons preached that we were sinners in need of God.  And His redemption of us leads us to good works.  But they do not do that.  These sermons are a form of paganism.  They teach what we can and should offer to God to earn His favor.  Sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly.

We are saved unto to good works.  Not the other way around.  We cannot appease God.  Our good works are as filthy rags.  His righteousness is perfect and is freely given to us.


May Christ give us eyes to see and ears to hear His true Word.  Christ have mercy on us. 

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.   - Galatians 3:10-14


Friday, July 1, 2011

Veggie Tales and Jericho and God's Word...

I came across this devotional from Higher Things.  I wanted to pass along to the meager few readers of my blog.

From their site:  The mission of Higher Things, Inc. is to assist parents, congregations, and pastors in cultivating and promoting a Lutheran identity among youth through conferences, retreats, publications, and the internet.


Daily Lectionary: Joshua 6:6-27; Acts 10:18-33

So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. (Joshua 6:20)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. It may be that most youth today are familiar with the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho from “Veggie Tales.” In that version, Joshua and the children (“vegetables?”) of Israel are rewarded for following God's explicit instructions. Leave it to a cartoon to turn the story of Joshua into a story about us!

No, the walls of Jericho fall down because the Lord smashed them. He used the marching trumpets and the ark to do it, but let's not be fooled into thinking it was “obedience” rather than God's power that did it. That's the danger we constantly face. We always want to turn what God does into something we've done. We always want to take the promises God makes and make them conditional upon our response.

When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished.” And He meant it. The preaching of the Good News of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name is the declaration that our trying to make things happen with God is done. We can't do it. Jesus did it.
When Jesus died for our sins, the walls of hell collapsed. The enemies of God were routed. The kingdom of Satan was plundered. Jesus descended into hell and laid it out for the devil: “You're done. I've won. End of story.”

The devil, of course, wants to fool us and get us to believe that it's not so. So we read again of the fall of Jericho and the destruction of the Lord's enemies. When the devil whispers that there's something left for you to do to get right with God, just remind him of what happened at Jericho. And Calvary. And the font and altar. And that evil one will slink away in defeat. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Rise! To arms with prayer employ you, O Christians, lest the foe destroy you; For Satan has designed your fall. Wield God's Word, the weapon glorious; Against all foes be thus victorious, For God protects you from them all. Fear not the hordes of hell, Here is Emmanuel. Hail the Savior! The strong foes yield to Christ, our shield, And we, the victors hold the field. (LSB 668:1)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

My personal addendum...

While Veggie Tales may be guilty of tweaking the story of Joshua and Jericho and what God did...  the very same thing happens in many, many churches across American evangelicalism do the same thing with story, and the rest of scripture.  They turn all that God has done by His spoken word into what we ought to do for God.
8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We would do well to remember that it has been finished.  We can rest in His faithfulness.  We can rest in what He has already done.  We are His workmanship... He is the author and perfecter of our faith... not us.  And that is some good news...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Trinity and Salvation...

Much of the Church catholic celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday this past week.  It's the one Sunday of the year where many congregations confess the Athanasius Creed.  To read this creed, go to this link.  Additionally, there is a good resource to check out regarding this creed.  Issues, Etc. recently did a four part series discussing the Athanasius Creed with Pastor Wil Weedon.

I also want to give credit to Tim Chester and his book "Delighting in the Trinity."  He does a really good job of covering the history of how the Church has developed its view of the Trinity, and he writes in such a way that reveals to the reader how important the doctrine of the Trinity really is.  I would recommend anyone wanting to get an introductory look at the doctrine of the Trinity to check out this book.
Chester, in my opinion, summarily nails the deal about salvation when he writes:
Christ's death of the cross can be seen as His victory over Satan and as a moral example.  These approaches see salvation as a transaction between God and Satan and between God and humanity.  But at its heart salvation is a transaction within the Trinity.  The Son offers Himself to the Father as our substitute.  God both judges and is judged.  And the Spirit applies this transaction to our lives.
The Godhead:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, work in union.  It is the Father that gives the world His Son.  The Son who gives us His Holy Spirit.  And in reverse, it is the Holy Spirit that reveals God's Word, Jesus Christ, and it Jesus Christ who says that he who knows Him also knows the Father.  What incredible stuff (for lack of  a better theological word)!  It is God and God alone in the Trinity that works out our salvation!

Without the Holy Spirit, we would not know Christ.  Without Christ and His work on the cross, we could not be reconciled to the Father and be in relationship with Him.  And it is God, His Word, and the Spirit hovering the waters in the middle of creation.  The doctrine of the Trinity is paramount.  The relationship between the atonement and the Trinity operates in both directions.  The Trinity is the foundation of the atonement and the atonement is the ultimate revelation of God's trinitarian character.

It is God that saves us.  Not us.  In His love, He sent His Son to reconcile the all humanity to the Father.  It is the Holy Spirit, whom the Son sent, that quickens and gives us faith at the hearing of His Word.  It is God, as the Trinity, that provides salvation.




Almighty and everlasting God, who has given to us, Your servants, grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity, we implore You that You would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; who lives and reigns, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (Collect for Holy Trinity)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Got my geek on today...

Taking a break from any kind of serious thought...

Well... I just returned from the new Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds and wanted to share my thoughts.

First of all, I must admit, this was my favorite comic book hero growing up.  Most kids liked Superman, Batman, or Spiderman.  Me...  I had to be the odd kid out.  Green Lantern.  And I really have no idea what drew me to him than any of those other superheroes from the comics.  I guess I thought having a green power ring that could make me fly and make all kinds of cool gadgets sounded appealing...  *shrugs shoulders*  So I am gonna be a bit biased in my review.

So, anyways... I just got back from the movie and I wanted to give my review of it.  In a word... Entertaining.  Very entertaining.  It was everything I thought a Green Lantern movie could be.  This movie would have been bad just a decade ago.  But the advances in CGI technology was required for a movie such as this.  Don't get me wrong... it could have been much better, but it was very good when compared to comic book movie genre.  It is no Iron Man or the Dark Knight, but it was better than the recent restart of Superman, and the earlier Batman movies with Michael Keaton, etc.  The movie was built well, but  as many comic book movie types, there is only but so much time to create a storyline, develop characters, and put in some great CGI effects and fight scenes.  It's a balancing act, and Green Lantern did well enough.  Hopefully, it will do well enough in the box office to support a sequel.  But I'm not holding my breath.

For a couple of reasons. 

First, as I said before, most have heard of Spiderman, Superman, or Batman... but not too many have heard of Green Lantern.  He's not an icon by any stretch of the imagination.  So I can't imagine too many casual movie-goers making it a priority to check out this film.  It will be a movie skipped my the overall mainstream movie going audience.  It will appeal mainly to the geek/ nerd types, like myself.

Secondly, while the movie is very good and entertaining, I am not sure it will have the kind of appeal in which those that will watch it will be talking about "how great the movie was, and you've just gotta see it."  There is nothing classic about the film.  Just a good summer action superhero flick.  There will be the GL geeks (like me) who see it a couple of times, but I generally don't think there will a mass of people checking out the film.

Now to list some of the pros and cons.

The pros:
Ryan Reynolds performs well.  He does a very good job pulling off the role of Hal Jordan.  The character is developed well as far as their was time to give it justice.

Peter Sarsgaard was his typical brilliant self.  He did an incredible job as Hector Hammond.  I wish they could have given him even more screen time.  The movie developed his story fairly well, but they could/ should have done even more...  Due to forcing a larger picture into the story and having to create an entire background for Green Lantern, his character/ story was limited.

Mark Strong was the perfect choice as Sinestro.  He did an amazing job.  But his role was even more limited.  (Slight spoiler alert coming--)  The movie ended in such a way that if there is a sequel, Sinestro will play a much larger role.  And that is the central part of the Green Lantern story that this movie was trying to build up to.  If there is enough commercial success, I think a sequel will be infinitely better due to Mark Strong playing Sinestro.  Again... great casting choice to use the talents of Mark Strong for Sinestro.

The final positive that I will mention... the CGI effects to highlight Hal Jordan's power ring was done really well...  They created some wonderful effects for the ring to create.  Not a simple bat or sling shot.. but a scene where he creates a matchbox car race track with a spiral to stop a falling helicopter for one...  It was a well done scene...  Several other moments where the writers were fairly creative in finding unique ways of highlighting the power ring.  The movie didn't go over the top with the CGI.  The movie didn't try to make that the focus... they did try to create a story, and use the CGI to complement it... not make the CGI the story itself.  And that's a good thing.

The cons...

The lead actress, Blake Lively, was mediocre at best...  that may be in part due to having to focus the storyline elsewhere, and couldn't really develop her character...  but again, she filled the role of Carol Ferris (the love interest), but did nothing to create any kind of interest in the character.  The Carol Ferris character develops in the overall Green Lantern story, but the writers of the movie had to pick and choose....  They wisely chose Jordan, Hector Hammond, and to a small degree, Sinestro..  They bypassed Carol Ferris, and Blake Lively did nothing to help.

The second con, and probably the biggest disappointment, in my opinion, is the lack of Sinestro in the movie.  He played a fairly significant role, but would have loved to see his character developed even more.  He is the key antagonist to Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern story.  I am assuming the creators of the movie are hoping there is a sequel.  Sinestro will then play a key role, and with the leads being Mark Strong and Ryan Reynolds...  that film could be incredible.  Hopefully there will a second movie, and Sinestro

The final drawback to this movie is the soundtrack.  Very weak, in my opinion.  It certainly doesn't stand out, and in many ways, the soundtrack shouldn't stand out... but it should provide the empty space in which the movie can be accentuated...  If you haven't seen the movie Tron Legacy... you ought to.  This movie and the soundtrack meshed perfectly.  While it didn't get very good reviews from the mainstream critics, it was entertaining film.  My point in bringing it up is that the soundtrack really made the movie what it was.  It really enhanced the movie.  It drew you into the action sequences, it moved the 'slower' scenes, etc., it created the feeling that you were part of the movie, in a sense.  In contrast, the soundtrack to Green Lantern was completely unremarkable.  It did nothing for the movie...  If anything, it hurt the movie.  I only noticed

All in all, me being a Green Lantern fan, I would love to see a lot of people go check out the film.   It's a good enough story and is a really good introduction to who and what a Green Lantern is.  Ryan Reynolds is a fun actor to watch.  Quick witted and has really good timing...  He is perfectly cast as Hal Jordan.  Sarsgaard does an amazing job as Hector Hammond.  All in all, it's a fun, entertaining summer flick.  One that I would definitely recommend checking out.  (If only for selfish reasons, and hoping there is a sequel that has the potential of being a very, very good Green Lantern movie).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Church...

I think it is good to read and listen to those who you don’t necessarily agree with. One can learn things that you wouldn’t necessarily have learned if you didn’t take in another’s viewpoint.


I say this to specifically point out that I continue to read blogs of those who see things differently than I do in regards to ecclesia(ekklesia) and how church should look.  In some ways, I see the same issues the anti-institutional guys see.  Seeker-sensitive churches that are all-consumed with being relevant and concerned with growth instead of preaching and proclaiming Christ and His death and resurrection.  That is the very reason I left the local church a few years ago.


I was in the same place many of these individuals are.  I couldn't stand church.  I would go almost completely out of obligation.  Not that I felt I had to please God, but something of the sort.  At the time, I couldn't have accurately explained the reason.  But I know exactly why now.  Almost every sermon I heard would mention Jesus, and would briefly talk about how He died on the cross for my sins.  But immediately after that, I would hear about all the social justice issues that I needed to take part in.  How I should sell my house, uproot my family, and move into a different part of town to take part in mission with God and what He was doing.  How the church needed me to do more.  To be sure, often these imperatives were stated subtly, but there were times where they were much more overt.  All of this in the name of 'church growth.'

There is much wrong in the evangelical church today.  Not all, but certainly much.

However.

It isn't the system that is necessarily the bad thing.  All of these bad things occur in a system, but the system, in and of itself, is not the problem.  Sin is the problem.  The same issues can and do occur in non-institutional settings.  We are sinners in need of a Savior.  While there are many bad things that occur in the institutional church, I see many things unhealthy on the other side.  I see many who blog about the merits of House or Simple or Non-IC church who emphasize what the believer needs to be doing instead of receiving.  This is NOT to say that we do not bear fruit that the Holy Spirit grows in us.  We bear fruit of good works that signal that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  But the emphasis shouldn't be on how to build a better church, but about being faithful to what God has given us and acknowledge that He gives the growth.

I want to share a bit of scripture that I think many in the non-IC crowd will use to show what the church should be about, but is more promise than command, in my non-scholarly/ layman's view:

6So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:6-8


 Jesus says that you WILL be my witnesses.  Not that you ought to be or that you need to be witnesses.  Our faith is a gift of God's.  We are all dead in trespasses and sins.  Only God through His Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins and brings us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  He certainly works through His Church, but it He that gives the increase, not the Church that can increase itself.  It is His work.  Not ours.

So while I do have much to empathize with those have grown tired of the institutional church, for there are many things wrong with it,  they are emphasizing the wrong syllable, so to speak.  The focus shouldn't be on how to fix the Church, for we aren't able to...  for Christ is the one who is the author and perfecter of our faith.  The focus is to continue to trust God and His Word.  That He will never leave us nor forsake us.  And He will bring the increase.  Whether that be in our own faith or visible growth in the Church.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Very good blog post from Confessional Gadfly...

Here is a link to Pastor Eric Brown's blog, Confessional Gadfly.



The following is an excerpt from the blog post:

If we begin proclaiming something other than Christ - be it wisdom for living the "good life", or organizing society to make the world a better place, or anything -- we lose the Gospel. We exchange the preaching that prepares for the life of the world to come or playing in this world which is perishing. And what is so scary is that we will claim we are doing it for Christ... when the whole point of the Church is proclaiming what Christ has done for us.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Lord's Supper - 'Into My Remembrance'

This comes a couple of weeks too late, so I apologize.  However, I thought this to be a really good sermon my pastor, Pr. Kevin Martin from Our Savior Lutheran Church, delivered on Maundy Thursday a couple of weeks ago.  A wonderful sermon regarding the Lord's Supper that I wanted to pass along.

Sermon from Maundy Thursday 2011

"Into My Remembrance"
7 Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. 8 And He sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.”
9 So they said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare?”
10 And He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters. 11 Then you shall say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ 12 Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready.”
13 So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover  14 When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve[a] apostles with Him. 15 Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
17 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you,[b] I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.    Luke 22: 7-20 (NKJV)

To what end do we celebrate the Lord's Supper? I suppose it seems an obvious question. We do it so often, every Sunday some of us, that many of us take it for granted that everyone knows why we come to the table, what end we have in mind.

But I have found this to be a much more mysterious question. Taking communion to people in a wide variety of circumstances, especially in hospital rooms, nursing homes, to shut-ins, I have opportunity to hear some interesting questions, questions which make me think the purpose for which we come to the Table is wider, more varied, and not as well understood as typical Lutherans might acknowledge.

See, we like to be sure of what we're doing, we Lutherans. Doubt, uncertainty, ambiguity, or multi-valence (especially multi-valence, multiple meanings or purposes!) are things often uncomfortable for us. Luther was famous for his "what does this mean" question all through the catechism. It was a question he pursued all through the Scripture and he found no rest until he found one answer to that question. "I'm not really sure..." or "It could mean this or it could mean that..." are not conclusions you get from Luther very often. No, Luther was searching for the answer and found the answer in Christ Jesus. We are his heirs in this respect I think.
But sometimes perhaps we push this single answer, black or white approach too far? Reading St. Augustine recently, (someone Luther also admired very much), I was struck by a little section near the end of his Confessions that I had somehow neglected in previous readings. Augustine is going through the first chapters of Genesis and trying to figure out what it all means. He comes up with a number of different readings of the creation account, that are not the same; though each could be squared with Scripture, they didn't really agree, though each had their proponents among orthodox Christian thinkers. And when he wonders which reading is right, which is the one true reading, he concludes they all are.

He figures that while Moses probably had one or the other reading in mind when he wrote the book, the Holy Spirit is talented and could have multiple truths to teach through this apparently simple account. So Augustine concluded that there may well be more than one true reading of a given bible text—not because we put multiple meanings there, but because the Holy Spirit put them there for us to find. Part of the joy in reading Scripture, Augustine found, was that you can always discover something new in the old familiar words. God is clever like that, and His gifts inexhaustible...

But back to our question of the purpose of the Lord's Supper: why do we come? What do we seek? What is promised to those who eat and drink the Lord's body and blood? Can we get a simple answer to this simple question? Do we not all understand it already?

Jesus makes it quite plain in His institution of the Supper. He takes bread from the Passover table, blesses it, and divides it to the disciples saying "This is my body..." So we confess that's what it is—bread, which blessed by Christ's powerful word, becomes His very body. How can that be? Don't know, actually, because Jesus didn't explain. But when he told deaf people to hear, blind people to see, lame people to walk, dead people to rise, storms to stop it already, loaves and fish to multiply, they all did as they were told. So if he says this piece of bread is his body, well, I'm happy to believe that bread really is just what Jesus says! (and same with the cup which he pronounces is his blood). "How this can be, we leave to Thee..." as we sing in that old Lutheran communion hymn.

But why would we eat Jesus' body and drink his blood, in this real but supernatural fashion? To what end? In Matthew, he mentions forgiveness of sins, and that's certainly something we all need. But you notice here in Luke he doesn't mention the forgiveness thing. In Luke, he names the Holy Supper's end goal as: do this into the remembrance of me...

So there you have it: we do this into the remembrance of Jesus. There's your simple, black and white one purpose answer and that is always the right answer. But what does this mean? Into the remembrance of Jesus?

And here's where things start to get a little complex, a little multivalent perhaps. First off, we really need to translate the Greek words literally. The preposition that is commonly translated in, as in: do this in remembrance of me, is actually, literally into. It's eiV in the Greek not en and eiV usually means "into" in the sense of entering a space (physical or mental). Does that make a difference? Ah, it could actually...

The oldest and most common answer given by the early church fathers as to what this phrase means is that it is a command to follow Jesus' institution of this supper exactly, doing just as he did, saying and receiving just what he gives faithfully, so as to share in his presence and promises. So, do this into my remembrance means keep in your mind just what Jesus said and did in the Upper Room, and follow his institution. This is the traditional Lutheran reading.

The Reformed of the 16th century didn't like that so much. They said the phrase is a command of Jesus' to use the enactment of the Supper as a way of remembering Jesus, a way of recalling what is the essential point and purpose of Christianity. Like a re-enactment of a great battle makes the point and purpose present to us in a way that nothing else could, so the Lord's Supper is a re-enactment to help us keep Jesus in our minds. A popular 2nd option...

Finally, a few quirky scholars, picky on Greek prepositions, like my old teacher Norman Nagel, take a third way: they point out that if you take the phrase very literally it sounds more like a promise that those who eat and drink Jesus' body and blood will come into his memory, in such a way that he'll never forget us, but will confess us as his friends, indeed as members of his own body, flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone. So do this into my remembrance is not so much our remembering his institution or him, but about Jesus remembering us, forever and always as his own...

Unless you spent time with Normal Nagel or his friends, you've probably never heard the quirky third way of reading the phrase. But it's sort of catchy, isn't it? Fits well with those parables Jesus told of the last day being like a wedding feast, where some people were late, knocked on the door and asked to be let in but the Master says: "Go away, I don't know you!" and they complained "Sure you remember us, you ate lunch with us and taught us!" but the Master says "Truly, I tell you, I never knew you. Depart from me, workers of iniquity..."

If the entrance to the Great Feast depends solely on whether or not Jesus remembers you (the dying request of the good thief, remember!) then a promise of Jesus that he remembers all who eat his body and drink his blood is really, really cool. Eternally and divinely so!

So which is the right way to read this phrase? Is Jesus saying: do this remembering me, do this to remember me, or do this so that I'll remember you? Okay, Lutherans: this is your moment to shine. Drum roll, please; and the answer is (altogether now)... Yes! There's your one, threefold answer! (One/three works well answering another question doesn't it?)

Yes, of course, all three readings make one great answer. But it is the promise that particularly draws me in. And I hope it draws you, as it yields Peace surpassing understanding, that guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

-Permission granted by Pr. Kevin Martin.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A selection from the Book of Concord...

The following is taken from the Smalcald Articles written by Martin Luther.  The Smalcald Articles can be found in the Book of Concord.  You can follow this link to find an online version.

The following teaching/ writing from Dr. Luther is, in my opinion, paramount.  Jesus alone is who takes away the sin of the world.  We have no part in it at all.  Our works are as filthy rags.  We are spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses.  We are in rebellion towards God and His holiness.  But in His great mercy, He has provided redemption through Christ and Him crucified.


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THE SECOND PART

Treats of the Articles which Refer to the Office and Work of Jesus Christ, or Our Redemption.

Part II, Article I: The first and chief article.


1] That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25.

2] And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53:6.

3] Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3:23f

4] Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ.

5] Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Liturgy. . .




I have recently started on a book by Dr. Arthur Just called Heaven On Earth:  The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service.  The back cover gives a basic summary when it states:

God does not need our worship, praise, or service.  But we do need His service, His presence, and His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Whatever praise we give to God, whatever honor is due His name, is our response to God's service to us.

In my brief time in a confessional, liturgical Lutheran congregation, I have learned a bit of the benefits the Divine Service offers.  What wonderful gifts God offers us in the Divine Service.  My history is a bit like Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk.  He passed away just over a year ago (April 5, 2010).  He had a significant impact on my journey through the evangelical wilderness, as he coined it.  This 'journey' has taken me from a Baptist/ Charismatic/ Pentecostal background to a very confessional Lutheran place.  And I am extremely thankful.  I think Mr. Spencer nails it with his take on liturgy that you read on his blog at this link.  The following is a few paragraphs from that post that I especially identified with, and that I wanted to share with my readers...

I grew up fearing any church that didn't resemble a tent revival. The first time I went to a Roman Catholic worship service, I was so scared and confused that I walked out. When everyone headed up front for the mass, I thought it was the invitation, and it seemed a good time to duck out. The stress of trying to figure out kneelers was too much for me.


Even Methodist churches frightened me. I simply didn't understand what was going on in the simplest liturgies, and I assumed it was bad for real Christians to be around it. "Good" was evangelistic revivalism, and all the efforts expended to get people down to the altar, or even better, up there "testifying'" of how they got saved. (My Episcopal friend was just as confused by our Baptist services, but he handled it far better than me. I never found the courage to even visit his church.)

Today, revivalism scares me to death, and the comfortable predictability of the common liturgy is home for me and my family. When ministers start "winging it" and talking about what has God laid on their hearts, I want to go out the back door. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer ought to be the law of the land as far as I am concerned.

My friends often talk about liturgical churches as if they were dens of open Satanism. There dead, phony Christians, bound in Papist chains of tradition and quenching the Spirit at every opportunity, sit frozen, worshiping God in a box and considering themselves the only real Christians. Meanwhile, down at the Free Pentecostal Last-Days Assembly and Revival Center, real Christians, free in the Spirit, get high on Jesus, get saved every Sunday and see God working miracles at every service. Shambala-shingi.
I've quit trying to explain myself to these people. Having "been there, done that" as a naive Charismatic during my high school years, I know how convinced these folks are that liturgical churches are wrong, and that anything genuine must be extemporaneous. But I think I need to go on the record with what I've found in the liturgical tradition, and why I've taken my children away from revivalism and helped them find their way into a church that purposely avoids the very things I valued most for years as a Baptist.

I'm not sure I've quit trying to explain myself as Mr. Spencer had.  I do want to share the treasure I have found in the Divine Service, the liturgy, and the Lutheran confessions.  Christ and Him crucified.  How our salvation is not found in our hearts and our subjective feelings, but how the Holy Trinity invades our world and provides the ways and the means of grace.  Our righteousness is alien.  In that, I mean that we have nothing... NOTHING...  to do with our salvation and our righteousness before God.  It is Christ crucified and resurrected for our sins.  Christ's presence is given to us in Baptism, the Word spoken and in hearing it, and His body and blood in the Lord's Supper.  This is something we can trust.
Is this for me?  I am forgiven and set free!  I do believe that I receive His very body and His blood.
O taste and see-- the Lord is good.  -LSB 629:5  -What Is This Bread

Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  - Matthew 20:26-28

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?

Me and my family joined in on this past Wednesday's Lenten service at Our Savior Lutheran in Raleigh.  As somewhat of a newbie still to the Lutheran church, I am still learning many of the hymns.  We sang this most spectacular hymn which is new to me.  I think I have found my new favorite hymn.  This truly speaks of Christ's work.  How I have nothing to do with my redemption.  My hope is found in Him, and nothing else.



Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)

1)Why should cross and trial grieve me?

   Christ is near with his cheer;
   Never will he leave me.
   Who can rob me of the heaven
   That God’s Son for me won
   When his life was given?

2)When life's troubles rise to meet me,
    Though their weight may be great,
    They will not defeat me.
    God, my loving Savior, sends them;
    He who knows all my woes
    Knows how best to end them.

3)God gives me my days of gladness,
   And I will trust Him still
   When He sends me sadness.
   God is good; His love attends me
   Day by day, come what may
   Guides me and defends me.

4)From God's joy can nothing sever,
   For I am His dear lamb,
   He my Shepherd ever.
   I am His because He gave me
   His own blood for my good,
   By His death to save me.

5)Now in Christ, death cannot slay me,
   Though it might, day and night
   Trouble and dismay me.
   Christ has made my death a portal
   From the strife of this life
   To His joy immortal!

          --Paul Gerhardt

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Prayer in time of worry....

Lord, with my anxious cares and troubles I come to You, trusting in Your Word and believing in Your promises. You know that I have been greatly upset by the worries, fears, and doubts of the day. You must be my strength and refuge if I am to find peace of mind and healing for my body. Uphold me with Your almighty arm.

I am not worthy of Your love and mercy, for I have sinned and often done evil in Your sight. Blot out all my transgressions through Christ’s precious blood. Fill my soul with peace. Give me the grace to put all my trust in You.  Teach me, Lord, to believe Your Word. Remind me that my troubles are not from You. They are the curse of my sinful nature. But I know that You know that curse of sin, for Jesus bore it on the cross for me, that I might have victory over it. Help me to trust the promise of salvation and with it all Your other promises, especially Your promise “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Let these things sustain me in my daily struggle.

Let your healing hand rest upon me day after day. Keep my family and me in Your saving grace, and abide with us all the days of our lives; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Evangelism through the lens of confessional Lutheranism...

I wanted to share the following post from Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller from his blog, The World Wide Wolfmueller:

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It a common misconception that “Lutherans don’t do Evangelism”. This is not true. What is true is that when Lutheran go about the business of evangelism, they often abandon their Lutheran doctrine. These theses are an attempt to begin with our Lutheran theology and paint a picture of what Evangelism is and is not. Your feed back is welcome. -Pastor Wolfmueller




1.The Scriptures rightly understood give all glory to God and all comfort to terrified consciences. False doctrine does the opposite, either taking glory from God or comfort from the conscience, or both.

2.Natural man is blind, dead, and an enemy of God (Anthropology, Original Sin), and therefore cannot cooperate with God in conversion. It must be stated plainly that the will of man plays no part in conversion. Therefore all attempts to induce an emotional response for God (and other such revival shenanigans) will be carefully avoided. Never would an unbeliever be told that he must “accept Jesus” or “receive Him” or “open his heart” or “pray a prayer.” Such things are impossible. Any discussion of evangelism that speaks or implies man’s cooperation takes glory from God and robs consciences of comfort.

3.Moreover, natural man is hostile to God (Original Sin again). Therefore the Lutheran church expects persecution of the Lord’s Word and His people.

4.God alone redeems, justifies and converts sinful man (Monergism). Because conversion is God’s work, we should pay attention to how He does it (rather than making stuff up).

5.The Holy Spirit creates faith (Sanctification in the broad sense, the Third Article of the Creed). The Lutheran Church therefore lives in the confidence of faith, knowing that the coming of the Lord’s kingdom depends not on her own efforts, but on the free work of the Holy Spirit. The evangelism efforts of the Lord’s church begin with prayer to God who desires all to be saved, and trusts that He hears and answers this prayer.

6.And more, the Holy Spirit creates faith “when and where it pleases Him”, not when it pleases us. This means, among other things, that it is impossible to judge mission faithfulness through numbers.

7.The Holy Spirit uses means to convert man (what we often call “the means of grace”, but what our confessions call “the means of the Spirit”). The means of the Spirit is the word of God, through which He shows our sin (Law) and promises forgiveness (Gospel). There are no other means of the Spirit, there are therefore no other means of evangelism.

8.Correspondingly, repentance embraces two parts: contrition and faith. Both contrition and faith are the works of the Holy Spirit, meaning that man is passive in this work of the Holy Spirit. (“Repent” is a command kept only by the work of the Holy Spirit.) The distinction between law and Gospel is at the heart of everything the church does, says, etc. We can judge mission faithfulness on the Gospel rightly preached and the sacrament rightly administered. Any wrongly divided law and Gospel is not properly the work of Evangelism.

9.Furthermore, the proper distinction between law and Gospel is a personal and individual distinction. As Luther taught us, the Law is for the proud and puffed-up, the Gospel for the despairing. This means that evangelism cannot be programmatic or scripted, but that the conversation between the church and the unbeliever will include listening and an attempt to discern the condition of the person to apply the proper word of God at the proper time.

10.Even furthermore, this means that “Evangelism Training” will be nothing more than continued study and meditation on the proper distinction between law and Gospel.

11.The Word of God, being the means of the Holy Spirit in creating faith in the heart of sinful man, is effective. It is a false and dangerous tendency to treat the Word of God as mere information that only has benefit when accepted and acted upon (as is the case with American Evangelicalism). The Gospel is the authoritative declaration of sins forgiven (Absolution). In fact, 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.

12.Through the Sacraments, as through the Word, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith. The Lutheran Church therefore recognizes the central role of baptism in the evangelism of the world. It is impossible to talk about evangelism Biblically without speaking about the Lord’s gift of baptism.

13.The means of grace are resistible. Therefore the Church expects rejection. Furthermore, the Lutheran church resists the temptation to look for “more efficient means” of evangelism, as if we could find something less resistible than the divinely appointed means.

14.A Christian is still a sinner in need of the Lord’s mercy. Therefore the church, knowing her own sin and the superabundant grace of God, gladly welcomes sinners into her midst to hear of the Lord’s love and mercy. A church/congregation without this hospitality has lost her first love.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Good Reminder...

A good reminder from Rev. Eric Brown at Confessional Gadfly: Blizzard Post:

I know I haven't posted much lately (I did make this blog post over at 4 and 20 Blackbirds because. . . well, it's been snowy and things have been slow.  But let me tell you what I've been pondering. Activity and Passivity. I'm not going to write too much because a lot of these ideas are going to come out in this Sunday's sermons.

We can want to be so active - we can want to define who we are by what we do.  That's fine for life in the world - that's fine when it comes to our loving our neighbor. But when dealing with God, we are to be passive - we are to be still. We aren't to be the doers - we are to be those who hear what Christ has done. We aren't to be the talkers, we are to hear the Words of Christ. We aren't to do do do, we receive our Lord's Body and Blood because He has done it all.

So, if you too are snowed in, and you see the piles of things that could be done... relax. Read a bit of Scripture - listen to the Word of God. Relax, be refreshed by Christ, and delight in Him.

- Rev. Eric Brown of the Confessional Gadfly blog

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reverse Progress

I want to share an excerpt from a book I'm reading by Dr. John Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace:  Spirituality for Today.
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The self-sacrificial death of Christ shapes our spiritual life and gives our lives their paradoxical character.  So Christ's sacrifice reverses and revises all common notions of spiritual progress.

We all, quite understandably, long for some evidence of spiritual development and improvement, for some clear proof that we are on the right track as disciples of Christ.  Nothing is more discouraging than failure, the sense that we are bogged down and are getting nowhere in our spiritual journey.  The image that appeals to me most is the picture of my life as a spiritual journey from darkness to the light (Prov. 4:18) as I go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7) and from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Yet this progressive understanding of the spiritual life is not backed up by my experience and by the teaching of the New Testament.  There is progress in the spiritual life, but it is a kind of reverse or paradoxical progress, our baptismal progress out of our old selves and into Christ.

You may remember that the Lord God appeared to His people at Mount Sinai.  That encounter was His great theophany.  His foundational appearance to the children of Israel.  Yet it happened in a strange way.  His glory, His visible gracious presence, was veiled in a cloud that was dark by day and bright at night.  He concealed Himself in that deep dark cloud so that He could reveal Himself safely while speaking.  So, from a human point of view, the closer they came to Him, the deeper they came into the darkness.  Thus in Exodus 20:21 we read that "the people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was."

The journey of Moses into God's presence is an apt symbol for the odd progress in our spiritual life:  the progress takes us through the darkness, rather than from the darkness, into the light of God.  As we mature in faith, we move away from pride in ourselves and our own achievements to a gradual awareness of our spiritual failure and Christ's work in us as we entrust ourselves to Him.  We move away from the conviction that we are self-sufficient to the repeated experience of spiritual bankruptcy.  We move on from delusions of our spiritual importance to a growing sense of our utter insignificance and the glory of God.  We move on from delight in our own power to the painful recognition of our spiritual weakness.  We are brought from our self-righteousness to the increasing consciousness that we are sinful.  In each of these painful realizations, we recognize the glory of God.  Christ fills our emptiness and justifies us by grace.  In short, the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In our human lives, growing up involves the gradual shift from dependence to independence.  But the reverse is true for us as we grow spiritually.  On our journey we become more and more dependent on Christ for everything in every situation.  We do not then proceed from childhood to adulthood; we move forward into spiritual childhood as we grow in faith and become people of prayer.  Hence Jesus tells us to become as little children to receive our full royal inheritance as sons and daughters of God (Matthew 18:3).  As we mature in faith we learn to borrow all we need and all that we are from Christ.  Only as beggars do we have access to the Father's presence and His grace.  Only as we receive grace upon grace from His fullness (John 1:16) can we praise Him in the heavenly choir (Ephesians 1:3-14).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church - Now on Video

Found on the New Reformation Press website.

I have listened to this audio a few times...  it has been a breath of fresh air while in the midst of the evangelical circus here in America... This takes a few minutes, but is well worth your time.




Dr. Rod Rosenbladt on "The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church" from Faith Lutheran Church on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dumbfounded...

This whole series about the Apostles' Creed didn't go as planned...  and in my opinion really goofed on the whole thing as far as me wanting to make a point that I was completely unsuccessful at doing.

I spent all this time trying to get to a point that I never got to. Upon completion of  this very weak attempt at getting to the point, I then find this blog from another site that details every last bit of what I was thinking.  Just minutes after finishing my blog series.  One that should have never happened.

I wished I had not tortured the two or three readers that I have with the rabble I presented.  So with that being said, I highly recommend you read the following blog post (instead of the dribble I have written in earlier posts) from Pastor Peters of Grace Lutheran Church in Clarksville, TN.  I understand there is not much conversation on my blog, but I would really love to hear some feedback on this topic.  Here is the post:


Why I am not in favor of evangelism...

I hope the title got your attention. It was meant to be provocative. In part because the whole nature of the Church's mission has been co-opted by those who believe that we are here to bring non-believers into a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the kind of the stuff I hear all the time (even from within my own church body). I will say it bluntly. That is not the job of the Church. We exist to draw others into the community of faith through the means of grace by which faith is born, people die and rise with Christ in baptism, sins are forgiven, hearts and minds are nurtured for the kingdom of God, and they are fed and nourished upon the bread which is Christ's body and the cup which is His blood.




I cannot trace when it happened but at some point in time evangelism became an abstraction. It became a program or a direction seemingly unrelated to the Church as the community of faith and the Body of Christ. Somehow Christians began to get the idea that a relationship with God was possible apart from and outside the realm of the Church, the assembly of God's people around the Word and Sacraments through which God has promised to work His saving work for us and for all who will be saved. The point is not to figure out where this mistaken idea came from but to confess that it has predominated our thinking as Lutheran Christians for some time.



We felt the need to set up evangelism committees and board structures to handle this work of evangelism. In some cases, we identified specific individuals with the gift of being an evangelist and removed from the faithful the task of witness and left them with worship, prayer, mercy, and service. (Recall of the Abdon plan and constitution?) They were not angry by the removal of this part of their baptismal calling -- even somewhat relieved since they saw evangelism through the eyes of the fundamentalists and evangelicals who knocked on doors and wondered what would happen to those folks if they died tonight -- a distinctly un-Lutheran question.



Lutherans about this time began to see Sunday morning in a different light and wanted the worship service to be accessible to and warm and friendly for all who showed up -- no matter how far they were from the kingdom of God. Lutherans began to watch how Billy Graham packed them down through the altar call and heard some of those who prayed so sincerely the sinner's prayer and were almost ashamed and embarrassed at their own liturgy, hymnody, and focus on the means of grace.



Collver also spoke about the witness of the Church, her mission, not as abstract love for and seeking after the salvation of souls but the specific and concrete mission which brings the sinner into the domain of our Lord's saving mercy through the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments, the means of grace that alone deliver Christ's gifts to the sinner. In other words the mission of the Church is to bring people not into some abstract relationship with Jesus but into the concrete relationship founded not on feeling or choice but upon a specific font, pulpit, and table.



All of the people of God are called to witness -- not just those who show the aptitude for it. None of us can escape the call and responsibility to give account of the hope that is within us and to locate the source of that hope in the Gospel the flows from the means of grace -- Word, water, and table -- of a specific place. It is not that evangelism is wrong but the idea of an evangelism that is concerned about the souls of people without being concerned with their life in the community of God's people gathered around His Word and table.



The people of the world wonder about a Christian who wants to share a product but without sharing where the product is to be found. If I tell someone about a great frozen pizza I found and leave them to feed on this pizza in their heart without sharing where this pizza can be found and what is its name, I have given them nothing at all. As Lutheran Christians we believe, and we believe that this is the true apostolic and catholic faith, that God works through His means of grace, He does what He has promised to do where He has placed His promise. So it can never be our goal to tell them about Jesus unless we bring them to the Church where Jesus is present in His Word and Sacraments, doing what He has pledged and promised to do. We cannot allow evangelism to be disjointed from the task of bringing people into the Church where the Word is rightly proclaimed (the Law/Gospel dialectic is most helpful here) and where the Sacraments are administered according to Christ's command and institution.



We do this not out of guilt or duty but because it is our joyful and grateful response to what God has done for us in Christ, because of our confidence in God's efficacious Word and Sacraments, because we know where Christ has located Himself in these means of grace, and because the Church is not some affinity group but the called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified people of God in Christ -- who is not content with the 99 who are present but continually seeks after the lost one that he or she may be found. Far from being a burden, this is the natural outgrowth of our life together around these means of grace -- to tell everyone what He has done, to proclaim the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and to make sure every brother and sister knows, "we have found the Messiah (Christ)."



The truth is I do not have the foggiest idea how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ apart from the Word and Sacraments in which Christ has hidden Himself and revealed Himself. Unless I am completely mistaken, the only way to know Christ is to know Him where and as He has chosen to make Himself known. It is for this reason we keep saying "means of grace" -- not because it is some confessional mantra. The only grace we know is the grace made known to us in the Word of the Cross, the water of life, the voice of absolution, and the bread and wine of His table. It is not here or somewhere else. It is here or nowhere else.

The Apostles' Creed Part IV The Third Article

The Third Article.

Of Sanctification.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?--Answer.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
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Let me summarize this bit of a series on the Apostles' Creed and the discussion on monergism vs. synergism.  Most churches and pastors will teach, on the surface, that Creation and our redemption from sin was something that God did on His own.  God the Father created the heavens and the earth.  As a Christian, this is orthodox belief.  Additionally, because of our sin, we have separated ourselves from God and we are in need of redemption.  Many churches will, at least in passing, say something to the effect of Christ being crucified and resurrected for our sins to bring about salvation.

Here we get to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Luther's explanation of this article of the Creed is simple, to the point, and accurate.  It is the Holy Spirit that has called me to the Gospel.  It is He who enlightens, redeems, sanctifies, and keeps me in the true faith.  Paul summaries this point in Romans 10:10-21:
10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
This should be of great comfort.  Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.  When ever God's law is preached along with comforting salve of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit brings about faith.  That is a promise.  His coming to us in the Word is all His doing, not ours.  It is something we completely receive.  We rely on God for our salvation and our sanctification.

This is what I found really intriguing.  Paul writes of Isaiah asking of God, "Have they not heard."  God responds:  "Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world."

God's word has gone out.  We have been commissioned to proclaim the gospel.  Repentance and forgiveness of sins.  But our job is not to proselytize, to convert others.  That's the job of the Holy Spirit.  I think it is fair to assume, He is more than capable of revealing the gospel.  God's law is proclaimed.  And then His gospel.  The good news that Christ has died for our sins.  The Holy Spirit gives faith through the hearing of the word, and through the Sacraments.

We, as believers, are to place #1 priority on God's action over our action.  Ours is a completely receptive spirituality that rejoices in receiving all the gifts of God on His terms.  Our role is to completely trust God.  And that is the thing we are unable to do without God extending His grace to us.  The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we cannot. We cannot because we are spiritually, dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him from the dead.

In this series, I have belabored the point of monergism and how God acts on our behalf.  This is something that once we grasp and understand, the Gospel becomes so much sweeter.  I want to return to God's Word and then a quote from the Augburg Confession to finalize these thoughts:
   But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) . . . that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
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, 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)


From the Augsburg Confession from the Book of Concord, Lutherans believe, teach, and confess the following:
So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22].  He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.  This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake.  (AC V 1-3)

Praise be to our heavenly father!  For while we were yet sinners and actively in rebellion towards God, in His most perfect love, Christ came and died for us!

Peace to you.