Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Be Not Terrified by Ocean and Whale

From Luther’s lectures on Jonah in 1526, here discussing chapter 4, verses 1 and 2:
That Jonah is sent from the land of the Jews into a foreign country symbolizes that the Spirit and God’s Word were to be taken from the Jewish people and bestowed on the Gentiles. Thus Christ says in Matt. 21:43: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it, etc.” Jonah’s flight and the perils he encountered on the sea represent the cross and the persecution which the Gospel will experience in the world. It appears as though the Christian ministry were taking to flight, perishing, and vanishing from the scene. It seems so frail over against the fury of the world, since the persons administering the office are fugitives, that is, feeble and insignificant people. The ocean is the world, vast and mighty with its raging billows. The whale is gruesome and terrifying with its jaws and teeth. This animal represents the prince and god of the world, the devil, who ruthlessly murders and kills through his princes and great lords, etc. But despite all of these, Jonah is preserved mightily by God’s power, and his message cannot be frustrated either by his own flight or by the ocean’s fury, but it makes its way and penetrates into Nineveh. Thus, though pastors may be weak and the world powerful, God’s Word, the holy Gospel, is still mightier, and no obstacles can impede its progress. And even if all pastors were to be devoured, the Gospel will make its way into the world all the better and transform the world. It is consoling for us to observe that this was the experience of the apostles. And we, too, must not be terrified by ocean and whale, convinced that our Word or Gospel is mightier than all else.

Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 19: Minor Prophets II: Jonah and Habakkuk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1974). 19:97.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

Michael Weatherly
The CBS hit television show NCIS is a “cop show” featuring the Naval Criminal Investigative Service that often has more twists and turns than San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street. The show’s most recognizable star is Mark Harmon, who plays the lead investigator, and it frequently has well known guest stars, such as last week’s appearance of Robert Wagner.

The November 15 episode of NCIS had an amazing 19.9 million viewers. The episode, titled “Engaged, Part II,” includes an interesting scene featuring the always entertaining Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, played by actor Michael Weatherly. The witty, confident, skirt chasing Tony has a usually hidden insecure side as well. In this episode, Tony enters the Navy base chapel looking for the Chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Melanie Burke, played by Jaime Ray Newman (to discuss business, not spiritual matters). The chapel is empty, affording Tony a rather quizzical conversation with a god that’s familiar to a lot of people – Satan wearing the mask of God:
Commander? Chaplain Burke? Hello? Anybody here?
And then, in his best Cool Hand Luke voice:
“Anybody here?” Cool Hand Luke. Of course you knew that. You know I could have used you a couple of months ago. I got my head scrambled pretty good. Of course I understand you’re a busy guy. We haven’t talked much. It’s my bad. [Picks up a Bible that’s lying on the floor.] I’m doing the best I can down here you know… for a DiNozzo. Hopefully living up to my end of the bargain. You do remember our bargain? Be nice to hear from you. So you have a plan? Anything you wanna share with me? How ‘bout you let me know I’m on the right track. How ‘bout you let me know I’m not talking to myself. You are so predictable.
And once again, Cool Hand Luke:
“Well I guess what we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Tony isn’t on the right track. He’s been duped by Satan. The devil loves to preach a compelling Gospel of works, and he’s a very effective preacher. He can preach with the best of them. He’ll be more than happy to tell you all about how you should help the little old lady across the street and give to your favorite charity - just as long as you’re not relying on Jesus Christ.

Satan is the god of this world. He blinds the minds of unbelievers with a clever deception, one that is very believable, and Tony is buying into it. If you’re good, you’ll get to heaven. If you just try, do your best, everything will be all right. Satan leans over you as he tucks you into bed at night, wearing God’s mask, but his lullaby is fatal. Putting your trust in your own works cannot save. You really aren’t good enough, because God expects perfection. As the saying goes, God doesn’t grade on a curve.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Funerals—“Everyone a Preacher”

The following post is written by my good friend Joe Strieter.  He addresses a topic that isn't brought up all that frequently, the funeral, and specifically the funeral sermon.  I'm sure you'll enjoy Joe's insightful comments, on this, the First Monday in Advent.


On his 76th birthday, my friend Tom died. We had enjoyed a warm relationship that went back ten years to the building of a major addition to his church (Lutheran), he as chairman of the building committee, I as the builder’s representative. My wife and I attended his funeral in the church that he had helped to plan and that I had helped to get built, even down to the details necessary for funerals. I once heard a pastor say about funerals, “This is where the Lutheran Church shines.” Our expectations were high.

As we entered the nearly-full nave, we heard a piano being masterfully played. Tom had a rich baritone voice, and he had done a lot of solo work, some in our church. The pre-service music consisted of songs he had sung over the years, concluding with “The Lord’s Prayer,” and the pianist did the music more than justice. The service began as the pastors processed. “Christ is arisen!” the senior pastor proclaimed. “He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!” thundered the thrilling response. We heard the comforting words of Romans 6: “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death” “It wouldn’t have been a proper funeral without those words,” I thought, and looked forward to hearing more.

Then we sang “You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore,” a song that seemed somewhat out of place at a funeral service. But I thought that perhaps it was one of Tom’s favorites—he had probably chosen it himself, and it had a pleasant melody, so why not? There were still more readings: from John 14, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” and from Revelation 21, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth…” The pastor then asked us to join him in reciting the twenty-third psalm, a very moving experience, as the packed church said the familiar words from the King James: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…”

After “On Eagles Wings” the pastor began: “Every place I look around in here, I see Tom.” So did I. We had worked together for two years, as he led, directed, pushed, and cajoled the building project into completion. It was fitting to begin there. Tom had left his mark in that very place in many ways. The pastor continued for a few minutes then said, “It would be a comfort to me, and I’m sure to you, if anyone would like to say a few words about Tom.” He then left the pulpit.

After hearing those profound words of Scripture, was this to be the comfort we were to receive? One after another, people got up and “shared”: some from the pews, some stepping to the front, one person speaking from the pulpit, another even leaning on the altar as he spoke. (We were even treated to two “encores.”) A few were serious, but it seemed that most of the sharing was supposed to make us laugh—comic relief, rather than comfort for grief. I remember but one person who talked about Tom’s faith and none who spoke of the hope of the resurrection, not even the pastor. The proceedings had a “one-upmanship” quality, as it seemed each speaker tried to outdo the previous one. (Upon reflection, this sharing seemed more a “roast” than a eulogy.) 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Smile, It's Friday

Put three marshmallows on your forehead and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of your day, because of course, you'll be too busy keeping those marshmallows up there.























photo credit: image415

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

    "O Lord God, Heavenly Father, from whom without ceasing we receive exceeding abundantly all good gifts, and who daily of Thy pure grace guardest us against all evil: grant us, we beseech Thee, Thy Holy Spirit, that, acknowledging with our whole heart all this Thy goodness, we may now and evermore thank and praise Thy loving-kindness and tender mercy; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen."

Quoted from Liturgy andAgenda: Abridged Edition (St. Louis: CPH, 1918) 37.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Getting Rid of Those Stuffy “Liturgy Books”

I stumbled across this article at BixbyBulletin.com while looking for something a little more edifying. The article is the third in a series about storefront churches in Bixby, Oklahoma, written by Jo-Ann Jennings. This one is about Lord of Life Lutheran Church (LCMS). I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Here’s the opening two paragraphs of the article:
If the word Lutheran causes you to think “black suit, white shirt, and polished shoes,” banish the thought. Vicar Jonathan Schultz has brought Lord of Life Lutheran Church to Bixby with praise and song. The once well-known liturgy books have been tucked away, and any reading or singing which needs to be done is on the wall in front of the congregation. “We want people with their heads up, worshipping Christ!” Schultz says with a huge smile. Not only that, but during the week, the church, in Cross Creek Shopping Center behind Bill and Ruth’s, is a coffee shop. One of Schultz biggest dreams-in-progress would be the ability to pick up a bus load of kids from a nearby trailer park and take them to the church in summer where they would be cool and have [sic] supervisor.

Schultz came to Bixby because of a vision of a Lutheran synod president who wanted to reach 100 million people by the year 2017. He looked at the globe to determine where to start. The US was to have 2,000 new Lutheran churches; Oklahoma, 12; Tulsa, six. “I am the second one,” Schultz said.
You can read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Confession and Absolution: Is It Optional?

Quoting from Pastor David H. Petersen's article titled "Renewal" in the Michaelmas 2011 Gottesdienst:
Private confession and absolution may be optional for the laity, but it is certainly not optional for the clergy.  No one can teach the Small Catechism and abstain from this gift without being a hypocrite, any more than he can teach the Small Catechism and abstain from the Lord's Supper or from having his children baptized.  But beyond the obvious goodness of being absolved, the preacher learns something of humility and sorrow in confession.  He remembers what it is to be on the other side, to be at someone else's mercy, to need someone else to say the words, to not have the answers and to depend on someone else.  Preachers who forget this, and we are all prone to forgetting this, preach in generalities.

Our preachers also need to hear confession.  Hearing confession is more humbling than making confession.  It changes the character of the pastoral relationship.  It deepens it.  God makes us pastors by the call and ordination.  But nothing "makes" us, in our minds, the pastor of an individual like this most intimate and pastoral relationship.  It changes the way we think about our people.  Parishioners might be surprised by this: no father confessor hearing the sins of his people becomes disgusted or angry.  I repeat: the penitent's sins do not disgust or anger the confessor.  Rather, hearing confession makes pastors sympathetic.  It puts the preacher on the penitent's side.

Whether the people come or not, the pastor should have regularly scheduled, published times for confession.  Even if the people don't come, the pastor is forced to contemplate his office and to pray for the people.  And eventually, they will come.

photo credit: loafingcoot

Monday, November 21, 2011

Darwin vs. Beauty: The End of the Argument


Psalm 104:24 "O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures."


Dr. Jonathan Witt, in his article in the latest Christian Research Journal (v. 34/no. 05) titled “Darwin vs. Beauty: Explaining Away the Butterfly,” points out the absurdity of Charles Darwin’s attempt to explain “instances of extravagant natural beauty” through his theory of sexual selection. “There Darwin argued, in essence, that the peacock has an extravagant tail, Shakespeare an extravagant gift for spinning tales, and Mozart an extravagant ability to compose, the better to attract a mate.”

Later on in the article, Dr. Witt comments that
A second and more wide-ranging way that Darwinian reductionism* is less than fully rational is in its commitment to the principle of methodological materialism. This is the investigative rule that says that investigators may consider only theories fully consistent with atheism. (It’s not usually described this starkly, but that’s what it boils down to.) According to the dictates of methodological materialism, if the extravagant beauty of butterflies or birds, if the origin of life or the universe or the fine tuning of the laws and constants of nature, if any of these features of our world points strongly toward a creative intelligence beyond the purely material, the flow of the evidence must be resisted.

This is what passes for scientific rationality in our age. But it isn’t hard-nosed realism at all. It’s priggish dogmatism. It’s the man in the seat beside you at a Beethoven concert insisting that everything you’re hearing is only so many notes, which are only so many sound waves, which are only so many perturbations among so many gaseous molecules amidst the machinery of your eardrum, the whole experience a curious stew of physics and sexual selection working its soulless magic on a delusional audience. The prig has talked all about the parts but has missed the whole—has missed the genius.
Fortunately, there aren’t that many people in the world who are so obtuse that they can’t appreciate the butterfly metamorphosing from creepy crawler into winged marvel. While 39% of Americans believe in evolution, 92% of Americans believe there is a God. We simply need roll back in our cubicle and glance out the window to know that this is so. No amount of methodological materialism can prevent this discovery of God, because God Himself reveals it to us:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20 ESV
In the face of theories of evolution or the big bang, Christians need not feel inadequate because we don’t have “all the answers” in an empirically demonstrable way. Modern science is no threat to Christianity, and is in fact an ally. In some ways, the further we dig scientifically the less we find we know. Our explanatory power as creatures can’t hold up against God’s creation. We still can’t explain the nature of light, a verity which was pointed out by the Lord God Almighty to Job millennia ago:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lovely Las Vegas

Here's a few photos from a recent layover in Las Vegas.  Maybe not quite as glamorous as the TV commercials would have you believe.




Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pastoral Care for Former Evangelicals by Pastor Jeremy Rhode



The recently concluded series on pastoral care for former evangelicals with Pastor Jeremy Rhode on Issues, Etc. was one of the best series ever to grace the airwaves. It doesn’t matter who you are, Evangelical, Lutheran, Catholic, Pentecostal, Reformed, or other, these six segments are top notch. They delve into Evangelical theology, explaining the differences between Evangelicalism and Lutheranism, all the while highlighting the liberating doctrine that Lutheranism offers. You’ll be richly rewarded for your time.

Part 1: Discerning the Will of God, 8-3-11

Part 2: In Remembrance of Me, discussing the Lord’s Supper, 8-17-11

Part 3: The Office of the Pastor, 8-24-11

Part 4: This is My Body, 9-14-11

Part5: The Christian Life, 9-21-11

Part 6: The Divine Service, 10-26-11

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Something to Chew On

A couple years back we were reading through Augsburg Confession Article VII at the dinner table:
1 Our churches teach that one holy Church is to remain forever. The Church is the congregation of saints [Psalm 149:1] in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. 2 For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. 3 It is not necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies instituted by men, should be the same everywhere. 4 As Paul says, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5–6).
Our daughter asked a good question. If the Church exists where the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered, what about where the Gospel isn’t purely taught, or the Sacraments aren’t correctly administered? Are those people outside the Church, and therefore not saved? Dr. C.F.W. Walther answers her question very nicely in Thesis XI of his essay The Evangelical Lutheran Church the True Visible Church of God on Earth, this portion delivered to the 12th Eastern District Convention in 1867.
 
Here’s Walther’s answer: 
…You will find the true church wherever the Word of God is being used (im Schwange geht). Also among the sects the distinguishing marks [that tell us] whether and that there still exists a church, a band of believers, are not their heresies, but the remaining essential pieces of the pure Word of God. In other words, the pure Word always remains the distinguishing mark of the church, of all believers.
Question:
Is the church really mutilated among the sects, because they do not teach the Word of God in all its truth and purity?

Answer:
No, not the church but only the marks of the church are mutilated.

Objection:
But Art. VII says nothing about the church still existing where the Word of God is only partially proclaimed, but not in all its truth and purity!

Response:
A definition attempts to describe a thing the way it should be; that is also how the church is here described, according to its ideal condition, as it should be; but that is not to say that the church no longer exists where these distinctive marks are not present in all their pristine clarity and purity. For example, if you were to describe a human being according to the ideal state, you would say something like this: “Man is a physical-spiritual creature, capable of making rational judgments.” That is a description of man as he should be. But thereby we do not deny that also someone who is incapable of making rational judgments, or one who has not yet fully developed this capability (e.g., a child), is also a human being. It would be absurd to say: “A human being is a physical-spiritual creature which is occasionally unable to make rational judgments, or which occasionally has only one leg or one arm.” It would have been equally absurd if our forefathers had described the church as follows: “The church is present wherever the Word of God is not preached in all of its truth and purity.” In addition to that, the following Art. VIII of the Augsburg Confession already makes it clear that the church is not always as perfect as it is ideally described in Art. VII. (Italics are Walther’s emphasis; brackets were added by the editor.) C.F.W. Walther, Essays for the Church, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: CPH, 1992) 151. 
We can rejoice that there are Christians outside of our own communion, and at the same time long for the day when we will all be united in faith and doctrine, gathered before the Lamb in the midst of the throne.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Contrasting Lutheran Worship with Evangelical Worship

Quoting from Dr. David L. Adams paper “Evangelical Lutheranism and Lutheran Evangelicalism":
 A second area in which there is a growing divide between Evangelical Lutheranism and Lutheran Evangelicalism in the Missouri Synod is in the area of worship.  I am not here to re-hash arguments about contemporary music, the employment of liturgy, or the use of a hymnal, as important as those topics are.  Rather, I suggest that the most important distinction between Evangelical Lutheranism and Lutheran Evangelicalism in the area of worship is the difference over the fundamental theological understanding of what worship is.

For Evangelical Lutheranism worship is a divine dialogue in which God speaks to us and gives his gifts through the Word and sacraments.  We, the people of God, gather in His presence at his beckoning to receive those gifts in faith and respond in praise and thanksgiving.  However – and this is of fundamental importance – Evangelical Lutheranism understands that the response of the people of God in worship is to be normed by God through the gifts of God. 

What does this understanding of worship as divine dialogue mean in practical terms?  First, it means that the worship ‘event’ of the Christian congregation is primarily for the congregation.  That is to say, it is the people of God who gather together in worship.   For this reason, as you doubtless know, the early church restricted the participation in worship of non-Christians and (in some cases) catechumens.  Second, the understanding that the response of the people of God in worship is normed by God through His gifts has important implications for the form that the Church’s worship takes.  In practical terms, this means that the words that the Church speaks in response to what God has done are primarily cast in the words of Scripture.  We speak Christ’s words in response.  Thus worship is a divine dialogue in which Christ speaks to us and Christ speaks in us.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Bible in Stone? The Jehovah’s Witness’ Errant Biblical Timeline Based on the Great Pyramid

Did you know that the pillar referred to in Isaiah 19:19-20 is actually the Great Pyramid?
In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. Isaiah 19:19-20 ESV
Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, believed that
The Great Pyramid, however, proves to be a storehouse of important truth—scientific, historic and prophetic—and its testimony is found to be in perfect accord with the Bible, expressing the prominent features of its truths in beautiful and fitting symbols (314-15). (All quotes come from Thy Kingdom Come, 1908 edition, written by Charles Taze Russell)

While its outward form illustrates the completed results of God’s Plan of Redemption, the inner construction marks and illustrates every prominent feature of that plan as it has developed from age to age, down to its glorious and complete consummation (330).
He also believed that “The old theory that it was built as a vault or tomb for an Egyptian king is unworthy of credence; for, as we shall see, it required more than the wisdom of the present day, to say nothing of that of Egypt four thousand years ago, to design such a structure” (319). Of course, he’s dead wrong in that speculation, since the Great Pyramid was built for Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek).

How is God’s plan of redemption marked out in the pyramid? By a series of measurements first done by Prof. Piazzi Smyth, and elaborated on by Robert Menzies, which resulted in the “inch=year theory.” All of the predictions made by Charles Taze Russell are based on measurements of various places inside the pyramid that equate an inch with a year. Here is how the inch=year theory is corroborated:
Click on the graphic for an expanded view
Years before this suggestion, that the “Grand Gallery” represents the Christian dispensation, Prof. Smyth had, by astronomical observation, fixed the date of the building of the Pyramid at B. C. 2170; and when Mr. Menzies suggested that the floor-line inches of the “Grand Gallery” represent years, it occurred to some one that, if that theory were true, the measuring of the floor-line backward from the lower edge of the “Grand Gallery,” down the “First Ascending Passage” to its junction with the “Entrance Passage,” and thence upward along the “Entrance Passage” toward the Pyramid’s entrance, should discover some mark or indication in the passage-way to correspond, and thus prove the date of the Pyramid’s construction, and the correctness of the inch=year theory. This, though not unreasonable, was a crucial test, and the service of a civil engineer was obtained to visit the Great Pyramid again and make very accurate measurements of passages, chambers, etc. This was in 1872; and the report of this gentleman was confirmatory to the last degree. His measurements show the floor-line just described to be 2170 ½ inches to a very finely ruled line in the walls of the “Entrance Passage.” Thus the date of its construction is doubly attested, while the floor-lines of its passages are shown to be scrolls of history and chronology, which shall yet be generally heard as “a Witness unto the Lord in the land of Egypt” (337).
What sort of redemptive plan do the pyramid’s measurements indicate? Such things as the death of Jacob, the date of the Exodus, the time of Christ’s [invisible] second advent in October, 1874, and “the four years from 1910 to the end of 1914, indicated thus in the Great Pyramid, will doubtless be a time of ‘fiery trial’ upon the Church (I Cor. 3:15)…” (364). The reference to “the Church” is what Jehovah’s Witnesses call “Christendom,” a derogatory term they use for those who claim to be Christian but are actually outside the fold, because they are not a part of the true church of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The “fiery trial upon the Church” never occurred. None of the prophecies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have ever materialized, making the Watchtower a false prophet (it only takes one failed prophecy to make one a false prophet). (The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is the official name of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.) The whole inch=year theory was wrong from the beginning. Its entire scheme was based on a completion of the Great Pyramid in 2170 -- but the pyramid was actually completed around 2550 BC. None of this has been lost on the Watchtower however. They have made countless revisions in their predictions and literature in a hopeless battle to validate this and other false prophecies. Russell himself massaged his pyramid predictions to try to get them to more closely match his notions, and changed his measurements in the various editions of Thy Kingdom Come (ref. Eric Francke’s “A Pyramid Scheme: How C.T. Russell’s Great Pyramid Changed with the Times”).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hard Evidence

A rarely revealed bit of trivia that probably isn't on LCMS President Matt Harrison's resume is that he played with the Ditty Bops.  I know you're raising an eyebrow right about now. It's uncommon knowledge - sort of gnostic I guess. Alright. Hang on a minute.

O.K.  I'm back.  After losing a bit of DNA on a protruding nail, I retrieved what I was looking for up in the attic.  Found in a moldering box of curling photos from the Kodachrome days: visual evidence. The photo was taken around 2003, before the Ditty Bops made it big, at the Tiki Lounge in Lincoln, Nebraska.  If you look closely you can see his autograph, "Matt H." Who knew?


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Divorce is Finalized

In case you missed it, President Harrison reported on October 27 at the ACNA-LCMS Open Forum that the relationship of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is over:
Our relationship with the ELCA is over. We meet a couple of times a year to talk about some joint interests in social ministry and that kind of thing, but relationship Higgins Road [on which the ELCA headquarters is located] to St. Louis is over. We’ve ended, we’ve ended a number of express joint work. We just can’t do it any more with a good conscience.
It’s a shame that it had to come to this, but, while there are certainly faithful Lutherans in the ELCA, their corporate position is neither evangelical nor Lutheran. You can listen to what President Harrison had to say on the Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Emotion as Trojan Horse

The following quote comes from Pastor Burnell F. Eckardt’s article in the Michaelmas 2011 issue of Gottesdient titled “Contemporary Worship, the Anabaptists, and the Hindus.”  Before we get to the quote though, I’d like to throw in a quick plug for GottesdienstGottesdienst is an insightful journal, packed with great writing and a variety of topics related to the Lutheran Liturgy.  If you’re a confessional Lutheran, you’ll probably like it.  And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Gottesdienster to read it (I’ll leave it to you to figure out what a Gottesdienster is).  Dare I say you might even enjoy it – Father Eckardt, the Editor-in-Chief, does have a flair for “stimulating” conversation between Gottesdiensters and those of other "liturgical persuasions."  You can subscribe at the Gottesdient website, as well as check out the Gottesdienst Online blog.  Here’s the quote, reprinted with permission:


    Remember the old George Harrison song “My Sweet Lord”? Consider these lyrics:
I really want to know you
Really want to go with you
Really want to show you lord
That it won’t take long, my lord (hallelujah)

My sweet lord (hallelujah)
Hm, my lord (hallelujah)
My sweet lord (hallelujah)
Anything objectionable there?  Of course not, in fact it sounds rather indistinguishable from the kind of thing you might hear from a praise band.  Unless, that is, you happen to know about the background singers’ prayer that comes in later in the song: “hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare, Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo, Maheshwara, Gurur Sakshaat, Parabrahma, Tasmayi Shree, Guruve Namah, Hare Rama, hare krishna…”

    And that, dear friends, comes from the Bhagavad-Gita, a seminal poem that forms the basis of Hinduism.  Repetition of the mantra is said to be the “sublime method for reviving our Krishna consciousness” (www.krishna.com).  Here’s the explanation of the mantra from Krishna.com:
As living spiritual souls we are all originally Krishna conscious entities, but due to our association with matter from time immemorial, our consciousness is now polluted by material atmosphere.  In this polluted concept of life, we are all trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities.  This illusion is called maya, or hard struggle for existence for winning over the stringent laws of material nature.  This illusory struggle against the material nature can at once be stopped by revival of our Krishna consciousness.  (www.krishna.com/content/transcendental-vibration)
No Christian should have any difficulty recognizing the odious character of that kind of thinking, but how many would recognize it for what it is if it’s left in the background, untranslated, while the banal English lyrics are made the heart of this popular song? In fact, Gospel singer BeBe Winans took this very song and removed the Krishna references and added in their place, “You’re the Mighty One, You’re the Prince of Peace, You’re the First and the Last, You’re the Great I AM, and the Precious Lamb,” as though that would somehow baptize this song for use among Christians.  And for many, that sort of thing works just fine, because it’s all really about the mood anyhow, about making the experiential connection with Jesus.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God Hates Sin but Loves the Sinner?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” in the past.  It’s a phrase that’s a little dated.  There’s not a whole lot of talk about sin or the sinner any more. Emerging Church leader Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is a good example, where his comment on the orthodox Christian doctrine of heaven and hell is that it’s “misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear."  Yes, the world, and specifically sinners, don’t want to hear that they’re sinners.  And they certainly don’t want to hear that God hates sinners, but that’s precisely what they need to hear.

A few years back one of the retired pastors in our congregation gave me a copy of the following paper, written by Dr. Walter W. F. Albrecht in 1953, titled “Does God Hate Sin or the Sinner?”  Dr. Albrecht does a great job of explaining that God does hate the sinner, and why it is important that that message be preached, followed by the Gospel message that Christ died to save sinners.  Here is Dr. Albrecht’s paper in its entirety. I hope you’ll give it a read, especially if you’re a pastor.  You can download a copy here.



            “If it is true that God hates the sinner, how is this truth to be presented in sermons without doing harm?”
Springfield Circuit Conference
April 20, 1953


            The wording of the question casts doubt on a divine truth and assumes that harm can be done by preaching the truth.  While unworthy of a Christian, it no doubt proceeds from a troubled heart.  Let’s answer it therefore, and divide it into the two questions: Does Scripture teach that God hates the sinner? and How is this truth to be preached?

I.

DOES SCRIPTURE TEACH THAT GOD HATES THE SINNER?

Hatred the dictionary defines as “bitter dislike or aversion; antipathy; animosity; enmity.”  It “implies extreme aversion, especially as coupled with enmity or malice.”  Dislike is repugnance.  Aversion is mental opposition.  Antipathy is an instinctive feeling of aversion or dislike.  Animosity is active and vehement enmity; ill will.  Enmity is hostility or the state of being an enemy.  Synonyms of hatred are: “Abhorrence, anger, animosity, antipathy, aversion, detestation, dislike, enmity, grudge, hate, hostility, ill will, malevolence, malice, rancor, repugnance, resentment, revenge, spite.”  When speaking of God as hating, we of course do not imply “malevolence, malice, malignity, rancor, revenge, spite,” and the like.  That would be charging Him with evil.  We do not mean to say that His hatred is “coupled with malice.”  When the dictionary defines, “Hate or hatred, as applied to persons, as intense and continued aversion, usually with disposition to injure,” this “usually with disposition to injure” does not fit God.  “Anger is sudden and brief, hatred is lingering and enduring,” continues the dictionary.

            Now our question reads: Does God have a bitter dislike and strong aversion for the sinner?  Is He the enemy of the sinner?  Has He an enduring antipathy against sinners?  Does He detest sinners?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thoughts on the Death of Our Dog

We had to euthanize our family dog Hallie last Tuesday (an Airedale Terrier). It’s a particularly painful and stressful event. Putting down a dear friend and family member is not an easy thing to do. Weighing the options for someone who can’t speak makes it all the more difficult. Hallie’s kidneys were failing and she was gradually winding down. She ate little, and didn’t even have the motivation to go up the stairs to her bed at night. Her death gave me cause to wonder if this would be what it would be like if the loved one of an unbeliever were to die. Since animals have no soul, their ending is truly the end. There is no afterlife for them, and when saying goodbye, no hope for their future, which is a very bad feeling. For someone who is not a believer, death is a very bleak thing, whether it's the death of a pet or a person. Yet for our family, there’s more to the story.

Though Hallie is gone for good, we still rejoice, knowing that she was a gift from God. In his explanation to the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed in the Small Catechism, Luther states that God gives me “animals, and all I have,” and in the Large Catechism he explains
Now, all that we have, and whatever else is in heaven and upon the earth, is daily given, preserved, and kept for us by God. Therefore, it is clearly suggested and concluded that it is our duty to love, praise, and thank Him for these things without ceasing.
Hallie was a true source of joy for us. She was always willing to tag along wherever we might be headed, and always had a smile on her face. Even on her last night, she still managed to greet all of the trick-or-treaters who visited our home. She was smart, faster than fast, gentle with kids, and a great watchdog – not to mention awesome looking, as the photo up above shows. There’s no one who could deny God’s hand in her creation.
"But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:7-10 ESV
I marveled at her senses, far outstripping me in smell, sight, and hearing, and though she didn’t have a human brain, she was still able to learn and communicate with us in her own unique ways.

Yet even in all of these wonderful blessings from God there is sorrow. I can’t open the door without thinking she’s going to be behind it, ready to greet me. But that grief will end. The Lord promises:
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation." Isaiah 25:8-9 ESV
As I chat with you, I’m thankful for what God has given us. Through the death of our dog, I can proclaim to you God’s goodness. He created the world, sustains it, and will redeem it and all believers. Through the death of His Son Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven, sorrow is wiped away, and joy is eternal. Our four-legged friend is gone, but our hope is not. Thanks be to God.



Zach and Hallie in 2006

Click below for a couple more Hallie photos.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Numbers-Driven Church

Feel free to use the graphic.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dare to Be Lutheran: Reviews of the Higher Things 2011 Youth Conferences

Many of you out there know that I encourage involving your kids in Higher Things. One of the many Christ-centered opportunities for them are the national Higher Things conferences, which do a great job of connecting them to Christ. This year’s conferences, Coram Deo, were held in Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Bloomington, Illinois. In case you, or someone you know, hasn’t attended in the past and would like input on the Higher Things conferences, here’s a list of blog posts from various laymen and pastors about their experiences at this year’s conferences.


Pastor Alan Kornacki: Higher Things 2011: Coram Deo

Pastor Alex Klages: Coram Deo!


Pastor Paul Beisel: Coram Deo Bloomington




Pastor Donald Engebretson: Coram Deo Conference - Part I

Pastor Donald Engebretson: Corem Deo Conference - Part II


Pastor Brian Kachelmeier: Coram Deo 2011


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Hat Makes the Man

On the October 14th Issues, Etc. Comment Line, a listener phoned in with show suggestions, one of which was “How can the LCMS appoint kingdom of the left administrators, give them kingdom of the left job titles, like ‘District President’ or ‘Synodical President,’ and give them kingdom of the left job descriptions, and then be surprised when they utilize the most recent kingdom of the left methodologies to come to conclusions that make absolutely no sense in the kingdom of the right.”

Pastor Wilken’s response has a ring of truth to it:
…The words we choose mean things. They actually shape what happens. You know if we want Bishops, if we want ecclesiastical supervisors, and that supervisor simply means “Bishop,” that’s what the word Bishop means, it means overseer, a shepherd. If we want Bishops, then let’s have Bishops. If we want presidents, administrators, bureaucrats, functionaries, cogs in the wheel of a bureaucracy, synodocrats, then let’s be prepared to live with the consequences. Now, we can go one of two ways, and I think there’s actually wisdom in going one rather than the other way. Everybody’s for Bishops in the church until it comes to the question of who should be the Bishop. I generally operate on the theory that guys who favor Bishops, I mean full-blown Bishops in the church do so because they think that it is they who will be crowned with the miter when all is said and done. When they talk about “I think we ought to have Bishops in the church” what they’re really saying is “I should be Bishop in the church.” Honestly. But it’s not, we cannot create a hybrid between this ecclesiastical office and this bureaucratic office. We can’t create it. We tried, and what has always in every case won – you can’t serve two masters. What has always in every case won is the bureaucrat. The bureaucrat kills the Bishop, if we tried to make one man embody both offices. It, in the best of men, in the most sincere of men, even faithful unto death men, in actual practice, day to day, how things are done, how decisions are made, even in the best, the bureaucrat kills the bishop, if we try and have one man embody both. There’s a certain wisdom in going one way or the other. And look, I kind of like the idea, of maybe, if we want to have bureaucrats, then let’s really do it, and let’s just toss aside the fa├žade of doing all this stuff as church, and just say “look, we’re kind of like the military. We’ve got the, we’ve got the actual soldiers, the pastors out there, who really do what needs to get done, and then we have a civilian leadership that sits in the office and thinks about what needs to be done.” Right? That would be a great division to make in the church.

Graphic derived from a photo by Lawrence OP

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints’ Day 2011

Penned by Dr. Martin Luther in 1535:
Next to Holy Scripture there certainly is no more useful book for Christendom than that of the lives of the saints, especially when unadulterated and authentic. For in these stories one is greatly pleased to find how they sincerely believed God’s Word, confessed it with their lips, praised it by their living, and honored and confirmed it by their suffering and dying. All this immeasurably comforts and strengthens those weak in the faith and increases the courage and confidence of those already strong far more than the teaching of Scripture alone, without any examples and stories of the saints. Although the Spirit performs His work abundantly within, it nonetheless helps very much to see or to hear the examples of others without. Otherwise a weak heart always thinks: See, you are the only one who so believes and confesses, acts, and suffers. For this reason God Himself in Scripture also describes the life, faith, confession, and suffering of the dear patriarchs and prophets along with their doctrine, and St. Peter, too, comforts Christians with the examples of all the saints and says: “Know that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Peter 5:9).

Quoted from What Luther Says, p. 1251.