Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Last Flight

Dear Friends,

When I began this blog, like Saint Jude, “although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” That battle will go on from now to the eschaton when the final trumpet will make its wonderful and fearsome clarion call. For now, it’s time for me to stow my pen and inkwell, so that I can devote more time to my other vocations, plus relax a little. But before I go, I’d like to take one last precious moment to sit with you and share a brief thought or two.

Scripture commands us to contend for the faith. It isn’t optional. We are to watch our doctrine and teaching closely, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom. At times, even when we succeed in doing so with gentleness and respect, we will be viewed as unloving, and insulted and persecuted because of it. That’s okay; we are blessed in the midst of tribulation, and know that the real battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil. We will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel. "I believed, and so I spoke." Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

I look forward to hearing from you in the future. You’ll likely see me on line from time to time, and perhaps the occasional article written here or there will remind you that I haven’t flown off the edge of the map. Hopefully we’ll be able to break bread with one another at some point, and if not, we will certainly do so at the great banquet feast on high, both the one in eternity and the one we share every Sunday at the Lord’s Table. In the mean time, stay confessional my friends. Thanks for reading, and remember to stand firm!

Your eternal debtor in Christ,

Scott Diekmann

+ In Nomine Jesu +

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be
with your spirit, brothers.

Galatians 6:18

Monday, November 12, 2012

My Testimony

I was “down on my luck,” to put it in the vernacular. Conceived with no hope in the world.

One July morning I rolled out of bed, ate breakfast, got dressed, and went down to the local church. There, a bald-headed man with a white robe and a green scarf hanging from his neck poured cold water on my head three times, saying, “Scott Lynn, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” At that moment, my life changed. I would never be the same.

The man, it turns out, was my Lutheran pastor. But it wasn’t really just Pastor Koenig, it was Jesus Himself pouring His Holy Spirit into me, saving me, even though I didn’t do anything to deserve this wonderful thing that had just happened. You see, it seemed just like any other bath, but my parents, along with Pastor Koenig and other people, taught me what else happened. They taught me what Jesus promised me that day in my Baptism. And even though I was just a baby and couldn’t understand it all, I still trusted His promises – the Holy Spirit put that trust in my heart. They call that faith.

Jesus’ Word, working through that cold water, washed away my sin. And He put His name on me! This washing with water buried me with Him in His death, and, just as He was raised, raises me to new life in Him. He promises me that even though I will die, on the last day He will raise me up and I will live with Him forever. So now, every day when I roll out of bed, I remember the promises Jesus made to me that sunny July day. My sins are forgiven, and I am saved, because I am a Baptized child of God.

Quite an awesome thing, this Baptism.

And that’s my testimony.

photo credit: missbeckyfay

Friday, November 9, 2012

Don’t Be that Guy

After Dr. Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in 1517, he not only garnered the attention of those in Wittenberg, but also the attention of the whole world, and specifically the Pope. In 1518, Dr. Luther was summoned before Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg to explain himself. While Luther was expecting a hearing before a panel of neutral judges, such was not the case. Cajetan’s papal instructions were singularly straight-forward – there was to be no disputation, only Luther’s recantation. While Luther was hoping for the best, he fully realized that this might be a one-way trip to being burned at the stake as a heretic.

Luther, being Luther, stood up to Cardinal Cajetan and would not recant. He refused to violate his conscience, knowing that his teachings were based solely on the Word of God. At the conclusion of Luther’s three-day audience with the papal legate, and before leaving Augsburg, he wrote two somewhat conciliatory letters to Cajetan explaining his position, but Luther never received a response from the fully irritated Cajetan. Luther also wrote an appeal to Pope Leo X, which he wanted Cardinal Cajetan to carry back to Rome, in which he accused the Cardinal of being biased. Luther asked one of his traveling partners, fellow monk Leonhard Beier, to hand deliver his appeal to Cajetan. Beier, having his wits about him, was petrified. He delegated the task to a notary, who chickened out as well, promptly sticking Luther’s appeal onto the Cathedral door, perhaps a medieval foreshadowing of the modern day Post-It. Not exactly a thorough demonstration of backbone. Don’t be that guy!

Like the simple instructions which the pope issued Cardinal Cajetan, our Lord issues us simple instructions as well:
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9).
We need never be afraid, no matter whom or what confronts us. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

photo credit: katrinalopez

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Are Lutherans Weak On Sanctification?

“You can only say you’re weak on sanctification if you view sanctification as your work.” 

A quote from Pastor Bill Cwirla on episode 185 of The God Whisperers, discussing Thesis 21 of Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. Put it into context by listening to the whole thing here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Steaming Plate of BJS

It's all over the airwaves, but in case you missed it, the next Brothers of John the Steadfast National Conference is February 15 and 16, 2013 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois (which is a suburb of Chicago).  It promises to be a good one.  The theme for this conference is "Lutherans!"  Making presentations will be the Rev. James May, Director of Lutherans in Africa, who will speak on their efforts in Africa, Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller, co-host of the radio show Table Talk Radio, speaking on his escape from evangelicalism into Lutheranism, and Rev. Jonathan Fisk of Worldview Everlasting, discussing the quest for pure Lutheranism in the LCMS today.

Rumor has it that Pastor Wolfmueller is also going to do a stand-up comedy routine.  It might be worth attending the conference just for this unique opportunity.  Just think, you could say "I was there when Pastor Wolfmueller got his start."  Or, alternately, you could say, "I was there for the cleanup after Pastor Wolfmueller crashed and burned."  Think of the possibilities!  Plus, as an added bonus, BJS is going to have a sign up sheet for those who would like to attend the Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller School of Hilarity.

As always, there will be a Divine Service, plenty of food, and the world-renowned no-pietists-allowed parties.  Speaking from personal experience, I can say that it will be worth the trip.  For more information visit the Brothers of John the Steadfast website.  Hopefully, I'll see you there.

photo credit: Balthus Van Tassel

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Piety Gone Wild

A quote of Lutheran theologian Dr. Valentin Ernst Loescher, describing pietism in the eighteenth century.  The quote comes from Pastor Brent Kulman's article "Oscar Feucht's Everyone a Minister: Pietismus Redivivus" in the Reformation 1999 issue of Logia.  The pietism that Dr. Loescher describes hasn't gone away. Try substituting the word "vision" or "mission" for the word "piety" and its derivatives - does that substitution reflect where some Lutherans are at today?
It is an evil in the church that arises in the context of the pursuit of piety. That is, it is a searching, striving, and demanding of piety that is ill-conceived and established in a sinful way. It creates an antithesis between (1) piety and its pursuit and (2) revealed truth and its pursuit. Moreover, it causes truth to be dependent on piety. Pietism completely absorbs truth into itself and so it nullifies the truth. By all this the church of Christ is thrown into confusion and a raft of other unholy things find their way into it. The evil of Pietism is among us as long as the pursuit of piety stirs up and sustains a conflict and sets up an antithesis between itself and even one important point of religion. It is among us as long as a person believes and teaches that piety must be pursued more strenuously than orthodoxy and given preferential treatment. Furthermore, it can come to the point that the truth and form of theology (namely the Word of God), the office of preacher, justification, matrimony, the church, and other matters are all put into a dependent relationship to piety, in which case the evil shows itself more forcefully and more clearly. Finally, it can come to the point where people think that wherever piety is not found in the form and to the degree hoped for, then no Word of God, no activity of the Holy Spirit, no light of grace, no office of teaching, no matrimony, no church can exist. Then Pietism has fully matured and come out into the open.
Though Christ's Church is at all times beset by Satan to the point where one might throw up their arms in despair at the false doctrine that always lurks, yet, like Luther, I remain hopeful: "I entertain no sorry picture of our Church, but rather that of the Church flourishing through pure and uncorrupted teaching and one increasing with excellent ministers from day to day."1 May God grant us faithful pastors who will encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

1. The Luther quote comes from Roland H. Bainton's book Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.  Download a copy for free here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Nausea and Sin Go Together

Back in another lifetime I was a resident at Denver General Hospital, the main trauma center for the Denver metro area. I spent many a night in the emergency room reading x-rays and putting people back together again. There was the guy who had his face rearranged by a baseball bat. All he could say in broken English was “My name is Juan, and I’m from the East Side.” I didn’t even know Denver had an East Side. Then there was the guy from whose maxillary sinus we removed a bullet, along with the lateral wall of his sinus. His “accident” occurred outside a bar called “Taste Denver.” And there was also the guy on whom I extracted most of his lower front teeth, along with all of the surrounding bone. I had the luxury of working on him in a dental chair, which was a lot easier than trying to operate on a gurney. There were two downsides though, one, he kept bleeding onto the floor because I had nobody assisting me (guess who got to clean it up), and two, he was handcuffed to the chair. Good thing there wasn’t a fire.

What do this trio of “victims” have in common? In each case, they were drunk as well. Alcohol and accidents go together like Nike and running. It’s hard to get one without the other when you work at DG – especially on the weekends. (I’m not telling you this as an anti-alcohol rant – your Christian liberty certainly includes the luxury of an adult beverage.) For years, long after I’d left DG, whenever I’d get a whiff of alcohol I’d immediately feel slightly nauseous. The recurring experience of getting called to the ER in the middle of the night, working for 32 straight hours in a sleep-deprived state, and the constant flow of drunk accident victims reeking of alcohol and blood took its toll. It got to be repulsive after a while. This nauseous feeling is the same way we should feel when we sin.

The prophet Isaiah saw the Lord in His temple and exclaimed "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” (Isaiah 6:5). He knew he was a sinner, and that the Lord cannot tolerate sin. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Dr. Martin Luther advises:
We should actually fear that we have sinned where we have not sinned, and we should be perfected by a hatred of sin and a love of God so great that we fear the sins which we commit unconsciously, nay, that we fear as sin what is not sin. (What Luther Says; §4208, 1310-11.)
Sin separates us from God. Isaiah warns the Israelites:
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness (Isaiah 59:2-3 ESV).
The whole world is defiled by blood. Yet God, in what seems to the world to be the most preposterous and ironic way, cleanses us with blood, the blood of His Son shed on the cross. What repulses also saves those who trust in Him.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
Luther explains it well:
The Law lays my sins on me, but God takes them from me and lays them on this Lamb. There they lie well, better than on me. And God means to say: I see that sin weighs heavily on you and that you would have to break down under the heavy burden; but I will relieve you of it, take the sin from your back… and out of pure grace lay it on the shoulders of this Lamb…. Let this picture be precious to you. It makes Christ a Servant of sins, yea, a Bearer of sins, the lowliest, the most despised of men, who Himself destroys all sin and says: I am come to serve others, not to let Myself be served (Matt. 20:28). (What Luther Says; §4225, 1315.)
Our sin should repulse us like the comingling of blood and alcohol that once repulsed me. Yet  we can rejoice. Christ died for us, for you – the righteous for the unrighteous, and our sin is made white as snow by the blood of the Lamb.

photo credit: mharrsch

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Last of the Seattle Summer

Here's a few pics of the beautiful Seattle summer.  It's the last we'll see of sunny days for a while, as the leaves begin to fall, along with the rain. Click on the photos for a larger view.

Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island.

The Experience Music Project.

Who you lookin' at?

Pike Place Market.

The Space Needle peeking out.

Chambers Bay Golf Course, home of the 2015 U.S. Open.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints Day 2012

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther, preaching on the text of John 20:11-18, delivered on April 21, 1530:
We are all saints, and cursed is he who does not want to call himself a saint. You are far saintlier than your names - Hans or Kunz - indicate. However, you do owe this not to yourself but to the will of God, who would be your Father. To call yourself a saint is, therefore, no presumption but an act of gratitude and a confession of God's blessings. He who does not consider Baptism and God's Word,
which you have in your heart, holy, blasphemes God very greatly. Since, then, God sanctifies you in Baptism and adorns you with His holy Word, you must surely be holy by grace. Only beware of the ambition to make yourself holy by your own works and then to step before God and teach Him holiness too. He will cast you into hell as a blasphemer. He wants to sanctify you and will have no directions about sanctification from you. Be sure to give this some thought. You may call yourself rich when you have many thousand gulden, and you lie shamefully if you say: Oh, I am a poor beggar! Far greater is the wrong you commit by not wanting to call yourself holy as a result of the holiness which God has made your own. Therefore you may well say: To be sure, according to my first birth, I belong to the devil; but according to the new birth, I, sanctified by God's Word and work, am a sinner no more; now I am in heaven. Now you may glory greatly in the possession of a seat in heaven beside St. Peter. Be bold to do this. You still have much to learn about this matter. So do I - until I drop into my grave.

Ewald M. Plass, compiler, What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, (St. Louis: CPH, 1959) §3979, 1247.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day 2012

A hymn of the reformer Dr. Martin Luther, written in 1524:

O Lord, look down from heav'n, behold,
And let Thy pity waken;
How few are we within Thy fold,
Thy saints by men forsaken!
True faith is quenched on ev'ry hand,
Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
Dark times have us o'ertaken.

With fraud which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
While they parade with outward show,
They lead the people to and fro,
In error's maze astounded.

May God root out all heresy
And of false teachers rid us
Who proudly say: "Now where is he
That shall our speech forbid us?
By right or might we shall prevail;
What we determine cannot fail;
We own no lord and master."

Therefore saith God: "I must arise,
The poor My help are needing;
To Me ascend My people's cries,
And I have heard their pleading.
For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending.

As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God's Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.

Defend Thy truth, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of its way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Notice the Difference?

From the April 16, 2012 Christian Science Sentinel:
Each of us has spiritual sense that moves us fearlessly to take remedial action when something goes wrong. Motivated and regulated by a higher law of harmony, it doesn’t entice us into reckless abandon, na├»ve impulse, or some lesser type of bravery, however instant our response may have to be. It impels us to do what is selfless and morally right. We make room for it above our own willful tendencies and ahead of our commitment to our daily affairs. If this abiding sense is part of our spirituality (and why wouldn’t it be?), our hearts can be open to exercising it more for the good of the world. First by acknowledging its legitimacy and accessibility. Then, by carrying out is authoritative commands when they come.

From the Holy Bible:
Who can say, "I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin"? Proverbs 20:9 ESV

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Mark 7:20-23 ESV

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. John 2:24-25 ESV

Monday, October 29, 2012

“I hope you’re not superstitious.”

Before a flight, air traffic control assigns a code which is put into the transponder on the flight deck, allowing the flight to be more easily identified on radar. One day our transponder code contained three sixes. The First Officer commented “I hope you’re not superstitious.” Nope. I’m not superstitious.

666 is the number of the second beast in Revelation 13, sent by Satan to deceive those who dwell on earth. The beast is allowed to slay those who refuse to worship the image of the first beast, a fearsome picture of the war that Satan wages against Christ’s bride, the Church. Yet we Christians need not be afraid. The beast and its image and the number of its name are conquered:
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire--and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." Revelation 15:2-4 ESV
In Christ’s death and resurrection, He defeats Satan, and we can join with our fellow redeemed to sing God’s praises forevermore: “For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." We need not fear the number of the beast.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fix Your Eyes on Jesus

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Psalm 119:15-16 ESV

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  Luke 4:16-21 ESV

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2 NIV

photo credit: swissrolli

Friday, October 26, 2012

Come and Die

photo credit: Diane Leigh

Coming Soon, Pastor Jonathan Fisk's New Book Broken

I'm looking forward to Pastor Jonathan Fisk's upcoming book, Broken: 7 "Christian" Rules That Every Christian Should Break as Often as Possible, published by CPH and coming out in December. You can pre-order a copy here. Here's a sneak preview from Pastor Fisk.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Heart of the Christian Experience

Quoting from Anglican Dr. Phillip Cary's article "Why Luther is Not Quite Protestant: The Logic of Faith in a Sacramental Promise" in the Fall 2005 issue of Pro Ecclesia:
I do not find faith or any other good thing in myself, so I must look at Christ instead—and precisely this is faith. So if there is to be any comfort or consolation for me I must find myself outside myself—by faith alone, which means, simply by believing what Christ has to say about me in the promise of the Gospel. Who I really am is one for whom Christ died and rose, one whom Christ baptized and absolves, one to whom he gives his body and blood.

This refusal to rely on experience is at the heart of Christian experience, as Luther understands it. When he speaks of experience he thinks immediately of Anfechtung, temptation or (more literally) assault: the recurrent experience of being attacked by an awareness of how offensive I am to God, a consciousness of sin and death and the devil which also shows me the weakness of my faith. In this regard Luther stresses that there is no substitute for experience:
This cannot be adequately expressed in words, but our own experience is necessary in addition. This teaches what hard work it is to climb over the mountain of our own unworthiness and sins standing between God and us as we are about to pray….it is here that we feel the weakness of faith most.
Christian experience is the experience of the inadequacy of our own faith. The only comfort we feel at these times of Anfechtung is the inexpressible sigh of the spirit that Paul describes, which in fact we barely feel at all:
it is time to turn your eyes away from the Law, from works and from your own feelings and conscience, to lay hold of the Gospel and to depend solely on the promise of God. Then there is emitted a little sigh…and nothing remains in your heart but the sigh that says 'Abba! Father!' And so the promise produces the sigh that cries: 'Father!'
At the heart of Christian experience for Luther is therefore this "sighing, of which we are hardly aware" because "we do not hear this cry. We have only the Word." The sigh of the Christian spirit is the anxious prayer of one who has no reassuring experience or feeling, and certainly not the experience of a strong faith, but only the word of promise to cling to. But the word alone is enough. That is precisely what we are to learn by experience—not by mere words, as Luther often puts it. This contrast between experience and words is not meant, of course, to devalue the word of Christ but rather to criticize the discourse of reflective faith. Talking about faith does me no good in times of Anfechtung, when only the word of God can help me. How many preachers have failed to learn this lesson? You cannot help me to have faith by telling me about faith or the experience of faith but only by preaching the Gospel, which tells me about Christ. Thus good preaching conforms to the essential shape of Christian experience, which is uninterested in faith, feeling or experience but only in the external word of Christ.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Explaining the Trinity to the Jehovah's Witnesses

The Jehovah's Witnesses are well trained in deflecting common arguments trying to disprove their theology, including those on their rejection of the Trinity. Their arguments are generally based on what they've been taught by the Watchtower, which in the case of the Trinity is derived by misquoting Church Fathers and Scripture twisting. Yet the Witnesses can sometimes be reached with the truth by combining kindness with a proper Scriptural presentation.

In the following lecture from several decades ago, Dr. Walter Martin respectfully explains the Watchtower position on the Trinity and then relates it to the doctrine of the Trinity as found in the Bible. Since this recording was made many years ago, some of the information contained in the lecture has been superceded by changing Watchtower doctrine, but the Trinitarian truths found in Scripture do not change. Dr. Martin established the Christian Research Institute in 1960, which is still with us today; it publishes the apologetics magazine Christian Research Journal.  He also authored the still-in-print and updated book The Kingdom of the Cults.

Listen in as Dr. Martin delivers a great apologetics lecture on the Trinity:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Running Through History

What’s with the rather non-descript railroad photo, taken while on a run near the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport? This Norfolk & Southern rail was once in the vicinity of another rail line, the Macon & Western Railroad, which on August 31, 1864 was the last vein of life supporting the Confederate city of Atlanta. At the time Atlanta was under siege by the artillery of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. Directly abeam this spot stood the Rough and Ready Tavern, a retreat for Confederates fleeing the city, and likely the temporary command post for Confederate Lt. General William J. Hardee.

General Sherman, after weeks of standoff because of Atlanta’s stiff defensive fortifications, opted to move the majority of his forces south and west of the city in a flanking move to cut off the two remaining rail lines into the city. The Atlanta & West Point Railroad line was cut on August 30, and the Macon & Western was cut just south of where I took the photo on August 31. A few miles further south, one of the most significant battles of the Civil War was fought at Jonesborough (now spelled Jonesboro). On September 1 the vastly outnumbered Confederate force was defeated, spelling the end of Atlanta’s resistance. Nearly 7,000 Confederate and Union soldiers were killed. That evening, Confederate General John Bell Hood ordered the evacuation of Atlanta, which was occupied by Sherman the next day. While much of Hood’s Army of Tennessee, led by Hardee, was able to escape, they were no longer able to stop General Sherman’s famous march to the sea. The Confederacy was dealt a severe blow.

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman
Like many war battles, Atlanta was not just militarily significant, but of equal political importance. The war was not going well for the Union. With General U.S. Grant unable to take Richmond, the upcoming Presidential election hung in the balance. Had Atlanta not been taken, Democratic candidate George McClellan might very well have defeated the incumbent, Abraham Lincoln, in the election and sued for peace. Had that happened, the United States we know today would not exist. Not unlike today, the fates of politicians and citizens alike are often determined on the battlefield.

You romanticists will remember the famous burning building scene in the movie Gone with the Wind as Rhett and Scarlett flee Atlanta. This scene takes place on August 31, 1864. Rhett decides to join the cause against the Yankees, leaving Scarlett to fend for herself with the memorable and apt words “God help the Yankees if they should get you.” Scarlett must slip past the Union forces located in the area of Rough and Ready (now called Mountain View) and Jonesborough to make it back to the family plantation, Tara. The book is historically accurate at this point. You can read this particular part of the dialogue here. You can also read about the background, and the interesting twists and turns of the Battle of Jonesborough, that helped seal the fate of the Confederacy, from an excerpt of William R. Scaife’s book The Campaign for Atlanta here. The area around Jonesboro and its history was one of the inspirations for Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. There are still several antebellum homes in the area, as well as a couple of Confederate cemeteries – the final resting place for those Confederate soldiers who fought and died in the Battle of Jonesborough.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It Pays to Know Your Books

While thumbing through the religion books at Brused Books in Pullman, Washington, I came across a book I knew I had to buy. “What was it?” you ask, in eager anticipation. Why, it was The Emphatic Diaglott. “Oh, awesome!” you say, unsure of what that might be, other than that it’s something with two tongues.

The Emphatic Diaglott is an interlinear Bible – but not just any interlinear Bible, it’s a bad interlinear Bible. Originally published by Benjamin Wilson, who was anti-Trinitarian in his beliefs (being a Christadelphian). His anti-Trinitarian leanings show up in his translation, originally published in 1865 and based on the Codex Vaticanus. Where this monologue finally gets interesting is the entrance of a mystery person who buys the rights to Wilson’s Bible. The mystery man is Charles Taze Russell, the inventor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Russell was interested in The Emphatic Diaglott because of its anti-Trinitarian and anti-hell bias, as well as its usefulness in backing up Russell’s belief in Christ’s invisible return to earth in the 19th century.

The Watchtower printed the Diaglott, using the original plates obtained from Wilson, in 1902. They reset the type for publication on their own printing presses, running editions in 1927 and 1942. Eventually, the Watchtower tired of this Bible, translating and adding and subtracting to their own Bible, The New World Translation, in 1961. The Diaglott is useful because it can be used to show the Witnesses, using their own materials, how the Diaglott and The New World Translation differ. Of course, the easier route to take is to obtain a copy of the Watchtower’s own interlinear, called the Kingdom Interlinear Translation, and use it to show how the Greek markedly differs with their translation. You can download the Kingdom Interlinear (lovingly called the Purple People Eater by Christian apologists because of the purple cover of the 1965 edition) here.

So why was I so intent on buying The Emphatic Diaglott? Partly because I didn’t have one – it’s one of the few significant JW books I didn’t have. The other reason? It was $9.00, and the actual value for this early print edition is at least ten times that price – not that I’d sell it. It pays to know your books.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

You Don’t See This Every Day: Space Shuttle Endeavour Rolls Through L.A.

While on a layover last Saturday, I was enjoying the panoramic view of balmy Los Angeles from my room at the Westin on Century Boulevard. I noticed four helicopters hanging around to the north of the hotel, just to the north of the final approach for runway 24R. I figured it was another sensationalized media coverage of some jet inbound to LAX with a landing gear problem – except that the helicopters just kept hanging out. A couple of hours later I glanced out the window and immediately knew why the helicopters were there – a mile-and-a-half to the north was the unmistakable sight of a space shuttle tail sticking up above the urban sprawl. I immediately grabbed my wheels (i.e. my running shoes) and camera and was out the door within 60 seconds for my second run of the day. This was one piece of history I wasn’t going to miss.

Rewind to earlier in the morning. As we were inbound to LAX, the First Officer mentioned that they were moving the space shuttle today. I didn’t give it much of a thought as to from where and to where. The shuttle was making its way from the airport to the California Science Center, its final home, retiring after 25 missions. This was a really big deal. The total cost of the two day, two mph drive from the airport to the museum was estimated at $10 million. They removed 200 streetlights and nearly 60 traffic signals, and cut down 393 trees. Clearly nobody in L.A. planned on hauling an orbiter across town.

This was the closest I’d ever gotten to a shuttle. Though I’d seen the shuttle piggybacked to its 747 taxi cab in Salt Lake City, this time the wingtip went nearly right over my head. It was great seeing the reaction of the crowds. Michael Jackson wouldn’t have caused this much of a stir – people everywhere clapping and hollering with more cameras than I’d ever seen before. Coupled with the warm weather and sunshine, it certainly seemed like an appropriate ending for this historic piece of America’s space program.

Click on the photos for a larger view.


Endeavour in its prime. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Denying Justification

Quoting Dr. Carl Fickenscher, from  the October 18, 2010 Issues, Etc. segment on the doctrine of justification:
Denial of justification isn’t just a matter of official church teachings that say if you believe in justification by grace by faith alone you are condemned, you are anathema. Not just that at all. It really is a denial of justification to put it on the back burner, to make it unimportant, to fail to mention it. And then there are even ways that in fact deny justification much more subtly even among those who would affirm it. For example, a church that denies the efficacy of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion often has behind that denial an implicit idea that something like Baptism couldn’t save a baby, because something in that baby isn’t quite right yet, quite mature yet, like the baby for example isn’t yet able to make a decision for Christ. Ultimately what that’s doing is saying there has to be some kind of work, something in a person that can’t be present yet at a very very early age. And any time some kind of work, even a work as seemingly attractive as confessing your faith in Christ, is required for right standing before God, that actually is a denial of justification. And that’s done as I said by churches that absolutely would say “Oh no no no no no, you’re of course not justified by what you do, solely by what Christ has done.” The de facto denial of justification is certainly widespread.

Cataphatic Mysticism?

“Contemporary songs aren't necessarily trying to teach the faith, so much as proclaim it. The point is to provide a vehicle for praise or prayer. Instead of singing doctrinal discourse or narrative content, the relatively simple message is sung repeatedly as a meditation. The repetition serves as an opportunity to reflect on the point of the text so as to deepen awareness, appreciation, and experience of the truth that is being sung. The purpose of singing the song is to lead the worshipper to this point of meditation and reflection, and so hopefully engage the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the intellectual or cognitive. …The ultimate purpose of the contemporary song is meditation on God in the presence of God.”

Does that quote sound a little “off” to you? I thought so too. It was written by LCMS pastor Michael Schmid, and quoted in Pastor Paul Strawn’s paper titled “The Praise Chorus as Unwitting Introduction of Cataphatic Mysticism into Christian Worship.” What’s cataphatic mysticism? Ah, for that answer, you’ll have to read Pastor Strawn’s paper. You can find it here. It’ll be worth the trip.

photo credit: Krisztina Tordai

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"...My wife dragged me, kicking and screaming...."

On Higher Things Radio episode 137 on May 27th, 2011, Pastor Jon Sollberger shared his experiences while in a church praise band. This is a powerful quote, because it contrasts the often un-evangelical emotional roller coaster ride that you're treated to at many "contemporary" church services with a doctrinally sound proclamation of the Gospel, in which the Word does its work. This quote comes at the 31:15 minute mark : 
This was a couple lifetimes ago, and I was very much involved in the church where I grew up – that church was all about the show and how it made you feel. And so I was a guitarist and I got into that, and we really did the whole thing where we got everyone going via the music, the beat, the feeling, the great progression of the music. That’s how we equated successful worship. And then I took my act out on the road, I traveled all across the country, I did recordings of this so-called Christian contemporary music, I lived it, I performed it, I produced it, I recorded it, and spent a good decade doing this until I actually found out that I was burnt out on it. …It’s a very successful thing outwardly speaking. I mean, all we had to do was show up, plug in, and play, and we had an instant reaction and enthusiasm from all the people, young and old, both, and it was really something. But then you start to – it becomes normal to us, all the music and the generational feeling that it creates – and we started evaluating our worship experience on how the people were reacting to what we played. I mean we could get ‘em up there with some fast paced high energy music, we could get them to be very very mellow and contemplative with some slower, more heartfelt type of music, and when we didn’t get those reactions we didn’t feel that the Holy Spirit was at work because obviously the people weren’t reacting – there was no “success.” After a while you kind of just get burnt out on this sort of thing and that’s when I kind of quit the whole church thing for quite a while and my wife dragged me, kicking and screaming, into a Lutheran church, and I really saw that there was a difference there. I thought it was a cult. I thought it was spare, Spartan. I didn’t think there was any spiritual energy there. I thought it was way too formal, and I could not wait to get back for the next service. And I didn’t know why obviously, but it was because the Gospel had been not only preached, but presented within a context and in such a manner that nothing else got in the way, not my feelings, not how I was doing, not how well dressed the people up front were or anything like that, or how impressive they were to me, but simply the Gospel – that I was a sinner who had been saved by the grace and merit of Jesus only.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Difference Between a Hymn and a Ditty

Here's a clip from the October 4 Issues, Etc. show on the historic liturgy, with Pastor Will Weedon explaining the difference between a hymn and a ditty:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sasse on Catholicism: Gospel or Anti-Christ?

There are more than a few Reformed bloggers out there who present a rather merciless view of Catholicism, and at times go out of their way to bash the “Una Sancta.” On the other hand, there are a few Lutheran writers who seem to have a love affair with the Roman Catholic Church, at times giving her more credit than she is due. While reading through the We Confess Anthology, a collection of writings by the now sainted Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse, Sasse certainly takes a realistic approach to those who call themselves Roman Catholics. Sasse takes a charitable and reasonable approach towards Catholics as he revisits the oft-described death of Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas:
Thomas Aquinas, when he was not yet 50 years old, died on his way to the Council of Lyon. When he received the Lord's Supper for the last time, he said, "I receive you, ransom price of my soul. For love of you I have studied and worn myself out. You I have preached and taught...." Thus the greatest thinker of the Middle Ages took leave of the uncompleted work to which he had given his life. Forgotten is all the wealth of his philosophical and theological knowledge. His system, which takes in heaven and earth, world and super-world, has now shrunk to the "one thing needful." Now, like Paul, he knows only "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), whose body and blood he receives for the last time on this earth, the price paid to redeem his soul. This Christ is the content of all theology. Forgotten is the theology of glory of the half-heathen proofs for the existence of God at the beginning of the Summa theologiae. Forgotten is the belief in the abilities of the natural man. Forgotten is the "triumph of theology" which Thomas celebrated in overthrowing Averroism, which had become a subject of art.
We dare never forget this genuinely Christian, evangelical side of the Middle Ages if we would rightly understand the Reformation. The original evangelical elements that are preserved in the Mass, with its "You alone are the Holy One" in the Gloria, the "Not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences" in the Canon of the Mass, the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei, the Words of Institution and the formula of Baptism, the "King of majesty tremendous, who dost free salvation send us" in the Mass for the dead, the constant pointing to the thief on the cross-all this, as Luther recognized, sustained the life of the church in the Middle Ages, and sustains it still in Catholicism today. We should never forget that "by grace alone" (sola gratia) is a possibility also in Roman Catholicism, though only one possibility among others, and only in such a way that it can never become "by faith alone" (sola fide). Whatever else the Roman Church may be, it wants to be-and is-church of the cross, church of the Crucified One. His sacrificial death means more in its life and thought than in the life and thought of many a Protestant church. Only God knows whether in our day there are not many more Catholics who die with faith in the saving merit of Christ than Protestants. (44)
At the same time, Sasse doesn’t hesitate to point out, and agree with, the historical Lutheran view that the office of the pope is the Antichrist (though not the only Antichrist):
That there may be no doubt about our position, let it be clearly said: A theologian who merely because it happens to be in the Confessions lets the doctrine stand that the pope is the Antichrist, and is not solidly convinced that it is so, cannot truthfully be called a Lutheran. (118)
He continues:
If there was any doubt on the part of some Lutherans as to the correctness of Luther’s judgment, then this was removed when Pius IX, with the consent of the Vatican Council, on 18 July 1870 promulgated the constitution Pastor aeternus. In it eternal salvation was denied to those who consciously oppose the dogma that the pope has the exercise of direct episcopal power over the whole church, over the infallibility with which Christ has equipped His church, and that his ex cathedra decisions in questions of faith and morals are, “of themselves, and not from the consensus of the church,” true and irreformable (ex sese, non autem ex consensus Ecclesiae irreformabiles [Denzinger 3074]). And when the first of these new ex cathedra decisions was proclaimed—the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, in 1950, on All Saints’ Day, the day inseparably connected with the Reformation—the shock wave hit all Christendom. Here became visible something of the reality which Luther had recognized with deep dread—the reality of the man who puts himself in God’s place and proclaims his fantasies as divine revelation. (120)
Sasse further mentions:
It was Luther’s deep understanding of the Gospel that enabled him on the one hand to recognize its fearful perversion in the papacy, and on the other hand to give a positive evaluation of those elements of the true church of Christ that still live on in the Roman Church. The same Smalcald Articles which so sharply delineate the doctrine of the Antichrist also acknowledge that “the sublime articles of the divine majesty” “are not matters of dispute or contention,” and give a considerable list of those matters which they wish to discuss with the Roman theologians. (124)
The Council of Trent, which established Roman Catholic doctrine and which remains their official position, states in Canon XII: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.” This is a clear repudiation of justification by grace through faith, and thus a clear rejection of the Gospel. Thus, while we can be thankful that there are Christians to be found within the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, we must also point out their church’s false doctrine and be willing to gently instruct those we might have opportunity to speak with and lead them to the truth.

Hermann Sasse, We Confess Anthology, Trans. Norman Nagel (St. Louis: CPH, 1999)

photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Regulated Garbage

What is it?  Specifically, it's an airplane catering truck.  This is the truck that brings the pilots' crew meals to the jet.  Let's just say that most of the crew meals that are put on the plane in Seattle, which is the majority of the meals I receive since that's where I'm based, are less than salutary.  Meals catered in any other city, or country, any time, anywhere, are more edible. In what can't possibly be a coincidence, notice what it says on the back of the truck: "REGULATED GARBAGE." It's all part of the glamorous life of the airline pilot.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Most Difficult Word in Scripture

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther; written down by Veit Dietrich at Luther's table in the fall of 1531:
I wonder whether Peter, Paul, Moses, and all the saints fully and thoroughly understood a single word of God so that they had nothing more to learn from it, for the understanding of God is beyond measure. To be sure, the saints understood the Word of God and could also speak about it, but their practice did not keep pace with it. Here one forever remains a learner. The scholastics illustrated this with a ball which only at one point touches the table on which it rests, although the whole weight of the ball is supported by the table.

Though I am a great doctor, I haven’t yet progressed beyond the instruction of children in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. I still learn and pray these every day with my Hans and my little Lena. Who understands in all of its ramifications even the opening words, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’? For if I understood these words in faith—that the God who holds heaven and earth in his hand is my Father—I would conclude that therefore I am lord of heaven and earth, therefore Christ is my brother, therefore all things are mine, Gabriel is my servant, Raphael is my coachman, and all the other angels are ministering spirits sent forth by my Father in heaven to serve me in all my necessities, lest I strike my foot against a stone. In order that this faith should not remain untested, my Father comes along and allows me to be thrown into prison or to be drowned in water. Then it will finally become apparent how well we understand these words. Our faith wavers. Our weakness gives rise to the question, ’Who knows if it is true?’ So this one word ‘your’ or ‘our’ is the most difficult of all in the whole Scripture. It’s like the word ‘your’ in the first commandment, ‘I am the Lord your God’ [Exod. 20:2].
Luther, M. (1999, c1967). Vol. 54: Luther's Works, vol. 54 : Table Talk (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (54:III-10). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

photo credit: moria

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Listen to Lutheran Public Radio

Did you know, that while you're reading this, you could be reading it while listening to sacred music?  Listen to Lutheran Public Radio 24/7:


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Liturgy: A Two-way Street Based on Christ

Quoting from Pastor Bill Cwirla's article "The Law and the Gospel in the Liturgy":
The Liturgy runs in both a "sacramental" and a "sacrificial" direction. God justifies man sacramentally, and justified man serves God sacrificially. God speaks his Word and as his Word has its mortifying and vivifying way with us, we speak to God and to one another. God opens our lips, and our mouths declare his praise (Ps 51:15).
Jesus Christ always remains the center and focus in the liturgy, whether we are speaking sacramentally or sacrificially. Through Jesus Christ, the Father bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation by the Holy Spirit who works through the Word. And through the same Jesus Christ, the church renders her thanks and praise sacrificially to the Father in the Holy Spirit. In both directions, Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5).
Where sacrament and sacrifice are confused, there will be a corresponding confusion of the Law and the Gospel. Worship that is focused on our prayer, praise, good works, love, caring, outreach, mission, stewardship, and sanctification instead of on Christ's saving death and resurrection, is focused on the Law and not the Gospel. Sacrifice without sacrament is Law without Gospel. To worship God according to the Law is idolatry, even if the God whom we are worshiping is the one, true God.
This distinction of sacrament and sacrifice provides a Christocentric litmus test for worship. If what is said, sung, or preached in the liturgy could be said, sung, or preached had Jesus Christ never died on the cross and rose from the dead for the salvation of the world, then that worship is not uniquely Christian. The sacrificial death of Jesus for the life of the world is the essential, core of the Liturgy. "For as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

Monday, October 8, 2012

We’re So Serious About Being Church We’re Going to Cancel Church!

Notice the difference? 

Rev. Terry Tieman, head of the Transforming Churches Network (TCN), from his blog post titled “3 BIG IDEAS (AND 2 SMALL ONES) ON REVITALIZATION: WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM 500 CHURCHES IN 5 YEARS!,” written in 2012:
Shorten or Cancel Worship [for Service Project Sunday]. Whoa! Are you kidding? No, because this demonstrates that you are serious about being the church “in” your community and that you care about your “neighbors” around you. If it’s too uncomfortable to completely cancel your formal service(s), then shorten or provide an alternative on Saturday or Sunday evening. 
Dr. Martin Luther, reformer, from his Heidelberg Disputation, written in 1518:
THESIS 21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. (LW, v. 31, IV)  

Read more about the Transforming Churches Network by downloading Scott's article on TCN here.

photo credit: Lawrence OP 

Friday, October 5, 2012

To Damnation and Back

Cheryl and I ventured out on an impromptu road trip, heading southbound through Oregon and northern California.  We spent our first night in "Track Town USA," Eugene, Oregon.  We saw Hayward Field, where the legendary Steve Prefontaine once ran for the University of Oregon.  Heading south, we circumnavigated Crater Lake. We spent the next night in Medford, Oregon, and had an enjoyable dinner with the legendary theological game show host Pastor Evan Goeglein, of Table Talk Radio fame. The next day we headed southwest towards northern California, hiking through the redwoods down to the coast, and then driving the coast northwards on U.S. 101 to Coos Bay, Oregon, where we bunked for the night. The next day we hiked the sand dunes of the coast, and then headed for McMinnville to visit the Evergreen Air & Space Museum before heading home. If you're into aviation, it's be worth the trip. Here's a few photos.

              Crater Lake from the north rim. It's the deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,949 feet.

        That's incredibly blue water! Click on the photo and take a close look at the shoreline.

The laked formed after the collapse of an old volcano. The little cone called Wizard Island formed from a subsequent eruption.

                                      Mt. Thielsen on the horizon in the distance.

Many of you may not recognize this guy hermaphrodite, the banana slug. They're quite common on the west coast, often munching on the leaves of your garden. Note the iridescent dried slug slime.

We came across these National Park Service workers while hiking the Damnation Trail from U.S. 101 down to the coast, about 2 1/2 miles one way and a 1,000 foot elevation change. A redwood had fallen across the trail. They'd been there for a day-and-a-half already, working on getting it off the trail. When we climbed back out, they had a section of the tree cut out so we could walk on the trail between the remaining portions of the trunk. This was a little tree - only about five feet in diameter. The Husqvarna-wielding man in the orange chaps is on top of the tree's trunk.

               Cheryl is dwarfed by redwood giants as they pierce the low-hanging clouds.

Sand dunes inhabit much of the Oregon coast. Here on the John Dellenback Trail they extend in nearly two miles from the beach.