Friday, June 29, 2007

The Rose's Thorn

I have long wondered why people find the grace and forgiveness of God freely given in Christ is such a hard concept, myself included, to freely accept. I think I may have tje beginnings of an idea.

When our sinful nature is presented with its true depravity it wants to flee. When I, as a pastor, present people with God's Word of Law they often want to put the blame on someone else. They want to try to justify themselves by saying "At least I didn't do that or this!" If we are given forgiveness then that means we have to admit to wrong doing, and that is not comfortable for anyone.

Jesus comes as a sweet smelling rose, but to receive the benefits that He gives, we are rightly pricked with the thorn of His Law and convicted by His own perfect obedience. While the prick lasts only a moment and is out-weighed by the benefit of the rose, some people do not want even a momentary uncomfortableness and would rather live without the sweetness and beauty of the rose.

The Law hurts, it's meant to. The Law makes the Gospel all the more sweet and without it the Gospel is not free, but worthless. The Law gives the Gospel its value and worth.

Defense of the Crucifix in Lutheranism and Christianity

Rev. Paul McCain brought this to my attention through his blog. The Wisconsin Synod has given a very good answer to "Isn't that too CATHOLIC?!?!" in regards to the crucifix of our Lord Jesus Christ. Give it a read!

A Shepherd's Warning

Watch Out! The wolf doesn't attack the Lord's flock stealthily at night anymore, but in open daylight. We see him move toward slaughtering the sheep, yet we oppose him without caution and without darts of words. So then, what fruits of a growing flock can we show the Lord if we calmly watch a wild beast mangle those we have been caring for? But we must study to make our hearts passionate by imitating earthly shepherds. They often keep watch through winter nights, nipped by rain and frost, lest even one sheep should perish. And if the prowler does bite one greedily, they busy themselves to save it. They pant with rapid heartbeats, leap to rescue the sheep with loud cries, and are stimulated by the urgency, lest the lord of the flock require what they lost carelessly. Watch then, lest anything perish. And if anything is seized by chance, bring it back to the Lord's flock by cries of godly instruction. Then the Shepherd of shepherds may mercifully approve of us in His judgment for having watched over His flock.
(From Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers, pg 180- Gregory I, Epistles 2.48)

Gregory I (540-604). Gregory was born into a godly family of considerable influence in Rome. After the death of his father, he proceeded to set up seven monasteries, one of which he became abbot. Gregory wasn't allowed to stay for long; the pope called him to be one of the seven deacons of Rome and subsequently sent him to Constantinople to be a representative at the imperial court. In 590, after the death of the pope, he was called to take his place. Gregory called himself "servant of the servants of God," a title every pope has used since. His most important writings are the Pastoral Rule, a handbook for bishops; numerous teachings, letters, dialogues; and the Exposition of Job.

The First and Primary Cause

When a field has brought good, rich crops to perfect maturity, no one would logically say that the farmer made those fruits. Everyone would acknowledge that the crops had been produced by God. In the same way, our own perfection isn't brought about by inactivity and idleness, but by some activity on our part. Yet we aren't credited with its perfection. God is. He is the first and primary cause of the work. Take, for example, a ship that has overcome the dangers of the sea through hard working sailors, the aid of navigation, a pilot's zeal and carefulness, favorable breezes, and the careful observation of the signs of the stars. No one in his right mind would attribute the vessel's safety to anything else than the mercy of God when, after being tossed by the waves, and wearied by the billows, it has at last reached the harbor. Not even any of the sailors or the pilot would venture to say, "I have saved the ship," but would refer entirely to the mercy of God. This isn't because these men feel that they haven't contributed skill or labor to save the ship, but the vessel's safety was entrusted by God. Similarly, in the race of life, we must work diligently and passionately.
(From Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers, pg 175- Origen, First Principles 3.1)

The Dissidence of Life's Harmony

From the American Edition of Luther's Works, vol. 6, pg. 92, editied in Faith Alone by James C. Galvin.

People who are unfamiliar with the principles of musical harmony have trouble appreciating how the various sounds produced by an organ or harp can result in such beautiful music. In this life, we hear the sounds, not the symphony. It appears to us that God is asleep and the devil is wide-awake and ruling everything. Human reason concludes that neither God nor people are in control of the world, but that everything on earth happens by chance. Human wisdom can't comprehend the infinite, heavenly truth that God is in charge and allows many more things in this world to succeed than fail. God's kindness is more widespread that the devil's cruelty. But human reason makes us uncertain because we experience so much disorder and injustice. We feel uncertain because we don't see by the same light the angels do. We can't understand how right and wrong, life and death, light and darkness all harmonize.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Moderates and Confessionals

From my good friend Rev. Tom Chryst at Grace Lutheran Church, Racine, Wisconsin:
As the July LCMS convention approaches, I have been pondering the struggles of the Synod and my place in it all. I have been thinking for some time about the two camps in the LCMS and how I managed to start in one and migrate to the other.
Coming from the East Coast and out of Concordia, Bronxville, I was a prime candidate to end up in the "moderate" wing of the synod. Going into seminary, I wasn't totally convinced of Closed Communion, and had my doubts about women's ordination.
I remember even in Seminary getting into an argument about whether the LCMS should even be discussing women's ordination (I thought then, that we should - my wiser adversary saying it was a settled matter.)
Back then, I didn't like contemporary and praise type music, but still didn't really "get" the liturgy.
I remember firmly thinking that style and substance were completely unrelated.
I also figured I could and would remain neutral in all the various squabbles of the LCMS, and be "above it all."
Honestly, I also didn't study the Confessions as seriously as I should have in seminary. It didn't seem so "relevant" to me then.
How that changed. While I still am careful about how and when and where I participate in our synod's political process, I find myself increasingly taking sides with the confessional/conservative/traditionalist camp. My growing appreciation for and understanding of Lutheran theology is to blame for this.
The Yankee Stadium controversy was, for me, and for many I think, a turning point. It almost drew a line in the sand. You kind of HAD to take sides. And as I examined what happened there and studied the issues carefully, I found myself siding with a new and strange group of people. The people who used to scare me.
I was, originally, quite intimidated by the Confessional crowd in the LCMS. I think I understand why. To me, they represented the Law. Their very existence suggested there was something "less pure" or "less faithful" or "less Lutheran" about me. And I resented that. I guess I also internally knew that it was true, and so these guys became a sort of walking talking embodiment of the Law for me. By identifying themselves as certain things, they implicitly identified others as not those things. Liturgical, traditional, Biblical, concerned about Law and Gospel, faithful, confession-minded... all these have an opposite.
I have heard moderates in the synod speak derisively of the "ultra-conservatives," as they assumed I sympathized with them. I honestly don't know what the problem is, other than a feeling that because that guy wears a collar all the time and doesn't do contemporary worship, he must think he's better than us. And in a sense, I guess that's true. But perhaps he simply thinks what he is doing is better.
Sure there's arrogance and condescension on the confessional side too. And to the extent that we allow this we are sure to turn off the moderates even more. But even without it, I think a certain amount of Law will prick the honest moderate's conscience, as he sees a faithful pastor doing things he knows he should be doing - but is either too lazy, or afraid, or uninformed to do.
I have come a long way in the last 7 years. I still feel like I am on the road to becoming truly Lutheran. I appreciate the internet and all I have learned here, in the blogs and on the email lists and forums... and it gives me hope. Issues Etc. is another gem.
I hope that many who were or are like me - once the Squishy Missouri Middle - can grow and learn and see why it is we want to build Lutheran identity and stem the tide of the Neo-Evangelical influence in our Synod.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Our Hidden Lives

This morning in Men's Bible Study we were talking about looking to the cross for all good things. There are trials and tribulations in our lives, and while I will not presume to know the mind of God or His reasoning, one of the blessings of trials and tribulations for Christians is that it can point us back to our sufficiency in Christ.

This afternoon while reading Luther, I came across this very beautiful description of our hidden lives. While we are redeemed and share presently in the glory of our resurrected and ascended Lord, that reality is often hidden.

Luther says: But faith must close its eyes and refuse to pass judgment on what it sees or feels in the world. You won't become aware of eternal life until Christ raises you from the dead. Meanwhile, your eternal life is hidden in death. It's covered up and out of sight. But you have forgiveness. If you feel the weight of sin crushing you, you can still say, "My sins are forgiven." When your sins hunt you down, bite at you, and terrify you, you can look to Christ, put your feeble faith in Him, and hold on tightly.*

It seems at times that telling people to just look to Christ isn't enough. Our sinful nature wants to take the reigns from God. That is where so many church bodies and pastors get into trouble. When you get to a point where Christ's sacrificial and atoning death, His justifying resurrection and glorious ascension and mediation are no longer enough you may as well hand your soul to the devil. Faith closes its eyes to everything but Christ and Him crucified. There we have our sufficiency.

*Luther's Works AE 23:74

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why is Creation important?

In my morning devotion I read from Walther in CPH's God Grant It.
This morning I was struck by this beautiful and pregnant line about the reason for Creation:

God did not need creatures. He is an ocean of eternal love that overflowed in the creation of countless beings to whom He revealed His love and with whom He shared His goodness.*

Wow! That is awesome! Our existence is not then some cosmic accident (which I never would buy) but an overflowing of God's eternal love. That love's source is the ultimately in the cross of Jesus Christ, where the life-giving blood of the lamb was poured out for us.

Now, this is a great thought to start out my day!

O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare Your praise!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A fitting prayer

From my evening devotional from Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers, Hilary of Poitiers* has the fitting prayer for the Pastor and his flock:

O Lord God Almighty, I know that I owe You the devotion of all my words and thoughts as my main duty. The greatest reward of speech You have given me is the opportunity to serve by preaching You and displaying You as You are to a blind and rebellious world. For You are our Father and Father of God the Only-begotten Son. But I am only expressing my own desires. I must also pray for Your help and compassion. Then Your Spirit's breath will fill the sails of faith and confession which I have spread out, and a favorable wind will move me forward on my voyage of instruction. We can trust the promise of Christ who said, "Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you." In whatever we lack, we will pray for the things we need. We will be untiring and energetic as we study Your prophets and apostles. We will knock to enter every gate of hidden knowledge. But You are the One who answers these prayers, who gives us the things we seek, who opens the door we beat on.

Amen and Amen.

* Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-367) is best known for his stands against the Arian sect in his two treatises, On the Trinity and On the Synods. His early years were devoted to the study of pagan philosophy and rhetoric before he was converted to the Christian faith. Around 350, he was appointed as bishop of Poitiers despite having a wife. His six years as bishop were spent refuting the Arians and upholding the teachings of Athanasius. Under the emperor Constantius he was banished to Phyrgia in Asia Minor, where he composed his treatises. Hilary returned to Poitiers and spent the rest of his life defending the Christian faith from heretical teachings. The passage in this blog post is from On the Trinity 1.37, from Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers, pg.169 & 374.

It went pretty well...

My first Divine Service as Pastor of Good Shepherd, that is. Being given the great responsibility and honor of serving God's people with His Word and Sacraments did make me a bit nervous, though (as it probably should.) I chanted the entire Divine Service 3, which I think went well. I got to wear my new chasuble from Kanel Bros. (I'll post some pics later this week, but it is beautiful and it matches the altar and pulpit paraments perfectly!)

What an indescribable joy and honor it is to feed the Good Shepherd's sheep! May He always go before me to prepare their hearts, with me that I may be made worthy and faithful of the task and after me to nourish and fortify the seed of His Word!

My first Sunday at Good Shepherd

I'd say this comic from Dave Coverly's Speed Bump pretty well sums up my feelings!

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Today I was installed as the third pastor to serve the redeemed saints in Christ at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Middleville, MI. What a great blessing and honor it is for me to serve them in Word and Sacrament ministry.

I am also blessed with a tremendously warm, hospitable and welcoming congregation. What a day! And the meal afterward was just wonderful! Another day I will never forget. I pray that God would bless me with many years of faithful and fruitful service in Middleville.

I will post pictures later. Tomorrow it's off to work!!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pastoral Care Companion

I got this beautiful and very handy little book as an Ordination gift. So, what does a pastor do?

Services and Rites
*Holy Baptism
*Enrollment of Sponsors
*Individual Confession and Absolution
*Visiting the Sick and Distressed (including annointing with oil)
*Communion of the Sick and Homebound
*Blessing of a Mother after Childbirth
*Anniversary or Affirmation of Holy Matrimony
*Commendation of the Dying
*Comforting the Bereaved
*Funeral and Committal
*Blessing of a Home
So what do all these services and rites mean? It means that I, as a pastor, want to be involved in my people's lives, in all levels, and share with them God's blessings in His Word.

From Baptisms to Funerals, from Weddings to Home Blessings.

My beloved saints at Good Shepherd, do not hesitate to call on me to be your pastor. It is my great privilege and joy to share God's Word in your life.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Some Ordination Pictures

These were taken with our camera and for some reason are fuzzy. I will be getting some more later and will post them if they are better.

The work of a shepherd

There was once a shepherd who was hired to watch over a flock. He started out well, giving the flock everything they needed, but before too long, he grew tired of the flock he was hired to watch. He started putting out food for the goats that wandered on the hills nearby. The sheep he was set over did not like this food, but the shepherd insisted that if they were really good sheep who loved their master they would eat it and be happy about it. The shepherd ignored their declining health on this goat’s diet because he really wanted to make the goats a part of his flock.
Now, what the shepherd didn’t realize is that his master was already working on those goats. This shepherd forgot that he was just hired to work for this specific flock. He thought that he was responsible for all he sheep and goats on the hills around him. The shepherds of other flocks encouraged the shepherd and joined him in his work with the goats. All their work with the goats took them away from the work they were hired to do with their own flocks of sheep.

While they were focused on the goats and other sheep, their own flock started to wander off and the wolves started to get closer and closer. Some sheep went to other shepherds who were still putting out the special sheep food from the master. Some sheep wandered off into the hills and mountains and became wild again, and some lost their way altogether and died. Some were killed and eaten by the wolf. The whole time, their shepherd was looking out, away from his flock, at those goats.
What will the shepherd’s master say to him when he comes back to see how his flock has been managed? What will the master do with the sheep and goats he has brought to this unfaithful shepherd? What will happen to all those poor sheep who were neglected and ignored?

That was a LONG break!

I know, it was a lot longer than I said I would be gone, but I've been enjoying my time in Michigan. I will soon post some pics of the Ordination and upcoming Installation. The Ordination was a day I will never forget. I have to thank Pr. Tom Chryst for the beautiful and fitting sermon.