Monday, June 30, 2008

The Crucifix...

is only TOO Catholic if Christ only died on the cross of Roman Catholics. I was listening recently to an archived episode from Issues, etc. with Rev. James Wetzstein on Church Architecture (see March 18, 2007). Several of the callers (so far) have expressed their distress at having to "nice" of a church. One caller in particular made that "ol' time religion" (read, generic American protestant dribble) argument that we don't need to keep putting Christ on the cross. I'm sure any pastor who has ever had this conversation is tired of hearing about "my Jesus" that people seem to think is somehow different than the Jesus who died for their sins. "My Jesus isn't on that cross anymore!" "My Jesus is Resurrected! Take that awful thing off the altar (or out of the sanctuary)!" "I'm not Catholic!!! My Jesus is alive!"

Those arguments are all dangerously bordering on mocking that most precious gift of God in the sacrifice of His Son for YOU! Your Jesus did die for your sins! Your Jesus bore the burden of every sinful, blasphemous, mocking thought! Your Jesus did hang on that cross for you, He bled for you, suffered for you and died for you! If that isn't YOUR Jesus on the cross, then its not YOUR Jesus who was raised and it is not YOUR Jesus who continuously offers His own Body and Blood for your forgiveness.

Enough of this foolish argument. Christ died for sinners, of which I am chief! We preach Christ crucified. Look to Him on the cross and give thanks for the loving-kindness and steadfast love of the Triune God offered on the altar of the Cross.

The Walking Witness

Last Tuesday I was given the most extraordinary opportunity. I was walking to church for an elders meeting in my work clothes (black clerical collar and black pants) listening to archived episodes of Issues, etc about the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession in preparation for the Divine Service in celebration of its anniversary when a man sitting in a car in the Shell station parking lot motioned me over.

Of course, my sinful, cynical nature assumed this young man was looking for some kind of financial help and saw an easy mark in a clergyman. I asked him if I could help him. He asked if I was a priest, I told him I am a Lutheran pastor. To that, he responded with several very deep and serious questions about our Christian faith, especially when compared with the Roman Catholic faith. We talked for about 20 minutes. It was truly wonderful. Had I not just listened to two hours on Roman Catholicism from now fired Reverends Todd Wilken and Martin Noland, I would not have had the answers I did for this young man and his friend.

This is what true mission and outreach are about. It's not all about programs and gimmicks. It's not about "critical events." It's not about asking a waitress if you can pray for her. It's about the work of the Spirit creating these amazing and low-key opportunities. It's about Christians living their faith, being ready to give and account for the hope that fills them.

These two people may never come to Good Shepherd. I have certainly been praying that they would, but it is not for me to give the growth. I am simply a laborer in the Lord's vineyard. I can only give what He has given me to plant. He will cause all the growth.

So, now I wonder if I turned this witnessing story into the Ablaze! (tm) story page, that through the power of the Spirit I was able to share our Lutheran Confession of faith. That I was prepared to do so by the teaching of two faithful men who have been fired for "programmatic and business reasons." That the opportunity came only because I was dressed for work, that is in the clerical uniform of the Church of the Lutheran Confessions.

Well, they didn't post my daughter's baptism story, so we'll see.

Issues, etc returns

"...and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Appropriate words from yesterdays feast of St. Peter and St. Paul in light of the steadfast Gospel voice in the wilderness of generic American Evangelicalism. Issues, Etc. is back on the air. Despite "programmatic and business" reasons, this strong voice of reason for the thinking Christian is back, thanks be to God. If you aren't listening to it, do so...NOW!! If you can't, subscribe to it and listen later.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Is this true?

I heard today from two reliable sources that CPH's Women Pastors? has officially had its certification challenged, and it will probably be pulled. There is some speculation that President Kieschnick is somehow involved and in favor of this move. I would like to have this report either confirmed or denied by someone who knows. I had been hearing rumors about it since Issues, etc. was shamefully cancelled on Holy Tuesday. Perhaps brother McCain could shed some light on the subject? Anyone else know about this?

If this is true, it is certainly disturbing news and faithful pastors and laity need to stand up for the true Biblical teaching on the role of women in the Church.

I would certainly hope and pray this is not the case considering Pres. Kieschnick affirmed the Biblical teaching that women are to not hold the pastoral office. However, in the same letter he does acknowledge that there are some disagreements about the role of women in the church.

Please, clear this up someone. There are too many unspoken, unpleasant goings on in our synod. If this is or is not happening, let's clear it up soon.

A Question of Christian Freedom

Is it permissible for thoroughly Lutheran Christians to use prayer beads (ala rosary) in their daily devotional lives? I don't mean to ask is it permissible for Lutherans to pray to Mary using a rosary, but to pray using beads or a rosary.

What do you think? Is this too "hyper-ritualistic"? Let's use our heads to rationally discuss this issue. I have some thoughts that I will keep to myself until after some discussion has ensued.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A lot of Updates to the Family Blog

The dear wife has been updating the development of our family and Lena over at our family blog. Check out how much she's grown and what we've been up to!

Come back later...

After listening to a three episode series on the Issues, etc archive with Dr. Ken Wieting, author of The Blessings of Weekly Communion, I was again taken aback by the attitude of many life-long LCMSers that weekly communion would somehow diminish the value and "specialness" of the sacred visitation and digestion of Christ's most perfectand sacred gift to us: His very own body and blood.

I couldn't help but think of that old favorite portrait of Christ at the door. I guess someone inside is telling him "Come back at Christmas and Easter, we don't want to see you too much, it would make it less SPECIAL!!"

WHERE DID THIS FOOLISHNESS COME FROM!?!? Listen to the archives with the good and faithful Dr. Wieting to learn our love-hate relationship with the Eucharist.

To quote the Church Lady, "Well, isn't that SPECIAL?!"

Cell Phones in Church

If your cell phone is going to ring in church...during the least follow the example of Ken, make sure its a cool ring-tone, one the Pastor can easily embarass you about after church. I don't know, I guess "The Imperial March" (aka "Darth Vader's Theme") would be a good one!

St. Barnabas, Beloved of God

Today the Church remembers and thanks God for St. Barnabas, Apostle. His name means "son of encouragement, consolation," and the Biblical witness gives ample testimony that he lived up to his name.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4 when St. Luke, the author of Acts, says that the early Christians "were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common" (Acts 4:32). In our day, when diversity is trumpeted and even Christians seem to revel in how different they can be from one another, such a comment from St. Luke is quite the encouragement that there can indeed be something better. The unity of Christians in faith and life is indeed an encouragement and consolation.

We can indeed learn a lot from the early Church of Acts, and from Barnabas himself. As we are told of the early Christians selling their own property - perhaps the equivalent of "vacation homes" and extra land - we meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36: "Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet." What a great example of Christian charity! Barnabas saw the opportunity to use his wealth to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen and to extend the kingdom of God. What great encouragement our Lord gives when His people give generously so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and His kingdom promoted.

The next time we encounter this Apostle of encouragement he comes to the rescue, humanly speaking, of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 gives us the conversion of St. Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians. With good reason many in the early Church were quite nervous about this man who had previously hunted down and killed their brothers and sisters in the true faith. However, "Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus" (Acts 9:27). What great encouragement Barnabas gave to St. Paul that someone would defend him and his name as a fellow Christian. What great consolation he gave to the other apostles that St. Paul was "the real deal" for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So on this day we thank God for St. Barnabas, for his selfless, generous charity, and for his defense of St. Paul's reputation as a bona fide apostle to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Let us pray that God will lead us also to be generous with our wealth so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and the kingdom of Christ may expand. Let us pray that God will give us the good courage to defend and support our pastors as they proclaim the mercies and life of Jesus Christ our Savior.

Collect of the Day (LSB)
Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings for the Day (LSB)
Isaiah 42:5-12
Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3
Mark 6:7-13

Hymn Verse
For Barnabas we praise You,
Who kept Your law of love
And, leaving earthly treasures,
Sought riches from above.
O Christ, our Lord and Savior,
Let gifts of grace descend,
That Your true consolation
May through the world extend. (LSB 518:17)

Sorry, First (Insert Denominational Title Here) Church, someone beat you too it!

This fascinating news story tells of the discovery of the "first church," supposedly the church of the 70 with a mosaic describing the charter members as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine." I look forward to hearing more about this one.

Technicolor Theology

That's what I always think of when I watch those Biblical epics from the 50's and 60's (think Charleton Heston in the Ten Commandments, or older CPH "art"). I think this portrayal of Biblical figures and events has greatly influenced our thinking of Scripture and Christ. Everything is perfect, the colors all vibrant, the characters beautiful or majestic. Not a hair out of place, not a speck of dirt on any one's clothes. In other words, these people were not human. And it has hurt at least one whole generation's view of their faith. This "technicolor theology" is just as bad as the prosperity gospel in that it has given such a perfect view of the lives of the faithful. I have seen the dangers of this first hand. "Pastor, why do we need a crucifix? It is so dark!" So, what has replaced the truth of our faith? Bright pictures and saccharin worship that has given the church a bad case of spiritual diabetes. Jesus smiling, or worse, laughing, has distorted our understanding of who Christ is and the purpose of His coming. It was not to smile or laugh or to make us smile or laugh. It was not to make us feel warm fuzzies, as if He were some sort of heavenly Lawrence Welk (note: Welkian Theology is closely related to Technicolor Theology--both are fake!) with the lovely Andrew Sisters singing "So Long, Farewell" at the Ascension.

Christ came to earth to DIE for SINNERS! It was a dirty and grimy job. It was often thankless and unappreciated. People are not good, they do get dirty and in fact they ARE dirty, down to the very fiber of their beings. We are so disgustingly filthy with sin. And this is why "technicolor theology" is so attractive. It tricks us into thinking we came from a idyllic, epic, majestic, beautiful spiritual lineage. It ultimately would trick us into believing that we can obtain that technicolor glory on our own. It lulls us into a false sense of security. Behind the glitz and glitter, Satan is cunningly whispering, "See, you're not that bad. Look at the power you have, you can cover any blemish so well no one will ever see it!"

And we do try to cover the blemishes. When Christ walked the earth they whitewashed their tombs, today we present our faith in brilliant technicolor. But when it comes down to it, be it technicolor or the latest high def picture, it is all infected with sin and grime. When it comes down to it, anything that takes our eyes off of Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the CROSS, is an idol.

Don't get me wrong, you can watch your technicolor Biblical Epics and enjoy them. You can think Lawrence Welk is truly "wunnerful," but beware the effect those temporal entertainments may have on your faith.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Travel Itineraries

For my family's history, I have traveled quite a bit. I was born and raised in a northeastern Indiana farm family. My entire family (all aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts and great-uncles, 2nd cousins, grandparents, etc.) live within 20 miles of each other (most still do to this day!) When I was young, a two-hour car drive to the huge city of Indianapolis was a HUGE trip and very special.

But, I was not content (or really able) to stay in my family's homeland. After getting married my new bride and I moved to St. Louis so I could attend seminary and she grad school. I never imagined living that far from home for so long! My vicarage year took us to central Texas and I was not blessed to see the flat lands of corn, soy beans and wheat for a whole year. Back to St. Louis and now in Western Michigan.

My wife and I have done a lot of traveling by car in our five years of marriage. One constant about any kind of travel or moving is having an itinerary. You need to plan a trip. Know your stops, plan how far you want to go in a day, where you want to eat, pack up everything that you could conceivably need (and now with a little one, that list of "conceivable" needs boggles the mind!)

One thing is certain: when you travel, you want to be prepared. Nothing, in my mind is worse than getting to your destination and finding you have left a key component at home. Or worse, not even getting to your destination because you didn't plan well enough! I guess given my family's history of putting down deep roots in a place, my sometimes obsessive trip planning is understandable.

Perhaps that is why the Gospel reading for the fifth Sunday in Pentecost (Matthew 9:35-10:20, Series A) causes me to worry just a bit.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying,'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Jesus sends His disciples out without any earthly travel itinerary! They have a very broad destination (the lost sheep of the house of Israel), they have a truly miraculous and earthly impossible goal (heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons), and Christ goes so far as to tell them NOT to prepare for their trip (Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff). They are sent out with Christ's word and promise as their only preparation! And this terrifies me!!
Could I be so faithful as to leave all the preparations and comforts I have set up for myself to follow Christ's word? Could I go someplace without making any plans other than to proclaim the kingdom of heaven? Is it possible that Christ is really able to do what He says? Even more amazing than that, is it possible that I could actually put my faith completely in His sufficiency?

As if all that weren't bad enough, the destination for Christ's disciples is not even that rosy. Check this out: "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."

What would we do if told to leave every thing we know and love, make no provision for our journey, and be persecuted severely as a reward for our faithful following? No doubt, our practical side would scream "GET OUT OF THERE!! THIS MAN IS CRAZY! HE'S TRYING TO GET YOU KILLED!!" And indeed, Christ is trying to get us killed. He desires to tear down the old, sin-filled, foul, diseased Adam in each of us so that He may build up a new creation that is perfected in His life, death and resurrection. He calls us to deny ourselves completely and rely fully on His guidance. He calls us to loose ourselves and find in Him a perfection of righteousness and holiness. He calls us to let Him do everything, to relinquish power and control, to be found in His loving-kindness and all sufficient grace.

This is the radical call of Christ: to throw away our perceived eternal travel itinerary and to trust in Him to get us to our heavenly home. Do not be anxious about how He will do it, do not be anxious about how He will use you, but trust in His guidance and His work, for in loosing ourselves we are found in His perfection.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Happy Anniversary, my Love and my Darling!

You have made me the most blessed and fortunate man on earth by your love. You are a wonderful wife and the best mother to my daughter I could ever hope for!

All my love!