Sunday, April 27, 2008

Easter 6 - I WILL...




Saturday, April 26, 2008

Last Week's Post...

The Book of Concord Audio


One of my tasks as the Overseer of Young Adult Discipleship and Outreach for Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries is simply to develop and make available new ways of catechesis and discipleship. For this reason, I was thrilled when a compatriot of mine suggested the development of the entire Book of Concord (Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions,) be made available (for free) in mp3 and on CD audio, so that those who desired to grow in the mind of Christ might, say, listen to the Formula for Harmony on the way to work. I championed this idea, and we have begun the project.

But what I'd like to hear, here, for those of you who have returned, is just this: am I right? Would you use it? If so, what things can we do to make it the most useful?

We intend to make the project as professional as possible. In the future, as they become available, I will make the earliest editions available here, through Philadelphia Lutheran Underground and Crosstheology.com (under construction as we speak,) and will ask you for feedback.

So, now, first ever roll call! Let me know if your a listener to the sermons. Let me know if the BoC audio works for you. And let me know more of what you'd like to see from and for a local/global outreach to young adults with the goals of discipling them according to the confession of the Evangelical Catholic Revolution.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reading that dag-nasty Luther guy again...


In light of recent events in my beloved Synod (which you can read plenty about here and here,), I think what bothers me most about all of these shenanigins [sic?] is the willingness of many, most and almost all to lay down and be quiet, lest the terror of the current administration fall upon their own heads.

Perhaps I am not one to speak. Then again, I have already experienced a slight degree of these most advanced and "churchly" leadership styles which serving as a missionary and congregational revitalizer in my first call (to the now defunk "Our Savior Lutheran Church of Perryville, NJ.)

Placed into a congregation of no more than 40, with an average worship attendance of about 32, reliant almost exclusively on financial assistance from a sister congregation (who, stammering on cold feet, murmured about withdrawing that support within two weeks of my having arrived on site - a mere two weeks after my graduation,) and finding this small group deeply divided between an old guard who viewed me as the Synod's hatchet man, and a small group of hanger's on who (from what I could tell,) had never heard the Gospel before, I strove to be faithful to my ordination vows, to champion the weak, to advocate the district's good intentions, and to court the sister parish.

Well, it didn't work. We closed. That hurt. What hurt more was the front continually given by the powers that be to others who were curious about what had happened in Perryville. I don't know what was ever actually said, but to this day my name is rumor-tinged with being one of "those guys" who "destroy churches."

Should I expect the leadership of a Church body to be willing to take a hit for its pastors? Should I expect those who would preach Jesus to the world, to be men of repentance themselves? If a man claims that he is for the name of Christ, invokes Christ, and says, "Look at me and my office, I am obviously the one who is right and sees everything clearly," should others therefore back down because of the 4th and 8th commandments?

Thus, this week, watching my measely story play out on a much larger scale, Luther has brought me much comfort:

If the world will not follow, it need not. Let anyone who does not want to hear this be on his way. We do not preach for the sake of the ungrateful and sneering people. We preach because it pleases God.

The same principle applies to any social position on earth. A man who is to administer an office and to rule well dare not follow his own ideas. ... This never makes for good government. Such people have little interest in the country or the nation. They think that they alone must be feted and honored. They are unwilling to endure peril, ingratitude, contempt, and disgrace. Or, when they do encounter such things, they grow furious and foolish, begin to rage, and turn everything topsy-turvy. They are determined to avenge themselves and to carry their point even though everything is ruined and the government collapses. These people are not fit to rule.

He who would govern well must be able to ignore his own honor and welfare, to scorn and forget ingratitude and malice, and to be intent solely on the well-being of country and people. He must place the public good above his own welfare, honor and comfort.

This applies in a far greater measure to the spiritual realm in Christendom! Here infinitely greater danger and trouble are involved, and higher power comes into play. If a preacher strives for the attainment of honor, money and good days, and wants to shape his sermons with that end in mind, he will never accomplish anything, nor will he last. If this ambition fails, he retreats and becomes a non-Christian. ... He who governs and preaches only for his own benefit will never be serious about his business ... If he has the public welfare at heart, he follows through and speaks and acts according to his knowledge of what is good and right, regardless of either the anger or the ridicule he may arouse, and regardless of his own advantage or disadvantage.

But where do you find such people? Men seek to harvest honor and glory from their office. They use it only for their own profit, and then they have no conscience scruples, as though they had done their work well.

In Christendom, it is necessary that those who love their Lord Christ stand ready to do and suffer everything, with this thought in mind: "Whoever wants to be angry because of my words, or to laugh, let him do so! I am unconcerned about any man, be he prince, scholar, or saint; I look to Christ alone. What Christ has commanded, I do out of love for him, and for the sake of his precious blood...." Where such a heart and mind are wanting, no preacher or Christian remains a believer. For what he seeks outside of Christ will soon tear him away. ... For all our doctrine and actions are not based on ourselves, nor are we involved in this; but all this has to do with this Christ, from whom we have everything, and for whom we preach, live and suffer. ... Let him worry about it. He says that He will see it through.

But the opponents will let their eyes roam about in the wide world, and see the incalculable number of those who despise, blaspheme, and persecute our doctrine, and see that these are not simple and insignificant people, but generally the wisest, the most learned, and the mightiest folk, and also those who presume to be the most pious and saintliest - and they begin to reflect: "Can all these prominent people be wrong, and call all that they say, maintain and decree be untrue and damnable?"

For our own reassurance, Christ affirms clearly and bluntly that such things cannot be otherwise. He declares that there are people who cannot understand Him - nor can such be expected or hoped for that the great multitude of the world's noblest, greatest and best should have the truth. This is a strong condemnation! They cannot have and do not want to have the Spirit of truth. They are property of the devil's spirit of lies, even though they make a great fuss and exclaim, "Here is the Church! Here is God's Word! Here is the Spirit!"...

No...no matter how much they boast, it is all directed against Christ. Even if they confess and make much of their faith in Christ with their lips, they deny him in fact and in deed. Their actions bear out that they are lying. ... In opposition, they adduce their doctrines about [pleasing God, the real Christian life, etc], and they are resolved to preserve and defend these beliefs by force.

Now, think: it would be poor recognition of a prince if I were to accept and praise him as my master, and at the same time pay his letter and seal no heed, ignore his command, cast it to the winds, and act and talk against it as I chose. ... No, my dear man, it will never do. But thus these people read the Bible, pray the Our Father, confess the Creed, and praise the Holy spirit, but it is all falsehood and lies, because they do not have Him and do not know Him, since they refuse to accept His instruction and proclamation.

Thus we hear this judgment, which informs us for our comfort that our opponents do not have the Holy Spirit, as they boastfully claim against us.; In fact, they cannot have Him and know Him. No matter how much they see, hear, boast and preach of Christ and the Holy Spirit, they still do not know Him. For their path to this goal is obstructed by the huge blocks and boulders of their personal notions, which they follow. ... They will not hear or tolerate any other doctrine or teacher.

To this and to us Christ says, "Be of good cheer and unafraid! You will never succeed in making the world pious. It is, to be sure, a matter of grave offense and great pain to see so many excellent, learned, prominent and wise people, together with the great multitude, strive and storm against God's Word and the clear truth of the Holy Spirit. Yet you must realize that it cannot be otherwise. Pay no attention, even though you are small in number and all alone. ... Remain with the little group which gladly hears and receives my Word and has the steadfast Spirit. Do not be afraid if the other multitude refuses to follow you. ... Be convinced that you have the Holy Spirit, of whom your persecutors are not worthy.

How do you know you have the Holy Spirit? Christ says, because you adhere to Him in faith, and because you love and cherish the Word. "If My name is a bone of contention, if I am the cause of strife, thank God." ... Do not judge by numbers. Though they be great or small, many or few, you will remain in the right, not they. ... The Church or Christendom has a guarantee, a formal promise and a strong consolation from Christ that never, till the end of days, will it be without the Holy Spirit. ... So long as Christendom endures and the Day of Judgment tarries, this text must stand, and there will always be people who believe and confess it.

It must be noted that this is exceedingly offensive and hard to believe. We must observe what we say and preach about it, because there are so few who are really Christians and have the Holy Spirit remaining and dwelling in them. These words seem like an abominable lie to all the world. ... For, just as there are few of us who believe, even the Holy Spirit makes Himself so extraordinarily small and weak that the world takes offense.

Thus, those who make the boast to be the Church have the numbers and the strength, and they give every appearance of being the apostles' successors. They have governed long, and have cultivated a great holiness and worship of God. We, on the other hand, are so few, so destitute of all reputation and all outward appearance, and, in addition, so timid that we ourselves cannot believe firmly enough. ... We are alone, small and insignificant, isolated, forsaken, poor and wretched. We are condemned by them and must allow them the spiteful boast that they act aright and in accord with the Holy Spirit. ... They enjoy a great advantage, in that they have the name and the earmarks of Christendom until now, and still do. And the world chimes in with them and believes what they say. We, however, have nothing like this to boast of, nor does the world believe us. Yet we must be sure of our claim: the Holy Spirit is with us.

To this we look and judge solely on the basis of one criterion: when the Holy Spirit comes, His one office, as Christ says, will be to preach Christ and glorify Christ. If you believe and preach this message, then you surely have and know the Holy Spirit, who alone glorifies Christ.

Investigate the preaching. Do they extol Christ, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the Gospel? Then you will find that the great multitude which boasts of being Church and of having the Holy Spirit preaches a false proclamation and a lying spirit, the devil's church and vessel, even though it decks and adorns itself with names like God, Christ, Holy Spirit and Church.

Whether you truly believe [in the Christ] will be seen. You need nothing else. All are overcome. There is no more death, wrath, hell or sin. Thus, you will live accordingly, preaching and professing freely and intrepidly, hazarding property and honor, life and limb. ... This will be the test.

Here then, Christ says, there will be many in the world who will make much of His name and His Word, but will not keep His words. For they are not disposed to be willing to lose or suffer anything for his sake.

It's almost cogent enough to make you forget he was talking about Rome.

Monday, April 21, 2008

John 14 - Which Way




mp3 download

Friday, April 18, 2008

So much to think about these days...


From the internal collapsing of trust within my political-church affiliation, (for example), to the arch-enemy of pure doctrine's excellent confession regarding the apostasy of America (for coverage), to the tasks at hand here in Philadelphia, from contemplating our own radio outreach, to the up and coming "Philadelphia Lutheran Underground" (shhh!) to the simple daily tasks of seelsorger to my people - there's a lot on my table and a lot on my mind.

All the more reason then to hit the books in prep for preaching this week. And this week, the book I hit is by this kinda famous guy named Martin "Reginald Aquinarious L-Diddy" Luther:

If God were to span the way to heaven with a bridge that I could see and feel from the beginning to end, with its entrance and exit, why would I need faith or this sermon? (Commentary on John 14, AE p. 50)

Indeed.

American Christianity more or less traces its roots to those rapscallions of Luther's day known as the "schismatics and enthusiasts." As if drugged to senselessness by the possibility of escaping from under the yoke of yon papacy, these wise-fools decided to escape from the Church altogether, as if Scripture had nothing to say about the Office of the priest, the preaching of the Word by the "Sent Ones" or the gathering of the fellowship for the meal.

Eager to gain a following, and no doubt sincere as the Dali Llama, these men ran hither and thither encouraging any ear that would listen to follow them off into the gloriousness of "real Christianity."

Today, we still see it in every revival, concert, crusade, preaching tour, convention, mega-church or trend that comes along.

Thus, these workers, and anyone else who imagines or invents ideas regarding God or His counsel which ignore Christ's Word, stray about in blindness and in a lying delusion. They seek and strive incessantly to apprehend God and how to do something to please Him, but they never make it. They flit and flutter interminably, skipping from one thing to another; but they are ever unable to fill their hearts with confidence and assurance. They experience what Christ said, "Many will come in my name and say, 'Lo, here is Christ,' or 'There He is.' "

For whenever the names of God and Christ are mentioned, everybody flocks together, immediately supposing that this is a godly thing; but, as a matter of fact, they are carried to the devil with it. For it must happen that the world is duped and deceived with the name of God. For the devil cannot peddle his lies unless he adorns them with that beloved name. He finds it necessary to embellish them with that beautiful semblance, and he smears these holy names over them: "God's Word," "the worship of God" and "a godly life." Therefore, we must heed the warning, lest we be deceived.

To what warning does dear L-Diddy refer? That beautiful Gospel Word, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."

But wait, say you, do not all "Christians believe this." Yes...so they might think. But do not forget how the schismatic spirits have confronted even you, (as if hotboxing you like a wiseguy after percentage) telling you that "you can only go to heaven if you accept Jesus." Let the reader understand, for them, believing in Jesus is a one time event, in which you are eternally saved. Yet, as quickly as they plant this seed of faith by their aggressions and manipulations, the wild spirits will on to you about all that you must do now. With great urgency, you will be run through the gambit of "finding" and "pleasing" God. Every Sunday, the band will strike up the tune to that you can ascend in search of the Father beyond (or even of Jesus himself,) as if that moment in the past was not enough. Jesus was the way. Now...it's time for "real Christianity."

All schismatic spirits (under the guise and name of Christ) come clad in sheep's clothing. They use the same words and manner, and mien, as though they were the true teachers of this way. They exalt nothing but "Christ's glory," and "faith in Christ."

But where is this Christ? Where is the way he set forth? Surely, no crucifix will hang among them, for that is not their Christ. He is past. They are saved after all. Now, the real Christ must be their aim: the teacher, the law-giver, the one who demands your all... or else.

How far from that Word is this "faith." "I am the Way." "I am ALL the way." You do not come to God but through me, through the Way I am: Listen! Through the cross.

How can you tell real Christianity from "real Christianity." The answer is simple, the application is never-ending. "Real Christianity" comes storming "in the name of Jesus" to save you. Once this is done, then you must seek out God. You must find his will. You must sing to receive his mercy. You...you...you. But real Christianity is ever so different. Real Christianity comes talking about Jesus, and then, it keeps talking about Jesus. You see, after all...he is the Way. And you're not dead yet, which means, you can still betray him. You can still be Judas.

So he tells you, for full confidence, "I am the Way. Keep your eyes, your heart, your mind, focused on me. Do not look to yourself for God. Do not look to the sky. You don't need to search for his will for your life. I am His will for your life. I am the Way. The only Way. Salvation is not your work to move through me to something more. Salvation is me. Do not start your faith in me only to move on to some deeper thing. For I am all there is.

"And when the day of trial comes, when the day of death draws near, when persecution, pain and doubt attack you - as Satan will without question engineer - then remember, I am the Way. Look at me. Trust in me. I have done it. I am doing it. See, I have told you it all. You have seen the Father, so long as you keep looking at me."

If God were to span the way to heaven with a bridge that I could see and feel from the beginning to end, with its entrance and exit, why would I need faith or this sermon?

This is why "going to Church" is so important. And it is this schismatic teaching that has led so many to not go to Church. For so many think they have Jesus already. They no longer need him. So they retreat into their private imaginations to play with the God in their heads. They no longer need to see Jesus.

Is it any wonder so few will come? Is it any surprise that such theology has created the landscape in which we find ourselves? What ever shall we do to fix it? How ever shall we amend this generational transgression?

Again, there stands the Gospel (even as again their lies deception.) "I am the Way." Stop looking at yourselves. Look at me. Though the entire world appear to be against you, it is not true - though you die! - I am the Way. Even your last breath at the hands of sinners will see you leap forth into a life beyond your wildest dreams. I have risen, and I am the Way to that resurrection. So beware! For there are many who, being wise in their own eyes, have overrun the world of Christendom with the mission to teach otherwise.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

From "mission" to Contrition


In our wishy-washy day, the name of "mission" and the "conversion" of the "lost" has become a billion-dollar mass marketing industry. The irony of it all is that, the more money spent on such urgent compassion (all but demanding that people "be saved,") the more people see Christianity as a facade - a pious hide-out for self-justified, arrogant, intellectually lazy half-breeds.

How many of you no longer go to Church because you don't see the point? I can't blame you. I wouldn't attend 95% of the churches in my little town of Springfield. It's all a pyramid scheme, with the pastor on top trying to get you to give him money so he can play golf on Thursday afternoons while you visit the shut-ins.

More than a few have been driven altogether away from Christ by this movement of "compassion for the lost." So writes one experienced in that matter over at Stand Firm:

As a lay person who almost rejected the Christian faith due to spiritual abuse at the hands of such men 'ablaze' with such a supposed 'compassion' for the lost, I became a Lutheran because of the explosively liberating doctrine of the Reformation. So now when I hear that pastors in the Missouri Synod are using the very same rationale to avoid standing under the authority of Holy Scripture, I realize that honoring the holy ministry is one thing, whereas honoring the specious, manipulative, and damnable teachings of truly bad pastors is another....
Show me a pastor who does not care about doctrine or apologetics, and I will show you a man who does not care about the lost. When they complain about others who are concerned about sound biblical teaching, they really are saying that they do not want to stand under the authority of God's Word. They do not want their doctrine or practice to be questioned.... Such teaching is a public, deadly evil, and I will, by God's grace, keep my wife and children far from such men.

"The church cannot afford to waste time on incessant internal purification at the expense of the lost in the world"?

That is not the Lutheran way:

"Many say, 'Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should much rather be concerned with souls and with leading them to Christ.' But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing. As foolish as it would be to scold a farmer for being concerned about sowing good seed and to demand of him simply to be concerned about a good harvest, so foolish it is to scold those who are concerned first and foremost with the doctrine, and to demand of them that they should rather seek to rescue souls. For just as the farmer who wants a good crop must first of all be concerned about good seed, so the church must above all be concerned about right doctrine if it would save souls." --C. F. W. Walther, first president of the Lutheran Church - MS
(source)

Have you found this blog recently? Are you listening to the Word preached here? If so, then I ask you also to do this: Forget everything you ever thought you knew about Church. Forget everything you ever thought was the meaning of "Christianity." And start over. Don't let the past abuses of faulty pastors and people keep from you the Truth of Christ's Word, which is the seed of eternal life. If you've been blitzkrieged with marketing, decision-moments, and all the other agendas of the "mission-minded" (who cared more for your conversion than for you,) the know this: if they were not concerned with teaching, with doctrine, with the clear Revelation of Christ, rightly understood, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, then it you have been shammed. Christianity is something more. Discipleship is something more.

It's not only intellectual, it's Spiritual. It's not only spiritual, it's physical. It's not only physical, it's emotional. And it's not only emotional, it's the Wisdom which eludes even the wise.

Is that what you've been confronted with? Is that what you've been challenged by in the past? Or is that why you're listening to these sermons from a nobody preacher on a nowhere blog?

Consider it, and then rejoice. It's another chance. And this time, its real.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

From the Late Great Bo

circa 1949:!

It is important for us that both awakening and liturgy be given their proper and pristine Christian place in the life of the congregation. Awakening is always needed, not only because the church must always be a missionary church and reach out after those that are on the outside, but also because there is always the need for awakening even among the most faithful members of the church.

The church has exactly as many sinners as she has members. The old Adam in each one of us is prone to fall asleep, to make the Christian life a dead routine, to use liturgical form to cloak his self-complacency and impenitence. It is not difficult to fashion a form of religion that suits the ego and allows the old Adam within to become sovereign again.

One may go regularly to church and Holy Communion. One may cherish beautiful church music and lovely sanctuaries. One may be honestly convinced that one possesses the correct doctrine and loves the pure preaching of the Word. And at the same time one may be thoroughly obsessed by self-love, complacent with one's self, satisfied with one's own pious accomplishments and totally indifferent to the troubles and burdens of one's fellow men, which are so apparent before one's very eyes.

The Holy Spirit always needs to awaken slumbering souls, stir up the dust, push the old Adam against the wall, and blow a new breath of life into the dead bones. Awakening is never superfluous, as long as we are in the flesh.

Liturgy is just as needful. There can be no normal church life without liturgy. Sacraments need form, the order of worship must have some definite pattern. It is possible to live for a short time on improvisations and on forms that are constantly changing and being made over. One may use only free prayers and yet create a new ritual for every worship situation.





But the possibilities are soon exhausted. One will have to repeat, and with that the making of rituals is in full swing. In circles where people seek to live without any forms, new forms are nevertheless constantly taking shape. Favorite songs are used again and again with monotonous regularity, certain prayer expressions are constantly repeated, traditions take form and traditional yearly ceremonies are observed.

But it would not be wrong to say that the new forms that grow up in this way are usually less attractive and more profane than the ancient liturgy. They contain less of God's Word, they pray and speak without Scriptural direction, they are not so much concerned about expressing the whole content of Scripture, but are satisfied with one thing or another that seems to be especially attractive or popular.


The new liturgy that grows in this manner is poorer, less Biblical, and less nourishing to the soul than the discarded ancient order. Revival and liturgy, therefore, have each their given place in the church. They must go hand in hand. This does not prevent liturgy from sometimes becoming an enemy of awakening, just as awakening can be a foe of liturgy.

-excerpted from Bo Giertz, "Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening"

HT:

Easter 4 - Theif Sunday?



mp3 download

Monday, April 14, 2008

Formal Materials


An excellent observation (and following commentary) over at Rev. Cwirla's underground.

Statement from Todd Wilkin


The good Rev. released a statement the other night regarding his preaching of the Gospel being "fired" from LCMS radio. It's well worth a read. But the best part he didn't write. He quoted it, from an excellent source: the Defense of the Augsburg Confession:

We shall commend our cause, therefore, to Christ, who some time will judge these controversies, and we beseech Him to look upon the afflicted and scattered churches, and to bring them back to godly and perpetual concord. Therefore, if the known and clear truth is trodden under foot, we will resign this cause to God and Christ in heaven, who is the Father of orphans and the Judge of widows and of all the forsaken, who (as we certainly know) will judge and pass sentence upon this cause aright. Lord Jesus Christ it is Thy holy Gospel, it is Thy cause; look Thou upon the many troubled hearts and consciences, and maintain and strengthen in Thy truth Thy churches and little flocks, who suffer anxiety and distress from the devil. Confound all hypocrisy and lies, and grant peace and unity, so that Thy glory may advance, and Thy kingdom, strong against all the gates of hell, may continually grow and increase. Amen.

The 8th Commandment




Oh, therefore, let us never listen to those who praise and extol the conflict of the Reformation for the pure Gospel but want to know nothing of a similar conflict in our days. God's command: "Contend for the faith!" applies to all times, also to ours.

Let also our hearts be kindled by the fiery zeal with which Luther and his faithful helpers fought. Let us not like a coward surrender without a fight what they in hot conflict and with word, writing, blood, and tears gained by conflict, but faithfully preserve it and courageously defend it against all assaults until death. Let us consider no truth revealed for salvation as insignificant and agree to its falsification; for here applies: "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Nor let us be concerned that for the sake of our conflict our names are rejected as malicious people. Even Luther and his helpers once had to experience this, and today millions bless them after they are long since at rest in their graves.

If today we show that we are not the degenerated but the true children of the Reformation, some day when we also lie dust to dust, our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will bless us. (CFW Walther, Sermon for Reformation, 1876)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sopranos and ER - Why the CG Gurus are Wrong

(Did you watch it?)

I spent the last sixth months of my evenings hiding up in our (old) townhouse's attic, smoking cigars and telling myself it was cool because Tony Soprano smoke them too. For all six seasons, Tony and I lit up at the beginning of the episodes, and I became entranced in the human dilemma/condition through the eyes and life of the New Jersey (my backyard!) mafia.


There is a lot I could say about the value of the Sopranos as a commentary on American culture, but I'm gonna relate to you now the one recurring reality which is also summed up in the ER clip above. Time and time again, Carmela (Tony's wife,) or even Tony, or other characters, all of them good Italian Catholics (meaning, they give money and the women go to mass,) were confronted with problems in life, and their priest (a wishy-washy glutton who was living out his lack of a marriage through emotional relations with all his middle aged lonely house-wife parishioners) would show up and say ... ... ... NOTHING.

Don't get me wrong. He'd talk. He just would talk about nothing. Sometimes he'd mention God. But Jesus? Crucifixion? Resurrection? Hope? Or even the (entirely Roman) promises of the power of your works in the mass to guarantee your forgiveness???? Not a wit. A bunch of junk about positive thinking, if that.

How many times was I watching that family, screaming at the TV for a chance to be in their lives and talk to them, to give them answers, to challenge them with real claims??? And here is where the value for Pastors and people really come in:

Even though we don't want to admit it, we really are more like the Sopranos than we are not. We live lies. We hide who we really are, from ourselves, from our families, even from our shrinks (who we genrally pay to help us avoid real confession.) Behind all those smiling faces in the pew, yes, even behind that chummy guy in the pulpit, is the pain, frustration and never-ending struggle of the Soprano family. Broken marriages, rebellious and apathetic kids, young women getting deceived by their new college boyfriends, and more and more. We may not be shooting heroin to kill the pain, but that TV is on a lot more than it should be. We may not be stealing truckloads of plastic coolers, but we aren't exactly tithing to the Church, giving to the poor, or striving (together) to live on less for the sake of those who aren't with us.

And what do we need? What is the answer? It must start with people and pastors who speak the Word. Who face people sick in a bed and cease with the platitudes and half-truths, who don't worry about "pushing away" the dying, but focus instead on saving the living.

"Open my mouth, O Lord, and I will declare your praise."

That's the prayer where it starts. Look it up in your concordance, and pray that psalm every day for a week. Ask the Lord to make you brave of Word, full of belief in the Truth he has spoken, the Gospel for every people and place. And if you're pastor isn't doing his job, be that old man in the video above, and don't let him get away with it. Shame him! For his shame now is nothing compared to what he will receive if he continues giving answers like that poor foolish lady above.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

How many wives at the Sem were watching her?

Too many.

Of Grace and "God-things"


I received an email from a dear friend today:

Our daughter... was born today. We earnestly thank God...for she had a "natural knot." Her umbilical cord had become tied into a perfect knot, an uncommon condition, but very dangerous and often fatal for the baby when/if the knot becomes tight, cutting off blood and nutrients to the baby. The doctor showed us in wonder that the knot was taught, but had remained unconstricted, and even admitted that God Himself must have been involved. "These are rare, but almost always disastrous. God was certainly looking after you," the doctor confided to me alone while [mother] was in recovery.


Last week, while back in Jersey to clean the apartment, I was upstairs. The stairwell is very steep, but Chloe has been very good on them, always using the rail. However, having set down the stepstool for a moment on the landing, I turned to the blinds I was cleaning not a few seconds when there was a thunderous sound of something falling down the stairs. I turned. The footstool was gone. But so was Chloe.

My first thought was, "My three year old daughter is dead." All the emotions, experience and theology that go with that sentence passed through my body and mind in the split second which it took me to analyze that indeed, I could not longer hear my daughter anywhere upstairs. The sound of my wife crying, "O my God," downstairs, and no (to be expected) crying coming from my daughter only furthered my certainty.

My daughter is dead. God has taken her. This is the most horrible thing that could ever happen to me. This is God's good and gracious will. How will we ever survive? We will survive. I must be strong, for Meridith will be weak. I must mourn later, for now I must help her mourn. God is gracious. He doesn't waste pain. There is a reason. I will never know it. Though he slay me, yet I will praise him. Now...I'm going to sprint down the stairs.

Having climbed onto the stool, somehow, she had toppled it straight backward and down some 20 steps, with her in? on? under? it. She lay at the foot of the stairs, her head resting on a garbage bag full of plastic bags which we had neglected to recycle the week before. Meridith was still near hysterical, checking her face and mouth as Chloe at last realized the fearful experience she had had and began to cry.

There was not even a bruise on her. She might as well have floated down while the stool tumbled.

Now, I certainly cannot claim the special intervention of angels (as so many are wont to do with boldness,) but I cannot help but be amazed at the amazing PROVIDENTIAL grace of God. With all the many disasters, miseries and deaths of our present broken world, how much more grave the perdition would be if the Father did not extend his gracious care to the wicked and the just alike. The simple statistical irregularities through which he preserves all humankind daily, attested to by the omnipresence of stories such as my friends and my own, are staggering.

How much more so then shall we rejoice that over and above this love, he has showered upon us the inheritance and restoration of sonship in Jesus Christ? How fantastic to know that infant girl has been preserved for her baptism, that Chloe still lives to rejoice in singing the Alleluias of Easter, and that all of us who have been called out of darkness can not only see the hand of God in the little miracles of daily survival, but also believe in the true mysteries: that God became man for us in a time not so long ago, and that, even now, he continues that Israel by giving himself for our feast of life, taking sin and death away, replacing the tyranny of the devil with the total mercy of a Father who loves even sinners like you and me.

Not a bad thought. Not a bad thought at all.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Luke 24


podcast


Saturday, April 05, 2008

On Preaching, for the heck of it


A recent email got me writing about why I've gone almost exclusively to an "expository" style preaching. I thought I might post the answer here:

I first learned about "expository preaching" in Homoletics ("sermon") classes at the seminary. In essence, it is a style of preaching which focuses on following the text very, very closely. By and large, however, the idea was "poo-pooed" by good "Law-Gospel" LCMSutherans because "not all lectionary texts have the Gospel in them, and so you might end up preaching only law, and, remember(!) the law kills, so its bad." Most the advocates of the style are actually baptists and closet-baptists (aka - non-denoms) who like to spend the summer before a big building campaign preaching straight through Nehemiah to show how God wants us to build temples, etc. You know, "sticking to the text." Rather misguided as these preachers (to whom the Bible tends to be a closed book) are, the idea of letting the the Bible actually BE your sermon is somewhat...um...radically awesome. (More to follow on that.)

But first, lest the "but there's not any Gospel" Waltherians rise up and shout me down, I must rush to point out how conveniently flawed such an argument is if one actually believes in sola Scriptura. And by that, I don't mean that you preach the law from Jeremiah and the Gospel from Romans 6. I mean that if you take 15 minutes of your sermon prep to plum the depths of the immediate surrounding texts of the lectionary text, it is a virtual guarantee that you will find Gospel within 1 chapter in either direction. That's what those pesky "exegetes" in the "Bible-reading" department call "context." It's pretty cool stuff. :D Not only do things start to make sense, but, suddenly, preaching gets really, really EASY.

So...why is it easy? Why is it radically awesome?

1. The only "plato" in church should be used to make pink snowmen. Well into my first year after Seminary, trying to salvage an absolutely defunk and flagrantly antagonistic (if not diabolic) congregation, which would soon destroy itself from within, I found myself "struggling" every time I sat down to write a sermon. See, I'd been taught at the Seminary that it was my job as pastor to figure out what the text was telling me that I needed to preach to my people that week. I wasn't supposed to preach the text. I was supposed to divine from the text what to preach. I needed to find the "real" meaning which lay somewhere behind the text, the mystical-mythical platonic "Law-Gospel" perfection ideal. I needed to solvent this text down to its microscopic elemental substance. Only then could I bring it up to date and into "real" life by the use of clever stories, metaphors and other ways for the modern (read:stupid) laymen to "really get it."

Check it out: this is damned HARD! The text doesn't tell you what to preach. You must find that, through your prayer and fasting and constant searching the hidden will of God for the magic needed this week to get your congregation into REAL Christianity. I almost hesitate to point out this crypto-methodism for what it is, but, well, the pietism comes in later. This is just pure Wesley in disguise. And, frankly, it leads to pastoral despair - especially for those of us in those defunk, semi-diabolical congregations that would rather see your 3 year old daughter be the pastor than you. (I admit it: she is dang cute, after all.)

But notice the gnosticism evident - the searching for the real, secret knowledge, which isn't actually the text, but behind it. Notice the old-school liberal connection, which also didn't see the Bible as the Word of God, but the Word as something which hid within the Bible, but which needed to be found and even made alive.

2. All I ever needed to know about homoletics I learned in hermeneutics. I still remember my professor, the venerable Dr. Reed Lessing, teaching a fantastic summer course in "how to read the Bible like a Christian" saying, "To know what it means I need to know what it meant."

Bingo.

It was about the same time that I was driving myself nuts, about to break out the urum and the thumin late on a Thursday afternoon, with no clue what to preach to this people who hated me simply because the district had sent me to them, when a friend of mine called. He wasn't worried about all about what he was preaching Sunday:

"I'm taking the week off. I'm letting Paul preach."

Huh?

"Paul is going to preach. Colossians chapter 1. I'm just going to preach it. It's his argument, and it's great."

EUREKA!

What an idea! Preach the Bible? Let the Bible do the preaching? It almost makes too much sense to be true!

I tried it. Blessed sermon! Maybe, if it works for Paul, it will work for Luke. ...


3. Bringing the Hammer. And let me tell you, when you're needing to preach the law to a room half full of people who hate the law because its killing them, and aren't listening because they hate you anyway, being able to ask them to open the Bible and follow along is the most blessed gift from heaven. No longer are you "that angry pastor who doesn't want us to be happy," (at least, that's not all you are.) In fact, you can even be really nice as you deliver the back-breaking law: "'If you, even though you are evil...' Dang, that's pretty harsh. But Jesus is saying it, so it must be true. ..." And so on.

For them, for the hearers, it's now God's Word, not yours. They can't debate that point. They can't question it. They either must reject God's Word for what it is, or repent and believe it. But it takes the "that's just pastor's opinion that I'm a sinner" straight out of the building.

4. Teaching the Word, in season and out. To boot, at best, 30% of any parish are involved in Sunday Bible study classes. That's just a sad fact. A large number of people will never come. So, why not take the Bible study to them? Yes, it can't really be done in 12 minutes. It takes 25 to 30. But, well...... oh, well! After all, that's what the sermon's supposed to do: Bring the Word. Heck, that's all Luther did, and it was longer than 30 minutes. Forget the "attention span" thing. The people have the Bible right in front of them. You're giving them something to DO. They participate. And, crazy of crazies, they actually like it. They like it because it's easy to follow. They like it because they feel like they're learning. They like it because it' the Bible. And they like it because (unlike those hidden Gnostic truths BEHIND the text) it ALWAYS has direct application to their life, right now. ALWAYS.

To illustrate this point, an anecdote. Over the last year I spent a lot of time as a visitation preacher. At one particularly "healthy" congregation (in that it was fairly stablized and had young families,) a sweet little old lady approached me in the greeting line and said, "Not one story or joke. Just Word. Wonderful." She smiled, and moved on.

5. Grind, grind, grind, all day long. Grind, grind, grind while I sing this song. Finally, we must learn to reckon with the recent abomination of desolation coined by Father Marc Paine of Mississippi as the "Law-Gospel Meat-grinder." What he meant by this is that, for the last 60 years, LCMSutheran pastors have been trained to preach based on the "Goal-malady-means" rubric, a structure from the forties attempting to apply Walther's great work "Law and Gospel" to preaching. Here's what it means:

The pastor gets in the pulpit.

He tells you you're a sinner and can't do anything about it. (Often picking on one sin that is internal, but just as often focusing on original sin.)

He tells you how Jesus makes this sin go away.

Then, he wields his magical "3rd use of the law" to "Gospel-imperative" you into living better anyway.

The result of this, en masse, is simply that people stop listening. They learn to accept and even mimic that "I'm a sinner part," (although, confront them with actual sins and they will deny it with all vehemence,) and they embrace the "Jesus is my ticket to heaven" part. And most of them simply ignore the "so now you get to" part. In the end, you have a bunch of lazy "believers" who are going to heaven after they live till 80, retire in style, and die. As for what they do in this world, that's pretty much up to them.

They've been meat-grinded. They are now bonafide LCMSutheran blood-sausage.

Now, there are two minorities which also remain. The first is the enthusiast who really thinks he is doing everything the pastor says "now let us do...." The other is the poor Christian who is actually a sinner, and is never able to hear the Gospel because, in the meat-grinder, the Gospel is only a means to an ends. "Jesus died for you SO THAT YOU CAN DO..." That is what each sermon is really about. It's not about Jesus. It's about how this congregation (and ME) need to be better at being Christians.

Inherent in this very Reformed view of Christianity is the complete bastardization of the "3rd use of the law." Unlike our confessional norm describes the ways in which the Spirit of God uses ONE law to do three things, the homoletics of LCMSutherans has decided that the "3rd use of the law" is actually a DIFFERENT law. It's the law that you CAN keep. It's the law which we can magically insert after the Gospel and make all our congregations into "alive" churches.

So...the sermon outline of Meat-Grinder is something like this:

A. Lex sempre acussat (that is, accusation AS the law)
B. "Gospel" (Romans 6, 8 or some part of Galatians, regardless of the pericope)
C. pietism ("real Christians live like this, so you need to too...")

6. Getting smaller every day. Does it work? The state of the LCMS would lead one to say, "Um...no." The best case scenario is a congregation full of people an inch-deep understanding of Law and Gospel, but very little actual understanding of their sin, or of justification. They do not know "justification" "too well," (as many seminarians are wont to say,) but NOT ENOUGH AT ALL! All they know is a free ticket to semi-hedonistic licentiousness under the name of Jesus. The worst case scenario is a nearly empty parish full of very angry people who think they're going to heaven because they make quilts for Jesus, (a few of those around these days,) or very large parishes that have followed the path of pietistic phariseeism to the logical conclusion and simply joined the Wesleyan Church-growth movement.

LCMSutherans do less and less. The new schwarmer do more and more. Carnal self-security is rampant in both camps. And those who are really listening wallow in doubt, fear and despair, unsure if they are really Christians after all.

++++++

So...there you go. The end result of this, in my opinion, is we need to just start preaching God's actual Word again. Do Bible study from the pulpit. Stop trying to compete with entertainment and oratory, and just get the Word in front of the people. Stop trying to change the Word so that the people "get it." TEACH them to get it. (If you can't teach, resign. You shouldn't be a pastor.) This is Luther's expository preaching which MADE the Reformation. This is how he reached both milkmaids and princes. This is how he sat in Wittenburg, drank beer, and let the Word of God destroy the papacies tyranny over Europe.

If you preach the text, you will have no choice. You will be preaching God's Word. You will be preaching real Law. And you will be preaching real Gospel.

And the best part of all? No more scouring the internet and your life for stories to tell. You may not realize it, but your people don't want to hear that stuff anyway.

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