Friday, September 28, 2007


Lately it seems that if I have the radio turned on I will very soon hear a commercial about how bad heartburn is and how somebody has a product to sell for relief.

One recent advertisement says: “Heartburn is not funny.”

Nope. It hurts. It burns.

I do not experience heartburn very often, but when I do, I certainly agree, it is not funny. I hear from others who experience heartburn frequently. Some people even express that it is a continual problem.

The last time that I had heartburn, I was hurting quite badly. I went to the cupboard, pulled out the bottle of Turmeric, swallowed a quarter of a teaspoon of Turmeric, and in two minutes the heartburn was fading into nonexistence.

Turmeric is inexpensive and it is 100% natural.

It also is very effective for headaches.

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And Who Is My Neighbor?

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him
Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
(Luke 10:25-37)

Luke records an incident in the ministry of Jesus where a lawyer (an expert in the law) stood up to Jesus to test Him.

This is very interesting. If the average person is asked about what the general opinion is regarding lawyers, would the response be favorable?

Why are lawyers held in such low esteem? Why do people make jokes about eliminating lawyers? Why?

The answer is that lawyers use the law for their living. They use and manipulate the law in order to achieve an end. They study the law to see what advantage they can find in it, often seeking ways to make excuses for not doing what they already know to be right and good.

Such is the case that Luke records. Everyone knew that Jesus is good. Everyone knew that Jesus spent His entire earthly ministry serving others and proclaiming the Gospel. But this lawyer comes to Jesus with the intention of proving everyone wrong. He came with a question from the Law, to test Jesus.

But Jesus reversed the test. He asked the lawyer, the self-proclaimed expert, to explain the law. When the man answered, Jesus told him that he was right and that he should follow what is right.

This, of course, would not do, for the lawyer stood condemned by his own understanding and explanation of God’s Word. Suddenly the lawyer wanted to justify himself by challenging his own explanation. (Not a very smart move.) But then, his intention was to do as his father did with the woman in the garden, to challenge the Word of God. He demanded of Jesus a better explanation. He demanded, “And who IS my neighbor?”

He thought that he was clever. He thought that he had presented to Jesus an impossible demand. After all, who can possibly love everyone? Who can even claim truly to love anyone? But the real point of the question was to show that he had no one worthy of being counted as neighbor.

But this lawyer was no match for the Master. Jesus knew exactly the false motives of this deceitful man. He recognized the reversal of the intent of the law that this “expert” was attempting. So once again Jesus turned the test right back to the challenger. He gave three examples and asked the “expert” to judge which of the three was neighbor to the needy and hurting man whom they encountered.

Once again the man answered rightly and Jesus said to him, “Go, and do thou likewise.”

Who can argue with that?

Actually, we all do. For the man’s challenge to the Law is true. No one among us can fulfill the intent of the Law. No one except, One, the One who comes to fulfill the Law for us and in us.

This is the key to understanding love. God is love. Love is of God.

When we truly understand this, then we truly understand the intent of God’s Law. When we truly understand this, then we truly understand who our neighbor really is.

Matthew records an account where the Lord Jesus explains this in this way:

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt 25:40)

But like the lawyer, we tend to reverse what this really means. Like the lawyer, we hear what we must do to fulfill the Law and then we begin to squirm.

I’d like to share a recent experience that I had.

Last Thursday evening, at 9:30 P.M. I went to a job site to attempt to deal with a bee hive that was presenting a dangerous situation for the neighborhood and for the work that I needed to do in the tree. My attempt did not go well, and some of the bees that were working to keep the hive’s ventilation effective fell on me and some fell down inside my shirt. NOT GOOD!

On this occasion I did not think to bring my bottle of ammonia with me to treat the stings. So after removing my shirt, shaking the bees free, removing the bees and their stingers from my hand, neck, chest, and ribs, and after gathering my ladder and other tools, I headed to find a store that had ammonia. The third store did have ammonia, and by this time I had only one desire: to apply the medicine to my areas of pain.

But as I exited the store, I saw a man sitting on the curb beside my truck. I have encountered this many times so that I immediately knew that he wanted to con me out of some money. I knew that he would have some sad story by which he would try to convince me to give him money for food or something else. I was not pleased. I was not ready to respond with compassion and charity. I wanted to treat my injuries.

I was right. He began asking for money. He also asked for a cigarette. I told him that I needed to treat my injuries and that I don’t smoke. He kept asking for money and for a cigarette. I told him that I first needed to treat my injuries. He told me how he had just been released from jail. He told me how he had previously been in prison for dealing drugs. He told me lots of sad things.

I offered to buy him a meal at the place across the street. Nope. He wanted chicken.

I loaded his bicycle into the truck and drove to the specific chicken place that he wanted. There’s more, but this is enough for the point.

The point is that I did not want to be loving to this man. But love lives inside me. I did not want to be patient with this man, but patience rules over my soul. I did not want to be charitable and to sacrifice my own lunch money for this man, but charity dwells within me. I did not want to stay up still later that night, but compassion lives in my heart.

You see, I did not look upon this man as my neighbor. I did not see myself as this man’s loving neighbor. Jesus looked upon this man and Jesus loved him and was patient with him and was charitable toward him with deep compassion.

Jesus is the one who comes to be the good neighbor. Jesus is the one who comes to live among us and to do the good that we all need. Jesus is the one who loves, and gives, and cares, without limit. Jesus is the one who enters unloving hearts and fills them with love that overflows to others. Jesus is the one, who having loved the world, works His love in those who are baptized into Him and live in Him. Then, most amazingly of all, He says to us, “Well done.”

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How Much Is Necessary?

Here is a question that could cause a few people to pause and wonder. How much of God’s Word is necessary for a Christian?

Think about it. How much of God’s Word, as it is revealed in the Scriptures, can be outright rejected by one who is a Christian? How much of God’s Word can be altered or changed by a Christian? How much of God’s Word can be ignored by a Christian? How much of God’s Word can be interpreted by a Christian apart from the interpretation provided by the Holy Spirit?

This question becomes even more important when one takes John 1:1 into account.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Then, if John 1:1-5 is considered the question looms even larger.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

If the Word is God, that is, if the Word is Jesus, in whom alone life and salvation are found, by whose name alone salvation and everlasting life are received, how much of the Word is necessary?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"I’m not Feeling Well"

Yesterday I heard these words from someone, and these words provided me with relief and understanding.

I have been struggling to find a way to deal with a dangerous situation on one of my pending tree jobs. I need to remove a very large tree that is in a tight location with many large boughs that threaten houses and property. In addition, a goodly number of these boughs are badly decayed, adding to the danger.

But the dangerous situation that has hindered me is a hive of bees who have taken up residence in one of the decayed and hollowed boughs. The hive entrance is about 18 feet above the ground, and therefore hard to deal with. Being a very active hive, a great danger exists of angering the bees so that they attack. Since the hive faces the neighbor’s front porch, the hive presents a constant danger to the family even if the bees are not enraged, but especially if they are.

The neighbors are sweet people. Two sisters live there, one having children. I have had good conversations with them. But my attempts at dealing with the bees causes an inconvenience. Even though the removal of both the bees and the tree will be of great benefit to them, I nevertheless am inconveniencing them.

The one sister has acted in a manner that I found difficult to understand, especially when a very slight inconvenience has been presented. Her reaction has several times bordered on hostility. So yesterday when it occurred, as is my way, I asked. “You seem to me to be a very nice person. But you act as though you do not like me very much. How come?”

She turned and lifted up her countenance upon me and replied, “No. No. I’m just not feeling well.”

After this we discussed her ailments and I shared some natural remedies that have helped me and others that I know.

Her words have remained with me. “No. No. I’m just not feeling well.”

I have considered how these words have often fit my action and the actions of others. I pondered how these words really apply universally to the entire human race. We deal with others according to the way that we feel about ourselves. We mistreat others, or perhaps sometimes just express ourselves poorly, because we are not feeling well. This is especially true when we don’t feel well about our lives.

The wonderful news is that the Lord has provided a full and infallible remedy. His remedy is universal and never produces negative side effects. His remedy is absolutely free and available without limit. His remedy restores full health to our not feeling well about ourselves and completely changes how we view ourselves and in turn, how we respond to others.

This dear lady has helped me to understand what I observe in myself and in other people. As I reflect upon her words I realize that what I often have thought was anger and hostility toward me from others has actually been caused by their own suffering. Perhaps this knowledge will help me to be a bit more patient and understanding toward others. How wonderful!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Constitution Party

Constitution Party, what a fascinating name for a political party! What is truly amazing is that the name actually reflects the stated platform!

For citizens who take their civil responsibilities seriously and are tired of having to choose the lesser of two compromisers, the Constitution Party is well worth consideration. Click on the link and check it out for yourself.

Myself, I have been a registered Republican for as long as I was old enough to register. This party no longer acts like the party that my parents endorsed, and it certainly does not act as what I want to endorse. I want my vote to speak for what I believe is right. I want my vote to count towards affirmation of the good that our founding fathers wrote into our Constitution. I love the United States of America and I want it to continue to stand as a beacon of liberty and justice for all. That is why I am looking to the Constitution Party to represent my vote.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Our Church

Here is a fascinating bit of trivia that is not at all trivial. In the New Testament the words our church and your church are never used. Not even once.

The New Testament writers always are very careful in their identification of the Church. They speak of the church of God, and the church in X town, and the churches. When St. Paul writes to Philemon he addresses the church in thy house/household. This is a wonderful distinction, very carefully articulated by the apostle to the Gentiles.

Because it is cumbersome to speak of the Church in the way that the New Testament does, we often shorten the phrase to our church or your church or even my church. Even the Lutheran Confessions, in distinguishing between the churches that embraced the true faith versus churches that did not, took the shortcut of identifying the faithful churches as our churches.

This type of shortcut we would do well to avoid because of the shortcomings of this phraseology. In fact, when we make the shift to identifying the Church or even churches as ours/yours/mine, we also make a shift in our thinking regarding the Church and churches. Suddenly, our thinking is no longer based entirely upon the Church as God’s creation and possession. Suddenly we no longer look to God alone to preserve and maintain the Church and churches. We shift from Second and Third Article thinking to what we must do.

This is a very dangerous shift. It leads to outright idolatry and blasphemy. It causes the kinds of divisions that St. Paul counters in 1 Corinthians. It leads to the vain thinking that in some way the sanctity of the Church and churches depends upon us rather than depending purely upon the Word and the Sacraments through which the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

As Christians we will do well to make the effort to speak of the Church and the churches with the clarity that the New Testament writers do. While speaking as they do may take a few more moments, what is that compared to the eternal blessings that such language conveys?

Unity in the Church

On another weblog discussion, A Black Lutheran! It Can't Be!, the matter of inconsistency among Lutheran bodies that are not in communion with one another and the disunity that exists because of Lutheran politics led to some lengthy comments on my part. Since I question whether I should presume to make such lengthy comments on another weblog, I have brought the discussion here. Please check out the previous discussion if you need to "catch up." My current response to 'TK' is in the comments section of this post.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Long Shot

The Long Shot is a delightful little movie about perseverance. It really is a delightful family movie.

Young Taylor Garrett shares the same day as her mother’s (Annie Garrett) birthday. Taylor shares with her new friend, Colleen, that snow is special to her because it usually comes on “happy days,” Christmas, Thanksgiving, and her and her mother’s birthday.

As her birthday approaches she writes a very special letter addressed to Mr. God. In her letter she tells Mr. God that her birthday is approaching and that the only things that she wants is “a new leg for my mom and new eyes for Tolo (Mom’s horse).” Then in a postscript she adds that some snow would be really nice.

She addressed her envelope:

Mr. God

Taylor’s prayer is a lovely prayer that demonstrates her selfless love for her mother. I was very moved by her selflessness, but also by another clear fact: this dear child did not know the one to whom she prayed.

Many people are in this same status. They have heard of God and know that He exists. In special times they cry out to Him, but they know not how to address their prayer.

This is why God has given us His Church on earth where He not only supplies pastor/teachers to teach us to pray, but where He comes to us as our loving God and communes with us. Taylor’s prayer letter would have gone into a box at the Post Office, since the Post Office has no way to send the letter on to Heaven. But in His Church on earth, God comes to be with those who gather in His name. He comes not only to hear their prayers, but to be present with them and for them.

This is why God has promised to keep His Church pure through the pure administration of the means of grace. God wants us to be certain that when we gather in His name, that He is really with us and for us. God has established what many interpret as very rigid standards for His Church. What often is not understood is that these are not for the purpose of keeping people out of His Church, but to guarantee that where the people gather really is His Church. How else can we be sure that we truly have gathered to where God has promised to be present, except that He has given us clear and unmistakable marks of His Church and His presence with us?

How thankful we can be that we never have to address our prayers without knowing that they will reach God. He has promised that where His Gospel is preached purely and where His Sacraments are administered according to His Gospel that He is with us to bless us. Can anything be more important to us than to know that when we gather to worship that these are the only marks by which the Church is identified? Isn’t it wonderful to know that with God our hopes are not based on a “long shot”?

Why Pray?

Why should a person pray?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:44-45)

Here the Lord Jesus holds before us certain actions that flow from the hearts of those who know the Lord God Almighty as their Father. What is in the hearts of the sons of God? Love, even for enemies, the same love that God has for enemies. Love that moves the hearts of God’s sons (not children, for this is the language of inheritance) to bless those who curse them and to pray for those who abuse them. After all, their Father causes His sun to rise upon the entire world, and sends His rain to water the crops of all.

But those who are not God’s sons do not realize where these blessings come from. Only those born of God know Him as their loving Father and provider of all that is good. This is what prayer does for the one who prays. Prayer serves to teach the one born of faith that his faith is not in vain.

In this same understanding the author to the Hebrews writes:
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children,

My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
(Hebrews 12:3-13)

For those who are God’s sons of the promise that is in Christ, those who are of God’s household and live in the faith that He supplies, God sometimes holds back on certain blessings. Yes, while God continues to let the greedy and corrupt prosper, He disciplines those who are His beloved children.

This is why those who are of the household of faith often seem not to prosper in worldly things as those who are outside of God’s loving embrace do. God does not want His household to forget that they live because of His love. He does not want His beloved to become blinded by the worldly successes that often seem to come from one’s own efforts. God wants His household to remember that He is their Father and their life.

So He promises to hear and answer our prayers. He holds back on a few things from time to time so that we notice their absence and turn to Him and cry out. Then the Lord releases what He withheld and we learn that His promises are true.

It is not really because we pray that God blesses us, but rather, because God blesses us that we pray. The more that we pray, the more we see God’s blessings. He blesses us with far more than we even know that we need. He blesses us whether or not we ask. But when we ask, we are blessed with not only the things for which we ask, but also with the awareness of God’s goodness.

This is why the Lord not only commands us to pray, but also teaches us how and what to pray. We are to pray as He has taught us.

Perhaps the most powerful prayers are when a person simply cries out “O Lord,” or “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” Sometimes a person is in such terror or pain or helplessness that this is all that the person can produce. And what more does faith really teach us? In such moments as these, a person no longer trusts in anything from himself, not even trusting in his own ability to pray. This is the greatest expression of faith, looking to Jesus and depending upon absolutely nothing else.

Truly the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever. Is this not the reason for prayer?

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Monday, September 17, 2007

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

My wife rented a movie for this evening, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.”

As the movie draws to a close, Damien faces execution and writes his final words to his beloved S:nead. He writes:

Dan once told me something I’ve struggled with all this time. He said, “It’s easy to know what you are against, quite another to know what you are for.”

While I am not certain of the accuracy of this statement, it is worthy of pondering. I’m not certain that it is easy to know what one is against. I expect that it is easy to think that one know’s what one is against. But it certainly is true that it generally is less easy to be sure of what one is for.

How often this is true even in the Church. How quickly people pick sides and begin to fight against one another, and usually not so much based upon what they are for, but based on what they oppose. How many people ever do really figure out what exactly they are for?

St. Peter faced this in the garden when he drew his sword against those who came to take his Lord. But Peter knew neither what he really was against nor for. His Lord, on the other hand, knew exactly both what He was against and what He was for. Thus He healed the ear that Peter had cut off and went willingly with His captors, even praying for those who persecuted Him and crucified Him. He willingly laid down His life for His friends, and conquered sin, death, and the power of the devil so that freedom would win the day, not only for those who knew themselves as His friends, but also for those who had no clue that Jesus counted them as friends for whom He was willing to die.

Truly this gives cause for pause before picking up the sword against others. This is true of the physical sword as well as the sword of the Spirit. For even in preaching the Law, the purpose is the restoration of the lives of those who will heed the call to repent and believe the Gospel. The Law is preached to strike down sinners so that the Gospel may raise up newly born saints. When the first is preached without a view toward the second, then the preaching is not of God but of the devil. This thought certainly calls my heart to repent.

The Foundation of Preaching

On another weblog, Gottesblog another pastor who expresses deep devotion and commitment to the pastoral office shares a very poignant (profoundly moving) article entitled: Extemporaneous Preaching. It really is quite a wonderful article with many wonderful points regarding preaching.

Since I wish to emphasize some points from a different perspective, and hopefully without diminishing the fine points made in his article, I share my thoughts here rather than as a comment on his weblog.

While I do not share his stress of the importance of style or technique, particularly in the matter of preaching without a manuscript, I wish to pick up with his reference to Matthew 7:29 where Matthew highlights the response of the multitudes who heard Jesus. Here Matthew says:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matt 7:28-29)

Fr. Eckardt makes a lovely connection here to the matter of the authority, saying that this authority is in fact Jesus’ own person. This is absolutely true. It is a wonderful fact to behold. Yet it is not the point of this text, nor is it the way that Jesus usually speaks of his authority. Jesus spoke, especially during His ministry among the Jews, primarily in terms of the authority given to Him by the Father.

In this specific text, Matthew mentions the authority as the basis for what astonished the people. At what were they astonished? They were astonished at His doctrine. It was Jesus' doctrine that made His authority known.

St. Luke brings this forward in His account of the ministry of Jesus among the Jews.

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. (Luke 4:14-21)

This is really a wonderful example of the foundation of the preaching office. Jesus Himself demonstrates this foundation in His own preaching in the divine service. Now this is a different setting than when He preaches in the streets and on the mountainside and from a boat. In this instance Jesus preaches in the synagogue, as was His custom. Luke tells us that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the ordinary day of worship, the Sabbath. On this day, He stood up to READ. The appointed pericope was handed to Him, the book of Isaiah. Jesus took the book, opened it to a specific text, and read that text. Then He closed the book and began to expound it, saying,

This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

While Jesus expounded this text with many other words, these are the ones that Luke says were what He said to them. The doctrine that Jesus taught was that He is the fulfillment of the Scriptures. He is the foundation of the Faith that is to be preached.

St. Paul says it to the Corinthian congregation with these words:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Style and technique are not the important factors in effective, faithful, and authoritative preaching. While these are certainly valuable, they are not the measure of a good preacher. Certainly a preacher should seek to speak with the joy and enthusiasm that the Gospel produces. Certainly a preacher should preach with the best grammar and style that he is able. But the foundation of preaching is Jesus as the fulfillment of the Scriptures.

What this means is that a preacher should always preach the words of the text. Even when preaching on a topic, this topic should be based upon clear textual preaching. In other words it should never be a contrived topic, but one that flows from the words of a text of the Holy Scriptures. After all, the doctrine is to be the doctrine of Jesus, of God. What a preacher thinks is not important, in fact his thoughts usually detract from the point of the text. The preacher is not the focus, not his skills, not his style, not his memory capacity, not his extemporaneousness.

The focus, the foundation, is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

But the doctrine that Matthew says is with authority, is not merely preaching the doctrine as factual matters to be believed. The doctrine that Jesus taught from authority is the preaching of the text of Scripture in such a way that the people not only hear the Truth, but actually receive Him, actually encounter Him.

This is a point that Fr. Eckardt makes quite nicely in saying that preaching is the preaching of the Mass. In other words, preaching is properly the preaching of the gift of the presence of Jesus to the congregation in the Sacrament of the Altar. He comes first through the preaching itself, but He comes to do more than touch the heart and soul. He comes actually to enter the person and give Himself to the person, but not individually, but to all. He comes to renew the unity of the true Faith by which we all must be saved, the true Faith by which we truly are joined in Christ. He comes to pour His blood forth to all who come to Him in the Sacrament of the New Testament in His blood. Here the forgiveness of sins is not merely heard, but it is taken into the mouth and swallowed as food for salvation and life.

If this is what a pastor preaches so that the congregants eagerly look to Jesus in the Sacrament and come humbly to receive Him in the divinely ordained means, the preaching is with the authority that Matthew records that Jesus preached. For then it truly is Jesus who is preaching, and with the authority that cannot be undone.

This, of course, is what St. Paul beautifully writes concerning the Sacrament, "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew (proclaim) the Lord's death till he come." (1 Cor 11:26)

This is what the pastoral office is all about. This is the preaching office. If a pastor has carefully prepared such preaching, it really is more important that he preaches it carefully and with power than that he preach without a manuscript. If preaching has good eye contact and spontaneity, these can be very helpful. But these do not constitute preaching with authority and power. The administration of the Word, that is, Jesus, is the foundation of preaching.

If this is the foundation and expectation for both preacher and hearer, no one will be disappointed.

Certainly there are times and circumstances that demand extemporaneous preaching of Christ. The Lord Jesus promised that in such times that the Holy Spirit would provide the words. He also said that His preachers should not worry about what to say in those special times. But in the regular worship of the Church, the Scriptures call for good order, even certain patterns are prescribed. These are based upon the foundation, Christ crucified. All things in the Church are built upon this foundation. On this foundation the Church rests securely, in absolute and unshakable confidence.

Dear preacher, is this the foundation of your preaching? Dear hearer, is this the foundation of your hearing? If so, then be at peace and do not trouble yourselves, for you are receiving the peace that surpasses all understanding and guards the hearts and minds of those who are in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Image of God

Included in discussions of Original Sin and the loss of original righteousness is an explanation of the image of God and what was lost to mankind with the loss of the image of God. Growing up with the LC-MS Synodical Catechism, the following explanations were taught to me:

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113. What was the image of God?

The image of God consisted in this —

A. That man knew God and was perfectly happy in such knowledge.
B. That man was perfectly holy and blessed.

114. Does man still bear the image of God?

Man lost the image of God when he fell into sin. In believers, a beginning of its renewal is made. Only in heaven, however, will this image be fully restored.

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A fuller explanation is given in Article II of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession translated in the Concordia Triglotta, pp. 110-11:

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15] Neither have we said anything new. The ancient definition understood aright expresses precisely the same thing when it says: “Original sin is the absence of original righteousness” [a lack of the first purity and righteousness in Paradise]. But what is righteousness? Here the scholastics wrangle about dialectic questions; they do not explain what original righteousness is. 16] Now in the Scriptures, righteousness comprises not only the second table of the Decalog [regarding good works in serving our fellow-man], but the first also, which teaches concerning 17] the fear of God, concerning faith, concerning the love of God. Therefore original righteousness was to embrace not only an even temperament of the bodily qualities [perfect health and, in all respects, pure blood, unimpaired powers of the body, as they contend], but also these gifts, namely, a quite certain knowledge of God, fear of God, confidence in God, or certainly 18] the rectitude and power to yield these affections [but the greatest feature in that noble first creature was a bright light in the heart to know God and His work, etc.]. And Scripture testifies to this, when it says, Gen. 1, 27, that man was fashioned in the image and likeness of God. What else is this than that there were embodied in man such wisdom and righteousness as apprehended God, and in which God was reflected, i.e., to man there were given the gifts of the knowledge of God, the fear of God, confidence in God, and the like? 19] For thus Irenaeus and Ambrose interpret the likeness to God, the latter of whom not only says many things to this effect, but especially declares: That soul is not, therefore, in the image of God, in which God is not at all times. 20] And Paul shows in the Epistles to the Ephesians, 5, 9, and Colossians, 3, 10, that the image of God is the knowledge of God, righteousness, and truth. 21] Nor does Longobard fear to say that original righteousness is the very likeness to God which God implanted in man. 22] We recount the opinions of the ancients, which in no way interfere with Augustine’s interpretation of the image.

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Since Melanchthon, on behalf of all of the Lutheran Confessors, was giving a response to the Papal attacks against them regarding their straightforward confession of the total depravity of man according to the fallen sinful nature, he either did not take the opportunity or did not see the opportunity to explain this in all of its glory. He does, however, quote Ambrose, who says it quite magnificently with these words:

That soul is not, therefore, in the image of God, in which God is not at all times.

This is a very rich and marvelous explanation, stated from the negative in response to the need to explain the sinful condition of man.

Today I wish to expound this same understanding from the positive.

The image of God is Christ. He is what was lost to mankind and is restored again through Baptism. In Baptism, the Word, that is, Christ, is given physically to the one who is baptized. With the gift of Christ, the Holy Spirit also is given. And where Christ and the Holy Spirit are, so is the Father. Thus the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is commanded to be used and given in Baptism.

With the restoration of Christ to the person, the person is restored in the image of God, that is, in Christ. Thus, since Christ is declared in the Scriptures to be the very righteousness of God, the perfect righteousness of God is restored to the baptized person who is regenerated in the Faith worked by the Holy Spirit. Communion with God is restored in Christ, the image of God.

This is the knowledge of God, knowing Christ. Through Baptism, God restores us to His knowledge, knowing Him as our loving God and Father.

Having been restored to God’s Holy Communion through the restoration of the image of God dwelling in the baptized believer, now the person can continue in this restored communion. Now the person can come to the Feast of Christ and eat and drink with God, again receiving Christ, the Word, bodily. Conjoined with Christ in His body, the person eats with the Word laden bread the body of the Holy Communion and drinks with the Word laden wine the blood of forgiveness given in the cup of the New Testament.

This is the restoration of the Image of God to man. This is the life that God causes us to be regenerated to enjoy.

At the Last Day, the Old sinful nature will be separated from us forever so that this restored image may be enjoyed fully. For now we constantly face the juxtaposition of simul iustus et peccator. This will continue for as long as God has reserved for the time of preaching the Gospel for the salvation of lost souls. When no more souls remain who will receive God’s restored image, then the end will come and the separation of the saint from the sinner shall be made complete. The saints will be gathered to the right hand and the sinners to the left. Those in whom Christ has been restored will never again face the juxtaposition. Nor more simul will exist. All that will remain is the unity that is restored in Christ.

Is this not a rich and wonderful message? Is this not cause for rejoicing and coming forward eagerly to partake of the Eucharist, that is, the Thanksgiving of our Lord’s Holy Communion? Is it not right that we sing with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven?

Is this not the perfect image to behold?

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September 12

Nine Twelve, the day after Nine Eleven.

Sorrow, Grief, is powerful.

For some reason, certain kinds of loss are often perceived as more tragic than others. The death of a child is often perceived as more terrible than the loss of an older adult. Death of loved ones by seemingly unexplainable tragedy often is perceived as more terrible than death by what commonly is called “natural causes.”

Yet death is death. Loss is loss. The terror or terribleness of death and loss is the same for all who experience it. No one can make the terribleness less. No one can make the pain less significant or powerful.

The only way to deal with the pain and terribleness of loss is to conquer it.

But this is beyond our capacity. We do not have the power to conquer pain, misery, tragedy, and death. No matter how hard we try, we cannot overpower the pain. No matter what attempts we make, we cannot set the memories aside. No matter what we seek to fill the void, we still remember the loss.

This is why St. Paul writes:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. (1Thessalonians 4:13)

And what hope does St. Paul hold for his brethren?
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1Thessalonians 4:14-18)

The means by which grief is overcome is the faith that the Holy Spirit works, faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For those who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus know that He has conquered death for the sake of all who will live in Him through faith. The comfort that overpowers grief has two parts, or better stated, two applications. First, the comfort is applied to the believer, so that the believer knows that his own life is kept safe in Jesus. Secondly, then, the comfort is that this safe keeping is for all who are in Jesus. No one who trusts in the death and resurrection of Jesus will be disappointed.

With this knowledge that is supplied by Faith, the believer does not grieve as those who have no hope. For Jesus is our hope. In Jesus we know that we are safe and that no tragedy and no loss can ever take that safety away from us.

This assurance and comfort is so strong that it even enables the believer to let go of the fear of never seeing a loved one again. Even when the loved one was not a believer, the communion that God provides for the believer is stronger. In Jesus, the believer finds that even the thought of never seeing a loved one again is overcome by the peace that surpasses all understanding. This is the knowledge that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever. This is the knowledge that God is good and will not abandon us to our grief but will supply us with the strength that we need to continue onward in His mercy and love.

Job was given no explanation for the series of tragedies that took every worldly thing from him. All of his treasures, even the greatest of his treasures, his ten children, were taken from him. In response to all of his terrible losses, what was Job’s response?

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:20-21)

Even that old standby saying, “If a person has his health, he has everything” failed him because the Lord granted Satan the power to rob Job even of his health. Yet as he sat in a pile of ashes scraping his sores with a piece of broken pottery he declared that it is right that a person should receive both what is perceived as good and what is perceived as evil from the Lord. By this Job acknowledged that the will of the Lord is good, even though we do not understand it, even when the things that happen are evil according to our best understanding. In truth, what Satan did to Job was evil, flowing from the darkness of the evil in Satan’s being. Nevertheless, the Lord’s will in all this was good, and Job trusted the will of the Lord.

How many people since the days of Job have found comfort in the faith that the Lord gave to him, faith that carried him through even the worst of tragedies, the tragedy of feeling doubt and despair? We have trouble relating to the strength that Job’s faith produced. But when Job finally broke down and began to complain against the Lord, this we understand fully. But even Job’s doubts and complaints were not big enough to destroy him. Not because Job believed so strongly, for by this time his personal faith was just a glimmer. No, Jesus was his strength. The death and resurrection of Jesus is what carried Job forward. The Lord did not abandon Job, even when Job’s personal faith failed him. The Lord came to Job and comforted him by confronting him with his own sinful weakness and then reminding Job of the Lord’s mercy which endures forever. Confession and absolution was the answer that Job needed and that God supplied.

So what is the point of all this?

Six years after the Nine Eleven tragedy some people still feel crushed and decimated by their sorrows and losses. Many still came to the site of the tragedy looking for solace through remembering the ones who were taken from them.

This is not where they will find comfort and peace. Seeking peace in the memory of those who are lost to them has no power except to bind them to their sense of loss. The memory that will set them free is the Lord’s memory, which He has toward those for whom He sacrificed all. It is to His remembrance of His love that we are to turn for our hope. Yes, He even commands it for our well-being, saying, “This do as oft as you drink of it, into My remembrance.” The Lord does not forget. He knows our needs. He gives Himself to us to supply us with those needs of body and soul. He remembers and He calls us to the table of His remembrance. There He remembers His beloved and they are caused to remember that He remembers. There He calls us to be joined with Him into His remembrance. There we find the peace that the world cannot give, His peace that surpasses all understanding.

Today is Nine Twelve. It is a day to remember that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever. We treasure the memories of those with whom God has blessed us, but they belong to Him even as we do. Let us continue in the peace of His remembrance.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gospel Dependency

The Pure Gospel is the sweetest medicine ever produced. It is the most amazing product in the world.

The Pure Gospel, when received in its pure form, is potent beyond anything else in this world. It is the only true cure-all. In its pure form it is sweeter than sugar, and yet is full of substance. It feeds the soul.

Once a person tastes the sweetness of the Pure Gospel, that person becomes totally dependent upon it. But amazingly, this dependence has no negative effects, only positive effects. The Gospel dependent person finds it impossible to continue without the Pure Gospel. The Gospel dependent person lives for the Pure Gospel and craves the Pure Gospel. Yet it is impossible to overdose on the Pure Gospel. When the Gospel has been polluted with impurities, it is possible to overdose and to be destroyed by the impurities, but the Pure Gospel gives only Life and Happiness and Freedom.

Unlike any other dependency, Gospel dependency provides true and absolute freedom: freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from addictions, freedom from destructive lifestyles, freedom even from death.

What is even more amazing is that the Gospel is free of cost to the dependent. It is absolutely free and it is available without limit to the one gathering to the earthly source of the Pure Gospel.

The Pure Gospel truly is unlike anything else in this world. It truly is beyond our imagination, yet it is real and it is available to all.

What could be more marvelous?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

The Pure Gospel

The Lutheran Confessions rightly identify the Church as “the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.” (AC VII)

This bold exposition of the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures is simultaneously a wonderful promise as well as an urgent warning. In a world where compromise is the norm, it often seems that the sense of the need for the urgent warning can become the prevailing mood. I know that I have been very much influenced by this awareness in my dealings with people. I also find it hard to present this urgent warning without becoming legalistic. Even when I come close to dealing with the matter more from the side of the promise, still it is often perceived as legalistic.

This becomes especially true in warning against continuing in a church body or congregation where doctrine and practice do not match. This perception of legalism seems to become even more pronounced when the warning is given to people who are part of a church body or congregation where some are seeking unity in purity while others are being more lax or even open to impurity.

I don’t know whether what I am offering today will ease the perception of legalism, but perhaps it will at least stress the distinction and the necessity of making the distinction between the Church as is defined by Augustana VII, and the Church as defined by open communion.

Seeking to remain faithful to the Faith of the Scriptures and Confessions within a church body or congregation that allows compromise in these matters of doctrine and/or practice is like opening a jar of antibiotic salve and without putting the lid back on, storing it in the kitty’s litter box.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labor Day

Labor Day, a day that is intended to give those who are burdened and weary a day of rest.

Most people seem to welcome Labor Day as a day to forget the mundane daily routine that wears people down to the point of feeling trapped and without real purpose. People take time to travel, to visit friends and relatives, or just to take off and do nothing of the usual routine. They recreate. They rest from their labors.

Amazingly, the same people often resist honoring the Lord’s day of rest. He invites the heavy burdened and the weary to turn aside from their daily struggles to receive from Him the rest that He alone can provide. He even goes so far as to command it, because He knows how much we need the rest that is found only in communion with Him.

Isn’t it strange that we eagerly embrace a manmade day of rest, embracing it with our very being, while the day that God has given and established is so often despised? What different people we would be, how different our lives would be, if this were reversed!

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“Because Does Them the Man”

This Sunday’s Old Testament reading brought forth a rather odd variance between our translations and the Hebrew text. I found it extremely odd that not even the Septuagint translated the definite article that Moses records. It is amazing what a difference a definite article can make in the understanding that one carries from a sentence or phrase. In this case, it makes the difference between distinguishing Law and Gospel, between self-reliance and reliance upon Christ.

The text is Leviticus 18:1-5 from the appointed reading for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity. If you would like to examine the difference that I have indicated, this link will enable you to read or hear the sermon and the distinction made by inclusion of the definite article that Moses included.

It really is a wonderful text that is full of God’s grace, at least when it is translated the way that the Holy Spirit led Moses to write it.