Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blessed Worship Experience

Which of the following statements best summarizes what you take with you from gathering for worship?

+ This surely is a friendly congregation.

+ That music is really inspiring and uplifting.

+ We surely have a wonderful church body.

+ Our church body is in big trouble.

+ Pastor surely is a funny and friendly man.

+ I surely need to clean up my life!

+ Pastor surely is a wonderful preacher.

+ Why is there so much fighting in our congregation?

+ What do we have to do to have peace?

+ There surely is a lot of work to do.

+ Why can't the rest of the world be like us?

+ Now we are entering the mission field.

+ Boy am I ever fired up about evangelism! Let's go conquer the world and win souls for Christ!

+ Why does everything have to be so rigid and negative?

+ Wow, I'd better get busy! I did not realize that God expected so much from me!

+ God surely is good and gracious. He really does love me. He provides the means of grace through which He reconciles me to Himself and to His Church in Christ Jesus!

+ Argh! That was lousy coffee! And why do they always get the same kinds of donuts?

+ Wow! Pastor finally got us out on time!

+ I like the other service better.

+ Wow! Something for everybody!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The lesser of two EVILS

Surely you have heard this phrase applied to something or other: “Well, we have to choose the lesser of two evils.”

Do people who say this ever actually stop to think about what they are saying?

With the acceptance of this mentality, what are people saying that they have accepted?

This is always, ALWAYS the way with compromise.

Is this ever really a choice for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness?

Good God!

Good God, I hate war!

I truly hate war and everything about it. I have seen many war movies, and my reaction is always the same. I appreciate the bravery and valor of those who fight for the good of others, paying with their lives for freedom and justice. But I hate war. War movies tear me up.

“We Were Soldiers” rips my guts out. This movie like no other leaves me bawling. War is evil. There is absolutely no excuse for war. War is beyond any question the work of the devil. Saint James writes:

From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Yes, the devil began warring against God and all that is good. He tempted mankind to break fellowship with God and to look for goodness and pleasure elsewhere. All evil is the result of the absence of God, the absence of God in people’s hearts and minds.

This is why war proves to me the absolute and unfaltering goodness of God.

Strange as this may sound, it is true. When I consider the absolute evil of war, I know the absolute goodness of God.

War shows what man is like apart from being in communion with God. This is the condition of the human heart without the counsel of the Holy Spirit. All manner of evil is perpetrated on this account. Yet for all of his efforts, man has not been able to destroy himself nor the world that God created for him. God is good and His mercy endures forever. Man cannot extinguish God’s goodness. God’s goodness is absolute and never failing.

St. James continues, saying:

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

The proud resist God and God resists their evil intentions. Wars and rumors of wars will surely come, but God gives grace to the humble, so that they may stand firm in His Holy Communion, from which the devil must flee. Where God rules, the devil flees. He cannot stand in the holiness of God. Evil as he is, the devil cannot bear to see himself revealed by God’s goodness. So when a person draws near to God in His Holy Communion, he stands unmoved against the devil’s attacks and the devil flees, while the saint is brought closer into God’s Holy Communion.

Such is the nature of God. Such is His goodness that it overcomes all things and restores peace and wholeness to the soul.

The ultimate war was started long ago by one of God’s ministering angels. He had been given great power and honor, to use to God’s glory and to the benefit of mankind. But instead this holy angel broke away from God’s Holy Communion and lost all hope for restoration to God’s goodness. This one has been at war with God and Man ever since. His war works in our flesh and is manifested in our evil actions. But God has given His Holy Church on earth, where He baptizes us into Christ Jesus and keeps us steadfast in His grace, mercy, and peace. All who stand upon the rock of this confession stand upon the One who not only resisted the devil, but conquered him and sent him away powerless. God Himself went to war on our behalf, a war of love versus hate and good versus evil. Love has triumphed and God gives His love freely to all who will receive Him.

Yes, war convinces me of the absolute goodness of God.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Our Struggles with Prayer

This post is the first in a series of three that I am posting consecutively. I have wanted to write on this issue for some time. Today, reading a wonderful post entitled A Mystical View of Prayer, I offered the following response which I include here as the first of this three post series:


Dear friends,

Prayer truly is an issue with which we struggle. What does it really mean to pray? What is the real purpose of prayer? Why does God command it?

The disciples asked these questions, and the Lord Jesus gave them the Our Father. When we examine our prayer given to us by the Lord Himself, (we often call it the Lord’s prayer, but it is OUR prayer), when we examine this prayer we learn what prayer really is. When in doubt, we should pray this prayer. Luther also suggested the Psalms and hymns and the Creed and the Commandments. If we spent our time with these, we would not have time for challenging the validity or purpose of prayer.

But we don’t and then we do challenge. We don’t trust God, and so we challenge His faithfulness. Then we spend our time pondering prayer rather than praying.

Nevertheless, some pondering is itself Prayer. True prayer leads us to hear God. True prayer is submitting to the Holy Spirit who leads us to the Scriptures which tell us of Christ, who is the glory and image of God.

God commands prayer because we need it. WE need it. God knows what we need. In fact, He has answered our prayers from eternity. He does not need for us to pray in order to know our needs. He does not need for us to pray in order to hear us. As St. Paul explains, the Holy Spirit searches our hearts and prays for us even when we don’t know what to pray.

Prayer is to answer OUR need to hear God, not to answer a need on God’s part to know us. We need to hear that He hears us. So He commands us to pray, even though He already knows what we will pray. Prayer is for US. We NEED to pray.

St. James speaks of the effective prayer of a righteous man and then holds up Elijah’s prayer for drought and then for rain as the example. But when we examine Elijah’s prayer, we learn that the Lord told His servant of the Word exactly what to pray and exactly when to pray it. Then both Elijah and the Church and then also the world saw the faithfulness of God. God commanded Elijah to pray God to withhold the rain so that the people would learn to know the one on whom they depend. Then He commanded Elijah to pray God to send the rain to show the people that God is indeed the one who sends His rain on both the just and the unjust. God answered the prayers that He commanded His servant to pray.

Intercessory prayer is the same way. God already knows what He will do for our neighbor. In fact, He has already provided for our neighbor, in part, by commanding us to love and pray for our neighbor and for our enemy. Yet as the Our Father teaches us, when we pray for neighbor and enemy, we are really praying to our mutual Father on behalf of us all. When we pray for neighbor, we also pray for us. What we learn is that God wants us to love neighbor as He loves all the world. Then we do not hoard our possessions, especially our most precious possession, the Gospel. Then also, we do not abuse the Gospel by making ourselves lords over it and the Church. Then we view the Church not as our church, but Christ’s Church. Then we are more concerned about forgiveness than we are about being right. Then we rely solely upon the purity of the Word and Sacraments rather than our own attempts at doing what is right. Then we direct others to leave anyplace where the Word and Sacraments are mingled with worldly things, and we do whatever is necessary to make the means of grace the sole purpose of the Church.

This is the purpose of prayer. Reliance upon God and His means of grace. Examine the Our Father and see if this is not what Jesus teaches His disciples of all time.

The reason that prayer ends in questions of doubt is because we think that prayer is about what we do rather than what God does for us and among us through the pure administration of the means of grace. And so we remain in church bodies where prayer is mingled with idolatry and the Sacraments are perverted into the works of men. Then we wonder why we don’t understand. We ask God why we don’t see the purity that He promised.

Thanks be to God that He does not deal with us according to our folly, but continues to come to us and command us to pray.

When in doubt, pray the Our Father. Pray it until He leads you to various Scriptures and the Creed and the Commandments and faithful Hymns and Psalms. Guess where you’ll find yourself: on your knees at His altar communing with the Holy Trinity and with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and all the saints of all times and places. This is where all your doubts and all your questions are answered.

The Prayer of a Righteous Man

James 5:15-18

St. James speaks of the prayer of faith and the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man.

Yet there has only been One truly righteous man.

Worthy of consideration.

Whose prayer is truly effective and fervent? We see this in the garden of Gethsemane, do we not? We hear it also from the cross. We hear it in the liturgy and in the Sacrament.

Yet for Christ’s sake, others also have been called “righteous.” Noah, Job, Abraham, and Elijah, are all named as the “righteous.” In Baptism, you and I also are named with the name of righteousness.

James speaks specifically of Elijah and the effectiveness of his prayer. Job is another example for us to remember. Both Job and Elijah were commanded what to pray. Both of these men were commanded by God to pray for the forgiveness of others and for their restoration. Both men’s prayers were fervent and effective.

What is the cause of all of our unfulfilled needs? Is Sin not that cause? What is the answer? The prayer of the righteous man, Jesus. And where does His prayer lead us? His prayer is that we may be one even as He and the Father are one: John 17:11 . And where is this prayer answered? When we kneel at His Supper to receive the body of unity and the blood of forgiveness and life.

So then, where is the answer to the effective and fervent prayer of the righteous man? In The Sacrament of the Altar!

Give Us Our Daily Bread

In our prayer that the Lord Jesus supplied us, He teaches what we are unwilling to hear.

Right in the middle of this prayer He teaches us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

What does this mean? Why is this placed in the center? We tend to want to put it first, asking for this and that need and want of body and soul. Yet the Lord Jesus places it squarely in the center of the prayer that He commands us, “Pray like this.” In our attempts at piety we may even be tempted to place this at the end of our prayers. But not our Lord. He places it in the center, where we cannot miss it.


Because this petition is not what we think it is.

If we examine this prayer carefully, very carefully, and if we examine it from the perspective with which our Lord commands us to pray, we learn that each petition is really a repetition of the previous one, with them all centering upon the central petition of “Give us this day our daily bread.”

If you doubt this, consider what Jesus told Satan.

Matthew 4:3-4
And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Then again in Matthew 6:31-33 the Lord declares:
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Is this not what the Our Father teaches us to pray? If so, then, where do we find our daily bread?

Acts 2:44-47
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Is this not what our Lord teaches us to pray in the prayer that He gave to us?

If we prayed with this as our understanding, would we not continually say with David in Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. . . . Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Where Is Your Faith?

While pondering a very intriguing article at Cranach Institute entitled Objective Justification, while considering the way in which the Lord Jesus challenged His disciples regarding their faith, I remembered especially the occasion where He was awakened by His disciples on account of their fear of perishing in the tempest on the sea. Their Lord was with them in the storm battered boat, and they awakened Him from His much needed rest and accused Him of not caring. ( Matt 8:23-27 ), ( Mark 4:35-41), ( Luke 8:22-25) (Hover here – or click here for the passages) Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25

Matthew records the Lord Jesus saying, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” Mark records, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” And Luke records, “Where is your faith?”

Luke’s record is perhaps the most precise. “Where is your faith?” Where or in what is the faith of you-all?

Isn’t that really the issue?

“Why fearful are you-all little faiths?” is literally what Matthew records. And Mark: “Why fearful are you-all? In the same way, how not have you-all faith?” Then Luke: “Where is the faith of you-all?”

What is the Lord Jesus asking them?

Their response tells all. They ask among themselves, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!”

Their faith is subjective rather than objective. Their God is too small and so their faith is too small to save them. Thus, even though the Creator of all that exists rested peacefully (Sabbathed) in their boat, they feared that they would perish. Why did they fear? Because they did not look to Jesus but to other things. Their faith was not really based upon Jesus but upon what they saw, believed, and perceived.

Faith looks to God alone. Faith is God’s work. Faith does not falter. Thus, their faith, subjective faith, is not faith at all. It is produced by too small of a god. Only the faith of Jesus can save, the faith that He gives in Baptism as He gives Himself to be believed. This is The faith that is renewed and nourished in the Sacrament of the Altar, as Jesus is renewed in the Baptized one in whom Jesus dwells, producing His faith within the person.

Where the Word is, the Holy Spirit is at work. This is the faith that overcomes all. This is the perfect love that drives out all fear. This is the love of God, which generates love for God and likewise for neighbor. When we experience this subjectively, it is only because it has been produced objectively.

Even though the disciples were drowning in their subjectivity, they did turn to the Lord Jesus and were saved. This is the beauty of the objective nature of true faith.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cute & Happy Baby

Matthew 18:3-4

Mark 9:33-37

The Historic Practice of Closed Communion

For a long time I have procrastinated regarding the need to revise the little statement on The Historic Practice of Closed Communion that is posted on the congregation’s web site. Today I have provided that revision, and since I have noticed a few links to this paper, it is appropriate that I give notice of this revision.

The paper is available at The Historic Practice of Closed Communion.

Comments are welcomed either in the comments section of this post, or by E-mail.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Damn! Why Can’t I Stop?

Damn! Did it again!
Damn! Why can’t I stop?

Perhaps you consider yourself too pious to use the word that God uses regarding this situation, but in our hearts, we all know it to be true. Damn is the only word that can be applied to our sin. At least that is the only word that we, according our own reason and strength, have the power or authority to apply.

God, however, authorizes another word: Absolved!

We, however, have trouble hearing Him say this and believing it to be true. Oh, we accept the reality of His absolution for most sins, but certain ones seem to be bigger than others. Certain sins we find ourselves addressing with words like, “Why do I keep doing this?”

These thoughts can lead to despairing of God’s grace. These thoughts can lead to doubting whether or not a person is truly saved and truly a child of God.

The real issue that we face, however, is not the sin that we count as big and insurmountable. The real issue is the sin that we think that we have defeated, the sin that we do not count as damning, the sin that we do not feel troubled by in our conscience.

The “big” sin is actually a blessing in disguise. It is the sin that we cannot pretend does not matter. It is the sin that brings us to our knees and strikes terror into our hearts. It is the sin of which we cannot help but to respond to with the exclamation of: Damn! This is the sin that we find inescapable by anything that we try to do. This is the sin that leaves us with no alternative except to admit how truly and hopelessly wicked, evil, and far from God that we are.

We eagerly ignore and forget that the wages of sin is death. This is not just the sin that we choose to count as truly bad, but all sin. We turn aside from the awareness that we are born sinful. Sin-Full. All of our actions, all of our thoughts, all of our words, according to the fact that they came from us, are Sin Full. There is no level at which what we do according to our own efforts is ever acceptable to God. They are Sin Full and cannot be received by the One who is absolutely perfect and holy.

This is why Christ died for all. This is why Christ was made to be Sin for us. Our salvation demands that He take the sin of the world, all of it. In order for us to be free, He had to receive what God cannot receive. He had to receive our flesh in order to do it. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” He took a fleshly tent and into His own body He received the sin of the entire world and suffered its power to destroy and kill and damn.

This is what we need to remember in connection with our Sin Fullness. It was not just the big sins that filled up Jesus so that he was made to be sin for us, but every sin.

The Big Sin that makes us feel cursed, is the sin that really benefits us. It is the sin that causes us to realize that the Law is right in declaring sin to be absolutely insurmountable at every level. We don’t stand a chance against sin. God must conquer it for us.

St. Paul says:

For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (Romans 5:13)

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
(Romans 7:7-13)

Without the Law of God, without the commandment not to lust or covet, who would consider coveting to be sin? Who would realize what coveting really is? The Law comes to us and kills us. Without the Law, we are alive, thinking ourselves to be living good lives. The Law comes to us and says, “You shall not covet.” Suddenly we hear:

How dare you accuse God of being unfair on account of His gracious dealings with your neighbor? You wicked idolater! You evil blasphemer! How dare you imagine that what God has given to you is not sufficient for you so that you imagine that you need what someone else has? You stand condemned as pure wickedness, you vile creature! You are not worthy of receiving anything good whatsoever, only damnation and everlasting death!

Suddenly, because of the Law, we see ourselves as we really are. The Law says, “You shall not covet” and suddenly we are full of coveting that we did not even recognize. Suddenly we see that our entire being is one of coveting. Suddenly we know that we truly are Sin Full.

No wonder St. Paul speaks of the Law as spiritual and good. What a blessing it is for us to know our Sin Fullness and hopelessness. For then we stop trying to overcome sin, and turn to the One who has accomplished this for us even from eternity.

This is what Jesus preached throughout His ministry among the Jews, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

This is why God commands that we “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” He has provided us with a safe haven where we may flee for the assurance of His salvation. He has established the communion of the saints, the holy catholic Church. Within this holy communion He provides the Gospel in its purity and the Sacraments which He has filled with His grace. He has provided us these because He knows that we cannot conquer our Sin Fullness. He must bring us to Himself so that He may take our Sin from us and pronounce us to be clean, that is, sanctified. We cannot do this for ourselves. Thank God that we do not have to, for He does it for us.

So the next time that you feel the weight of a recurring sin that seems too big for you to conquer, rather than continuing in your Sin Fullness, rather than continuing to turn to your own reason and strength, hear the call of your God and Savior, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Remember that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever, and turn away from your own efforts, turning to Him, through the means in which He has promised to come with blessing for all whom He calls.