Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Oriole Nest

About twenty-five feet above the ground in a tree branch that needed to be removed, was this sock-like nest. It is of a woven construction, carefully and sturdily crafted.

From what the home owner and I have determined it is an oriole nest.

A very interesting and informative article on the Baltimore Oriole and its nesting is available here.

It is amazing to see how clever these little builders are. The nest is very well constructed and strongly attached to the branches.

Anyone encountering such a nest as this will immediately realize that it had to be crafted by very careful planning and workmanship. Any scientist observing this construction will immediately begin searching to identify the architect.

Yet, strangely, the same scientists examine these little avian architects regarding their bodily and genetic construction and conclude that their far more complex design occurred by random events. Their genetic code is so complex that it still is not fully understood by the scientific community, immeasurably more complex than the clever nests of the orioles, and yet the obvious conclusion regarding an architect for their design is outright denied by those calling themselves scientists.

Is this not bewildering?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents’ Day

     Today is a national holiday, a day set aside for holy things, a holy day. Hmm. President’s Day, what is holy about this day?

     That very likely depends upon one’s perspective.

     But what do we celebrate on this day? What does the office of President set before us as a people?

     The prescribed Presidential Oath of Office is recorded in the last paragraph of Section I of Article II of the Constitution of the United States of America:

     Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:— “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

     The text for the oath can be also be seen at Presidential Oaths of Office and the text of the Constitution here.

     Our most recently elected and sworn in president stumbled at the misdirection of the administrator of the oath, Chief Justice Roberts. The oath was administered a second time, as is reported here. The chief justice administered the oath from memory, and when the President Elect did not follow completely, without the written words the chief justice’s lead became confused. Therefore, to be certain that no question would be raised later regarding the legitimacy of the ceremony, the oath was re-administered.

     The Constitution prescribes these words as THE oath that must be taken before a president elect can enter on the execution of his office. Even though it may seem a small matter to move the word faithfully to the end rather than the beginning of the phrase, it does actually change the emphasis of the oath and thereby changes the oath prescribed by the Constitution. Certainly it is right that the oath be administered again correctly.

     Is this really so important? Why did this become an issue at all?

     Why did the chief justice not bring a written copy of the oath that he was to administer to the president elect? Was it arrogance? Was it pride?

     In this age of public media in visual and audio format that is broadcast live to all the world, concern over perception of personality often supplants concern over faithfulness. If Faithfulness had been the concern of the chief justice and of the president elect, they both would have brought written copies and used them. At the very least, both men would have made certain that the chief justice used a written copy.

     This brings us back to the original question regarding Presidents’ Day. Faithfulness flows from a proper sense of what is holy. That which is holy has been set apart or sanctified. The office of President has indeed been set apart, both by men and by God. Men wrote the Constitution and established the specific offices prescribed for the governing of the United States. God established that such governance is necessary for good order and has given His blessing to this authority among men. It is absolutely necessary for good order that both those governed and those appointed to govern remain mindful of the holiness of the office. It should be held to the very highest expectations.

     Indeed, Presidents’ Day is a true holiday. Do we still hold to it faithfully? Do we even still know what this means?

The Parable of the Sower

     The Gospel reading for Sexagesima, the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, is Luke 8:4-15. The title that is generally given to this is The Parable of the Sower. Amazingly, however, in practice those who identify themselves as Christians rarely treat this as the parable of THE Sower. In practice, the tendency is to ignore The Sower and to act as though we were the sower.

     In common parlance this is called Evangelism. Yet the Lord Jesus gives this parable in contrast to what is commonly thought to be evangelism. He explains the true work of evangelism in this parable. He also teaches what the true message of the Gospel is.

     As I prepared Sunday’s sermon my thoughts became so deep that I wondered whether the sermon would be hard to hear on account of the depth. Even as I proofread I wondered. It was not until I heard it as I preached it that my wondering was turned to wonderment. Truly the message of this parable is a wonderful message.

     I find myself amazed at the difference in the dynamic of hearing the Word as opposed to reading it only. There truly is a difference. It impacts a person differently. That, too, is declared in this parable of our Lord Jesus as He sets before us the wonderful statement of affirmation that is simultaneously a word of warning, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”


Valentine's Day Card

This is the card that my wife chose to give to me for Valentine's Day.

I'm the big one on the bottom.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Net of the Fishers of Men

     At Bailing Water in the post Calling all Confessional Pastors, attention was called to a wonderful sermon by the Rev. David Jay Webber, entitled 25 January 2009 - Epiphany 3 - Mark 1:14-20. The sermon is about being fishers of men and the net of the Gospel. The audio is available here.

     I very much enjoyed and appreciated the sermon except for one point. At first I thought that I could overlook it, but it would not go away. The point is inaccurate and false. It has the appearance of being very minute. However, one false declaration set in the company of an otherwise wonderful declaration of the truth makes the whole declaration false. Therefore consider the following:

     In the sermon Dr. Webber quotes rightly what is correctly expounded in the Formula of Concord of the Confessions of the Lutheran Church in the Book of Concord. A bit later he makes another wonderfully expressed statement of the truth in the second quotation below. But then in the third quotation below he mingles a false statement with the truth. It is this mingling of falsehood with truth that needs to be made manifest.

     That’s why we confess, in the Formula of Concord, that

“human beings were so corrupted through the fall of our first parents that in spiritual matters, concerning our conversion and the salvation of our soul, they are by nature blind. ...they are and remain God’s enemy until by his grace alone, without any contribution of their own, they are converted, made believers, reborn, and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word as it is preached and heard.”

† † †

     When people are converted, and believe in Christ, it’s as if they have been grasped by that net, have been taken up from the world of unbelief in which they were formerly living, and have been brought into the new world of the Lord’s Church.

† † †

     “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” as we read in the Epistle to the Philippians.

     Our minds and wills are actively involved in our faith. When you believe in Christ for forgiveness, you are actively trusting in him and clinging to his promises.

     God does not convert us in such a way that we feel as it we are being dragged toward him against our will. Rather, it is precisely at the level of our will that God’s Spirit changes us, and gives us a desire to be saved from sin and to be joined in a mystical bond to Christ.

     God doesn’t save you against your will. God saves you by transforming your will, by giving you a new will, and a new heart, through the regenerating power of the Gospel.

     In the third portion quoted above the same error is repeated twice.

     First, “God does not convert us in such a way that we feel as it we are being dragged toward him against our will.” The sentence that follows is absolutely true and correct. But this statement nullifies what follows by directly contradicting it.

     Secondly, “God doesn’t save you against your will.” Again, this is a false statement that directly counters the true statement that follows it.

     The conversion of St. Paul as is recorded in Acts 9:1-22, is a prime example. In this event, this conversion of Saul, the Lord Jesus says, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

     Saul, the devoted Pharisee, was spiritually dead in sin and unbelief. He was an enemy of Christ and His Church. He was an enemy of the Gospel. He was actively fighting against the net of the Word so that the Lord Jesus declared to him that he was kicking against the pricks or the goading. It was not until he was converted that Saul’s will became actively involved in the faith to which he was converted.

     Every part of the conversion of Saul was worked against his will. He was actively resisting it and fighting against it. He had absolutely no desire to be converted and to be brought to faith. As Dr. Webber rightly says, he had to be lifted up out of his old life and world and placed into the new life and world of faith. Only after this had been done for him did his converted and transformed will take an active part in cooperating with God. First his will had to be transformed or converted. Every action of Saul prior to this was in the opposite direction. The Formula of Concord also attests to this, saying: “Hence according to its perverse disposition and nature the natural free will is mighty and active only in the direction of that which is displeasing and contrary to God.”

     It is the same for all who are converted. Conversion is the transformation of the unbeliever’s will so that he is regenerated and made alive through faith. Then, living and walking as a regenerated believer, the person actively participates in this life of faith, willingly and joyously.

     This is not a small matter. This is not an unimportant distinction. It is the difference between one saving himself versus being saved by grace through faith. If one can by his own unregenerated will cooperate with God, then salvation is not by grace through faith and this is not a gift, but a work that is of ourselves.

     If indeed, we are saved by grace through faith as a gift of God, then this is worked against our unregenerated will and is purely God’s work without any cooperation of our own will. Then, since it is God’s work and not our own, there is no remaining doubt as to its effectiveness and validity. However, as soon as we make it in any way a cooperation, an operation of both God and us, a shared operation of the will God and our own unregenerated will, we are no longer talking about being brought into the kingdom in the net of the preached Word but by the baited line technique that Dr. Webber correctly denounces in the rest of his sermon.

     There appears to be a reason that this confusion and mingling of error with truth occurs so that even in this otherwise truly wonderful sermon a false statement is repeatedly declared. That reason would seem to be that the Church and kingdom into which the souls are being brought is not being clearly distinguished from the churches where people are being brought in by the other methods.

     If the true Church is defined as only the gathering of those who are brought in by the net of the Gospel, then those gatherings that are comprised of those who are brought by other means cannot be counted as the Church. Until a person truly embraces this distinction, the confusion and mingling will continue for that person and will pervade his thinking and preaching. This is true of pastors and of the members of congregations alike. As long as it is accepted that the Church includes those who are fishing by means other than the net of the Gospel, and as long as the Church is counted as including conflicting doctrines and practices insofar as “enough Gospel remains,” the pure Gospel is not being proclaimed and the true Church is not acknowledged.

     A person cannot embrace simultaneously that the Church exists purely by the use of the net and also by the use of baited lines. If one embraces both simultaneously as the Church, then the preaching will reflect that the person does not really believe that it is purely by the net.

     This is why the converted St. Paul says:

     But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:6-10)

     What the mouth confesses is what really resides in the heart. This is why St. Paul also says: “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Cor 12:3)

     A person who is speaking by the Spirit of God cannot simultaneously call Jesus a liar and the Lord. A person cannot say that Christians are lifted up in the net and placed into the kingdom as the only way and simultaneously say that they can be brought into the kingdom through other means. A person cannot say that the Church exists as the gathering to the pure administration of the Gospel and Sacraments and simultaneously say that the Church can exist as a gathering to something else, to a different doctrine and practice. Yet all who belong to the church bodies created by men attempt to do exactly this. The apostles, speaking by the Holy Spirit, say that we cannot remain in communion with those who persist in false doctrine and practice and continue in the Holy Communion of God. Yet pastors and congregations pretend that this can be done.

     Then they wonder why their churches are divided and live in confusion. Then they wonder why even in the very best of sermons, falsehood cannot be completely weeded out.

     The apostles practiced what they preached. They walked away from mixed communions and denounced them as not of God. They not only preached against false doctrine and practice, but they also stood apart from it. When a communion persisted in mingling falsehood with the truth, after a couple of warnings if they still did not repent, the apostles pronounced them not to be the Church.

     The apostles left everything to follow Jesus. This included the Temple. This included the synagogues. This included their family and friends with whom they had worshiped all of their lives. They became separated from all that they formerly embraced.

     This is what the net does. It separates us unto Christ in His Church. Jesus said:

     Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10:34-37)

     The Word of the Gospel is not sent to make peace on the earth but to cause division between those of the world and those of the kingdom of God. This sword/Word causes divisions in the most intimate relations so that peace cannot exist between those who stand on opposite sides of this sword/Word. No middle ground exists. The sword cuts between the two.

     The net and sword are the same Word. The separation is the same separation. Those who are gathered by the net see everything to which they once belonged cut off from them by the sword. Those who cling to what they once were are dragged back into the sea from which the net dragged them and they are cut off again by the sword.

     In the mixed communions a facade is maintained. Many of the right things are said and done. Perhaps even most of the truth is maintained. But the truth is mixed with elements of falsehood, rendering it impure. The truth is not impure. Where such mixture is tolerated, the truth no longer remains. The truth cannot be restored except by separation from all impurity, all falsehood. If the falsehood cannot be removed, then the truth itself must be extracted and kept elsewhere.

     This is the part that makes the Church always exist as the remnant, the tiny part that is torn away and separate. This is why the Church has always been treated and counted as outcast.

     We kick against the pricks. We fight to find ways not to be cut off from those whom we have embraced. In the end, either we are separated from them by the net, or we finally are counted with them.

     This is a hard saying, but the truth knows no compromise. The Lord Jesus says that if your eye ensnares you to pluck it out and if your right hand ensnares you to cut it off. Our eyes are our perceptions and our right hands are our reason and strength and all upon which we depend. This is spoken to those whom the net has already lifted out of the world and placed into the kingdom. Is your pastor preaching to you from within a church body of mixed doctrine and practice, a church body or congregation that is not clearly separated from the world? If so, even if the sermons themselves have no errors, they nevertheless join you to the errors of the church body or congregation. Where then is the separation that the net and sword must work?

     As one person at the Bailing Water blog site called this, this theology has no substance. It is merely popcorn theology. No separation from falsehood can result from this. All that comes from such is infighting and backbiting and pointing of fingers. Within the same body quarrels fester and grow but are never resolved. People take sides, but always from within the same house. In the end the only resolution is to continue to fight together. Certain rules are established and sometimes even enforced regarding the style and form of the fighting. But the fighting never ends. The fighting can only be ended by the absolute rule of the Truth. Where the Truth alone rules, all falsehood and the arguments regarding the Truth are driven out.

     The Lord and His apostles define the Church as this separation unto the Truth. But how many who profess to be the Church are truly separated unto it? If indeed God has converted us and has transformed our wills to be in accord with His will, then we will act accordingly and follow Him and be separated from all from which He has separated us. Won’t we?