Thursday, April 29, 2010

Terribly Disturbing Doctrine of Prayer

Today I encountered a terribly disturbing doctrine of prayer.  The pastor who posted it imagines this to be godly and helpful.  But it is not the doctrine of the Holy Spirit that He teaches.  Far from it, it is the concoction of one who openly admits that he does not understand how to pray.  The post is entitled, Praying Alone.

Here are the opening statements of the post:

Jesus often spent time praying alone. Throughout the Scriptures we can find pictures of men and women who would go up on a mountain, meditate on God’s Word, and pray. There is great benefit in sitting back, removing yourself from the commotion and distractions of life, and hear what God has to say in His Word, and speak to Him in prayer about what troubles you, confessing your sins, and giving thanks for His mercies.

This is true. I know it is true. But I must admit that I don’t find this a natural practice for me.

To hear this from a pastor is very, very troubling to my spirit.  This poor man lives in a state of depression, according to his other writings.  He finds his life to be dark much of the time.

What he states above is the reason why.  This is very, very sad.

What is even more troubling is his fourth and final word of advice on prayer:

Remember that Christ prays for you even when you don’t pray. If you forget to pray for a day, be at peace! Christ prays for you even when you forget. Jesus is loving and forgiving, and longs to be in your presence. He will pray for you even if you don’t.

This is horrible!  It is absolutely false and destructive!

“If you forget to pray for a day, be at peace!” ???

Are you joking?  Be at peace?  How can I be at peace when I have turned aside from the only source of peace?  How can I be at peace knowing that I have cut myself off from God’s Holy Communion to such a degree that I don’t desire to pray for an entire day?

If this happens to a saint, if one who is baptized realizes that this has happened, the first thing to do is to stop everything and fall to one’s knees and call out, “O Lord, help me!”

Prayer is not something that one tries to do.  It is something that one does!  Trying to pray is ludicrous.  Just do it!  That is how prayer works.

Why pray?  Why did Jesus pray?  He prayed because He needed to hear from the Father.  That is what prayer is all about.

Consider what may perhaps be the most intense prayer ever prayed, the prayer of the Lord Jesus in His time of deepest distress and desperation:

My God!  My God!  Where the hell are You?

That prayer allowed Jesus to hear that the Father had not gone anywhere.  The prayer, prayed from the perspective of the blindness of our sinfulness, gave the immediate relief that Jesus needed.  Notice how His prayer began: “My God!”  That was the answer that He needed to hear.  And He did hear it so that He later prayed, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit!”

I don’t have time this morning to do justice to this, but I want to convey at least this much: STOP TRYING TO PRAY!  Prayer is not from you but from God.  It is the outflow of faith, which is God’s gift.  When you need to pray (which is always, by the way) just do it.

If you need a list to remember what you need to include in your prayers, then those things are not really on your heart as genuine needs anyway.  Begin with what is on your heart right now.

If you need a list, the Lord Jesus gave us the Our Father and said “pray this.”  He also gave us the Catechism, that is, the 10 Commandments, the Creed, the Our Father, Baptism, Confession, and the Holy Supper of His Holy Communion.  Pray these.  The General Prayer of the Church in TLH on pg. 23 is also a wonderfully inclusive prayer.

Prayer is not hard.  It is as easy as recognizing that one has been baptized into God’s Holy Communion where God has named us as His beloved children, children whom He has commanded to use His name in faith, calling upon Him in every trouble, praying, praising, and giving thanks.  If something goes badly, call out to Him.  When things go well, give thanks.  When temptation comes, pray for help.  When sin overcomes, pray forgiveness and believe His promise that you are forgiven in Christ Jesus.

Don’t forget the “Amen!”  If you cannot say “Amen” to what you have prayed, keep praying till you can.  The Lord will lead you into the awareness of His will if you keep praying until you know that what you have prayed is according to His good and gracious will.  Don’t end your prayers with “If it be thy will.”  Notice how Jesus prayed.  He prayed “if it can be” and “if You are willing” but He kept praying until those temptations went away.  Yes, Jesus was sorely tempted to pray these things, but He did not enter into sin by continuing in these temptations.  He did not say “Amen” to them.  He kept praying until He fully acknowledged the will of the Father and said, “But not My will, but Thine be done!”  To this He could confidently say “Amen” and then rose up and went with joy to face the trials and the beatings and the injustice of the cross.

Pray, dear friend, until AMEN is all that is left to say.  Then, you won’t have to convince yourself that you have God’s peace, for God’s peace will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pornography and Other Addictions

Today as I read a post entitled Did Porn Cause the Financial Crisis? at Cranach: The Blog of Veith, I was led to ponder anew the issue of pornography and other addictions.  I have been involved in discussions on this matter in the past, discussions that evolved into arguments.  My emphasis on the Gospel as freedom ran strongly counter to the Gospel as accountability propositions that certain others embraced and promoted enthusiastically and religiously.  My Gospel as freedom preaching was counted as not being realistic or genuinely helpful.

Pondering this matter further today, I came into a deeper understanding of the distinction.  The Gospel is freedom from sin.  The Lord Jesus says so.

Why then do we not believe Him?  Why do we fight against His clear preaching?

The answer is that we do not believe that He really has set us free.  We do not really believe in the efficacy of the means of grace.  We do not really believe in the power of God to save us and set us free.

If we want to be free, we need to hear the Truth.  We need to be carried away from the noise of the world and the noise of our own hearts and minds to the pure preaching of the Gospel of Christ crucified.  There we receive peace in place of our struggles and pardon in place of accountability.

We imagine that we must change our lives, our habits, our actions so as to make them saintly.  Because of this delusional thinking, we become enslaved to our efforts to improve ourselves.

The Gospel teaches us that the change in our lives, our habits, our actions is the outflow of having been made to be saints who live within the communion of the saints.  The Lord Jesus does not tell us to become perfect but to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect.  It is this Holy Communion of God, into which He baptizes us and within which He nurtures us, that we have been made to be saints who live in the righteousness of God’s Holy Communion.

God tells us, “This is what I have done for you.  This is who you now are in connection with Me.  I have made you to be holy.  Enjoy the life that I have given you.”

When we fail, God does not tell us to seek to be accountable for our actions.  Rather, He calls us back to our baptism, where He takes our accountability from us and purges us from all unrighteousness.  He imputes to us His righteousness as our very own and gives to us His own holy name.  He tells us that as He is, so are we, so that we may walk in the freedom of His goodness.

In Christ the struggle is overcome.  He has taken all of the struggles for us.  He speaks faith into existence in our hearts so that all that remains for us is to walk in the peace that this faith provides.  When this is our fixation, all other fixations become powerless.  His peace, His mercy, His goodness, His love fills us so that these other things are flooded out.

This is the way of the Gospel.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How Apropos

Yesterday, as I was still thinking of the musings posted below, walking through the Sam's Club parking lot, I observed this license plate:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Worship Styles

Tomorrow is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day for gathering into the name of Jesus to receive from Him the divine service of Word and Sacraments.  As I begin preparations for the divine service each week, I grieve over the many schisms in those professing to be members of Christ’s body.  These schisms are manifested even within the same church bodies, and more, even within the same congregations.

Below are snippets from the “worship schedules” of three LC-MS congregations:

These snippets, as they are displayed on the web page each congregation, demonstrate the schismatic nature of their views of the Church and of the purpose of the Church.

The first demonstrates the definition of Church and Worship that is commonly held among Christians of all of the church bodies.  Tradition is the primary underlying foundation of belief and practice.  The Church and the “faith” of the churches is counted as a “faith tradition.”  Thus some who profess to be Christian are counted as Baptist Christians, others as Catholic Christians, others as Pentecostal Christians, others as OurLabel Christians, and some even as Lutheran Christians.  Then, even within these faith traditions there are further divisions, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Each of these have further divisions.  Yet they all practice as one communion, in theory.  In practice they are no more united than grains of sand on the seashore are united.

The three snippets above are all from congregations within the LC-MS.  They call themselves congregations.  Yet they have multiple services with multiple formats.  The first distinguishes between “Traditional” and “Blended.”  What does this mean?  Particularly, with what is the third service blended?  How has this blending been effected?

The second is from a congregation that began with similar terminology to the first, but now has stepped beyond this to label one of the services as a “Service of Testimony.”  By this they are making it clear what they are blending into their congregation’s doctrine and practice.

The third is from a congregation that has long led the way toward blending with that from outside the doctrine that is counted as their “faith tradition.”  Theirs is the most blatant of the three, openly declaring one of their services to be “Jazz/Praise Worship.”  This congregation used the terms “traditional” and “contemporary” in the past.  Now, however, those have become “Worship” with “Jazz/Praise Worship” highlighted and a new service added as “Healing Service.”

So then, within the LC-MS, what really constitutes Worship?  One can find congregations that hold only to the traditional or historic liturgy and others that blend together whatever suits their fancy.  So, using the LC-MS as an example, what really is worship defined to be?  How does this reflect the Faith?

So-called styles of worship do have meaning.  Each style of worship is the practice of what is embraced as important and defining.  That is why people pick and choose between services.  Within the same church bodies and even within the same congregations styles of worship permit people who embrace different things of importance to share facilities and even a name without actually coming together as one.

However, one must ask whether or not they may in fact really be of the same mind.  When tolerance is the accepted practice rather than unity, is tolerance not the uniting doctrine from which the practice flows?  When tolerance has become the accepted doctrine and practice, what is the reason for the members of a congregation or church body to continue?

When people refer to themselves as X-Christians and Y-Christians and Z-Christians, what are they defining the Christian faith really to be?  Is this reflected in their styles of worship?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Owl Statues to Scare Away Birds

Do owl statues work to frighten away pesky birds and rodents from gardens and lawns? Here is one site with varying answers from people who have made use of such owl statues.

I have heard people speak of having success in this regard. However, a couple of days ago a friend showed me this:

Here is a closer view:

Upon closer examination the twigs and blades of grass and other material used by some little birds to construct a nest can be seen through the hole in the owl's breast. The little birds completely filled the owl with material, after pecking out the sensor that was in the middle of the owl’s breast.

The sight gave me a chuckle, as it did my friend. It reminds me of the scarecrows that I have seen with crows sitting on the head and arms of the scarecrow.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Free Will and Sin

One of the temptations over which we sinful humans frequently stumble is the temptation to argue that free will is the cause of sin. By this we are looking for an excuse for our sinfulness, while simultaneously seeking a way to put the blame for our sin upon God.

We like to argue that God must have in some way built into His creation the capacity for sin. We like to imagine that God did not really create all things truly good, but mostly good, with the potential for bad lying dormant within the substance of the creation. We like to imagine and argue that if God had created us as truly good and without any evil, that we, and our father, Adam, and the angels, including Satan, must have had some flaw deep within that God allowed to exist within us. We argue that sin could not have happened otherwise.

In line with this linear sense of logic is the notion that we have free will, and that this free will had the power to choose either good or evil. But this notion of free will is fallacious.

God did not create us with a free will according to this false notion of freedom. He created us with a will that was free. Adam was created with a will, but that will knew nothing of evil. His will was one with God’s will. Adam was created as a son of God. He was generated by God from the soil and made to be a living soul when God breathed into him the breath of life. Adam knew only the goodness of God. His will was not capable of choosing evil, for no evil existed in the world. No evil was known in the world. Adam was free to live the good life, free to live without choices. All that was good was already available. God had given all things to Adam and authorized Adam to enjoy all things.

Moreover, Adam was created in a relationship of trust. Adam knew nothing of doubting God and His goodness. Adam knew only good, and all good things are of God. Adam had been created with true faith, and faith does not question but simply says, “Amen.” Thus Adam was truly free. He had no worries. Why? He had no worries because he had no doubts. He simply heard what God said and walked in the confidence of God’s Word. Faith is not a choice, but a fact. Faith does not choose; it simply is. Faith, after all, is from God. Faith knows only to look to God and to believe Him.

This did not change until the serpent tempted the woman to doubt. She was tempted to doubt whether God was faithful. She was tempted to doubt that the Man whom God had placed over her had actually preached the Word faithfully. In this connection, she also was tempted to doubt the very Word of God. This temptation did not come from her, but from the devil.

So then, what about the devil? And what about the tree? First the tree. The tree was a good tree. It was lovely to behold. It provided opportunity to see the faithfulness of God. For not all things were to be eaten. This tree’s fruit was not for human consumption. There are many things in God’s creation that are not for human consumption, but are nevertheless very good. Likewise, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a good tree, but produced a fruit that was not for humans to eat.

What then, about the devil? If he was created good and perfect and holy and without sin, what happened? He looked for good beyond its source. He looked for good, but not from God. In doing so evil entered into the angel who had been named Lucifer, that is, Light-bringer or Light-bearer.

Evil, however, is terribly misunderstood. We tend to think of evil as a substance or an essence. But evil is actually the lack of something. It is like the darkness. Darkness is merely the absence of light. An angel is a messenger of God. An angel is one who brings the light of God’s Word. Thus, Lucifer was a light-bearer, a ministering spirit, full of good. But when Lucifer looked beyond God for good, his communion with God was broken, and he became emptied of the goodness of God. He became one who no longer saw and carried in him the light of God’s Word and love, but now was vacuous. As a vacuum is an emptiness that pulls away and damages that which is around it, so Lucifer became dark and void of goodness, grasping after and taking away from everything good. Yet no matter how much he steals from others, he can never be filled again because he will always look beyond God for his fulfillment. Since all good is from God, the devil will only grasp after brokenness; he will break and destroy and gather to himself only brokenness.

Yet we cannot answer why Lucifer looked beyond. We cannot answer why Lucifer stopped living the life of faith in which God had created him. Then we begin to look for ways again to put the blame on God.

God knows that this is beyond our ability to understand. Thus He simply tells us the truth that this is what happened. But since we are sinful rather than faithful, since we doubt rather than trust, God has stepped up on our behalf. He tells us that we don’t need to bother with trying to put the blame on Him, because He has already done it for us.

He says, “So, you do not want to carry the blame for your sin. Good! I don’t want you to carry it either! That is why I sent My Son to take it for you. You want to put the blame on Me. Don’t bother, for I have already done that. I have carried the blame for sin. I have taken the sin of the world into My own body and I suffered the guilt and the blame and the punishment and the death for you. Now you have absolutely no reason to concern yourself with the blame of sin and of evil. I have taken it all. Now you are free to receive the life of faith for which I created you. Now, through the Gospel and through the Sacraments of the Gospel I regenerate faith within you. This is My will for you. This is My will by which I set you free. Through these means I restore the freedom to live again in the communion of My goodness and love.”

Now there is no one left to blame. This is good news. This is really good news!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Credit Card Interest Rate Scams

Beware of phone calls claiming to be Credit Card Services. A recorded message begins by saying that there are no problems with your credit card account and that the company is offering reduced interest rates. The number that registered on my phone was (269)-768-2211. An Internet search showed it as a cell phone by one company and an unpublished land line in Michigan by another reverse search company. The Consumer Protection Agency says that the FTC is investigating.

Before calling the CPA I called AT&T. What a fabulous company. Everything is automated to provide as little actual customer service as is possible. The first call required pressing nearly a dozen buttons, after which the very pleasant voice informed me: “Due to circumstances beyond our control we are unable to take your call at this time. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you. Please call back again later.” On the next call I pressed zero until I spoke with someone, was transferred to a specialist, and after answering a protracted list of privacy/security questions and recognizing the clear indication of a runaround, I hung up. This appears to be the objective and the standard procedure of nearly all customer service departments of larger corporations today.

At least on this occasion the customer service people spoke English and seemed able to understand English.

The main point of this post is to warn that there are clever people calling to deceive and steal from people who are already being hurt through the deceptions of the banking industry and the government. So please beware of phone calls offering to help. The standard advice is not to trust anyone who calls claiming to be representing a bank or other institution, especially where account information is involved.

The secondary point is that when calling the proper agencies for assistance, it is easier just to go into a closet and scream for a few minutes. The results will be immediate and more effectual.

Thirdly, if the caller I.D. shows an unfamiliar number, not answering will be annoying for as long as the phone is ringing, but will be much less frustrating than actually answering the phone call.

Fourthly, reciting the Catechism is a much more rewarding activity than anything listed above.

Luther’s Small Catechism and be found here or here or here.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Who Put Christ on the Cross?

Who put Christ on the cross? This is a question that is set forth by many and frequently, especially during Lententide and Holy Week. Good Friday is a day when every heart that hears of Christ’s sacrificial death is inclined to ask this question.

Hearing and perceiving the correct answer to this question is the difference between hearing the Gospel or hearing yet again the tyranny of the preaching of the Law and works righteousness.

Most times, what is preached and/or perceived in connection with this question is akin to the answer given at CyberBrethren in the post entitled: Who Put Christ on the Cross? You did.

This is indeed the commonly held perception. This is very likely the first response that any person has to the preaching of the cross of Christ. Cyberbrethren’s post opens with this line: “It was your sin, and mine, that put him on the Cross.”

While this is the commonly held perception, is it true? No. Even more, absolutely no!

As the appointed pericopal texts from Maundy Thursday and Good Friday inform us, it was the love of God that put Jesus on the cross. Our sin did not put Jesus on the cross. Our sin put US on the cross. Our sin killed US and damned US to everlasting condemnation. Our sin placed US under the curse of everlasting death on account of separating US from God’s Holy Communion.

From the Maundy Thursday Gospel reading, John 13:1-15, the very first sentence in this text sets this plainly before us, saying, “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

This is a brief reiteration of what Jesus Himself declared earlier in John 10:13-18:

     The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Jesus, Immanuel, with-us-God, did all that was foretold of Him to insure that those who rejected and hated Him would hand Him over to the Gentiles to be crucified. This was God’s will from eternity. It was foreshadowed in the Passover. In merciful love, God Himself took up our flesh, tabernacling among us with the fullness of His glory enshrouded by flesh and blood, so as to take our sin and carry it to the cross. Immanuel willingly took our place on the cross.

Who put Jesus on the cross? Jesus did! He went to the cross in order to carry our sin to the judgment and to the grave for us in order to set us free from the guilt and the condemnation from which we could never escape. He subjected Himself to the cross so as to remove all guilt of the curse of the tree from us. To incorporate us into the freedom that He purchased for us, He instituted Baptism, as the means of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the regeneration and renewal of faith that the Holy Spirit works. By this newly generated faith He then leads us to the continual proclamation of His death till He comes again in glory, that we should partake of the fullness of the life of the Holy Communion that is in His body and blood.

This distinction is important. It is vitally important. For in recognizing that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is entirely according to the will and gracious providence of the Lord Himself, we are freed from all guilt, including the guilt of the putting of Jesus upon the cross. In the appointed Gospel reading for Good Friday, John 18:1-19:42, Jesus makes this unmistakably clear.

     When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?
     Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

Who had the greatest sin? Who but the Lamb of God who takes the sin of the world? Even Satan has no sin equal to this! Jesus alone carried the sin of the entire world. He sent Judas from the Supper to do the wickedness that dwelled in his heart. Jesus went to Gethsemane, where He knew that Judas would bring the soldiers from the Sanhedrin. Jesus commanded Peter to put away His sword. Jesus prayed for the strength not to call upon the legions of heavenly angels to fight for Him. Jesus healed the ear of the servant. Jesus permitted Himself to be chained and led away, to be falsely accused, to be mocked and spit upon, to be beaten and scourged, and finally to be crucified. The sin of the cross was fully upon the shoulders of Jesus alone. He carried it all, willingly, lovingly.

So, fellow sinner redeemed by Christ, allow no one to put that guilt upon you. Jesus has taken the sin of the world and continues to take it through the means of grace. Do not allow the devil, the world, or your own flesh to tempt you to believe that in some way you must take any part of this upon yourself. The Truth is that in Christ Jesus you are absolutely and unequivocally free!

Paul Gerhardt understood this clearly as he expounds in his magnificent hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” which you can read and sing again for yourself. (TLH 142)

1. A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of all men bearing;
And laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing!
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer;
Bears shame and stripes, and wounds and death,
Anguish and mockery, and saith,
"Willing all this I suffer."

2. This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great Friend,
The Lamb of God, our Savior;
Him God the Father chose to send
To gain for us His favor.
"Go forth, My Son," the Father saith,
"And free men from the fear of death,
From guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Thy Passion men shall share
The fruit of Thy salvation."

3. "Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
I'll bear what Thou commandest;
My will conforms to Thy decree,
I do what Thou demandest."
O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
The Father offers up His Son!
The Son, content, descendeth! O Love, how strong Thou art to save!Thou beddest Him within the grave
Whose word the mountains rendeth.

4. From morn till eve my theme shall be
Thy mercy's wondrous measure;
To sacrifice myself for Thee
Shall be my aim and pleasure.
My stream of life shall ever be
A current flowing ceaselessly,
Thy constant praise outpouring.
I'll treasure in my memory,
O Lord, all Thou hast done for me,
Thy gracious love adoring.

5. Of death I am no more afraid,
New life from Thee is flowing;
Thy cross affords me cooling shade
When noonday's sun is glowing.
When by my grief I am opprest,
On Thee my weary soul shall rest
Serenely as on pillows.
Thou art my Anchor when by woe
My bark is driven to and fro
On trouble's surging billows.

6. And when Thy glory I shall see
And taste Thy kingdom's pleasure,
Thy blood my royal robe shall be,
My joy beyond all measure.
When I appear before Thy throne,
Thy righteousness shall be my crown,-
With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought
As Thine own bride, I shall be brought
To stand in joy beside Thee.