Sunday, May 29, 2011

But that would be Works!

In a conversation that was related to me, a person was confronted with performing an action that a Spirit guided conscience would demand, and the person responded saying, “But that would be Works!”

As you may have guessed, this person is a “Lutheran.”

The response was both asinine and disingenuous. It was deliberately used to hide the person’s desire to ignore what this person knew was good and godly and in keeping with the walk that is in the Spirit. The issue was clearly one of following one’s conscience regarding the true faith, yet the person responded as though doing as the Spirit of God leads one in one’s conscience would be an act of works righteousness.

Contemplating this caused me to ponder the state of Lutheranism in this day. Have Lutherans turned the avoidance of dependence upon works righteousness into an act of works righteousness? Have Lutherans taken the right understanding that no one can be justified before God by works of the Law and turned this into a new form of self-righteousness and justification by works? Have Lutherans imagined that they are righteous through the work of believing that they are not righteous by their own works?

As ludicrous as this sounds, it does seem to be what has happened in many cases.

Moreover, have Lutherans used this as an excuse for not doing what they know is right and true? Have Lutherans claimed to be avoiding the false belief in salvation through their own reason and strength as an excuse for not rightly using the reason and strength that God gives to them?

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Psalm 98:4

This morning I sang TLH Hymn # 196, “I Am Content! My Jesus Liveth Still”. We sang this hymn in the divine service Sunday and I needed to receive its blessed comfort again today. It truly is a marvelous hymn.

As I went outside to water some of the garden plants, I continued singing and humming this wondrous hymn. Then I began whistling it.

I was surprised by the birdies. Four mourning doves flew nearby and half a dozen finches landed in the little tree beside me and began chirping with me. Some of them were actually looking at me the entire time. I walked over and sat down and continued whistling the hymn and they continued in the tree chirping with me. When I stopped whistling they all flew away.

Did they come to join me in this hymn of comfort and praise to the God of mercy? Did God send them to be a source of encouragement and joy?

I certainly enjoyed the experience and was uplifted in my spirit regarding the wonders of God’s grace, mercy, and peace. I was reminded of what Moses writes concerning the creation and what the Scriptures say of the new heavens and the new earth that the Lord has prepared for His saints.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

A Question regarding Ministry and Righteousness

Below is a note from a very sincere young man desiring to know about the pastoral office as well as the daily walk of a saint. I will include it here, followed by my response, for what it may be worth to others as well.

I'm a high school Senior who's going to the Seminary, and your experience struck me because it's very similar to that of a man at my church whom I respect very much. He actually became a pastor (and was one for several years), but quit because he was disgusted with the politics and bureaucracy of the whole thing. He still firmly believes in Christ and in the faith, and he's a die-hard adherent to the Confessions; he is just disillusioned with a lot of the LCMS' practices. Let me say that I'm sorry you had such an experience, because the older I get the more I realize that I'm exactly the sort of person that causes it and things like it.

In your experience, how can a person tell if they are "right" for the ministry? How can one be sure to love God and love His Word without loving political power and religious ritual? What's helped you in your Christian life as you try to seperate pure doctrine and preaching from legalism and things like that?

I ask because I sense that you've got a lot of wisdom on the subject and I want to make sure I know what I'll be facing - all the temptations and struggles I'll have - and how someone who's already been through it has dealt with them without sacrificing his faith.

Thanks so much for your honesty here, and I pray that God will continue to use you for His glory.

In Christ,

A. . .

Dear A. . .,

While you may not be inclined to think so, your question demonstrates a maturity that is rare among those who profess to be Christian. Few people realize the importance of the questions that you ask. Your second question is actually more important than the first, but they go together.

Many abuses exist within what is counted as Christendom. The church body of the LC-MS has committed these abuses throughout its existence and in many ways has become abusive beyond what anyone would have imagined in earlier days.

Many people have suffered terrible abuses by the LC-MS. Many pastors have been injured. Many lay people have been disillusioned. Congregations have been destroyed. These are not new things.

It is an amazing thing to behold your response to this. Rather than responding with fear concerning how these things may happen to you as one who feels compelled to study to be a pastor, rather, you have responded with concern regarding your own sinfulness and need for instruction in the true faith and in right understanding of the righteousness of God in Christ.

I believe that it is entirely appropriate to apply to you the words that the Lord Jesus applied to Simon Peter regarding his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16-17):

Blessed art thou: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

Truly it is God who works such things in the heart.

Regarding your question about knowing whether or not you are “right” for the ministry, I asked a similar question of my pastor many years ago. I asked him, “Pastor, how does one know when God is calling him to study to be a pastor?”

His response is one that I did not find to be at all helpful at that time. He said, “When the time is right, you will know.”

At that time I did not understand what he was telling me. Since that time I have often wondered whether or not he even knew what he was telling me. I certainly did not hear at that time what was declared in that statement. Whether he knew it or not, he told me that I was going to need to prepare for being a pastor and that I would serve as a pastor in God’s time, and that I needed to be shown and convinced by God. He was telling me that when the time was right, I would know.

The real question is not whether or not you are “right” for the ministry. The important thing for you is to understand what the ministry is and why you are feeling compelled to prepare for it.

You have heard the Gospel and you have been baptized into Christ in His body. The Holy Spirit was given to you and dwells within you. Where the Holy Spirit dwells, the holiness of God fills the person. The Holy Spirit creates a desire for the Gospel so that the person craves the pure milk of God’s Word. Having been purified in the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, the person comes to the Holy Supper where Christ gives His body and blood for maintaining the unity of His body through the continual remittance of sins and communion of God with His saints. God has worked this in you and for you so that you crave these miraculous blessings for yourself and has filled you with a love for His Holy Communion so that you desire these things to continue to be available to all.

This is the ministry. While all of the saints are made to be priests of God whose lives God sacrifices before the world to make the Gospel known in the world, the specific service of administering the means of grace to those whom the Holy Spirit calls together for that purpose is entrusted to the pastoral office. The office of pastor/teacher in the Church is Christ’s gift to His Church. It is Christ’s office. The ministry is God’s ministry. He causes some to be called and ordained to this office of His service so that confusion does not result from having everyone assuming such a role.

Thus God calls some to serve as pastors/teachers in His Church. He brings this to effect through the Holy Spirit’s work in those who gather in earnest desire for the means of grace. They elect or call one to be set apart or ordained to stand over them as Christ’s undershepherd. They willingly subject themselves to this called and ordained servant of the Word in order that they may be fed and built up in the one true faith together. This servant is ordained to rule over them regarding the right administration of these means of God’s grace. He is ordained to stand in Christ’s stead as one who serves God’s servants by God’s command and will. In this regard it is the lowest position in the Church, for it is one of being sacrificed by God on behalf of needy sinners.

If the pastor remembers this, arrogance and tyranny can never rule his heart. For the true pastor always knows that he is merely a slave whom God has appointed to be a vessel through whom He will serve His children what they need. The pastoral office is not one of glory and honor, but of sacrifice and service. The pastor does not decide what he will do. That has already been appointed.

The pastor has one and only one task, the administration of the means of grace in accord with what God has ordained. He is to hold before the people that which the world counts as nothing. He is to proclaim the power of that which appears to be mere ritual. His entire life is one of administering gifts that are not his own and for which he can claim no credit.

He will hear throughout his life that he is just a pastor. He will be viewed by many, even within the congregation over whom he is ordained, as intolerant, even tyrannical and unloving.

He will be urged to find more effective means to help people. He will be pressed to preach about money. He will be told that he does not understand the times and how people’s needs have changed. On and on the challenges to compromise concerning God’s ordained practices within the Church will come.

Yet, my friend, if you continue to be led by the Spirit of God through the unwavering declarations of the Holy Scriptures, you will prize the pure Gospel above all else on earth and you will hold it before the people as that which alone is sufficient for their needs. You will realize this first for yourself and then for all others as well. You will hold fast to the faithful administration of the office of the keys. You will catechize one and all with zeal. You will hold the Sacrament before the congregation as their greatest need and blessing.

Throughout your life you will fall on your face before God and confess your great unworthiness according to your own reason and strength. You will beg His strength to withstand the temptations to compromise. You will beg His comfort and counsel by which your doubts will be overcome by clear statements from the Scriptures.

The most important part of your education at any seminary will be the necessity of the original languages for your study and preparation. The Scriptures are a treasure house that our translations tend to bury with false presuppositions and attempts to make the text more easily readable.

You asked: “How can one be sure to love God and love His Word without loving political power and religious ritual? What's helped you in your Christian life as you try to seperate pure doctrine and preaching from legalism and things like that?”

If you begin to imagine that you truly love God, I advise that you run to the Ten Commandments and read them and examine your life according to what they declare. Perhaps the best place to begin is with Commandments Nine and Ten regarding coveting. These alone should convince you that you do not love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength. You could also attempt to pray the Our Father all the way through without having your mind wander to other thoughts. You will quickly see what a blasphemous idolater you are as you mock God with your wandering thoughts.

If you really understand who you are, you will find yourself praying something like: “O Lord, I love You, but not really, not according to my own thoughts, words, and deeds. O Lord, I love You, but not really, for I disobey you continually. O Lord, I love You, but not really, for I look to many other things for my confidence and I come to You only when You interrupt my ways with trouble or grief or pain or something else to break my will. But Lord, I know Your great mercies in Christ and so, while I don’t love you as I ought, nevertheless, by Your gracious activity through Your Holy Spirit I do love You. Thank You for keeping me in Your love in spite of my faithlessness.”

The way of political power and vain religious ritual is foreign to the broken and contrite spirit of one in whom the Holy Spirit has worked the change of heart and mind of repentance. If you honestly examine yourself on a continual basis, your heart will drive you to God’s means of grace. One who is running to the means of grace has no desire for political power. Neither will vain repetition be something that you do. The liturgy becomes vain repetition only when one does not appreciate it for what it really is. The divine liturgy is God coming to us to give us what our hearts crave when we honestly acknowledge our condition as poor miserable sinners.

Regarding what I have found that separates pure doctrine and preaching from legalism and such, I have found that an earnest application of 1 Corinthians 2:2 accomplishes this. I have learned that in every matter I am well served by asking the following:

Does my understanding of this direct me to rely solely upon Jesus Christ and Him crucified, or does it in anyway whatsoever direct me to trust in myself or anything else?

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Blessed Plumbing

I wonder how many people ponder the blessing of having a toilet.

Do people stop to think about the magnitude of the blessing of indoor plumbing?

I do. I find myself thinking of what it must have been like in the days when chamber pots were common. What a messy ordeal! Having to take the pot outside to dump it and clean it after it has been used. The smell that would be present until it was emptied. Yuk.

Yes, I find myself from time to time giving specific thanks to God for our toilet.

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Funny Bunnies

This pair of bunnies appears not to mind at all that our lawn is overdue for mowing.

I continue to be amazed that bunnies like these manage to survive in the city. There are numerous cats that prowl freely throughout our yard and the entire neighborhood. These little bunnies roam the same territory.

How do they evade being killed and eaten?

Their primary survival skill seems to be patience. When even a hint of danger is sensed, they crouch down and become very, very still. They don’t move a muscle. They do not even twitch their ears. Total silence seems to be their defense.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from these tender little creatures.

Certainly there are times when remaining quiet and still is the best thing to do.

. . .

. . .

. . .

However, people are not little bunnies who have no responsibilities in the world. People have been declared by God to be the gods of this world. People have been given dominion over all that exists in this world.

Most especially, those who have heard the Gospel so as to be made to be members of the body of Christ, the Church, these souls who in many ways appear to be poor little bunnies in a world full of cats and other predators, have been given a message to share.

But how is that message given? How is that precious good news ordained to be shared? How has Christ Himself ordained that this message is to be told?

First and foremost, this blessed good news is poured out in the gathering of the saints, the holy communion of saints, the Church. Through the regular congregating to the pure administration of the means of grace, the little innocent saints are kept alive. They quietly respond to the calling of the Holy Spirit to be nurtured and fed within the gathering that the Holy Spirit creates.

Within this gathering the little babies are baptized into the body of Christ, the kingdom of God. Through the continual catechesis of the divine liturgy and the sermons and the hymns and especially through the Holy Supper, the gentle children of God are preserved and fed and strengthened and kept safe.

But God’s little bunnies, His beloved children, do not stay hidden. He brings them forth into the world through their daily activities where all the world sees them for who they are. Sometimes people ask about the life that is observed. Sometimes the Lord’s children speak out on issues or even directly confront their neighbors and friends and coworkers. Mostly they live their lives, gently and quietly performing their various duties within their various vocations. Their mealtime prayers, their regular attendance in the gatherings for the divine services, their visitation of the sick and shut-ins, their kind words and actions toward those who are hurting or needy, these all announce their peculiar identity in connection with Christ.

Sometimes God’s children do simply have to be quiet and still and let the world go by them. They are not empowered to attack. They have been empowered with gentleness and peace. They have no worldly sword or armor. Their armor is the Word of God, Jesus. Their armor is spiritual armor, designed to keep them safe from that which destroys not only the body but also the soul. Unlike the little bunnies in the yard, God’s children are safe regardless of what bodily harm that they may encounter. They have been baptized into the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. They have been brought into the life that never ends. They have been incorporated into the one who is the Resurrection and the Life. Thus like the one into whom they have been buried and raised, so they also bear the world’s scorn and ridicule and slander and attacks and persecution, knowing and believing that none of these things, not even death, can harm them.

Observing the little bunnies in the yard, I cannot imagine anyone ever even considering the possibility of counting them as anything but gentle creatures. Such also is the witness of the true Church on earth.

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A little humor

The Assistant Principal for whom my wife works has a gift for humor, daily writing little snippets on his notice board. Here is one of his brilliant little snippets that especially tickled my wife:

Why did Beethoven get rid of his chickens?

They kept going bach, bach, bach. . .

. . .