Friday, December 29, 2006

Sermon - Advent 4 - Micah 5:2-5a

Advent 4
December 24, 2006
Micah 5:2-5a
“Oh Bethlehem”

Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…

Bethlehem, in the region of Ephratha. From you will come forth a ruler over all Israel, with ancient origins. A strong and good shepherd who will bring security and peace. You, the little town of Bethlehem.

You, oh Bethlehem, whose name means, “House of Bread”. From you will come the One who will feed his people with everlasting spiritual bread – mana from Heaven. He, who will also give his own body in the bread of a Holy Sacrament.

You, Oh Bethlehem, the little town where David was born. Little David the shepherd boy, who became great King David, ruler of Israel in its heyday. From you, Oh Bethlehem, will come the Son of David, the shoot from the stump of Jesse. And David’s Son will be David’s Lord.

They will welcome him with shouts and palm branches and fanfare as a king, when he comes to Jerusalem. They will cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. But then they will shout, “Crucify!”. And when the Roman ruler asks if the Son of David is truly a king, he will hear, “my kingdom is not of this world”. And when that same ruler sentences the king of heaven to die on a cross, he will post the notice, “This is the king of the Jews”.

Oh Bethlehem, oh little town of Bethlehem. You who are a shepherding town, where sheep and shepherds are born. When David was born in your midst, he was raised a shepherd boy. He even fended off a lion defending the lambs of his flock. But from you, Bethlehem, will come the great Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd who defeats our roaring adversary the Lion, by laying down his life for the sheep.

From you, oh Bethlehem, where lambs are born and raised for the sacrifices, and only the perfect yearlings are led to the temple slaughter. From you will come the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Perfect and without blemish, the once and for all sacrifice to whom all sacrifices pointed forward, and in whom all sacrifices found their power and meaning. From you will come the Great High Priest who offers himself as that sacrifice, and still intercedes for us.

Oh Bethlehem, you who are a small and insignificant town, your honor is made great by the one who was born in your midst. Just as many were surprised that anything good could come from Nazareth. Who but the prophet would predict that you, oh Bethlehem, would bring forth such a ruler?

For the Lord makes low the mighty, but he exalts the humble. He regards the humble state of his servant Mary, so that all generations would call her blessed. He calls poor fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. He shames the wise things of this world and glorifies the foolish. He turns weeping to joy, sin into righteousness, and death into life.

Oh Bethlehem, Oh little town of Bethlehem, while shepherds still watched over their flocks by night, in your outskirts the song of angels would be heard. As those lowly shepherds went about their everyday business, they would hear the sweetest, most glorious, most important news yet uttered by the lips of angels, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord”. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill toward men on whom his favor rests”.

Oh Bethlehem, did you know that song of the angels echoes even today when Christians gather for worship? God’s glory is still being made manifest, and his peace is still on earth. His favor still rests with men because of the same savior, Christ the Lord. Messengers, now human but not angelic, still tell of his birth, his life, death, resurrection, reign and return. And at this message, this news, his people still wonder.

Oh little town of Bethlehem, in the song and on the Christmas cards, how still we see thee lie… but your peace would be broken when King Herod sent soldiers to kill infants. As he slaughtered your young ones, O Bethlehem, your mothers wept. Herod’s wise men knew the words of prophet Micah. The chief priests and scribes knew, that you, O Bethlehem, would be the town to bring forth the Christ, and yet their wisdom abetted the evil king to do this wicked thing.

Meanwhile, faithful wise men, kings perhaps, brought 3 gifts of honor, to the newborn king. Following the star to you, and to the True Light and Morning star in your midst, they brought not only gifts but also worship and honor. They stood for all the nations who would one day find hope and peace in the babe of Bethlehem.

Oh Bethlehem, when we see you today, like in the days of Herod’s massacre, we find little peace. You are in a land torn apart by religious warfare. Your holy shrines have even become a haven for armed men.

But are you surprised, oh Bethlehem? For you are, yet, like any human town, full of human sinners. Anywhere we humans gather, sin gathers. Towns and cities like Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jerusalem, Rome, Berlin, Washington D.C., Milwaukee, and even Racine, Wisconsin, all are filled with sinners living together, living in an outward peace but never entirely peacefully lying.

We may not be shooting each other, but we are caught up, too often, in our own little worlds. We forget the one born and laid in a manger, and think only of the one we see in the mirror. We live for things that don’t matter, stress over things that will surely pass away, and ignore things eternal. We pay no heed to the angelic news that a savior is born to us, and we fail to wonder at what we have seen and heard, or treasure these things in our hearts.

Except when Racine comes to Bethlehem, and when we, like the shepherds, come to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about”. For there we find peace, hope, joy, love, forgiveness, life, righteousness, innocence, blessedness, and the Good News that heaven has been opened, God is now dwelling with man, and on us his favor rests.

Some come, all ye faithful, come to the little town of Bethlehem.
Oh come and adore him:
Born the King of angels,
Highest, Most holy,
Light of light eternal,
Son of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, you citizens of heav’n above. Sing you citizens of Racine, below. For born to you this day in the city of David is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Alleluia. Amen.

Sermon - Christmas Eve - Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Eve 2006
Luke 2:1-20
“Christmas Light”

Tonight we celebrate Christmas Eve with a “service of light”. We light candles, especially that white Christ candle in the center of the advent wreath.

Later in the service, we will all hold a lighted candle and sing “Silent Night”, which includes the line, “Son of God, love’s pure light”. So many of our other Christmas hymns mention light somehow too. “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light”, “Break forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light”, “Light and Life to all he brings”, etc. etc…

Most of our homes have some sort of Christmas lights up for decoration. Sometimes we even drive through certain neighborhoods known for elaborate Christmas light displays. Christmas and light seem to go together.

Light is one of the foundational symbols of the Christian faith. Scripture begins and ends with light. God’s first recorded words, “Let there be light” open up the creation account, just as Revelation closes with the promise that there will be no more night in Heaven, for the Lord Almighty and the Lamb shall be our light.

Light also stands for all that is good and right and holy, as opposed to darkness, which stands for all that is sinful and evil and to be feared.

Jesus called himself the “Light of the World”. And in our Nicene Creed we confess him as God of God, Light of Light. For all the good things that light stands for, Jesus fulfills them most perfectly. He is the light in the midst of the darkness.

Just a few days ago, meteorologists reminded us of the Winter Solstice – the “shortest day” of the year. Only 9 hours of daylight on December 21st. But from that day on, the hours of daylight have been getting longer. Is it any coincidence the ancient church chose this time of year, in which the “light begins returning” to celebrate the arrival of the true light of the world, Jesus Christ, and his birth in Bethlehem? The truth is we don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, whether December 25th or some other day. But the when isn’t nearly as important as the what and the why and the who. Jesus, the Light of the World, was born to dispel the darkness of sin – of our sin.

It was a dark time, when Jesus was born. Luke records how Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because of the Roman Emperor’s decree. Roman rule was a burden on the faithful people of God, who chaffed at the Romans’ pagan religion and totalitarian regime. The Jews longed for the days of King David, when they governed themselves, no answering to some foreigners. They longed for a Messiah to save them from such tyranny. And though the light had come, he came to deliver from a different kind of darkness.

As we go about our Christmas celebrations, the darkness is never far, is it? The darkness of strained family relationships. The darkness of the stressful demands on our time. The darkness of a loneliness in this supposed happiest time of the year. The darkness of guilt looking back on a year full of mistakes. The darkness. The lurking knowledge that even though it seems like the rest of the world is all smiles and candy-canes, it’s a thin veneer that is easily shattered.

It was a dark time, in the Judean night, as the shepherds went about their business. Watching over the flocks, protecting them from predators and thieves, it was business as usual for those ancient sheep-herders. Until light broke into their night. “The glory of the Lord” shone, or shined, around the angels. And the light they could see was overshadowed by the light that they heard – the message of the angels, “Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.

But the greatest light the Shepherds saw that night was not the angelic choirs singing God’s praises. The greatest light was a baby wrapped up and lying in a manger. The light that had dawned on this world now in human form.

Light. Heavenly light. Light which would be seen more clearly by three disciples gathered on a mountaintop. There the Light of the World would pull back the veil on his true nature, and they would glimpse the glory hidden beneath. There Jesus was transfigured, and he shined like flashing lightning.

The Light the darkness sought to snuff out. In the dark of the night, in Dark Gethsemane, was the hour of the powers of darkness. They arrested him, brought him to illegal trial under cover of darkness, and at break of dawn he was already on the way to the cross. And as he hung, suffering, dying, even the sun itself stopped giving light. Then the darkness of death took hold.

But such light the darkness cannot contain. For at the dawn of Easter morn, the Light of the World broke forth from the darkness of death, shattering the powers of evil, sin and death itself. Much as his birth into the dark Judean night gave hope and peace, so also his resurrection took away the fear of all the darkness – even of death itself.

Those shepherds who had heard and seen and been so enlightened, they did what we all do when we see the light. They rejoiced. The praised God. And they shared the light. They went and told all who would hear what they saw and heard. So too, when disciples of Jesus saw him raised from the dead, they shared the light of his salvation – preaching, teaching, witnessing. So too, do we, his modern disciples, share the light as we have opportunity. We speak by word and by example to those still in the darkness, pointing to the light, the True Light, the Light of Lights, our Lord Jesus.

Tonight we light our candles, and pass the light from one to the other, in much the same way Christians share the light and love of Christ with each other and with the world. It will all start with the Christ candle, for he is always the source of our light. And though these candles will soon be extinguished as we go on our way, we know the true light can never be snuffed out. His light is eternal. His love never ends.

Light. In all the Christmas lights and candles we see this season, may we see reminders of the True Light, Jesus Christ, who has come to chase away the darkness of sin, and bring us into his light for eternity. And may we share that light until the day that we all shine like stars in his heavenly presence forever.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More Baby Pics

Go to ImageShack® to Create your own Slideshow

Our New Arrival

Born this morning, Morgan Faith Chryst

7 lbs, 10 oz. 19" long.

Mother and baby are both doing fine!

Thank God for his many blessings.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sermon - Advent 3 - Phillipians 4:4-7

Sermon – Advent 3
December 17th, 2006
Phillipians 4:4-7
“Advent Anxiety?”

As we have said many times, Advent means “coming”. And so Advent is a season of expectation, and watching, and waiting. Waiting. And more waiting.

Waiting isn’t always easy. We wait in line at the post office to mail our cards and packages. We wait in line at the grocery store behind the person with too many items in the express lane. We wait for the traffic light to turn green, and hope that the car ahead of us will hurry up so we can make it too. We wait. We wait for our loved ones to call or write or visit. We wait in the doctor’s office and then we wait for the test results.

We wait for God to answer our prayers and give us what we think we need, want, or even deserve. We wait for Christmas to come. And sometimes we want it to come quick, sometimes we want to get it over with, and sometimes we would just as soon not have it at all. But we can only wait, and watch, and wait some more.

One of the sinful human reactions to waiting is to become anxious. Anxieties about the future and what it will hold. Anxieties for our family and friends and ourselves. We worry that things won’t turn out like we plan, and that our worst fears will come true.

The Old Testament people of Israel knew the anxieties of waiting. They had plenty to worry about. Would their enemies destroy them? Would they ever be freed from slavery, or later, from exile? When would the promised Messiah come? And when he came, how would they know it was him?

John the Baptist seemed to share in those anxieties when he sent messengers to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. “Are you the one to come, or should we expect another?” Strange that John - who boldly proclaimed Christ to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” - strange that he would now second-guess himself. He grew anxious, perhaps, that Jesus’ salvation wasn’t coming as he expected. If anyone had reason to be anxious, though, it was John, who was sitting in Herod’s dungeon and would eventually be executed. Time was short for John. Business was urgent. Jesus, are you the one, or what?

And Jesus’ beautiful answer, more than a simple yes, points to the evidence that he is, in fact, the one who was to come. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf here, the dead are raised, and (most importantly) the good news is preached to the poor. All these were signs that the Old Testament prophets connected with the Messiah. And Jesus fulfilled them all.

Jesus is always the answer to our anxieties. Paul knew that when he wrote to the Phillipians. Because “the Lord is at hand”, Paul said, “do not be anxious about anything”. Because Jesus is coming, and coming soon, we have no need to fear. We have no need to worry and wonder. We are called to simply trust in him and be at peace.

How can we, in the midst of all this waiting, do that? How can we NOT be anxious? How can we always rejoice? How can we have peace? Answer: in Christ.

Now please don’t think that the point of this passage is simplistic and trite. This is not Christianity’s version of , “Don’t worry be happy. Turn that frown upside-down”. “Rejoice in the Lord always” doesn’t mean that Christians have to be or act like super-happy-go-lucky euphoric smiley faces who are always on cloud 9. This is not so much an admonition of how we should feel, emotionally. But just as the peace of God passes our understanding, so too does the joy of God surpass what is in our hearts and minds.

For our hearts are, by nature, full of all kinds of junk. Sin and the swirling emotions, often conflicting, that it brings. We are fickle creatures who are easily upset and easily satisfied with the smallest things. Our emotions are not trustworthy, and they often fail us. Sometimes our head even knows better than what our heart is telling us, and we follow the heart for some reason anyway. Sometimes we know there is nothing to fear, and yet anxiety still rules us. Jesus knows this. He knows the heart is the source of all kinds of mischief for us.

"What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7:20-22)

Our culture wants us to follow our hearts, and listen to our hearts. But our hearts are the problem. So we would pray with the Psalmist, “create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

And God does just that in Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us true reason to rejoice. Jesus gives us a clean heart, a peace that passes understanding. Jesus guards our hearts and minds. He takes away our fears and anxieties, and hears our prayers.

It all started in the heart of God, which held so much love for a sinful world. He so loved this world, that he sent his only Son, so whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. He sent his only Son to show compassion on the sick, the weak, the poor. To show them who he was in his miracles, but also to preach the good news to all. God sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a human. And our Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfect human life and died a sacrificial death to take away the sins of the world. Through him and his work, we have peace with God. Through him we have a future with God. And in him, we can and do rejoice, always.

I once had a teacher who joked at the beginning of class, “The mandatory fun will now begin”. Some might think that the life of a Christian is some sort of mandatory happiness. It’s not. Paul’s words to the Phillipians are not words of “you must” so much as they are words of “you get to”. Hear it as good news. Hear it as encouragement. Not, “don’t be anxious OR ELSE!”. But instead, “you don’t have to be anxious any more.” You “get to” rejoice always!

Trusting in Christ frees us from so much anxiety and fear. It brings a peace that surpasses the conflict on the surface, a peace that goes to the core of our being. It brings a rejoicing that is deeper than a smile on our face or a spring in our step. It is a joy and peace that begin at the cross, run through the open tomb, and derive from the one now seated on Heaven’s high throne. It is a joy and peace that look forward in trust and faith to the day when he comes again. It is a joy and peace that waits, not in fear, but in hopeful expectation of that day. This is the good news that Jesus brought, and that Jesus still brings today. It is for all people, and it is for you.

And so we wait. We wait for Christmas. We wait for answer to our petitions and prayers. We wait… for whatever… in joy and peace. And we wait also for that day when all the waiting is over, and all anxiety is put away forever.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, until that day… Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lutheran Survivor Nail-Biter!!!

The finals of "Lutheran Survivor: Politicians" have been quite interesting. Two remaining players, Muhlenberg and Preus are locked in a duel to the death. Ok, they're both already dead. But you know what I mean. It's going to be a photo-finish! As of this blog posting, the votes are tied at 50% each!

If you haven't already voted, get over to Lutheran Survivor! DO IT NOW!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Know Thine Enemy...

I am a firm believer in the aphorism, "Know Thine Enemy". I believe Christians need to be informed about those whose teachings oppose the truth. Especially those with a wide following and deep influence. It is important to understand these falsehoods so that we can better combat them with the truth.

In that vein, I have been viewing some interesting videos online. The very popular work, "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, is a recent bestseller. But there is also a free full-length PBS version of Dawkins' presentation, available here. Particularly fun is his confrontation with recently disgraced Evangelical leader Ted Haggard. The second part of the series is found here. If you have about 90 minutes and are interested in what the "other side" has to say, this could be a good use of your time.

Caution: There are some real howlers in here. Like, "Religious upbringing is child abuse" and "religion is a virus" and such.

But Dawkins does pick some interesting case studies. In fact, many of his opponents, we Lutherans would also oppose (though on entirely different grounds). Roman Catholic mystics, Evangelicals (Ted Haggard compared his services to a "rock concert"). A Jew who had converted to Islam. An Orthodox Jewish Rabbai. All go toe-to-toe with Dawkins, with varying but always interesting results.

It's also interesting how Dawkins demolishes some of the compromising views of Theistic Evolution. For instance, in episode two, around minute 30, he questions why Jesus would have himself "tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a nonexistant man [Adam]"

What a scream when Dawkins sits down with a liberal Anglican. "You are much closer to what I would believe..."!!! "This of course is all music to my ears!" Dawkins gushes. Still, he rightly criticizes, "how do they decide which parts of the Bible to interpret literally...?"

LCMS Hispanic Mission Posada

A grand posada: Church brings Mexican holiday tradition to Racine

Our local (Racine) LCMS Hispanic congregation, Primera Iglesia Luterana, made the local paper today with this story. Check it out.

Technical Difficulties

I had to bring my notebook computer into Best Buy for repairs, and the "Geek Squad" tells me it will be 3 weeks or so before I get it back. The good news is, it's under warranty. The bad news is, I may not be blogging or online as much for a while. Well, maybe that's not so bad. Everyone needs to take a break sometime, eh?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"God in a Box"

I've heard, and so have you, the warning against trying to put "God in a box". It's a fair enough warning, though used by many people to dispute someone else's conception of who God is, what he says and does and expects.

To be sure, we can't put God in a box. He is above and beyond us. And we do have a tendency to want to limit him. We think God thinks like we do, rather than acknowledging his ways are higher than ours, and his thoughts are greater than ours. If God isn't answering my prayer the way I want it, then God must be wrong, not me, we think. If there's suffering in the world, or more importanly, in MY world, then God must either not care or not know what to do. We shrink God down to be someone who should take orders from the likes of us. We make ourselves "bigger" than him. We "put God in a box".

But the great irony of God is that he, himself, puts limitations on himself. "God in a box" might make us think of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant. That physical "box" became the throne of God on Earth - the touchstone of Heaven. There God dwelled mercifully, he who fills all of creation, in a specific physical location, for his people.

Then God limited himself to that certain place called the Temple. There in the holy of holies, a cube-shaped room, the Ark and the glory of God resided. Limited to that place, yet there he was accesible to his people in his prescribed way.

But the ultimate "God in a box" is Christ's incarnation - what we celebrate at Christmas - quite literally the festival of "God in a box".

The Incarnation puts God the Son "in a box". It puts him in the box of human flesh. It puts him in the limited locale of the virgin's womb. And when he is born, he is placed in a manger - a cattle feeding box.

And there, located physically in a human body in a human town, in a very physical and real place in space and time, God who created all of this became present - in a special way - for us.

In thus limiting himself he becomes available to all.
"Don't put God in a box". But receive him as he has given himself to you - "in a box". In the flesh of Jesus Christ, born of Mary, laid in a manger, sacrificed on the cross.
And there was one "box" that couldn't hold God the Son. It was the container of death - the grave itself. He burst forth from that limitation on Easter morn, and so too will he call us from our graves.

"Just throw me in a pine box", some say about their funeral arrangements. For some, it's an expression of hopelessness, that death has won, that it's all over. But for others, it's a statement of faith that though the body dies, the soul lives on with the Lord. Yet the final hope is that when Christ comes again, our graves will be opened, the Earth will give forth its dead, and we will live victorious with Christ forever.
Yes, death, the final box, the final limitation, loses its power for us who trust in the "God in a box".

Monday, December 11, 2006


I have officially dumped Firefox. I am sick of losing all my preferences every time it updates.

Plus, now Explorer does tabs anyway...

Sermon - Advent 2 - Luke 3:1-20

Advent 2
December 10, 2006
Luke 3:1-20
“A Fire and Brimstone Preacher”

One of the Bible personalities we expect to see this time of year is John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus. John was an odd character to say the least. His unusual fashion sense (camel skins), his different diet (locusts and wild honey), his solitary lifestyle in the wilderness. If John the Baptist were to walk into our church today, you’d probably hope he didn’t sit in your pew. John is kind of a scary guy.

When I lived in Detroit for a year the church I served as a vicar had an annual drama, presenting the life of Jesus. It was very elaborate, with church members all in character and costume. The man chosen to play John the Baptist was a police officer with a commanding voice. And I will never forget when he appeared at the back of the room, bellowing out, “REPENT! REPENT!”. His deep, loud, voice startled the adults and actually made one little girl cry. He was a good John. He was scary.

But what is most fearful about John is not his eating or dressing habits, or (as we might imagine) his loud booming voice. It’s the message he brings. It’s a fire and brimstone sermon. It’s a preaching of Law that pulls no punches. And it can be terrifying.

But that’s not all there is to John either. As we hear from this final prophet today, listen carefully to his message of fire and brimstone, but also the promise of the Savior, who was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Fire and Brimstone
“You brood of vipers!”. That’s how John started his address to the crowds who came to hear him. Nice, huh? Imagine if instead of a pastoral welcome and the usual announcements, Pastor Poppe greeted you this morning, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” You might think there was something wrong with Pastor Poppe.

But even though John was talking to the ancient Jews, and the Saduceess in particular, those words of judgment apply to us too. We are a brood of vipers, in our sin. We deserve God’s wrath and punishment. When the law speaks its stark and harsh judgment to us, we too might feel the need to flee.

We are a brood of vipers, who have been poisoned by sin. Ever since the serpent slithered into the garden, and our first-parents bit the forbidden fruit, we have sinfully slithered in their tracks. We are poisoned, but we also spit that venom at others, and at our God. Anger, selfishness, arrogance, gossip, apathy, laziness, whatever our pet sins… they are a poison, but they are a part of us.

And we deserve to be thrown into the fire. And not just all of us, but each of us. YOU deserve such punishment. Your sins are worthy of God’s wrath.

John’s fire and brimstone preaching uses the metaphor of a man sifting wheat from chaff – and burning the chaff in the fire. How can we not think, here, of the fires of hell? With their tongues of flame licking our toes, as we dangle above? “The unquenchable fire”, John calls it – a just eternal punishment for our offenses against the Holy and eternal God.

This is the fear that John’s message should invoke in us – a fear for our very souls.

But John’s message is not all bad news. In fact, Luke says that John’s message, as a whole, was good news.

John’s message was, ultimately, like every prophet, all about Jesus. The Christ. Son of God and Messiah, who was coming with a baptism (a cleansing) of his own. John said, “I baptize with water, he will baptize with The Holy Spirit and fire”. John said he was not worthy to untie the sandal of the one who comes after him.
And when John did see Jesus, rightly called him, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

John’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, really is the same as Christian baptism. It points forward to the ultimate baptism, the universal washing of sin that Jesus did by his blood shed at the cross. It is rooted in that saving sacrifice, just as your baptism and mine is. We are “baptized INTO Christ’s death and resurrection”. It is a washing of rebirth and renewal – in a sense, it is our first resurrection. It is the baptism in water, by the Holy Spirit. And it is a baptism of fire.

It’s interesting that fire is mentioned several times in this passage. In one sense, fire represents judgment, wrath, punishment, hell. But fire is also a refining agent. In metal-working, fire separates out the impurities. So the baptism of fire that Jesus brings takes the impurities away – takes the sin – and leaves a pure and clean person behind. John’s not referring to the day of Pentecost here, but to the baptism of Jesus – the purification he gives to all believers.

John’s words of hope regarding baptism stand in stark contrast to his fire and brimstone message of repentance. But knowing how fierce is the judgment we deserve – we appreciate all the more that Christ rescues us from that judgment.

What a joy to live, knowing that the fires of Hell are nothing to fear – because in Christ we are baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It changes everything. God changes everything. He changes our future. But He also, by that Spirit, changes how we live, even now.

What Shall We Do?
The people to whom John preached had been struck by his fire and brimstone law. But they also believed in his message of hope, and many were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. But then they asked John, each in turn, “what shall we (now) do?”.

Not what shall we do to BE saved, mind you. But what shall we do, especially since the Lord is coming soon?

Here we could ask the same: “What shall we do?” What shall we, who are baptized, believing, and forgiven people of God, what shall we do, especially since the Lord is coming soon?John’s answer to such questions was simple. It always had to do with whatever someone’s role or vocation happened to be. The advice was always the same – turn from sin. Tax collectors – avoid the pet sins of tax collectors. Soldiers – avoid the pet sins of soldiers. Those who are rich should share with the less fortunate. Turning from sin - and doing good instead - is part of true repentance. Or as John calls it, “fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Wherever and whatever you are in life – a mother or father or child, student or teacher, worker, boss, pastor or layperson, young or old, rich or poor, you will have temptations to sin. But for the believer, we take John’s guidance to heart – and turn, more and more from these, OUR pet sins. We do it, not to earn heaven; that is already ours. We do it, not by our own strength, but by the Spirit’s. And we do it, never perfectly, but always forgiven and yet still striving “more and more as we see the day approaching”.

Christ is coming. His advent is at hand. As we look forward to that day, may our hearts continually be prepared by his Spirit, and may our lives show the fruits of repentance. For we have been baptized with His Spirit and with fire. And we stand pure in his sight forever. Amen.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

To Quote "The Matrix: Reloaded"

"Hm. Updates."

I've taken the plunge, as it was finally offered today, and switched over my blogs to the new Blogger Beta. So far, so good.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sermon - Advent 1 - Luke 19:28-40

Advent 1
December 3, 2006
Luke 19:28-40
“Palm Sunday in December”

Now that the holiday season is upon us, and American consumerism is in full swing, the stores have trotted out their decorations and touted their Christmas bargains. Yet some stores and specialties businesses (I can think of two here in Wisconsin) are open year-round with a specific Christmas theme. I don’t know how they stay in business. Who wants to buy ornaments for the tree in the middle of the summer? Likewise, I’ve never understood the point of having “Christmas in July” sales. But yet it seems during the hottest days of the year some car salesman is dressed in a Santa suit to sell some cars.

Today we have another somewhat strange combined occasion. For here we are on the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church Calendar, with our eyes on December 25th just a few weeks away – and suddenly – our reading from Luke takes us to Palm Sunday. Jesus, riding on a colt, makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. He is welcomed and cheered as a king. The people sing “Hosanna!”. What is this reading doing here? Did someone print the wrong bulletin, or what?

In fact it makes perfect sense to observe Palm Sunday in Advent. Because both occasions highlight this simple theme: “The King is Coming”. He is coming to be born in Bethlehem. He is coming in the clouds to judge the nations. He is coming, riding on a lowly donkey, to Jerusalem. And when Jesus comes, he brings with him salvation.

The King is coming: who invited him?
Around this time of year, with all the parties and get-togethers, there will be lots of invitations sent out, and lots of invitations received. Maybe you are having a party and have made your guest list. But imagine what it would be like if someone came who wasn’t on the list. Someone you didn’t invite. It would be strange.

One thing you might notice about all of Jesus’ various arrivals, is that he is not the one being invited. No, it’s just the opposite, he invites himself. No one asked Jesus to come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In fact, it was he alone who made the arrangements – down to the last detail.

Just like no one invited him to be born a human child in Bethlehem. No act of human will brought him to our world. It was the work of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary – at the initiative of God alone.

Just like the day and time of his promised return are already appointed, and though we pray, “come quickly, Lord Jesus”, he will come in his time, according to his will.

And though some preach and teach otherwise, we do not invite Jesus into our hearts. We don’t open the door of our heart, or purify ourselves, or make ourselves worthy of his coming to us, individually. He takes the initiative. He calls us, invites us, by his Gospel. He makes us pure, and worthy, and he enters our hearts by his own divine mercy and grace. An uninvited but welcome guest is our King, Jesus!

Jesus is coming: Look Busy?
The king is coming. Jesus is coming. A certain bumper sticker message seeks to poke fun at this reality, and reads, “Jesus is coming: Look Busy!” As if the boss is away at a meeting, and we his employees have to fool him, when he returns, into thinking we’ve been hard at work. But God cannot be mocked. Jesus is coming. And we haven’t been busy.

Well, we haven’t been busy doing what we should. But we’ve been plenty busy doing what we shouldn’t. In this busy season of the busy year – stop and ponder how you’ve been using or abusing your time. None of us have perfect priorities. We don’t always balance too well the many demands on our time – so many of which we put on ourselves. Sometimes we are over-burdened with things that matter little, and neglect those that matter most. We may appear busy; we may feel busy; but we are often simply distracted.

No amount of “looking busy” or “trying to get busy” will suffice when our king comes. He knows the truth.

Jesus is coming: Shout Hosanna!
But as we read the Palm Sunday account, it seems people were busy in a godly way. They were busy welcoming the coming king. The disciples followed his instructions – and brought him the donkey. The crowds following him and welcoming him shouted and sang his praises.

Some of the Pharisees told Jesus to have his disciples settle down. “We don’t want to give the Romans a reason to be angry. They might see all this fanfare as a sign of unrest – and people could get hurt, Jesus! Tell them to be quiet. Rebuke them. Cut it out!”

But Jesus, who accepted the praises rightly due to him, answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”. The king is coming, you see. And a king deserves praise. If his people didn’t give it, his creation would have. It was inevitable.

And so they shouted, “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us now!” They knew, in some way, that the king had come. It was the miracles, Luke tells us, the mighty works that they had seen, that caused such a reaction. The recent raising of Lazarus, in particular, was still all the talk, and word must have traveled fast. A miracle worker. A maker of wonders. A great king, yes, the king has come to save us!

If they only knew. For he had come to save them – from their sin. He had invited himself, as he always does, for the great Passover feast. He soon told his disciples to go make preparations in that upper room. And for the few days leading up to the Passover, Jesus the King, Jesus the Lamb of God, would stay in his holy city, with his people. Just like the Passover lamb, according to the custom, was to be kept in the home for several days before it was slaughtered and sacrificed. So the crowds that sang his praises would soon cry for his blood, as “hosanna!” became “crucify!”.

But it was in the crucifixion that he did, in fact, “save us”. That’s why our king came, after all. It’s why he came to Jerusalem. It’s why he came to Bethlehem. He came to save. And because he has died and because is risen, and because he has promised… he will come again to make his salvation complete.

Advent means coming – but here we mean not only his first coming, his coming as a babe in Bethlehem, or even his coming as a humble king on Palm Sunday – but also his second coming which has been promised. The color of Advent is blue – because Jesus will come again from the sky. The tone of Advent is expectant – not because we’re waiting for Christmas – we know when that will be. We wait for the salvation of the Lord to be made complete on that, the last day, whenever it may be.

The king is coming. He doesn’t need an invitation, because it’s his party. The king is coming. Don’t just look busy – you can’t fool him anyway. The king is coming. So shout Hosanna to the one, Jesus Christ, who came once, and will come again, to save us. His Advent is at hand.


Friday, December 01, 2006


The Pope, on his visit to Turkey, wrapped things up by praying in the direction of Mecca, like Muslims do.

I can't tell you how disturbing this is.

This action of the pope is disturbing, disgusting, cowardly, and drags the First Commandment right through the mud.

And to think that the pope had a golden opportunity to proclaim Christ on his visit to Turkey in a way that no one else would have been allowed to do. And he chooses instead to do this. Terrible.

This is just as bad as when John Paul II kissed the Koran. Seems the pontiffs have become universalist sell-outs.

HT: Texas Hold'em Blogger

Best Free Software

I found the most amazing site which lists the best free software utilities on the net:

The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities

Links to tons of things you will find useful:
Photoshop knockoffs
Get your webmail with a client like outlook (what I have been wanting for a while!)
Free versions of many programs you would otherwise pay for

I can't recommend this collection highly enough. Check it out! NOW!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Q & A on Baptism

The following is my recent email correspondance with Jenny, a member of our congregation. First her question, then my reply:

Q: I have SO got myself in a pickle. I am in a discussion
about baptism with 2 people that think only people who
accept Jesus should be baptized. That when you are
baptized it is just an outwardly display, a public
aknowledgment of accepting Christ as your Saviour.
They also say that the Holy Spirit does not enter your
heart at the time of Baptism. That when John the
Baptist was baptizing he referanced Jesus when saying
that one comes to baptize you with the Holy Spirit,
and because of Jesus we no longer "need" baptism. It
is good to do, once you are at the "age of consent"
(which they are looking up now) but if a baby dies b4
being baptized they will go to heaven. Likewise if a
man confesses to God and becomes a believer then dies
b4 being baptized they can "quarantee" that they will
go to heaven. Can you help?????? I have been on IM
with my sister but she is running after 5 little ones
and I was hoping you could give me some pastoral feedback.

A: Jenny,

Relax. You probably won't convince them anyway, so don't plan on "winning" the argument. I would simply give an explanation of what you believe and not go much further. But here's some ammunition anyway:

Often, when we Lutherans discuss Baptism with our Evangelical/Baptist type friends, we end up trying to point to this verse or that verse which says "Thou Shalt Baptize infants" or "Thou Shalt not." But the reality is there is no such passage for either side (though each side will see hints of its own positition in various passages).

What is a bigger question, what Scripture DOES address, and which ends up determining the answer to infant baptism is not, "should I baptize infants", but, "what is baptism?". Those who view baptism as an act of man's will, or a commitment that we make to God will only naturally agree with the "adults only" position. But those of us (Lutherans), who rightly see Baptism as the gracious action of God ON someone, that is, a pure and free gift - we will see that it makes sense that infants can receive gifts (haven't you ever been to a baby shower?).

But an even deeper question is this: How are we saved? If God saves us by his action - "Grace Alone" - well, that fits a lot better with the infant baptism position - in fact it's a beautiful reminder that even we adults contrinbute as little to our salvation as that baby does. THEY say, even if they don't admit it, that salvation depends, at least in part, on man's work. Oh, they will often give lipservice to "grace alone", but then they will take with one hand what they give with the other, by saying, "BUT - you have to accept", or "BUT - you have to decide". etc...

Finally, I would direct you to an article written by a friend of Pastor Poppe's, Charles Gottshchalk. Charles used to be an non-denominational (Baptist) type Christian - (went to Bob Jones U. etc..) who DIDN'T believe in infant baptism - but became a Lutheran through his studies of scripture and the Lutheran confessions. He writes one of the best, most concise and thorough defenses of infant baptism I have seen in quite a while. Here's the link:

Hope this all helps!

(Correspondence shared here by permission, of course...)

House, M. Div.

The latest listing to the Lutheran Blog Directory looks like it could be lots of fun. Those of you who watch the show, "House" will appreciate this Lutheran pastor who writes in the Dr. House persona.

It seems particularly fitting, too, because that character reminds me of Dr. Luther -crabby, ridden by infirmity, and yet very good at what he does.

Anyway here's the new blog's info:

Law, Gospel, and no B.S. You might not like it, but you can not like it all the way into an eternity with your Savior. If you want your theology watered down and relevant to your Soccer Mom needs, go to Rev. Cudd(l)y in the ELCA. (S)he probably has plenty of what you want, but be sure you're wearing asbestos.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sermon - Sunday of the Fulfillment - Jude 20-25

Last Sunday in the Church Year - Sunday of the Fulfillment
November 29, 2006
Jude 20-25
"Us, Them, & Jesus"

Jude warns us to keep the faith, to be concerned with the faith of others, and to give all glory to God in Jesus Christ, who keeps us from falling!

It’s almost here. It’s coming soon. The signs are all around us, all we have to do is look out there and see. You know what I mean? Did you think I was talking about Christmas? Well that’s coming soon too. But here in the church we are focused on another day that is coming soon – and it goes by many names: the day of the Lord’s second coming – the judgment day – the last day – the day of fulfillment – the end.

We know it’s coming soon because the signs are all around us. We have been warned. We’ve been put on notice. Even though we don’t know and will never know the exact time or day or hour, as Jesus says, the signs are still there for us to see. We could almost keep a checklist:

Wars – check
Rumors of Wars – check
Famine – check
Disaster – check
Conflict even in families – check
Increasing wickedness - check
False teachings abound – check

Maybe put a “double-check” on that last one, especially if you asked someone like St. Jude. In Jude’s short letter, he warns Christians about false teachers, especially in light of God’s coming wrath. We consider today the last few verses of Jude’s epistle, on this last Sunday of the Church Year, and ask how we can build up ourselves and be merciful to others in the “most holy faith”.

First, Jude is concerned for his friends, his fellow Christians, who are beset by false teachers. He says of the false teachers, “They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” And so he encourages the faithful:

“build yourselves up in your most holy faith, and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life”

Note well, that when he says, “most holy faith” here, he isn’t talking about the faith that is in the heart, but the faith as it is taught and confessed. “The Christian faith” or “the teachings of the faith” are what Christians are to cling to. And the true faith, at that, in the face of many lies and much confusion.

What about us? These words of encouragement are well taken by us too. For we find ourselves in much the same predicament. We are beset by false teachers. It’s a sign of the times.

As we Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod types look out into the religious landscape of our world, what do we see? Here in the United States, we are a small minority. We see many other people with many different kinds of beliefs. False teaching abounds.

Non-Christian and Secular religions are increasing in number and popularity, and while they are perhaps easy to identify as “false”, we are not immune to their influence. How many of us, in fact, have been influenced by New Age philosophy and its occult and superstitious trappings? How many have bought into the false claims of many scientists, who teach a godless origin of the universe and of life? What about the a-moral ambivalence of a society which has stopped condemning the sins of divorce, homosexuality, fornication, and so many other sins? Much like the godless men of Jude’s day who gave license to immorality, many today teach that the only real sin is “judging” the behavior of others. When we hear such godless lies over and over again, it is tempting to think they are credible.

But well-meaning Lutherans can even be caught up in the false teaching of other well-meaning Christians. Christians who teach that our salvation depends on our decision, or that we must co-operate with God to earn more of his grace. Christians who deny the clear words of Jesus, “This IS my body; this IS my blood” that actually work forgiveness of our sins. Christians who make his gift of baptism into a work of man, a commitment or pledge. All those who would in some way or fashion try to join Jesus Christ on the cross – “make room for me up there!”, and try to earn part of their own salvation – we must reject such false teachings – which are not part of the “most holy faith” and which deny Jesus is our only Lord and Savior.

And yet, I know that some of us here at Grace make frequent use of Baptist, Evangelical, Non-Denominational Christian books, articles, devotions, television, radio, music and such. I’ve heard someone say, “I watch the Baptist preacher – and he preaches right from the Bible – without notes – what’s wrong with that?” I hear people say, “oh this preacher is so informative” or “this one can really keep your attention” or “that sermon was so uplifting”. But did it proclaim the truth of your sin, and of your only Savior from sin, Jesus Christ? Or did it leave you with the impression that it all depends, or even a little bit, on you and what you do?

Now don’t leave church today thinking that all Pastor Tom did was bash other Christians. I’m not saying that Lutherans should never read or listen to what other Christians have to say. Indeed, they can and do speak truth at times. But by their own confession, they do teach differently. And the differences do matter! To the uninformed, the differences may seem subtle – or even insignificant. But that’s also what makes them so dangerous, and why pastors are charged to watch over the sheep, lest they be led astray. And yes, even pastors can be and have been led astray by the influences of false teaching. So what shall we do about all this? Or do we simply shrug and say, “Oh, well. There’s just different interpretations?”

In these last days, Jude has a solution – “build yourselves up in your most holy faith, and pray in the Spirit.” In other words: Study! Learn! Listen! And pray. In these dangerous times, we simply must arm ourselves with the truth of God’s Word, rightly taught. We must be prayerful and careful – for not everyone who claims to hold to that Word does.

Why not make use of the resources that are right before you? I find it disappointing that more of our members do not make use of the Bible studies we offer. Perhaps you study privately, as I know many do. But what an opportunity it is to come together with other Christians – and your pastors – and encounter God’s Word together. To get your questions answered, and to help bring insights to others. Why do we see 300 in worship but only 30 in Sunday Bible class? Is it that we think we’ve learned it all? Is it that an hour of worship is “enough”? Why not be built up, even more, as the day approaches?

And as we pray, do we pray for only those needs we may feel? For our aches and pains, for our troubles in life? Or do we pray also that God keeps us from being led astray by false teaching? Do we pray to be built up by His Spirit, through His Word?

And the more we study and learn and listen and pray, the more we will see that Jesus alone is the Savior. The more we will appreciate what “grace alone” and “faith alone” really mean. The more we will understand how great our sin is, and how much greater our Savior is. And as we “build ourselves up”, we are actually being built up by God. We will be built up, higher, stronger, firmer in the most holy faith – and prepared for that day – whenever it may come. And so we will also be equipped to critically respond to what other Christians teach – sifting the wheat from the chaff.

What about Them? In as much as our clinging to and learning from God’s Word will strengthen us, it also equips us to help others: “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh”

In our dealings with others, Jude sees that different approaches can be taken. Some doubt, and we should be merciful or patient with them, as Christ has been so with us. Implied here is that we can be witnesses to the truth, testifying faithfully so that in the Word and in Christ their doubts would be put away. Perhaps we have wavered at times, and have been shown mercy by others – we think of the Beatitude, “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. We could harshly condemn the doubters, or we could gently bring them along in the truth, as Jude suggests. Perhaps they doubt because they have been taught their salvation depends on them – and we can encourage them by showing how it all depends on Christ!

Some others might be caught in false teaching, and need to be snatched from the fire. There is an urgency about this. And other times, we must be on guard – mixing our mercy with fear – that we too are not led astray, or “corrupted”. Notice the sense here of danger – of watchfulness.
Jude concludes with a beautiful doxology, which does what any Christian should do, in that it gives all glory to God through Jesus Christ. It praises him not just for being great, but for the great things he does for us: “To him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…”

Yes, though our world is full of dangers and deceits, God is able to keep us from falling. And he does! Nothing can separate us from his love in Jesus Christ! God is always faithful to us. This is what we hear and learn from his word – the precious gospel of Jesus Christ.

And though we can easily find fault with others, and though we must never stop finding fault with ourselves – we see the only one who can present us without fault before God is Jesus Christ. He is the only God, and our only Savior. We are not our own saviors, as he alone died for us. He alone is merciful to us, and brings us to eternal life. To him be all the glory, majesty, power, and authority, yesterday, today, and forever! In Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sermon - Thanksgiving 2006

Grace Ev. Lutheran Church, Racine, Wisconsin
Thanksgiving (Eve) Day- 2006
Deuteronomy 8:1-10
“Giving Thanks for Pomegranates”

A Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving to you all. Every year we observe this national holiday. The 4th Thursday of November is set aside by longstanding presidential order as a day of national thanksgiving. Your history books might tell you that the first day of thanksgiving was December 4th of 1619, when the Pilgrims in the Virginia Colony first celebrated the day. Or you might think of the Massachusetts Bay Colony marking their first thanksgiving in 1630. But the truth is, harvest festivals have a longstanding history in many nations and cultures. And we find something similar even in ancient Israel.

Here in Deuteronomy, Moses gives some words of encouragement to his people as they were just about to enter the promised land.

He warns them to be careful in following God’s commands. He reminds them of what God had already done for them. These 40 years of desert wandering had been a time of testing and preparation. But they were also a time in which God cared for his people. Throughout those years, God fed them daily bread from heaven – not just to keep them alive, but also to teach them that “man does not live by bread alone”. It was Jesus himself who quoted these words when fending off the devil during his own wilderness wandering.

Furthermore, God provided that for 40 years their clothes did not wear out. Most of us are quite used to choosing clothes from our closet full of options each day – and still sometimes they wear out (or more often, we out-grow them). But it seems the Israelites weren’t toting around extravagant wardrobes – their clothes, like their food, were simple but sufficient.

And so this time of testing and disciplining was close to its end. The Israelites stood on the threshold of their promised land – a veritable paradise. The land flowing with milk and honey. Actually, more than that. Compared to the manna they ate every day, the description of that land of plenty must have seemed like heaven:

a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

After a daily desert diet of bread, and a generation which had seen subsistence but scarcity, their destination must have been a dream come true. They had much, in those 40 years, for which to give thanks. But they would have even more in the years to come, as God’s promise is fulfilled. Plentiful water, mineral resources, bountiful harvests of rich foods – even pomegranates! Bread will keep you alive, but pomegranates! Now that’s the good life!

I don’t know why the pomegranates jumped out for me this time. We read this same passage every year on Thanksgiving. I have preached on it before. But I never recall thinking much of the pomegranates. Kind of an unusual fruit for us to eat in modern American life. But not foreign to the ancient middle east. But even better, the pomegranate is mentioned elsewhere in scripture – and it has an important symbolic value.

Exodus chapter 28:33-34 directed that images of pomegranates be woven onto the borders of Hebrew priestly robes. 1 Kings chapter 7:13-22 describes pomegranates depicted in the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem.

Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. Many Jews continue this tradition by eating pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah.

But the pomegranate is also a Christian symbol. With its many seeds united as one, it has served as a symbol for the universal Christian church. It is also used to represent royalty, hope of a future life, and resurrection.

Was it for any of these reasons that the pomegranate was mentioned in the list of blessings the people could expect in their new homeland? No. Moses was simply describing the lush conditions they could expect.

But is it wrong of us to think of greater blessings along with the lesser ones? Shouldn’t we Christians give thanks for the mundane gifts as well as the extravagant? Shouldn’t we ponder, on this Thanksgiving and always, those blessings below as well as those above. The good things given, the daily bread, but also that we live on more than bread alone?

Give thanks for bread. Give thanks for pomegranates. And give thanks for more. For we have God’s holy law, and we have God’s precious Gospel. We have the righteousness of Christ our royal High priest, our true temple. We have a future hope in him of a resurrection to immortality. And we have been made members of his body, the church – like the many seeds of a pomegranate – we are all found in him.

Give thanks for bread, but give thanks even more for every word from the mouth of God. For it is in those words that we truly find what sustains life. There we read and hear about Jesus who died, Jesus who lives, Jesus who forgives, and Jesus who makes us alive. It is Jesus who is the life-sustaining and life-giving Word of God made flesh. If we give thanks for anything at all, it is for him and to him.

This Thanksgiving, as always, give thanks to God for his many blessings. Take some time to count those blessings. Consider the mundane blessings, the bread. Consider the greater blessings, the pomegranates. And consider the greatest blessings, which come through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Out of Wedlock Births Up...

Per Foxnews:

"Almost 40% of Children Born in the U.S. in 2005 Were Out of Wedlock, an All-Time High"

More evidence of what has been called "culture rot", or what I call, "flagrant foul on the 6th commandment". Or maybe just... sin?

Signs of the times.


An excellent article on tithing has been posted at "Ask the Pastor". I completely concur with this solid, biblical, Lutheran answer:

How Should I Tithe?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Loose Ends...

I've been out of town for a few days (in the North Woods of Wisconsin) and incommunicado. Anyway here's some notes and tidbits on what's new in the world of Luthrean blogging:

BBOV has been recently put forth a major update. Get the most recent version here.

The All-New Blogging Lutherans BlogRing is open for enrollment, and has a snazzy new graphic box designed by yours truly.

Lutheran Survivor has also been updated - check in to see who has checked out.

That's all for now.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lutheran Quiz

Just a fun quiz to while away the weekend: Just copy and paste the questions and answer inbetween.

1. If you could name a church that you would attend any name at all, what would it be?
"Transfiguration Lutheran Church"

2. What is your favorite Advent hymn?
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

3. What branch of Lutheranism are you affiliated with?

4. Which is your favorite vestment color?

5. Why do you remain a Lutheran?
Because we teach what the Scriptures teach.

6. If you could change one thing about Martin Luther, what might it be?
The whole tirade against the Jews

7. What do you believe is the single largest misunderstanding about Lutherans or Lutheranism?
(Held by many Lutherans as well) "The differences don't matter"

8. If your branch of Lutheranism could change in one way, how would you have it change?
More unity in practice.

9. Were you born Lutheran?
No, but I was baptized Luthrean as an infant.

10. Have you ever invited a non-Lutheran to attend church with you?
Many times.

11. NOT including Eucharist, what is your favorite part of the service?

12. What is your favorite item to bring to a church potluck?
My appetite

13. Name 3 things that made the best pastor you ever had, the best pastor you ever had.
- He knew his stuff
- He remained faithful, even under fire
- He cared for the sheep
(This is what I expect of EVERY pastor)

Sermon - Third-Last Sunday - Hebrews 12:26-29

Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year
November 12, 2006
Hebrews 12:26-29
“A Whole Lotta Shakin’ “

When Christ returns, the shaky things of this world will be removed, and his unshakable kingdom will remain. Therefore we stand in reverence and awe, and receive his promise with unshakable faith.

I like living in Wisconsin. The cheese, the football, the sub-tropical climate (actually it’s not all that bad). But one of the other things that’s nice about our state is there aren’t too many natural disasters. Every once in a while we get a small tornado. But we’re too far inland to have to worry about tornados. I don’t recall any mudslides or major forest fires around here lately. And we’re not like those people in California – who have to worry about a major earthquake. In fact, I bet most of us have never experienced an earthquake. So we’ll have to use our imagination today.

Because that sort of violent quaking and shaking of the earth is part of the backdrop for today’s reading from Hebrews. But it’s not a fault line or plate tectonics that causes the quaking, it is the thundering voice of God himself. And when he speaks, when he acts, and when he is present, there’s a “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.” Though we live in a world that is shaky at best, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken!

The first earthquake alluded to by our text is the one Moses experienced at Sinai. After breaking the bondage of his people in Egypt, God led them to his holy mountain in the wilderness. As they encamped around the mountain, the Lord met with Moses at the mountaintop. Exodus describes this spectacular event:

…there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently…(Exodus 19:16-18)

All the thunder and lightning, trumpets and earth-quaking were outward signals that the Lord of Heaven had come down to Earth. But he didn’t do all this to flex his power, or show off his glory. He came to do something gracious for his people – to make them a covenant. He gave them commandments for living, laws which also showed their sin. He gave them a system of sacrifice, a way to deal with those sins. And there at Sinai he established Israel as his people.

We read of more earth-shaking experiences as the Gospel takes us to the cross. There, at Calvary, on Good Friday, some strange things happened too. Luke tells us:

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:44-45)

and Matthew records:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (Matthew 25:51-52)

Our God is a consuming fire. And at the cross, the consuming fire of his wrath was poured out on his own Son, who had become sin for us. Thus sin and death were consumed in the body of Christ offered there. Nature itself – the Sun, the Earth, reacted to the violence done to its Creator. Yet in the darkness of that day, the forces of darkness met their end. At the death of the Lord of Life, death itself was destroyed. And the fallen earth, so tainted by sin, shook and trembled as its creator suffered and died to do away with sin.

But Matthew’s seismographic reporting continues, and it’s more than an aftershock 2 days later:

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)

Once again Jesus shakes things up, as the tomb of death could not hold him. The tomb had to be opened, not so Jesus could get out, but so that his people could go in and see – “he has risen, he is not here”.

The ground shook, and those hardened Roman soldiers shook. They became like dead men, even as the one who was dead returned to life. Jesus shakes things up – even death itself.

Back to our reading from Hebrews. There we are reminded that there is further shaking to come. If Sinai’s shaking pointed forward to Christ. And if Christ shook things up by his death and resurrection. Then Christ will shake earth and heavens – all creation – when he comes again in glory. We look forward to this final “shake-up”, to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, and to the promised New Heaven and New Earth.

It’s good news. Because our earthly life is full of earth-quakes. We live in the world shaken by sin – the sin of Adam, the sin of others, especially our own sin. We have to face the earth-shattering experiences of sin wreaking its havoc in our lives. We see a loved one die, and the earth shakes beneath us. We watch our children make bad choices, and we feel the ground moving. We think about God’s anger over own sin, and the guilt and shame make us shake and tremble. So much in this corrupted, fallen world is shaky at best, dangerous to our bodies and minds and souls. We need a firm foundation, a sure footing. We need the hope of God’s promise – that all this wickedness will be shaken off.

We are receiving an unshakable kingdom. Notice the present tense. It’s ongoing. We will receive one day, and we are receiving, even now, the unshakable kingdom of God. The blessings for which Christ bled and died– the firm ground of our faith in him, in his word, in the promises we receive, in the grace that comes to us in the water and the bread and the wine. These shakable things God attaches to his unshakable promise, part of the unshakable kingdom we are continually receiving in Christ.

And there’s a stewardship note here too. Make godly use of your time– because the time is coming soon when God will remove what can be shaken. “Put not your trust in things” – because they are part of what can be shaken. Your money, your possessions – shakable. Your home and family – shakable. Even your health and life itself – all these things can and will come crashing down someday. So we do not rely on them. We do not over-value them. We see their passing nature, and we set our eyes and hearts on things unshakable.

Throughout the Bible, when God is present and working salvation for us, the earth shakes and trembles. We too, would tremble in his presence, quaking in fear at the consuming fire of his wrath. But our God is also good. His promises are sure. In Christ he will remove all that can be shaken, one day, even as now we already are receiving that unshakable kingdom. And in Christ, we stand secure. In His Name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Just ran across a nice website-

Congregations can set up a page for networking with other members, posting bulletins, etc. Grace's MyChurch page is:

Check it out for your own congregation, or if you are a member of our congregation in Racine, click on the link to join.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sermon - All Saints - Rev. 21:9-11; 21:22-27; 22:1-5

Stewardship Series 2006
All Saints’ Day
Revelation 21:9-11; Revelation 21:22-27; Revelation 22:1-5
"The Riches of Heaven"

[Though fascinated by earthly treasures, we get a glimpse of the greater treasures to come in the Heavenly Jerusalem. There, the greatest treasure is to dwell with God in Christ. Even now, we have that treasure! ]

John’s many visions that compose the book of Revelation drive the imagination wild. We can picture the heavenly throne room, the great sea of glass, the angels upon angels singing his praises. We can see the four horsemen and their plagues, or the Dragon being chained and cast into the Abyss. What Jesus revealed to John must have been quite a collection of sights.

But perhaps the most spectacular vision John saw is recorded in our reading from Revelation 21 and 22. It is the picture of the church in glory – the holy city of Jerusalem – the bride of Christ – decked out for the great celebration at the bridegroom’s return. Adorned with precious jewels, streets paved with gold, and bright and shining with the very glory of God himself. What a vision that must have been.

We humans like bright and shiny things. A brand new car – with that unique “new car smell”. A fancy techno-gadget, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art. A giant Plasma wall-mount TV with a gazillion channels. Diamonds are girl’s best friend, don’t you know, and what engagement is complete without a nice-sized “rock”? Then there’s the anniversaries, birthdays, valentines… Jewelry is always a good option. Shiny things. Valuable things. Treasures.

Yes, it’s November, and that means it’s time for another stewardship emphasis. Today and next Sunday, we will consider the appointed readings in light of the principles of Christian stewardship. But don’t worry, we’ll talk about more than just money.

Still, let’s start out with our Stewardship reminder that everything we have – from our bodies and souls, to our health, family, to all of our material things, and yes, our money – everything is a gift from God, and belongs, ultimately to him. We are just the managers.

That doesn’t stop us from thinking all this “stuff” is ours, though. From the shiny treasures, to the mundane trappings of everyday life – sinners are selfish, and we want it all to be ours!

Who doesn’t get a tinge of jealousy when the next person is better off than we are? Why should they have more than me? I work just as hard, or harder. I’m as nice, or nicer. I go to church, I don’t beat my wife. I’m a good guy. Where’s my piece of the pie? No, I want a bigger piece!

Who would refuse a little lap of luxury here and there, after all, don’t we deserve it? A little time at the spa. An exclusive getaway. Fast cars, nice clothes, good food, some pretty things. You know, the shiny treasures of life. And the money it takes to buy them. Why shouldn’t we have nice things?

Scripture tells us why. As sinners, we are deserving of only one thing: God’s wrath. Death and punishment that are justly ours. We don’t deserve to be rich. We don’t deserve to be middle class. We don’t even really deserve to live. We are scummy sinners, unworthy of even these earthly treasures we try to surround ourselves with.

And maybe that’s part of the reason we do chase after such treasures – because we know somewhere, deep down, that we lack worth and value in ourselves. Maybe all these “things” can provide a false sense of our own worth. But no, it’s never enough. Even the super-wealthy have their sinful problems and struggles. All the world’s riches won’t come close to even making us paupers before God.

And then we read Revelation. And we see this majestic view of heaven. And that sounds like the place to be! O that we were there! Ah… but we are, AND we will be.

That vision of the Bride of Christ, the Holy City of Jerusalem is a picture of the church. In other words, that’s us! We are the ones decked out in the glory of God himself. We are the ones adorned with gold and jewels and bright shiny things. It’s both who we will be one day, and who we are now, today! But how? How can it be? How does it happen? Who has done this?

Jesus Christ. He has prepared his bride for the wedding feast. He has adorned her with glory, dressed her in the robe of his own righteousness, bought and paid for her with his own holy, precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death.

There on the filthy garbage heap called Golgatha, between two scummy criminals, on the old rugged cross of the cruel Romans – there in the dirt and muck of a darkened Friday afternoon – the greatest Treasure of all the universes gave his life as a ransom for us. He gave his life to save us from death. He suffered to spare us the suffering. He became poor to make us rich – for eternity.

Not rich with earthly riches, mind you (though some misguided Christians embrace a prosperity Gospel). Time Magazine recently ran an article, “Does God Want You to be Rich?” No. Earthly wealth or earthly poverty are quite beside the point. At the cross, Jesus wins for us all the riches of heaven – spiritual treasures which far surpass even the best this world has to offer. These are ours in Christ!

Forgiveness of all our sins. A restored relationship with God. The confidence of knowing he hears our every prayer. The joy of knowing that the sufferings of this world will end and God himself will wipe every tear from our eye. The hope of eternal life in a resurrected body like unto Christ’s own resurrected body. These are just some of the treasures of heaven – which far surpass our earthly trinkets.

But let’s get back to those. It is a Stewardship sermon, after all. Knowing what we truly deserve and don’t deserve…Knowing that we will inherit the riches of heaven, and that we enjoy them even now, how does that change our view of earthly riches?

We see them for what they are. Nice things, yes. Gifts from God. But not nearly worth what we have for free in Christ. Compared to the glory of God, the righteousness of Christ, and all other spiritual blessings, we see the shiny treasures of this world through a different lens. And we use them to his glory!

We keep our perspective. We don’t make the lesser gifts more than the greater gifts. And we use the lesser gifts properly. We prioritize differently. We give first to the Lord a portion of what he has given us, to further the work of his kingdom, and to support the distribution of his true riches to all. We give joyfully, in grateful thanksgiving for all our earthly and spiritual blessings. If we are given much, we give much. If we are given little, we give in other ways. All this we do, never perfectly, but always under his cross and strengthened daily by his spirit.

So in all our dealings with the shiny things of this world, we keep an eye on the eternal treasures, bought and paid for by the blood of Christ – graciously ours through faith in his promises.

And so, in this stewardship sermon, I simply remind you of what you already know. What we have, we don’t deserve. What we have is not ours, not our time, not our talents or treasures. Not even our own bodies. We belong to Christ. We are simply managers of all these things. And as his treasured people for whom he died, as his stewards – we manage all that he gives us, by his power, for his purposes, in grateful thanksgiving every day, with an eye on the true prize in eternity.

For he has treasured us, adorned us, and in him we shine, and will shine forever.

The "Second Part" of the Gay Marriage Amendment

"...only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state?"

The gay lobby seems to suggest that this second half of the proposed amendment goes too far, in actually jeopardizing benefits/rights already afforded to cohabitating heterosexual couples. I read it differently.

The wording here doesn't suggest that a private company would be prohibited from granting benefits to anyone. It simply states that such individuals will have no "legal status" similar to marriage. So if S.C. Johnson wants to offer health benefits to gay domestic partners, or heterosexual live-in boyfriends/girlfriends, it would be up to SCJ. But the amendment would seem to mean that the state government can't mandate such benefits. They don't mandate them right now, do they?

Likewise, a recent Journal-Times opinion piece thinly disguised as news, suggests that domestic abusers will be able to "get away with it" if the amendment passes. This seems like fear-mongering to me. What reasonable person would interpret the above wording to that effect? Even the JT article suggests more laws will be needed to "flesh out" the meaning of the amendment. Why would we expect those laws to encourage domestic violence?

One moral issue that I haven't heard discussed much in this context is what Christians believe about illiciat cohabitation. "Living together before marriage" is a violation of the 6th commandment. But sadly, this arrangement has become so common in our culture that hardly anyone even thinks of it as wrong. I fear for the day when the same is true of homosexuality.

At least with heterosexual cohabitation there is the possibility to "go legitimate" and actually get married, correcting the wrong.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Luther Chicken Dance

I knew Elmo was into it, but not the great reformer too!

(Thanks to Charles Lehmann for pointing out this gem)

Lutheran Carnival XXXVI

The latest carnie is a busy one. Thanks to Ryan at The Markel Family for doing the dirty work.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"The Burr" Coming to Kenosha

For my local readers especially:

"Why We Hurt"
A Retreat on Suffering and the Cross in the Life of Christ
and in the Lives of Christians

With Rev. Scott Stiegemeyer
Director of Admission
Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana

From time immemorial, human beings have questioned why they suffer. One popular book put it recently, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? This seminar will examine the biblical approach to this question. It will also explore whether God has a plan for us when we suffer? Does suffering have a purpose? What are the causes or sources of human suffering? And perhaps most importantly, where can we find help, safety and comfort when we undergo hard experiences? We will discover the significance of our sorrows specifically in the light of the God who suffers on the cross.

Co-sponsored by
Lamb of God Lutheran Church
Messiah Lutheran Church
Christ Lutheran Academy

Saturday, November 18, 2006
12:30-6:00 p.m.
at Lamb of God Lutheran Church
8411 Old Green Bay Rd.
Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158

Look for a signup sheet at your church or email to let us know you are coming. You may also call the church office at 262-551-8182 and leave a message that you are coming.

COST: Free-will offering (suggested donation: $20)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Suggestion for Synodical Nominations

Fellow LCMS'ers...

Our congregation just received our nomination forms for the offices of Synodical President and Vice-Presidents. I am assuming many of you received yours too, or will shortly.

I would like to suggest a nominee for your consideration:

Rev. Paul T. McCain.

Now that Paul's time as Interim President of Concordia Publishing House has come to a close, I honestly don't know what he is doing next. What I do know about his service there at CPH was that I was personally impressed with the work he did.

  • Under his watch, there was a marked improvement of overall quality resources, especially noting the publication of the "Concordia: Reader's edition."
  • It was also under Paul's guidance that CPH was able to not only run in the black, but earn such great profits that seven figure checks were cut, returning funds to the work of the synod as a whole. This type of leadership could be a real boon for the synod as a whole during times of tight budgets and shrinking funds.
  • Don't forget that prior to his work at CPH, Paul served as assitant to the late synodical president Al Barry. So he has great experience with the workings of the synod.
  • Anyone who has read his writing knows that he is always balanced between a firm and faithful Lutheran concern on the one hand, but he also knows well when to hold his tongue. I have never heard or seen from him the kind of acerbic comments that sometimes emmanate from Lutherans who are concerned about our synod. Paul seems to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4).
Paul would be a credit to the office, and bring great resources to a task which may be one of the toughest jobs in the world. I encourage you and your congregation to nominate Paul T. McCain for the offices of Synodical President and First Vice-President.

(And it doesn't hurt that he also runs a fine Lutheran blog - Cyberbrethren)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

WELS Candidate and the Antichrist

A WELS member and candidate for public office in Minnesota has fallen under criticism for the Lutheran understanding of the papacy as "antichrist". Check out the article here.

Reformation Day

A happy and blessed Reformation Day to all.

Sorry... nothing fancier than that right now as I am running late to get to our pastors' conference. More on that later....

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lutheran Survivor

Just in time for Reformation Day, my latest blog endeavor:


Add your vote and comments to the mix. Just for fun. Check it out.

More on Religion and Politics

Interesting article: "Clergy warned on partisan preaching"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

ELCA Pastor opines poorly

A local ELCA pastor is on record in our local paper, speaking against both the "Gay Marriage" ban and the proposal to reinstate the death penalty.

(For the record, I take no public position on either of these particular measures. My comments are on what the Bible says about these moral issues, not whether the particular legislation is God's will or not. See here for more of my take on all that.)

Rev. Hermans seems to think God is just fine with homosexuality and that those of us who have a problem with it are somehow choosing "fear" over "love". Sadly, it is he who is choosing a false love over the clear word of God on the matter. Love and truth go hand in hand, even when love is tough because the truth hurts.

Ironically, one of the clearest New Testament passages which condemns homosexuality is Romans 1, where we read that these "perversions" and "unnatural passions" are the result of God handing men over to their sin after they have turned away from him. In other words, homosexuality is the result of idolatry. Instead, Hermans accuses those against "gay marriage" of turning marriage itself into an idol.

Likewise, God is so loving, says Hermans, that he would never have a criminal executed. Anyone with a seminary education should know better. Anyone who has read the Bible even casually should know better. Throughout the Old Testament God commands capital punishment. Even in the New Testament he authorizes governments with the "power of the sword" as "agents of his wrath" to "bring punishment to the wrongdoer". These are simply the words of Romans 13. God is loving. But he is also just. And he exercises that judgment in this world through earthly government.

I could go on with this rant, but let me once again express my disapponitment with the voices of the ELCA in this community, and point out again why there is a wide gulf between the ELCA and those of us in the Missouri Synod. It all goes back to God's Word.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Day-Star Should Take its Own Advice

The recent issue of the "Day-Star Journal" is out. For those who don't know about this group, they are a forum of voices from the "left wing" of the Missouri Synod. I don't often find much to agree with in their articles, but I do like to read what they say anyway.

This month's "Reformation" issue
had little to do with the Reformation, but contains three articles relating to Christian citizenship. One of my pet areas of theology too, if you haven't noticed. (See my recent post on the "Gay Marriage Amendment")

I was surprised to find myself agreeing (in principle) with Art Simon's article, "Thoughts for Pastors regarding the Elections" (click for the entire article).

Simon articulates three different approaches to the intersection of faith and politics, and advocates the third:

1. "Faith is a private affair and has nothing to do with political matters."

2. "Politics should be based on God’s will, and we can identify that will in specific legislation and candidates."

3. "Although the will of God should inform our political thinking, God does not give specific instructions on legislation or candidates."
The first approach seems that of the typical ACLU/Secularist crowd, and the second that of the Fundamentalist Evangelicals from the right wing of American politics. I agree with Simon that the third approach is the only thoroughly Lutheran (and thus, biblical) way for Christians to think about faith and politics.

However, per the title of this post, I have these criticisms of Day-Star:

1. Simon's explanation of his points shows his own political bias. While he clearly has a heart for the widow and orphan, and goes to great lengths to speak of our responsibility to feed the hungry, he does not mention Abortion as a politcal issue in ANY capacity - and this "political issue" is surely one that is informed by our faith. Other important moral issues, typically emphasized by Republicans and Conservatives are simply not mentioned. But his criticism of the war in Iraq and his nod to environmentalism all betray a sympathy for Democrat and Liberal politics. He should have been more careful to follow his own advice.

2. The other two articles included in this issue similarly violate the principles Simon has articulated:

In "The Call to Good Citizenship", Robert Schmidt calls out an article written in a recent issue of our professional church workers' newspaper, "The Reporter". In that article, Uwe Siemon-Netto clearly espouses a position on the Iraq war which is supportive of the Republican administration. But rather than simply point out Siemon-Netto's bias, Schmidt goes further by putting forth the typical anti-Bush case.

"This War", a piece by Chaplain J. L. Precup, similarly criticizes the Bush administration regarding Iraq. As a chaplain, I am sure Precup has hard-won experience on which to base his opinions, but he should, as a pastor, more clearly delineate his personal opinions on the handling of the war from the clear Word of God.

Now, I am not saying that either of these pieces is off the mark, or on the mark for that matter regarding the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's policies. What I do suggest is that Day-Star follow the advice of Art Simon's third principle, and check its political argumentation and concentrate on issues in which God DOES speak clearly. Instead, we have here a barely-veiled endorsement of the Democratic Party's positions.

I suppose a para-church group like Day-Star isn't the same thing as a parish pastor like me endorsing or criticizing a particular political issue or candidate. They do, however, speak primarily as churchmen, and should, in my opinion, exercise their politics in a different venue.

Each is always entitled to his own opinion, but those of us who speak publicly in the Right Hand Kingdom must exercise extreme caution lest we muddy the waters, and present the opinions of man as the will of God.

After all, as Simon says in the closing of his article, "We are talking about civic righteousness and competence, not saving faith" and "Good people will disagree."