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."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sermon - Genesis 2:18-24 - Pentecost 20

Pentecost 20 – (October 22nd, 2006)
Genesis 2:18-24
“A Marriage Made in Heaven”

The joining together of a man and a woman, before God and their fellow man – marriage – is a blessed estate established by God himself.

We read in Genesis how God created man from the dust. And though everything else he created God called “good”. He said it was “not good” for man to be alone. So God created woman from the man’s rib. And only when he had made Adam such a suitable companion did God pronounce his creation to be “very good”.

Yet, as we know, creation didn’t stay “very good” for long. When man and woman sinned, they brought the effects of sin down on themselves, the creation under them, and even upon their own marriage. Not only that, but upon all the fruits of their marriage – their children, their children’s children, and all the marriages that would ever be – are now tainted by the same stain of sin. Fruit of the poisoned tree, if you will.

One old joke says that Adam and Eve had the perfect marriage because he didn’t have to hear about her old boyfriends, and she didn’t have to hear about his mother’s cooking. But in reality, there is only one marriage made in heaven. As we consider the estate of marriage today, we find good news in the heavenly union of Christ the bridegroom, and his church the bride. And in this blessed union, we find the promise that God in Christ is restoring his creation, and each of us, to “very good” status for eternity.

Today, many people are talking about marriage. And there doesn’t seem to be much good news. The oft-quoted rate of divorce is a sad fact of the day. Broken homes and families in discord provide obvious evidence of the sin that we’ve inherited, and the sin that we embrace. God’s strong words against the sin of divorce don’t stop people from justifying in their own minds why “this marriage just isn’t working”. Why vows can be broken, and why what God has joined together can be put asunder.

It’s much like in Jesus’ day, when the Pharisees tested Jesus on the law of Moses regarding divorce. But here Jesus is showing how Moses’ concession to divorce in the civil laws of ancient Israel does not trump the moral principle set up at creation. One commentator says about these certificates of divorce: “for without this regulation a harsh man might be inclined to dismiss his wife even without giving her any written evidence that she was now no longer married. But Jesus shows that it was because of sinful, hardened hearts that such a law was even conceivable.
And I am sure many of us have in mind the push for the recognition of so-called “gay marriage”. How some would allow a re-definition of what God has established, and give a societal stamp of approval to this manifest sin of homosexuality. As your pastor, I can point you to the clear words of scripture concerning marriage, and the sin of homosexuality, and leave it to each of you to decide how to enact these values at the polls.

Whatever assaults there are on marriage today, we need to see how our own sin relates to the matter. Perhaps you aren’t married yet, or perhaps your spouse has gone to be with the Lord already. Perhaps you are married with no thoughts of divorce. But let this sermon draw each of us to see our own sin regarding marriage.

You married: Do you treat your spouse with all the love, honor, and cherishing you promised on your wedding day? How well do you keep those vows? Do you commit adultery in your heart? Do you submit to your husband as to Christ? Do you love your wife as Christ loved his church, and died for her?

You unmarried: Do you support the institution of marriage as well as individual marriages and families? Do you speak highly of this gift of God? Do you fall into a sinful complacency - resigned to how things aren’t like they used to be?

Do you who are yet to be married keep yourselves pure in deed and thought? Do you buy into the great lies of our day that sex is ok if you love the person, and that you need to test it out before you make the big commitment anyway?

Or are you divorced, and carrying around the burden of guilt when you read Scriptures like these? Have you justified the unjustifiable in your mind? Even if you were the victim, how did you contribute to the marriage’s demise? No one handles these things perfectly in a sinful world.
When it comes to God’s gracious gift of marriage, there is plenty of sin to go around. We can piously stand and point the finger at those “out there” who are assaulting marriage, but we must first and foremost see God’s law pointing at our own sins and failings in the matter.

As I said there seems little good news when it comes to marriage today, and that is true even when we look at ourselves. But there is a marriage made in heaven. And it is good news for all of us.

There are two human relationships God uses throughout the scriptures to describe his relationship to us. One is parent-child, that he is our “Heavenly Father” and we are his children. This is the one we’re most familiar with. But the other is that of marriage.

God is the husband to his people. In the Old Testament he laments how his people engaged in spiritual adultery by worshipping other gods, even though he “was a husband to them”.

And in the New Testament, the comparison to marriage is emphasized as Christ is seen to be the bridegroom, the husband to his people, the church.

This union of Jesus Christ to his people is the marriage made in heaven. For our bridegroom pursued us. He came from heaven to where we are. He wooed us and loved us with a love that exceeds all earthly romance.

Often love stories describe what the lovers give up in order to be together. Family, wealth, even a royal throne. Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice to win his beloved church. He leaves his heavenly throne. He humbles himself – taking on our human flesh and putting aside his divine glory. He undergoes the temptations common to us all. And finally he goes to the cross to pay the dowry for this mystical marriage.

But all this was not just to give us an example of perfect love. Better, we are united with him in a mystical one-flesh union, in which we too die (to sin) and rise to newness of life. Having become the bride of Christ, the church takes on a new name – the name of our beloved – the triune name of God given us in baptism.

And our heavenly husband provides for our every need. He certainly blesses us with earthly things, but even more with every spiritual blessing. For in this heavenly marriage it’s not “until death do us part”, but it is “death cannot even part us” from his love.

For all our sins, relating to marriage or anything else for that matter, we have forgiveness in Christ the loving bridegroom. And because of that forgiveness, we are blessed beyond belief.

Finally, no earthly marriage seems complete these days without a celebration. One pastor jokes that he simply charges couples 10% of whatever they spend on the reception as a fee for getting married in the church. We have all seen the lavish and outlandish receptions thrown by some couples who spend thousands and thousands on that one special day.

In the heavenly marriage, there is also a feast of celebration. It is the promised consummation of the Lamb (Jesus) and his bride the church. And we look forward to that day when we all join to celebrate at the heavenly banquet table. When Christ comes again, what has been promised will be fulfilled.

Until then, we enjoy a foretaste of the feast to come. As we gather at the altar, we are receiving a down payment on the eternity we will share with the bridegroom. Here at his altar, our bread-winner provides for us a miraculous meal of his own body and blood. Here we receive forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation. Here he pledges his eternal love to us anew each time. For today, and forever.

Earthly marriage is a blessing from God. But even though (because of our sin) it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be, it points to the greater marriage – the heavenly union of Christ to his people. All praise and thanks and honor be to the bridegroom, Jesus Christ our Lord. Who has loved and honored, cherished and kept us, and always will.

In His Name. Amen.

Lutheran Carnival

Lutheran Carnival 35 is posted at Theomony.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Vote Yes? Or Vote No? The Gay Marriage Ammendment.

November 7th our state will include on its ballot a proposed constitutional amendment. The language will read as follows:

“Marriage. Shall section 13 of article XIII of the constitution be created to provide that 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?”
Obviously this has been a topic of hot debate in our state. But I would like to suggest a differnt take on the matter than many LCMS Lutherans I have heard.

For example: Recently a representative from the South Wisconsin District emailed a link to its pastors directing us to the pro-amendment website: The Family Research Institute of Wisconsin This is a conservative political think-tank which offers all sorts of pamphlets, brochurse, and pledges in support of the amendment.

I have heard other LCMS pastors encouraging the distribution of similar materials at our congregations. I haven't heard it yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if some LCMS pastors even publicly endorse the amendment. Especially this coming Sunday in the three-year series, in which we have readings from Genesis and Mark relating directly to the topic of marriage.

I think all who do this mean well. But I think it is inappropriate for a pastor to specifically encourage his flock to vote yes - even on a matter such as this. Let me explain.

The pastor's job is to teach and preach what the Word of God says. He is not supposed to go further than this. The pastor should, even must speak what God speaks about homosexuality (that it is sinful - Romans 1), and about God's design for marriage (Genesis and Mark,this Sunday). Scripture leaves no doubt as to where the Lord stands on these issues.

But that is a different matter from a political measure such as a constitutional amendment. Though Scripture tells us which actions and attitudes are sinful, and which are honorable, it does not give us guidance on the details of implementing these values in our secular governments.

Therefore, many Christians who are convinced from Scripture that traditional marriage is the only God-pleasing marriage may disagree on HOW to enact laws which support this reality. Many will, doubtless, see the constitutional amendment as the appropriate measure to take at this time.

But some Christians, just as convinced of what the Word says, may take a different route. Is a constitutional amendment necessary, or would a simple law suffice? Are the current laws adequate, as they already prohibit "gay marriage"? Is it better to work through the court system, or in some other way, to enact laws which reflect moral decency in our government? Some might argue so, and be just as Biblically grounded, just as Christian, just as Lutheran.

I am not saying how I will vote, personally, though I have made up my mind. The reason I will not publicy say is because as a public servant of the Word, I know my role. It is to preach and teach the word. How the word is applied in the Left-Hand kingdom of secular government is for the individual Christian to decide, not for the pastor to tell them.

Feel free to share your thoughts...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hymnal Approved

When I returned to church today after our Confirmation retreat, I learned that Grace has approved the purchase and implementation of the Lutheran Service Book by a unanimous vote! Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On the Radio

"Issues, Etc." is coming to the Milwaukee area in the next few days, and I have been invited to participate in a round-table discussion on "The Doctrine of Justification". The program will air live on Monday, October 16th (our portion being from 4-5pm Central). Also on the panel: Rev. Peter Bender, Rev. Karl Fabrizius, and Rev. Joseph Fisher. Tune in and see (hear) what happens!

EDIT: The audio is now posted. You can listen to the entire hour by clicking here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

St. James Ev. Lutheran Church

St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, of Overlea, Maryland, is the congregation in which I was confirmed (see this post).

St. James now has a website! Check out this fine congregation, especially if you are ever in the Baltimore area.

"I am not a youth pastor"

I have often said these words. I am a young pastor who happens to have responsibility, among other things, as advisor to the Board of Youth. I am a pastor to the youth, but also to the children, and also to the adults.

What got me thinking about this was John Ledetroit's excellent post, "Youth Pastors Anonymous" at Beggars All. Check it out.

I will say, in addition, that because so many in the LCMS assign the title "youth pastor" or "minister of youth" to the Associate or Assistant pastor, I get the feeling some perceive me as such.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Friday Night Lights" Prayer?

My wife said she caught the last few minutes of the new NBC show, "Friday Night Lights" (about high school football). Half-watching, she said it looked like the show portrayed the players huddling for prayer after a player was injured, and that the prayer concluded "in Jesus' Name".

Did anyone see this show? What did you think of it? Better yet, do you have a web link to more info? I did a quick google or two and came up short. Thanks!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sermon - Pentecost 17 - Mark 8:27-35

Pentecost 17 – (October 1st, 2006)
Mark 8:27-35
“Good Answer”

Questions and Answers. The basics of communication. Asking for information and giving it. There are good questions and there are better questions, but there are no dumb questions. Or are there? Often the student asks the teacher questions, but sometimes the teacher asks the pupil.

Here, Jesus the teacher, asks his students a poignant question. And it’s such a good question that it has been asked (and answered) for thousands of years. Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” Today let’s consider the question, the answer, and Jesus’ expanded answer. What a good question. What a good answer.

Important Questions
Have you ever pondered the really important questions of life? Most of us do at some point or another. What is the meaning of life? What was I put here to do? When will I die? How will I die? How will I be remembered when I am gone? How do I raise my children right? What do I do about my rocky relationship? Why is there so much suffering in the world, and in particular, in my life? Why does it seem like the most important questions are the hardest to answer?

And here’s a question: What is the most important question? Perhaps, “What must I do to be saved?” or some variation. Scripture tells us that answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ”. Which might lead us right to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say I am?” Or, less formally, “who is this Jesus, anyway?” It’s a good question. It is, perhaps, the most important.

They all had their answers. The people, that is. Some say John the Baptist come back to haunt them…. Or maybe someone from further back, Elijah! A great man reincarnated or reappearing to do something great! It seemed rather foggy though. They knew he was someone important, someone special… but just who was he? No one seemed sure.

People are still confused about Jesus today. Everyone has heard of him. Most believe he existed. But how many see him for who he is? Was he a great teacher? A good example? A regular guy who’s been made into much more? How many see him as the Son of God, the Divine man, the Christ?

“Who do people say I am?” But that wasn’t the only good question Jesus had. He wanted to know more, more personally, who do YOU, my disciples, say that I am? This is not an opinion poll. This is not just to test the waters of Jesus’ popularity and reputation. He was putting his own students on the spot. What had they learned? What was their answer? Would it be the right one? What was their confession?

A Good Answer
And after what I imagine was a long pause, with the disciples looking uncomfortably at one another, hoping someone else would be the first to speak, finally Peter is bold to say, “You are the Christ.” And perhaps Jesus paused for another uncomfortable moment before he answered. We know from Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus said, “
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,”

Good answer, Peter. But it wasn’t Peter’s answer. He was just repeating (confessing) what he had been given. And we confess the same:

That Jesus is the Christ is the only answer. He is not John the Baptist, or Elijah, or any other great man. He alone is true God AND true man. He alone is the one whose coming was promised for thousands of years. He is no mere teacher, no simple miracle worker. He is not just some moral example or ideal for holy living. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

But who Jesus is – his person – is connected with what he does – his work. So the next question: “What does it mean to be the Christ?”

Unpacking the Answer
Many would have had a Christ who would lead them in battle against the Romans. Some looked for a political Christ who would save them from foreign rule some other way. Some saw Jesus as a dispenser of healing, a giver of bread. But being the Christ is not about these things.

Jesus tells us what it means that he is the Christ. He unpacks and expands on Peter’s answer. He is the Christ, yes. But a Christ of the cross. He spoke plainly about his work, what they could expect from him. They would go to Jerusalem. He would be rejected, he must suffer, he would be killed, AND he would rise again. This is what the Christ does. This is the meaning of Peter’s good answer, whether Peter liked it or not.

Who do you say that Jesus is? Of course, he is the Christ. But what does that mean to you? Do you want a Jesus for anything other than what he is? Are you looking for Jesus the healer? Who will always cure your diseases? Are you looking for Jesus the therapist? Who will help you work out all your “issues”? Are you seeking Jesus the job-provider, Jesus the child-rearing-advice-giver, Jesus the marriage counselor, a Jesus who comes to simply solve your problems and answer your questions? Then you will not find him.

But in his word, and in his sacraments, you will find Jesus who is the Christ. And a Christ of the cross. A Jesus who suffered and died, for your forgiveness, a Jesus who rose from death to guarantee you life, a Jesus who ascended to heaven to rule for you there, and a Jesus who will come again to bring final victory and peace. A Jesus on his terms, not ours. A Jesus who deals with sin, the root of all our other problems. A Christ that we need, not that we think we want.

Nor do we come to this answer on our own. It is God who shows us, leads us, brings us to faith by his Spirit. He gives the answer that we confess. We confess, like Peter, in our words, who Jesus is and what he has done. “Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, was buried, descended into Hell, rose on the third day, ascended into heaven, sits at God’s right hand, and one day will come again to judge the living and the dead”.

Asking the right question is important. So is getting the right answer.
“Who is Jesus?” “He is the Christ.” “What kind of Christ?” “A Christ of the Cross – a Savior from sin – your savior and mine.” Good questions, and good answers – all given by God.