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)