Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Get out from behind your computer!"

In conversation with another pastor this week, I heard him say he wished more pastors would "get out from behind their computers" and "go do ministry". Sigh.

I doubt he knew who he was talking to.... If there's a pastor that's in love with his computer, it's probably me. So, lex semper accusat, there are probably... ok, I am sure there are times when I should be doing something else than sitting at my computer. I am a sinner, ya know.

On the other hand, this isn't the first time I've heard that sentiment, "get out from behind your computer and do ministry". And while as I first admitted, there is some truth in it, for myself as I am sure for many other pastors, is there another side to it?

Every pastor has significant freedom in choosing how to spend his time. Doubtless all of us will sin in this regard, and frequently. And honestly, there's usually some basis for the criticism.

I think it's easy to criticize how another pastor spends his time - too much time gabbing at the local bakery, too much time studying ancient church fathers, too much time going to his kids' basketball games, too much time "out of the office", too much time in the office....

Not just pastors, I suppose, but anyone could fall under scrutiny for how time is spent.

But I thought a little further...

"Get out from behind your computer".... but I do so many different things on my computer. I write things: Sermons, Newsletters, Emails, Plans and Studies... and I read things: Blogs, Articles, News, Wikis, Sermons, and even the Bible! I use the computer to discuss important matters with other Lutherans (which hopefully helps them and certainly helps me). I "instant message" friends and colleagues. I publish my sermons. I update the church website. Oh, yes, and there's that silly Facebook Jetpack game, too.

Are any of these things "ministry"? Depends on how you define it - "service"? Yes, some are. "Ministry as in Word and Sacrament Ministry"? Yes, that too - not so much sacrament, but certainly word. I can't tell you how much I share and how much I learn and grow from information I get via a computer screen.

It's almost as if the other pastor could have said, "Put down your pencil and paper and books, and get out and do ministry"

Are there times when that's a valid criticism? Sure. Are there others who should be reading more, learning more, writing more? Yes.

So maybe in my little Hegelian struggle here I'm looking for a synthesis that includes a balance of all these varied tasks and responsibilities of the pastor. Throw in a little post-modern "to each his own" (i.e. let each pastor use the talents and abilities God gives him to the best). And add a healthy does of humble confession that no matter how I spend my time, I will find a way to sin.

And there's my thought on the matter. Now I have to get out from behind here and "go do minstry".

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sermon - Epiphany 3 - 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Epiphany 3
“Us and Them and Truth in Christ”
1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Since I've come to Wisconsin and been converted as a Packers fan, I've enjoyed watching them play. (Sadly the Packers' season ended one game too soon, but there's always next year, right?)
I've also enjoyed the friendly rivalry with Bears fans, and exchanged good-natured teasing with many of them. It's part of what makes sports fan-dom fun, I suppose, to cheer for “us” and root against “them”.

But our text from 1 Corinthians today seems to leave no room for “us” and “them”, at least when it comes to the church. Paul sharply criticizes the Corinthian church for the divisions among them – not Packers vs. Bears, but followers of Apollos vs. Cephas vs. Paul vs. Christ. Factions and rivalries are not good for the church, says Paul, for Christ himself is not divided.

But this is a problem for us, isn't it? The world of Christianity today is a world of Christians divided. You have the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. The Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Methodists. There's Congregational and Non-Denominational and Bible-Churches and Nazarenes. And within these groupings, many sub-groupings and so forth.

We belong to one of many denominations of Christian. We “follow Luther”. We even call ourselves “Lutherans”. And even more than that, we're members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, not just any-old-Lutherans. Does this mean we have a problem, or that Paul would have one with us?

Now I suspect that so far I've got two kinds of hearers out there.

Some of you are saying, “You're right Pastor, I am an LCMS Lutheran and proud of it!” And if this is you, listen carefully to what Paul says about divisions in the church. Do we wear our synodical membership like a Packer's jersey? Do we become puffed up because of the purity of our doctine or the excellence of our schools or the richness of our heritage? How do we speak and act and think about our church, our church body, our fellowship of faith? I suspect that for many of us, sinful pride is a problem. We need to heed Paul's words carefully. We need to repent of sinful pride when it comes to our church affiliation – and truly follow Christ (not Luther, or the snazzy LCMS logo).

But maybe you are the other kind of hearer. Maybe your affiliation with this synod or with Lutheranism isn't really such a big deal for you. Maybe you could easily imagine yourself in some other church of some other confession and teaching. Maybe you are one who thinks the differences don't matter, and that what Paul is saying here is that “all that matters is Jesus”. Keep the main thing the main thing, right? Don't get bogged down in the details.
Thanks, pastor, for sticking it to those prideful LCMS people this morning. They really needed to hear that.

But are you hearing Paul correctly?

If you are this kind of hearer, then please hear a little more. Do not read this text in a vacuum. Consider the entirety of what God's word has to say on the matter. Hear this:

1 John 4:1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

or Acts 17:11 “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

or Paul's very strong words from Galatians 1:9 “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Yes, God wants us united. Yes, he wants our sad divisions to cease. But he would not have us do it at the cost of his word, or by sacrificing its truth.

It is a sad fact in a sinful world that some, even some Christians, teach falsely. In fact most of the reason we have so many divisions today is because of false teaching. And these false teachings matter. They matter to your pastors, and they mattered to St. Paul, and they matter to the Lord God. Because the truth of his word matters, and is no small thing.

Too often we Christians buy into the great lie of our culture (of which there are many variations). But it usually goes something like, “it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as...” “As long as you really believe” or “As long as you have the basics down” (whatever those are) or “As long you try to live a good life” or even, “As long as you are a Christian”.

Faith in Christ alone is what saves, and so in a sense it's true that nothing else matters. But the Bible –God's Word, the whole counsel of God - is a precious treasure for our benefit. And when we misuse it by teaching or believing falsely, we sin against him and do ourselves no favors either.

False teaching, and false believing, are tools of the devil to obscure the true Gospel. For he wants you to believe anything and everything that is not truth. He wants you to be a prisoner of sin, shackled in lies, bound in his kingdom. But the truth of Jesus sets us free.

And here is the blessed truth. You are, we all are sinners, and deserve death. But God is good, and in his grace sent his Son, Jesus, who died for you. His blood covers your sins. He offers you forgiveness, life and salvation. He offers it in his word, in Holy Baptism, and in his Supper.

You can't earn God's favor with good works. You can't pray hard enough or decide firmly enough to be saved. You can't even be saved through having all the right theology. But faith in Christ, and his promises, and that faith itself a gift from him, is what does save you.

And know the blessed assurance that in Christ, your debt is paid. Hear the good news that in Jesus Christ, the kingdom of heaven has arrived. And trust in his promise to come again, raise the dead, and bring his people home forever to the Father's house.
The word of the cross truly is the power of God. It is this word, this truth, that we believe, teach and confess.

And we do so boldly, though humbly. We say what God says, because he said it. And we are careful to listen and read and understand just what he says. And we believe that this Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod teaches the truth of God – or else would be bound to leave it.

Indeed, Paul's words today urge us to avoid a party spirit. But they should not be an excuse for “anything goes”. Finding the proper balance can be done, resting on God's word, taking seriously his word of Law, and clinging for life to his Gospel promises. There is no other way.

And when we fall, when we go off track, on one side or the other, he is there to call us to repent and to offer us forgiveness. By his Spirit, he opens the ears of our hearts yet again, to hear him speaking to us. Hear him today, forgiven sinners! Hear him for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Greater love has no mother...

Mother Delays Cancer Treatments So Baby Can Live
(from FoxNews)
Lorraine Allard, 33, died after delaying her cancer treatment to save the life of her unborn son, Liam.

Is there any greater reflection of God's love in the world, than one who gives his or her life for another?

Is there any better repudiation of the selfishness of the abortionistas than this powerful example?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Youth Survey

With great interest, and some sadness, I read the results of the 2007 LCMS Youth Gathering survey here.

My first thought - wouldn't it be interesting to compare the results with a smiliar survey done at a Higher Things conference? Especially on worship issues.

Other thoughts:

To his credit, Rev. Dittmer seemed to admit the limitations of the survey. This was a totally unscientific poll, but still perhaps some interesting observations can be made.

I would suspect a similar poll of LCMS adults would find similar answers to most of the questions, perhaps with the exception of politics - in which the adults would likely trend more Republican.

Dittmer comments, and I would agree:

Like it or not, our young people seem to be trending with society on issues like sexuality, homosexuality, the war in Iraq, woman's ordination, church fellowship, and so forth. These values and concerns are important to the church. So, the church and its local congregations must become more proactive and engaged in teaching their young. A Youth Gathering every three years can't do it alone.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Communisquity - (from the English "commune" and "promisquity") n. def. - The practice of approaching the altar to receive the Lord's Supper at a congregation with which one does not share the same public confession.

Like "shacking up" (living together without marriage), those who partake of the Lord's Supper at a church of a different confession do so promisquously. Consider the similarities:
  • There is no public declaration of union, yet one seeks the benefits of such union.
  • One's actions say there is such a union, even if his words and other actions say there's not.
  • It is done in the name of "love", though Scripture tells us true love "rejoices in truth", it is not loving because it minimizes the importance of truth.
  • It is often done out of ignorance, for the culture (and in some cases, the church) has condoned it. But this does not excuse the behavior. Education is needed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sermon - The Baptism of Our Lord - Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Our Lord
“Baptismal Connections”
Matthew 3:13-17

What is Jesus doing here? Every year this reading comes up we seem to face the question again. Why is Jesus getting baptized?

As we all know, the chief blessing (or purpose) of baptism is the washing away of sins. So what is sinless Jesus doing in the Jordan river, being baptized?

John, the baptizer himself, balked at the notion. “Wait, wait, wait, Jesus. Shouldn't you be baptizing me?” Oh John knew who Jesus was. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of th world”. He knew Jesus would come with a greater baptism – bringing the Holy Spirit and Fire. He knew he wasn't worthy to touch Jesus' sandal.

Moreover, John knew he was a sinner. Yes, this man, of whom Jesus said, “Among those born of women there is none greater than John”. He too confessed his need for baptism, his need for cleansing of sin. Even a “holy man”, when standing before the Holy One is exposed as not so holy after all.

And if John needs to be cleansed, then we need to be cleansed. If John needs forgiveness, so do we. If John the Baptist needs baptism, then we need the gifts of our baptism all the more.
Sure we have been baptized. Most of us as little babies. But do we live that baptism? Do we, as our catechism says, drown the Old Adam daily by repentance, so that the new man emerges in faith?

Do we even think about our own baptism? Unless someone points it out to us, like the pastor, or unless there's a baby being baptized in church and we have to go through the baptismal vows one more time.

But what a comfort baptism has been to many families in the darkest hours. When a loved one dies, and all other hopes are shaky ground – how many Christians have looked to God's promises in baptism for comfort and peace. How many on their own deathbed have been reminded of the baptismal grace God bestowed on them, and the promises made at the font that never expire.

So Baptism is a wonderful gift, which, though we have received, we can appreciate more. A gift we, like John the Baptist, need, because we are all sinners. A gift that only Jesus can give – a cleansing of sins and lavish flood of blessings from him.
But that still doesn't answer our question. What is Jesus doing knee-deep in Jordan river water, asking John to be baptized?

Jesus has a way of turning things upside down, doesn't he? He the Lord of the universe, comes to serve all. He brings life through his death. He makes the first last and the last first. And the greatest one in his kingdom is the servant of all. Well, that would be him, of course. He came to serve us. To bring us all the blessings of righteousness. And here, in his baptism, he begins to “fulfill all righteousness”. It's part of the plan.

For just as Jesus came to identify with us, to take our place in human flesh, to take our place on a cross of condemnation and death, so he also takes our place in the waters. And here's the answer. Why is Jesus baptized? To publicly identify with the sinners whom he is now about to save. To take all sin upon his own shoulders, just as he would soon bear a cross on those same shoulders. And, as Paul says in our Epistle today, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing” And also in 2 Corinthians 5, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Just like everything Jesus does, he does it for us. He is born for us. He suffers for us. He dies for us. He rises for us. He ascends into heaven for us. Yes, he is baptized for us.

There is much more in this passage.

His baptism serves as Jesus public inauguration. Sure, Jesus was the Messiah even from his conception, but now his public work on our behalf was to begin. From here, everything Jesus did would be to “fulfill all righteousness”, with an eye on the goal – the cross, and the empty tomb.
In Jesus' baptism, God the Father declares him to be his Son, and expresses his approval. Not only does this declaration assure us of the Father's pleasure with Jesus, but also with us through Jesus. For in Christ, all may approach the Father to receive the same blessing. In Christ, we are children of God, with whom he is well pleased.

In Jesus' baptism, heaven is opened, and God speaks. In our baptism, heaven is opened, and God speaks. Heaven is opened and accessible to us sinners, as our sins are washed away and we receive his own righteousness. God speaks to us, through the humble voice of the pastor, calling us by name, forgiving us our sins, and placing his own Triune name upon us.
In Jesus' Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends. And so too in our baptism, we receive the gift of His Holy Spirit, to enlighten and sanctify us our whole life through.

In Jesus' Baptism he identifies himself with sinners. In our baptism, we are identified with him. In Jesus' baptism, he takes our sins upon himself. In our baptism, he takes our sins away. In Jesus baptism, he undertakes the fulfillment of all righteousness. In our baptism, we are declared righteous for his sake.

It's all connected, you see, in this wonderful mystery of water and word. And it's all for us. And it's all from him.

Ponder deeply today the blessings of baptism. Think on Jesus' baptism, and how he who had no sin identities with us who have plenty. And how in Jesus Christ, and in our baptism, we are cleansed and righteous, and with us, too, God is well pleased. Amen.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Creation Museum Review

I've been in Cincinnati for a few days - along with my wife for one of her conferences. Anyway, needing something to do, Dan at NR suggested I check out the Creation Museum, just across the river in KY.

So I went. Took my one year old daughter along, which made it a little harder for me to pay attention, and also made for a short visit (I didn't see all the various shows) but I thought I would write some thoughts and reactions here.

The whole place was very well done, in terms of presentation. The multi-media, the the exhibits and models all seemed very professional, and not as campy as I had feared they would be. With an admission fee of 20+ bucks a person, they seem well funded.

Anyway, this was Ken Ham's museum (he's listed as the "founder") and since I have read quite a bit of his stuff from Answers in Genesis over the years, I was well familiar with a lot of the material. It was all very didactic (like, the "7 C's" Creation, Condemnation, Confusion... Christ... Consummation) anyway...

If I had any problems with my experience they came because I am a Lutheran and this place is not. Obviously, I too believe in a literal 6-day creation, according to Genesis. I suppose I had mixed feelings about the way the "salvation" part of the story was handled. Let me explain.

For one, there was an overwhelming emphasis on the "glory of God". This, to me, smacked of a real theology of glory (as opposed to theology of the cross). For instance, they would tout the power of God's word in creating various comsic bodies, etc.. and I remember thinking, "that's nothing compared to the power of his forgiving word!" But the big message I heard was "glory, glory, glory, and also... glory". Certainly on the plus side here, though, was belief in the absolute truthfulness of Scripture, a tenet we confessional Lutherans share with many other conservative Christians.

To their credit, I suppose, they did get the basic details of the gospel correct. Sin was mentioned, even Christ and the cross. Obviously the Means of Grace were not, but then as Dan at NR pointed out, there wasn't really an overwhelming pressure to "make a decision for Christ".

I would also note that they did a good job of pointing out not only the errors of secular/evolutionary thinking, but also its creeping encroachment into many of the more liberal churches today. But then on the down side, sin was mostly cast as a problem "out there" in the culture, in the wisdom of the world, and not so much personally in MY life. Another danger of Evangelicalism, in my experience.

The Planetarium was worth the extra $7, and was really the best part of it all for me. I also liked some of the stuff in the flood part of the exhibit (like the animation of their flood theory- pretty cool). If I had more time I would have taken in more of their extra little shows, but as it was, not a total waste of time or money but a nice refresher.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008