Temptation Sucks!

Grace and Peace to you from Our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Dear Christian Friends,

Temptation sucks. It really does. The Evil One is a powerful being, able to entice you with things that look just so good. He’s “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” says 1 Peter 5:8. He’s silver-tongued, the serpent, who “was more crafty than any other beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1). He tells you that you can be great, even God-like, and wants you to step up to your sinful nature and just do whatever you want, because no God should be able to tell you what to do.

Jesus knows our struggles with temptation. He’s experienced it first-hand, face-to-face with the Evil Foe himself. The devil wrestled with Jesus for 40 days and 40 nights, and the Christ, the Son of the Living God beat him back again and again. And He did it with the Word.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” – Matthew 4:4, taken from Deuteronomy 8:3.

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” – Matthew 4:7, taken from Deuteronomy 6:16.

“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” – Matthew 4:10, taken from Deuteronomy 6:13.

Christ uses the very Words of God, of His own, to beat back Satan. He shows us the path of strength through the power of the Word.

In the story of the temptation from Mark 9, we see yet another source of strength for Jesus during His temptation. Mark 1 begins with the Baptism of Jesus, and then He “immediately” proceeds to His temptation in the wilderness. He is prepared for His trials through His Baptism.

And the trials of Jesus do not end there. Before the garden of Gethsemane, when He must begin to endure the worst pain in history, we see our Lord institute His Supper, partaking the bread and wine, and then in the garden, praying to the Father for all strength.

What does this mean for us? Jesus shows us the way to deal with pain, temptation, and trials. It is through that which He Himself commands, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and that which He teaches, prayer and the Word. These are the things we use to pass the struggles of our lives, our humans lives, which Christ Himself has experienced. Jesus beat back the devil with the Word because He was, as a true human being, tempted by the Evil One. He was baptized and partook of the Supper to show us where to find strength before trials and tribulations. He prayed on that Friday morning because it gave Him comfort and peace before the Father willed Him to suffer and die on the cross. And He silenced the roaring lion forever by rising to life on that blessed Easter morning.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” – 1 Peter 5:10

Amen.

Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow!

Grace, Mercy, and Peace be to you from our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear Christian Friends,

Blessings are wonderful, aren’t they? Warm, sunny days in the summer when the wind is just light enough to touch the sweat off your brow. The smile and heart-felt cheer of good friends and family as they surround you in the loving embrace of togetherness. Victory via new fencing over that long-suffered rabbit who keeps getting into the vegetable patch and stealing the carrots.

Our Lord blesses us in so many ways, undeserved and, many times, unfortunately, under-appreciated. But I can think of one blessing as I sit here that the Lord chooses to grant us that gives more wonder, hope, and love than all the others: children.

God chooses to bless us with children so that He can teach us and build our faithfulness. Luke 18:16b-17, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Jesus used the imagery of children to guide us toward faithfulness. It is not by the power of our own minds or the desire of our hearts that we receive His grace. Instead, by the simple faith of a child, an undeterred belief, placed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, we know our Savior Jesus Christ.

He preaches His Word to us through the memory verses and prayers our children recite to us, giving us the ability to hear the Gospel even from those we are instructed to teach. Romans 10:17a, “So faith comes from hearing.” And not just our own children. God grants children to His congregation and to the world for the same purpose, to provide another outlet for His Word.

It is our vocation, as parents and guardians of children, both ours and our neighbors’, to protect them, reborn into the Spirit through Baptism, newly born into this world through the pains of childbearing, or as yet unborn from the womb but existing, for our Father knows them all. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” Jeremiah 1:5.

Whistle While You Work? I Don’t Think So, Joel Osteen

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Dear Christian Friends,

Work. It’s a word that conjures up rather despicable thoughts in my mind. In fact, I don’t like the word at all. It reminds me of the ugly, inhumane job that I had during many high school and college summers at a local discount retailer, pushing carts outside in 102 degree weather. I think about the awful amounts of homework that I was required to complete in order to pass a class. I sneered in disgust at the possibility of having to take out the garbage at home, or even do chores.

Yes, maybe I am complaining too much, but we all have stories of too much work that we have to do in our lives. Sometimes, it seems to crowd us, overpowering our senses with the size of projects, the deadlines, the writing and rewriting, the manual labor. These things are overbearing and hard to resolve, when they just seem to be coming and coming.

Yet, we still must do them. “Why?” you may be asking. “What purpose does it serve to overwork ourselves?”

I don’t think the question should be, “Can’t I avoid doing all this?” The question that we must ask ourselves is, “What purpose does the Lord have for me in doing this work?” We need to realize that God gives us this work for a purpose. Whether to show us what we are capable of, to test us and make us stronger, or to help us provide for our families and loved ones. The work that we do is a testament to our faith that what we do is what the Lord has given us to do. He wants us to graduate from school, or feed and clothe our families, or use the gifts he has given us.

Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

With these wonderful words of encouragement, we should remember that we do not do the work just for ourselves, but for the Lord as well, who wants us to prosper and grow in Him, using the gifts He has given us, to serve Him through the work that we do.

Remember, the Lord has prepared you to do the work that is set before you. Work hard, trust is His goodness, and He will give you hope and life. Proverbs 28:25, “A greedy man stirs up dissention, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper.”

Read also: Isaiah 53 (The Suffering Servant), Psalm 128, 2 Timothy 3:10-17, Colossians 1:24-2:5, Genesis 29:14-30 (Working for the greatest earthly gift the Lord gives…)

The Egotistical Underpinnings of First Amendment Rights and the Societal Response, or It’s Just a Chicken Sandwich, People

There’s been a lot of rumbling around the media and the Internet as of late regarding the ability of a retail food outlet’s president to state, very plainly, his beliefs on the family and homosexual relationships. The backlash to his statements, and subsequent support for them, has been tremendous in both quantity and volume. After all this discussion, it makes me wonder about this debate, and who should be protected by the law for what they say versus who have the “correct” viewpoint and the reasoned approach.

Dan Cathy, the President of Chick-fil-a, which is for all purposes a chicken sandwich shop, decided to make public on a Baptist media program his opinion about homosexuals and their desire to be married under the laws of the U.S. Cathy spoke not out of turn, nor did he speak out to a media that would be less supportive of his comments in order to by antagonistic. Instead, he answered a question about his financial support for organizations that work to keep marriage between a man and a woman, and then explained the position he and his family-owned company hold on the subject.

As word of his comments spread, the community supporting gay marriage under the law stepped in and decried his comments as anger-mongering, evil (or, at least, the opposite of good), and discriminatory. Supporters of Cathy have claimed he was under his First Amendment rights, according to the U.S. Constitution, to make these statement. Detractors have decided to protest his stores and push to block their expansion into markets across the country.

At this blog, the biblical definition of marriage is the belief of record, whether the United States decides to allow the marriage of two men or two women to exist legally. And that belief is held knowing full well that two things can result from it: 1) People may choose not to read this blog because it preaches Jesus Christ and Him crucified; that is the choice of any reader of any blog; 2) People may choose to argue, attack, threaten, decry, hack, or abuse this blog, and it will continue to preach about Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Because, at the end of it all, we are all sinners (Romans 5:12). We have all done the evil we do not want to do (Romans 7:15). And yet, Christ comes for all, to die on the cross for the sins of the world. He died for all, that all might live (Romans 6:10). We need only to listen to His Word, and by doing so, receive the Holy Spirit and the faith the Spirit brings to us.

I’ve never actually eaten at a Chick-fil-a. Will Dan Cathy’s comments make me more likely to do so? Probably not if I’m not in the mood to eat chicken. Cathy can says whatever he likes. He will have to deal with the response society brings on him and his business. He will also have to deal with the judgement of the Lord when Cathy stands before him in his death. And then, his actions, his words, his thoughts will not save him. Only faith in Christ alone and His atoning death and suffering on the cross and resurrection on the third day will bring Dan Cathy, and all of us, to eternal life in Christ Jesus.

He is Risen! Hallelujah!

Too Much Baptism…

I always enjoy the comment, “You Lutherans always talk about Baptism too much.”

To paraphrase “Phineas and Ferb”: “Yes, yes we do.”

This of course begs the question, “Why?”

First off, what is Baptism? Is it man’s work? Is it just some water and special words? Let me quote Luther’s Small Catechism here,

“Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water included in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.”

There it is! Baptism is the command of God, given by Christ, through His Word. It is the Word that completes the work, not the man who pours the water, the one who receives it, or the congregation who witnesses it. It’s the power of God, working in His Holy Word.

So, what does it do? Baptism, quite simply, “saves.” That’s it. 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism…now saves you.” It sanctifies us (Eph. 5:25-27), brings forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14), and through the Holy Spirit in the Word, plants faith in our hearts for belief in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9).

Baptism is, in effect, Jesus Himself come to us, for He is the Word (John 1). When we preach of Baptism, we preach about Jesus, who saves and brings us faith and life eternal. We talk of Baptism because we spread the Word of Christ, who is in the water and comes into our hearts through the Word. And it is this Word that, through God’s Grace, gives us eternal life by the Faith received at Baptism in Christ alone.

Zombie Church

One of the popular shows on TV right now is about the zombie apocalypse. Every week the zombies shuffle back and forth across the land, mindlessly continuing on, following whatever sound they hear or person they see.

The zombies don’t think for themselves. They don’t believe, teach, or confess anything. Herds of zombies wander to and fro every week, empty inside, like a flock of birds. If one zombie turns down a path, the rest follow.

Some churches are full of zombies, too. They blindly follow the will of the pastor, believing that HIS beliefs are what they need, that HE knows the right way, and all they have to do is show up, listen and do what he says, and then they are saved.

Belief is not a passive act. It doesn’t grow and take shape by the acceptance of what a pastor, church leader, or other people say. This is why the creeds begin with the word, “I”. The creeds are not just another part of the liturgy every week because somebody in the church decided hundreds of years ago to put them after the readings and before the sermon. Instead, they are our confession of our faith, a personal and true statement of what you and I believe as Christians in the Church of our Lord.

Romans 10:9-10: “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

What Romans describes is not an act of blind acceptance. It is an active statement, something we can do with a faith that is our own, given to us through Baptism by the Holy Spirit in the washing of our hearts.

Don’t think I’m eliminating the pastor’s role in the church. He is here to strengthen our beliefs and guide us. But his faith is not our own, and his beliefs will not save you or I. Instead, his words in the pulpit follow the creed so that we can use our confession to evaluate his, to ensure that he speaks of Christ and Him crucified for our salvation.

So, confess out loud with your whole heart your faith in our God. Don’t be a zombie in church. They usually miss out on the donuts and coffee, anyway.

David Koresh and Vision Casting

Vision casting is the idea that a pastor/church leader has received a specific vision from the Holy Spirit for the purpose/design/direction for a church and that the vision must be followed because it is God’s Will, regardless of it’s intent.  In other words, if you’re not on the bus, get off the bus, or it will run you over.

So, let’s think about that for a minute…

A congregation following the vision cast by a leader MUST follow the leader without questioning the vision, or they will be seen as questioning a vision from God for the purpose of the church.

I’m sorry, but that sounds a little too David Koresh for me…

The sole norm and direction of the church comes directly from God to all of His people in the form of His Word, the Holy Scripture.  Christ and the salvation He brings alone is presented to us in the Bible, and all of our direction comes from Him.  We do not need additional revelation or vision from God.  If we did, He would have provided it to us through the Church, not the individual pastor in a random congregation who proclaims that God only speaks in his ear for his congregation’s benefit.  Again, a little too cult leader/”I hear the Voice of God”…

Any word or deed outside of the guidance of Scripture is not from the Lord.  It is very simple to understand.  The Lord grants us, His people, the ability to judge those who claim to be the prophets of the Lord by one simple criteria:  If it’s not in the Good Book, throw it out.  2 Timothy 3:15-17, “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

What’s the purpose of these men who seek to cast a vision on a church?  Is it to do God’s Will as defined in Scripture, or to do another “will” as they are perceiving it?  It is not the visions of men which should lead and guide a church, but the Gospel of Christ Jesus as revealed in Scripture.  Galatians 1:6-10 is very clear in this matter.  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,let him be accursed.  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.  For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

God does not need to reveal Himself in any way beyond the revelation we have through Christ Jesus.  And the revelation of Jesus is available for us all through Scripture.  It was made to be this way at the crucifixion.  When the curtain of the temple was torn in two, Jesus removed the barrier between His people and salvation.  No longer were we needing to seek the High Priest and the sacrifices of the altar for our forgiveness.  Christ had made the final atonement and brought to us life and salvation through Him alone, which we receive through Baptism and His Holy Supper.  That is what the pastor should be preaching:  Salvation is by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Scripture Alone.

That’s the only vision I need.

Here’s an interesting discussion with Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith on vision casting over at Issues, Etc.

The Mother of Society

If authority is the father of society, then compassion is its mother.

Society is a group of individuals coming together to govern themselves under a predetermined group of laws, rules, or social contracts.  This cannot be denied.  The flip-side of the societal coin, however, is the compassion that its citizens have for one another.  You can’t have a society of rules without having mercy.  For the society which is heartless will not be able to sustain, for the merciful compassion of mothers and fathers is how children are able to survive and thrive.  Children cannot raise themselves, feed themselves, teach themselves the rules.  It is the duty of parents not to just put a roof over the heads of children, but to create a home to learn and grow and become compassionate themselves.  “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” -Proverbs 22:6

Unfortunately, we, as a society, have chosen to remove compassion from our society for the sake and benefit of those who would be mothers and fathers.  Or, rather, as of late, mothers.  We are not mercifully defending those who cannot fight for themselves, but rather we preserve the choice to fulfill our physical desires, without reserving compassion for the potential result.  We make the life we lead comfortable, rather than to be compassionate for the life that cannot be without us and our protection.  Mothers and fathers should be merciful because their children require mercy to live.  A society that uses abortion as a means to maintain status quo for those who would be mothers and fathers is a society that does not value life, and has no compassion for those who could live in the society and still require compassion.

You cannot have a one sided coin.  What would become of a society with only rules and laws, but no compassion?

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” -Colossians 3:12

A New Method to Build a Pastor

Having observed from the sidelines some of the discussion regarding the seminary programs and paths to ordination (here, here, and here, just to link a few), I’ve heard quite a number of solutions for how to form pastors in the LCMS.  I was a pre-seminary student at one of the Concordia Universities, so I’ve seen the process from the traditional side.  I’ve also done my share of reading on the SMP program, so I understand the intent for beginning it.  The SMP program, however, isn’t being used only as intended.  It’s forming pastors as fast as possible without the cost or time of the traditional path.

Cost and time may be the problem.  So I submit to the blogosphere the following ideas for changes to the seminary ordination path.

1)  The seminary needs to be free for ordination-seeking M.Div. men.  Cost is the biggest obstacle for those to whom the SMP program should be available:  pastors for the newly planted, the multi-lingual, or the special-needs congregations.  We are, however, a Synod with limited funds and a pair of seminaries already having financial issues.  The question then is, how can we make the seminaries free for M.Div.?  It’s time to decide as a Synod that the education of our ministers, teachers, D.C.E.’s, etc. is the most important thing we can do.  We need to let the bodies who are trained to do this do the work, and not the Synod.  The most amazing things I saw after Hurricane Katrina were the vans, trucks, and trailers lined up in front of the local Wal-Mart and grocery stores, packing up food and water, and driving south the day after it hit.  FEMA hadn’t even gotten up out of it’s chair yet to take a look at the issue, and many individuals were streaming into the void to provide for those most affected.  The Synod does great and powerful work, but it’s first job should be to provide education and $$$’s for those that educate.

2)  Limit enrollment for ordination-seeking men.  It is time for the seminaries and the Synod to be responsible enough to plan for the future and budget it’s resources ($$$ AND pastors) appropriately.  That means that the district presidents must provide every year to the seminaries and Synod a projection for pastoral openings 4 years out.  Then the seminaries can divide the number between themselves and each add 10 percent for attrition.  This will help to provide each graduate with a call to fill.

With a limited enrollment, the incoming students should be further subdivided.  Up to 25% of the incoming class should be second-career students.  It’s important to have a perspective tempered by time spent outside of a classroom.  Congregations have benefited from these pastors for years, and we should continue to prepare them for service.  Also, up to 25% of the students should be the original target for the SMP program.  Purposefully providing for the multi-lingual, the church-planter, and the specialty parish will change the outlook for our Synod and our seminaries.  If one-quarter of our pastoral students are preparing to step foot into a mission field, it will have an effect on the whole class.

3)  Make the M.Div. program a cohort-style program.  Organizing the curriculum into a cohort-style, pre-arranged program will save funds because the costs will be predictable.  Number of classes will be steady from year to year, and the seminarians will have a group of men to bond with as they move through their time at seminary.

4)  Reduce the M.Div. program to 3 years.  A cohort-style program means that the class schedule would need to be pre-defined, removing the ability for students to try and plan a schedule.  This means that the electives would have to go.  No electives and an arranged schedule of classes could move the seminarians through the required classroom courses in two years.  A vicarage in the 3rd year would become more like an actual internship, and would set them up to keep the mindset of working with parishioners.  This would also speed up the seminarians who need to move into specialty calls.

5)  Push electives to the fourth year as an optional and online program.  And charge for it.  The learning a pastor receives from electives is still important, but it’s not required to administer sacraments, teach the Scriptures, or preach the Gospel.  Seminarians who would like to add to their learning can do through online classes.  The technology is available, we have experience with it as a Synod (Wisconsin and St. Paul have very successful online programs), and it’s time to make it available.  The electives they take in the 4th year would cost them tuition, but could be used toward an additional Master’s degree, or even a Ph.D.  By this time, they would be a called and ordained pastor, would be receiving a salary, and supporting their family.  Some would say that they won’t have the time in their first year to take classes.  If that’s the case, then the online programs will be available to them in the future, or could be taken at a pace that would not remove them from there duties.  And the pastors in our congregations would still be learning and developing.  That, and other individuals in the Synod would be able to pursue advanced degrees from our seminaries online, giving others access to the amazing and intelligent individuals teaching at our seminaries today.  Also, the classes would provide another form of financial support for these institutions.

6)  Add local supervision as a replacement for the 4th year.  Let’s not push our new pastors out of the nest so quickly to cause issue.  Create a local supervision committee, or a mentorship program to provide for these men who have just lost a year of support on campus.  They will be fine, their training will be as excellent as it always is at St. Louis and Fort Wayne, but they may want to have someone to lean on or look to for questions or concerns that may have been addressed in the 4th year during classes.

I believe that it’s time to adopt the technology available today for our seminarians, and to help them start out without the overwhelming debt which the seminaries require today (and if they have come from one of the Concordia universities prior to seminary, watch out!).  We can get them in and out quickly and still give them an effective and biblically-sound education, while saving our Synod and seminaries money.  The adoption of a program like this would require us to end the SMP and lay minister programs.  All the better, for these cause nothing but division and frustration amongst the Synod membership.  And why would we want to create ministers with “restrictions” (direct from lcms.org) to their ministries?  Let’s provide the right number, at the right time, for the right reason:  To spread the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory alone.  Amen.

Responsibility and Contraception

Let’s face it, sex is fun.  It feels good.  Really good.  No one who has, can, or does partake of sex will deny that is one of the most enjoyable activities for humans.

It’s important to note that sex creates people.  That’s what it does.  Having sex makes more people.  Again, this isn’t news to those of us who have had, or will have, sex.

What do more people create?  The answer to that is much more complicated.  So let’s talk about this not as “more people”, rather a person.  Because sex creates just one person (well, most of the time, but we’ll leave twins or more out of this).

The first thing sex creates is another mouth to feed, not just our own.  Sex also creates a relationship with the other person who is biologically part of the mouth to feed, whether you like that person or not.  Although, if you’re willing to have sex with someone, I would hope you like them a little bit.  Sex creates dirty diapers, sleepless nights, field trips, college tuition, brothers, sisters, and/or grandchildren (because sex creates more sex, no one will deny THAT statement).  Sex creates borrowed cars, boyfriends, sporting events, school pictures, punishments, cell phone bills, and trips to DisneyWorld.  Simply stated, sex creates responsibility.  Responsibility is a consequence.

How does contraception fit in to this responsibility and consequence?  Contraception allows for the removal of responsibility and consequence while leaving the capacity to feel good.  Perhaps that’s over simplifying the discussion.  But contraception means that one doesn’t have to consider what will happen after having sex.  Instead, one can just think about having more sex.  Without the risk of responsibility.

Because no one wants to be responsible, right?