Thursday, December 30, 2010

What makes a Lutheran all-wet?

Welcome to another installment of "What Makes a Lutheran?"! Last post we discussed how the central point of the Lutheran faith is Christ and Him crucified on the Cross. Therefore, Lutherans are “Cross-eyed.” We continue these next two posts to discuss a central aspect of our theology, which separates us from other churches, especially many of your big, non-denominational churches, "What do Lutherans believe about the sacraments?"

When I entered college I had a friend who told me, “You crazy Lutherans believe that salvation only comes through baptism.” I struggled after hearing this because I thought, wait a second, isn’t it just Jesus alone? I remembered hearing the words from the hymnal in the Baptismal rite, “Baptism now saves you” from I Peter 3:21, but was Peter wrong in his words? The problem I had was that I was asking the wrong question. Of course, we are saved solely by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our sins. If anyone says there is salvation somewhere else, they are not Christians. However, when we look at Christ's sacrifice on the cross, a question does arise, "How do I know He died for me?" This is a question I am sure that we all have asked at one point or another. We know that Christ died for the whole world, but then we read in Ephesians 1:4-5, we hear of how God chose some people to be saved. Though St. Paul is using these verses to comfort the Ephesians, we read them and worry that we might not be part of those who are chosen to be in heaven. Though it is intended to comfort us, this doctrine of predestination often frightens us. We then ask ourselves, "How do I know I am chosen to be in heaven?

How do we know that we are among the elect? We know because God told us so in our baptisms! In Romans 6:4, Paul tells us we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life! In I Peter 3:21 the Apostle tells us that baptism now saves us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Baptism, God shows you that Christ died for you because there he kills your old, sinful self with Christ on the cross and raises you from the dead to a new life with Him! In the waters of baptism, God gives Christ to you! Through the miracle of water and the Word, you are given faith in Jesus Christ. You don't have to try and figure out if you are among those who are saved any longer, God has come to you in a physical way through the water and the Word and made you His Child!

He brought faith when you were baptized, and He brings Christ every time you confess your sins and receive forgiveness. Every time you confess your sins, you once again become all wet in forgiveness, which is why us crazy Lutheran LOVE to become ALL WET in the waters of Holy Baptism.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What makes a Lutheran Cross Eyed?

During my years of college, I remember going to a number of Christian gatherings that brought many people from different denominations together for Bible Study and singing Christian songs. While going to these gatherings, I noticed many differences with people from other churches from what I had learned and believed as a Lutheran. Many people talked, acted, and worshipped in a different way. And one time, a person approached me and asked, “What really is the difference of you Lutherans with the rest of us?” My response was not real strong, because in all reality, I had no idea. It was not until I entered Seminary that I was able to learn what makes us as Lutherans distinct from other denominations and also some concerns we have with what other churches believe.

For the next six posts, I will be posting , “What makes a Lutheran?” What we teach and preach as Lutherans will be different than other churches and will come from a distinctively Lutheran point of view. It is important for us to learn what it means to be Lutheran because there are churches in our community that are teaching things that we could argue are contrary to the Word of God. And as we are all searching for the truth, it is vital that we search His Word for the truth that He has given.

In this article we are going to talk about what makes a Lutheran "cross-eyed." Of course, I am not talking about something that is going to make us stare at our noses all the time. No, I am talking about what it is that keeps our eyes always focused on the cross. Our whole theology, our whole make-up, our whole existence as Lutherans is cross-eyed.

Many people these days claim that there are many ways of knowing God. They say that we can know God by experiencing him in nature, in the trees or in the mountains, or in their home watching a football game (then the question comes is God a Viking or Packer fan?). Others claim that you can only know God through some sort of religious experience, feeling, or being able to speak in unique languages.

Not so with Lutherans. We say that there is only one place to really truly know and experience God, and that is in the cross of Jesus Christ. We cannot truly know God unless we know him revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of our Messiah. The entire Bible, from the creation of the earth to the prophecies of the end times, point to the cross. If we claim to know God apart from his life, death, and resurrection for us then we do not know the true living God. For without the cross, we have no life, no forgiveness, no salvation, no hope, and no Messiah Lutheran Church.

For us Lutherans, this is the main thrust of all ministry. If we gather as a congregation and do not proclaim the message of the cross of Christ on Sunday morning, we may as well stay home. If the ministries we do on a weekly basis do not emphasize the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are no different than a YMCA. And if we do not live our lives cross-eyed in everything, we lose what it means to be a Church.

So let us live out our lives cross-eyed, focused on Christ on the cross, and celebrating that we as Lutherans focus our lives on a God who has given us all things!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The book of Acts-Jesus and mercy, Jesus and mercy

I have read the book of Acts quite often throughout my years of seminary and now over four years in ministry. In this reading I have often tried to make the book of Acts a "guide" to how to do church. Many times trying to make a blueprint of what the church should look like today. Although one can do this is very simplistic ways, this past reading pointed me to two VERY simple realities of Acts and in all reality the whole Bible: Jesus and mercy, Jesus and mercy, Jesus and mercy.

Throughout the beginning of Acts it is a continual movement with the apostles, disciples, and believers of proclaiming Christ and then serving with His mercy. At Pentecost they proclaim Christ in different languages, people are baptized, and then they start to have everything in common. Then after Peter and John proclaim Christ to the council, the believers with even more boldness worship and serve one another. In chapter six the disciples realize they need to proclaim Christ even more, but in order to serve in mercy the appoint Stephen and the others to serve. And continually from Philip to Simon to the Eunuch it is a continuous movement of Jesus and mercy.

What does this mean? The church should do two things above everything: Jesus and mercy. Proclaim Christ and keep on doing it until the resurrection. From that proclamation serve each other, the community, and the world and then continue until the resurrection. Pretty simple huh? Lord have mercy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Santa Claus in the Christian home?

One major controversy each year that I hear and experience during the Christmas season centers on one person which is seen more during this time of year than anyone else in history: Santa Claus.

From the moment the Macy's day parade ends to Christmas Eve Night we are inundated by the jolly old fellow dressed in red and plastered on every commercial, Christmas movie, and at the center of every mall. The question arises for every Christian or at least should, "How much Santa should we have in our house this season?" For the non-Christian, I think it is a no-brainer, make Santa the center of the season because there is nothing stopping you nor requiring you to check your intentions.

So what is a Christian to do? Take your kids to Santa in the mall, leave out cookies, put a present under the tree from him, and make it look like the sleigh has gone through your yard? Or should we totally get rid of the tradition, tell your kids from a young age their is no Santa, and just center on Jesus the whole season?

Our family (sinners that we are) do not at all recognize Santa in anything that we do. I do not bring that up to make ourselves sound better than anyone else, I simply highlight it to show that life can go on without Santa. However, I do not promote anyone denying Santa in their homes and then going down the streets trying to tell others that the NEED to do the same in their homes. But is this the only option for a Christian family?

I would argue that each Christian home needs to check themselves in the following way: 1) If you do celebrate Santa, how often are we bringing him up compared to Jesus? Are we giving Jesus the Christmas Eve worship service that we go too and then Santa gets all of December and every other moment? Jesus has to be the magic, mystery, and celebration of Christmas. If he isn't, then we have other issues in our faith journey. 2) If you choose not to celebrate Santa, how are you making sure it doesn't sound like you are better than everyone else and being another Pharisee?

The main focus is this: Jesus reigns above any man in a red suite. If one is a confessing Christian, this has to be the center of all that teach in the home. May the Lord guide each of us to make Christ the center this season and repent for all of our motivations away from Him.
Lord have mercy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Doesn't God want me to be happy? I deserve that..

There is a common line among married people in today's world, "Doesn't God want me to be happy?" Happiness has become the new principle by which people monitor their marriage. When I have met with couple it is often said after I describe the wonders of marriage and how God ordained. "Yeah, but God wants me to be happy, right?"

The American answer is, Absolutely. You should be happy all the time and if you are not happy, then it is your spouses fault and you should get out and live a happy life. It sounds wonderful and as I write this it gives me a warm feeling as an American. However, what about the other person? Are you making them happy by this action? Are you making your kids happy? Are you making your neighbors happy? Where does individualism end and the effect on others begin? Or is it really just about me?

The answer from God is twofold, Yes God does want us happy. He wants us to live a happy, grace-filled life of forgiveness, worship, and sacrifice. However, if the definition of happy is to leave ones spouse, cheat, lie, curse, or live an immoral life then NO! God does not want us to be happy. It is like a parent telling their kids it is o.k. to beat up their brother because it makes them happy. Wait, does that make it right?

As we all look to happiness may we first realize our worldview on how happiness is defined. Then we need to realize what is right and wrong. It is not until then that we are able to effectively determine true happiness as Christians living in America.

More to come on this later.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Birth or not?

In Apply Valley, MN a couple who have been trying to have children for quite some time are pregnant and asking for input from the world on whether they should have it or not? One excuse for not having it--a desire to lose more weight.

Check out the article...and vote for life on the website...Birth or not

Monday, November 15, 2010

Door to door without accepting Jesus or selling our church?

"Love God, and love one another." These words told by Jesus have been proclaimed by the church since the beginning and with anything has been severely abused, misunderstood, and forgotten in the church. How do we do it? What can be done? what programs are out there? Unfortunately, we can't conceivably determine the exact way by which we should follow the great commands of Christ. This is something we all need to pray about, act accordingly, and deal with the messiness.

The other day, myself and another congregation member went door to door in our neighborhood to gather food pantry items for Catholic Charities. We walked around on the first day of snow in MN and a chillin' wind asking each person to join our church in serving those in need. To my shock, 99% of all people (that answered the door) had something to give, even one guy came back three times to make sure he gave enough.

When we got to our last house, a very nice lady who works for the city of Sartell as a police officer came by asking, "What's going on guys?" Evidently while we were going door to door, someone called the police to turn in two guys carrying grocery bags. Suspicion runs high within our culture. There was no problem, just a misunderstanding.

This is something that my first reaction was to give up. Why should we continue to do this when people will call us in? Why love people who are highly suspicious, distant, and for all intensive purposes, unloving? I understand the fear, but it does not mean we as a church don't continue to serve. We probably won't go out with hoodies and grocery bags for a time, BUT we will continue to love as Christ first loved us.

We are currently praying for the needs of Sartell to be revealed to us so that we can live out the will of Christ to those around. Lord have mercy

Friday, November 5, 2010

Oh how blessed am I? Or am I?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs shall be the kingdom of God." Matthew 5:3

I drove up to Salisbury Street in St.Louis freshly starting Seminary eager to start real ministry. My assignment was to Bethlehem Lutheran in North City to be a field worker. I was expecting an inner city church with mainly older people and no connection to the community. However, I was entering a whole different ethnic world that had the most blessed, exciting, draining ministries I have ever been around.

I remember that first day, as I looked at the run down homes, vacant lots, and many wandering people with no direction, I said to myself, "How blessed are my friends who have a suburban church."

What this showed is an extreme arrogance and selfishness on my part. We make it sound like the rich folks in suburbia are blessed and therefore the city folk have NO blessings. During my three years at this wonderful congregation, I heard them talk about blessings 10x more than any other church, but they were focused on spiritual blessings, not only possessions. Ultimately, they reminded me that blessings are not caught up in possessions (those will be gone), but in having salvation in Christ. That is the blessing that last forever.

If you are ever in the St. Louis area, stop by Bethlehem Lutheran on Salisbury Street. The people are blessed like all of us who are poor in spirit, a bunch of sinners, and we join together as the blessed ones who have Christ.

Lord have mercy

Monday, October 25, 2010

Vanity, Vanity but it hurts so good

This morning I had a great workout and I am realizing that Sartell is an athletic community. There were tons of young people working out like mad men and women who had bigger biceps than me (not saying much). After the workout, my body hurts, but it is a good kind of pain. The pain that tells you that you are doing what is right for your body and you actually feel better for inflicting it on yourself.

During my workout, the words of Ecclesiastes struck a cord in my heart, "Vanity, Vanity, everything is vanity." Working out can tend to be a big dark hole. I have been there, throughout college and into Seminary, I worked out all the time and not once did someone say to me, "Wow, those are huge biceps, a nice six pack, or that is a lot of weight you lift." The reality is that God has given me a body that will never be a David statue and most people believe they do. On top of that, we think that if we had the perfect body, then we will be happy. However, how many actors, athletes, and others have perfect bodies, BUT are depressed.

It has once again proven to me that our goal as Christians is to find our comfort and hope first and foremost in the cross. Nothing else will give full peace because we will never get there. And secondly, get to work, get to the gym, go for a run/walk/bike, eat a few salads, not so much soda (whoops), and get to bed early. Use the redeemed body accordingly and to His glory.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The new compact Lutheran Study Bible...check it out

The new compact study Bible will help me feel like I can read it all quicker now... Check it out

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What happens when babies die before baptism?

I recently visited a family who lost twins at 20 weeks after conception. It was probably the hardest visit I have ever done. What made it even harder was that it was family. The positive part of the experience was that the babies were baptized during their 40 minutes alive and their tiny foreheads had the mark of Christ.

Yet, what happens when babies are stillborn, miscarried, or even worse, aborted? These are tough situations and ones that we do not have a direct answer from Matthew 29 :-(. Here are the basics that we know from Scripture:

1) All of us are born and conceived sinful (Psalm 51:5) and have no hope unless God intervenes.
2) God intervenes by the power of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and gives us faith (I Corinthians 12:3)
3) God uses baptism as a physical tool to give faith for regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, I Peter 3:21)

What this means is that our hope is always on God and His work. When a child is baptized after birth, we have the physical reminder that God has worked through it. So get the children baptized ASAP. Yet, when a child dies before baptism, we depend on God being with children in the womb (Luke 1:41) and loving all people through the blood of Christ. That is all we know and can trust in at that point.

May we remember our baptisms and trust in God's grace to the situations that are not quite so clear. Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Can a Christian watch Ellen or Oprah?

I can see the argument already, since I have been in them, "You shouldn't watch Ellen or Oprah"one person remarks and then the avid watcher says, "It isn' that bad, heck I watch it every day and I'm fine." The ironic statement is that we all assume we are fine when we all have many flaws.

This is a good question, "Can a Christian watch Ellen or Oprah and be unaffected by their ideology?" First of all, one has to rephrase the question to "Should." We all can do things and we are free in the Gospel, but the true question is should we. Let's first of all go down the list of concerns when people watch either show religiously:

1) Both women are avid promoters of deism (There is a god or gods out there). Many people mix them up as Christian due to references they occasionally use. This is more of an Oprah issue than Ellen.

2) Both women do not promote family, if anything they promote everything but family. Oprah has been an advocate to not get married because of monetary and feminist ideals. Unfortunately, many could be led to think that marriage does not bring joy. Ellen, well, two women is enough said when it comes to marriage.

3) Both women are very nice. That might seem weird to say, but since they are nice, funny, and dynamic. This can create a problem in that often we assume that nice people must be right because if they were wrong they would be evil and mean. In the post-modern world, how you say something is more important than what you say. One must discern what they say first, especially when they are so darn nice.

Now back to the question, "Should a Christian watch these shows?" Unfortunately, there is no real answer. If you are one that understands what we believe as Christians about God, morality, marriage, sexuality, and the like, then yes. Go ahead and watch these shows to understand what is going on in culture and think of the Christian worldview. I watch it from time to time to see what is going on, and I have to watch my tendency to like what my itching ears want to hear. However, if you are one that questions these things, struggle with a biblical worldview, and feel yourself leaning away from Christian ideas, then these shows are the LAST place to go. Go to the Bible, talk to your pastor or trusted Christian friends, and dig deeper.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

The church-people

"What is the church?" Thus far we have discussed how the church is:
1) Pillar of truth (I Timothy 3:15) of God's Word.
2) The Visible Means of grace (Gospel and Sacraments)

These two distinctions eliminate many things that we often associate to be the church. The confessions made these very important distinctions due to the nature of the church in the 16th century. The church was defined more by political structure leading to the pope than it was by the Gospel and God's Word. This understanding leads us to depend on men more than on Christ (an obvious issue).

Today we look at probably the biggest distinguishing factor in this discussion in Luther's time and also in our own. "Who is the church?" The Apology of the Augsburg confession sums up who the church is in a few words, "The Church is a spiritual people." (Ap AC, VII & VIII, 12).

The old definition of church centered on the political structure, building, and membership roles. Therefore, someone could be attending church, love the pope, work on the building, and automatically be "the church." However, it is conceivable that one could do all of those things and not believe in the grace of Christ and His atoning work on the cross. So who is the church?

The Reformers centered on the people and the "invisible" church. No longer is the church only what is visible, but the church is made up of believers throughout the world no matter their denominational affiliation. "For Christ enlivens His true kingdom by His Spirit, whether it is revealed or is covered by the cross, just as the glorified Christ is the same Christ who was afflicted." (Ap AC, VII & VIII, 17). The church therefore is made up of people where the Holy Spirit has taken a dead unbelieving heart and resurrected it to faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. We would argue this happens in our Baptism.

At the end of the day, how do we know one has true faith? By their reception of the visible means. Our judgment can only be based on their worship, reception of God's sacraments, and living a repentant life in the name of Christ. A person knows they and others are saved by God's Work which points us instantly to our Baptism (I Peter 3:21).

What is the church? Spiritual people who believe in Christ. How do we know they believe? By the phyiscal means God uses (Word and Sacrament)? Who makes the final call on who is in? God.

Lord have mercy

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What is the church? Part 2

What is the church? Over a week ago, I discussed how the church is manifested by the Gospel & the Sacraments. This definition does not solve the many questions that follow, but it gives us a solid beginning in discussing the essence of the church. Notice the focus is not on the people or structure but on the external means of grace.

Today, I will move forward to discuss what the church should be for the world that surrounds it. Once again, I am going back to basics and digging in the confessions and Scripture. Not only is the church about the external means, but when the world walks through the doors of a church they should see it as a "pillar of truth." (I Timothy 3:15). In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, it is written after the external means that the church is to keep the gospel and doctrine pure from error. This would imply that the truths taught in the church do not change.

However, have we seen many changes in beliefs/doctrine? The United Church of Christ's mission statement is "God is still speaking" which comes from a theology that promotes a progressive revelation of the Holy Scriptures. This theology begins by looking to culture and then arrogantly promoting that the church can discern what God is revealing in truth apart from the Word of God. Therefore churches can promote universalism, pluralism, immoral sexuality, women's ordination and skip over certain scriptural passages because God is trumping the Bible with culture. The problem with this theology is that the truth always changes and the church is no longer a pillar, but a sandy beach always changing.

In my post-modern mindset, I must admit that the "God is still speaking" theology is quite appealing. It lets me get off the hook of pointing out someone's wrongdoing, especially my own and allow all of my unbelieving friends and family to go to a heaven without worry. Although nice, it is not the truth. And we live in the reality that truth is real and we will struggle with that until the resurrection.

Need a good reminder of the truth? First go to the creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian) and then dig deeper into the confessions. More less if it doesn't sound like what you learned as a child at church, it probably isn't the truth (assuming you grew up at a sound church). May the church be seen as a place of solid truth, truth that does not change, and truth that points to Christ our truth.

Lord have mercy

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

The same, but not at all

Another Friday night with four kids and yet another attempt to get out of the house by going to a restaurant. In the midst of the chaos and crazy kids, we wanted to buy a small treat/dessert. My wife reached in her pocket and gave what seemed to be a quarter, it was the same size, color and general look. However, the waiter realized that it was not American money, but a Jordanian coin. No, we have not taken a worldwide trip in the middle of having four kids in five years. The coin must have come from another store. No matter how much we would have argued that they looked the same, it would not have mattered, it is not the same. Yes they are both money and can be exchange, they are significantly different.

This moment reminds me of many people from our churches that leave the Lutheran faith and go to "non-denom" church down the road. They will proudly say, "Pastor, that church is basically the same, they just don't baptize infants." Hold the phone, since when has that been a minor theological issue? We are not discussing how they play the piano or where the pastor preaches out of, we are talking a significant difference.

Now before anybody says, "Pastor Finnern is saying non-denoms are not "Christian" let me remind everyone that disagreeing over theology does not imply we are denying the faith God gives. We can however argue/discuss why we think the others are wrong. This is my focus in this subject as I have heard the argument WAY TOO OFTEN. Here is why there is a more significant difference from a Lutheran and your typical non-denom:

1) How one comes to faith. If a church doesn't baptize infants, the most common argument is that babies can't have faith. If one does not believe that a baby can have faith, then I guess all people who can not speak, mentally handicapped, or on their death bed are out. This is a disturbing thought and much different than our understanding of faith being a gift from God alone.

2) Validity of God's work. If a church doesn't baptize infants, then they are saying that you aren't really baptized and God did nothing. That is kind of kick in the face and a huge difference.

3) Denial of God's Word. To look at I Peter 3:21 and Acts 2:38 and say that nothing happens in baptism and/or it is not for children because they don't understand is a direct denial of God's Word and the power it has. It also jumps over Romans 10:17 and faith coming from hearing the Word.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have made similar statements in my past. "We are all pretty much the same, don't worry about it" I would say. Until someone told me that because I had not had an "experience" I was not a true believer. That hit me hard and I knew what it was like to be judged by a Pharisee and also how often I had judged without mercy. This theological issue is one that has huge implications, huge differences, and although we are all Christians it does not mean that we would say theyare wrong on this issue.

I covet everyone's evaluation, prayers, and discernment over your church and her beliefs. Dig into God's Word and make sure the truth is being taught, especially when it comes to things like baptism and how receives faith!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Atonement, morality, and life in Grey's Anatomy

Tonight was the first night that my wife and I actually sat down to watch Grey's Anatomy. I was amazed at how quickly I was hooked (by the way I do not endorse behavior, ideologies, or theological undercurrent). The producers have ran with the old ER dynamic and made a dynamic, thrilling TV series.

All TV shows need to be filtered as Christians. As believers we are not called to stay away from the world, but to be in the midst of the mess. Yet, we all must understand our weaknesses, burdens, and witness to those around us. E.g. Someone addicted to porn (or anybody really) should not watch it to find out what is going on in the world.

The reason tonight was so compelling is that it incorporated at least three themes that affect our worldview and theological understandings. These are important distinctions to know while watching this particular, modern marvel. I will give a quick view of all three:

1) Justice/atonement-A gentleman who had lost his wife at the surgeon's table searched for justice through shooting the hospital staff and struggled to make sure that all who were responsible died. Sound like real atonement?

2) Life-All the people shot struggled to survive, made amends with past sins, and the last scene showed Dr. Grey having a miscarriage and (gasp!) mourning the loss of a tiny group of cells (A.k.a. baby).

3) Morality-Grey's anatomy is trying to make money and to do that today, you need immoral behavior, especially in the sexuality department. Of course a lesbian relationship which struggles with having children (I don't know why, maybe they are missing a father) right in the midst of a crazy guy shooting people just makes sense. In a nice change, random people weren't sleeping together all day.

I attempt to ask myself, "Why do I and others LOVE this show?" "What dangers are present for believing Christians?" "How do I use what I learn to be a better witness to the faith?"

I look forward to future shows and time spent with my wife. Lord have mercy.

Twins, the police, and the church

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. Obviously parenting four children and serving as pastor is more than enough, add to it having to watch the Twins, America's got talent, learning a little sign language, and doing a ride along with the police, and you have a full plate.

This Sunday I am wrestling with the passage from I Timothy in which Paul encourages Timothy to pray for all people. He especially instructs him to pray for kings and leaders in high positions so that we all may live a peaceful, dignified life. As I read this and wrestle with the text, the more I think the life of a baptized believer is first and foremost one of prayer. We like action, we want to get moving, get things done, yet, Scripture talks a whole lot more of prayer than "action" (I am not promoting sitting around, but this argument is made for emphasis sake).

What should we as a church do? Pray. Pray for our President, the government, those who serve our country (military, police, fire), our churches, and each other. And our prayers should always end with the main goal of God for "all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I Timothy 2:4

May we all pray for all people and let Him do the heavy lifting.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Prayer support at Messiah

If there is any fault in the Lutheran church I would argue, revolves around prayer. Not that we don't do it, but we are put to shame by our evangelical friends who use prayer in all parts of ministry. We typically say the "little" prayer before a meeting, party, or meal and leave more prayer for other times which are more "churchy."

As God graciously hears our prayers as a loving father listens to his children, we at Messiah Lutheran are supporting missions this year in prayer. Each month we are inviting the whole church to pray for a chosen mission every day. We also invite ALL people who come to church and/or read this blog to join in this prayer. No money will be required or requested.

This month we pray for Lutheran Island Camp (LIC). LIC is a Christian camp whose main goal is to support the local church in proclaiming Christ. They offer various programs, retreats, and ministries for all churches. One focus at LIC which has brought great success is the start of the Creation-Science EnvironmentalLearning Center. Over the last few years many speakers have come to LIC (Dr. David Menton, Dr. Reed Lessing) to discuss this subject and in the future they will have their own learning center centered on learning the truths of God's Word on creation.

Please keep LIC in your prayers as we join together in the mission of Christ.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wretched TV is awesome...check this out

What the church is not,...

Yesterday, we analyzed the bare bones needed to be a church. At the end of the day all we need is the Gospel purely proclaimed (God's work fully, and not ours) and the Sacraments administered correctly (forgiveness of sins and Christ living in You). This is gleaned from the Augsburg Confession and also Acts 2:42-47.

"The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacrament." Augsburg Confession, Article VII.

This starts a portion of what the church is not. With this definition the church is not:

1) Potlucks
2) Buildings
3) Comfort of the pews
4) Friendliness of the people
5) Look of the pastor (thank God)
6) Signage
7) Placement of building

I will go further into some of these details. Now I know that many will come after me like gangbusters and say, "But pastor, all of those things can help the Gospel." I am not making a "strategic plan" or evaluating sociology yet. Now we are getting to the basics. I believe we all have some repenting to do because we can talk all day about improving the potlucks or buildings and never mention how we can proclaim and administer more.

Tomorrow, I will discuss what the first and foremost goal of the church should be in the community.

Lord have mercy

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What is the church? Back to basics?

Today, I had the honor to preside over the distribution of Christ's body and blood, preach Christ and Him crucified from the pulpit, and announce the forgiveness of sins to sinners. In this building we were able to receive His gifts and have fellowship as sinners/saints. It was church at its best.

To begin a discussion about ecclesiology (church stuff), we have to begin with the very basics. Although my goal is to dig very deep into contemporary church issues, I will begin with the bare bones of what the Scriptures/Confessions tell us of the church.

"The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacrament." Augsburg Confession, Article VII.

There it is. Plain and simple. In order to be considered the church, there needs to be the Gospel and the Sacraments. Now, it is good to remember what Melancthon and the Reformers were trying to fight against in the 16th century. They were battling the Catholic church which defined the church by the political order all the way up to the Pope. The Reformers were boiling it all down to the basics to eliminate the Pope, bishops, or councils to define the church. They were not fully addressing the complexities of a "denominational" world or thinking of how unity should look when there are more than Catholics and Orthodox around.

So what do we need? The Gospel-Jesus crucified for our sins and the Sacraments (Lord's Supper & Baptism). This brings many questions: So what about a non-communion service? What about churches that do not believe those Sacraments do anything? What about doctrines such as homosexual ordination or the ordination of women? How many doctrines are needed for unity of the visible church?

These are questions we will address, but for now, think and reflect on what is ABSOLUTELY needed for the church to be the church? We start with "Gospel & Sacrament"and we will dig deeper as we go. My prayer is that your church has both of these things and not on everything else.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What is the church?

During my four years of ministry I have noticed one major issue for the American church in the 21st Century: Defining the church. Most congregations are best defined by the number of programs they do. Despite attempts to streamline ministries according to a "mission statement", most congregations are made up of at least ten groups all working separately of one another. On top of that when an idea arrives, the congregation ADDS to the list as opposed to praying and effectively eliminating programs that are no longer needed.

The problem centers on a theology of the church. What is the church? Who are to be the leaders? What is the role of pastor to church worker to the priesthood? What are the core beliefs of a Lutheran Christian church? What things are adiaphora? How does a congregation work within the community to be witnesses? All of these things have never truly been answered in an effective theological framework for our world. On top of that, we have tried to define worship for decades (ever been to a conference on worship), but very little has been done to define the church by which worship is occurring!

These next few weeks, I will be presenting a working framework on the church. This will not be fully comprehensive and I am looking for input from those who read (if there are any of you). Overall, I want all of us to struggle about what the church truly is, not what we grew up with or what has always been done. But to come up with a solid, confessional theology of the church!

Lord have mercy

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How can we do more?

The church has just finished worship. They have received forgiveness, the sacrament, send by God's blessing and now it is time for announcements. The congregational president stands up to do his presidential duties: announcing what else needs to be done. Not only has VBS just ended, but now Sunday School begins. Then there must be more fund raising for the roof project, nominations for board positions, and a "dish to pass" for the next potluck. As each announcement flows from his mouth, you can see the people becoming less excited and a look of fatigue come across their face. "Can't we take a break?" the people lament, "We are so tired."

This is a typical scenario in the local American congregation. The saints of each church are worn out, at least the ones that take their baptismal faith serious. On top of receiving the gifts in worship and Bible study, we endlessly start new programs for all ages, fundraise just like the boy scouts, and clean up the building for hours all in the name of saving people. Often the work is tedious and very little of it is Biblical, Gospel motivated work. At the end of each year, we are tired.

Jesus gives us very basic instructions on how to be the church. He tells us to "come unto Him all who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest" for a reason. The life of the church should not be this hard. The Scriptures give us a simple formula for church: 1) Gospel preached, 2) Sacraments administered, 3) Serve our neighbor. Hmmm...sound at all familiar to you? Not likely.

May we scale down what we do for busy work in our churches and look to Him for rest. At the same time instead of the fund raising, programs, and meetings, let's get out and serve, serve, and serve. Maybe then people will begin to see fruits and not get tired so quickly.

Lord have mercy

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baptismal identity put to the test

Today my family begins a new journey: raising four children completely on our own. Tonight as my mother in-law goes home we are left with an endeavor that will be exciting, scary, and emotional all at one time. I think we are both trying to put it all together in our minds of how we will make it through this time period. Currently we have 4 kids (the oldest being 4 years old) and we are simply two sinful parents trying to mold these kids in the ways of Christ.

This points me back to two realities of my sinful existence: 1) I will make many mistakes as a sinful father and the only saving grace is forgiveness, and 2) Since I am baptized into Christ and had the honor of receiving the Lord's Supper on Sunday, I have Christ living inside me. Therefore, it is no longer I that am doing this, but Christ who is at work.

I covet all of your prayers and at the same time I will be praying for all parents of young children as our lives turn upside down in this glorious vocation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Close Communion beyond an announcement

This Sunday was an amazing time in worship. Not only was I on a high because I was able to announce the birth of my daughter, but it also was the first time I was presiding over the body and blood of Christ "for you."

There is no greater honor as a pastor to repeat the same words as Christ over the bread and wine and distribute these gifts with the words "for you." I think we as pastors need to spend more time reflecting on the wonder and miracle we are part of.

I am a firm believer in taking the Lord's Supper very serious. In my church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) we believe in close communion. This means that we believe from passages from Acts and I Corinthians that the Lord's Supper should be taken only at altars that one has fellowship with. In practical terms this means that a LCMS member should not be communing at other altars and vice versa. This is more of a simple doctrinal stance.

Yet, I experienced on Sunday how close communion is also a physical reminder of how "close" one is to be with those surrounding them. Two older blessed women of faith, were standing next to one another as I announced, "Welcome to the Lord's Table." At that moment, one gal noticed the other becoming unstable and instantly grabbed her hand in order to keep her upright. Throughout the distribution they held onto one another and physically showed one another and the whole congregation that they were not only in doctrinal unity, but also going to hold each other up beyond the Supper. What a witness to me.

We all should think about this before we partake in the Lord's Supper wherever you attend. It makes me wonder about communing at other LCMS churches. When I stand up there, I'm not only saying that I believe in what you believe, but also saying that I will be there for you when in need. I'm not saying that therefore only commune at your home church, but I am also thinking that there are times one would not commune because of that very reason. One should ask will I help this guy next to me if in need as I am part of this close communion?

May we serve one another beyond our time in worship and may Christ who lives in you through His means empower us to do so.

Lord have mercy

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Working hard for nothing

Yesterday I was shopping at the local family own grocery store, Coborns. A sign indicated that if one buys $50 of food, then they will have 5 cents off every gallon for their next gas purchase. For a culture driven by cheap gas, I was one that wanted to spend $50 just for the heck of it. Why not? To save any money on gas would be an outstanding deal since prices will probably do nothing but go up.

The problem is that if I bought my groceries and the cost ended up being $45 I would automatically buy junk I do not need (ice cream, soda, candy). So in essence my hard work to get to $50 would end up in a $4.40 loss. If one actually did the math, 5 cents off a gallon for our car would equal a savings of .60. THAT IS IT? I thought to myself. I believe many people work hard in the realm of saving money when actually all the hard work gains them nothing but more in debt.

This dynamic is much like our faith life. We hear and see new ideologies that give us the idea that if we just work harder, serve on this board, give more, and go on a missions trip that we will gain more and have that spiritual experience to lift us up higher towards God. This is the ideologies that Paul warns against in Colossians 2:6-15. In those cases Jesus becomes a grocery store that promises great blessings by just doing this or that. However, in the end all the work, all the hope, all the service ends up setting a person back in their faith life. They never get ahead and lose more than they gain. I have been there in thinking that if I just did this or that, I would finally reach a spiritual uptopia and everyone would admire me.

God doesn't work that way. He tells us simply to be "rooted in Christ" and to be listeners to His grace (Luke 10:38-42). And when those things are in place, we serve in mercy to our neighbor. However, that service is done not for our gain, but for the gain of our neighbor and to listen to the commands of Christ. This reality of the Christian life is not really exciting, it doesn't promise great blessings on this earth, but it does promise something greater: God's kingdom.

May we all listen and keep to our roots in Christ. With that in place we will be blessed and have the peace of salvation.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

God's miracle born July 22nd

On Thursday morning, 12:31 a.m., Xavia Alice Finnern was brought into this world at 7lbs 12oz and 20.5 inches (by the way she was 3 weeks early and would have been the size of a truck if going full term!).

I can not even explain how one can see a glimpse of the original creation when you first lay eyes on your child. Here is a child that was not part of our world 10 months ago and now is a manifestation of the oneness of my wife and I. She is just amazing and as beautiful as her mother.

Our excitement and emotions are sky high as we feel that this will be our last child (I think I have an appointment to the "vet). It has been an amazing journey starting in 2005 and comes to fruition with the tiny hands and feet of Xavia. It brings to light the joys that the Lord reveals to us and the transitions we all need to make. Not only are the transitions emotional, but they are a healthy manner by which God prepares us for the next stage.

Please pray for Xavia as we eagerly await her arrival into Christ's kingdom in August and our family for strength to raise our children in Christ.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mercy and the local hospital

All the craziness these past days has brought much anxiety and frustration. At the same time, there are nuggets of joy and comfort. When we arrived it was surprising to me that the only hospital in the St. Cloud area is Catholic. As we walked the halls, we saw pictures of all the CEO's of the hospital and from 1886-1968 it was always a sister from the order of St. Benedicts.

Affiliation is different than current practice (just ask Valpo and Notre Dame). This kind of history is very typical of many hospitals/college that have "Christian roots" but have lost those roots due to monetary and secular pressure. This appears to be true at St. Cloud Hospital, BUT their mission statement blatantly points to the mercy of Jesus: "As a Catholic regional hospital, we improve the health and quality of life for the people we serve in a manner that reflects the healing mission of Jesus." Another plaque from the 1950's said, "To serve as if we are Jesus Himself."

This focus centers right to the heart of what we are to be as Biblical, Christ-centered Christians, "MERCY." We are called through our Baptism to love our neighbor and live as if we are serving Christ. In my life, I have seen this come to fruition through the vocations of the doctor and nurse. They extend not only a helpful hand, but comfort you through words and actions. Their love and care for each person is an extension of the mercy of Christ (even they don't have faith) and is a model for all of us when we work within our vocations.

Christ's blessings to all nurses and doctors who care in His name and for the Catholic hospitals that live out their original mission.

Lord have mercy.

p.s. Amy is 5 cm and just received an epideral, hence the reason I can write on this blog.

Baby is coming...

We received the news yesterday that the fluid levels were low and baby will be coming sooner than thought. We have been under monitoring overnight and now starting the induction. God has truly worked through all of this. We are semi-settled in our house, started at the new church, and have family help in the meantime. This all shows God's timing is above our own.

Pictures will be coming, pray for my bride and baby, and may the Lord have mercy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

New Call, New Home, and assurance

Greetings everyone. It has been awhile. My apologies. On May 15, I was blissfully settled at St. John Lutheran in North Prairie and loving my calling there. Then God threw me for a loop and now only two months later, I am serving Messiah Lutheran Church, Sartell, MN. On top of a call we have had to pack up, unpack, reorganize, bought a house, and dump the kids off to someone (mostly grandparents:-). What an amazing ride.

Over the last two months much has happened; my hometown was blasted by a tornado, the Twins fell from first and are now coming back, Brett Favre still has not announced his decision, and Rev. Matthew Harrison was elected President of the LCMS. I am amazed and humbled by the journey my wife and I have gone through.

One thing has struck me since becoming a homeowner and having to organize all the amenities we are to enjoy as an American family: the need for assurance. To buy a house you are to buy homeowners insurance, title insurance, flood insurance. This is after you change your car insurance, health insurance, disability, life insurance, and umbrella policies. Holy cats. We spend TONS of money on feeling assured that we will be o.k. in the midst of tragedy. Yet, how many of us think about the assurance of eternal life and the need of others to have that same comfort. The amazing thing is that this assurance through the blood of Christ is free, forever, and simple. May we as a church bring that assurance to our communities and point them to the true assurance in all things.

Lord have mercy

Friday, June 18, 2010

More pictures of St. John, the community center, and the school

Tornado hits my home town and home church..Lord have mercy

Last night my hometown, Wadena, MN was hit by a major tornado. It is quite eery to se the pictures of homes of my friends, my high school, and community center all damaged and/or destroyed. At the same time, today was to be the day for thousands of alumni of Wadena-Deer Creek to arrive for the all-school reunion. Nobody was killed, but many have lost much of what they own.

My home congregation, St. John Lutheran had extensive damage to the roof, but in other parts of the building. I pray that Pastor Steve Meltzer will be led by the Spirit to bring comfort in chaos with the mercy of Christ. May other churches in the area and within our Synod support this congregation and small town with prayer and resources in their time of need.

Acceptance of call

After prayerful consideration, tears, joy, excitement, and an extended time away from blogging, my wife and I have decided that God wants us to accept the call to Messiah Lutheran Church, Sartell, MN.

The call process is excruciating. We love the saints at St. John Lutheran in North Prairie and the future looks very bright by God's grace. This Sunday the 20th will be my last Sunday and we will be installed on July 11 in Sartell. We are excited, but at the same time sad. When the Lord calls, He calls.

May the Lord of all grace keep our hearts and mind on Jesus Christ no matter where he places us.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Divine Call and Minnesota

Last week I received documentation of a Divine Call I received from Messiah Lutheran Church, Sartell, MN. The call process in our Synod is one that can cause much chaos, internal and external.

My family and I love the church we now serve, St. John Lutheran Church, North Prairie, WI. A congregation that takes the Bible and being Lutheran serious. They are especially gifted in love and care of one another. And they are on the verge of some great mission in this community.

Yet, all of those things does not mean that one does not consider a call because the Holy Spirit is leading Messiah to extend this call. I will be visiting Messiah today and greeting the saints of that congregation.

I covet everyone's prayers as we ask for the Holy Spirit to bring wisdom on where He would like us to serve.

Lord have mercy

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LOST comes to an end...but what does that mean?

It all came together on Sunday night. After five seasons, many questions, and many confusions the series LOST came to an end. But what in the world just happened?

My wife and I have followed LOST from its beginning while rarely missing an episode. Actually, it is kind of emotional in a weird way because it is literally the only show we still watch and one of the last things Amy and I did together before kids that we still do (although many of those things we did pale in comparison to our children)! Yet, I think we all were left with more questions than were answered. And for me, appalled at the horrible theology and it implications on religion in America.

The ending basically told us that the island was a kind of "mini-god". The island had the power to call all of the main charatcters to the island because their lives were a mess and to evaluate if they would end up being the protector of this island. The island had a main source of life right in the middle and there was an evil force that wanted to destroy it to get off the island. The ending showed all characters realizing that they were in essence a purgatory state, not able to get out until they realized they could enter heaven by their own accord.

At the very end, they all realized that they were dead. They meet in a church, Jack's father tells them that they were a special group that were called together as special people, and now were ready to enter heaven. They could choose to stay in "purgatory" OR enter heaven with all of their friends. It made for a fun story.

Some might say that it is a nice story that has no implications on our society, families, or theological world. However, as one can not swim in sewage and expect to not be affected, we have to address some concerns over the views portrayed on LOST and it affects on faith. This is vital for everyone to be able to discern, since LOST is one of the most popular and idolic shows of all time.

Here are a few issues:

1) There is no Scriptural support for a purgatory state between life and eternity. As Christians we understand a few things after we die: 1) Our spirit will be at rest, 2) Our spirit be with Jesus, and 3) Our spirit will yearn for the fulfillment of everything in the resurrection. LOST portrayed what many people want to believe; we will still have many choices after we die. The Bible simply does not indicate that.

2)Not everyone just goes to heaven. In LOST you have Sayid who is a Muslim, Charlie who is Catholic, and various forms of other religions all sitting in a Christian church walking into heaven. You have murderers, liars, cheaters, and swindlers all looking to the heavenly doors of eternity. I am NOT saying that heaven will not have those kinds of people, because it is all by the blood of Jesus. However, there was no sign of repentance, no sign of any kind of faith statement, and just the assumptions that everyone (like dogs) goes to heaven.

My Old Adam loves this theology. You are good, I'm good, we all are good. When we die, no worries we will go to a heavenly place. Get your freak on and don't worry about anything. Yet, even if I like the taste of rat poison, it does not mean it won't kill me. There is only one way to salvation, Jesus Christ (John 14:6) and the life of any believer is one of repentance and faith.

3) Feelings are not always a good guide for truth. The most common line in LOST was, "Nothing has ever felt more right than this." All characters used it at various times to justify making decisions. Most of the time they were wrong.

We love emotions, feelings, and thoughts to drive our every move in life. LOST captured what is already going on in our society. If it feels totally right in our heart, therefore it must be right. It does not matter if external matters or understandings differ, it must be right because my "spirit/feelings" are always right.

This is a minor form of what is called, "Gnosticism." Gnosticism believes that the body is BAD and spirit is good. Therefore if you are able to find out what the spirit is doing, even it is counter external means, it must be right. Give you a modern day example: If a person feels it in their heart, feelings, and thoughts that they love a person of the same sex so much as to have sexual relations, then it must be o.k. because their feelings led them to that decision. Even if the "plumbing" doesn't work, it is still the right thing due to feelings.

The flaw in this mentality is that we have a physical God, who created our bodies in His image, and He has external laws to govern his creation. When we go against these boundaries, the implications are horrendous if not deadly. Feelings are a gift from God, however, when it is the main means by which we make decisions we end up forgetting that both our spirit and body are fallen and needing Christ.

I become very concerned on how well people are discerning shows like LOST. I love LOST, it was my favorite show, and I will continue to buy the seasons on DVD. However, are people thinking about the Christian viewpoint while watching these shows or are they becoming so influenced by their theology that they are in serious threats to question and/or lose their faith.

May the Lord guide all of us as we live in the world, but not of it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

40+ years of secretarial priesthood

Today we are celebrating God's work of 40+ years through our secretary Trudy Rupp. Trudy was officially hired in 1970. Yet, it actually began in the late 1950s where the church needed someone to print a few things off and the pastor who had bad eye sight needed rides.

She has served with nine pastors, at least 10 vacancy pastors, printed over 3,000 bulletins, 500 newsletters, answered over 70,000 phone calls (60,000 of which she hung up on advertisers), and lovingly cared for 100+ people who came asking for money.

Trudy's work has always centered on two things: her faith in Christ and the love of His church. Everything she has done was done with a deep understanding of the Scriptures, love of the history of her church, and simple way she "instructed" her pastors on how we do things here.

After 40+ years and becoming a foundation of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, North Prairie, WI, she is retiring and serving in other ways. Keep her in your prayers as she moves forward and for St. John as we continue in ministry.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thank you Issues Etc

Just when you think nobody reads your blog, friends help you out. Thank you Jeff from Issues, Etc for choosing my recent blog post, "No internet, TV, or phone for a week."

Issues Etc is my favorite talk radio program that happens to be a confessional Lutheran focus. Check it out

Is our church a friendly church?

I recently visited a friend who is a pastor in the city of Chicago. The church is immaculate: beautiful sanctuary, huge steeple, marble altar, and elevated pulpit. The congregation at one time had thousands of members and people just rushed in to become part of this dynamic fellowship.

However, as people moved out, the area changed. The change was not necessarily racial or economic, but theological. There are still many people around of all ethnicities and kinds, but most have no desire to be part of a church, especially a Biblical, Christ-centered one.

With the complex history and struggle, what is the first thing this new pastor does? Bigger signs, parade floats, booths, contemporary worship service? Nope. He steps outside for at least an hour a day and now sits on the front steps. While hundreds of people walk bye his church, he and other members simply say, "hello." His main goal is to have the community see this church as a "friendly church." He continues Word and Sacrament ministry that is faithful to his calling, but he is using God giving gifts (as we say 1st article gifts in the Small Catechism) to help the community know that they are a caring community of people.

What ways is your church letting people know that you are friendly? Does the local community even know you are around? If you went door to door would they know anything about your church? What would they say?

May the Lord of wisdom, help us all find ways to be friendly churches with a powerful message.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No internet, TV, or phone for a week

This past week due to weird circumstances we did not have our Time Warner bundle package (Ergo, no phone, internet, or TV). It was tough. I never realized how much we depended on these "needed essentials" for daily living. Whether it was calling family, keeping up to date in the world, or emailing for work, we felt like we were living in the stone age.

We realized one of the biggest issues with modern technology: idolatry.

There is a story from a pastor who told of a friend he had as a child that was Hindu. When he entered his friend's house, all seats faced their "house god." He thought it was very weird that something would be that important to place all furniture toward it.

Then he went home. As he looked at the layout of the family room and kitchen, ALL chairs faced the American "house god": The TV!

We have spent some good time repenting over this god and realize how quickly it can interfer with family time, devotions, and even sleep. May we all repent and look to Christ.

Great to be back in the modern world.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Heidelberg Disputation

The more I read the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther's presentation of the implications of indulgences, the more I realize how much I need Jesus. We often function in American culture with a therapeutic deism. In essence, we are pretty much o.k., but we need God to kind of fill in the pieces. The harder we try the less we will need God, unless we mess up real bad (pre-marital pregnancy, alcoholic, abuse, STD's or some things that are worse). Yet, this assumes that we have a glimmer of hope. This is exactly what Luther was addressing. Hold on tight, you may not feel better about yourself after reading:

2. Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end (Hell).

3. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.

4. Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.

Ever heard someone say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jesus on the cross, but let's talk about what we need to do." This helps us put in perspective. All the works we do that appear attractive and good, actually separate us more from God when we think we are good for doing it. All of our works still are tainted by sin and often our intentions are not on the people by which we serve, BUT are for our own gain. A good example is when I try to get my kids to sleep, often my motivation is not for them to get good sleep, but so that I can read, get online, or get my own sleep.

And the works of God many times seem kind of lame. The words "you are forgiven" are a far cry from the Joel Osteen message of making tons of money. Salvation forever doesn't seem as good as a new house. Water, wine, and bread are not nearly as cool as someone making a decision for Christ. But those works of God are eternal, forever, and will give us salvation. Although appearing not to be real exciting, they are the source of salvation.

May we look to His works above our own.

Monday, April 19, 2010

1518 Heidelberg Disputation and a theology of the cross

To begin a discussion on being Lutheran, often we jump to the 95 Thesis from 1517. We celebrate October 31 as our day of Reformation and the findings of Justification by faith in Christ. Yet, if you look at the document it is more of a dismissal of indulgences as opposed to the pure gospel.

The starting point of Lutheran theology could easily be pointed to Luther's presentation to the Augustinian order concerning being a theologian of the cross. This is the foundation of the Lutheran tradition and takes us away from ourselves, our glory, and places it completely on the cross. Here is the introduction from

The Heidelberg Disputation


Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, »Do not rely on your own insight« (Prov. 3:5), we humbly present to the judgment of all those who wish to be here these theological paradoxes, so that it may become clear whether they have been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul, the especially chosen vessel and instrument of Christ, and also from St. Augustine, his most trustworthy interpreter.

  1. The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.

When was the last time you heard someone say that the Law was a salutary doctrine? Often we will demonize the law because it makes us feel bad, does not save, and for all intensive purposes is NOT the Gospel.

Yet, Luther begins by calling it the most salutary of doctrines because it points us to Christ. Even though the law can not advance us to God and does nothing but hinder us from perfection. The law thrusts us from self reliance to a need for a Savior. Thus it is the most salutary of doctrines.

Every time I read through the Disputation I fully feel the problem of my sinfulness and my need for Jesus. As we travel through the disputation remember your sins, your great need for atonement, but even more so the great love of our Lord.

Lord have mercy

Friday, April 16, 2010

Confessions and the Heidelberg Disputation

After speaking to a number of brothers in ministry, I am amazed at how each one attempts to find ways to address current issue. Some go to their circuit counselor or District President for help. Some go to "evangelical" writings to help discern how we would evaluate it as a Lutheran. Some immerse themselves with conferences and summits. And some jump into our theological roots and infiltrate their lives into the confessions (a.k.a. the Bible!).

This is where I confess my own neglect of our own confession and maybe allow myself to be immersed into things that are outside of what we believe, teach, and confess. Take my sins and let them be!

So I have a few thoughts:

1) Anybody know of a confessional study group in South Wisconsin? Anybody interested in starting a study on the Augsburg Confession and/or Formula?

2) I will be starting an informal study on confessional writings, beginning with our Theology of the Cross in the 1518 Heidelberg Disputation.

This study will be beginning tomorrow and we will evaluate what it means to be a "theologian of the cross." Other references I will use will include the Bible (duh!) and Gerhard Forde's book, "On Being a Theologian of the cross."

May the Lord bless our time of study.

Letters to God and prayer

My wife and I went out last night on a date night and saw the movie, "Letters to God." The producers of Fireproof and Facing the Giants made this very powerful movie.

The acting was marginally better than the first two, the storyline outstanding, and the evangelical undertones of "inviting Jesus" into your heart was apparent. Yet, overall, I would suggest people to see it.

The premise of the movie is around a young boy, Tyler, who was suffering with cancer. Each day he would write a letter to God asking random questions, "How many stars are there?" "God can you help my mom smile?" etc. He would give it to the mailman every day with one stamp and his letters ended up affecting many people.

He was described as God's warrior that would show God's power in the midst of weakness. And he ended up doing that. His letters ended up leading many people to faith and showed the power of prayer and telling of Jesus has (especially in trial).

I equated his letters to God as our opportunity to pray. As John Kleinig has said, "The best thing one can do for anyone is pray for them." When we pray we lay people at the feet of Jesus and he deals with them in grace and love. Most of us need to start writing prayers for our brothers and sisters, less talking of or about, and more time placing individuals at the feet of Christ.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pastor's Conference-SWD

We just finished our spring pastor's conference at Olympia Resort, Oconomowoc, WI. It is a lot of fun to meet with brother pastors, worship (without having to do anything), study the Word, and hear the new ministries in our district and Synod.
I am humbled by our district. President Wille is a caring, confessional, missional District President. Our staff and others have done an oustanding job with many different financial struggles and staff changes. Most of all, it is a district that desires to be Lutheran Christians and extending mercy mission in all areas.
Lord have mercy

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Parenting: Quanity of time vs. Quality of time

Family time is the most precious time a parent can ever have. The longer I am a parent, I cherish those times more than anything else I do. Yet, what should we as parents look at this time as being? Just quality time or simply quantity?

I received advice from a mentor pastor in college that when I started a family that my main goal should be quantity of time. "Because," he stated, "quantity of time will get you quality, but quality time usually ends up being NO TIME."

This is very true. How does a busy parent do this in a chaotic world. I am blessed with the opportunity to work across the street from our home and because of circumstances my wife is able to stay at home. Quantity of time is not a major issue. Yet for all families, quantity of time is possible (two working parents, part-time, etc). It is all about making it a priority. Why is it that during a major recession that the NFL, MLB, and NBA have not lost major money or revenue? Priorities.

I have seen families claim no time for family take various vacations, fishing trips, and date nights without their children. The reality of parenting is all about sacrifice. No bones about it, it often kind of stinks. I have many things I wish I could more of (read, go out, get season tickets to baseball, workout, sleep, etc). Yet, it isn't about me anymore, it is about the whole family. I repent everyday.

My encouragement is for everyone to spend QUANTITY of time with your family. Time with your family, not just your family, is a gift. He has given this to you to take care of them. If this is not happening, repent, talk to your pastor and be forgiven. If it is kind of happening, be forgiven and work harder. Don't meditate on your past sins too long and start making it a priority today.

Chief of sinner though I be.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Raising kids in today's world...Church

There is nothing more exciting, beneficial, and at the same time more frustrating than taking little children to church. I speak on this subject not as one who has to deal with it much (my wife is a saint-and hot-with three little ones and being pregnant). So I speak these words with my wife in mind and also realizing that it is a huge challenge for all involved.

It is actually very simple: Go to church! Despite all the frustrations, despite there being many times that you as a parent don't "get anything" out of the service, and maybe spend most of your time running out the door with a crying child, it is worth it.

It is worth it not because of how much you get out of it, but because of the power of God's Word, his forgiveness, and the witness you are giving your children. There are times that missing church just happens. For us it happens when there is sickness and or a very bad night of sleep. At that moment, it is not worth it, yet, those are in the minority of times.

Think of it this way: Each worship service with your child is a chance to fulfill the mission of Christ: to make disciples of these little ones. It isn't always going to be about how much WE get out of it, but about the opportunity to teach our little ones what it means when the pastor says "you are forgiven", when the people stand for the Gospel reading, when the people eat the bread and drink the wine, and why the cross comes into the church. These are exciting things that carry on to our homes, work, and at school.

Next I will discuss how churches can help us parents deal with this tough dynamic of young kids and church. Since kids in church is a great benefit to all involved, not a nuisance.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Christian parenting and the challenges...Restoring the Family Altar

The toughest part of parenting is teaching the Christian faith. This is the hardest because most poeple think that churchinizing your child is all it takes (taking them to church, maybe Sunday School, and definately confirmation).
However, very few individuals who grew up in this kind of lacklusterness in faith have moved to a serious life of following Christ. People become thankful for the "church", but talk very little about faith in the daily walk. I must admit that I have fallen into this category, in the sense of faith only be at church and life basically dealing only with worldly view.
Yet, there is a way to combat this mentality, "The Family Altar." Each family should make a point of establishing a place that is specifically for a time of prayer, Bible stories, and singing. This is an example why there is much power in owning a hymnal and following the reading schedule and prayers. The hardest part of this is getting it started since most of us never grew up with it.
A good time is right after eating. But it also might be right before bed. One person I know have specific people they pray for each night and Sunday night is to pray for each person in their family and extended family. And the tough part is that it can change from one day to the next. Yet, if we are serious about our loving God, serious about the devil working against us at every step, and desire our children to see us witness our faith, something like this needs to be done.
I already hear the argument, "I don't want to give my children too much religion." Interseting statement. I have yet to hear a parent say that they don't want their kids to have too much baseball, football, basketball, choir, camping, or traveling, but yet faith is seen to the thing that we can get too much of. I diagnose this problem with children seeing a hypocrite when they see one. If a parent forces a child to go to church all the time, but yet NEVER discusses faith and how it affects their decicion making, work, family time, politics, and how one spends his money, then YES you can get too much because there is no point. But when Christ becomes part of everything and you have a place to worship at home also, those arguments are significantly less.
Let's join together to make Christ a MAJOR part of our daily life and not just Sunday.