Sunday, December 25, 2011

The First Day of Christmas....

If Christmas is just starting for you (or if you like great Christmas music), you might want to check out Sacred Christmas Music for the Christmas Season. While many people are done with Christmas today, we are just getting started; this music is excellent quality and we are enjoying it very much. Happy 12 Days of Christmas!

Merry Christmas!!

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10. How wonderful to have Christmas fall on a Sunday this year. Blessings to you and yours this Christmas Sunday!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Catch Phrases and the True Meaning of Christmas

"Jesus is the reason for the season" is an oft-repeated phrase during the Christmas season. What does this mean? Sometimes the best way to explain what something means is to start by saying what it does NOT mean. To "Keep Christ in Christmas" does not mean that Christians should expect non-Christians to celebrate Christmas in a way that puts Jesus at the center. Why should they? Similarly, Jesus as the meaning of Christmas does NOT mean that I must show the world how much I love Jesus by demonstrating my holy life and my Christian themed family traditions, thereby giving people an irresistible reason to be a "fully devoted follower of Jesus". In other words, the Christmas season should NOT degenerate into a "me for Jesus" campaign. Jesus does not need my vote on facebook, and he does not save people because I love Him. The main point of Advent, Christmas, and Christianity is NOT that "I am for Jesus,", but that "Jesus is for me." In His perfect life of obedience, His death on the cross, and His resurrection, He paid for the sins of the whole world and gives eternal life to those who receive Him. At Advent we remember that He came to earth and was born of the virgin Mary; we remember that He will come again to take those who believe in Him home with Him. What better way to receive him this Advent and Christmas than by being in His House, hearing His Word and receiving His Sacrament. For to receive Him is to receive the forgiveness of sins, which is why He came that first Christmas. Then we can say with Simeon, who saw the baby Jesus, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen Nunc Dimittis (Song of Simeon), from Luke 2:29-32 (Lutheran Service Book)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Savior of the Nations, Come

Verse one of my favorite Advent hymns, originally attributed to Ambrose of Milan in the 4th century: Savior of the nations, come, Virgin's Son, make here Your home! Marvel now, O heav'n and earth, That the Lord chose such a birth. Lutheran Service Book, 332

Another Fun Dance...

Last weekend we kicked up our heels at a dance our friends' church. Elise and I went "1940's"; John and Bethany are in their Regency outfits.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven of earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. From Luther's Small Catechism, The First Article of the Creed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Great Read!

"The Not-So-Great Commission" by Todd Wilken and "Lutheranism, Just In Time" by Kelly Klages are the articles in the Issues, Etc. Journal.  Click here to read it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What's the difference?

What's the difference between Calvinism and Lutheranism? They both flow from the Reformation, but the starting points are different. Calvinism begins with the glory and sovereignty of God, while Lutheranism begins with the cross of Jesus Christ and justification. Here is a link to a Reformation week show on Issues, Etc. comparing the "TULIP" of Calvinism to confessional Lutheranism: Confessional Lutheranism and Calvinism with Dr. Ken Schurb

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Grace-full Parenting

Getting Grace is an excellent article by Susan Olasky in the November 5, 2011 issue of World magazine. (You do have to pay to read the whole thing if you are not a subscriber). I won't try to give a thorough summary, but the article basically says that homeschoolers who think that their parenting choices give them a guarantee that their children will grow up to be outstanding Christians may be in for a rude awakening. My *bottom line* reaction to the article is hooray that some homeschool families are realizing that THEY don't "make Christians." If a family has an undue focus on *being good*, that will bring only pride or despair into the family. Let God's Law (not man's rules) be the standard, but give the Gospel (Christ for you for the forgiveness of sins, spoken as "I forgive you", and "Jesus forgives you") to the one who has admitted his transgression. And remember that we all are sinners. It is Christ's forgiveness that makes us Christians, not our "family values." For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Galatians 3:21b-22

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Magic Apple Pie

Here is a quick and easy recipe that I recently tried. 1 egg 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup all-purpose flour pinch salt 1/2 tsp. cinnamon dash nutmeg 1 medium tart apple, peeled and diced 1/2 cup raisins (or more apples, which is what I did) whipped cream or ice cream In a mixing bowl, beat egg. Add sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in fruit. Spread into a greased 9 inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown (I only baked it about 20 min.) and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Church Is For Girls

Church Is For Girls
by Todd Wilken

I watched Oprah over vacation. Ordinarily, I don’t watch Oprah. You see, I’m a man.The Oprah Winfrey Show is for women. Just watch it. Oprah herself is
the iconic modern woman —sexy, spiritual and successful. Oprah’s guests and
topics are always female favorites. Oprah’s advertisers are aimed at women.
Most of all, Oprah’s audience is almost entirely women.
The few men in Oprah’s audience look out of place. When Oprah is
introduced, the women in the audience howl with joy, embrace and weep. The
men clap politely. Oprah talks with housewives about how clean their kitchens
and bathrooms are. The women in the audience nod knowingly. The men try to
look interested. Oprah hands out quilted Burberry jackets, home spas and
handbags. Again, the women in the audience explode in ecstasy. The men seem
unsure what to do. I can almost hear one poor guy thinking, “What in the
world am I going to do with a Eileen Fisher waffle-weave Merino stretch zip
cardigan and pant?”
Oprah plugs an upcoming episode, “Special Experiment: Men Turn Into
Women, eleven "manly" men must live as women.” I suspect that the men in her
audience feel like subjects in that experiment already.
As I watch these men, it dawns on me: I know exactly what they are
going through. I too have found myself surrounded by women, awkwardly out of
place as a man —in church.
It was one Sunday about a year ago. I visited a church while traveling.
The congregation that day was mostly women.
As the obligatory twenty-minute medley of praise songs began, the
women started to clap, sing along and sway. The music was the kind you’d hear
on any soft rock station. The lyrics weren’t just sentimental, they were sappy.
There was a woman in the pew directly in front of me. She was dancing —
full-bodied, hip-swinging, dancing. She was obviously loving it. She was the
pastor’s wife. The pastor, standing next to her, did his best to keep up;
doing what looked like the white man’s version of the Electric Slide.
But most of the men stood still and silent. They looked like they would
rather be someplace else. It occurred to me that these men were performing
the spiritual equivalent of waiting outside the fitting room while their
wives tried on a dress.
I felt the urge to leave —not in anger or protest, but in visceral,
awkward discomfort. Call me uptight. Call me insecure. All I know is that at
that moment I felt like I had stumbled into a Barry Manilow concert.
Church is for girls. That is what many men think. Columnist Doug Giles
refers to the typical American church as “Wussville.” He writes:


So why do most men avoid church? Here’s the veneer stripped-away
answer: going to church for the majority of men is an exercise in
unwanted effeminacy. Church, for most men, has not only become
irrelevant; it has also become effeminate. Hanging out in church for
most extra-Y chromosomes [sic] seems unmanly… (Doug Giles, “Where Are
God’s Warriors and Wild Men?” April 17, 2004, www.townhall.com)
Leon Podles, author of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity,
puts it more diplomatically,
You may have noticed that, in general, men are not as interested in
religion as women are. There are usually more women than men at Sunday
mass, and there are far more women than men at devotions, retreats, and
prayer groups. The men who do come are often there because wives or
girlfriends have put pressure on them to attend. In fact, if men speak
honestly, they will tell you that men have a general feeling that the
Page 3
Church is for women. (Leon J. Podles, “Missing Fathers of the Church:
The Feminization of the Church & the Need for Christian Fatherhood,
Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity, January/February, 2001.)
Here are just a few facts. According to a March 2000 Barna survey,
women are 100% more likely than men to be involved in discipleship, 57% more
likely than men to participate in adult Sunday school, 56% more likely than
men to hold a leadership position at a church, 54% more likely than men to
participate in a small group, 33% more likely to volunteer for a church, 29%
more likely to attend church. On any given Sunday in America, women make up
60% of those sitting in church. That percentage is steadily rising. (The
Barna Group of Ventura California, “Women Are the Backbone of the Christian
Congregations in America,” March 6, 2000.)
The same ratio prevails among the professional clergy. Podles predicts,
“...the Protestant clergy will be a characteristically female occupation,
like nursing, within a generation.” (Leon J. Podles, The Church Impotent: The
Feminization of Christianity, Dallas, Spence Publishing, 1999, p. xiii.) He
writes, “The situation in the mainline churches is far worse. The seminaries
have a female majority, and shortly the ministry will be a female occupation.
One will have to say male minister as one now has to say male
nurse.” (Podles, “Missing Fathers of the Church.”) But its not just the
mainline liberal churches. Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago is
widely considered “conservative.” Yet Willow Creek has female elders, and
has had a female pastor on staff since 1996. Members of Willow Creek are
required “minimally [to] be able to affirm with integrity the following: that
they can joyfully sit under the teaching of women teachers ... that they can
joyfully submit to the leadership of women in various leadership positions at
Willow Creek." (See Susan Olasky, “Femme Fatale,” World Magazine, March 29,
1997.)
Page 4
Are women more spiritual than men? While that is one possible
explanation for the data, there is no Scriptural support for such a
conclusion. Men and women are equally fallen, equally sinful, equally
forgiven in Christ, and equally endowed with the Holy Spirit. (Genesis
3:16-19; Romans 3:21-24; Joel 2:29; Acts 8:12; 1 Peter 3:3-4; Galatians 3:28)
So, why do many men think that Church is for girls? Is the Church
being feminized?
Not Feminized; Emasculated
First, I am not saying that Church really is for girls. What’s
happening in the Church is no more suitable for women than it is for men. Dr.
Michael Horton writes:
What we’re talking about here isn’t worthy even of …the feminization of
the Faith. It certainly isn’t worthy of the women in our churches, to
say that it’s OK for women to be characterized by sentimentalism. …It’s
a distortion of femininity, of genuine complements that women bring to
the table. It’s a distortion of that, and then a reduction of
everything, including “masculine aspects.” (Issues, Etc. “The
Feminization of Christianity I,” guest: Dr. Michael Horton. August 22,
2004.)
Second, with all due respect to Podels and others, the Church has not become
more feminine. The Church has become less masculine. The result is not a
feminized church, but rather an emasculated church.
We recently did a program on Issues, Etc. discussing the feminization
of the Church. When we opened the phone lines, most of the callers agreed
that the church was being emasculated. To my surprise, most of those callers
were women. One caller said,
I go into the churches and I either see the wives entirely domineering
—as though it’s a feminist movement— of their husbands, and the single
Christian men that I meet… are wimps. There’s no decisiveness in them,
they’re very soft, simple, almost like boys, as though they want to be
taken care of. …And I loathe that. I will not marry a man who isn’t a
strong Christian man. I won’t do it. I won’t marry some nice guy that’s
Page 5
like my little son. I don’t want a son; I want a man who is a Christian
man of God. (Issues, Etc. “The Feminization of Christianity II,” guest:
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger. August 22, 2004.)
The emasculated church presents a distorted picture of the Christian,
whether man or woman. More importantly, the emasculated church presents a
distorted picture of Christ.
Not only does the emasculated church have little place for real men,
the emasculated church has little place for the real Jesus.
Romancing the Deity
For a long time now, Sunday morning has been about our feelings.
Instead of focusing on how God deals with us in Christ, we focus on how we
feel about God in our hearts. We pray, sing and preach about our feelings. It
is now commonplace to hear Christians talk about an atmosphere of worship,
the mood of worship or a feeling of worship. Worship is now described in
blatantly emotional terms: moving, stimulating, stirring, exciting,
inspiring, exhilarating and even intoxicating.
A man might get impression that in order to really participate in
worship, he needs to get in touch with his feminine side. Men are typically
uncomfortable with this emotional emphasis. S.M. Hutchens has observed:
“Christianity in the West (Catholic and Protestant, conservative and liberal)
has come to be regarded by a great many men, and not without reason, as an
almost exclusively affective domain —something for women, children, and
unmanly men.” (S. M. Hutchens, “Please Me, O Lord,” Touchstone, A Journal of
Mere Christianity, May 2004.)
But the problem isn’t emotion per se. There’s nothing wrong with
emotion in worship, but that emotion ought to be appropriate to one’s gender.
Moreover, that emotion ought to be appropriate to its object. The object of
Page 6
Christian worship is supposed to be the man Jesus Christ. However, the Sunday
morning experience in the emasculated church requires a man to express
emotions toward Jesus he should not have. Horton writes, “most men I know
would feel somewhat uncomfortable singing ‘love songs’ to another man, even
if he is Jesus Christ.” (Michael Horton, “Are Your Hymns Too Spiritual?”
Modern Reformation, July/August, 1995.) Hutchens writes about what he calls
“the increasingly erotic overtones of the ‘personal relationship with Jesus’”
and his own awkward experience one Sunday:
A handsome young woman, attractively dressed, stood before the
congregation with an eight-inch microphone, the head of which she held
gently to her lips while she writhed and cooed a song in which she,
with closed eyes and beckoning gestures, begged Jesus, as she worked
her way toward its climax, to come fill her emptiness…. It was the “In
the Garden” tryst of the old hymnbooks carried to the next phase of
intimacy and excitement. Jesus has been walking and talking with the
revivalists and telling them they are his own for many years now, and
it is not surprising that, given his romantic propensities, they should
be expecting him to move to the next phase of the courtship ritual.
(Hutchens, “Please Me, O Lord.”)
It’s not just the songs. In the emasculated church, the Sunday sermon
sometimes sounds like a personals’ ad posted by Jesus: Sensitive male seeks
personal relationship. Dislikes negativity and intolerance. Likes listening
while you talk, long walks on the beach, sunsets and backrubs. I have so much
to offer. I promise I will change your life!
The “Jesus” in these sermons comes off as a little lonely and a little
needy. He’s willing to overlook your sin if you will just be his friend.
These sermons portray Jesus as forever standing at the door, corsage in hand,
waiting for his date to answer the doorbell.
Needless to say, the “Jesus” who is the subject of such sermons and the
object of such worship in the emasculated church is not the Jesus of
Scripture. “The Jesus whom Scripture reveals isn't user-friendly. He is too
Page 7
harsh with sinners and too determined to die for them. He can't stop talking
about His Cross, and why He must endure it. He is too human, too divine, too
bloody, too dead, and too alive.” (Todd Wilken, “Everybody Loves Jesus: The
Culture Cherishes a Counterfeit Christ,” For the Life of the World, October
2004, vol. 8, no. 4.) The emasculated church has traded the Jesus of
Scripture for the “Jesus in my heart.”
I’m Your Handy-Man
Not every emasculated church repels men. Some attract men by the
thousands.
Joel Osteen is pastor of the largest mega-church in America. The growth
of Lakewood Church has eclipsed even mini-denominations like Willow Creek and
Saddleback. Lakewood will soon move into Houston’s 18,000-seat Compaq Center
after a 70 million dollar renovation. Joel’s secret? A simple message,
typical of the emasculated church:
We’re all about building people up. We’re all about helping people
reach their full potential. …I believe that’s the message this
generation needs to hear. We’ve heard a lot about the judgment of God
and what we can’t do and what’s going to keep us out of heaven. But
it’s time people start hearing about the goodness of God, about a God
that loves them. A God that believes in them. A God that wants to help
them. That’s our message here at Lakewood. (www.lakewood.cc/index.htm)
Combining his Word-Faith roots with his seeker-sensitive savvy, Osteen
has produced a message that is overtly therapeutic. Osteen presents this
self-help message in a winsome and non-confrontational style. His sermons
read like long lists of suggestions —advice on how to be nice. As a result,
the subjects of sin and the Cross seldom come up. When they do, these
subjects are milked for maximum emotional, rather than theological, impact.
According to Osteen, sin is essentially self-doubt. Rather than being
moral and spiritual depravity, sin is a failure to live up to your innate
Page 8
goodness and potential. Sin is bad because it makes you or others unhappy.
The solution, according to Osteen, is realizing your potential with God’s
help:
…God wants to make your life easier. He wants to assist you, to promote
you, to give you advantages. He wants you to have preferential
treatment. But if we’re going to experience more of God’s favor, we
must live more “favor-minded.” To be favor minded simply means that we
expect God’s special help… (Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now, New York,
Warner Faith, 2004, p. 38.)
Lakewood is also typical of the emasculated church in another way.
Osteen himself functions not only as pastor to Lakewood’s thousands, but also
as the model modern male.
To the women in his audience Joel Osteen is the man they wish their
husband could be: young, good looking and sensitive. Osteen routinely tells
the women in his congregation that they are under-appreciated by their
husbands. Likewise, Osteen regularly regales the congregation with stories
from his own marriage and family, in which he invariably emerges as an
exemplary husband and father. For the women in his congregation, Osteen is
James Taylor’s Handy Man:
If your broken heart should need repair,
Then I am the man to see.
I whisper sweet things, you tell all your friends,
They'll come runnin' to me. (Otis Blackwell, Jimmy Jones, “Handy Man,”
1959.)
For the men, Osteen has long lists of how they are single-handedly
ruining their marriages and families. As a remedy, Joel dispenses advice on
how to be… more like Joel. It’s Christian Eye for the Straight Guy. After
all, something must be working for Osteen. As often as the camera pans to his
beautiful wife, Victoria, she looks blissfully satisfied. She is the
Page 9
spiritual version of the smiling wife at the end of the Enzyte Male
Enhancement Pill commercial.
Doubtless, some men in Osteen’s audience are there against their will,
at their wives’ insistence, but not every one of them. One wonders how men
could be attracted to Osteen’s message, but many obviously are. Apparently,
the emasculated church is also the emasculating church.
Few other pastors are able to position themselves between men and their
wives as successfully as Osteen does. However, even if he lacks Osteen’s
total package, the pastor in the emasculated church tends to become the
object of adoration for the women and of emulation for the men. In his
message and his method, Joel Osteen is the shape of things to come in the
emasculated church.
Jesus Didn’t Come to Give You a Backrub.
The attrition of men from the Church, and the emasculating of men in
the Church are just symptoms. The emasculated church has little place for
real men because the emasculated church has little place for the real Jesus.
Long before the term “metrosexual” was coined, Jesus was made over into
one by the Church. Today, the popular picture of Jesus, especially among
Christians, is of a polite, affirming and obsequious wimp.
This is a Jesus shaped by 21st century postmodern sensibilities. This
Jesus helps you find your purpose, reach your potential, realize your
innate goodness, and achieve self-fulfillment. He was sent by a sugar-
daddy god from a country club heaven to help us be all we can be. He
said nice things, did nice things, and never hurt a fly. He lived to
show us that we are better than we think we are. He died to show us
that you can accomplish anything if you just apply yourself. His
message fits neatly on a bumper sticker. His spirit is the spirit of
the age. (Wilken, “Everybody Loves Jesus.”)
In an emasculated church, the Judge Who will pronounce His verdict over
all mankind has been reduced to a therapist who just listens. He gives
Page 10
sinners affirmation when they need absolution. In the emasculated church, the
Good Shepherd Who faces the wolf and lays down His life for the sheep has
become the shepherd who sits safely in the pen, petting the sheep and
stroking their wool. He’s there to sympathize rather than save, to feel your
pain rather than bear your sin.
The real man Jesus isn’t interested in affirming sinners or making them
feel better about themselves; He’s only interested in saving them. The real
man Jesus doesn’t have time to groom the sheep; He’s too busy fighting and
dying for them.
Yes, the church has been emasculated and therefore left unmanned. Many
men think that Church is for girls because, frankly, many churches are.
So, should the Church start sponsoring arm-wrestling contests and
Monday night football? No. Should the Church tailor its message to real men?
No!
The Church should tailor its message to real sinners —both men and
women. That means preaching the message of the real Jesus. That means calling
real sinners —men and women, unbelievers and believers— to repent. That means
presenting the real Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as the only hope for
real sinners —men and women.
The real Church isn’t for girls. The real Church isn’t for boys either.
The real Church is for sinners because the real Jesus is for sinners.
This article may be freely reproduced and distributed with proper citation
and without changes.

Reformation Week

Issues, Etc. Reformation Week 2011 
will feature a program each day which will discuss confessional Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, Calvinism, American evangelicalism, and more.   Listen live or on-demand.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Answer to the Question

If a young man assists an elderly lady with her groceries (really, I can hardly see that happening in today's world, but I needed an example), is that a good work in the sight of God? Is this man getting closer to God by what he does? I think most people would answer yes. Luther explained, "If there is no faith, God accept nothing as service rendered to Him. Here we have the answer to the question: What is the real service of God? It is the doctrine of faith in Christ. Later Christ tells us about the origin of faith--for no one possesses faith of himself-when He says (John 6:44): 'No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him.' And again (John 6:65): 'No one can believe in Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.' For faith is a divine work which God demands of us; but at the same time He Himself must implant it in us, for we cannot believe by ourselves." It is our sinful pride that recoils and wants to do something that would merit God's favor. It is the same pride that resists God's gift of faith, though He desires to give to all this gift of faith, by His Holy Spirit, through His Word and Sacraments. And yes, I think the young man should help the elderly lady, whether or not he has received faith in Christ. In both cases he would be helping his neighbor, which is always a good thing. But only God can make a good deed good in His sight.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stepping Back in Time

Last night we attended a homeschool Family Historical Ball, dressed in Regency period clothing (early 1800's)
Last weekend we attended Civil War Days, which included reenactors (one was in the movie Gettysburg!), and a town hall dance (which included the Virginia Reel!)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Right Diagnosis

I recently read an article in World magazine (Sept. 24, 2011), entitled "It's not about the dream." In the article, Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, discusses what he views as the problem with the Veggie Tales movies. In doing so, I think he also diagnoses what is wrong with many American churches. I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, "Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so," or "Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!" But that isn't Christianity, it's morality. He goes on to discuss what he refers to as the "American Christian ideal." : We're drinking a cocktail that's a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we've intertwined them so completely that we can't tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It's the Oprah god. In the first quote, he gets it exactly right as to what is going on in so many churches. They teach you how you are supposed to act, but they don't give you the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. In the second quote, he gets it right by saying that the gospel that is often presented is not the pure gospel. I am not sure how he defines the gospel, so I will comment that the gospel is specifically Christ for you, for the forgiveness of sins. That is what is missing in so many churches, and that is what the church is here to offer to a sinful and dying world. Editorial update: This post won Issues, Etc. Blog of the week, Sept. 30, 2011.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sweet Potato Pie

I recently received some sweet potatoes from a gardener at church. Since there are only a few in my family who enjoy a sweet potato baked in the oven, I tried a new recipe. However, I did not announce that it was not a pumpkin pie, even though it looked like one. Lindsay told John after he said it was delicious. John later told me, "You should trick me more often." Here is the recipe (which I found easier to make than a pumpkin pie from scratch): Sweet Potato Pie 1

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why do Lutheran pastors wear clerical robes, anyway???

Here is a link to a show on Issues, Etc: "The Gospel for Former Evangelicals: The Office of the Pastor.": If you don't have time to listen, and want my bullet-point "why Lutheran pastors wear clericals", here it is: (1) No, we don't put the pastor on a pedestal when he wears a clerical. On the contrary, it is his uniform, just like a policeman wears a uniform to work. (2) The clerical is not to make a big deal out of the man. Although in many evangelical churches the pastor's personality and appearance is expected to make people comfortable and communicate that the pastor is just one of you, in our churches the clerical is used to hide the man, and magnify the Word. (3 )We do not think it is a meritorious work when the pastor wears a clerical. We do believe that symbols are useful in communicating truths, but we do not worship the symbols.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

This 'n' That Photos


The start of the 13th year of our homeschool. My oldest student is in her room, where she does her studying.



A fox who kept hanging around.



My bicycle from when I was a child, all fixed up by a neighbor from KC who helped us load our moving truck. We couldn't fit my bike on the truck, so he offered to take it and work on it, since bikes are his hobby. I still remember going to the bike shop with my dad when I was about 11 years old. They don't make Schwinns as well as they used to, so I'm glad I held on to it. I put a lot of mileage on it when I was a kid, so it was fun to ride it again.



I spent about $1.50 on these petunias from Wal-mart. I never had much success growing them in KC, but I got my money's worth out of them this year!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whose Obedience?

A teaching that is often missing in mainstream American Christianity is termed the "active obedience of Christ." Simply put, it means that Christ not only PAID for our sins by dying on the cross("passive obedience"), he also KEPT the law perfectly for us ("active obedience"). Why is this so important? It comes down to this-if a church focuses only on Christ's passive obedience, the believer's salvation is often viewed in the *rear-view mirror*, meaning it is something that happened in the past, and now the rest of the Christian's life is about the Christian's obedience. The gospel is not continual good news for a Christian who lives that way. It is the good news of the past. In reality, Christ kept the law for the Christian, and His obedience is the Christian's obedience. Yes, Christians still need to hear the law of God. But that is not what makes them Christians. The gospel, which includes Christ's passive and active obedience, saves them and gives them new life. Then the Christian can truly say,
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..." Galatians 2:20
Here is a link to an Issues, Etc. program. The guest is Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith; the title is "Why is the Active Obedience of Christ Missing in Pop-American Christianity?"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Stan's vicarage begins



Although Stan's vicarage began the first week of August, today he was officially installed during the service. This photo was taken after the service. We are glad that Stan has the opportunity to serve here. (By the way, in case you are wondering what a vicar is, in our church body a vicar is somewhat like a student teacher. A vicar does many things that a pastor does, under his supervision. However, several things are reserved for the pastor).


Thursday, August 11, 2011

For the Record...

Just in case my non-Lutheran readers wonder, "What's up with all of this talk about Martin Luther?" Here are a few things to set the record straight:

1. We don't think that Martin Luther is infallible. In fact, the only things he wrote that confessional Lutherans agree on are the writings contained in the Book of Concord. We don't think they are inspired, but are a correct explanation of the Scriptures.

2. Luther was a sinner/saint, just like every other Christian. Lutherans can, and do dislike and disagree with some things that he wrote (outside of our Confessions).

3. God worked through Luther to bring to light the blessed truth of the Gospel, which has been obscured by many of the practices of the church during his time. He was a doctor of theology, and many of his writings are very helpful and comforting to Christians of all time periods.

Here are Luther's words about the use of his name:
What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone...But if you are convinced that Luther's teaching is in accord with the gospel...then you should not discard Luther so completely, lest with him you discard also his teaching, which you nevertheless recognize as Christ's teaching. You should rather say: Whether Luther is a rascal or a saint I do not care; his teaching is not his, but Christ's. Martin Luther (Luther's Works, American Edition 45:70-71; 36:265)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Elected

This is a long quote, but a good one from the Lutheran Confessions that explains the Lutheran view on election:

Our election to eternal life is founded not on our godliness or virtue, but on Christ's merit alone and His Father's gracious will. He cannot deny Himself [2Timothey 2:13], because He is unchangeable in will and essence [Hebrews 6:17-18]. Therefore, when His children depart from obedience and stumble, He has called them to repentance again through the Word, and the Holy Spirit wants by the Word to be effective in them for conversion. When they turn to Him [Jeremiah 31:18-19] again in true repentance by a right faith, He will always show His old paternal heart to all who tremble at His Word and from their heart turn again to Him, as it is written:

If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? you have played the whore with many lovers; [yet return again to Me,] declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:1)

Furthermore, the declaration in John 6:44 is right and true, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." However, the Father will not do this without means, but has ordained His Word and Sacraments for this purpose as ordinary means and instruments. It is not the will of the Father or of the Son that a person should not hear or should despise the preaching of His Word and wait for the drawing of the Father without the Word and Sacraments. For the Father draws indeed by the power of His Holy Spirit. However, He works according to His usual way. He works by the hearing of His holy divine Word, as with a net [Matthew 13:47-48], by which the elect are plucked from the devil's jaws. Every poor sinner should therefore attend to the Word, hear it attentively, and not doubt the Father's drawing. For the Holy Spirit will be with His Word in His power, and will work by it. That is the Father's drawing.

~Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord XI 75-77

I am so glad that God works through ordained means, and not just some undefined, floating-around-in-the-sky type of way. I am glad that salvation is not dependent on a person's morality, the strength of his faith, or any decision that he makes. It is a gift given through the Word of God. That is the comfort of election.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Favorite Quote

"There is no need to attempt to reach God on the basis of our moral strivings, the emotional intensity of our spiritual experiences, or the power of our rational thinking. In the forgiveness of sins we receive life and salvation as a gift through faith in Christ's promise. Freed from the curse of the Law, we are liberated for a life of good works. The world becomes the arena for vocation-our calling to live by faith under the cross and in loving service to the neighbor in his or her need."

John T. Pless, Handling the Word of Truth

Summer update

It's been a busy few weeks at the Palmer home. Elise went to a Lutheran retreat, called Higher Things, and the other kids were in swimming lessons. I have been avoiding the computer somewhat and trying to finish up some projects before we start full-time school mid-August. Stan is in Hebrew, which ends the first week in August; his vicarage begins the following day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Historical "Church Mission Statement"

Yesterday a man showed up in our driveway who was interested in seeing the church. He told us that his father was the pastor here before WWII, and that his older siblings were born in the parsonage. There is a lot of history here, and I find it fascinating. Here is another bit of history that I find very relevant to the discussions about "Church Mission Statements". The church has recently printed this in its bulletin, regarding handbills that were posted to advertise the church services during the Depression years:

English Services-First, Third, and Fifth Sundays

German Services-Second and Fourth Sundays

English Bible Classes-Sunday 9:00

This seems quaint and far away from us today-but one part of the handbill is as relevant to us today as it was when it was published, probably about 1930. It says:

The Lutheran Church

*Recognizes the preaching of the Word as its only business

*It proclaims to man, without fear or favor, the whole counsel of God

*It avoids sensationalism and practices plain Gospel preaching

*Its service does not aim to entertain but to lift up the heart to God

*It leads you to know your sins and your Savior from sin, Jesus Christ



The parts that really got my attention were the statements about avoiding sensationalism and entertainment, since that is such big part of many American churches today. There really isn't anything new under the sun, and the church's mission will never change, no matter how much "new-fangled" technology is available. Technology is a gift from God, but the church must not let the technology lead it away from the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wedding Photos

We recently attended our nephew's wedding and enjoyed seeing family and friends. Bethany was a flower girl, along with her cousin. Elise played preludes and postludes on the organ.


Money-saving Laundry Tip

Here is something I do to save money on laundry-I make my own fabric softener. I thought it sounded weird when I first heard of it, but decided to give it a try. It works as well as store bought softener, is way cheaper, and I always have the ingredients on hand!

1 1/2 cup white vinegar
1 c hair conditioner
3 cups water

I shake it up in an empty softener bottle, and voila! Instant softener. I even use blue conditioner, which makes it look like Downy.

Emotion-Driven Worship

Here is a great soundbite from Pastor Jon Sollberger, called, "The 'Liturgy' of Emotion-Driven Worship." It is several minutes long.

Wedding photos

In June we went to our nephew's wedding. Bethany was the flower girl, along with her cousin, and Elise played the preludes and postludes on the organ. We had a great time with family and friends.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost Prayer

Today we observe Pentecost, the day God sent the Holy Spirit to establish the New Testament church (see Acts 2). We prayed the following prayer in church this morning, called the Introit; this text is based on Psalm 104:24, 27-28, 30, and an antiphon from a Liturgical Text.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful,
and kindle in them the fire of your love. Alleluia.
O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful,
and kindle in them the fire of your love. Alleluia.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Church Decor

I have noticed that young Christians who are members of churches with plain "worship centers", (or ones that double as gyms)have a tendency to pick a different location for their weddings. They are often looking for something more aesthetically pleasing. There are different reasons that many modern churches do not fit the bill in this area, ranging from concern that certain decor may break the commandment to not worship idols, to sheer pragmatism. This is one of my favorite Luther quotes, discussing why images are allowed in homes and in the sanctuary (we call it so, because it is a sacred place, where God comes to us in Word and Sacrament). And no, I am not promoting the worship of icons. Please read on (if you want a shorter read, my favorite part is the last paragraph).

According to the law of Moses no other images are forbidden than an image of God which one worships....Concerning this I have a powerful passage in Lev. 26.1, "I am the Lord your God. You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no graven image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land, to bow down to them."...It is because of worship that idols and figured stones are forbidden...Where they are not worshiped, they might well be set up and made....
We have also an example of this in the Old Testament. For Joshua (Josh 23[:26]) set up a cairn at Shechem under an oak as a testimony...However, because it was a stone of testimony, and not for the worship, he did not do this against the commandment. Thereafter also Samuel (1 Sam 7 [:12]) set up a stone and called it Stone of Help...But because no worship but only remembrance was intended, he did not sin...
No one is obligated to break violently images, even of God...One is obligated, however, to ...instruct and enlighten the conscience that it is idolatry to worship them, or to trust in them, since one is to trust alone in Christ...Images for memorial and witness, such as crucifixes and images of saints,are to be tolerated...And they are not only to be tolerated, but for the sake of the memorial and the witness they are praiseworthy and honorable...
Now we do not request more than that one permit us to regard a crucifix or a saint's image as a witness, for remembrance, as a sign....Pictures...we would paint on walls for the sake of remembrance and better understanding...It is, to be sure, better to paint pictures on walls of how God created the world, how Noah build the ark, and whatever other good stories there may be, than to paint shameless worldly things. Yes, would to God that I could persuade the rich and the mighty that they would permit the whole Bible to be painted on houses, on the inside and outside, so that all can see it. That would be a Christian work...
God desires to have his works heard and read, especially the passion of our Lord. But it is impossible for me to hear and bear it in mind without forming mental images of it in my heart. For whether I will or not, when I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart...If is is not a sin but good to have the image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes?


God made us physical people, and certainly in this generation there is an understanding of the influence of the visual. There are visual images that point worshipers to themselves, and others that point them to God. It is good and pleasing to engage all of our senses in the worship of God. It can point us to Jesus, who took on human flesh, with all of its senses, and made His dwelling among us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fun field trip






We recently went with some friends from church to the Gene Stratton-Porter Historical Site. The timing was great, since Elise has been working on a paper about the author. Years ago I read her book, A Girl of the Limberlost, but didn't know anything about her life. She published a number of books, including a number of non-fiction books about nature, complete with her own excellent illustrations. Several movies were based on her books, also. The site we visited included the home she designed using materials from the area. It was a refreshing step back in time!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

No one

"But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." Matthew 24:36

Some people don't understand that no one means no one.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

More Photos

Here are a few photos from this spring:

Lindsay's 10th birthday, celebrating with friends. Love those smiles!



Stan bought me a lovely corsage for Mother's Day! When I saw this photo I realized how much John has grown.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

More Spring Stuff

Some more photos I have been meaning to post:


Going out for my 41st birthday



Easter 2011

Vicarage Placement!


Stan received his vicarage placement last night, and we are happy to announce that we will be staying put for the upcoming academic year! We are very pleased to have been placed in the same congregation Stan is currently serving in as a fieldworker. His vicarage begins August 1st, and lasts for one year. Consequently, we will not have to change the name of blog for the time being.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring Summary

Here are a few things that have been happening this spring:

In March we were able to go on a trip to Kentucky to help clean a church that reopened a couple of years ago. Our fieldwork church had the idea to send our youth to this particular church to help out; we were very surprised when we heard that this was the church that our friends were at on vicarage!

Elise with her friends


John with his friends


Removing church cushions, so we could clean the pews



Group shot of the 3 families that worked together. We had a lot of manpower under the age of 18! Even the youngest ones helped out.



Lindsay's 10th birthday

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Holy Week

A blessed Holy Week to you all!

Jesus, all Your labor vast:
All Your woe and conflict past,
Yielding up Your soul at last:
Hear us, holy Jesus.

When the death shades round us low'r,
Guard us from the tempter's pow'r,
Keep us in that trial hour:
Hear us, holy Jesus.

May Your life and death supply
Grace to live and grace to die,
Grace to reach the home on high:
Hear us, holy Jesus.


Jesus, in Your Dying Woes, verses 19-21 (Seventh Word: Luke 23:46),447 LSB

Chrisitanity and the Arts

Whereas Christians used to lead in the arts, they now often retreat from them, considering the arts to be unnecessary, low priority, or even idolatrous. Listen to Gene Veith talking about the importance of Christianity and the Arts.

Blog of the Week

Here is a bit of shameless self-promotion. We were honored to be chosen as "Blog of the Week" for the post this month, "The Ultimate Career." Thanks to C.S. Lewis for his excellent comment on homemaking, as well as to Jeff Schwartz of Issues, Etc. for choosing out post. Listen to "Blog of the Week" here. If you are interested in some other "Blogs of the Week", check out the Friday Issues, Etc. shows on their on-demand listening page, which also have links to the chosen blogs. I look forward to hearing their picks each week!

Vicarage Placement Service, May 2

Here is the link to the Concordia Theological Seminary Homepage, which will be streaming the Vicarage Placement Service at 7 p.m. on May 2. We'll let our readers know where Stan will be a vicar from mid-August of this year until mid-August 2012. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Soliciting Donations?

I recently saw this on a church sign:

"Be a Donor, Give Your Heart to Jesus."

GROAN. Looks like they forgot what our heart is: deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). It also looks like they forgot that Jesus said that he came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Ultimate Career

"The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career. "
— C.S. Lewis

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Day at Netherfield Hall





Last Saturday, I went to South Bend, IN with some friends to my first Regency Ball. The Regency Period was between 1790 and 1820, during the Jane Austen time period. The ball lasted from 11 a.m-3, and lunch was served there. My friends lent me the lovely dress I wore and Mom did my hair (she did a great job on it!) :)
I had a great time with friends; I really enjoyed the English Country style dancing. It was also fun to see all the different costumes worn there.

"My idea of good company...is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company."
"...that is not good company, that is the best."
-Jane Austen (Persuasion)

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Him

Why is it that the Christians who claim to believe in “once saved always saved” are the ones who respond to the altar call, pray the sinner’s prayer, and are baptized multiple times?

Because to validate their Christianity, they look to their own progress in the Christian life, rather than to Christ’s perfect life given for them. To put it another way, they let their sanctification validate their justification, rather than letting their justification validate their sanctification. One of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther talks about what happens when we try to still our consciences by looking at our own contrition, versus casting our sins on Christ:

You cast your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that his wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by him, as we read in Isaiah 53:6, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” St. Peter says, “in his body has he borne our sins on the wood of the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24). St. Paul says, “God has made him a sinner for us, so that through him we would be made just” (2 Cor. 5:21). You must stake everything on these and similar verses. The more your conscience torments you, the more tenaciously must you cling to them. If you do not do that, but presume to still your conscience with your contrition and penance, you will never obtain peace of mind, but will have to despair in the end. If we allow sin to remain in our conscience and try to deal with it there, or if we look at sin in our heart, it will be much too strong for us and will live on forever. But if we behold it resting on Christ and [see it] overcome by his resurrection, and then boldly believe this even it is dead and nullified. Sin cannot remain on Christ, since it is swallowed up by his resurrection.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Update

It's hard to believe that I'm about half-way finished with my second year of seminary training and that vicarage will be here soon. I have completed a second course in Homiletics (preaching), Church History (medieval period), Pastoral Theology, Lutheran Confessions, Greek Readings, and of course, on-going training in field work at Zion Lutheran.
This coming spring quarter, I will have a second course in Dogmatics, a second course in Lutheran Confessions, and two history courses: the Reformation Era and the Medieval Bible in Luther's time.

Overall, things have been going well here. I have had the privilege of preaching on several occasions at Zion Lutheran, which I always enjoy, and there may be a couple opportunities for me to fill-in as guest preacher, and Elise as guest organist at another congregation towards the end of March.

As far as vicarage is concerned, we put in a request for a local vicarage, which if granted, would hopefully allow us to stay put, and save us a couple of moves. It would also allow us to continue taking advantage of the clothing and food co-ops at the seminary, and Elise could continue her organ lessons with Kantor Kevin Hildebrand. Ultimately it's in the Lord's hands, and we will gladly go wherever He deems best. I will officially receive my vicarage assignment on May 2nd, so we wait with great anticipation and excitement.

The Palmer family continues to do well, as we are always busy with home school and other activities. Elise is sophomore in high school and doing great in her studies. She is doing equally well in her organ training; Dana and I are quite proud of her. John, Lindsay, and Bethany are also great pupils, keeping busy with their home school projects and assignments, not to mention piano lessons. John is also serving as acolyte on a regular basis at Zion. Dana, the amazing homemaker and school teacher, is also serving on the Altar Guild at Zion and assisting with the Student Wives Association.

Dana and the kids will be in Kansas City in late June to attend my nephew's wedding, so hopefully they will be back at Christ Lutheran for a Sunday visit. Unfortunately, I will not be attending, as I will be taking summer classes at the seminary, which (for me) are mandatory in order for me to go out on vicarage on schedule.

I close with offering sincere, heartfelt thanks for the on-going support that our friends and family have given us over the past couple of years, both prayers and financial. Your encouragement means so much to us all.

May God continue to bless each of you during this Lenten and Eastertide, as we serve our mighty Lord and Savior together.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DRASTIC PROBLEMS CALL FOR DRASTIC ACTION

Sermon 6th Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Matt. 5:21-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to us from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

OK, let's quickly summarize the main points of the Gospel text from Matt. chapter five:
Jesus reminds us of the 5th commandment "You shall not commit murder".... but he adds that if you get angry with your brother, you're just as guilty before the law, and deserve the fires of hell.... Then there's what appears to be some legal advice about giving offerings if your brother has something against you, especially if you think he's going to take you to court... Jesus also takes us to the 6th commandment "you shall not commit adultery", but if you look lustfully at woman, you're just as guilty, and deserve the fires of hell... And if you get a divorce outside unfaithfulness... that puts you back in the adultery department.... and back to deserving the fires of hell again... Oh, and some very stern warnings about making vows.

Well... and warm, cheery, Epiphany greetings to you too!

Yes friends, this is one of those Gospel texts that comes along every once in a while that can leave us squirming in the seat so badly that we might be thinking to ourselves: "If this is the Good News, I'd hate to hear what the Bad News is!" Because... seriously now, let's be honest, when we first read this text, there's so much Law given here, we are left kind of scrambling to find some hope of the Gospel.

And (at first glance anyway), the only glimmer of "hope" we seem to find to avoid those fires of hell that Jesus refers to... is some bizzare (and rather scary) reference to the surgical removal of the hand or the eye!

This passage is from the Sermon on the Mount, which in of itself has been the subject of a lot of debate in theological circles. One of the most common overarching questions that is bantered around is: Is the Sermon on the Mount Law or Gospel? (I think the answer is BOTH>)
However, make no mistake, this particular passage by itself is entirely Law. However, by the same token, to assign this passage to Law, talk a little bit about it, and just leave it there and walk away, would be a rather short-sighted.
In context, a look at the surrounding text that Matthew writes can shed some additional insight for us. Specifically, the verses just prior to this passage (which was part of last week's gospel text) is helpful to our understanding what our text this morning is telling us.
Verses 19 and 20 read: Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The scribes and the Pharisees... the reference to these highly revered men is significant. Although it's not specifically stated, it's a pretty safe bet that some of these men were in the audience when Jesus spoke; especially since we know that Jesus is drawing a multitude and has by this point, started to make a name for Himself. So, the context of the passage tells us that Jesus is taking aim to all who boast in their righteousness (like the scribes and the Pharisees) and giving them a major reality check.
Murder, we all know, is very VERY serious business... Our laws say that if you commit premeditated murder, the state can lock you up for life, and in some cases and situations you can be put to death for it. But notice what the Lord equates hatred to: murder! He said, "You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.
In the eyes of God, having hatred in your heart towards that neighbor or that family member...having hatred in your heart towards that co-worker...is just as murderous as taking a knife to their throats. We can't just look at the physical act of murder... there's a "heart problem" behind it.
Divorce is at pandemic proportions in our society; more than half of all marriages end in divorce within the first six years and that has been the case here in the U.S. for quite some time now.
Statistically (very sad to say) it isn't much better within the walls of Christ's church. Granted, some marriages (sadly) do end for reasons that are related to adultery or abandonment, but many do not. Many end for very selfish reasons – citing the oft quoted excuse "irreconcilable differences". But regardless of the reasons, one thing is for certain: God hates divorce! He hates what is does to families; he hates what it does to children; he hates what it does to society; he hates what it does to His Church.
Again we can't just look at the physical act -- there's a "heart problem" behind that too.

Jesus takes aim at those whose who commit adultery, but especially those who think they have kept the 6th commandment. 27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Doesn't get much plainer than that... Having lust in your heart towards that other person carries the same eternal penalty as actually committing the physical act. It's possible that Jesus has the story of David and Bathsheba in mind here, as a reminder of where the problem of adultery, murder, and all sin have their root: What lies in our hearts. I am also reminded of what Pastor Wingfield has mentioned before in Adult Bible Class: what if it were possible to have your thoughts projected upon the wall... any volunteers? Not me, thank you.
But we can see what the Lord is doing here: He's not just reciting the Law merely for the sake of whacking us in the head about what the Law says. (Sometimes there's certainly a place for that – we DO need those reminders...but the truth is, anybody can do that. )
Part of what Christ is saying this is: Sin is a drastic problem...with drastic consequences... and a drastic problem such as sin calls for taking drastic measures. Shrugging our shoulders at our sin and just saying, "well, no one's perfect" is not an acceptable response. God doesn't wink at sin, and neither should we. Jesus said: If your right eye (or right hand) causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
Jesus is painting a very graphic picture here to get our attention. He's saying here that if we have a problem of sinning with our eyes or our hands, then we need to get serious about guarding ourselves from such temptations. Take serious action! Set boundaries... Police your TV viewing habits... or shut off the TV entirely... If you have a subscription to a magazine that you know is kind of "borderline" and is leading your thoughts in places you know you shouldn't be going...you should probably cancel it! Use that internet filter on your computer! Don't mess around with sin! Our human nature always wants to try and see how close to the edge of the cliff we can get without falling off. It's a spiritual form of Russian Roulette. Don't play that game!

Yes, sin is a drastic problem which has drastic consequences. We don't have to look very far to see that, do we? The morning news paper... the evening news...are all vivid reminders of incredible destruction that sin as wrecked upon us, our world, our nation, our community... Or closer to home we might think about a neighbor or family member that's made some really bad choices. But of course the best place to see the consequences of sin... is a good honest look at the failings of our own lives. Maybe our failings from just these past few days.

Let's take a closer look at verse 25 which reads: Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. There is certainly very sound, practical words of advice offered here, as I'm sure any good attorney would agree. But I submit that there is also a broader picture Jesus is talking about here. You might have picked up that Jesus is using similar language here that he used in telling the story of the unrighteous servant, who was forgiven of his great debt by his master, but then went after a fellow slave and tried to make him pay of a much smaller debt. Jesus is not just talking to those who might be having legal problems. He's talking to each one of us... When you stop think about it....in addition to a legal problem... we have a heart problem that we can't fix. Each and every one of us. We have an accuser? You bet we do! Who is our accuser?
The old devil... certainly. But we have another accuser too ... the Law! In the civil realm, laws are, of course, in place for our protection, to guide us... to help us stay on the straight and narrow...to keep us out of trouble. And we certainly thank God for that. And yes, we should indeed take precautions to avoid the snares of sin, like I mentioned a few moments ago, but even there, that won't fix the sin problem of our hearts.
Throughout the pages of Scripture, God's Word reminds us such as in the Psalms and in the words of Saint Paul that the Law is good. But there's another side to the Law... a cold and cruel side. The Law points an accusing finger at each and every one of our greedy, self-centered, hate-filled, murderous, adulterous thoughts and actions... and pronounces “GUILTY” to each and every one of us. Satan knows the Law too... and he uses the Law against us as well doesn't he? He whispers in our ear things like “What if so and so knew about THAT sin...hmmmm?” “What makes you so sure God will forgive you for THAT?”

Martin Luther, and later C.F.W. Walther tell us in their writings concerning Law and Gospel that the Law will not and can not save us. The Law only accuses. Luther wrote that “the Law produces thirst; it leads the hearer to hell and slays him”. So... in our text Jesus, is telling us to come to terms with our accuser. So how do we do that? In of ourselves, we can't. We're absolutely powerless in facing our accuser by ourselves, because our accuser is absolutely correct. We're guilty. Like the Pharisees, we cannot point to what we've done and claim we have haven't broken the 5th and 6th commandments about murder and adultery...because we have...and not just those commandments... but all of them! In one form or another we break them all... every single day. We need an advocate to face our accuser.

You see, our heavenly Father looked down at His once perfect, beautiful creation that the first parents Adam and Eve made a complete mess of. Not bound by time, God saw the messes of all humanity down through the ages... He saw the messes that each of us have made for ourselves... and he saw of course... a drastic problem with drastic eternal consequences... and God in His great love and mercy for us... took drastic action.
He lovingly sent His only begotten Son to carry our sins to the cross...allowed Himself to be sacrificed; His sinless body pierced and His innocent blood spilled... for us.
He rose again from the dead, victorious over sin and death for all eternity... and because of His great love He is not only our Savior, He is our advocate. He is the fulfillment of the Law that we could never keep.
He clothed us in His righteousness...how? Through our baptism... He covers our naked, sinful, guilt and shame and proudly declares you to be His precious child that is NOT GUILTY....because of the blood of Jesus Christ. That friends, is how we come to terms with our accuser... through the cross... and ONLY through the cross. So when the devil reminds you of your sin, Luther's advice is simply agree with what the law says. Something to the effect of:
"Yes, devil, I admit that I surely deserve death and hell, and just as surely as I have confessed my sin before God, I have an advocate. His name is the Lord Jesus Christ and where He is, there I will be also." Just like what we do each Sunday as we confess our sins and receive God's joyous and gracious absolution. That's what it's all about: simply agreeing with God's Word about our true selves... and cling to Christ and his cross for His tender mercy.

Yes, the heavy hammer of the Law in today's text accuses us, reveals our filth....makes us thirsty... and drags us to hell... but the Gospel of our Lord Jesus... His work on the cross for us, Luther says, quenches our thirst... comforts us...heals us... and brings us to heaven.
And now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds on the risen Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Enthusiasm

We tend to think about enthusiasm as a good thing. For Martin Luther, however, an enthusiast was someone who looked to himself as the source of his religious devotion. That may sound like Luther was referring to those who say things like, "God is within." One might also think of fanatics, or of "Holy Rollers." Luther's use of the word enthusiasm had a much broader meaning than that:

In a word, enthusiasm dwells in Adam and his children from the beginning to the end of the world. Its venom has been implanted and infused into them by the old serpent. It is the origin, power, and strength of all heresy....

Pretty strong words. All heresy? But they get even stronger:

God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit-without the Word and Sacraments-is the devil himself.

The devil himself? Wait a minute. I felt that God told me that I was going to have boy when I was pregnant, and I had a boy. That must have been God! I felt like God told me to drive down that street, and I saw someone in need. That had to have been God!

The truth is, it might have been God, it might not. You do have a 50/50 chance of being right if you think you know if you are going to have a boy or girl (assuming you didn't peek). And, there are a lot of people in need, on a lot of streets. But it is the devil himself if we think that we have an exclusive line of communication to God, even in the little things. Why? Doesn't my hearing from God show my trust in the Lord, my growing relationship with him? Luther points out:

God wanted to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word [Exodus 3:2-15]. No prophet, neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments or the spoken Word. John the Baptist was not conceived without the word of Gabriel coming first, nor did he leap in his mother's womb without Mary's voice [Luke 1:11-20, 41]. Peter says, "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" [2 Peter 1:21]. Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy. Much less would the Holy Spirit have moved them to speak when they were still unholy. They were holy, says he, since the Holy Spirit spoke through them.

The outward Word is not an inferior Word. It is the only Word that we can cling to as true, and it is the Word that gives to us the forgiveness of sins. Jesus said, "Already you are clean because of the Word spoken to you." John 15:3. It doesn't get any better than that! Am I saying that God does not lead us in our daily lives? On the contrary, relying only on the external, written, objective Word of God frees us from fear so that we can respond to Him in love, and serve our neighbor. If I am stuck at Wal-mart praying about what kind of toothpaste to buy, afraid that God will be mad at me if I don't hear him correctly, I am not trusting him and there is not much energy or time left to love my neighbor (I am not saying that we can't pray about toothpaste, but if Crest and Colgate cost the same, pick one! God will guide and care for you no matter which one you choose!). I realize that is an extreme example, but the dynamics are the same if we look to our own devotion, or our own inner "hearing and movements" as the Holy Spirit Himself. This type of enthusiasm certainly leads us away from Christ and ironically, back to focusing on ourselves, where we began. This is deadly, and as Luther said, is the devil himself. I thank God that Christ died for the sins we commit when we are trying to be religious. And it is His Word, not ours, that makes us holy.

Luther quotes taken from "Smalcald Articles", Article IIX, 9-12, from Concordia, The Lutheran Confessions, Reader's Edition, Paul McCain, General Ed., 2006.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Lord's Supper

This is an interesting discussion on Issues, Etc. about the Lord's Supper, in which several pastors contrast the Lutheran and Reformed views of it. If you are interested in hearing the differences, or if you are only familiar with the symbolic view of modern evangelicalism and/or the transubstantiation view of the Roman Catholic church, this would be a great program for you to listen to. Why all this theology? I will quote my husband:
Know what you believe and why you believe it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hidden in Suffering

Many people are familiar with John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." One could think of this believing as something that "I have to do myself" to prove love for God. Yet if you read on in that passage, in verse 21 it explains that "Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." The key phrase is carried out in God. Martin Luther talks about how God works in our lives:

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
This is clear: he who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls "enemies of the cross of Christ" (Phil. 3:18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God's.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

65th Wedding Anniversary




We recently had the privilege of celebrating my grandparents' 65th wedding anniversary. I am so blessed to still have them in such good health and spirits. Grandma still has her wedding dress, which she put on for the happy occasion. Happy Anniversary, Grandpa and Grandma!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Good News for the New Year

Commitments, resolutions, goals. Is that all we have to look forward to in the New Year? Perhaps you have been asked the big question by a well-meaning Christian (maybe even a pastor):

"Have you fully committed your life to Jesus Christ?"

Whether you have or haven't, I can answer the question for you:

"No."

None of us have, can, or ever will (See Ephesians 2, Romans 3:23)

But here is the good news:

Jesus Christ has committed himself fully to you, by keeping God's law for you, dying on the cross to pay for your sins, and giving you His Word and Sacraments to sustain you. He longs to impart His grace to each of us, and it is not conditional on us. Romans 6 talks about Baptism, and encourages us to rely on it as the time when we were baptized into His death, and raised to walk in newness of life. Verse 17 says that when Christ gives a person a new heart that trusts in Him, He also commits us to His teaching! Note that He is doing the committing, not us. We are the receivers of His grace through His Word in baptism. We are comforted on an ongoing basis by His commitment to our forgiveness, and freed from the treadmill of looking to our works for comfort. This in turn frees us to do good works on behalf of our neighbor, not on behalf of on our own supposed moral progress, which always falls short. He has done it all! That is something that we can rejoice in during 2011, and all eternity.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Scewtape Letters

One of the books that I have recently read is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Although it is quite an in-depth book, it I found it very intriguing and definitely recommend it. Basically, the book is about a senior devil, Screwtape, who is corresponding via letter with his nephew, Wormwood. The purpose of Screwtape's letters is to instruct Wormwood on how to make the young devil's patient lose his salvation and ultimately end up in hell. Screwtape is extremely wise in the ways of tempting, and his suggested plots are sharp and diabolical. What creeped me out the most was that some of Screwtape's plots were ones that do not have the appearance of being evil. Take this excerpt from Chapter 4 for instance (emphasis mine):

"Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing."

The above paragraph reminds me of the many problems people experience today. Many modern Christian mentalities encourage the focus on yourself: what you think about yourself, what you need to do to get salvation, how you should become a better Christian. Here is another excerpt from Chapter 9 (emphasis mine):

"Let him [Wormwood's patient] assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition...It all depends on whether your man can be tempted to despair, or...can be assured that all is well. The former type is getting rare among humans. If your patient should happen to belong to it...keep him out of the way of experienced Christians (an easy task nowadays)."

The two main things that may result if a person gives in to temptation are either despair (feeling pounded by the Law) or pride (feeling that he is a better Christian than others, which can happen as a result of no or not enough Law being taught.) Either way is hazardous and can lead to the loss of salvation. This is why the Law and Gospel must be properly distinguished and taught.
While devils exist and do, indeed, tempt us, we need fear not, because we know that Jesus has triumphed over all and forgives us all our sins.

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They shall not overpow'r us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none.
He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.
-A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, LSB 656, vs. 3