Thursday, March 31, 2011

We keep many Traditions

Moreover, they teach that every Christian ought to train and subdue himself with bodily restraints, or bodily exercises and labors that neither satiety nor slothfulness tempt him to sin, but not that we may merit grace or make satisfaction for sins by such exercises. And such external discipline ought to be urged at all times, not only on a few and set days. So Christ commands, 35] Luke 21:34: Take heed lest your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting; also Matt. 17:21: This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. Paul also says, 1 Cor. 9:27: I keep under my body and bring it into subjection. Here he clearly shows that he was keeping under his body, not to merit forgiveness of sins by that discipline, but to have his body in subjection and fitted for spiritual things, and for the discharge of duty according to his calling. Therefore, we do not condemn fasting in itself, but the traditions which prescribe certain days and certain meats, with peril of conscience, as though such works were a necessary service.

Nevertheless, very many traditions are kept on our part, which conduce to good order in the Church, as the Order of Lessons in the Mass and the chief holy-days.
Augsburg Confession, 1530

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Getting the World's Attention

"What the church believes about herself is dependent on what she believes about Jesus. If non-Christians know nothing of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, how could they possibly recognize his actual and personal presence in the world through the church? Does the church have a way of proclaiming the mystery of her existence in the world other than by proclaiming the presence of her exalted Lord? What the church is can only be shown by confessing Christ. Woe to the church, which seeks a way other than confessing Christ to gain the world’s attention."

H. Sasse

Bringing to Completion the Good Work

"I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words,) that we are now good enough, He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say "I hever expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap." And we imagine that when we say this we are being humble. But this is a fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when he made us."
C.S. Lewis

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Divinity of Christ = the Church

The wondrous fulfillment of what Christ prophesied about the Church reveals most clearly his true Godhead. Do you see the wondrous fulfillment of this prophesy? Indeed,

“the powers of Hell cannot prevail against her.”

Looking at what came to pass, believe what is to come. No one in the future will be able to prevail against the Church. If they did not manage to crush her when she numbered but a few members, when her teaching seemed novel and strange, when so many terrible wars and so many persecutions were raised against her from everywhere, much more they will not manage to injure her today, when she has spread in the whole world, and increased her dominion among all nations, abolishing their pagan altars and idols, their festivals and celebrations, the smoke and the smell of their abominable sacrifices. How did the Apostles achieve such a great, such an important task, after so many obstacles? Surely, it was by the divine and unconquerable power of Him, who prophesied about the creation and triumph of His Church.

No one can deny this, unless he is mindless and completely unable to think.

St. John Chrysostom

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Confidence which consoles = faith

Now he that knows that he has a Father gracious to him through Christ, truly knows God; he knows also that God cares for him, and calls upon God; in a word, he is not without God, as the heathen. For devils and the ungodly are not able to believe this article: the forgiveness of sins. Hence, they hate God as an enemy, call not upon Him, and expect no good from Him. Augustine also admonishes his readers concerning the word "faith," and teaches that the term "faith" is accepted in the Scriptures not for knowledge such as is in the ungodly but for confidence which consoles and encourages the terrified mind.
Augsburg Confession, 1530

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Good advice from President Walther

We are not insisting
that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing
Christians, neither dare anyone demand that everyone be of the same opinion as his
in such matters; nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes
Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the
houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls, [theaters or auditoriums], while
our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God
publicly before the world. . . . Someone may ask,” What would be the use of
uniformity in ceremonies?” We would answer, “What is the use of a flag on the
battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless
sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of
our fathers.9
9 C.F.W. Walther, Essay on Adiaphora in Essays for the Church: Volume I (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House,
1992), p. 193-194.

How to obtain faith

That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.
Augsburg Confession V On the Ministry
How would Satan seek to prevent people from coming to saving faith? First, by discrediting the Holy Ministry either by false doctrine or scandalous living among its inhabitants; Second, by casting doubt upon the efficacy of Word and Sacraments to really bring the Holy Spirit when and where it pleases God in them that hear the Gospel. We can see what a deplorable state Christianity falls into when these two strategies succeed to any extent as is the case in the Roman and Evangelical Churches. In the former the ministers of the Gospel are discredited while in the latter the means of grace are despised. We can only cry out with Queen Esther: "Help me, who am alone and have no help but you!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ecumenism in the spirit of Augsburg

"...that in this matter of religion the opinions and judgments of the parties might be heard in each other's presence; and considered and weighed among ourselves in mutual charity, leniency, and kindness, in order that, after the removal and correction of such things as have been treated and understood in a different manner in the writings on either side, these matters may be settled and brought back to one simple truth and Christian concord, that for the future one pure and true religion may be embraced and maintained by us, that as we all are under one Christ and do battle under Him, so we may be able also to live in unity and concord in the one Christian Church."
The key phrase that shows the difference between Augsburg (1530) and modern day "get along with anyone" Christianity, is this: after the removal and correction of such things as have been treated and understood in a different manner". When the possibility of seeing something corrected or even removed from the teaching and practice of the Church isn't even on the table, true progress has been rendered impossible. As C.S. Lewis stated, "There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake." When we are willing to be corrected, then unity among Christians will have a chance. But not before.

Monday, March 14, 2011

no more evasion

+ First Sunday in Lent +
March 13, 2011
"...and I ate." Genesis 3:13
Do you agree with the saying, Confession is good for the soul?
A full and free confession, only possible by God’s grace, truly restores the soul and brings us the joy of full and free remission of our sins.
1. Adam: The woman you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.
a. The very best marriage in the world!
b. The ones closest to us can push us away from godly path; e.g., Peter not getting the necessity of the Passion.
2. Eve: The serpent deceived me, and I ate.
a. The fast from sin was broken by believing a lie; the autonomous individual.
b. Recognizing the deception is the first step to healing and freedom. The cross strips away all deception.

Luther's Exhoration to Confession

So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is. Furthermore, we strongly urge people not to despise a blessing that in view of our great need is so priceless. Now, if you are a Christian, then you do not need either my pressuring or the pope's orders, but you will undoubtedly compel yourself to come to Confession and will beg me for a share in it. 29] However, if you want to despise it and proudly continue without Confession, then we must draw the conclusion that you are no Christian and should not enjoy the Sacrament either. For you despise what no Christian should despise. In that way you make it so that you cannot have forgiveness of your sins. This is a sure sign that you also despise the Gospel.

30] To sum it up, we want to have nothing to do with coercion. However, if someone does not listen to or follow our preaching and its warning, we will have nothing to do with him (1 Corinthians 5:11), nor may he have any share in the Gospel. If you were a Christian, then you ought to be happy to run more than a hundred miles to Confession and not let yourself be urged to come. You should rather come and compel us to give you the opportunity. 31] For in this matter the compulsion must be the other way around: we must act under orders, you must come into freedom. We pressure no one, but we let ourselves be pressured, just as we let people compel us to preach to administer the Sacrament.

32] When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian. If I have brought you to the point of being a Christian, I have thereby also brought you to Confession. For those who really desire to be true Christians, to be rid of their sins, and to have a cheerful conscience already possess the true hunger and thirst. They reach for the bread, just as Psalm 42:1 says of a hunted deer, burning in the heat with thirst, 33] "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God." In other words, as a deer with anxious and trembling eagerness strains toward a fresh, flowing stream, so I yearn anxiously and tremblingly for God's Word, Absolution, the Sacrament, and so forth. 34] See, that would be teaching right about Confession, and people could be given such a desire and love for it that they would come and run after us for it, more than we would like. Let the papists plague and torment themselves and others who pass up the treasure and exclude themselves from it. 35] Let us, however, lift our hands in praise and thanksgiving to God (1 Timothy 2:8) for having graciously brought us to this our understanding of Confession.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

daily infirmities and the remedy

We must, therefore, make a distinction here among men. For those who are wanton and dissolute must be told to stay away; for they are not prepared to receive forgiveness of sin, since they do not desire it and do not wish to be godly. But the others, who are not such callous and wicked people, and desire to be godly, must not absent themselves, even though otherwise they be feeble and full of infirmities, as St. Hilary also has said: If any one have not committed sin for which he can rightly be put out of the congregation and esteemed as no Christian, he ought not stay away from the Sacrament, lest he may deprive himself of life. For no one will make such progress that he will not retain many daily infirmities in flesh and blood.
Luther's large Catechism

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ashes to ashes

Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are repentant. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Islam and Christianity

Ephraim Karsh’s book, “Islamic Imperialism: A History.” Mr. Karsh is Professor and Head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme, King’s College, University of London. His book is published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006.

In his Introduction to the book, Professor Karsh writes:

“The worlds of Christianity and Islam, however, have developed differently in one fundamental respect. The Christian faith won over an existing empire in an extremely slow and painful process and its universalism was originally conceived in spiritual terms that made a clear distinction between God and Caesar. By the time it was embraced by the Byzantine emperors as a tool for buttressing their imperial claims, three centuries after its foundation, Christianity had in place a countervailing ecclesiastical institution with an abiding authority over the wills and actions of all believers. The birth of Islam, by contrast, was inextricably linked with the creation of a world empire and its universalism was inherently imperialist. It did not distinguish between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad, who derived his authority directly from Allah and acted at one and the same time as head of the state and head of the church. This allowed the prophet to cloak his political ambitions with a religious aura and to channel Islam’s energies into ‘its instruments of aggressive expansion, there [being] no internal organism of equal force to counterbalance it.’”

As we see, the perennial problem of Islam resides in the fact that right from its beginnings politics was intimately wedded to the faith. In fact, Islam as a religious faith would not have achieved any success had Muhammad not immigrated to Medina, where he became both Prophet and Ruler. His triumph over his enemies in Mecca was a military victory. In 630, he entered the holy city as a Fateh, i.e. a Conqueror. This explains why Muslim historiographers called the expansion of Islam throughout the world al-Futuhat, i.e. Conquests. The Ottoman sultan that conquered Constantinople in 1453 is known as Muhammad al-Fateh, i.e. the Conqueror!

Professor Karsh continued:

“Whereas Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, Muhammad used God’s name to build an earthly kingdom. He spent the last ten years of his life fighting to unify Arabia under his reign. Had it not been for his sudden death on June 8, 632, he would have most probably expanded his rule well beyond the peninsula. Even so, within a decade of Muhammad’s death a vast empire, stretching from Iran to Egypt and from Yemen to northern Syria, had come into being under the banner of Islam in one of the most remarkable examples of empire-building in world history. Long after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the caliphate in the wake of World War I, the link between religion, politics, and society remains very much alive in the Muslim and Arab world.” Pp. 5, 6

Jesus only

+ The Transfiguration of our Lord +
March 6, 2011
“…they saw no one but Jesus only.” Matthew 17:8
What are we to make of this mysterious event, the Transfiguration of our Lord? We are confronted with several things that have no rational explanation. Jesus’ face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. Two dead guys, Moses and Elijah, are recognized and converse with Jesus as if it were the most natural thing in the world. A bright cloud overshadows the gathering and a voice speaks loud and clear, reminiscent of what was said at Jesus’ Baptism: This is my beloved Son…listen to Him! Not surprisingly, Peter, James and John were scared to death! But Jesus came and touched them. Today, I’d like us to consider the Transfiguration from the vantage point that this story is for us and actually about us. At the end of the day, when we see Jesus only, we will experience the power of the Gospel to transfigure our lives with faith, hope and love.

1. Moses and Elijah came to speak with Jesus
a. The Law-Giver sees the end of the Law; cures our perennial tendency to revert to the Law. What must I do?
b. The power-prophet sees the power of sacrificial love; cures our perennial desire for power and control.
2. Peter represents our temptation to climb the wrong mountain
a. This (signs & wonders, spectacular happenings) is great! Let’s wrap it up -- this success formula -- and mass market it to the world. NOT! Hush – and listen to my beloved Son.
b. The glory is hidden in the one who takes the form of a servant, in the means of grace.

The Good Shepherd Feeds his Flock

Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. For the new life must be so regulated that it continually increase and progress; but it must suffer much opposition. For the devil is such a furious enemy that when he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and that he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides, tries all devices, and does not desist, until he finally wearies us, so that we either renounce our faith or yield hands and feet and become listless or impatient. Now to this end the consolation is here given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, that it may here obtain new power and refreshment.
-- Luther's Large Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar

Sunday, March 6, 2011

St. Basil the Great on Psalms

psalm implies serenity of Soul; it is the author of peace, which calms bewildering and seething thoughts. For, it softens the wrath of the soul, and what is unbridled it chastens. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. Who, indeed, can still consider as an enemy him with whom he has uttered the same prayer to God? So that psalmody, bringing about choral singing, a bond, as it were, toward unity, and joining people into a harmonious union of one choir, produces also the greatest of blessings, love.

A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons; a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from the toils of the day, a safeguard for infants, an adornment for those at the height of their vigour, a consolation for the elders, a most fitting ornament for women. It peoples the solitudes; it rids the market places of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens feast days; it creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God. For, a psalm calls forth a tear even from a heart of stone.

A psalm is the work of angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

preparation for fasting

St. John Chrysostom:
Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by.

In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well. Let the hands fast, remaining clean from stealing and greediness. Let the legs fast, avoiding roads which lead to sinful sights. Let the eyes fast by not fixing themselves on beautiful faces and by not observing the beauty of others. You are not eating meat, are you? You should not eat debauchery with your eyes as well. Let your hearing also fast. The fast of hearing is not to accept bad talk against others and sly defamations.

Let the mouth fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers? He who condemns and blasphemes is as if he has eaten brotherly meat, as if he has bitten into the flesh of his fellow man. It is because of this that Paul frightened us, saying:

“If you chew up and consume one another be careful that you do not annihilate yourselves.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

God's treasure and medicine

Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practise all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts. In short, it is so transcendent that if timid nature could realize it, it might well doubt whether it could be true. For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one's door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive.
Luther's Large Catechism
Here we answer our Pentecostal/Evangelical friends who scoff at the Biblical teaching of baptismal regeneration, even for infants and small children, and look to subsequent experiences as evidence that the Holy Spirit is active in the Christian's life. We never look to ourselves, but to God's promise and assure our hearts thereby.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

attracting newcomers

"The primary challenge is not changing Sunday; it’s changing what we do the remaining six days of the week. Many congregations have discovered that the more time their congregations spend in the community; the more the community visits the church. This is the heart of the Community In Motion Challenge. We are challenging all the ministries in the Mid-South District to make loving God and loving their community a top priority. We believe that as our ministries become involved in the community through meaningful service, they will begin to experience an increase in people visiting their church." (Rev. Todd Jones)
I applaud our District for encouraging "simple acts of service" (and not changing the Divine Service) as a forgotten key to reaching the lost. We say it every time someone is born from above in Holy Baptism: let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

God's Name = God's work

But where the name of God is, there must be also life and salvation, that it may indeed be called a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water; for by the Word such power is imparted to Baptism that it is a laver of regeneration, as St. Paul also calls it, Titus 3:5.
Large Catechism
Accordingly, I was regenerated (aka "born again/from above") on June 9, 1957. My 16 year old daughter said last night, "Daddy, they want to know when I accepted Jesus. Jesus accepted me!" and a little child shall lead them.