Sunday, June 29, 2008

Polite Fecklessness

One of the scourges of small village life is this unwritten rule - "Thou shalt never publicly stand for anything." The most venomous things I've ever had written about me or said to me are because I have violated this commandment. One local businessmen recently said to me that he felt he couldn't speak about politics or religion to anyone because he might offend someone and it could cost him business. My thought is that if someone is that petty, I can live without their trade or in my case without their donation in the offering plate.

At the root of the problem is that many people have positions that are not well thought or based in fact. For example; "I'm a democrat because they stand for the little guy". In reality, dem members of congress are far more wealthy, on average than Republican members. Further, the income demographics for party members shows that democrats are most likely to have incomes under 20k or over 100k while a Republicans are typically solidly middle class. But because no one talks about this, people are allow to wallow in their illusion. Another example would be that our soldiers are recruited from the poor. Would that more poor people availed themselves of the opportunities military service offers! The vast majority of our service personnel come from middle class, two parent households. In most cases one or both parents have college degrees. In many cases both father and grandfathers have served in the military. In other words, we have a military class in the U.S. It is this military class that is fighting our current conflicts, not poor people. But again, in polite society we are not allow to speak of this lest we disturb someone's comfortable falsehood.

In reality, only those who stand for something, publicly will ever accomplish anything of lasting significance. It is only because men like John Adams took the risk of publicly advocating for American independence, that we are free today. It is only because Abraham Lincoln stood up against the forces of slavery that slavery was abolished in the U.S. (Except among millionaire Indonesian immigrants!)

As a society we should treat those who politely refuse to be counted as feckless. In reality I have great respect for many with whom I disagree, so long as they are honest about where they stand. (That counts out many dems. Oh do I long for the good old days of Paul Tsongas and Paul Wellstone! It is ironic that the one dem who was honest about where he stood, Joe Lieberman was tossed under the bus by his party.) Perhaps this respect shows up in practical terms with my many Roman Catholic friends. I strongly disagree with them on many issues. But those RC's that know where they stand and are willing to be counted are always treated with respect, as they should be. We should glorify the willingness to stand on the important issues of the day. Polite silence doesn't cut it.

Sermon for June 28-29

The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
June 28-29, 2008 (June 25)
Text: Romans 10:5-17

Dear Friends in Christ,
Often we are told that we must draw a hard line. Our founding fathers drew a hard line with Great Britain. Our leaders drew a hard line during World War II with Germany and Japan. Even Willy Nelson and Toby Keith have it as a line in a song - you have to draw a hard line. What does that mean? A line does a couple things. It divides. It shows who’s on what side. Who is standing with the truth and who is standing with falsehood. It also says we will let you come so far and no farther. You have to draw a hard line.

Who was the first Lutheran? That is a good question. The answer is not readily obvious. We could look to the theologians like Amsdorf and Melanchthon. But theologians rarely, by themselves, start movements. Duke Frederick the Wise had protected Luther but really didn’t fully embrace Luther’s theology. But his younger brother Duke John the Steadfast did indeed embrace Luther’s theology. In 1525, when he succeeded his brother as Duke of Saxony, John did two things. First he declared that the churches in his territory were to practice Lutheranism. Second, he ordered a visitation of the churches of Saxony to make certain that they were doing as he had ordered. The Small Catechism was written in response to what the visitors, which included Luther himself, found. How was this heroic? First, he defied both emperor and pope. Second, when he assumed his throne, his cousin, Duke George the Bearded, who ruled the other half of Saxony pressured John to arrest Luther and his followers. John refused and continued to protect Luther.

The situation escalated in 1529 at the imperial diet or parliament in the city of Speyer. The emperor, Charles V, who was also King Charles I of Spain, had recently defeated the Turks who had laid siege to the city of Vienna. He convened the diet to settle the religious questions dividing the Holy Roman Empire. When the diet gathered, Charles ordered all the princes to join him in a Corpus Christi procession. This is a parade through the streets of the city led by a priest carrying a consecrated piece of communion bread. John, along with Philip of Hesse and George of Brandenburg refused. Because they protested the emperor’s command they were termed “Protestants.” The Diet was deadlocked. Neither side could move forward. Finally, in frustration, the emperor ordered the Lutheran princes to present their creeds at the next meeting of the diet.

That winter it was agreed to have Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s fellow professor at Wittenberg, prepare a statement. This statement was presented on behalf of seven German princes and the governments of the cities of Nuernberg and Reutlingen on June 25, 1530. It was publically read before the emperor by Wittenberg attorney Christian Beyer. This date, this event, we mark as the true beginning of the Lutheran Church. The Augsburg Confession remains our confessional standard to this day.

On that day, June 25, 1530, John the Steadfast and his allies drew a hard line. They divided themselves from Rome and from the radical reformers. They made it clear that they stood with Holy Scripture and the ancient fathers. This is the beginning of what we would consider classic Lutheran theological argumentation. Today we start with Scripture, then support the Scriptures with the Confessions, the writings of the ancient fathers and then finally the Lutheran fathers. In 1530, they were writing the Confessions and the Lutheran fathers were just getting started. In this way we show that we are introducing nothing that is new to the church.

This two pronged approach was important, for many lies were being spread about the Lutherans. It was in fact probably more important at that moment to distinguish the Lutherans from those whom Luther called Schwermer - the radicals - than it was to distinguish themselves from Rome.

What was at stake? The very Gospel of Jesus Christ. The very words of our text. The belief that we are saved by grace, alone, though faith, alone, in Jesus Christ, alone. The belief that we know this from the Scriptures alone. We don’t know this because the institutional church tells us this. We don’t know this because we have some experience or feeling. We know this from the objective words of Holy Scripture, alone. We know that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” The Papal church tries insist upon allegiance to their organization, as a condition of salvation. They would further insist upon this work or that work - all of which have been made up by men. The radicals, then and now, would insist upon some sort of experience and a perfectly holy life. The radicals have no place for forgiveness and grace. In fact in one of the most shameful episodes in the whole history of the Church, people tried to say it wasn’t a sin when contemporary Christian singer Sandi Patti abandoned her husband and children and ran off with her manager. It couldn’t be a sin, because those of Sandi Patti’s ilk believe Christians don’t sin any more. In contrast, we have the strongest doctrine of sin in all Christendom. We teach exactly what the Scriptures say - that we are born dead in sin and are born enemies of God. We teach that we sin many times every day. We teach that we cannot possibly know all of our sins. We teach that everything we do is tainted by our sin. We teach that there is no human power than can change this. Then we have the strongest and clearest teaching on God’s grace. We believe, teach and confess that Jesus Christ, God the Son came down to earth and died as payment for our sins. Because Christ has paid for our sins He would raise us to life in Holy Baptism, forgive our sins in the Absolution and have us claim His sacrifice as our sacrifice in the Holy Supper. We believe, teach and confess that Christ and Christ alone is the cause of our salvation. Luther’s last words are instructive - “This is certain, we are beggars all.” We are indeed beggars before God’s throne. All we can do is beg for God’s grace. But we approach boldly because we have His Word and promise that all beggars will be raised up to life with Him forever.

On June 25, 1530, John the Steadfast, Duke of Saxony and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, drew a hard line. He and his fellow princes declared before all the world, at the risk of their very lives, that they rejected all man made teachings. They declared that they rejected all human works as a cause of salvation. John and his fellow princes declared that they too were beggars before God’s throne of grace. And they declared they would kneel down and let the emperor strike off their heads before they would surrender a syllable of their confession. In fact they declared that their confession would stand against the very gates of hell itself. Let our prayer today be that we would be filled withe same bold spirit as John the Steadfast. Let us be so bold, even in the face of death, to declare that we are saved by grace alone, through Faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, and this we know from Scripture alone. Amen!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Buchanan Just Wrong

Pat Buchanan recently published a book in which he argues that their was no need to fight World War II. He suggests that most of Hitler's "grievances" were legitimate correctives of the Versailles Treaty. He further argues that Hitler's real enemy was the Soviet Union. Had the western powers not intervened, Poland would have ceded Danzig to Germany and allied with Germany against the Soviets.

This thesis has led many to condemn Buchanan as an anti Semite and a closet Nazi. In reality it is just the old isolationist mantra. It's not our business and bad things happen when we don't mind our own business. Further, the Nazi charge leads many to simply not examine Buchanan's thesis. That is intellectually weak.

So what would have happened if Poland had been left to its fate? In the short term Buchanan is probably correct. But as those in Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and the like quickly learned, to be allied with Hitler was to be Hitler's slave. In addition, this might well have allowed Germany to defeat the Soviet Union, making it much more powerful. Wouldn't Hitler have been satisfied with his conquests in the east? Buchanan believes that he would have. Further, it would have destroyed communism as a force in world affairs. But there is a fly in the ointment. In the unpublished Mein Kampf II, Hitler makes it clear that he believed that he needed to defeat the west and in particular, the United States. Let's say that a victorious Germany turns west in 1943 or 1944? What a world war that would be! A Germany that had twice the navy and ten times the U-Boats. A Germany that was close to V-2 and even v-3 rockets. (V-3's could have hit New York.) A Germany that would have the industrial might of the Soviet Union and their excellent tank and artillery technology. A Germany that would have been close to having that atomic bomb. It's a terrifying thought indeed. I believe that if we had done as Buchanan suggests, I would be writing this in German.

There are two other possible outcomes which cannot be dismissed. Hitler suffered from Syphilis and was a Meth Amphetamine addict. It appears that he may well have died by 1946 or 1947. If he was victorious in the east, with his declining health, he may have forgone the war in the west. The other possibility would be that Germany and the Soviets would fight to a draw and so drain one another's strength that Germany could not have fought a war in the west. But I don't believe that Churchill could risk either outcome. And he didn't know about Hilter's health problems in any event. So I think the west was correct in drawing a line in the sand and making a stand.

The problems of World War II are complex and will continue to be studied. Buchanan may have in fact made a contribution to that process. But I believe his basis thesis, that World War II was unnecessary, is simply wrong.

Supremes Get One Right

Today the U. S. Supreme Court overturned the D.C. gun ban in a 5-4 decision. They affirmed what the constitution clearly states, that individuals have the right to own guns. One has to ask why it took 34 years to get what was a clearly unconstitutional law overturned. It also makes it clear how fragile our constitutional system is. We have four and a half judges on the Supreme Court who think that there job is to fix all the world's problems in the way that they think is best. Anthony Kennedy is persuaded to do the correct thing about half the time. Yet, the four liberal activist judges are very elderly. John Paul Stevens is around 90 years of age. The the other three are in their 70's. In the next four years the president may well appoint as many as seven justices. That assumes that younger justices like Alito and Roberts remain in good health. Since justices are appointed for life the actual expectation is 2-3. Depending on who is replaced, it may or may not change the balance of the court. But our constitution and liberties are not truly safe until we get a clear orginalist majority on the court. This is one area where President Bush has excelled. In fact he is the best president in my lifetime at appointing supreme court justices. John McCain has promised that he will appoint justices in the mold of Roberts and Alito. If indeed he does win the election and keeps this promise, the court could be secured for a generation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Future of Contemporary Worship

One of the practical concerns about contemporary worship is having pastors who are competent to plan and lead it. Contemporary worship places far greater demands on pastors than traditional worship. In traditional services, the order, readings, introits and the like are all laid out. With the resources available, even many of the hymns are virtually predetermined. Contemporary worship is a new production, top to bottom each week. The pastor or worship planner has to spend a great deal of time in worship planning. Then, because it is different each week, it also must be rehearsed to have good execution. This requires more time. One has to be pretty committed to contemporary worship to put in that kind of time, especially with the time demands for sick calls, meetings, and the like.

The problem in the LCMS is that the young pastors, age 45 and younger have no interest in contemporary worship. Further, they see no value in it. There is no real world evidence that it actually increases growth. That was one of the stunners from the Klaas report from the mid 1990's. (Incredibly, the Klaas report, though their data showed no benefit to contemporary worship, still insisted that the best course of action was for every congregation to offer both traditional and contemporary services.) So the younger pastors, who see no benefit to it, will not invest the time in it. Most the guys my age and younger actually just refuse to do contemporary worship at all. So what will happen to those congregations that do contemporary worship when the current crop of pastors retire? Most will check out in the next ten years. Where will they get their pastors from? I can actually envision a time coming when we have a block of pastors sitting without calls at the same time as we have large numbers of congregations vacant. The pastors won't do contemporary worship and the congregations will only call pastors who are open to it.

We've already had one incident where a pastor told a congregation right up front that he didn't do contemporary worship and was removed from his call. In this shameful case, the pastor asked the congregation to tell him up front if his refusal to do contemporary worship would cause a problem. He only accepted the call after he was assured that it would not. After he was installed the elders "ordered" him to do contemporary worship. When he refused and pointed them to his earlier discussion with them, which I believe was in writing, they rescinded his call.
I fear we may have more such incidents in the future.

Some Tongue in Cheek Theology

Some years back I sang in a choir that performed the Natalie Sleeth anthem "They'll Be Joy In the Morning", which is about the return of Christ. The problem is that it keeps repeating the phrase "they'll be joy", which when sung tends to come out more like "they'll be choi". All this leaves one with the impression that God plans to order out for Chinese the first night we get to heaven. But we can be assured that the egg rolls will be heavenly. Pass the sauce!

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Little Bad Humor

There are several passages in the Bible that have the phrase "abomination of desolation".
Recently, however, language scholars have determined that this in fact a mistraslation. The correct reading should be "obamanation of desolation."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

sermon for June 21-22

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
June 21-22, 2008
Text: Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Dear Friends in Christ,

There is a story about an old man and his grandson in Japan. He was too old to be left alone. So the family always had the young boy stay with him. The boy, likewise was too young to be left alone. So the old man watched his grandson and the grandson watched his grandfather. They lived on a farm on a high hill. Below their rice fields was a village which was right on the sea coast. One day, much like this one, there was a great festival in the village. The people were very happy because the rice was nearly ready to be harvested. It would be a record crop. So it was a celebration of special importance that year. The old man and the young boy were left home. The old man was too old to walk down to the village and dance. The young boy was likewise too young for the celebration. So they were at home watching from the top of the hill. Then they felt a small tremor. The people in the village paused their celebration fearing that it was the beginning of an earthquake, but it passed quickly. The party resumed. But the old man was suddenly moving faster than he had moved in years. He ordered the boy to get torches, oil and flint and steel. The old man lit the torches and handed one to the boy. He ordered the boy to begin setting fire to the rice fields. The old man began light up other portions of the fields. When the people at the festival saw the fires they rushed up the hill to fight the fires. When they saw that the old man had set the fires they began to berate him - “What are you doing you crazy old man!” Before they could say more, a tidal wave came and destroyed the village. They were safe because a wise old man saw the true danger that they did not see and burned the rice fields.
Most Americans don’t see the real dangers around them. They are the people at the festival in the story. They are enjoying life. They are prosperous. It is often said that even the poor in the United States are rich compared to the rest of the world. Opportunities abound. We hear everyday about someone who grew up poor who becomes accomplished in life. And certainly we could leap from here to the earthly dangers. Certainly we have taken many of those too lightly. Whether it is Islamic terrorism, drunk driving, the lack of respect for the institution of marriage, people not taking good care of themselves does not matter. These are all things people should take more seriously. And these would all be great topics for a civics class or a political speech. But we are here to look at something more serious. We are here to look at some of those things which endanger the soul.

There are two basic categories of dangers, those from without and those from within. Both would try to lead us into great sin. Our text focuses on those dangers that come from outside of ourselves. We will have, I’m certain many texts in the coming weeks that help us to look at those dangers that originate in our own sinful hearts, but that is for another day.

Christ says: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Here is the most basic danger, that we would be pressured to deny Christ. The obvious examples are cases of persecution - where we are ordered under threat of death or punishment to deny Christ. Certainly that has been common among Christians from the first days after Pentecost until today. It is common for Islamic terrorists in the Sudan to mine the area around church buildings. If you found, one Sunday morning, that the sidewalk was all torn up and mines planted all around the church, would you still come to the service? Would you find another place to gather? Or would you say, this Jesus thing just isn’t worth it, you could get yourself killed? But remember what Christ says. He doesn’t say it will be easy. He says that we will be betrayed by our own brothers and sisters, parents and children. He says that we will be abused and put to death because we are Christians. In past generations, many Christians considered it a special blessing and privilege to be able to die for the sake of Christ.

Today we live at a time when we face different sorts of persecutions. We are pressured by a society to surrender Christ in more subtle ways. We are pressured to live lives that make a mockery of our creator. We are told that it’s a good thing to use our sexuality in ways that make us worse than barnyard animals. We are told that life is about us and our pleasures. So grab everything you can. This not new. The Schlitz Brewery has been out of business for a couple decades, but many of us remember the slogan - go for the gusto. Modern consumer materialism tells us that we are simply the sum of our toys. So we have to have the newest and nicest boat, motor home, snowmobiles, hunting rifles and the like. Consider what our prosperity has done for us in just one area - guns. When I was a child, my father was considered to have a large collection of guns. He had a .22, a shot gun and a deer rifle, plus a couple more he kept around for us kids. His guns were selected for utility. He did all his hunting with these three guns, whether it was Elk and Moose in Montana, white tale deer, duck, grouse, pheasants or whatever. It was all covered by three guns. Today, you have to have a separate gun for every application, or so people think. And if you don’t, you are somehow inferior. So for many Americans, even many American Christians, consumer goods are their god. Just consider how many your daughters and granddaughters live for their next trip to the mall? How many your sons and grandsons live for their next trip to Gander Mountain?

In contrast to this what does Christ offer? Microwaves and DVD players break and are thrown out. But Christ died for our sins and rose to life again. He lives and cannot die. He gives to us perfect forgiveness and life. We might enjoy a snowmobile or ATV but they will not forgive us. If we are not careful or drink and drive they might even kill us. Christ raises us to life with Him. That shiny new car, eventually becomes the rusty old beater. Though Christ has existed from all eternity, He never gets old.

Most Americans don’t see the dangers to their souls. They don’t see the temptations to self indulgence. They no longer see dangers of wine, women and song. They no longer even see the dangers posed by the stuff they buy at Wal-Mart. They have become consumed with getting things to satisfy themselves. In this, they deny Christ. We must look to our own hearts and see where we too have become followers of the world of consumerism. For we cannot change the rest of the world. We must look to ourselves and seek to lay our own sin before the cross. For there, in that ugly piece of wood that no one would desire, God the Son, laid Himself down for our salvation. The cross is a good we can’t consume. We cannot buy it. It never wears out. And it is given to us a free gift. That makes it better than anything bought and sold among men.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ablaze the Final Phase

A couple days ago I posted the following note, in the comments section of an article, on the Augsburg 1530 blog. I'm attempting to show where this Fullerite Ablaze program will go if we continue to the logical end. If Charles Finney pragmatism is the model this is not far off.

"You know, they’re really in a panic that we’re not attracting enough men and don’t have enough ministry opportunities for women. So here it is, the latest Ablaze suggestion! The Lutheran evangelism strip club and brothel! It would attract a lot of men who need to hear about Jesus, provide women with lots of ministry opportunities, and really be out there on the cutting edge. I could come up with all sorts of great slogans for it. And it would raise lots of money to fund the bureaucracy!"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Locke and Capital Punishment

In my previous post I explained that for political theorist John Locke, there is really only one right - life. All other rights, such as the right to property, flow from that one right. One might be left with the impression that Locke's philosophy would lead one to oppose capital punishment.

Locke held that our basic rights are sacred and cannot be violated. If one were to violate those rights, society had the right to demand dire punishments. But not even the government was allowed to violate the rights of the individual. So how does this work. One important phrase in the Bill of Rights is "due process of law". In other words if it can be established that a certain person has indeed violated the basic rights of others, their own rights can be taken from them. So if a person deliberately takes the life of another, or serious threatens it by deliberate, malicious acts, and this can be publicly established to be the case, their life can be taken.

The real issue is do we consider our basic rights to be so precious and sacred that we will as a society stand up for them? For students of Locke they are. So the death penalty is really the result of seeing individual rights as precious. In fact we view them as so precious that we will require that those who violate the rights of others, forfeit those rights themselves.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Life Locke

The abortion debate has dominated our nation for forty years. Yet, if we understand our own intellectual history, this is a slam dunk. Our nation was founded upon pro-life principles.

Much of our intellectual foundation was laid out by political theorist John Locke (1632-1702). Locke explained that human beings are given, by God, the rights to life, liberty, and property. But when you boil it down, Locke really only believed in the right to life. All other rights are simply corollaries to the right to life. The right to life trumps all other rights. One has to have the right to liberty, so that one could relocate to protect one's life in the case of natural disaster, war, or famine. One had to have the right to property, which for Locke means the fruit of one's labor, in order to sustain one's life.

Justice Harry Blackmun asserted that the constitution granted women a right to privacy which therefore meant that the government could not insert itself into her decision to have an abortion. Many judicial theorists have argued that the constitution does not grant a right to privacy. It certainly does not explicitly grant such a right. But even if it did grant an expectant mother the right to privacy, their child's right to life would trump it. The right to life stands above all other rights. This is the basic understanding of our founders, who were clearly students of John Locke. After all, they even paraphrase Locke in the Declaration of Independence.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

sermon for June 14-15

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 14-15, 2008
Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Dear Friends in Christ,
Some years ago an expert on the history of missions asserted that the early Lutherans had no interest in missions and no theology of missions. A member of the audience objected noting that in the very earliest days of Lutheranism we were involved in the evangelization of the Finnish people. The expert responded that this wasn’t really missions since all they did was send out pastors who founded congregations. I would contend that this so called expert was completely in error. For Holy Scripture knows of no form of mission that does not have as it base the sending out of pastors and have as its goal the founding of Christian congregations. This is exactly what the disciples did after Pentecost in Jerusalem. This is exactly what St. Paul did on his journeys. This also is why we should be greatly alarmed when we hear about ordained missionaries like Rev. James May being recalled from the mission field. Over the last decade many of our ordained missionaries have be replaced with lay workers. This raises many questions for us as a church body. Are we really committed to missions as we claim? Are we committed to Christ’s vision for the mission field?

Christ found that the Jewish people were like sheep without shepherds. Those who were supposed to shepherd God’s people weren’t doing their jobs. The priests, who controlled the temple, were more interested in playing politics. Further, many of the priests didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. The rabbis, who controlled the synagogues weren’t teaching people about God. They were too busy teaching their house rules, which they themselves had made up. No one was teaching God’s true law. No one was teaching them of the love of God. No one was teaching them that the Messiah was coming to save them from sin and death. So what does Christ tell His disciples? “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” What are we to pray for? Well, workers for the harvest. What does that mean? It means that they were to pray that God would send pastors who would shepherd God’s people. In fact that is what the word pastor means. It has the same linguistic root as the word “pasture”. A pastor is one who watches over the animals when they are in the pasture - in other words, a shepherd. Christ is telling the disciples to pray for pastors.

What does Christ then do? Does He forget about this and move on? No. He calls His twelves disciples. This action is connected to His first statement. He is providing the pastors that He told the disciples to pray for. Now the disciples or apostles are more than just pastors, but they are first and foremost, pastors. In the sense that the ministry continues on, so also does the work of the apostles. This is why we speak of the ministry as apostolic. The reason why Matthew goes on to list the twelve names is to tell people who really are Christ’s apostles - to show who was really authorized to speak on Christ’s behalf. Remember that when Matthew wrote this, many of these men were still alive. It was also possible that there were preachers running around claiming to be disciples of Jesus who were not.

Today pastors are not directly called by Christ or attested to, by name, in Holy Scripture. So how does one know if this or that person is really a pastor? There are two basic hoops that one jumps though to become a pastor. This is already in place in the book of Acts. First one is approved by the lay people and then one is approved by the clergy. This is still how it is done among us to this day. The members of Immanuel called me to serve as pastor in this place. Then the pastors came and placed me into this pulpit by the rite if installation. It works the same way with missionaries. The church either through a local congregation or through one its agencies extends a call. The pastors ordain him, if needed, and install him as a missionary to a specific place. A good friend of mine was called as a missionary to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he then founded a congregation. Others are sent to more exotic places like Kenya, Sierra Leone, Kazakstan, and the like. Sometimes missionaries go to people who look just like us. Other times they go to people who look and dress very differently from us. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are sent out by the church with their commission to preach, baptize and start congregations. It is this placing into office that allows us to recognize that they are indeed God’s appointed shepherds.

Why did Christ appoint the disciples and establish the ministry? To do just what it says in our text - to have authority over the forces of evil. To break Satan’s power. To undo sin. Sin is Satan’s power over man. Sin is what enslaves us to Satan. The healing of physical ailments was intended to show that they did indeed have power over sin. It shows this because disease and death is the practical result of sin. Today, God no longer gives us these outward signs. But the power over sin and death is still here in the office of the ministry. That is why I can forgive sins. That is why I can raise a child from the death of sin to life in Christ in the waters of baptism. This why I can have you feast on forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. Christ has given these gifts to His Church to be distributed to God’s people according to Christ’s command. Notice here that Christ’s commission is to go and work among those who were already supposed to be believers. In this sense the disciples, initially, were like parish pastors of today - gathering, teaching, and restoring to grace the people of God.

What are God’s people to do for their pastors? They are to pray for them. They are to listen when the pastor faithfully preaches. And yes, they are also to support their pastor’s ministry financially. For indeed a pastor is to be seen as a gift from God. In addition we are to support the work of missionaries with our prayers and donations, so that others also will hear of the wonders God has done for us. We are to encourage young men to consider serving in the ministry of Christ’s church. We are then to also support the seminaries and their work of training men for the ministry. You are also to support the work here in this place by bearing witness to Christ among your children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors. While a pastor or missionary is called and sent out to do God’s work, the people are to proclaim the wonders of God right where they are at within the context of their daily lives.

All of this comes back to Christ’s observation in our text. We need shepherds to lead us to God’s pastures. There needs to be workers in the harvest fields. That work might be telling the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard. It might be baptizing an infant. It might be catechizing the youth. It might be teaching adult Christians how to live in response to the fact that their sins have been forgiven. It might be commending the souls of dead to Christ’s eternal care in a Christian funeral. All this part of what Christ is talking about. All this is Christ’s harvest field. Pray indeed that there will always be workers for God’s harvest.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More Issues Numbers that Don't add up

A couple weeks back the web sight was launched announcing that Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz were launching a new independent version of Issues, Etc. (Perhaps with a different name - that hasn't been made clear.) They also published a budget document. There budget for 2008 is under $400k. This includes renting a building, setting up a studio, buying all manner of equipment, salaries for Wilken & Schwarz, web sight and web streaming costs as well actual production costs for six or seven months. Yet, we are told that it cost about $1.2m to produce Issues's Etc. at KFUO. So why does it cost so much more for KFUO to do this? Maybe the issue wasn't Issues, but other mismanagement at KFUO.

Windfall Taxes

The dems have revived another failed tax program from the past - the windfall profit tax on oil companies. According to one report that quoted Standard & Poors as their source, the oil companies make about 9% profit. Compare this to Google which makes a little over 20% profit. In contrast the government collects $3 in taxes from the oil companies for every $1 in profits. So that means that out of a $4 gallon of gas, $0.36-$0.38 is profit. But $1.18 - $1.24 is taxes - direct and indirect. So who has the windfall here?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sermon for June 7-8

The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
June 7-8, 2008
Text: Hosea 5:15-6:6

Dear Friends in Christ,
After 9/11 there was a brief surge in church attendance. But it didn’t last long. Part of the reason was that so many church leaders offered a feeble and unscriptural response to what had happened to our nation. But it is also a reflection of the spirit of our age. It didn’t take long for people to be back to their games, their snowmobiles, their ATV’s, their family gatherings and the like. Sure we’d hear about the occasional service person killed or wounded. But it didn’t really affect most of us. In this country a military class has developed. Our military is all volunteer. Most of those who serve come from a small, select group of families. The fathers and grandfather’s served, so now the children also serve. Most of our service personnel are well educated and many are career military. Most come of solidly middle class backgrounds. So unless you are in this little circle, as some of you are, the war on terror has required no real sacrifice at all. Most Americans are, figuratively speaking, fat and happy, living high on the hog. As such, most Americans have little time for God and know virtually nothing about Him.

This is very much like the people of Hosea’s time. Hosea’s ministry was around 750 B.C. This is the period of the divided kingdom. He was a prophet to the northern Kingdom, also called Israel, or in our text Ephraim. As you might recall, 750 B.C. is only a few years before the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians, in 722 B.C. But Israel’s decline was rapid. In 750, they were on the top of the world. They were rich and powerful. The nobles lived in great luxury. They had a strong military and well fortified cities. No one could imagine the destruction that was about to come upon them.

Our text begins with God speaking to Israel: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.” God is saying that he will abandon them to their fate. He will leave them to be destroyed because they are not repentant. What follows is still God talking. But He’s talking in the voice of the Israelites. You have to hear God speaking sarcastically, mimicking the Israelites. “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” That this not genuine repentance is made clear in verse 4: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” If there was genuine repentance why would God be asking what He was going to do? Interestingly though, God’s condemnation here is against both the northern and southern kingdoms. Both were guilty and both were unrepentant. Both claimed to be seeking the knowledge of God but remained ignorant of Him. Because of their lack of true repentance, God would send His prophets to kill them. This is not just physical death here, but condemnation to hell.

At this point I want to pose a question to you. Can anyone be repentant as they should? No. Man cannot, by his own powers repent at all. The depth our sin must be revealed to us by God. This is why we say that the maturity of faith is the recognition of our own sin and our own sinfulness. So we do well to pray to God for a repentant heart. We do well to live our entire life as one of repentance.

Let me pose another question to you. Can man know God? No. Again there is nothing in us that allows us to have knowledge of the true God. The only thing we can know on our own is that there is a god. Who He is or what His purpose is, is walled off from the natural mind of man. These things have to revealed to us. Thus St. Paul poses the question: “How can they believe if they have not heard?”

We cannot change the world. This why movement Christianity, such liberation theology, always fails. We cannot even change ourselves. Scripture teaches us that man has a heart of stone. Stone responds to nothing. But Scripture also teaches us that God, in Christ, changes our hearts. He gives us hearts of flesh. He gives us ears that hear His voice speaking to us through Holy Scripture. He gives us minds that seek to know about Him and know Him. He teaches us to be repentant. He perfects our repentance. He gives us perfect forgiveness and eternal life in His presence. Only when God is speaking through us can we say, come let us return to the Lord. But God does speak to us and through us in this way.

Yet, for God to do these things we must know of God and know God. First the knowledge of God. What does God say that He wants of us in our text? He wants us to have knowledge of Him. We are to know who He is and what He is. We are to know what He has done and what He is continuing to do. There is only one source for this knowledge - that is Holy Scripture. To know about God, one has to study the text of Scripture. Even a preacher can only give you what he has been given. I assure you that I have no knowledge of God apart from Holy writ. Yet, in our age, everyone presumes that what they make up in their own head or what they’ve heard on Oprah is real and what is in the Bible is false. God has only revealed Himself in His Word. All other supposed knowledge of God is false. So what God desires of us is that we study His Word and thus learn who He is and what He has done.

Knowledge does not save. Knowing is what is essential. The word “know” or in Hebrew “y’thah” is very important in the Old Testament. If you know something you trust in it and are intimate with it. This the word used for Sexual intercourse - as we would see it in the old King James, literally translating the Hebrew, “he lay with her, and he knew her, and she conceived...” Thus all the jokes about knowing someone in the Biblical sense. The point of knowing about God is so that we would know God. So that we would be intimate with God. So that we would trust in Him and cling to Him.

What does God desire for us? “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Love is the fruit of true repentance - love of God and love for our fellow man. Knowledge leads us to know God and trust in God. For in one sense the response of the Israelites that God mimics in our text is right. God is merciful. He is forgiving. He does restore. That restoration is all connected to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Notice in our text that God will restore after two days, on the third day. Notice that is literally a resurrection that is spoken of in our text. We rise to life with Christ. The Israelites didn’t grasp the depths of their sins. Like many today, they trusted in their power and their prosperity. They were too busy with their distractions to be bothered by things like repentance and the study of Scripture. In many ways we are no different. But in Christ we see the weight of our sins. We see it because the price that had to be paid for our sin. But we also see, in Christ, that we rise to life with Him. Christ teaches us to repent. Christ teaches us who God is and what God has done. Christ teaches us that have forgiveness and life. Amen!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Most Destructive Force on Earth

The most destructive force ever conceived by the mind of men, more destructive than chemical weapons, more devastating nuclear weapons, more virulent than biological weapons is bureaucracy.

The most deadly form of bureaucracy is church bureaucracy. The average bureaucrat deludes himself with the claim that he his not acting to extend his own despotic power but is in fact acting for the greater good of all. The church bureaucrat actually believes he is working his evil for God.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

If Democrats Were Smart

The Democratic primary process has created a great many discussions about super delegates. Both parties have such people. The Republicans don't have as many and they call them something different.

I'm actually a fan of super delegates. If a candidate cannot win enough delegates to lock up the nomination they probably can't win in the fall. Super delegates allow the party to see that they don't have the right candidate.

The front runner is Barrak Obama, and he will carry his lead into the convention. But he does not have enough pledged delegates to guarantee the nomination. Further, he runs weakly in Democratic majority states, as well as swing states. He dominated states the Republicans will almost assuredly win in November.

So what are the Dems to do? If they are smart, the super delegates will refuse to vote for either Hillary or Obama. They will let the convention go through a couple ballots, at which time the pledged delegates become free agents. At that time they will promise both Hillary and Obama cabinet posts and trot out a dark horse candidate. The name that comes to mind here is Evan Bayh of Indiana. He has good credentials, lots of experience and good political connections. He's a bit more moderate and would attract a lot of moderate voters who would otherwise be attracted to McCain.

Wouldn't such a move hand the election to John McCain? Not necessarily. Dark horse candidates have done well historically. It would certainly be preferable to having the party split and run two Democratic tickets.

While this would be the smart thing to do, I don't think this current crop of dems is smart enough to figure this out, even if I tell them. So it will likely be Obama running in November, or a split party putting forward two tickets.