Wednesday, December 31, 2008

You Know You Are a Liturgical Nut....

...when you look at your computer's desktop and say, "Goodness! It's Christmas... I need to change my window color to liturgical white!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.

-Micah 7:18-20 [ESV]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The American: A Master of all Vocations

I am becoming increasingly concerned that the information age has given people a false sense of self-importance. This strikes the independent-minded American culture the hardest. We are always the experts in every situation. It is more than being sure of what we know. We are now sure of things that we do not know. There is a difference between confidence and hubris.

Think about your vocation. Make a mental list of all of the things that you are privy to that others have no clue about. Think about the things that you deal with or have to consider that others are not aware of since they do not walk in your shoes.

Now multiply that by all of the vocations that exist in our modern world and be humbled at how little you probably know about anything. It is baffling to consider, but then add in all of the misinformation and lies that you may have accepted without even knowing.

...but we are all expert economists. We are all superb national leaders. We are all master tacticians and wonderful diplomats. We are peerless medical professionals and city managers. We know how to run a police force and how to best manage a thousand mile national border. We are experts on events that we have not experienced, masters of cultures that we have not studied or visited, and armchair quarterbacks on vocations that we carry only a thimble's experience and ability.

We are so brilliant that we are confused as to why others do not just adopt our point of view. The world would just be better if the people who called the shots would just agree with us.

We should hold others accountable for their decisions and actions. I think that accountability is very important. It is important because people can become corrupt and foolish at times.

But as we evaluate others, we must consider that those people who are making seemingly bizarre decisions are probably working off of all that vocationally-specific information that we are not privy to.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Plants that Decide to Grow

I was speaking to an Anabaptist chaplain about our role in the process of man's justification. The temptation to believe that we in some way cooperate with God is a truly prevalent error. Man cannot just die and let go. He has to help God. He has to get himself out of the mess... or at least help. It is ironic that the modern Christians who accuse Lutherans of restricting God and putting "Him in a box" with our "rigid" liturgical worship seem convinced through their novel doctrines that the Holy Spirit is limited in how much work He can do in our hearts. Some how God's Holy Word is not enough. We have to get involved. Ultimately we have to cross the chasm on our own. I used to believe this. It filled me with arrogance and the chains of burdensome worry.

The discussion eventually moved over to the Parable of the Sower in Mark chapter 4. I observed to my friend that it was interesting that the seed did not decide to germinate once it was sown. It did not decide to turn itself into a plant or determine that it needed to produce leaves. It just grew on its own. The parable makes no mention of any decisions or acceptance.

The Anabaptist answered: "Well, every metaphor breaks down at some point."

Not true! The metaphor of our souls being like plants and our faith being like trees that produce fruit is the entire point. It is not beyond the limit of the metaphor. It is the metaphor! It is a description that is so clear that smart people miss the point.

Did the metaphor break down with my argument about plants and growth? Let's check what Paul says: "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." [1 Cor 3:5-7]

It is not about you. You do not make yourself a Christian and you do not create good works by your own power and add them to your faith. This is why the blessed father of American Lutheranism spoke this way about living faith:

"The inefficiency of faith that fails to work by love is not due to a lack of love, but to the fact that it is no real, honest faith. Love must not be added to faith but grow out of it. A fruitful tree does not produce fruit by somebody's order, but because, while there is vitality in it and it is not dried up, it must produce fruit spontaneously. Faith is such a tree; it proves its vitality by bearing fruit. It is withered when it fails to bring forth fruit. The sun, likewise need not be told to shine, it will continue shining till Judgment Day without any one's issuing orders to it. Faith is such a sun."

-C.F.W. Walther, 1885

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Link Corrected

The link for the Michael Gerson piece on Gen Petraeus has been corrected. The source is the Washington Post.

I apologize for linking to a location that most of you cannot access.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Man Who Stayed



In a modern world that seems inundated of corrupt, incompetent leadership, there are still patriots and heroes who know what they are doing and continue to execute. These individuals serve on your behalf. Their actions aren't motivated by polls and job security. Gen Patraeus is an example of one of these men.

Read a little about General David Petraeus and where he is going next in the article located here.



"Hard is not hopeless." -Gen Petraeus [Sept 19, 2007]

"And morale, frankly, is an individual thing. And it often comes down to the kind of day that you’re having. I am not immune from those same swings. On days when we have had tough casualties, those are not good days. Morale is not high on those days. And I think the same is true of all of our forces." - Gen Petraeus [Apr 2008]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hi Ho Lock and Load


Due to a change in my unit's operational mission, this blog will be suspended indefinitely. This suspension begins today. Periodic posts may appear as my new schedule and location permits, but any posts will be very infrequent. This very public forum precludes me from giving out any more specific information. I apologize for the generic nature of this announcement.

I appreciate your prayers and support. Thanks to my readers for your thoughts and emails over the life of this humble blog. It is my intent to restart this blog once this current business is concluded. I do not know when that will be.

You can still reach me at my civilian email: twntysdr@hotmail.com

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Only In Rome?!? Ha!

I heard a hilarious story after the Divine Service today:

Several of my friends from church attended the Roman Catholic wedding of their friend last week. There was a vocal solo during the service. After the solo, the priest exclaimed, "Only in the Roman Catholic church can we hear such a beautiful song about the Blessed Virgin Mary!"

The female vocalist was a Lutheran from our congregation.
The chorale that she sang was an arrangement by the uber-Lutheran composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.

I am so glad and proud that members of my "imperfect communion" could show the local papists how it's done. How do you say "oops" in German?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

...And Yet Hope Remains

I was present for military honors at a funeral. It was hot. Our part of the ceremony at the grave site had concluded and it was the time for the minister to speak. I must admit that my expectations were not very high. I knew pretty much what to expect.

I had driven by his church before. They meet in a giant General Steel building. A sterile, metal gymnasium with a sign out front that carries the word "fellowship" in its name where one would think "church" should be. I know that they have a dance ministry and their worship falls deep within the pentecostal realm.

He wore no vestments. He held no rubric in his hand. He stood before us all in a dress shirt and slacks with a well-worn Holy Bible has he sorted through all the scraps of paper and pieces of bulletin that were wedged in the pages. He began with his opening statements. He thanked the congregation for being with the family in the past few weeks and he encouraged them to continue with their care for one another. I braced myself for the inevitable unremarkable comments of the modern minister to the modern church.

And then it happened.

"This is no false hope," He said. "This is no pipe dream. As surely as Christ was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, so we shall also be raised up to be with Him at the end."

He continued, "This earth will be made new. You and I and [the deceased] will all stand before Jesus in the flesh again. Together. Alive. We will all be reunited by faith and see God. Because of Jesus, there is hope here."

Sometimes I lose sight of just how powerful the good news about Jesus is. As a lover of the Gospel, I sometimes forget that this thing that I cling to is not my creation, but a revelation by the Spirit. I become so concerned about its fragility that I lose sight of its scope and resilience. I spend a great deal of time defending the Truth... sometimes to the point that I forget just how powerful, pervasive, and penetrating it is.

As we worry, and fret, and bemoan the sorry state of the church, the Holy Spirit continues to move in spite of our 'best' efforts. We look around us with human eyes and see a dead world that is paved over with temporal concern and a church that is fashioning itself to emulate it. In so many places, the beauty of the Gospel has been torn down, tread under, and cast aside in favor of the urban sprawl of enthusiastic error, pleasure seeking, and feel-goodism.

We look around and see lifeless stone everywhere we look and we buy into despair and hopelessness. But there are cracks in the pavement of the Modern Church and, even in those tiniest of spaces, the glorious flower of the Gospel continues to take root and bloom. As dead and hardened as so many are, the Word is still preached and heard.

In spite of what people will tell you, hope still remains. Christ is still the King of His Church. The gates of hell do not prevail against her. Christ continues to care for His sheep and He continues to go out and rescue people. The Holy Spirit still grows us all in the truth and knowledge of God. The Truth is still out there for those with an ear to hear.

There is alot of work to do. There is alot of 'work' that needs to be undone. So many places and souls have become ravaged and bare. But do not lose sight of the flowers in the sidewalk. Do not forget to see every blossom of the Gospel and rejoice. Do not allow yourself to pass by the Gospel without notice and without action.

Spring is upon us. Even as the world dies around us (taking far too many Christians with it), there are still flowers blooming. We should be watering and planting instead of weeping over all the bare rock that we see.

There is hope for all who are in bondage to sin, error, and the false teachers. I am living proof: a flower formerly wedged in the pavement.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Our Invincible Sins and Our Merciful Reliever

"Who gave Himself for our sins..." [Galatians 1:4]

"...Again by this sentence, it is declared that our sins are so great, so infinite and invincible, that it is impossible for the whole world to satisfy for one of them. And surely the greatness of the ransom (namely, Christ the Son of God) declareth sufficiently that we can neither satisfy for sin; nor have dominion over it. The force and power of sin is set forth, and amplified exceedingly by these words, 'which gave Himself for our sins'."

......

"Let us learn here of Paul to fully and truly believe that Christ was given, not for feigned sins, nor for small, but for great and huge sins; not for few but for many; not for conquered sins (for no man can overcome the smallest sin to put it away) but for invincible sins."

......

"Hold this fast, and suffer not thyself to be drawn away by any means from this most sweet definition of Christ, which rejoiceth the very angels of heaven: that is to say, that Christ is no Moses, no lawgiver, no tyrant, but a mediator of sins, a free giver of grace, righteousness, and life: who gave Himself not for our merits, righteousness, and godly life, but for our sins.

"These things, as touching the words, we know well enough, and can talk of them. But in practice, and in the conflict, when the Devil goeth about to deface Christ, and to pluck the word of grace out of our hearts, we find that we do not yet know them well and as we should do. He that at such a time of trial could define Christ truly, and could magnify Him and behold Him as his most sweet Saviour, and High Priest, and not as a strait judge, this man hath overcome all evils, and were already in the Kingdom of Heaven. But this to do in the conflict, is of all things most hard. I speak this by experience.

"This, then, is the cause why I do so earnestly call upon you to learn the true and proper definition of Christ out of these words, "which gave Himself for our sins," if He gave Himself to death for our sins, then undoubtedly He is no tyrant, or judge which will condemn us for our sins.

"He is no caster-down of the afflicted, but a raiser-up of those that are fallen, a merciful reliever and comforter of the heavy and broken-hearted. Else would Paul lie in saying 'which gave Himself for our sins'.

"If I define Christ thus, I define Him rightly, and take hold of the true Christ, and possess Him indeed, and here I let pass all curious speculations touching the Divine Majesty, and stay myself in the humanity of Christ, and so I learn truly to know the will of God. Here then is no fear, but all together sweetness, joy, peace of conscience, and such-like. And here withal is a light opened, which showeth me the true knowledge of God, of myself, of all creatures, and of all the iniquity of the Devil's Kingdom."

-Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Translated by Erasmus Middleton

Monday, October 6, 2008

Moth, Rust, and Theives



Matthew 6:19-26 (English Standard Version)


Lay Up Treasures in Heaven

19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.


Do Not Be Anxious

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Another T-shirt Idea

I got an idea for another T-shirt. What do you think?


Theological Error?
I'm a sheep... not a lemming!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Priorities

I must need some help with time management. I honestly have no idea how you guys do it.

So I am asking the legions of Small Group members out there: How do you find the time to meet once a week? I mean, how do you squeeze in these trips to your friend's house to study God's Word and fellowship and still manage to come back to properly catechize your children during your daily family devotions?

How do you manage to schedule and execute all of these amazing festivals, dinners, coffee houses, and fellowship times and still manage to visit the ill, home-bound, and backslidden on a regular basis?

How do you manage to put in all this neat worship stuff into your services and all of this practical teaching in one hour and still have room for preaching Christ and Him crucified?

How do you manage to spend all of this time working and reading on finding your purpose, living up your full potential, and feeling fulfilled and still manage to help the poor and the widows in your church family?


.............................................oh.

Dr. Christian Smith and the Smoking Gun

If you care about outreach, this is an important report. If you care about reaching people with the love of Christ, you have to listen to what Dr. Smith has discovered.

This is the smoking gun. The way that we currently handle witnessing, training, and worship is all wrong. It is failing to do what it is supposed to. Supposedly, we are all about reaching people, but no one is getting the message.

We who are American Christians are failing our own children.

Personal Relationship with Jesus?

You hear all the time that it is "not just enough to know about Christ. You have to know Christ. You have to have a personal relationship with Jesus." I personally do not know how you can seperate the two, but I have some questions for those of you who are on a first name basis with good ole JC. Since your relationship with Him is so personal and close, these questions should be really easy. Think of it like one of those relationship quizes in those chick magazines: "How Personal is your Relationship?"

1. What is His favorite color?

2. What is His favorite song?

3. What is His favorite food?

4. Does He have a favorite sport?

5. What does Jesus like to do to relax?

6. Can you name three of Jesus' childhood friends?

7. What is His favorite academic subject?

8. Did His mom have a nickname for Him growing up?

9. While on earth, what did Jesus like to do with His free time?

10. How tall is Jesus?

11. What does Jesus look like?

12. What is Jesus' real birthday (and not that ceremonial commemoration date)?

Having trouble? I don't understand why you are having to resort to guesses and speculation. You tell everyone that you and your buddy Jesus are tight. I have close friends and I can easly rattle off more than a couple of these questions for each of them. These are not dry, theological questions. We are talking about relationship stuff. If you couldn't answer any of these questions about your sweetheart, then I'd be willing to bet that you'd be in big trouble. It looks like your relationship with Jesus is rather impersonal. If you are supposed to have a personal relationship with Christ, why are you guys so distant? What's wrong?

The truth is that your relationship with Christ is not close and chummy. In fact, the two of you are down-right unfriendly. Oh, it's personal all right! Deep down there is a part of you that hates His guts. The chasm of distance between you and God is so great that you are powerless to resolve it peacefully. The sin inside of you is so great that you bring nothing to this relationship and it is impossible to know Christ in any possitive way. Blinded by your sinful nature and rebellion, your relationship with Christ is toxic and violent. It is filled with your selfishness, narcisism, vitriol, and hatred. You despise this "friend" so much that you use His name in place of explatives and resent that His standards are so high. When He asks you to do something, you tell Him what you think He wants to hear and then you go do whatever you want to do. You spit in His face and stab Him in the back. You betray Him in the privacy of your own room and deny Him to your friends. By your own power, this personal relationship that you are so proud of is nothing more than you talking to yourself. Like a self-absorbed "friend" who never listens, never trusts, never submits, and never helps, you treat your supposed "best friend" like garbage with your thoughts, words, and deeds. You say your close, but anyone who takes an honest look at the whole situation would tell you different. Frankly, you treat Jesus like crap. That is why you sin in secret: so that poeple do not know the truth about you and how you treat this personal relationship with Jesus. You know that God sees your private sin, but the fact that He knows the truth is of little concern to you. If we all knew the truth as you and God know the truth, we would all agree that He'd be much better off without a self-righteous jerk like you.

So great is your distance from Him--so impersonal is your relationship--that you cannot discover a thing about Him on your own. Everything that you know about Christ has been spoon-fed to you. And how did you come to know these things about Him? You heard and learned about Him through His Word, which was delivered to you by the very dusty, rigid religious organization that you so despise and ridicule... the church. The church introduced you to Christ in one form or another. The church: that human organization of "self-rightous hypocrites" that Jesus Christ instituted so that you might hear and believe in Him and be saved from your sinful condition.

Your personal relationship with Christ was (and remains) totally one-sided. Check the score board. Christ brings sacrifice and you bring complaints and whining. Christ brings salvation and you bring your rejection and compromise. Christ brings His Spirit and you bring your real best friend, the Devil, whom you flirt and cheat with every chance you get. Christ brings true good works and you bring sinful desires and laziness. Christ brings His Word and you bring your many words, your selfish bargins, your broken promises, and your needy feelings.

Thankfully, Christ also brings infinite mercy. There is forgiveness for all of your faults in this personal relationship. Jesus knew going into this arrangement that you were no good. He knew that you were going to contribute nothing but trouble and so there is and endless supply of grace which is poured out for you. It wipes away every sin. It compensates for every short coming. It creates faith where nothing but fear, unbelief, and doubt existed. You might be tempted to take at list a little credit for it, but this personal relationship is nothing but Christ and His perfect work. Through these gifts, you are finally able to know Christ. And through Christ, you know God the Father.

And these gifts do not come to you through your feelings, but in spite of them. When you feel close to Christ, the gifts are there. When you feel distant from Christ, the gifts are still there. When you feel angry, hurt, bored, and lonely, the gifts remain and they are freely given to you. When you come crawling back to Christ with the sulferious stench of Satan on your clothes, the gifts remain to restore, regenerate, and return you to the Kingdom of God.

These gifts are not locked away in some Gnostic secret held by a select few. They are not hidden behind the veil of mystic thought or personal meditation. They are not defined by some creation-hating, Platonic concept or the latest new-age quackery. Jesus loves you so much that He provides these gifts to you through concrete, physical means that are very real and tangible. This is the way that He has always dealt with His people. He knows that your intelect is flawed, so grace does not come to you through human reason. He knows that your feelings are fickle, so grace does not come to you through your spiritual or emotional state. He knows that your worship is imperfect and inconsistant, so grace does not come to you through your talents. He knows that your prayers are incomplete, so grace does not come to you through carefully crafted petitions and penance. He knows that your works are filthy rags, so grace does not come to you through your own effort. The truth is that through all of those subjective means, there is room for doubt. There is a weak link in all of these false systems of forgiveness: they all depend on you, on who you are, and on what you do... and we've already established that everything that you handle falls apart or blows up in your face.

That's why grace comes to you through dependible, consistant, objective means. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these gifts flow directly from God to you. This supernatural power is found with physical things that you can see and touch and it brings you into direct contact with Jesus Christ in an intimate and lasting way. Grace flows to you in the waters of Baptism. It is present under the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. It exists in the spoken Word of God through preaching and in the forgiveness of sin that is spoken to you by His servants who remain on this earth. Through these Means of Grace, Christ abides in you and you abide in Him. Through these means, you receive Christ in abundance. You come to know Him in the way that He would have you know Him: by receiving Him in your ears, on your lips, and in your heart.

When you receive Baptism, you know that you receive the Holy Spirit. At the Lord's Supper, you know that you receive Christ's body and blood. Listening and reading God's Word, you know that the Holy Spirit is working in you as you receive Christ's Gospel. You have been taken out of the equation so that only the divine perfection of God remains to complete the essential task of absolving and vivifing you. You can count on divine perfection.

To know Christ is to know Truth. Truth is not discovered by your power. It can only be revealed to you by the power of God through His Word and promises. Never forget that the true God is the Creator of all things. The Godhead has chosen to deal with us in the physical world through tangible miracles, covenants, and signs. His Son came in a physical incarnation to save us. God creates physical things to care for and sustain you. Both His wrath and His mercy are communicated not in mere concepts or principles, but physically and spiritually in this world and the next. Holy Scripture is filled with examples that demonstrate this truth. He continues to relate to you through the physical means that He has promised.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Giving, Financial Hardship, Hurricane Relief, Government Aid, and the Church

"The apostle wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent upon no one.” (1 Thess. 4:11-12 ESV). Thus the word of God desires that Christians shall act in such a way that they do not face situations in which they must seek the generosity of “those who are outside”. Hedinger remarks on the words, “That you be dependent upon no one”: “[Neither be dependent upon] the people themselves, or their possessions and assistance. Paul desires that they should work for themselves in blessing so that they need not look to the godless for a handout. That would be to their disgrace, an offence to their faith, and a misleading of their souls through the interaction.” But it is clear, if Christians want to work and eat of their own bread, but are not able, and it is necessary for them to rely upon the kindness of unbelievers, then they don’t bear the guilt for giving offense to the world, or the dishonor which thereby comes to the Gospel."

"The zeal of congregations against the secret societies(1) is completely pharisaic if it is not tied with sufficient concern for their poor and suffering. A Christian congregation can not simply claim that there are state funds for the poor and homes for them, which they also support. No Christian congregation should allow their poor to be cared for in this way. The state should much more see that it need not forcibly impose taxes for the poor in order to maintain poor Christians, but only for those who have been forsaken by all the world. Christian congregations should view it as a disgrace to see their poor cared for by the secular state. In the so-called state churches, in which a confusion of the church and the state existed, it was a different matter. There the state institutions for the poor were essentially those of the church. Here, where church and state are strictly separated, the church should not allow its sole care for its poor to be taken away. If God already called upon the church of the old covenant that: “There shall be no beggars among you!” (Dt. 15:4), how much more does this apply to the church of the New Testament! If it dishonors God, if Christians among Christians have to go about as beggars because they are not provided with the necessities of life, so that Christ in them must go begging, what an insult must it be to the name Christian, if Christians close their hearts to their brothers, and they are forced to go begging from the loveless world!"

-C.F.W. Walther, from The Pastor's Responsibility to Care for the Physical Needs of Members of His Congregation.

(1) Note: In Walther’s day, many people joined secret societies, such as the Masons, in order to establish relationships they could count on in times of need.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Public Perception?


Question: What does this political cartoon say about American Christianity and how she is viewed by secular society?


Question: Does this public perception help or hurt the church's primary purpose?


Question: Is this image of the American church accurate or just clever satire? Either way... should we be proud of it?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Deuling Church Signs








...this is funny and sad at the same time. As a person who has suffered through the tortures of sign duty I can tell you that someone has waaaay too much time on their hands.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mike's Dedication Challenge

Here is a common model for churches that have both traditional and contemporary services:

8:00 AM - Traditional Service
9:15 AM - Bible Class
10:30 AM - Contemporary Service

There is a common argument that the reason for Contemporary Services is that they are so popular. Here is my challenge. I am calling for one church to flip the schedule for a while and see how the attendance works out. I have never seen this attempted and I would like to see what happens when this is the schedule:

8:00 AM - Contemporary Service
9:15 AM - Bible Class
10:30 AM - Traditional Service

In the majority of churches that I have attended, I have observed that the late service is always bigger even when they have the exact same format. My hypothesis here is that time is an important variable to attendance. I think that time is so important that most people will not get up early to go to the contemporary service. I think that attendance has more to do with personal schedules than worship style. I am willing to bet that the attendance numbers will not flip with the schedule change. I am certain that the demographics will not perfectly flip and that some are at least attending their service out of habit or convenience rather than voting with their feet.

Try it. I'd love to hear your findings. I would be fascinated if you could prove me wrong.

Why This Will Work - Part 4

GASP!

To quote Jon Lovitz, "Do I detect the foul stench of self-esteem?!"

Perhaps in this case it is the foul stench of optimism. That vile optimism is rearing its ugly head again. Sometimes optimism is regarded as the worst heresy in the church. After all, how can we have hope when so many bad people make so many bad decisions all the time? Game over! Game over!

We have much more fun speculating about synodical schism and another theological dark age of mediocrity and woe. It is the sweet narcotic of hopelessness that absolves us of our individual responsibility to work for a brighter future.

Go over to Steadfast Lutherans and check out this optimistic article by Pr. Klemet Preus.

That's two LCMS Lutherans who are firmly in the "we can do it" column [the titan that is Pr. Preus making up 1.75 of the current count and myself adding the remaining 0.25].

HT: Steadfast Lutherans

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Priceless Treasure

I am grateful that God had blessed me with a wife who insists that we attend churches that have Christ-centered preaching and proper practice. Her discernment and steadfast dedication to the truth is inspiring.

A woman of faith and wisdom is a priceless treasure.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Myth Alert! "I am a Poor American"

I am sure there will be many who disagree with me. This assertion that I make is as unpopular as my infamous "air conditioning is a luxury... not a necessity" statement.

The "poor" in the United States are not poor. The very idea is insulting. The wealthy here who consider themselves poor are only poor relative to the even more wealthy people around them. The vast majority of the poor in this country are far richer, live better, and live longer than the majority of the people on the planet. We play games with geographical boarders in order to make us the victims. Lets look over the facts for a few moments.

The average household wealth per adult world wide is $2,200.

If you have $61,000 in household total assets (not just your wage... everything you've got), you are among the top 10% richest people on earth.

Contrast that with the average wealth in the United States: $144,000 per person. The average American has $141,800 more in treasure than most of the rest of the world. Most Americans, blinded by their sheltered lifestyle, do not understand this.

It is even more extreme than you might think: More than 50% of the world lives on less than $2 per day. That is abject poverty even among American panhandlers.

...and the "cost of living" comparison is pure sophistry. The reason why the American cost of living is so high is because we have so many luxuries that we classify as necessities. If you remove all of the things that are available to the vast majority of Americans, the cost to live in the United States drops drastically. Our life is expensive because we throw obscene amounts of money at things that we don't need.

These are just a few things to think about when working on the budget and when confronted with money trouble. Once you have visited a ghetto in a foreign country, you understand how ludicrous the idea of the American poor is. When you learn that you are among the world's filthy rich, you have no choice but to change your world view and gear down your lifestyle.

So lets set down some ground rules:

If you can afford a worldwide communication device that you can carry with you, you are rich.

If you can afford to make the air in your house whatever temperature you want, you are rich.

If you can eat whatever you want whenever you want, you are rich.

If you own a device that does all of your walking for you and allows you to travel hundreds of miles with ease, you are rich.

Sorry to burst your bubble... you are not poor.

To over 3 Billion people on earth, you are Bill Gates. Use the vast wealth that God has given you wisely. At the very least, try to remain humble, grateful, and a little more patient.

Not Just Healed... Restored!

I once watched a medical program that highlighted all of the technological advances used to grant individuals increased vision. One particular case was very interesting.

There was a man who had become blind at a very young age. Decades later, the blind man was given an opportunity to have his vision restored. After the procedure, his vision was returned to him, but he still walked with a cane and had extreme difficulty making out objects and working with depth perception. What was wrong with his vision? Nothing.

Doctors have discovered that our early years are spent learning what the images from our eyes mean. We learn depth perception and object relationships through trial and error as toddlers. Deprived of this early development, the man was without the ability to process the new kind of information that he was now receiving. Anyone who has their vision restored after long periods of blindness has a long road of rehabilitation ahead as they toil to be able to see properly.

The man was healed, but his vision was not instantly restored... he has years of rehabilitation and learning to do. Not all blind men have had to struggle with this issue.

John 9:1-11 [ESV]

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "It is he." Others said, "No, but he is like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." So they said to him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' So I went and washed and received my sight."



The miraculous works of Christ Jesus are complete. The man was not just healed... his vision was restored! Christ did not only remove the disability, He compensated for the man's weakness and inability. Not only could the man make out fuzzy patches of light, the man was given sight. What a miracle! Perfect in its mercy and perfect in its provision to meet every need.

This is the Jesus that I meet at the place of forgiveness. In the waters of baptism, at the Lord's Supper, and in the privilege of confession, I am not just healed, but I am restored! I am not just forgiven, I also receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that builds my faith. Faith not only saves me, it also fills my heart with new passions and the desire to do good works. I receive a double blessing: my sin is forgiven and I am strengthened in the faith. My blindness is not just removed... I receive my sight.

By faith I am not just healed... I am restored.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Unending Battle Against the Dingies

The stress level goes up when I wear white. Sometimes it is almost not worth it.

When I wear white, the smallest spot of dirt shows. Sure I have clothes that I happily soil with levels of grime and filth that would impress a five year old, but when I wear good clothes (particularly white ones), I become conscious of the slightest speck. The more I value the clothing, the more careful I have to be. It forces me to change the way that I live in order to stay clean.

Putting on the white clothing is an uncomfortable experience. The levels of grime and filth that were so easy to ignore before suddenly become unacceptable. I look down and see things that I never would have even noticed if I was not wearing white. The whiter the clothes the more noticeable the dirt.

And it is not a question of if I will ruin a white outfit with grime or stains. It is a question of how soon that will happen... and how bad it is going to be. When I get a stain, the surprise and horror is enough to make me just want to give up with wearing white all together. I certainly would be much more comfortable wallowing in my own filth in my old clothes.

My white clothes have to be washed alot. Even if I don't get it stained, my own body makes white clothes dingy. It takes alot of water, cleaning, and vigilance to preserve the purity. Dirt automatically becomes a big deal because white clothes are only white as long as they stay white. There are alot of dirty things that I have to give up. There are some things that I just can't do. There is no middle ground. There is no wearing white and wallowing in dirt because the two cannot coexist. My life becomes about going out of my way to avoid filth. It is a never ending mission that exhausts and frustrates.

...but that is a small price to pay in order to wear white.

Ethics, Practical Preaching, and Mission Creep

In the military, there is a term called mission creep. Mission creep happens after you succeed at your real mission. Usually mission creep happens when others place new tasks on your plate and so your mission creeps further and further away from its initial intent. There is also self-inflicted mission creep, where our own success makes us arrogant and we start to take on additional tasks that detract from our original mission. Sometimes, you are forced to engage in mission creep because someone else is not doing their job. In this case, you cross over into someone else's job description to cover for them.

In most cases, if you are not constantly fighting against engaging in mission creep, you travel down the road to catastrophic failure. The more mission creep you dabble in, the further you lose sight of your real mission. You have to shut out the distractions and eleminate the unneccessary efforts. You have to prioritize.

Know your mission. Accomplish your mission.

Mission creep is the process of adding another chainsaw to the juggler over and over again until somebody loses something important.

I have noticed that the motivation behind relevant preaching sounds like the pastoral version of mission creep. I am sure that all the different causes of mission creep effect churches and cause them to stray from the mission: preach Christ crucified.

Maybe there are ethical, behavioral, and relationship problems that the families and the culture are no longer able or willing to deal with... stay on the mission.

Maybe there is pressure to engage in mission creep. Maybe people want things to be different in the church. Maybe people want the church to start picking up the slack left by people who have abdicated their vocational responsibilities... stay on the mission.

Maybe there is a temptation to make things more relevant and practical. Maybe people in the church feel like they have this Gospel thing down pat and can move on to other things... stay on the mission.

Fixing people's complex family problems is someone else's mission. Teaching parents how to parent their children is someone else's mission. Training people in the particulars of ethics is someone else's mission [*cough* head of household *cough*]. Does the church have an important role in supporting these things? Of course. Is this the mission that Christ gave His church? No.

Ultimately, mission creep distracts you from your primary task. When that primary task is proclaiming the Gospel without error and administering the means of grace to sinners, mission creep cannot be tolerated. The primary mission is critical. No one other than the church can do what we are called to do. There is no place for distraction or multi-tasking.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Preparing for Death - Part 6 "Hymnody and Prayer"

"Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart" is perhaps my favorite hymn. The best efforts of composures and musicians to duplicate its intimacy and love of Jesus seem to just fall short. This is nothing less than a faithful prayer set to music. To me, the text that we have read from St. Ignaitus and this kind of hymnody go hand in hand. We are called to die daily to sin and earthly desire. With eyes on Christ, wordly concerns and terrors hold no sway in us. This is a song of proximity to Christ and His endless grace. The words remind me of St. Stephen and his testimony during his martyrdom in Acts.

This is a hymn that should be studied line for line and meditated upon. Conform yourself to the holiness and faithfulness expressed here. This is the essence of the Christian life: that it humbly seeks to be close to Christ. In my mind, there is no greater hymn that connects the daily dying of Christian discipline to our faithful death and promise of Resurrection on the Last Day... and it does so while bowing in loving awe of Our Savior Jesus Christ.

If you attend my funeral, odds are pretty good that you are going to sing this one.


"Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart"
by Martin Schalling 1532-1608


1. Lord, Thee I love with all my heart;
I pray Thee ne'er from me depart,
With tender mercies cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share,
Yea, heaven itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me.
And should my heart for sorrow break,
My trust in Thee no one could shake.
Thou art the Portion I have sought;
Thy precious blood my soul has bought.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.

2. Yea, Lord, 'twas Thy rich bounty gave
My body, soul, and all I have
In this poor life of labor.
Lord, grant that I in every place
May glorify Thy lavish grace
And serve and help my neighbor.
Let no false doctrine me beguile
And Satan not my soul defile.
Give strength and patience unto me
To bear my cross and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
In death Thy comfort still afford.

3. Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my Fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.





The CTS Kantorei sings a wonderful third verse here under a title bearing the first line of the stanza, "Let at Last Thine Angels Come". You can listen to a sample on the webpage, but I encourage you to buy this and other Kantorei CDs. Having personal copies of these performances is a heavenly blessing that far outweighs the earthly cost.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Private Confession and Christian Liberty

Sometimes people hide behind "Christian Liberty" so much that they make it vitually impossible to get a straight answer about simple matters of practice. I wrote this in '06 to express my frustration that you can't get a Lutheran to give you any helpful answers or advice on what to do regarding Private Confession, but it fits most matters practice:

Q: When should I get my oil changed?

A: It's a matter of "car liberty". Change it when it needs it.

Q: Yeah, but when is that usually?

A: Well, it's hard to say. Every car and every driver is a little different.

Q: I know that. Can you give me a ball park?

A: I hesitate to give you a number because I don't want you to feel like you have to do it the moment the odometer rolls over to that point. It isn't an exact science or anything.

Q: I understand. Can I have some guidance?

A: Just read your owners manual and do what you think will benefit your car the most.

Q: Yeah, but the owners manual doesn't clearly cover everything in the detail that I need.

A: That is when you take responsibility as a car owner and do what needs to be done to maintain your car.

Q: And what is that?

A: Car maintainance.

Q: So should I change the oil every time I fill up with gas?

A: No, that would be expensive and unnecessary.

Q: Okay... But I shouldn't go on forever and ignore it either.

A: No, that would lead to problems later. Although there have been people who have never changed their oil and seem to get along fine.

Q: When do you change your oil?

A: Well, you shouldn't base your car practices off of someone else.

Q: Why not? Your car doesn't break down. I don't want my car to break down either. I want my car to be as successful as your car.

A: Yeah, but doing what I do doesn't mean your car will run right.

Q: Duh... but don't you think I need some kind of example to follow as a suggestion?

A: Just as a suggestion? I don't want you to make the mistake of being a legalistic car owner...

Q: Just as a suggestion... please... help me out here.

A: You know, different drivers maintain their cars differently. I won't judge a car owner for changing oil less often or more often than I do. I can't really pin it down to a specific brand of oil or time between changes because it is really kind of subjective.... It's car liberty.

Q: WHEN DO YOU CHANGE YOUR OIL!!!

A: ...................about 3,000 miles or every 4 months.

Q: 3,000 miles. Thank yo-

A: ...But don't quote me on that.

My T-Shirt Idea

There is a T-Shirt that I want to make. The front would say:


WARNING!
ALLERGIC TO FAULTY EXEGESIS.


... and the back would say:


CAUTION!
THIS LUTHERAN MAKES FREQUENT STOPS TO
SANITY CHECK YOUR DIRECTIONS AGAINST WHAT
SCRIPTURE ACTUALLY SAYS IN THE PROPER CONTEXT.
YOUR "GREAT IDEA" MAY HAVE TO BE DISCARDED.



...Thoughts?

Preparing for Death - Part 5 "A Holy Martyr Writes About His Coming Execution"

Read this passage and weep at how far we have degraded from the early church! As modern Christians try to copy the early church in her practice and legacy, hear very personal words from one of our early patriarchs. We who are Christian elitists complain when our congregation's climate control does not work properly on Sunday and we presume to even hint that we practice as they practiced?

Modern Christians institute "home church" and "small groups" and all other sorts of novel concepts under the false justification that they are following the ways of the early church. There is a difference between pretending to be like the early church in superficial things and learning from the apostolic example. To quote the passage presented below: "Do not talk Jesus Christ and set your heart on the world."

We need to rethink what we call persecution. We need to rethink what we consider to be difficult times and suffering. Our view of discipline is a mere shadow. It has the shape of following Christ, but none of the form or depth that distinguishes the real object from the darkened, two-dimensional copy that is cast to the ground by the light.

Modern church dilutes the message of Christ for mere public approval while scores of disciples of the early church eagerly waited to die for their own faith as their witness to the truth of the Gospel. Our view of showing the world a true "witness" is a pathetic farce. When we think "witness" we think of mailers, t-shirts, and telling co-workers that we will pray for them. We should rename our current synodical outreach movement Spark! or Flicker! compared to with the steadfast, blood-written testimony of our church fathers as they pointed to Christ with their last breaths. They were ablaze. We're just blowing smoke.

This kind of "extreme" talk from the early fathers is so alien to our current brand of religion that it makes modern Christians very uncomfortable:



"You never grudged anyone. You taught others. So I want you to substantiate the lessons that you bid them heed. Just pray that I may have strength of soul and body so that I may not only talk [about martyrdom], but really want it. It is not that I want to merely be called a Christian, but actually to be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name. Then, too, I shall be a convincing Christian only when the world sees me no more. Nothing you can see has real value. Our God Jesus Christ, indeed, has revealed himself more clearly by returning to the Father. The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, no in its being convincing to it."

"I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all realize that I am voluntarily dying for God--if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts--that is how I can get to God. I am God's wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. I would rather that you fawn on the beasts so that they may be my tomb and no scrap of my body be left. Thus when I have fallen asleep, I shall be a burden to no one. Then I shall be a real disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more. Pray Christ for me that by these means I may become God's sacrifice. I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles: I am a convict. They were at liberty: I am still a slave. But if I suffer, I shall be emancipated by Jesus Christ; and united to him, I shall rise to freedom."

"Even now as a prisoner, I am learning to forgo my own wishes. All the way from Syria to Rome I am fighting with wild beasts, by land and sea, night and day, chained as I am to ten leopards (I mean to a detachment of soldiers), who only get worse the better you treat them. But by their injustices I am becoming a better disciple, "though not for that reason am I acquitted." What a thrill I shall have from the wild beasts that are ready for me! I hope they will make short work of me. I shall coax them on to eat me up at once and not to hold off, as sometimes happens, through fear. And if they are reluctant, I shall force them to it. Forgive me--I know what is good for me. Now is the moment I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil--only let me get to Jesus Christ! Not the wide bounds of earth nor the kingdoms of this world will avail me anything. "I would rather die" and get to Jesus Christ, than reign over the ends of the earth. That is whom I am looking for--the One who died for us. That is whom I want--the One who rose for us. I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers! Do not stand in the way of my coming to life--do not wish death on me. Do not give back to the world one who wants to be God's; do not trick him with material things. Let me get into the clear light and manhood will be mine. Let me imitate the Passion of my God. If anyone has Him in him, let him appreciate what I am longing for, and sympathize with me, realizing what I am going through."

"The prince of this world wants to kidnap me and pervert my godly purpose. None of you, then, who will be there, must abet him. Rather be on my side--that is, on God's. Do not talk Jesus Christ and set your heart on the world. Harbor no envy. If, when I arrive, I make a different plea, pay no attention to me. Rather heed what I am now writing to you. For though alive, it is with a passion for death that I am writing to you. My Desire has been crucified and there burns in me no passion for material things. There is living water in me, which speaks and says inside me, "Come to the Father." I take no delight in corruptible food or in the dainties of this life. What I want is God's bread, which is the flesh of Christ, who came from David's line; and for drink I want his blood: an immortal love feast indeed!"

"I do not want to live anymore on a human plane. And so it shall be, if you want it to. Want it to, so that you will be wanted!"


-
St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, from his Letter to the Romans, [ca 110 A.D.]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Medical Crisis Solved!

Rising medical costs and long doctor wait times have been done away with through a new program inspired by the customer service advances found in the modern American church.

Program 1: Lay-surgeons. Are there not enough trained, licenced doctors in your area? No problem, we have tons of staff who have attended a 90 day neurosurgery course waiting to slice into your skull. After all, anyone can do brain surgery. All of that schooling and learning is pretty much unnecessary when you figure that lots of former auto mechanics and toaster repair men have pretty steady hands and seem to be really good with a scalpel.

Program 2: Small Group medical evaluations. Are you tired of waiting at the doctor's office forever? No problem. We have groups of totally untrained people who happen to have been in doctor's offices before for several years now. When you are sick, just go to your small group and let them guess what is wrong with you and tell you how they feel they should fix it. We have even given these guys medical text books so that each person can read the text book, do a crossword related to your illness, and tell you what they feel the medical board is trying to say to you. When they decide that they are in over their head, they can call the real doctor who is supervising them along with a dozen other small medical groups.

Program 3: Self diagnosis. Do you hate your doctor and all of his staff? No problem. Are you on the losing end of your doctor's triage? Does he just not have the time or inclination to treat you? Become a self-treater! Just stay at home with Web-MD and treat yourself. If things get really bad, talk to your next door neighbor about it and have him assist you if you have to remove an appendix.

You think this is quackery? You think that only trained medical professionals should be making life or death decisions for you and your children? You think that not all vocations are things that can just be done by anybody?

Question: Isn't your spiritual health much more important than your physical health?

Call a Spade a Spade

Have you noticed that the first thing that a controversial movement does is redefine terms?

"Pro-Abortion" people are not "Pro-Abortion". They are "Pro-Choice".
"Socialists" are not "Socialists". They are "Progressives".
"Partisans" are not "Partisans". They are "Statesmen".
"Pro-War" people are not "Pro-War". They are "Pro-Defense".
"Anti-War" people are not "Anti-War". They are "Peace Activists".

Purpose-Driven, Community Churches are not different. They create all kinds of jargon, buzz-words, and double-speak to minimize controversy. It is all linguistic damage control. When you read what someone writes, read what words they choose because words carry power.

"Worldly" churches are not "Worldly". They are "Relevant".
"Novel" churches are not "Novel". They are "Contemporary".
"Legalistic" churches are not "Legalistic". They are "Purpose-Driven".
"Unionistic" churches are not "Unionistic". They are "Inclusive" or "Non-denominational".
"Shallow" churches are not "Shallow". They are "Accessible".
"Tepid" churches are not "Tepid". They are "Missional".
"Antinomianist" churches are not "Antinomainist". They are "Loving", "Free", and "Grace-filled".

Listen carefully. Pay attention. Watch with discernment. Call a spade a spade.

Preparing for Death - Part 4.5 "New Age is a Cheap Copy"

Being present minded and living a life of constant vigilance are principles that belong to the Christ's church, not pegan new agers and purveyors of narcissistic psychobabble. These world views that sound similar to what I am speaking about are shallow copies, perversions, and indulgent deceptions that seek to distract us from the truth.

Where Christ tells us to live in the moment and die to Him, the world tells us to live in the moment and live for ourselves. Where Christ tells us to consistently look to His coming, the world tells us to consistently look inside ourselves. Where Christ tells us to spend each moment in repentance to God and in service to others, the world tells us to spend each moment as a slave to our ambitions and our appetites. Where Christ tells you that you carry a future of eternal peace in Him, the World tells you to plan and organize our own future before it passes you by.

The Devil is the father of lies and the best lies contain a little truth. Even Satan's first deception in the garden carried the words about what God had said. ...but a half truth is not the whole truth because of the lie. A perversion is not the original because of the perversion. A heterodox belief is not genuine because of the error. A false teaching is not a true teaching because of what is false.

The narcissism; the worldly concern; the selfishness that comes with the obsessions over the past, present, and future of this wretched life; these things are the great, demonic lie. This is the idol that we construct for ourselves while playing lip-service to our "Christianity".

Hear the truth. Listen to the words of Jesus. Christ exhorts us to live a life of vigilant, cross-bearing proximity. We are to be sober, alert, and constantly ready for the Master to return. We live each moment like it is our last: in faith and at the feet of King Jesus, Our Savior.

Luke 12:4-59 (ESV):

******************************

Have No Fear

"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Acknowledge Christ Before Men

"And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

Do Not Be Anxious

And he said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

You Must Be Ready

"Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?" And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Not Peace, but Division

"I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Interpreting the Time

He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, 'A shower is coming.' And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat,' and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Settle with Your Accuser

"And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Preparing for Death - Part 4 "Proximity Over Chronology"

People are obsessed with time. Even we Christians often look at their lives chronologically. We measure our lives by past milestones and base our decisions on future expectations. In many cases, this chronological view of our life is useful. We think back to our baptism. We recall important spiritual events in our life that help strengthen our faith. We use God's gifts to plan for the future. We take care of our families and ensure that we will be prepared for hardship. This is all well and good.

But sometimes we make too much of time. We turn it and our planning into idols. We become fascinated by our legacy, our heritage, our progress, and our future goals. We become so consumed by the past and the future that we lose track of the present. We live on autopilot as we continue to look behind us and ahead of us with ever-increasing anxiety. This even effects how we live out our faith. When we look at the key events in our Christian life, we often see them as the things that make us Christian--the boxes that we have checked off--rather than the points in time when we have had direct contact with the Word through the Means of Grace. It is not the date when these events occurred that is important. It is the fact that they occurred. It is not a matter of the chronology of the Christian life, but of the Christian's proximity to Christ that caries true value.

The vast majority of modern works on the Christian life are all about chronology. They push the idea of making progress as a Christian. They are looking for chronological improvement and see everything in view of the big picture. They have grand visions for you with long-term plans and promise impressive results. They go on at great length about planning for the future and coping with the past. They are all about charts and graphs. They thrive on mnemonic devices and bullet points. We have become consumed by it. We take this kind of "practical Christianity" and adopt it into our world view at the expense of everything else. We worry endlessly about being a better Christian. We buy books to make us a more joyful giver. We look at our life as a path that should be made up of constant improvement. We waste all of our time and effort wishing we could be better.

This is a macro perspective that is ill-equipped to effect significant change in our lives. It fails because it deals only in time and not proximity. It makes plans, promotes ethics, and develops strategies, but it fails to do the one thing that changes people. It fails to connect people with Christ in the present. It places hope in future improvement and future good works rather than hope in the divine promises that exist in the here and now. It wants to witness, but it never equips the Christian to witness effectively. It wants to control temptation, but its philosophy never comes to mind when temptation comes. It wants to seek after God, but it is inconsistent and undisciplined in its approach to this goal. It throws out alot of pretty words and idealistic concepts, but it fails to address the heart of the matter: when it comes down to crunch time, we forget about what we read. We plan and we fail. We resolve to do better and we learn everything about that we should be doing, but we do not take the steps to improve. This is a world-view that is filled with missed opportunities, 20/20 hindsight, and procrastination.

That is why we must never lose sight of our present proximity to the cross. That is what our emphasis should be. It is the constant proximity to the cross that is essential to the Christian. Our confidence rests in Jesus and not the sum total of our experiences. Our reference point is not our works, our tenure as a Christian, or who our earthly teacher is. Our reference point is the cross: the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It is when we acknowledge our identity as children of God in the moment that we truly live according to God's will. It is when we cast aside our human plans, man-made dreams, and our reliance on our pet programs that we become totally dependant on Christ. It is when we disarm ourselves of man-made defenses and put on the Armor of God that we become holy and effective. It is in the moment where we turn our backs on what the world has to offer and embrace Christ that we live by faith.

The Christian life is not just about graphing our ethical progress. It is not a list of dos and don'ts that are listed and checked off. It is not just about reaching our full potential in certain areas of spiritual and ethical conduct. We should be concerned about living a life that constantly seeks to remain close to Jesus in body, soul, and mind. Each day is a series of moments lived by faith that lays hold of God's promises and gifts. It is helpful see life in terms of proximity rather than chronology. Time comes and goes, but Christ is constant. It is true that you were and are a sheep and you could be a better sheep, but your primary concern at any given moment should be how close you are to the Good Shepherd at the present time.

Your life is not really measured in hours, days, and years. It is measured by it's proximity to Christ. Because of this, One doesn't say, "I don't need to go to this weekday service because I went last Sunday." One asks, "In this moment, what can I do to be in the presence of Jesus?" One does not say, "I am tired of letting this guy off the hook when he keeps doing me wrong." One says, "In this moment, how can I forgive as Christ forgives?" One does not wonder, "What will I wear? What will I be doing next year?" One asks, "In this moment, am I joyfully putting on Christ? In this moment, am I living my life according to God's Word? Am I living a life of repentance?"

The Christian must always keep his heart and mind fixed on Jesus. Without a constant concern about this proximity, the sinful flesh causes him to forget about his faith for long periods of time. The flesh rules the Christian's body Monday through Saturday by preoccupying his mind with worldly distractions and diversions. The flesh will even turn the Christian's past success against him and uses it as an excuse to permit sin to flourish for a little while with the understanding that he can always repent in the future after his appetites have been attended to.

But the sober-minded Christian says, "Right now, I want to be close to Jesus" over and over again throughout the day; moment to moment. He makes every thought and decision in view of his faith in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is always in his mind and on his lips. The sober-minded Christian takes every thought captive and purposefully engages every temptation with stubborn resolve. The sober-minded Christian never lowers his guard. He never puts down his sword and shield. He resists conformity to the world. The wise Christian knows that the battle against temptation always exists in the present. The opportunity to do good is in the present. As Christians, we strive to remain eternally vigilant by living our lives one moment at a time... and always in close proximity to Christ.

And so we constantly drown the old Adam in each moment. We constantly pray because moment after moment we offer up our petitions and thanks to God. We constantly read and hear God's Holy Word because moment after moment we meditate on the Scriptures. We constantly consider and long to participate in the sacraments. We constantly engage in morning and evening devotions. We constantly forgive and serve our neighbors. We constantly live in peace, joy, hope, charity, and love. We constantly cast off the pleasures of this world and look to the eternal life that is to come. We constantly resist and fight against temptation. We constantly repent. We are constantly thinking in terms of our proximity to Our Lord Jesus Christ. We constantly return to Christ for forgiveness and grace.

We make the most of the moment that we have. The past is beyond our reach and the future may never come. We live each moment in the presence of Jesus. We consciously take each moment one at a time and act by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we become more resilient. We become more spontaneous and adaptable. We become bold and perceptive. We become lovers of truth. We live for Christ in the moment without regard for the world's consequences. Our sin becomes more visible to us and we become more vigilant so that we can stand against it.

We stop just marking time and we start really paying attention to the detail of our life. We stop paying lip service to the term "disciple" and we start living for Christ with true discipline.

Suddenly, all of those good works that we wish that we were doing seem to happen more and more frequently. The things that a dozen New Year's resolutions could not accomplish become second nature. The life that we live suddenly becomes one of purpose because we consciously apply our faith to each moment rather than just talking about living by faith. We are living in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. The power of the Holy Spirit is poured out and we receive the peace and wisdom that a thousand Christian self-help books could not grant us.

And when death approaches, we do not need to worry about the things that have been left undone. We do not worry about the endless list of failures or regrets. We do not need to long for the things that remain unknown, the achievements left unearned, and the pleasures left unexperienced. We do not evaluate life based on the transitory moments that pass away in the wind. We are not here to mark time. These chronological concerns are tiny when compared with the question of proximity. The moment of death is the same as any other. It is nothing less than another opportunity to live by faith. At that point of death, just as right now and two minutes from now, the Christian draws strength from the Holy Spirit and says, "In this moment, I want to be close to Jesus."

Steadfast Middle Earth Quote of the Day

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost,
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

-Riddle of Strider

We Must Remain Steadfast!

I have joined the Brothers of John the Steadfast.

Are you a steadfast Lutheran yet? Visit the Steadfast Lutheran site here.


Illustration by Pastor Blazek.

Hey Look! The Emperor has no clothes!

Todd Wilken hits it out of the park with this paper.

HT: Steadfast Lutherans

Friday, August 15, 2008

Adiaphora, The Formula of Concord, and Treat Level Orange

We all agree that adiaphora can be safely practiced or ignored without sin. We also all agree that some adiaphora should be strongly encouraged because they are useful in promoting the faith.

We also agree with the Formula of Concord and the teachings of St. Paul that when it teaches that, in times of persecution and in case of confession, some matters that are adiaphora are no longer indifferent when they are used in such a way to attack or obscure the Gospel.

It is this teaching that is being used to assert that, in our current political and theological climate as American Lutherans, many things that are adiaphora in theory are not currently adiaphora in reality. In many cases, I agree with these assertions.

...but here is my question: Realistically speaking, when will those who make these assertions (myself included) conclude that the threats which make these matters no longer adiaphora have abated?

I submit to you the Homeland Security/TSA Airport Threat Level. The colors range from Green up through the Yellows Oranges and Reds of the color spectrum. There was a time (before the invention of these colors) when airports operated at Green. Now, the threat level seems to be Orange by default. When does anyone expect it ever to be Green again? More importantly, should it ever get to the situation where it is Green again, will people admit it and lower the security level?

It is easy to surrender freedoms. It is hard to have the custodians of those freedoms give them back to the people when the crisis is no longer a significant threat. Lets say that we manage to significantly limit matters that we all say are adiaphora so that we can defend the confessions and the Gospel.

How, when, and under what conditions do we get them back? Who will make that decision? Are you willing to surrender a matter of adiaphora over in defense of confessional unity if you know that you will probably never get it back? After the crisis is no longer an issue, will everyone remember why the adiaphora was surrendered in the first place?

...some things to consider when one considers limiting the freedom of the Gospel.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My Suffering as an Enthusiast Ended Through the Sign of the Prophet Jonah

I did all of that seeker stuff. I grew up in the Rick Warren movement. I was a Charismatic. I was a Southern Baptist. I spent years being mentored by former Pentecostals and seeking the ever elusive Holy Spirit Baptism. My father was a Promise Keeper. I’ve read the Purpose Driven Life. I was a praise and worship musician for the better part of a decade starting at the age of thirteen. We played 2-4 services a week and we went on tour to perform at other churches. As a young boy, I helped the liberal elements revamp our congregation with modern worship forms and enthusiast theology. When we joined the church, it had an organ and a few score in membership. When I left, we sat 300+ every Sunday, had a drum kit on the stage, and we hosted Christian punk rock band tours whenever they came to town.

I was also a songwriter. I wrote and performed my compositions before my church whenever the format permitted. The music of the enthusiast is an important window into what makes them tick. It is important to look at what they are singing and connect with them on a deep level.

Why? Because most enthusiasts are secretly hurting inside. Their hope is in the Law and they battle discouragement and disappointment daily. Imagine a life where Christ is most present in the worship that you create and that your connection to God is primarily evidenced by your feelings. Imagine serving a God who comes abundantly in some cases and trickles down in others. Imagine a Holy Spirit who only moves when we do the right things to invoke Him. Imagine a life devoid of the solid foundation that ancient Christianity was built on. Try to live a Christian life that only pays lip service to faith while seeking ever more elaborate ways to reassure itself through signs and miracles.

I submit a song that I wrote as an enthusiast. I performed this song for my congregation. It made people raise their hands, pray, and worship God. After the debut of this song, people came up to me and praised me for my insight and honesty. They thought I really had figured stuff out and that I had written a song that really spoke to the truth of living the life of a Christian. I know people who still love this song. How? It is hopeless! Looking back, my heart grieves to know that this song speaks for many of my brothers and sisters.

Fire by Night
By Mike Baker (when he was living in error as an enthusiast)

How long must I live in this harshest desert?
How long must I thirst as I wander though the heat?
I had a better time as a slave in Egypt,
I don’t know if You’ll provide for me now today.

But You, O God, know my inner questions
The answers You leave are there for me to see
The signs that You’re givin’ me
Lead me through the desert
Through Fire by Night and Cloud by Day

How high must I climb to feel you in abundance?
How far can I fall and still feel your grace?
How long can I live without your gentle healing?
Must there be less of me so I can hear your voice?

‘Cause You, O God, don’t talk the way you used to
The answers You leave are ones I do not see
The signs You are giving me are not out in the open
Like Fire by Night and Cloud by Day.

Maybe just once if you wrote a message in the stars
If I listened for a change… I would know Your heart.

But You, O God, are talking in a whisper
The answers You give are there for those who see
The signs You are giving me are there if I would listen
To the still small voice inside of me

If I listen for a change… can I know Your heart?


I weep for people who feel as I did when I wrote this song. I am horrified that people believe as I once did: that “Jesus being in my heart” means that I should rely solely on some inner voice or subjective experience to lead me in the faith.

This song leads you to false hope. When I wrote it, I was blind. I was searching for God, but I was so spiritually and theologically starved that He seemed elusive, hidden, and distant. I couldn’t know God’s heart because I was listening to the wrong things. Consequently, I felt that God the Father had largely abandoned His people… especially me.

The Enthusiast always wonders why things changed between the Bible and now. Why did God make things so easy for His people in the Old Testament and so hard for us today. Why did God speak verbally to Elijah but not to the church today? Why did God guide His people through visible miracles in the past and not in the present? Why did God speak in a loud voice before and not now? Why did God sit and eat with Abraham then, but not with the church today? They do not understand this mystery and they envy that kind of intimate relationship with God. They search for this relationship in worship and controversial signs, but never find it. They become so desperate that they start to see miracles, angels, and demons everywhere. They will believe anything that looks like a miracle. They will doubt anything that does not feel right. The world becomes bewildering and chaotic.

They are looking in the wrong place. God is not subjective and internal. He is objective and external. He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not treat you any differently than Israel. In fact, He treats you exactly the same because you are Israel. Paul tells us that Christians are children of Abraham by adoption. If you are looking for a personal relationship with God, look in the same places where the people of the Old Testament looked: In those places where God promises to be.

In the Old Testament, you see many signs and objects that contain the very presence of God. God cleansed the earth with a flood and delivered Noah in an ordinary boat. The rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant with Noah. Circumcision is a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. God speaks to Moses in a burning bush. God turns a staff into a snake. God saves the people from death through ordinary blood on an ordinary door. God resides on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. God feeds His people with mana. God saves His people from snakes through a snake on a pole. God wins a battle through the act of Moses outstretching his arms. God saved Rahab through a red chord in her window. God shows Gideon the way through a fleece. The secret of Samuel’s strength was his hair. Naaman’s leprosy was cleansed by bathing in the river Jordan. The list goes on and on and on.

Why do we not have these things today? Why doesn’t God come to the church and shout in a loud booming voice and end all of the debates and doubt? If we are wrong, why doesn't God prove His will through an unequivocal sign?

The Pharisees were enthusiasts, too. They wondered the same thing.

Matthew 12:38-41 [ESV]: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”

Here's your sign! The sign of the prophet Jonah is your miracle, brothers and sisters. The church is guided by this one miracle. Man wants many miracles and asks for a great deal to prove God’s existence, but the salvation of mankind is given to all by just one sign: the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Christ’s death and resurrection is your objective proof of your salvation. If you doubt that God loves you, look to Christ. If you fear what will happen in the future, look to your greatest of signs: Christ. If you do not know what you are supposed to be doing or where you are supposed to go, look to the visible sign as the Israelites in the desert looked to the Fire and Cloud. Look to Christ’s death and resurrection. Gather strength through faith in this awesome miracle; this perfect and complete work.

So perfect is Christ's death and resurrection that all other signs point to, prefigure, and emulate this one. God providing the lamb instead of Abraham's son points to Christ. God saving His people through blood to ward off death points to Christ. God preserving His people through the Passover meal points to Christ. God curing people with a snake lifted up on a pole points to Christ. God laying Jonah in the depths for three days and then raising Him out of the depths points to Christ.

It is all about Christ. There is your proof! That’s it. That’s all you need. There is no other sign because no further symbol of God’s providence or love could add anything to Christ’s saving work. To know Christ is to know the Father. You know that God is just because of Christ. You know that God is holy because of Christ. You know that God is merciful because of Christ. You know that God loves you because of Christ. You know that God will eternally save you because of Christ.

Christ said about himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

At that point, Philip had an enthusiast moment and said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." How many songs are written by Christians today that ask Philip's question over and over again? We cry out, "Show us the Father! Show us His glory!" We sing, "Rain down Your presence on us! Fill this place with Your glory!" We ask, "Show us Your face O God! Reveal Yourself to us in this place!"

How did Christ reply to Philip? He said, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works."

How can we ask for the Father as if we do not already see Him in the Son? There is not a mote of heavenly glory that was kept from Christ. The Father did not withhold an ounce of mercy, power, glory, might, honor, magesity, grace, wisdom, knowledge, omnicience, or love, but He gave it to His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. You want to see the Father? Don't look in your worship. Don't look in your heart. Don't seek after it as though it was some elusive treasure. Look to the free gift of Christ.

Christ did all the work and He is all of proof of God's love that you will ever need. Remember? “IT IS FINISHED!” The sign of the prophet Jonah.

Why look anywhere else for hope or guidance? Why turn to someone as unreliable as yourself for proof of God's favor when Christ is the end of all doubt and rejection? Why flock to places that promise nothing more than miracles, emotional experiences, and wonderous signs? Why settle for something so cheap and temporary?

Christ is the door through which you obtain the holy relationship that Adam lost in the garden. Christ’s blood washes you clean and establishes that intimate relationship with the Father. If you want an intimate relationship that never waivers, look to Christ. You want real hope and security? Place your faith in Christ.

Does that mean that God is done serving His people through means? Of course not. God is working today as He was working before: He hides in ordinary, tangible things. He adopts you into His eternal family through ordinary water by the power of Baptism. He strengthens you in the faith through ordinary wine and ordinary bread in Christ’s Most Holy Supper. He forgives you through words of absolution that are spoken by ordinary men. He guides you through an ordinary book: Holy Scripture. What gives these mundane things such power and significance? The same thing that gave power and significance to the burning bush and the Holy of Holies: the real presence of God.

These means of grace deliver what was promised by the sign of the prophet Jonah. John tells us in his gospel that the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Later in that same book Christ says, "For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." All of this is Christ presented before your eyes, spoken into your ears, and placed upon your lips.

Read what God has said. He does not lie and He does not construct elaborate tricks to confuse you or leave you in doubt.

Matthew 26:26-29 [ESV]: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom."

1 Corinthians 10:15-17 [ESV]: I [Paul] speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

1 Peter 3:18-22 [ESV]: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

John 20:21-23 [ESV]: Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."

God uses tangible means to accomplish extraordinary miracles. Those means exist today and they are there for you to touch and hold. They are not there as some additional ceremonial rite or mnemonic device. God does not institute these things as observances that depend on you to reflect upon their symbolism and thus grow closer to Him by way of your mental capacity and personal wisdom. Why would God make coming to Him so difficult?

There is no abandonment. You ask for proof and God gives you Christ. Not only that, Christ is given to you in such a way that you can actually point to tangable objects and say, "Christ is right there. I don't know how it works, but I know that this miracle allows me to participate in Christ's death and resurrection. I don't need to doubt or fear because God keeps His promises regardless of what emotional state I am in."

These things exist to bless you and preserve you in the faith. Learn to embrace them as such. You already know that you cannot always count on that small voice inside of you. Sometimes it is wrong. Sometimes it leads you into sin. Sometimes it only tells you what you want to hear. You know that many times that voice is surely not coming from God. You know that sometimes you feel like your prayers don't go anywhere. You know that you need something solid to ease your doubts and comfort you.

Dead, old religion’s answer to this suffering is empty and false. Dead, old religion makes you do all the work and come up with the answers on your own. Dead, old religion tells you to pray, fast, and do this list of works until your heart tells you that you are going the right way. Dead, old religion tells you to suffer through the tough times alone. Dead, old religion makes you look to human teachers or within yourself for guidance. Dead, old religion hides behind alot of show, glitter, and flash. Dead, old religion distracts you and points your attention to itself instead of Jesus.

Living, real faith – that intimate relationship that you are seeking – is deeper and much more mystical than that. There is a real church that still has miracles and still follows God through the ways that He has established by Christ's specific, spoken promises. There is a real church that has no need for the petty miracles and signs that the Pharisees wanted. There is a real church that does not wickedly ask God to reveal His glory and power for the sake of a wondrous experience.

There is a real church that gathers together and does nothing but participate in the sign of the prophet Jonah: Christ’s death and resurrection. There is a real church who heeds God's Word and repents daily. There is a real church that is constantly transformed, refreshed, and vivified through repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.

It’s not about you. It's not about what you tell yourself is true. The proof is not found in what you do or don't experience when you feel God’s presence or when you don’t feel the presence. Even Pagans and Atheists are confirmed in their false beliefs through that fickle method. You don’t think that practitioners of other religions feel their god’s presence? You don’t think that their worship confirms their beliefs? What makes you different from them? How can you be sure that you are thinking, feeling, and believing correctly? The cold truth is that you can't know God by your feelings any more than you can know a person through how you feel about them. It is time to stop guessing about God. Start knowing God.

It is all about Christ. That is the difference. It is not about what you do or why. It is about what has been done for you. The firm foundation of Christ is objective and incarnate. Christ's death and resurrection is an objective fact that you can cling to. You know God loves you because of Christ.