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


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.