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.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
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
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
"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
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?
Thursday, October 2, 2008
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?
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.
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.