Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Seven Rules When I Confront People

I have seven primary rules (...that I can think of at the moment) that I use when I confront people with their error or transgression. They are:

1. I try to remember that I have done or thought just badly as this guy if not worse.

2. Odds are pretty good that I don't see everything clearly and I need to hear the other side of the story/issue before I rush to judgement. Who knows, my opponent may even have something to teach me (this is especially true of subordinates and children).

3. Where possible, I attack the issue or mistake and not the individual. In fact, I usually try to treat the other guy as my ally against the mistake that he is a victim of. I try to use positive comments and reinforcment to highlight the good of the person while addressing the problem.

4. Understanding causes and motives is the key to unlocking the truth in most disagreements.

5. I do my best not to beat a dead horse.

6. When dealing with others I always abide by Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity."

7. I am willing to accept headway or at least a partial victory. Resolving conflicts is a process which requires people to be exceedingly patient.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Crashing the Table Talk Party

So I get to my living quarters and press play on my favorite Lutheran talk radio program with a game show theme... and lo and behold, they were reading my email on the air! :P Thanks guys! I'm flattered and overjoyed that I was able to brighten your day.

Let me take this moment to plug their show. Go check them out right now here. And if you like the show be sure to check out their Table Scraps extra programing... it is pure gold. Oh, and donate to them because this program is providing an important service: a light-hearted, simple presentation of Lutheran theology.

I am more than happy to provide the text that they read on the air for your reading enjoyment. If you want to know the context that prompted this email... you are just going to have to go listen to the show! :P


Greetings Most August and Pious Iron Preacher, Pastor Bryan Wolfmeuller,

Shepherd of the Most Fortunate Flock of Hope Lutheran Church of Aurora Colorado,

Stalwart Defender of the true Faith of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Beloved Son of the Missouri Synod,

Slayer of Heretical Teachings and Apostates,

Frequent Theological Contributor to the Lively Discourse on Issues, Etc,

Friend and Brother to all Who Meet Him,

And Bold Confessor of the Book of Concord,

...and to his lowly and humble seminarian co-host,

Grace and Peace from Our Lord Jesus Christ.

I just donated to Table Talk Radio for the Johann Tetzel Fundraising Drive. I wanted to know if my Table Talk Points could be given to some of my already deceased family members. Deep down, I feel that they need my points far more than I ever could since I live a good life, go on pilgrimages, and donate to your radio show. Since I am so pious, such points would be wasted if granted to me. It would only make sense to give these valuable points to others. If earning Table Talk Points for the dead is possible, please forward my points to the appropriate divine offices in purgatory thru the dedicated communications network located in the pope's ex cathedra bunker at the Holy See. If it is not possible to grant points to the dead, please forward my points to some pitiful sinner in need of the comfort that the points earned by my works will bring them. Thank you....


Hehe... good times. :P

Keep up the good work and keep cranking out informative, entertaining programs!

Oh, and if you know Pr Wolfmeuller, I'll give 1,000 points to anyone who introduces him as the "Stalwart Defender of the true Faith of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" etc, etc, etc, dear listener.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


How much of our wretchedness and sin spews out freely in the last word? We all crave to possess it. We jump at the chance to have the last word. For what?

To win?
To destroy?
To witness suffering?
To earn the praise of men?
To preserve our pride?
To get even?
To compensate for our own weaknesses?
To reward a word of correction with malice?
To indulge our own stubbornness?
To relish in the sheer pleasure of the last word?

When our enemy is beaten down we have to deliver one more blow. When our enemy seeks a way of escape we have to attempt one more deadly shot as he departs. When our enemy strikes us, even in those cases where his attacks are feeble and ineffective, we must rage back at him with all of the ferocious wrath that we can muster.

We kill. And not just with our hands, but with our mouths as well. Our wicked heart controls them both. That is the source of this great ungodliness.

We are all the worst murderers. Lord have mercy!

Ash Wednesday by the Rivers of Babylon

...well, only one of them actually: the Tigris.

The chaplaincy on post determined that they "did not see much interest out there for a liturgical protestant Ash Wednesday service." We scrambled and put a service together anyway. Since I was the one making the arrangments, it was Lutheran through and through. We had public Confession and Absolution and the Service of the Word based on Divine Service, Setting 1 from my copy of the LSB. In place of the Service of the Sacrament, we wrote up a form for the Imposition of Ashes based on the litany and some the collects for humility and repentance.

As kantor, I chanted the opening versicles (Open Thou My Lips, Make Haste, and Gloria Patri) and three of today's hymns. I used one of my favorite Gregorian tones for all three to link them together as continuity milestones through the service. The songs were two Lenten hymns from St Gregory the Great: Audi Benigne Conditor and Clarum Decus Jejunii; and a 12th Century Hymn called Ecce Tempus Idoneum. I struggled with the organ so that the congregation could sing Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed for the hymn of the day.

I found a former Lutheran pastor turned Army officer who agreed to officate, preach, and impose ashes. Hearing Lutheran liturgy again warmed my soul and I had forgotten how powerful the readings for Ash Wednesday are!

Everyone loved the service. In spite of only having 48 hours notice and very limited publicity, over 30 people showed up for our humble effort. Praise the Lord!

...I should note that 30+ is a larger attendence than most of the Sunday chapel services here. So much for not seeing "much interest" for Lent from Protestants! :P

Sunday, February 22, 2009

They Talked a Ton of Law... but no Gospel

I just finished listening to the round table on contraception over at Issues, etc.

First let me say that I whole-heartedly agree with the guests when it comes to matters of normal healthy relationships. In those cases where healthy children are a reasonable assumption, contraception is sin.

But that is where I part company with many Lutherans. I think it is because my wife and I fall into that category of poorly named “hard cases”. I am not interested in making this post a pity party about my situation, but I say this so that people understand that I am not speaking academically about this topic as so many people do. This is a very personal issue with me and I find the Monday morning quarterbacking to be very offensive.

I submit that suggesting that a grieving and hurting couple abstain from sex for the rest of their lives is the height of cruelty and a total misuse of Law and Gospel. While unrepentant sinners who are using contraception and family planning for selfish needs deserve the full weight of the law, the crushed souls who have watched their children die do not need to be lectured on ethics. They need the Gospel… something that was sorely lacking in this program, but also in almost every single public discussion on this topic.

Placing the horribly legalistic message aside for a moment, it amazes me that people who hold the Augsburg Confession's Article XIII in such high esteem would force celibacy on people who have not been given that gift. We Lutherans confess that marriage was instituted by God as a help against sin. Let me ask you, does driving a wedge between the intimacy of husband and wife through this time of great trial prevent or encourage sin? Does pushing husband and wife away from each other in a time of great suffering preserve God's expressed intent for marriage or pervert it?

Speaking from personal experience, it is a fair assessment to say that celibacy is not something to which I am suited. If it was a natural state for me, I would not have gotten married in the first place. To attempt to pretend that I possess strength of character that I do not would be unwise as it would open the floodgates to all matter of temptations and sin. The very thing that these pontificators are trying to prevent is sin and they encourage it by their suggested course of action. Even if I were capable of such a feat of the law, what about my wife? Once this problem was discovered... what, I am supposed to just distance myself from her according to the flesh? What does that say to her? How do you think she deals with that? Is that love or moralism?

Here we see the prudish sophistry of my opponents. They say that there are two elements to sex in marriage: procreation and pleasure. They argue that the two should not be separated. They call contraception sin because it removes procreation to preserve pleasure. All of this they assemble, not from the direct teaching of Scripture or personal experience, but from historic teaching and their own Aristotelian notions. They take the sin-curbing gift of marriage and throw it out the window in those cases where the flesh doesn’t work right. Where is the clear teaching from the Bible on what to do regarding hard cases? There is none. It is silent. We should be also.

To say that there are only two elements to sex is foolish and overly simplistic. So we have procreation: a material concern. We also have pleasure: a material concern. Well what about spiritual concerns? What about things like intimacy? Is that not a portion of sex as well? Is that not a far greater portion than mere pleasure? That never makes it into the debate.

And I would point out that many of these well-meaning people are advocating a course of action that they do not undertake. These celibacy-peddlers are themselves married with many children. In fact, it is a safe bet that the very day that they tell your wife to put on a chastity belt for the rest of her natural life, they go home to their normal family, play with their children, and go to bed with their wives.

They are placing burdens on people’s backs that they have not dared to move with a single finger. It is my wish that people undertake great care in these matters when talking about such “hard cases” in the public arena. This is not a matter that is well suited for blanket statements and careless words. You are telling depressed, hurting people that they are sinners and that engaging in their most intimate relationship for comfort and solace against temptation is now evil in the sight of God. At what point did you offer them hope? To often, when this topic comes up, you offer them none. Shame on you.

I suggest that all individuals who are not personally involved directly with a chronic “hard case” or are unwilling to set the example for their teaching by being celibate in their own marriages should refrain from rendering such generic advice in the public square. This is not some fascinating debate topic that can be taken so lightly. It is a life issue that is as complex as it is agonizingly painful.

So let me present to these "hard cases" what others were too busy debating to say:

Dear Christian, God loves you.

Christ is the great physician and He is abudant in His blessing and healing. Your broken state exists because of sin. It was sin that came into a good creation and caused it to be cursed when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. You groan and suffer as all creation suffers, but this temporary world will be made new. Christ's death and resurrection has broken the stranglehold of death, brokeness, and sin. It is in this time that we must struggle and wait for the restoration that is soon to come. For those who are Christ's own, a new and perfected body awaits that is free of frailty, death, and disease. In heaven, these sorrows will no longer exist.

Also, Holy Scripture shows us that Christ is a lover and defender of little children. We commend all of those that we have lost and those that have been damaged by sin through severe illness and deformity to His merciful, limitless love. Dear Christian, God is not angry with you. He loves you as His dear child. His wrath has been spared from you because of Christ.

Reach out to your pastor for individual guidence on this matter and gather support from your fellow Christians. If you are bearing the cross of one of these "hard cases", do not listen to generic advice from the internet. You already know more about this subject than they do by virtue of your terrible burden. This issue is not a matter of dogmatic pronouncement. It falls well within the category of direct pastoral care. If you take that route, you will find the comfort that you need. You are not going through a trial that is uncommon to man. There are many who suffer as you do. Seek them out and gather strength in this time of difficulty.

Above all else: Christ calls you to Himself and says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. God bless you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Prayer Breakfast

Yesterday, I was notified of a prayer breakfast that is being held here in Iraq for Black History Month. I was then told that they would like me to speak at this thing for 10 - 15 minutes. I warned them to be careful what they ask for because they will surely get it. I highlighted what me speaking in public about faith would mean and I was kept on the list to speak.

I mulled over the concerns of joint prayer services in my head all night and most of today. I have finally agreed to do it. The gospel is not being properly proclaimed where I am at and it seems it would be a greater sin for me to remain silent when given this golden opportunity to say whatever I want to whoever shows up.

This is what I have prepared so far. The event is in 10 days. Any feedback would be helpful.


I begin by reading from the Holy Gospel of St Luke the 10th Chapter:

"And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."

The Gospel of the Lord.

Today, in honor of Black History Month, we assemble together around this meal in memory of the great achievements that African Americans have given to this nation and the entire world. We remember the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglas. We point to great musicians like Miles Davis, astronauts like Ronald McNair, and great war heroes like Medal of Honor recipient 1LT John Fox.

And eventually, the thoughts about these contributions turn to the reason why we had to create this special month in the first place to recognize great events that went unmentioned and unrecognized for far too long. And why are these great men and women and great events only now being added to the common history of all Americans through this special month? The answer is simple: the blight that is racism. Instantly, we are confronted with the evilness of it.

Evil? Of course racism is unfair; maybe even unjust, but should we call it evil? Yes. It is evil make no mistake about it. In modern society we tend to have very fuzzy vision when it comes to evil. We tend to reserve the word for catastrophic events and demonic people who seem to be the devil incarnate. But is that only where evil is found?

There is a popular story about the great poet Maya Angelou who went to a conference in Texas that was called “Facing Evil.” A Soldier got up and spoke about going to war against the Nazi’s and his direct encounter with evil upon witnessing the concentration camps in Europe.

Maya Angelu stood and said, "Do you mean to tell me that we've come from all over the world and we're going to talk nonsense? You had to go to Germany, you here in Texas who refused Mexican-Americans a chance to vote, you who don't want them to even live next to you, you who have your own history of slavery--you had to go to Germany? I don't wanna hear it."

She is right. Evil not only exists, it is very real and abundant. It is not just some distant, external enemy that we must face once in a generation. Evil is not just present in this fallen world. Evil is pervasive and persistent. We are confronted by it every day. It even flows freely from our own hearts. As God tells us in the book of Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."”

What terrible words! Look at what flows from our hearts: all manner of evil thoughts, impulses, words, and deeds. We should be terrified that the LORD searches our hearts and gives us according to our deeds. We all sin and "the wages of sin is death."

If you need proof that you sin, just ask yourself, “Is there anyone of us who is totally free and pure of any hint of racism or bigotry?” And, as if it was possible to boast in that, ask yourself, “Am I free from the sins that give birth to racism and bigotry?” Hate, anger, gossip, lies, arrogance, greed, selfishness, vengeance, and resentment to name a few? These are our ways and deeds... and our rigtheous God sees them all.

When you get down to it, all of these things are sins that are born out of our sinful nature. Each and every day, we prove this to be true by our thoughts and actions. We rebel against God and His holy commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself."

When confronted by this command, we do as the lawyer who spoke to Jesus did: we try to weasel out of our own guilt. We ask, “Well, who then exactly is my neighbor?” in hopes that our sin is excused from judgment thru some technicality.

It is not. We lie to ourselves if we think that we are justified in how we mistreat that particular group, or this culture, or even that person over there. We all have people that we wish were not our neighbors. We don’t even want to be near them. We do not love them all, let alone them as much as we love ourselves. In truth, we secretly hate and despise them.

And so, in spite of decades of social reform and progress, we remain a divided people. We do not live in peace, unity, and love as we should. This is because man is separated from God and from his fellow man by the disease of sin.

If we examine ourselves honestly, we have to admit that we are miserable failures when it comes to how we treat other people and not just other races and cultures, but our own race even our loved ones and families. We inflict misery and create division so easily that we rarely notice the harm that we are doing.

We are quick to judge. We are quick to gossip. We do not forgive when we believe that we have been wronged. We are expert peddlers of evil who are filled with regret and guilt. Like the lawyer in the Gospel of Luke, we are forced to face the harsh truth that we do not “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Repent. All of our wars, laws, holidays, and even prayer breakfasts have done a great deal of earthly good to heal division and correct injustice, but they have done nothing to treat the source of this very spiritual problem: the sinfulness that is inside of you, me, and everyone else.

But there is good news! God the Father has provided a way of escape from our guilt. As we lay broken on the side of the road, our salvation is now at hand. The devil and his demons have stripped us, beat us, and left us for dead—an eternal death that we received in the Garden of Eden. It happened when Adam and Eve fell upon the greatest robber of all, Satan, and—when tempted—they disobeyed God and fell from grace thus bringing sin into the world.

But Our Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ the Son of the Most High, comes upon our brokenness and bandages our wounds. He saves us with the spiritual washing and regeneration of baptism. He gives us new life by anointing us with His Holy Spirit. The man that we despised as an outcaste, the one whom we hated enough to mock and crucify, has come upon our battered bodies and rescued us at last.

And so the answer to the evil that we encounter and create is not found by great marches. It is not healed in Washington D.C. Our emancipation from our slavery to sin and death does not come from wars or even diplomacy. It is not found behind a microphone or written on a poster. As good as they are, such works do not save us.

Salvation is only found at the foot of the cross where Christ died for the sins of the world. “For God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While we are evil, Christ is good. While we are flawed, Christ is perfect. While we hate, Christ loves. While we are intolerant and vengeful, Christ is mercy. While we are doomed to eternity in hell, Christ promises eternal life for all who believe in Him by faith. God the Father counts none of your sins against you because of the sacrifice of Christ. By faith we are rescued from hell by His death and resurrection.

And now we are being made new by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We are all equals; brothers and sisters in Christ. We are one church, one faith, washed in one baptism, and living in one Spirit. We are sustained by Christ’s body when we eat of the one bread and drink of the one cup of Our Lord’s Supper. In Christ, we find unity and peace that no earthly force can duplicate or enforce. In Christ we find true fellowship with God and with each other.

And as we walk by the Holy Spirit, we are called to one mission: to proclaim the good news about Jesus as we lift each other up and bear one another’s burdens in love and the humble charity that comes with a life of cross-bearing self-denial. The Christian life of sacrifice is painful and difficult, but we hear St. Paul’s words in Romans where he says:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Paul Planted and Apollos Watered

It was Pr Benjamin Mayes who planted sound doctrine into my heart and brought me to the fertile soil of the cross that is found through confessional Lutheranism.

If Pr Mayes is my Paul, then my Apollos during this deployment is Rev David Peterson.

His audio sermons are found here and they are truly amazing! I am truly jealous of the Word of God that is given to the congregation of Redeemer Lutheran Church every Sunday.

Last year's Judica sermon (2008-03-09 #553) is especially good, but I have yet to find a single homily that was not worth the hours that it takes to download them with my <128k shared internet connection.

Thank You, Holy Spirit, for loving us so much that you have given Christ's church these two loyal servants along with all of the other preachers and teachers who have been bound to the gospel by Your power. And thanks be to God for the increase of faith that comes from the pure proclomation of Your Word!

My Observation on the Economic Crisis

Here in Iraq you get to meet a lot of people from all over the world. In addition to our local Iraqi partners, you have people from various places that have come here to serve or to work. You get to talk to individuals from the Mediterranean, the Far East, Europe, northwestern Asia, and even southern parts of Africa. Some are here on behalf of their governments, but most of them are here to work. They are here because Iraq, as damaged as westerners incorrectly think it is, seems to hold more opportunity for them than their homelands.

So it isn’t just horrible that we don’t do more to help the real poor. It isn’t just horrible that we put them out of our mind and rarely ever think of the plight of the rest of humanity.

It’s that we, in fat and secure America of all places, would dare to complain about our own financial situation as if any of us in suburbia are becoming truly poor as the rest of the world knows poor.

It is the height of narcissistic selfishness to consider yourself poor simply because you have less than your neighbor who happens to be even more filthy rich than you are. We have become so spoiled by our prosperity that we have set a standard of poverty and security that includes comforts that are inaccessible to most people who live on this planet.

If we look closely and critically at ourselves, we can see that our anxiety is not that we are failing to meet our basic needs. It is that we can no longer afford the treasures and wants that we should be entitled to.

…and isn’t that the very foundation of envy and greed?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Unending Lament

Why won't Chaplains preach the Gospel and defend it from error?!? Who are you trying to please: God or men?!? Why must we languish in the legalistic captivity that is found in the theology of glory?!?

My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
my heart is sick within me.
Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
from the length and breadth of the land:
"Is the LORD not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?"
"Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images
and with their foreign idols?"
"The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved."
For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
not been restored?

Oh that my head were waters,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Oh that I had in the desert
a travelers’ lodging place,
that I might leave my people
and go away from them!
For they are all adulterers,
a company of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like a bow;
falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land;
for they proceed from evil to evil,
and they do not know me, declares the LORD.

Let everyone beware of his neighbor,
and put no trust in any brother,
for every brother is a deceiver,
and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.
Everyone deceives his neighbor,
and no one speaks the truth;
they have taught their tongue to speak lies;
they weary themselves committing iniquity.
Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit,
they refuse to know me, declares the LORD.

-Jeremiah 8:18-9:6

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Question for Today

How does a Lutheran layman live in a place where the objective means of grace are absent or greatly muted by error and schism?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oh Yeah!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Making a rare appearance here in Iraq... give it up for... ...Martin Chemnitz!

You will note that I am two books short since the two volumes of "Loci Theologici" are on pre-order. It's okay. I'm sure they will get here by the time I finish these six.

CPH still has this great set on sale right here. There are much worse ways to spend $250! You can always buy them one at a time... but who has that kind of patience?!?

Remember kids: solid theology is for everybody!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's Called the Gospel, People! Look it up!

My dear Roman Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters... I'll say this one more time:

Christ does not enter your life and make you holy so that you can work to become pious in order to find favor with God and earn heaven. Christ alone is holy. Christ alone is pious. Christ alone has found favor with God. It is Christ who has given you salvation and heaven as a free gift.

You didn't deserve it back then, you don't deserve it now, and--no matter how hard you may try--you won't deserve it in the future. Just get over yourself!

Those works that you are doing now are not for God (because He doesn't need your help) and they are not for you (because your redemption by Christ is already complete). These good works that you are doing are done out of love of God to help and serve your neighbor. They stay here on earth where such imperfect, temporary things belong.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rome is Still Rome

I went to the Roman Catholic Bible study here on base. It is currently taught by a very dedicated and learned layman. He knows his Roman theology and is very respectful.

I don’t think that they want me to come back. When I told my wife that I didn’t think that the Roman Catholics wanted me to come back to their meeting, she asked, “What did you do?” We were text messaging, but I can just hear the tone in her voice.

In my defense, I was on my best behavior! I did not speak unless I was asked a question or invited to share my point of view… that just happened to be more often than I had hoped. Since this Lutheran donkey had wandered in and was chewing his cud in the room, the conversation always seemed to compare Rome with Protestantism and Lutheranism in particular. I did my very best to give a clear, humble response to every question and offer everything with charity. It was a very respectful discourse.

Regardless of the theological issue, every conversation went this way:

1. The Roman Catholic espoused the dogmatic position of the Church. The Roman Catholic pointed out the errors of radical Protestantism and other heresies.

2. I put in my two cents which was mostly made up of agreeing with his criticism of radical Protestantism and other heresies... and then making slight distinctions between the Roman position and the truth. Most of the time, I was directly quoting (or at least summarizing) the Augsburg Confession and its Apology.

3. The Roman Catholic replied with a "yes but" and then reasserted the authority of Rome in matters of doctrine. Most of his counter points were exactly what you would hear in the apologetic responses to the Augsburg Confession 500 years ago. He sounded exactly like the Council of Trent. It got so predictable that I knew what he was going to say before I finished talking.

4. I would usually reply with an appeal to the early church fathers or to Holy Scripture. I would say something like “Scripture says [this] right [here] therefore I believe it,” or “Records show that the church has taught [this] since the 5th century therefore I believe it without adding any of my own opinions to the apostolic faith.”

5. The Roman Catholic would reply with some Greek philosophy or complex pontificating (hehe… what a great pun!) that would talk way over the heads of everyone in the class.

6. I would reiterate the simple message of the Gospel and let him have the last word.

It was very eye-opening for everyone. They learned a little Lutheran doctrine and I learned that Rome has not changed no matter how much they insist that the Church has moved beyond her past errors.

At the beginning of the class, the teacher confidently declared, “Most Roman Catholic scholars agree that Lutheranism is no longer necessary because we have fixed most of the errors that Luther pointed out in the 95 Theses.”

I replied, “That’s good to hear! What about the more serious errors that we pointed out in the Heidelberg Disputation, the Augsburg Confession and Apology, the Smalcald Articles, and the Examination of the Council of Trent? Have you addressed those, too?”

Of course they had not heard of those documents before so that created a great deal of edifying discussion.

After over an hour of in depth discussion, I think they at least got the idea that “most Roman Catholic scholars” are wrong for thinking that Lutheranism has been rendered obsolete.

...and Disappointment is Transformed into Joy

I spoke about my struggle on this deployment in finding proper religious support previously.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the chapel this morning for the "not Lutheran but will be familiar" liturgical service. He was right. It was not really Lutheran. There was a great deal that I missed:

- The attendance was small... only three or four.

- We read liturgical responses and read the lectionary, but did not sing any hymns.

- There is no organist available for the service.

- The Lord's Supper is open communion and it is obvious that the "Armed Forces" liturgical book has carefully phrased the rite to not step on anyone's toes about what the Supper actually is. You can drive a truck through the holes that the language leaves open for interpretation.

- The service was very informal and casual. One could say that it was only liturgical in format and not really in practical execution. The only rubrics that were explicitly given were standing for the Gospel, approaching the table for communion, and the chaplain made the Sign of the Cross during the benediction (which, sad to say, is an amazingly rare thing to see in the protestant chaplaincy!)

There are other liturgical services in the area that have much more of the nice things in the liturgy. If I want hymns and organs and kneeling, I can go to the Presbyterian chaplain's service... but I am going to stick with this one. Me... the "Liturgical Nut". Why?

Because deep down, it is always - always - about substance over style.

The humble chaplain, in military uniform and not liturgical garb, stood at a music stand, put down the yellow papers with his notes, put one hand in his pocket...

...and proceeded to preach Christ crucified as the redemptive answer for we who are nothing more than wicked, sinful men! He was quiet and unassuming, but the clarity of Law and Gospel thundered in my thirsty soul. With the exception of when I was home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, this was the first time I had heard good preaching from a pulpit since the middle of October. How I missed it!

I would love to have those great outward things (and hopefully we will gently start to add them as we are able), but I will go without every single one of them if that is the only way that I can hear God's Word preached rightly. His insights were things that I’d never even considered.

Here is a quick review of his sermon. I hope I do it justice:

His source was the Gospel for the day: Mark 1:21-28 (imagine that! Preach the lectionary?!?)

He started out by talking about evil in the world… but he pointed not just to the things that we see as personified evil (Hitler, Stalin, etc), but also those things that we ourselves do (murder, adultery) and those things that we all do daily (lies, hate, greed). He even mentioned those external things that are evil because of the fallen condition of this created world as a result of Adam’s sin (illness, death, birth defects).

He then jumped back to the text. It was a little jarring because the segue was not clean at all. It seemed as though he was preaching two separated messages because he then dropped the thought about evil and jumped straight into this encounter with Christ in the temple with the demon possessed man.

The chaplain observed that it was interesting that Christ told the demon to be quiet and cast it out right away. The demon was professing that Christ was the Son of God after all. Isn’t that good for Christ’s publicity? Isn't that getting the message out? Isn’t this an amazing testimony of His divinity? Why silence this demon when He is speaking the truth? Wasn’t this an effective (read relevant) way to present the truth about Christ?

The chaplain then went to Peter’s profession of faith in Mark 8. He quoted the whole passage and remarked that it was interesting that Christ told the apostles to not tell anyone that He was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Isn’t that good for Christ’s publicity? Isn’t this an amazing testimony of His divinity? Why silence all these witnesses that are convinced by what they have seen that Christ is the Son of God?

The chaplain then spoke about the crucifixion in Mark 15. He quoted the verses that spoke about Christ’s final moments on the cross. He then talked about the centurion who saw Christ’s moment of death and said, “Truly this man was the son of God!” The chaplain pointed out that, unlike the previous testimonies, this man was not told to be quiet.

He then tied his two desperate points about evil and the Gospel of Mark together with a simple, artful explanation. He said, “Mark really doesn’t care that Christ is a miracle worker. Even false prophets can do miracles. Mark's gospel is not concerned that we get that Christ is a great healer or an exorcist. Mark is not writing so that you will know that Christ is a good teacher. All of these things are true, but hear what Mark is saying: Mark is pointing us to the redemption that is found nowhere else but with Christ on the cross… this is God’s definitive answer to all the evil and sin that we face every day.” He then spoke in greater detail about the forgiveness and hope of our salvation. Praise God!

Crux sola est nostra theologia! Lutheran preaching, Oh how I have missed you!