Sunday, December 19, 2010

Immanuel Prayer

O Lord Jesus, my Immanuel*
When I am guilty, Be with me and forgive me.
When I am frustrated, Be with me and give me peace.
When I am confused, Be with me and make we wise.
When I am afraid, Be with me and make me brave.
When I am proud, Be with me and give me Your humility.
When I am sad, Be with me and comfort me.
When I am tired, Be with me and give me rest for body and soul.
When I am in danger, Be with me and save me.
When I am hurt, Be with me and heal my wounds.
When I am tempted, Be with me and keep me faithful.
When I am tested, Be with me and make me strong.
When I am spiritually attacked, Be with me, protect me.
Make Your home with me through Your word. Amen.

*Immanuel means "God with us" in Hebrew.
(Picture: Dan Schutte)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Luther on Friendship

In Luther's exposition of John 15.9 "As the Father has loved Me, I have loved you; abide in My love" he tells us why it is important to maintain the bond of friendship.

"Although we are moved to suspicion and displeasure, we should remember to beat these back and remember not to allow them to sever the bond of love and extinguish its fire; but we should cling firmly to our friendship in the face of them. And if perchance displeasure and disagreement arise, we should renew and improve our love and friendship. For to begin to love is not so great, but to remain in love (as Christ here says) is a real task and virtue. In the estate of matrimony many meet who at first are ready to eat each other for great love and passion, but later on they become deadly enemies. This also happens among Christian brethern. Probably for an insignificant reason the bond of love is severed, and those who ought to be most firmly knit and bound together are torn apart, so that they turn into the worst and bitterest enemies... This is the joy and delight of the devil, who strives for nothing else but to disturb the love among Christians and to arouse pure hatred and envy." (What Luther Says, p. 527)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Help Fight Child Abuse... Here's One Little Thing You Can Do!

Change your Face Book profile pic to help fight child abuse? Okay, but then I read someone's post... "How will this really help?" That's a good question. I changed mine, but then I thought about one thing that I think can really help.

I spent one year serving as a chaplain at a mental hospital in Nebraska. I met many people with tragic histories of abuse. Abuse disrupted their lives so severely that they sometimes attempted suicide and eventually came to the mental hospital.

Many times these people sought me out for help. But where do you begin? I would ask this question: As you look back on your life and see all this pain and abuse, do you ever remember a time when you felt the closest to God? Many times the answer had something to do with Sunday School. "I remember a friend who invited me to Sunday School." Or, "I remember my grandma bringing me to church and Sunday School."

Sunday School is still one of the most helpful ways to reach vulnerable children. It's free. It's age appropriate. And best of all it's all about Jesus. Sunday School was often that glowing ember grace that Satan just couldn't completely snuff out. Because of it, even as they were coming so close to the end of a miserable life, they reached out for Him once again... The One they heard about in Sunday School!

I'm sure there are many ways to fight child abuse. But I believe Sunday School is truly one of the simplest. What can you do?

1. Pray for your Sunday School.
2. Send your kids to Sunday School and encourage them to invite their friends.
3. Volunteer in your Sunday School.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Faith and Thanksgiving

Most popular Thanksgiving illustration from yesterday's sermon:

A pastor goes to eat at a restaurant by himself. A stranger joins him at his table. When their food arrives, the pastor bows his head and silently prays.

The stranger asks: "Do you have a headache?" "No," the pastor says.

"Is your food okay?" "Yes, I was just giving thanks," the pastor says.

"Oh, you're one of those guys," the stranger replies. "I work for my money and pay for my food. I don't give thanks to anyone. I just dig right in."

The pastor smiles a bit and then says, "Yeah, that's what my dog does too!"

Giving thanks to God is the first response of the gift of faith. No faith, No thanks.

[This illustration was adapted from Ray Stedman, Folk Psalms of Faith]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Philosophical Black Hole of Atheism

There are important questions that all of us should think about:

1. Where did I come from?
2. Who am I?
3. What should I be doing?
4. Where am I going?

The Christian answers:

1. From God ("So God created man in His image..." Genesis 1.27-28)
2. God's child ("See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God..." 1 John 3.1)
3. Loving God and my neighbor ("Love the Lord Your God... and your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22.37 &39)
4. To be with God eternally ("For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6.40)

The Atheist answers:

1. An accident of nature.
2. What I do... an engineer, teacher, mother, etc.
3. What pleases me.
4. To nothing.

The Atheist considers the Christian answers nothing more than imaginative constructions to give him a sense of meaning and hope. But the Atheist denies God so that he can imagine the universe to be God. There are no absolute morals, only molecules. For this reason the Atheist lives in the middle, lives for the moment, does what is pleasing for now.

Those choices are all arbitrary. Ultimately everything becomes a mechanical, mindless process of evolution. And if that is so, why care about poverty? Why care about the environment? Why care who lives or dies? Why? Does the sodium ion argue with the chloride ion about becoming salt?

The philosophical black hole of atheism is to deny the spirit in nature. In the Nicene Creed we confess: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth AND of all things visible and invisible." God created us with a spirit, and it is through the spirit that we are able to believe in God.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Scripture Alone for Doctrine and Practice

Roman Catholics often appeal the the church Fathers over and against Scripture. I have a little essay on our church website about the differences between Catholics and Lutherans. In many of the email responses, my Roman Catholic friends argue that the consensus of the church Fathers must determine the doctrine of the church.

But many of the writings of the church Fathers were destroyed, and we cannot say that what we have left truly represents the consensus of the church. Luther's opinion about this is interesting. He said that many of their writings were destroyed, "so that men would not find the time which they should devote to the reading and scrutiny of Scripture taken up by the study of the wallowing of the Fathers and the councils" (quoted by Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1, footnote on p. 205).

This important truth not only applies to the doctrine we teach but also to the practices of the church. How we worship, teach and show the mercy of Christ should primarily be guided by the light of Scripture and not necessarily by the example of those who were ancient. We deeply appreciate the writings of the Fathers as they offer us important insights to Scripture and church practice. But we must be very careful of the temptation to elevate them to a place alongside or above Scripture.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Guns of August

My step-grandfather fought in World War I and was awarded the Purple Heart. I wished I could have heard his story, but I always had the feeling that that was probably not something he wanted to talk about. I can't imagine what it would have been like for this simple man to be involved in the "Great War." All he cared about in life was his faith, his family and his farm. What was is like to be caught up in the horrible casualties of human pride, arrogance, and stubbornness?

World War I was similar to other wars. It involved fear: The Germans worried about encirclement. It involved revenge: France wanted Alsace-Lorraine back. It involved treaty obligations: Sides were quickly drawn after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia due to prior commitments. Most of all it involved militarism: Armies are an unfortunate necessity in a sinful world. But armies can't train indefinitely. Generals get antsy. If a war doesn't start up on it's own every forty years or so, they'll find a way to get one started.

According to Barbara Tuchman in "The Guns of August," this war was different and would create new components to war that would continue into the future. The German generals knew they had to conquer France quickly before they would have to deal with Russia. The plan was to have that done in forty days. Advances in weaponry such as the machine gun and improved artillery would definitely speed up the process by which an army could be destroyed. This war would include huge casualty reports - as many as 50,000 in one day! The plan also included something they called "schrechligkeit," or "terror" to break the spirit of the civilians. In Belgium the Germans methodically selected citizens for execution. Their excuse was that the Belgium people had the audacity to snipe at the invading German soldiers. Perhaps the most unforgivable act was the burning of Louvain and its famous library. Massive destruction and civilian terror would be two unfortunate realities from now on.

As I read this book I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable with the record of destruction being described: Men so exhausted and filthy you could smell them before you saw them, Hundreds dying here, Thousands killed there, etc., Pages and pages of this! What could it have been like for the individual soldier in the thick of it? I have the feeling the Grampa knew very little of the causes or the future implications of this war. But he knew enough about these things to know that they should be avoided at all costs. No wonder he and many other former soldiers I've met don't want to talk about it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Biblical Blind Spots

I enjoyed listening to Dr. Jeffery Gibbs recently as he encouraged us to remember the Biblical teaching of the resurrection of the body in all our teaching and preaching. He is right: Too often we jump directly from death to heaven without any reference to Jesus' promises of the resurrection of the body.

Dr. Gibbs was speaking about this with his father-in-law, who replied that he was going to underline all the passages of the Bible that speak to the resurrection of the body. Dr. Gibbs told him that he better get "two pencils." There are many references to the resurrection of the body!

Why do we sometimes overlook such obvious and important teachings of the Bible? There are others teachings that sadly have become "blind spots" for us. I would add to the list the doctrine of election. When was the last time you heard a sermon on that doctrine?

I can think of three possible reasons and remedies for this:

1. We simply do not read the Bible as much as we should, and we often read it in snippets when in fact the authors intended their books to be read as a whole. I have struggled with this my entire ministry. Early on I made a vow that I would spend as much time reading the word of God directly in the original languages and in translations as I do secondary sources.

2. We forget the "Rule of Faith." The "rule of faith" is shorthand for "creeds and doctrinal summaries." The Apostles' Creed and Luther's Small Catechism are good examples. Some might think that these gifts actually foster Biblical illiteracy because people rely on them rather than reading the Scriptures. That can be a temptation. But the creeds and confessions of the church also challenge us to remember the key teachings of the Bible. A simple sermon series on the Apostles' Creed would force a pastor to illuminate potential blind spots.

3. We spend too much time reading secondary sources (commentaries/sermons/Bible studies) FROM OUR CONTEMPORARIES. Secondary sources are helpful as long as we are giving appropriate time to the text itself (see #1 above). But we also need to search through a variety of secondary sources that include interpreters from the past and from other cultural contexts.

Blind spots always need to be avoided. God has given us the appropriate tools to avoid them. I am praying that God will give me and all pastors the wisdom to use these tools properly.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Stoning of Soraya M

This movie will twist your stomach as your eyes well with tears. It is only for those with a strong physical, mental and spiritual constitution.

In 1990 Freidoune Sahebjam, a French journalist, published the story of Soraya in his book La Femme Lapidée. This is the true story of an Iranian woman caught in the nightmare of corrupted Sharia Law.

The Qur'an never mentions the punishment of stoning for the crime of adultery. But stoning is mentioned numerous times in the Hadith (the sayings of Mohamed and his followers). In 1983 the new Islamic Republic reinstated the practice of stoning. However domestic and international protests led to a moratorium on the practice in 2002. The election of Ahmadinejad again brought a revival to the practice. (Information from Wikipedia, "Stoning")

Stoning was commanded in the Bible for a number of crimes under the Law of Moses. Three of the most famous stoning incidents in the Bible are found in John eight when Jesus intervened in the attempted stoning of a woman caught in adultery. In Acts seven Stephen is stoned to death for blasphemy. In Acts 14 Paul was stoned at Lystra and left for dead. Later his friends revived him, and he lived.

My only response after watching a movie like this is, "Amen, Come Lord Jesus."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Eat Pray Love

Ross Douthat wrote a great review of the movie Eat Pray Love in the September 20, 2010 issue of National Review. Here is a brief summary:

Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, is a memoir about her travels to Rome, India, and Bali in search of personal fulfillment. The movie version now stars Julia Roberts. Is this just another chick-flick/travelogue? Not at all. This book and film captures what is perhaps the most popular religion in America today, the religion of self. Suffering in an unhappy marriage because her husband is not as successful as he should be and won't accompany her on her journalist travel tours, Elizabeth falls on her knees and prays for deliverance.

What does God want her to do to be happy? First He wants her to divorce her husband. Then God wants her to have an affair that gets messy. Then God wants her to travel around the world eating, meditating and forgiving herself. Then God wants her to fall in love with a handsome, divorced Brazilian.

It is amazing how everything God "wants her to do" is the same thing a spoiled, self-indulgent woman with too much money would want to do. She finally arrives at this astounding theological conclusion: "God dwells within me, as me." One hundred years ago G.K. Chesterton spoke to this kind of religion: "Of all the horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Would Luther Burn the Qur'an?

The announcement by a pastor in Florida to burn the Qur'an in a public protest has raised concerns by many. Foremost among the concerns is that radical Muslims will use the event and the images it generates as propaganda to incite violence against Christians.

The violent activities of radical Muslims, the rampant religious intolerance in Muslim countries, and the hair-trigger sensitivity to any criticism of Islam frustrates many non-Muslims. But will it serve any purpose to use their own tactics? Absolutely not!

The rising tide of Islam could not be possible without God's allowance. Before we fall into the temptation to "fight fire with fire," we need to think of our basic Christian principles. Christianity is not a religion that relies on physical force or violent protests. Christianity moves forward on the proclamation of God's word of grace in Jesus and deeds of mercy done for the sake of our neighbors.

Luther and his countrymen faced a much worse situation with the invasion of the Muslim Turks in the 1500s. Luther considered this invasion nothing less than punishment from God for a church and a society that had drifted from God's word. He called the church to repentance and to renewal through the word of God. Could the American Christian church and culture stand a little reforming? I certainly think so!

And what did he think about the Qur'an? Luther called for its publication and encouraged Christians to read it! He knew that side by side, the Bible would overwhelm the Qur'an with its truth and with its message of salvation.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's the Calories Stupid

Early in my ministry I noticed how men, scared by a heart attack, began following strict diets and exercise routines. I also noticed how their quality of life improved - even after suffering a heart attack. I decided a long time ago that I'm not waiting for a heart attack to get me to diet and exercise. But I will admit that my struggle with dieting is a lot like my struggle with sin: I'm a saint and a sinner! It is hard to stay on a diet, any diet.

Several years ago I saw a T-shirt that simply said, "It's the Calories Stupid." I'm amazed how this sentence has stuck with me. It really is true. The only effective diet for me is simply counting calories. It is a basic principle of God's creation: Take in more calories than you burn and gain weight, or, take in less calories than you burn and loose weight. But counting calories can be such a pain!

There are, however, some very helpful tools now that make calorie counting much easier. One important tool for me is a website called This website allows you to type in the foods you eat, and it automatically counts the calories as well as the other nutritional information that is available for that food. You can also customize it to remember your favorite meals that you eat consistently (my morning oatmeal, PBJ sandwich, or protein milkshake). Myfitnesspal also has a great iPhone app. The other very helpful tool is a cheap (less than $10) digital scale. Using a scale helps you gauge food portions, and after a while you don't need to use it all the time. You can accurately tell what three ounces of ham on your ham sandwich looks like. The scale totally changed the way I eat certain foods that are real diet busters - things like potato chips!

Counting calories is somewhat like reading the Bible in Hebrew or Greek. My Hebrew teacher, Dr. Andy Bartelt, always told us that reading in Hebrew forces you to slow down and get more out of the text. Counting calories forces me to slow down and mentally "digest" what I am eating. Thinking about it helps me to resist the desire to keep on eating until I feel sick.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Christian and the Environment

This is a brief Bible study that we had in our Men's Ministry Saturday, August 14, 2010.

The environment has been a growing concern in our American culture. President Teddy Roosevelt's love for nature compelled him to preserve beautiful landscapes for all Americans to enjoy. President Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service. The demise of the last Carrier Pigeon caught people's attention as have other extinctions. But along with concern for the environment has grown an almost religious devotion to it. Henry David Thoreau called for an intimate relationship with nature. Photographer John Muir argued for the inherent rights of nature. NASA scientist James Lovelock taught the Gaia Hypothesis that life on earth is to be understood as one organism. This is an important part of Deep Green ideology and was featured prominently in the film Avatar. Environmental disasters certainly raise awareness of the importance of taking care of the environment. The main question in this Bible study is this: How should Christians care for the environment without falling into the temptation to worship it?

1. What does the Bible say about our relationship to the environment in the following passages?

Genesis 1:28 - Man was given dominion over the earth.
Genesis 2:15 - Man was commissioned to care for the earth.
Psalm 8.6 - Man was given dominion over the earth.

2. Has the Biblical language of "dominion" led to exploitation of the environment?

Secular humanists often complain that the Biblical teaching of "dominion" has led to destruction of the environment. The idea of dominion divorced from caring and good stewardship could certainly lead to this. But dominion is not an isolated concept for Christians, and this type of dominion is a mischaracterization of Christianity.

3. How does Psalm 96.11-13a help us with a Christian view of the environment?

In a number of places the Bible portrays the creation itself glorifying God. This does not mean that plants and animals have souls and a faith relationship with God. However, it does show that creation has a role to play in bringing glory to God (see Psalm 19).

4. How does God's covenant with Noah and the creation in Genesis chapter nine help us see the importance of caring for the environment?

God's covenant with Noah was also a covenant with the earth. He promised not to destroy it again with a flood. His plan to preserve life on the ark shows us His love for the creation.

5. What is the purpose of caring for the environment for a Christian?

By its very existence the creation glorifies God. God loves His creation. We should love what He loves and take care of it as a testimony to Him.

Every part of the environment holds within itself the mystery of creation. By avoiding wasteful and unnecessary destruction of creation we help to preserve the mystery of life. Who knows what benefits (medicines, etc.) may be discovered in any corner of God's creation.

6. What can we as Christians do to "care" for God's creation?

Study environmental issues and take care to avoid unBiblical beliefs such as pantheism and panpsychism.

Work for energy efficiency and reduce trash output.

Support efforts to protect species while working to balance human needs.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Red Chair Videos

In last week's Bible class I gave a little overview of the 2010 Convention of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Despite the structural changes and the election of a new president opposed to many of those changes, there were a number of important decisions. I appreciated, for example, the decision to speed up the process of declaring fellowship with emerging confessional churches. I liked the decision to continue the great work being done to combat malaria around the world. One of my favorite decisions was one encouraging family devotions. I'm a bit partial to that one because I helped write the resolution.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the convention for me was the Red Chair videos. Conventions need something to give delegates a little break from the concentrated focus on resolutions and debate. The Red Chair videos were stories of forgiveness told by the members of the Council of Presidents and the Synod President and Vice Presidents. I especially liked President Kieschnick's story about a school prank in which he was involved. These videos help capture the important theme of the convention: One People Forgiven. Despite the difficulties involved in all conventions, we can be eternally grateful that we are united in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Flash of Beauty

I saw two Indigo Buntings on the bike trail this evening. What a beautiful example of God's creation. Unfortunately for city people like me, these little birds prefer farmland and woods so we don't often see them. Some migrate to the United States from as far away as South America. They fly at night using the stars to navigate.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An Historic LCMS Convention - My Reaction

I am still in shock!

For six years or so President Kieschnick has been working to overcome what he called the "silos" of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. These are the program boards and commissions such as Communications, Missions, Human Care, etc. I remember first hearing about this at one of the president's strategic planning programs several years ago. I was part of the planning for one of these meetings. I asked what they meant by "silos," and I was told that these boards tend to work on their own and aren't under the control off the president. Some of the boards are also blessed with restricted funds which I guess went into the "silos." I remember saying at one of those meetings that it is still important to keep power balanced in any organization. I also specifically warned that you must not alienate "the loyal opposition."

Then came the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure. This task force was oppointed by President Kieschnick to address this problem. Their solution was to transfer the work of most of these boards to only two boards: one for national missions and one for international missions. My big problem is that all the staff for these boards report to the president. In the past the directors of boards could only be dismissed by their elected boards. Now the president has total control over them. It would be the same as if I had a problem with a staff member (youth director or music director), and I decided not to renew their contract. I wouldn't have to work through the Board of Elders or Church Council. The effect is to make the president much more like a chief executive officer than a pastor.

As the convention began, a motion was made to move the presidential election to the front of the convention. By moving the election to the beginning we would know who who would inherit these tremendous powers. It made perfect sense, and I thought it would surely pass. That motion was voted down, and the restructuring proposals were brought to the floor.

Some of the proposals are good, and I support them. But Resolution 8-08, which created the two boards mentioned above, was the worst. I stood in line for 40 minutes along with 50 or so other pastors and laymen hoping to speak to this resolution. In particular I was interested in knowing how this new structure would affect the relationship between the synodical president and seminary presidents. But the convention was getting frustrated. There were technical difficulties with the microphones which caused some of the delegates to sound like they were drunk. We also wasted a lot of time trying to find anyone who would speak in favor of this motion. (Most of the speakers were against, but the convention alternates between "pro" and "con" speakers to keep the debate balanced.) One of the delegates called the question. Discussion ceased, and to my amazement, the resolution passed - just barely - bringing sweeping changes to the way we conduct ministry at the national and international level. Now the president has total control of all synodical communication, offerings, missions, human care, educational services, youth, etc.

Additional structure changes were brought to the floor, and several of them continued to give the president more power; for example, the power to approve the synodical treasurer and to require the Synod to elect a vice president from a list that he approved. All of these were close votes around 51%.

Three days into the convention we finally prepared to elect the president who would have this unprecedented power. I simply prayed that God's will would be done. I supported Matthew Harrison for president and Herb Mueller for vice-president. But I braced myself for yet another close loss. I took comfort in the fact that God knows far more than I do, and that the person the convention chose, whoever he was, would be His choice. It was in His hands.

Then the election results came in. Matt Harrison was elected on the first ballot by 54%. Herb Mueller was also elected vice-president! Harrison gave a beautiful acceptance message that particularly addressed the pain now felt by the Kieschnick supporters. He said, "When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts." I can't imagine the shock being felt by those who were ceding more and more power to the presidency, and then to see that office go to their opponent.

Quo vadis? (Where do we go from here?)

I am very happy for the election of Harrison and Mueller, but I am not at all happy about the structural changes. They must be revisited and revised for the sake of our Synod. Perhaps this was God's way of intervening in the predominant "corporate mentality" that has corrupted a healthy view of spiritual leadership in the church. My prayers go with Matt and Herb. But one of my most intense prayers is that they not be taken in by the temptation to keep this power that they will inherit. Satan, more than anything, wants them to think that they have all the answers for this church body. But they too, must work with the loyal opposition. I pray even more that God would use them to bring this Synod back together through the Word of God in truth and love. Yesterday was an historic day for the LCMS, and I pray that the mistakes that have been made can be corrected. God help us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why I Plan to Vote for Rev. Matthew Harrison for Synod President and Herb Mueller for First Vice President

As I see it there are two big problems that are crippling the LCMS right now:

The first has to do with pastors and a lot of lay people who are so eager to fill chairs on Sunday morning that they claim it is the will of God to water down His word in order to keep them coming. The root of all heresy is not the preaching or teaching of false doctrine. The root of all heresy is the failure to preach and teach the full counsel of God's word. Honestly, brothers, if Paul or Peter or John walked into many of our churches today and began to preach, would your people be able to enjoy it, would they even tolerate it? You say you are being relevant to reach the people. I'll agree you are reaching down to them. But are you lifting anyone up? A lady moved into our area who had served on what she described as a leadership board in her former LCMS congregation. But she truly believed that abortion was an acceptable practice in order to get rid of unwanted children. She was flabbergasted when I refused to allow her to transfer. I'm sure this lady had never heard a pro-life sermon in that LCMS church.

The second group includes those pastors and a very few laymen who think that the ministry is limited to study, leading worship, watching TV and spending a lot of time on the internet. Some of these men will wreck years of faithful labor given by their predecessors and run for cover under the Theology of the Cross. I knew of one pastor of this kind whose people complained that he used words in his sermons that they didn't understand. The next Sunday he brought a dictionary to the pulpit and read the definitions to them. I'm not making this up. He proudly told us this is what he did! Poor, poor sheep. This man really does need the Book of Concord... Wacked upside his head. These men love doctrine for doctrine's sake, but they just don't love people. They are an embarrassment to confessional Lutheranism.

I personally know President Kieschnick, and he has always treated me in the most friendly way. I believe he is a good man, and I know he works very hard to lead this Synod. I don't have any inside knowledge of his leadership style. But from a distance I see some things that just make me shake my head. The Yankee Stadium decision and the weak followup was the first.* The Issues, Etc. decision was the second. Last of all is proposal 18 of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. (Please don't tell me this isn't centralization of power. That disappoints me even more.) I don't know the motives for these decisions. All I can say is that I don't like them. He has also had nine years to lead the Synod. He came into office complaining vigorously about the lower numbers of baptisms, worship attendance, etc. He gave us dire predictions of what would happen if things didn't change. Those numbers are still going south. So, with respect, I think it is time to take a little different approach.

I don't know Matt Harrison that well, but I've enjoyed reading many things he has written. I especially appreciated a little talk he gave at one of our pastoral conferences in which he apologized for once thinking he had all the answers to the church's problems. I do know Herb Mueller quite well. I know that his firm but irenic confessional leadership works. From my limited human point of view I think Matt and Herb are the best choices for leaders at this time. But I know that God will make the final decision through us. May God give us wise leaders and help us be the church we have been called to be.

* I was president of our city ministerial association that year, and I participated in a "kind" of serial prayer. But it was very different from the Yankee Stadium event, and no one would have been left with the impression that Jesus is just one way among many. The failure to thoroughly expound this during the event and after the event disappointed me greatly.

My "Help Me" Bible Passages

Help Me When I’m…

Afraid, Anxious or Worried

Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 34:4 I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.

Psalm 118:6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'

Matthew 6:33-34 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 14:7-8 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Philippians 4:6-8 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.


Romans 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Depressed, Discouraged, Defeated

Psalm 34:6 This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, And saved him out of all his trouble

Psalm 34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.

Romans 8:38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.

Jeremiah 33:3 Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.

Nahum 1:7 The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.

Mark 9:24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Feeling Guilty

Proverbs 28:13 He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Jeremiah 31.18 Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned.

1 Corinthians 6:9 & 11 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?... 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 1:8-9 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


Joshua 1:5 I will not leave you nor forsake you.

Psalm 23:1 & 4 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Matthew 28:20 Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Sad, Sorrowful, Suffering

Psalm 126:5 Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

John 16:20 20 "Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.

2 Corinthians 12:10 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Sick, In Pain

Psalm 33:22 Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, Just as we hope in You.

Psalm 40:17 But I am poor and needy; Yet the LORD thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.

Lamentations 3:32-33 Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion According to the multitude of His mercies. 33 For He does not afflict willingly, Nor grieve the children of men.

Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Revelation 22:20 "Surely I am coming quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!


Matthew 26:41 41 "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

1 Corinthians 10:12-13 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Colossians 3:2-3 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.


Psalm 62:8 Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.

John 16:33 "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

Galatians 6:9-10 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Hebrews 12:3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

Sharing Our Faith

In his book, "Share Jesus without Fear" William Fay tells about an encounter with Muhammed Ali. Fay was stuck in an airport when he noticed the famous boxer sitting at a table with a brief case full of Moslem tracts. Fay was amazed to see Ali, suffering from Parkinson's disease, slowly signing each of the tracts. Here was a man with limited physical and mental abilities giving his all to share his faith. Yet many of us Christians are afraid to share.

Isaiah 55.11 reminds us that God's word does not return to Him empty and accomplishes what He pleases. Paul told us that he was pleased when Christ was preached "whether in pretense or in truth." The key to sharing our faith is sharing God's word. God's word is what changes people. They may like or dislike us, but that really doesn't matter. What matters is that they hear God's word. God can use our feeble sharing of His word, but, as William Fay says, "He can't use our silence."

Paul asks "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10.14) In the Book of Acts St. Luke reminds us how "The word of the Lord grew" through the active preaching, teaching, and personal witnessing of the apostles and the church. Preaching, teaching, witnessing... It's all very challenging. But God will help us. Peter prayed for himself and his fellow apostles that they would speak God's word with all boldness (Acts 4.29). We can ask for God's help as well, and we know that God hear that prayer and give us what we need to do His will.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Doing What is Right

"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6.33).

1. Seek to know what is right in all things...

2. Learn what is right according to natural law... Look it up. Do your homework. Don't just guess. God gave you a brain.

3. Learn of and believe in the righteousness in Christ... Knowing what is right and doing what is right are two different things. Christ has done it. He alone cures that broken soul inside of us through forgiveness. A soul revived and realigned with God cannot be defeated by evil. All we need will be provided.

4. Hold fast to your King by meditating on all that He has said and staying connected to Him in the communion of saints.

5. Strive to live righteously in all things not because this will save you (Christ has done this), but because it help to save others as they discover Jesus through you and become a part of God's kingdom.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fathers and Hard Work

Very few people remember much about President Calvin Coolidge. Maybe that's because he was basically a good man who brought integrity back to the White House. When Coolidge was elected, his son was working on a tobacco farm in Massachusetts. That morning he reported to his boss and asked which building he was to work in that day. His boss said, "If my father had just been elected president, I wouldn't be worrying about where I would be working." Coolidge's son replied: "If your father was my father, you would!" (From America: The Last Best Hope vol. 2 by William Bennett)

Proverbs 15.16 says, "The way of the lazy man is like a hedge of thorns, But the way of the upright is a highway."

I'm thankful to my dad for teaching me the value of hard work. I hope to instill that same value in my children. Most of all, I hope that I and my family will always look to God for strength to do those things that He has called us to do.

Nehemiah 6.9 "Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee

In 1785 Friedrich Schiller wrote the poem "Ode to Joy" which was made famous by Beethoven's musical setting in his Ninth Symphony. The poem celebrates the ideal of mankind's unity and brotherhood. In the very next century that ideal was shattered by two world wars. If the story had ended there, Beethoven's music may have been just an ironic footnote in an otherwise very cynical and hopeless world. But the American English professor Henry Van Dyke gave a new meaning to this music when he penned the words of the hymn "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" in 1907. His lyrics made that music even more famous not by celebrating man's joy in himself but by celebrating the joy God gives in salvation. Mankind may begin searching for joy in himself or in the temporary blessings of creation. But the ultimate joy of this world goes beyond anything we can see.

Third Stanza: "Thou art giving and forgiving, Ever blessing, ever blest, Well-spring of the joy of living, Ocean-depth of happy rest! Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Fountainhead of love divine: Joyful, we Thy heav'n inherit! Joyful, we by grace are Thine."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's All About Thine!

Protestants who attend a Catholic mass for the first time are often surprised by the abrupt ending of the Lord's Prayer often used in the Catholic Church: "...Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen."

What happened to "For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever Amen" they wonder?

The earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament do not have this traditional ending. The ending comes along later in varying forms. One manuscript ends the prayer with "For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit forever. Amen."

The traditional ending is found in the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. John was famous pastor in the early church who died in A.D. 407. Some think the ending was adapted from 1 Chronicles 29.11, "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all."

Whatever it's origin, this liturgical ending to the Lord's Prayer proclaims a vitally important truth: It's all about Thine! God's relationship with us began and continues because of His love toward us. In the end it is always about Him... His kingdom, power and glory!"

Psalm 115 says it so well: "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What to Do with Atlas Shrugged?

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has been an incredibly influential book since its publication more than fifty years ago. Rand raises a vigorous argument for the economic justice of capitalism and a blistering, withering rebuke of socialism. With the first installment of the movie version coming out recently, it will be interesting to see what impact Rand's ideas make on our culture.

Most Americans, trained in a liberally biased education system, often do not know conservative arguments on key issues such as evolution/creation, deism/atheism, or socialism/capitalism. This is what bothers me. People whose education has been so constrained by one-sided arguments might get very excited as they discover Ayn Rand for the first time.

Her criticism of socialism will be empowered by a "prophet effect." I don't see how anyone can read Atlas Shrugged and not see her predictions coming true today. Price controls, elimination of competition, onerous regulations, and cronyism have the same devastating effect on the economy that we see today and that we have seen in all centralized economies. Above all Rand condemns socialism's resistance to ingenuity, invention, and improvement. Socialism does not move the culture forward but backward.

So then, what's so wrong with Rand? I will start with her reply to William F. Buckley when she first met him, "You are much too intelligent to believe in God." Rand was an atheist, and a mean one at that. There was no room in her world view for compassion or mercy. These Christian virtues are evil as far as Rand is concerned.

One of the really weird things about her book is that there are no children, no handicapped, no aged, no sick people in Rand's economy. There is no family. There are only intelligent, aggressive, hard-working people contending with lazy, dishonest, and foolish people. But the word "economy" comes from the Greek word for "household." Any argument for economic justice has to begin with a real economy. This is where Rand's ideas break down.

I would agree with much of Rand's criticism of socialism. But her solution to enthrone selfishness as king of the economy and the guiding principle of life is not any better. Pure selfishness will inevitably be just as destructive as socialism.

Jesus said, "To whom much has been given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12.48); and Paul urged "... you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is better to give than to receive'" (Acts 20.35). These words were spoken to the church and not to governments. How we apply the principle of mercy in public government is an important debate. Some would see the need for more, others less. Some would say that is the realm of the private sector only. But Rand sees no need for mercy at all.

What to do with Atlas Shrugged? Read it for a good critique of the lazy, stifling, self-destructive nature of socialism. But avoid the enthronement of selfishness and the sinful nature. There is a better approach to life and to economic justice.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Pill Turns 50 Next Month... Wall Street Journal

This technology has had a huge impact on our culture and on the Christian church. We need to discuss the pros and cons of birth control. I had a debate about it with Pastor Heath Curtis on Issues Etc. Martin Luther, CFW Walther, and Walter A Meier all condemned birth control. When did the church stop condemning it? Was there any Biblical basis for this? Are Christians misusing birth control today? Here's a Wall Street Journal article on the current status birth control in the US today.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Preschool Chapel Message

I see a lot of you are wearing green today! I know that's because it's St. Patrick's Day.

I want to tell you the story of St. Patrick. I think one of his favorite Bible verses must have been: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28.19-20).

A long time ago Patrick lived in England. When he was a boy some very bad people came and destroyed his town and captured him. They took him back to Ireland and made him work as a slave. A slave is someone who has to work for nothing. When Patrick grew up he ran away from the people that had captured him and came home.

Patrick wanted to be a pastor so he studied and prayed until he was ready. But he didn't go to an ordinary church. Patrick became a missionary, and he went to Ireland... back to the people that were so mean to him. Patrick helped them to believe in Jesus, and that changed their lives. They became very good people.

God sent His Son Jesus to save us even when we were sinners. When I think of Patrick, I think of how God wants us to be kind even to mean people and to tell them about Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Praying for Salvation and Success in 2010

As I think about the year ahead and my goals I've also been thinking about this verse from Psalm 118: "Save now O LORD; Cause success now O LORD." The words "Save now" give us the Hebrew word "hosanna."

I always thought this verse was a little odd the way it started with salvation and then ended with the focus on success. But now I get it. When I fail in life by disobeying God's commands or just falling short of my own goals let alone God's goals for me, I run to God for forgiveness (salvation). God gives that of course through His Son, Jesus. His perfect life, death and resurrection set me free from all my regrets. But then He also wants me to pray "cause success." I have to get back into the game of life. I have to try again, and as I do I pray for God to bless my efforts. So... Save me when I screw up and help not to do it again (success).

Every day I try to remember three categories of goals: Spiritual (devotions, memory passages, prayer) Physical (eating right/exercising/sleeping), and Vocational (family responsibilities/church work). I'm also looking back and asking for forgiveness where I fall short and asking for success as I move forward.