What in the World Should We Do?

One of the greatest Lutheran theologians of the 20th century was a German Lutheran named Hermann Sasse. He was one of the first German clergy to rise up in protest to Hitler. He was, ultimately, a pastor’s pastor. He spent years writing letters around the world to different pastors. These letters encouraged men in their ministries. These letters spurred discussion about the actions that the church-at-large should take in regards the continued proclamation of the Gospel. As I was reading one of these letters today, the following passage hit me. In regards to the question of what the church should do to stem its decline and seemingly certain death, Sasse gives this counsel:

The third thing, however, that we must learn anew is Luther’s invincible faith in the power of the means of grace. Whatever the Church still has and still does should not be minimized. But she does not live from mercy, or from political and social activity. She does not subsist on large numbers. When will the terrible superstition of the Christendom of our day cease that Jesus Christ is powerful only there where two or three million are gathered together in His name? When will we again comprehend that the Church lives by the means of grace of the pure preaching of the Gospel and by the divinely instituted administration of the Sacraments and by nothing else? And for no other reason than because Jesus Christ the Lord is present in His means of grace and builds His Church on earth, being even as powerful as ever before in the history of the Church – even if His power and glory, to speak as our Confessions do, are cruce tectum, hidden under the cross (Ap VII – VIII 18). Oh, what secret unbelief and what little faith we find in the Church that calls herself the Church of the sola fide! May God in His grace eradicate this unbelief and strengthen this weak faith in our souls and renew us through the great faith of the New Testament and the Reformation. That, and that alone, is the manner of overcoming the urgent need of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the greatest and weightiest crisis of her history.

~Hermann Sasse, 1948~

In a world where innovation is often valued over substance… in a world where fads seem to rule the day, may we always strive to keep the simplicity of the the Gospel in front of our eyes and the eyes of our people. May the certainty of the forgiveness of sins and the hope of faith drive all that we say, do, and know. May this not be an encouragement to laziness, but a reevaluation of where the church should always begin. Everything we do is to proclaim and lift up those certain places where God distributes His good gifts to us. It is the place where “for you” renews a sinner in sainthood. It is a place where a simple word can uplift the soul and conquer the prince of this world. Amen and Amen.

5 Things the Church Wishes the Culture Understood

So… this post has been a long time in the making. For the past decade, every time I read a post by some avant-garde religious/church-planting/emergent/post-modern blogger, I think, “Hmmmmm. I should respond to that.” Then kids need diaper changes, sermons need to be written, and shut-ins need to be visited. Right now, however, I have some time to write a response. I have, once again, stumbled across a blog post that takes its aim at the church. If you care to take a glance at what has precipitated this post, take a gander at the article here.

Time and time again, I have read blog posts about how the church is doing church wrong. The church is a victim of its ambivalence toward its own perpetual exclusivity of the present generation who has needs that are not being met. And each time I read the same list of an interchangeable 5-7 attributes (unloving, culturally irrelevant, superficial worship, and unintelligible jargon are ones that top the list most often), I realize that the ire and frustration comes from a misunderstanding of what church is. So here in this post, I am breaking the silence on behalf of the church… The Church… The historical Christian Church. I am tired of being misrepresented. I am tired of being judged (sound familiar?). I am tired of disenfranchised people making more people disenfranchised with an improper understanding of church.

So… Without further ado…

 5 Things The Church Wishes  the Culture Understood

1. We want you here. No. Really. We do. However, the reason might surprise you. It is not to boost the average age of the worshiping community to give us more “street cred”. It is not so that we can have your money. It is not so that we can legitimize our existence. As a matter of fact, the reason that we want you here has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with you. We firmly believe that God distributes HIs good gifts of grace and forgiveness in the worship service. We learn together. We grow together. Christ is present for us, and we want you to have those good gifts of God. We want to pray with you. We want to praise God with you. We want to be at the font and the altar with you. We want to hear from the pulpit with you. And we want all of this for your good. We’re already getting the goods. We want you to have them also.

2. We are not better than you. However, we have the same struggles as you do. Namely, we struggle with sin. We have the same inclinations toward pride, jealousy, selfish ambition, and self-aggrandizement that you do. We like things a certain way. We like our carpets certain colors. We like people to dress certain ways because those ways make us feel comfortable. We can be hypocritical, judgmental, and prejudiced without cause. We are all of these things because we are sinners. No, dear culture, we are not better than you. But that is why we are here every Sunday. We do not seek to be confirmed in those things that divide us. We seek to be forgiven for the times when we do not act like Christ. And we are. We are forgiven and renewed by Christ, and that makes all the difference. You do not want us to judge you by your checkered-past of sins? Why would you judge us by ours?

3. The church is for sinners of whom we are the worst. Much like #2, but nuanced. The church is the place where God has ordained the forgiveness of sins to take place. The church exists to proclaim the Gospel. It exists to proclaim that you are a sinner, but you are a forgiven sinner when repentant. Why would you exclude yourself from that because you are surrounded by other sinners? Are you differentiating sins and making one sin worse than another? Judging, by chance? Hmmm. Interesting. Please forgive the snark, but this is the point that is made time and time again by the historical Christian church. We are sinners AND we are saints! Forgiven only by the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is for us. The blood of Christ is for you. So we beg you, come. For your sake, not ours.

4. The church is bigger than you. This is the part that you might not like to hear, but it is the truth. The church is not about you, your preferences, or your tastes. The church is about Jesus. It is about the Son of God who came down to earth in humility as part of His creation. It is about this same God-man who dies willing on the cross bearing the sins of the whole world… bearing your sins. It is about Jesus who left your sins in the tomb, dead on Easter, and rose victorious to reign for you. It is about the victorious Christ who will come again… who will create a new heaven and a new earth… who will restore these lowly bodies to be like His glorious body by the power that allows Him to subdue all things to Himself. This is the church in which uncounted saints have had their uncounted sins forgiven. Uncounted souls have been saved through the waters of Holy Baptism, taught through countless hours of instruction, bowed and numerous altars and received the infinite body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and strength for their lives in Him. This church is the voice of ages of martyrs who have not recounted the faith that we make to appear so malleable. This church has a language, an order, a life that is bigger than you. It is a life that includes 90-year-old Uncle Bud and 9-day-old Stryker. It is a life that is big enough to include you also. So if you want to be part of this church, show some initiative. Learn the language. Learn the story of the church that spans all time and space in the promises and words of Jesus. Which brings us to point number 5.

5. We will always be here…and so will Christ. For you. Thank you for your concern about our demise. However, throughout the entirety of the Scriptures, the Lord has promised that the pure preaching and teaching of His Word will not vanish from the earth. There will always be a remnant who live in and proclaim the forgiveness of Christ. It might not always look the same or be the same size. But it will always exist. So when you realize that the forgiveness of Christ is more than the trifles of interpersonal relationships, we will be here… and so will Christ. When you want to stop poking holes in the very institution (yeah, I said it… institution) that was created to give you comfort of sins forgiven and the certainty of salvation, we will be here… and so will Christ. He will always be here for you with all you need and more.

Please understand that we do want you, because Christ wants you. My snarkiness and righteous indignation is not really aimed at those who are legitimately searching. They are aimed at those who wish to co-op the church for their own agendas. Their agendas and straw-man portrayals of the church are not what the church is. If you are legitimately searching, I pray you find a biblical, confessional, Lutheran congregation in which to abide. For in this place you find the true and pure preaching and teaching of the Word of God. You also find Christ who gives Himself for you… every time you come. So please, come. Once again, for your sake.

Frost’s Two Paths

dog

Each day, your life wraps around you like a warm bed. It becomes cozy and secure like a soft mattress beneath your slumbering body. There are times when it might be a little uncomfortable. The mattress might be lumpy. But each day, the blanket of life lulls you back under its warmth. Occasionally, you open your eyes and look outside the window. It seems sunny. It seems like it would be warm. But can it really be more comfortable outside than in your bed? Is it really better than being under your blanket? Could that really be? So you stay.

And that is ok. Your body needs rest. Your life needs rest and contentment. These are truly blessings of God. However, occasionally, you just cannot shake that feeling that there is something more appealing out that window. You, now, have a decision. Does your contentment outweigh whatever might be drawing you out from the comfort of the blanket of life? Is there something bigger in store for you? Is it worth chancing your feet on the cold floor to find out?

Lord God, You have called you servants to ventures of which we cannot se the ending by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

There are numerous times in our lives when we are faced with Frost’s proverbial two paths. One looks well-traveled and comfortable. The other looks cold and unknown. You know what one holds. The other is a crap-shoot. There are times when it is perfectly feasible to take the comfortable path. God’s good gifts of contentment and satisfaction await. The daring move is not always the right move.

However, when the same unknown path is set before you and you just cannot turn away, have the courage to take it knowing that God is right beside you. Sometimes the daring move is the right move. It will be painful. It will be scary. It will be uncertain. But during those times, your good Lord is supporting you with His love, and leading you with His hand. Sometimes the path that is least traveled does make all the difference in our lives. However, the love and care of our God traveled the path to the cross for you. So, if you are so inclined, throw off the blanket. Venture onto the cold floor. Do something. See what God has planned.

Life, Death, and the Illusion of Autonomy

We are fast approaching the date of November 1st. While it is celebrated in the Christian Church as All Saints’ Day, the day will have a darker event this year for which the world wants to celebrate. It is the day that 29-year-old Brittany Maynard has chosen to end her life as opposed to suffer the effects of terminal cancer. While the news cycle has died and other stories have taken precedence in our minds, I would like to bring the story back to the forefront of our minds. If you need refreshing, here is the article.

Between when this story broke and now, I have read numerous articles that speak to the subject of suicide, physician-assisted suicide, Christian responses to suicide, etc. While many of the articles have good information, many of them miss the point. They miss the point because they start from the wrong point. Many of the articles debate whether or not her choice is the right choice. However, the distinct teaching of Christianity is that this decision does not belong to Brittany. At the risk of sounding like a raving jerk-face, let me state that again: Biblical Christianity does not give Brittany the choice to end her life in a God-pleasing way. Therefore, Christians should consider this topic with extreme care. As Christians, there are basically two responses to this story, and they both have to do with the subject of autonomy.

autonomy3

For those that are unclear:

Autonomy*

1.  the quality or state of being self-governing; especially the right of self-government

2. self-directing freedom and especially moral independence

3. a self-governing state

So, in response to this story, the Christian has two proper responses to this subject. The first response is to ask if Brittany Maynard is a Christian. If she is not a Christian and can appeal to no higher code of morality, her morality becomes subjective or, at the very most, collective. Subjective morality dictates that the idea of specific morals falls within the autonomous decision of each individual. In this case, one must tip their hat to Brittany and wish her “Bon voyage!” A collective morality would dictate that specific morals fall within the concept of “greater good” for humanity as a collective. In this case, once again, we must tip our hat to Brittany. What good is there to watching a loved-one suffer from a devastating disease? How does this benefit morality as a whole? One could very easily defend Mrs. Maynard’s position from collective morality.

However, what if Brittany Maynard is a Christian? It would follow that she believes in a deity that created her, loves her, and cares for her. She would also believe in a God who is always good. Always right. Always in control. The Bible (i.e. God’s revelation to us and the source and norm for the faith and doctrine of the historic Christian Church) is very clear that only One has the right to be in control of life and death. The One who made us. Even in the midst of this sinful world and the evils therein (i.e. cancer), God is still in control and working for His people. It may not seem fair. It may not seem right. But (here comes raving jerk-face again) that is inconsequential. What we think is fair or right does not matter. WE ARE NOT AUTONOMOUS!!!! God is. We are His creation. We do not get to pick and choose the parts of God that we like or understand. That is not how Christianity works!

And before you ask it, the question is NOT how could a good God allow this? The proper Biblical question, answer, and hope is: What is God doing through this? The answer is that God has not changed. God is working through the exact same means that He has always worked. He works through His Word to bring comfort, hope and direction to our lives. He comes to kill us with His Law and resurrect us with the Gospel. He comes in Holy Communion to cleanse of us of our sins, and strengthen us in our lives of faith. He uses His people of every time and place to provide the healing salve of comfort, the bright ray of perseverance, and the everlasting hope of a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more cancer or illness or death. The comfort of faith does not come through the hope that God will heal someone who is terminally ill. The comfort of faith comes through the promise that God will endure with us through every challenge with the same Means of His Grace that have functioned our entire lives. Life and death are not ours to control. That is not the fruit we should eat, if you will. Autonomy is only an illusion on which we, as American Christians, have gorged ourselves. God is in control. He is good. He loves us so much that there is life that awaits us beyond cancer, hospital, and grave.

All Saints' DayAs you gather with the saints of God in worship this Sunday and as you celebrate All Saints’ Day, remember the life and reunion that awaits. Partake of the means by which God gives you the strength to endure. Put your trust in Him who has the whole world in His hands.

*Definition taken from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

O God, Forsake Me Not!

During my morning study the other day, I came across this gem. It is hymn # 730 in Lutheran Service Book.

O God, forsake me not! Your gracious presence lend me;
Lord, lead Your helpless child; Your Holy Spirit send me
That I my course may run. O be my light, my lot,
My staff, my rock, my shield – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Take not Your Spirit from me;
Do not permit the might Of sin to overcome me.
Increase my feeble faith, Which You alone have wrought.
O be my strength, my power – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Lord, hear my supplication!
In every evil hour Help me resist temptation;
And when the prince of hell My good conscience seeks to blot,
Be then not far from me – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Lord, I am Yours forever.
O keep me strong in faith That I may leave You never.
Grant me a blessed end When my good fight is fought;
Help me in life and death – O God, forsake me not!

It occurred to me that we often pray this prayer corporately in worship and individually in private. It might come in different forms with different words, but our prayer remains the same. For the Christian, a life without God in your corner is a life that is full of fear and trepidation. So our prayer is often, “God, help me”, or “God, don’t forget about me”, or “God, be with me”, or simply, “GOD!!!!” Many times, our prayers are simply one-word exclamations because we do not know what to say.

I have, often, preached that God holds true to His promises to never leave or forsake His people. I have, often, pointed to the date of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as places where we see the presence of God in our lives. His washing us. His feeding us. However, it occurred to me that the Word is a vital weapon of the Christian that oft goes overlooked. We know about the Scriptures. We know the accounts of the Scriptures. But there are many times when we fail to see the Scriptures containing the wisdom and the power of God. For this is precisely what the Gospel message contains (Romans 1:16). It is the confidence that God has not forsaken us. He is here for us in time and eternity with His Holy Word. It is a Word that, at its center, conveys the salvation of God’s people through Jesus. It is a Word that saves. It is a Word that encourages. It is a Word that teaches. It is a Word that endures.

May the Word of God always be the power of God’s salvation in your life. May you read it. May you cherish it. Always.