Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Break Me"

A really great song by The Walla Recovery, Break Me.

The lyrics are here.

Infant Baptism

[This didn't make the final cut into tomorrow's sermon on Holy Baptism.]

The Augsburg Confession is emphatic in saying that it's Biblical and right to baptize infants.

We respectfully disagree with our Christian friends who say that because infants can’t understand Baptism, they shouldn’t be baptized.

Let’s be honest: No human being fully understands Baptism.

And understanding Baptism is beside the point anyway. I don’t understand why my wife loves me. But I don’t question it. I gratefully receive her love for me.

God’s adoption of human beings, made possible through Christ, can’t be explained, only received.

If, in Baptism, God makes a covenant to be our God, why would the Church dare to stand in His way? Jesus told Nicodemus that we must all be born anew of water and the Spirit. He also said that the wind (using the same word translated as Spirit), blows where it will and we have no control over it. For Lutherans, obstructing the ministry of the Holy Spirit to create faith in Christ by denying Holy Baptism to infants, is not an option.

In Romans 4, the apostle Paul compares Holy Baptism to circumcision, the ceremony in ancient days that every Jewish boy underwent at eight days of age. Through circumcision, God claimed children as part of His people.

Today, Baptism is the port of entry for God into the life of a child and for a child into the Kingdom of God.

The child, of course, will one day either reject Christ or receive Him by faith. There are two parts to the covenant of Holy Baptism, God's and ours. God's part is to impute the blessings of Christ's death and resurrection. Our part is to repent and believe in Jesus Christ as the way, and the truth, and the life, the only means by which we receive eternal life with God (John 14:6).

But when the power of God is unleashed in a life through Holy Baptism, God can help children and adults follow Christ, even when the old sinful self, the devil, and the world are pulling them (all of us) in other directions.

Adults who were never baptized come to faith in Christ by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, of course. Thank God for that miracle!

I love it every time God gives me the privilege of presiding over the Baptism of an adult who, through the proclamation of God's Word about Jesus by friends, family, and others, has come to faith in Christ and wants to submit to the crucifixion of the old self and the rising of the new self that happens in Holy Baptism.

But I also love it every time I'm able to participate in the Baptism of an infant. That's because every child who is baptized has a "leg up" on the life God wants to give all of us as the Holy Spirit is unleashed in a life, God claims a child as His, and works for their good, here and in eternity.

The Church is commissioned to baptize. We must not withhold this gift from anyone!

God's Word

"For some years now I have read through the Bible twice every year. If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant." (Martin Luther)

Be Patient

Phil Gerbyshak, known by many as the "make it great guy," but who I say is just a good guy, shared this on his Facebook page today:

"Always be patient with others. You never know what's going on in their lives.

"Today the lady in front of me at the drug store couldn't figure out how to use the pay by credit feature on the pin pad. Then she forgot to buy something so she needed another transaction. I'm in no big hurry - but admittedly, I thought inside 'Let's go.'

"After the 2nd transaction, the lady said 'Thank you for being patient. My brother just passed. I have to write the obituary today. I don't know where my mind is.'

"I smiled and said 'Let this be the least of your worries.'

"Thanks God for the reminder to slow down and be grateful for the time I have. I'm on my way now to share lunch with my father, 215 miles away.

"Enjoy today friends. And slow down for others. You never know what's going on in their lives."
Phil's web site is here.

Friday, February 22, 2013


OK, so I'm overdoing the TobyMac stuff. But this is a great one from the newest CD, Eye on It. It's called, Forgiveness, and features guest performances by Lecrae and Nirva Ready.

"We all need forgiveness." And the baptized know it's just a repentant prayer away!



Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

3 Good Reasons for Getting People Mad at You

Everybody knows that home teams have the advantage when playing games on their own courts or fields. Home teams more frequently win.

The explanations usually offered for this seem reasonable. You know them: the home team feels comfortable in its own "friendly environs," the away team is frazzled by travel, the home team is encouraged by homers in the stands.

But according to authors Tobias Moskowitz and L. John Wertheim, writing in their book, Scorecasting, the conventional wisdom represented by those explanations is wrong.

The reason for home field advantage, they say, is the officiating. Competent, honest referees and umpires tend to give the close calls to the home team. More often than they think, the people with the whistles are cowed by the crowd.

But let's not be too hard on referees and umpires. None of us wants to get people upset with us. (I know that I hate it.)

And frankly, people who go looking for trouble are generally narcissists. They want the world to revolve around them. This attitude springs, I believe, from the inborn default mode of every human being, what the theologians call original sin.

That doesn't mean that we should avoid offending people at all costs.

As a Christian, I follow Jesus Christ, Who I believe was and is God in the flesh. Jesus got Himself into trouble with people who weren't interested in letting God be their King and Savior. And though forcefully invited to change His way, Jesus never changed His course.

For His steadfastness, He got a cross. It's fortunate for us that this happened. Jesus' death on the cross was the way He took to resurrection on the first Easter Sunday.

Because Jesus resisted the temptations offered by the crowds and the world, keeping His face on His mission of dying and rising for us, He won new and everlasting life for all who repent and believe in Him.

What about us? We're not God. But Jesus promises that all who endure in believing in Him are the ones who will be saved from their own sin and from the death sentence every one of us deserves (Matthew 24:13).

Be warned: Belief in Christ will sometimes get you into trouble.

But when you know that you belong to an everlasting Savior and King, what the crowd says doesn't matter as much.

The apostle Paul experienced rejection because of his faith in Christ. It didn't stop him. "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

I can think of several good reasons for incurring the anger of others.

1. It's worth making others mad at you by standing up for the despised, neglected, or helpless.

Christians are called to stand up for the well-being of others. Psalm 82:3 says: "Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and destitute."

And Proverbs 31:8-9 says: "Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy."

2. It's worth making others mad at you by doing the right thing.

We're all going to endure the anger of others in our lives.

Sometimes, their anger will be justified. When we hurt others simply because of something we want to do, we deserve anger and condemnation.

But there also will be times we get people angry with us for doing the right things. Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are three people who incurred people's condemnation because what they were doing was right. So too are the countless Christians around the world trying to share the saving good news of Jesus who are thrown into prisons or executed for their allegiance to Christ.

The apostle Peter wrote to Christians in first-century Asia Minor: "For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps." (1 Peter 2:19-21)

3. It's worth getting others mad at you because you're sharing Christ with others.

We all know Christians who spout Bible verses and Christian cliches and think that in doing so they're witnessing. If they're really intent on sharing Christ, they'd be better off praying and studying their Bibles. Look in the New Testament to see how Jesus and His first followers invited others to faith in Jesus:
  • They met people where they were
  • They asked questions, including how they could help those they met
  • They sought to understand the people with whom they spoke and, while never changing the content of the message about Jesus, tailored the "packages" in which they gave the gift of Jesus to them
But even if, as a Christian, you exercise tact, love, and consideration for people as you let God guide you in telling others about Jesus Christ, there will be times when you'll still incite people's anger.

Is it worth the hassle?

A guy about to get himself clocked in a bar fight might rebel as you drag him away from certain injury. That's OK. Taking him to safety will be its own reward.

When we Christians share Christ with others, we may have to share tough stuff with them that they don't want to hear.
  • Like "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Or, "your sins [mine too] have hidden [God's] face from you." 
  • Or, that despite our sin and separation from God, which inevitably lead to death, God has created a way for us to be right with Him and to have eternal life with Him, a punch in the gut of human pride.
  • Or, that way is Jesus: "...there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, Himself human..." (1 Timothy 2:5). And, "...God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). 
  • People may not even want to hear it when you tell them the good news that can change their lives today and in eternity: "...[I]f you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
If you share these truths with some people, they'll react like the guy you pulled from the bar fight. They'll be mad. But sharing truths like these is all part of loving others. And if it makes them mad to be loved, so be it. 

As long as Christians live this life, we will be pushed and pulled to make the wrong calls, to have our actions and thoughts dictated by the crowd, to go along to get along. The Bible says that we are "aliens and strangers" in this world (1 Peter 2:11).

We should never seek anger, confrontation, or controversy, of course. But if we make people mad because we're
  • doing the right thing, 
  • standing for the despised, neglected, or helpless, or 
  • seeking to faithfully follow and share Christ, 
we should be able to look ourselves in the mirror without guilty consciences.

We should live with humble confidence in God and His love for us, knowing that we always have a home in His Kingdom.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Thy will be done"

Yesterday, on the anniversary of Martin Luther's death on February 18, 1546, the Institute of Lutheran Theology shared this incredible prayer by Luther over on Facebook:
"O Father, it is indeed true that we cannot be strong by our own power. How can we stand before your might if you do not yourself strengthen and comfort us? Therefore, dear Father, embrace us, accomplish your will in us, that we may be your kingdom to your praise and glory. But, dear Father, strengthen us in this life with your holy word. Give us our daily bread. Establish in our hearts your dear Son Jesus Christ who is the true bread of heaven. Sustained by him, we may gladly bear and suffer the breaking and the dying of our own will and the fulfilling of your will. Give grace to all your churches. Send us educated pastors and preachers who will not give us the crumbs and chaff of foolish fables, but who will teach us your holy gospel and lead us to Jesus Christ." Amen.
[Thanks to my son for pointing the prayer out to me.]

Forgiveness Doesn't Mean Trust

I've been reading Steve Sjogren's new book, Heaven's Lessons: The Things I Learned When I Died, and just finished his chapter on the need we all have to forgive others in order to become the loving people God wants us to be. (And that we might want to be.) Here's how Steve ends his helpful thoughts on forgiveness:
One final thought I want to leave with you as we close this chapter: forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean trust.

When we were elementary school kids, at recess some kids just couldn't keep their hands to themselves. News flash: It doesn't get any better when we grow up. You'll find the same kinds of people in your adult life. They may even be bullies who are dangerous to you. Avoid them, at least until they learn to play nice. If you have done all you can to make peace on the playground, there comes a time to get off the teeter-totter. Forgive them, sure. But you don't have to trust them...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What Makes a Church a Church? (Augsburg Confession, Part 7)

[This sermon was shared during both the 8:30 and 10:15 worship services of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church of Logan, Ohio, today.]

Matthew 16:17-18
When I first meet people and they learn that I’m a pastor, they usually ask me the same question: “Where is your church?”

Of course, they want to know the location of the bricks and mortar associated with Saint Matthew Lutheran Church. So I tell them, “In Logan” or “On East Hunter at Orchard.”  But I always feel a little badly about those answers. That’s because this building is not Saint Matthew Lutheran Church.

As we continue to look at what it means to be a Lutheran Christian through the witness of The Augsburg Confession, one of the basic statements of Lutherans’ understanding of Biblical, Christian faith, we’re going to consider what the church is.

Please turn to Matthew 16:17-18. To set the context: Jesus has been asking the twelve apostles who people are saying that Jesus is. Then Jesus asks them, who they say He is. Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

As we’ll see, Peter doesn’t fully understand what he’s saying when confessing that Jesus is the promised Messiah or “the Son of the living God,” a phrase putting Jesus on the same level as God.

But Peter’s confession is right and that elicits these words from Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah [Simon, son of Jonah or son of John], for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter [Petros, meaning Rock in the Greek in which the Gospel of Matthew was originally written], and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

In these few words, Jesus tells us a lot about what the Church is. Let’s break them down a bit.

First, Jesus acknowledges that Peter sees Him through the eyes of faith. Without the eyes of faith, Peter may have agreed with what other people’s evaluations of Jesus. He might have said that Jesus was a reincarnation of John the Baptist (even though the Bible says that there is no such thing as reincarnation), or that Jesus was Elijah or Jeremiah or another prophet from Old Testament days. Most of the crowds looked at Jesus and saw Him as just a man.

Even today, people--some of them pastors, bishops, assistants to bishops, and theologians in our own denomination--look at Jesus and see only a man. They lack faith.

But through the eyes of faith, Peter saw that Jesus was more than just a man, more than just the son of Mary’s virgin womb, but also God. God in flesh appearing! The King above all kings!

As we’ve said before, faith in Christ does not come naturally to anyone. We’re born with a mistrust toward others, especially toward God, because God threatens our desire to be our own bosses, to be our own gods.

This is why Jesus says that Peter believes what flesh and blood finds unnatural and can’t and won’t see about Jesus. “Flesh and blood” hadn’t helped Peter to see Jesus through the eyes of faith. God had! “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, [Peter],” Jesus says, “but My Father [God] in heaven.”

The same is true for all of us. We can only believe that Jesus is our Savior, God, and King because God creates faith in Christ within us. First Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord [meaning, God and Master of the universe] except by [God] the Holy Spirit.”

Because of his faith, Jesus gives Simon the new name, Rock, Peter. And Jesus says: “On this rock I will build My Church.”

Peter was the first to see Jesus for Who He was (and is) and to confess the truth he saw about Jesus. It’s on this confession that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God that Jesus says He will build His Church.

Jesus certainly wasn’t saying that He would build His Church on Simon Peter. You can’t build anything straight or tall or strong on a flimsy foundation. And just a few moments after making his confession about Jesus, Peter showed how flimsy he and his faith were. When Jesus told him and the other apostles that He would soon go to Jerusalem, be rejected by the world, die on a cross, and then rise from the dead, Peter tried to correct Jesus. “This will never happen to You,” Peter says.

Jesus immediately upbraids Peter, you remember? He speaks the exact words to Peter that He spoke to Satan when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. “Get behind Me, Satan,” Jesus says to Simon Peter, the rock, “for you are not mindful of the things of God, but of the things of [humanity].”

Peter confirmed how shaky a foundation he personally would be for Christ’s Church when, on the night of Jesus’ trial, he denied knowing Jesus three times.

The sure foundation on which Jesus builds His Church isn’t Peter, but the confession Peter makes that Jesus is King and God, the conqueror of sin and death, the one Who gives new life to all who believe in Him.

Christ’s Church exists wherever people hear and believe the Bible’s Word about God, Jesus’ Word about Himself: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). The first thing the church is then, is a group of people in whom the Word of God has created faith in Jesus Christ as God and King of the world.

On the foundation of faith, Jesus says, He will build His Church. The word Jesus uses that we translate as church is, in the original Greek of the New Testament, ekklesia.

Ekklesia literally means called out ones. The church is people who have been called out of the world and into the kingdom of God by the Word about Jesus that has created faith in Christ within everyone from the littlest child singing, Jesus Loves Me, to the oldest believer dying with the praises of Jesus on his lips.

Ekklesia also means assembly, gathering. And this is the second thing Jesus teaches us about what the Church is: The Church is a group of people who, together hold to the same confession of faith in Christ as Peter. There is no such thing as a solo Christian.

Whether the Word of God about Jesus that creates faith within us is given to us through a Bible left in a hotel bedstand by the Gideons, through the sermon of a preacher, through the witness of a parent, grandparent, Sunday School teacher, or friend, through the Word given in, with, and under the water of Baptism or the bread and wine of Holy Communion, no one comes to faith in Jesus apart from His Church.

And no one can keep believing in Jesus in this hard, sinful, dying, cynical, self-serving world without the fellowship of the Church.

Let's be clear: The Church is filled with sinners and hypocrites like you and me. And there’s no doubt, as Jesus says in Matthew 7:21, that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will “enter the kingdom of heaven.”

But just as surely as a limb sawed off from a tree will die, so will the faith and eternal lives of Christians die if they sever themselves from the Word of God about Jesus that’s preached, taught, and given through Christ’s Church.

That’s why the preacher says in Hebrews 10:24-25: “...let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not neglecting the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day [of the risen and ascended Jesus‘ return to this world] approaching.” The second thing the Church is then, is the assembly of people called to faith by the Word of God. And the church is the only way anyone receives or keeps hold of saving faith in Jesus. It's for the sole purpose of sharing the Word of God about Jesus that Jesus has called the Church into being.

In His words to Peter and the other apostles Jesus also says of His Church: “...the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” “The gates of Hades” or, as is mentioned several times in the Psalms in the Old Testament, “the gates of death” are expressions that refer to anything that might cause a person to enter hell or eternal separation from God.

Jesus is saying that His Church, the fellowship of believers built on faith in Christ will never die. The Church is eternal.

Jesus promises all of us who trust Him when He says that He is the way and the truth and the life and that no one comes to God the Father except through Him (John 14:6) that He is “the resurrection and the life” and that all who believe in Him, though they may die, will live with Him now and in eternity (John 11:25).

The worship, service, and honor we offer to the God we know in Jesus Christ imperfectly here in the Church on earth will continue in perfection for those of us who are part of the Church in eternity.  

Three truths Jesus teaches in Matthew 16 then, are that:
  • His Church is founded on faith in Christ, 
  • His Church is His indispensable fellowship for receiving and growing in faith in Christ, and 
  • His Church eternal. 
The Augsburg Confession conveys these three truths especially in three places: Articles 7, 8, and 15. We only have time right now to read a portion of Article 7, which may be my favorite article in the entire confession. It says:
Our churches teach that one holy Church is to remain forever. The Church is the congregation of saints [saints are sinners saved by the grace of God through their faith in Jesus Christ] in which the Gospel [the Word that all who believe in Jesus will not be condemned to hell for their sins, as those who refuse to believe in Jesus will be] is purely taught and the Sacraments [Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, the Word about Jesus given through water, bread, and wine] are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, that rites or ceremonies instituted by [human beings], should be the same everywhere...”
The true Church isn’t defined by the buildings it owns, the kinds of hymns it sings, or the earthly denominational structures to which its people belong. The true Church can’t be identified by whether, during worship, its pastors wear robes or suits or Polynesian shirts. There are many churches in our own denomination, the ELCA, where every note played in worship is pitch perfect and the liturgy is done with slavish exactitude, but where neither its pastors or its people believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that He is God in the flesh, or that He physically rose from the dead, or that He gives life beyond the grave, or that Jesus is the only Son of God and Savior of the world.

Less than forty miles from here, there is a pastor in our ELCA, highly thought of in our denomination who once told me about what, to him, seemed to be a rewarding experience. He had read and discussed a book by Marcus Borg, a theologian who was raised Lutheran and is now an Episcopalian. The book is called, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. In it, Borg argues that Jesus wasn't born to a virgin, wasn't God in the flesh, didn't rise from the dead, and can't save us from sin and death. Borg has become all the rage in the ELCA, appearing often to give lectures at ELCA colleges, seminaries, and pastoral retreats. A number of our bishops and theologians approve of his ideas, which veer about as far from the confession of faith in Christ on which Jesus says He builds His Church as one can imagine. This pastor told me with evident satisfaction that after he and members of his congregation had read Borg's book, a member of the discussion group said, "I'm so glad I don't have to believe that stuff any more."

Such rejection of the revealed truths of God about Jesus Christ to instead embrace a religion that gives us license to believe whatever we want to believe--even that Jesus was only a man and not also God, that He died but didn't rise, and that He won't return one day to judge the living and the dead--is increasingly accepted and encouraged in our ELCA.

I pray almost daily about the sad state of our denomination and I wonder whether if it will long be possible to be either a Christian or a Lutheran in the ELCA. I wonder whether it doesn't make more sense for those who seek to be faithful to Christ and to the Lutheran confessions to leave the ELCA, as hundreds of other congregations have done since 1999. I think that those are questions worth your spending time to pray about too.

There are many congregations today that may look like churches. But appearances can be deceiving.

That’s why it’s essential in this day and age when there are so many wolves in sheep’s clothing for God’s people to remember what it means for a church to be a church.

The Church exists where the truth is told about the Gospel--the good news of Jesus--and where the Sacraments are administered according to the will of God.

The Church is the fellowship of people with faith that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, the only crucified and risen Savior Who can forgive sin and give eternal life.

The Church is the only fellowship in the world in which we receive faith and can have that faith strengthened.

The Church is the fellowship of Christ that will last for all eternity.

Remembering these truths and living in accordance with them are truly the difference between life and death. Amen