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Archive for December, 2008

File this Under “Ludricrously [read: stupid] Things Some Lutheran Pastors Say”

December 31st, 2008 5 comments

Just received this comment from a friend who was perusing an ostensibly "Lutheran" internet forum, a comment made by a LCMS pastor:

"I have at times shocked people by suggesting that for the Christian,
the Ten Commandments really have become the Ten Suggestions for living
the good life."

No, pastor, they are not suggestions. Sometimes I do find myself wondering if, while going through seminary, some pastors missed those days they covered, oh, you know…Lutheran theology. I'm just saying, maybe it might be wise for pastors like this actually to take a few minutes to read the Large Catechism. Just a thought, for the new year.

Categories: Christian Life

Our Friends, the Urban Deer

December 30th, 2008 2 comments

Every late-afternoon we have a visit from three or four deer. And it is not as if we live in the "boonies." We are in a heavily populated suburban city in Saint Louis County, but these critters have made it their home. I have no idea how these guys survive. I've even seen a ten point buck in our backyard! The best was when a momma deer had a little fawn in tow one day last Spring. Here is one of them that I caught from my deck with my 400 mm lens, in the nice light of a late afternoon. And then he took a good long look at me, and just strolled off.

IMG_1356

IMG_1357

Categories: photography

A “Moment” for Lutheranism: Are We Willing to Be Who We Are?

December 30th, 2008 19 comments

This comes from my friend, Michael Spencer, aka, "The Internet Monk," an articulate and thoughtful Southern Baptist blogger/teacher/minister, who finds himself increasingly, let us say, "discomforted" by church-life as he knows it in much of Evangelical Christianity. This post surely gave me pause, perhaps it will you as well. Are we rising to this occasion? Or is it the case that too many of us Lutherans are rushing headlong into the very things that increasing numbers of Evangelical Christians are finding ultimately of great  disappointment and even feeling increasingly impoverished and spiritually disatisfying? Here then are Michael's comments:

I wrote this piece in July of ‘07. It garnered 70 comments and some grousy updates on my part. (You can read the original here.)

I’m reprinting the post with a clear comment thread because I feel
the sentiment I expressed in this piece is even more true now than
ever: there are thousands of evangelicals who would give a serious look
at mainline churches, traditional worship and the riches of Protestant
heritage IF some good brothers and sisters could recognize our journey
and meet us somewhere halfway along the path.

It seems that at the moment there is the most interest in the
broader, deeper more serious heritage of Protestantism and a growing
discontent with worshiptainment, there is a strong prejudice against
evangelicals within those communities that could reach out to them.
Evangelicalism needs what Protestantism has always done right…..at
least in those places where they still remember what was right all
along.

Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans….
______________

Mainline churches….we’re having a moment here.

Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Disciples of
Christ…do you know what I mean? We’re having a moment, and it’s
slipping right by.

What moment?

We’re having a moment when thousands of evangelicals are getting a
bellyful of the shallow, traditionless, grown up youth group religion
that’s taken over their pastor’s head and is eating up their churches.

It’s a moment when people are asking if they want to hear praise
bands when they are 70…or if they will even be allowed in the building
when they are 70. It’s a moment when the avalanche of contemporary
worship choruses has turned into one long indistinquishable commercial
buzz. It’s a moment when K-Love is determining what we sing in church
and that’s not a good thing.

It’s a moment when some people are wondering if their children will
ever know the hymns they knew or will ever actually hold a Bible in
their hand at church again. It’s a moment when a lot of people are
pretty certain if they hear the words “new,” “purpose” or “seeker” one
more time, they may appear on the evening news for an episode of
“church rage.”

It’s a moment when significant numbers of people have heard the same
ten sermon series so many times they could fill in for the pastor on
short notice. It’s a moment when many people would actually like to see
a section of the congregation who are over 50 and not trying to look
under 30.

It’s a moment that- believe it or not- some people actually want to
go to something that looks like church as they remember it, see a
recognizable pastor, hear a recognizable sermon, participate in the
Lord’s Supper, experience some reverence and decorum, and leave feeling
that, in some ways, it WAS a lot like their mom and dad’s church. It’s
a moment when reinventing everything may not be as sweet an idea as we
were told it was.

It’s a moment when the baby boomer domination of evangelicalism is
showing signs of cracking. Some younger people actually want to hear
theology. They aren’t judging everything by how seekers evaluate it or
what Rick Warren would say about it.

Yes, my mainline friends, we’re having a moment here. You can see it
all around the edges of evangelicalism. It’s there and it’s real. It
isn’t easy or automatic, but it’s there. And it is sad to realize that
at the very time so many are looking for what you have, you’re mostly
squandering the moment entirely.

Your churches could be taking in thousands of evangelicals. That’s
right. Those recognizably “churchy” churches of yours, with the
Christian year, the Biblically rich liturgy, the choir robes, the
still-occasionally used hymnals and the multi-generational, slightly
blended worship services, could be taking in thousands of evangelicals.

Of course, you’d have to want them. You’d have to, in many ways,
meet them halfway or more. You’d need to talk to them as younger
evangelicals, not dangerous fundamentalists. You’d have to reconsider
how important it is to you to keep homosexual grievances constantly on
the front burner. You’d have to start acting like Biblical morality
meant something. You’d have to stop acting as if being mainline is a
game where you wait to see how fast the membership dies off.

It’s a moment when you need to speak the language of people who want
to hear the Bible; a moment when preachers need to preach mature,
Biblical evangelical messages.

Those younger evangelicals are ready for your appreciation of
tradition, your more balanced theological method, your commitment to
multi-generational churches and your more substantial appreciation of
justice issues.

But they aren’t ready for the things that have emptied so many of
your churches. They will never come if things remain the same. Much
needs to change and should change.

You need to communicate, and you need to go back to your roots. It’s
frustratingly ironic to know that when many of us are longing for a
church that has the things we cannot find in evangelicalism, you have
so many of those very things every Sunday. But what you don’t have is
the willingness to come back to the center of evangelicalism where
people who love the Bible and take it seriously can find a home with
you.

You’ve made it clear that you want those on the left. And
evangelicals have made it clear that they are not going to accommodate
those who want tradition. We’re having a moment here, if you can stop
and see it, who knows what could happen? Will your own churches divide
in order to meet evangelicals on the road? Or will the moment go by, a
“might have been,” that never was to be?

The moment will come and it will go. Right now, the moment is upon all of us.

Why No Holy Innocents Decorations?

December 28th, 2008 3 comments

ruebens_massacre

Holy Innocents
December 28, 2008

I see Frosty, and Santa, and Dasher and Dancer, but I do not think
I’ve ever seen lawn decorations for this Christmastime observance in
the Church Year. The Commemoration of the Holy Innocents, the children
killed by Herod in his quest to rid himself of all who would threaten
his rule and reign as king of Palestine. But don’t we all have a little
Herod in each of us? We too want to do away with all of Christ that
threatens our “comfort zone.” We do well today not only to remember the
innocents who were killed but the sins which caused our Savior to
suffer and die for us. The Innocent One for the guilty, for you and me.

On the Feast of Stephen

December 26th, 2008 Comments off

By Pastor William Cwirla

 

Today
is St. Stephen’s Day.  You know that from the popular Christmas carol: 
“Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen.”  That’s
December 26th.  And so the color is red instead of the usual Christmas
white, not to match the Christmas poinsettias, but to match the blood
of Stephen, the Church’s first martyr

 

As
a matter of fact, two of the twelve days of Christmas are martyrs
days.  Today, the feast of St. Stephen, and December 28th, the feast of
the holy innocents, on which we remember the baby boys of Bethlehem who
died under Herod’s sword for no other reason than they resembled
Jesus.  This is no coincidence.  The coming of Christ always brings the
cross and opposition.

 

The
Baby of Bethlehem has fists clenched in blood.  He is the world’s great
war-Lord, God’s enmity maker, the devil’s head crusher.  The Revelation
depicts Him as rider on a white horse with robes dipped in blood and a
sword coming out of His mouth.  This Baby from Bethlehem is destined
for blood, and so there is a very close connection between the Christ
Child and the first Christian martyr.

 

The eastern Orthodox sing this hymn on St. Stephen’s day:

 

Yesterday the Master assumed our flesh

And became our guest.

Today His servant is stoned to death

And departs in the flesh:

The glorious protomartyr Stephen.

 

Stephen is offered to the King

As a living sacrifice.

For today he departs in the flesh

To God Almighty who came to dwell in the flesh

Completing his combat in honor

For the sake of Christ.

 

Christmas
comes with a cross.  The wood of the manger is never far removed from
the wood of the cross.  Both preach the same thing:  “He came to His
own, but His own did not receive Him.”  The Messiah is a rejected
Messiah.  He is the rejected Savior.  The cross and Christ always go
together.  You can’t have one without the other, and any Christ without
a cross is not the genuine article.  

 

Stephen
didn’t volunteer to be Christ’s first martyr.  He had a fairly mundane
job in the congregation at Jerusalem making sure that the Greek widows
had enough food.  One of the things the early church did was provide
care for elderly widows who had no family to take them in.  The church
in Jerusalem was composed of Hebrews and Greeks.  And, as inevitably
happens, there was tension between the two.  The Greek widows were
complaining that the Hebrews were being given special treatment.  And
so the apostles directed the congregation to chose seven Greek men of
good standing to take make sure that the Greek widows were cared for. 
Kind of a board for social ministry.  Stephen was listed first among
them.  He is sometimes called the church’s first deacon.  And if all
deacon Stephen had done for the rest of his days was take care of
little old Greek widows, he probably would have lived a long, happy
life without much trouble.

 

But
Stephen was filled with grace and power of the Holy Spirit.  He did
many great wonders and signs.  And he spoke with such wisdom and power
that the Jews who debated with him couldn’t keep up.  That’s when the
trouble began.  Works of mercy won’t get you in trouble.  You might
even get a Congressional medal of honor or a Nobel peace prize.  But
preach Jesus, and the cross is sure to be right there with you.

 

Stephen
preached that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ.  Now that alone
probably wouldn’t have stirred up too much trouble.  But it was the implications
of what he preached that created the stir.  You see, if Jesus truly is
the Christ, the Messiah, and if by His dying and rising He has won
salvation for the world, then the religion of Israel was
fulfilled.  The temple sacrifices were fulfilled.  The Law of Moses,
with its rules and regulations, was fulfilled..  And that’s what got Stephen in trouble.

 

Look
at the charges against him.  “He is speaking against this holy place
(the temple) and the law (of Moses).”  Most everyone will tolerate a
“live and let live, don’t ask don’t tell” approach to religion.  What
you believe is true for you, what I believe is true for me.  Moslem,
Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Christian – whatever, so long as it keeps you out
of trouble.  You can even claim that your religion is exclusively true,
as most respectable religions do.  But preach that God was uniquely in
Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins
against them, that Jesus alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the
sin of the world even before the world has the good sense to ask to
have its sins removed, and the world will pick up stones.

 

It’s
a curious thing.  Persecution in the book of Acts and in the
Revelation, comes from two places – religion and politics.  Religion
and Politics are the two great enemies of the good news that God has
redeemed the world in the death of Jesus.  Who tried to kill Jesus when
He was a baby?  King Herod.  Who ultimately killed Jesus?  Religion and
Politics.  The chief priests and Pilate.  Who are the two beasts in the
Revelation?  Again, Religion and politics.

 

Religion
and Politics love each other.  Religious leaders are always cozying up
to the politically powerful to push their agendas.  And political
leaders are always schmoozing the religious to co-opt their influence.

 

Why
do Religion and Politics hate the Gospel?  Because they both promise
what only Jesus delivers.  Politics holds out the promise of utopia, an
ideal kingdom.  Call it what you will:  a New Deal, a Great Society,
Camelot, a new world order.  It’s all the same thing.  Better living
through the exercise of political power.  “Vote for me and I’ll make
your life will be better.  Trust me.”  But the truth is that the
kingdoms of this world, including our own, are all passing away.  There
are serious cracks in the foundation, and one day the walls will come
tumbling down like Jericho’s.  And in the end there is only one kingdom
that stands forever, and its King is Jesus, and His kingdom is already
established.  We don’t do it.  He’s already done it.  It’s finished.

 

Religion holds ways to deal with God on our terms, sacrifices to win God over to our side.  But Jesus is the Priest of His own sacrifice. 
How do you bargain with a God who does it all Himself, who becomes man
and dies and rises?  You can’t.  It’s finished.  The curtain of the
temple is ripped in two from top to bottom.  Nothing we do reconciles
us with God.  God is reconciled in the death of Jesus.  Period.  End of
discussion.  All you can do is believe it..  And that’s why religion
hates the Gospel.  The cross of Jesus yanks the plug on religion.

 

Look
at who threw stones at Stephen.  They were fine, respectable, religious
people, the Sanhedrin, religious leaders who thought they were doing
God a favor, standing up for the truth.  Look at who was supervising
the whole thing:  Saul of Tarsus.  Now there’s a Gospel twist for you. 
The man who approved the stoning of the first Christian martyr later
became the greatest apostle to the Gentile world.  Who says God isn’t
subversive?  He makes the archenemy an apostle!  That’s a perfect
illustration of what Stephen preached.  God used the rejection of the
Jews to work the salvation of the world.  Listen to it again.  God used
Israel’s rejection , not her cooperation but her constant
resistance and rejection of her own Messiah to work the salvation of
the world.  That’s why Religion hates the Gospel.  It totally rules out
our cooperating with God.

 

In
his martyr’s death, Stephen resembled Jesus on the cross.  He saw
Jesus, standing at the right hand of God.  He prayed to Jesus.  “Lord
Jesus, receive my spirit.”  He prayed for those who were killing him. 
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Oh, that the Lord would
grant each of us such joy!  To see Jesus glorified.  To trust him not
only with the little things of our life but with the big thing of our
death.  To die praying for the forgiveness of those who have hurt us.

 

They
buried Stephen with great grieving, it says.  Saul went on a rampage,
going from one house church to another, dragging off men and women off
to prison.  Quite a difference from the signs and wonders of Pentecost
Day.  And I believe that this is precisely Luke’s point in the book of
Acts – the church in the world remains a militant church, always under
attack from within and without.  And in her weakness, and suffering,
and martyrdom God is mighty and active because weakness, suffering, and
death is the way of salvation.  After years of trying to wipe out
Christianity in Russia, Josef Stalin once said, “The Church is like a
nail.  The harder you drive it, the deeper it goes.”

 

We
say “Merry Christmas.”  And by that we mean, “may your steaks be thick
and your roasts juicy.  May your glasses be filled with good wine.  And
may there be many presents under your tree, and a warm fire in your
fireplace.  And may your house be filled with friends and family.” 
Well and good.  Nothing wrong with being merry.  Just don’t confuse it
with Christmas joy.  Merry you can have with a good bottle of wine.  Joy comes only with the Christ Child.

 

And
there is a deadly-serious joy that comes with the birth of the Christ
Child, a joy that runs so much deeper than holiday merriment.  The
red-stained joy of dying to live in Christ.  Of seeing Jesus in His
glory.  Of being received by Him to a feast that has no end.  Of
forgiving others as you have been forgiven.  This joy is yours not
simply at Christmas time but every day in your Baptism and especially
every Lord’s Day when Jesus’ death and life become your food and drink.

 

May the Christ Child fill you with the joy of St. Stephen.

The Devil Took the Hook

December 25th, 2008 1 comment

Mary & baby Jesus
"We have a Savior who can save us from the power of this world’s god (2 Cor. 4:4) and prince (John 16:11), the devil, that is, from sin and death. This means that He must be the true, eternal God, through whom all believers in Him become righteous and are saved. For if He is not greater and more exalted than Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, or John the Baptist, He cannot be our Redeemer. But if, as God’s Son, He sheds His blood to redeem us and cleanse us from sin, and if we believe this, rubbing it under the devil’s nose whenever he tries to plague and terrify us with our sins, the devil will soon be beaten; he will be forced to withdraw and to stop molesting us. For the hook, which is the divinity of Christ, was concealed under the earthworm. The devil swallowed it with his jaws when Christ died and was buried. But it ripped his belly so that he could not retain it but had to disgorge it. He ate death for himself. This affords us the greatest solace; for just as the devil could not hold Christ in death, so he cannot hold us who believe in Christ. But, secondly, we must have a Savior who is also our Brother, who is of our flesh and blood, who became like us in all respects but sin. And in the children’s Creed we say, sing, and confess: “I believe in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God the Father Almighty, conceived by the Holy Ghost, not by Joseph, born of Mary, a true, natural man who suffered, was crucified, died, rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God, coequal with the Father in power and glory.” With a cheerful heart I may declare: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who sits on His right hand as my Advocate. He is of my flesh and blood; yes, He is my Brother. For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven, became incarnate, and died for our sins.” And John, too, introduced his Gospel with the theme of the eternal deity of Christ when he said: “In the beginning was the Word”; “this Word,” he added later, “became flesh.”

Source:
Martin Luther
Sermon on John 1:4, 1537.
American Edition
Volume 22
Page 24

Categories: Martin Luther Quotes

Our Hearts Rejoice

December 25th, 2008 Comments off

Merry Christmas!

TheNativity

All My Heart This Night Rejoices
by Pastor Paul Gerhardt

1. All my heart this night rejoices
As I hear Far and near
Sweetest angel voices.
"Christ is born," their choirs are singing
Till the air Everywhere
Now with joy is ringing.

2. Forth today the Conqueror goeth,
Who the foe, Sin and woe,
Death and hell, o'erthroweth.
God is man, man to deliver;
His dear Son Now is one
With our blood forever.

3. Shall we still dread God's displeasure,
Who, to save, Freely gave
His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, He hath given
His own Son From the throne
Of His might in heaven.

4. Should He who Himself imparted
Aught withhold From the fold,
Leave us broken-hearted?
Should the Son of God not love us,
Who, to cheer Sufferers here,
Left His throne above us?

5. If our blessed Lord and Maker
Hated men, Would He then
Be of flesh partaker?
If He in our woe delighted,
Would He bear All the care
Of our race benighted?

6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh
Sin away And for aye
Full atonement maketh.
For our life His own He tenders
And our race, By His grace,
Meet for glory renders.

7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
Soft and sweet, Doth entreat:
"Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you
You are feed; All you need
I will surely give you."

   8. Come, then, banish all your sadness,
One and all, Great and small;
Come with songs of gladness.
Love Him who with love is glowing;
Hail the Star, Near and far
Light and joy bestowing.

9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure,
Weep no more; See the door
To celestial pleasure.
Cling to Him, for He will guide you
Where no cross, Pain, or loss
Can again betide you.

10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted,
Who for sin, Deep within,
Long and sore have smarted;
For the poisoned wound you're feeling
Help is near, One is here
Mighty for their healing.

11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched;
Know His will Is to fill
Every hand outstretched.
Here are riches without measure;
Here forget All regret,
Fill your hearts with treasure.

12. Let me in my arms receive Thee;
On Thy breast Let me rest,
Savior, ne'er to leave Thee.
Since Thou hast Thyself presented
Now to me, I shall be
Evermore contented.

13. Guilt no longer can distress me;
Son of God, Thou my load
Bearest to release me.
Stain in me Thou findest never;
I am clean, All my sin
Is removed forever.

14. I am pure, in Thee believing,
From Thy store Evermore
Righteous robes receiving.
In my heart I will enfold Thee,
Treasure rare, Let me there,
Loving, ever hold Thee.

15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish.
Though my breath Fail in death,
Yet I shall not perish,
But with Thee abide forever
There on high, In that joy
Which can vanish never.

Warning: The ALPB Internet Forum May Be Hazardous to Your Mental and Spiritual Health

December 23rd, 2008 16 comments

600px-Warning_icon.svg
Some time back I recommended folks give the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau's online forum a try. I now need to withdraw that recommendation. The ALPB forum is very poorly moderated, and when the ELCA moderator actually ever does attempt to exercise some modicum of control, it is generally to slap wrists with a ruler for not being nice, which apparently in the ELCA is a sin far more serious than doctrinal heresy and moral bankruptcy. The forum has reached the point where it is no better than sites like LutherQuest. There are two very liberal ELCA pastors on the board who dominate every conversation to the point of destroying any possibility of reasonable conversation, one in particular is permitted by the site's moderators to question incessantly every major article of the Christian faith. It is a mess. It is actually a bit like watching a train wreck, it is so awful you can't take your eyes from it, but…you really should. I have, and feel much the better for it.

Categories: Internet Resource

Can A Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

December 23rd, 2008 4 comments

by Dr. Albert Mohler

annunciation-botticelli2Can
a true Christian deny the virgin birth? This question would perplex the
vast majority of Christians throughout the centuries, but modern
denials of biblical truth make the question tragically significant. Of
all biblical doctrines, the doctrine of Christ's virginal conception
has often been the specific target of modern denial and attack.

Attacks upon the virgin birth emerged in the aftermath of the
Enlightenment, with some theologians attempting to harmonize the
anti-supernaturalism of the modern mind with the church's teaching
about Christ. The great quest of liberal theology has been to invent a
Jesus who is stripped of all supernatural power, deity, and authority.

The fountainhead of this quest includes figures such as Albert
Schweitzer and Rudolf Bultmann. Often considered the most influential
New Testament scholar of the twentieth century, Bultmann argued that
the New Testament presents a mythological worldview that modern men and
women simply cannot accept as real. The virgin birth is simply a part
of this mythological structure and Bultmann urged his program of
"demythologization" in order to construct a faith liberated from
miracles and all vestiges of the supernatural. Jesus was reduced to an
enlightened teacher and existentialist model.

Read more…

Categories: Liberal Christianity

Refutation of NEWSWEEK article on Gay Marriage and the Bible

December 23rd, 2008 4 comments

340x The tidal wave-like pressure on Christians to conform to the latest opinions of culture-shapers in our nation about gay marriage was on particularly dramatic display in an issue of NEWSWEEK magazine a few weeks ago when the news magazine decided to play at Bible interpretation and application. These articles do influence the thinking of our people and the only antidote is constant, careful, pastoral, faithful teaching and preaching. Here is one such very fine example prepared by Lutheran pastor, Jonathan L. Jenkins.

No Mutual Joy:
Response to Newsweek

by Pr. Jonathan L. Jenkins

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Lebanon, Penn.
Advent 2008

Even
many religious conservatives want to be persuaded that they can believe
in the Bible and support homosexual marriage. Lisa Miller (Newsweek,
Dec. 15) raises their hopes in her opening sentence: "Let's try for a
minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define
marriage as the Bible does." Religious conservatives would like to be
taken at their word, for a change.

But the writer does not try.
She says there isn't any biblical definition of marriage, and the very
idea is ridiculous. "Would any contemporary heterosexual married
couple… turn to the Bible as a how-to script? Of course not…"
Apparently Miller hasn't heard about the countless numbers of couples
around the world who benefit from doing exactly that!

"First,
while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and
family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one
woman." The writer never explicitly defines what she means by
"explicitly defines." However, the very first time the Bible speaks of
human beings, the command to marry and bear children is made
"explicitly." (Genesis 1:27-31): "So God created man (adam — in Hebrew)
in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female
he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful
and multiply, and fill the earth…'"

Humankind is not created
"male or female," nor does God first create them "male and female" only
to decide later on that the man and the woman could also marry and have
children. God creates marriage in the very act of creating humanity, in
Genesis 1.

Genesis 2 "explicitly defines" marriage as one man
and one woman — not with a "dictionary definition," but by relating a
story that draws a conclusion. The LORD God made the woman from the rib
of the man "and brought her to him" like the proud father of the bride
(Genesis 2:18-25). "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother,
and they become one flesh." "One flesh." One flesh in sexual union, one
flesh in babies, one flesh in family life — the one flesh that is human
history, from generation to generation. Even marriages that do not give
birth to children exist in accord with, rather than in opposition to,
this definition.

Another "defining" moment is Jesus' rejection
of divorce as a violation of God's original intention (Mark 10:6-9):
"But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.'
‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined
to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'" Jesus makes "one man
and one woman" a matter of principle: "So they are no longer two but
one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one
separate." A husband and wife need all the support they can get to
maintain a stable marriage in which to raise the next generation. To
depict gay relationships as comparable is to blur society's vision of
the common good.

Does Jesus ever speak against homosexuality?
"Yes" is the answer, despite repeated claims to the contrary. Jesus
himself proscribed homosexual practice when he condemned not only
"fornication" (porneia – in Greek) and "adultery" (moicheia – in
Greek), but also the licentiousness" (aselgeia – in Greek) that
elsewhere includes homosexual relations (see Mark 7:21-22 and 2 Peter
2:7).

Miller accuses religion of bigotry: "Religious objections
to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, but in custom and
tradition (and to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with
gay sex that transcends theological argument)." If so, Jesus is
included in the indictment, too. In his teaching on sex and marriage,
Jesus, the Jewish rabbi, never departs from the Scriptures of Israel.
The Gospels are consistent with the remainder of the New Testament, in
which some of Leviticus' laws are reaffirmed and reapplied to the new
life in Christ.

"No sensible person," asserts Miller, "wants
marriage — theirs or anyone else's — to look in its particulars
anything like what the Bible describes." On the contrary, the apostle
Paul's instruction to husbands in particular, that they "should love
their wives as they do their own bodies," has transformed marriages for
the better (Ephesians 5:28).

The writer's gratuitous insult
exposes the vast difference between the church's way of reading
Scripture and her own. A helpful term for her approach is
"historicize": she reads "history" in order to "relativize" its claim
on the present. Miller historicizes Genesis 2, for example, when she
quotes Dr. Segal: "If you believe that the Bible was written by men and
not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was
written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world." ‘That
was then, this is now' is how she reads the Bible.

Her approach
imposes severe restrictions on the ways in which Scripture informs its
hearers: "We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can
read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future."
Even a casual reader of the Bible quickly recognizes, however, that
"universal truths" are uncommon. The "universal truths" are tightly
woven into a particular story. Indeed, the "universal truths" are
specific promises and specific commands to a specific people, Israel.

Instead
of timeless wisdom that applies to every time and place, the church
reads Scripture for the narrative that now includes us among the people
of Israel's God. To us, ancient, as well as contemporary practices are
brought into focus through the lens of the whole story, from beginning
to end.

Writers like Miller historicize the Bible in order mute
its authority: "The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own,
it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours." "Rules"
are not the main subject of the Bible, as Miller ought to know, and
their "face value" depends on their location in the narrative. The
degree to which the ancient world is unlike our own must not be
underestimated — or overstated, either. Miller's helter-skelter
selection of examples is devoid of context and begs the question of
continuity and discontinuity.

From the first page of Scripture
to the last, marriage is the "gold standard" — the reality principle by
which all sexuality is evaluated. Biblical prohibitions against
fornication, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, adultery, lust, divorce,
and homosexuality are made from the standpoint of marriage. The fact
that monogamy did not become the norm in the Christian world in the 6th
century is no more to the point than the fact that Christians regularly
fall short of the norm. The "one man and one woman" norm must be
received anew in every generation, and in our generation is under
intense assault from several directions.

The most important
question to ask writers like Miller concerns Jesus. Is Jesus alive or
dead? The answer is decisive to the reading of Scripture. It is
difficult, if not impossible to receive "inspiration" from a rabbi who
has been dead for 2,000 years. But the church believes that Jesus is
alive and is coming to complete his Father's kingdom on earth as it
already is in heaven: therefore Scripture inspires us to know and to
live for the world's true and ultimate good. Is Jesus alive, or does
Miller historicize Easter, too? It's hard to tell what Miller believes,
in view of her remark about what Jesus "would" do "if Jesus were alive
today." The church believes the future belongs to Jesus: that makes
Scripture relevant, no matter how old it is.

Miller correctly
points out that Jesus "preaches a new kind of community, a caring
community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties."
So, too, she draws attention to the promise that in the resurrection
there is no need for marriage, because life will be eternal and death
will be no more (Matthew 22:30). But it is a spurious argument to
defend homosexuality on this basis.

Marriage is a living image
of the one-body-and-Spirit union of Christ and his bride, the church.
St. Paul explains, "‘For this reason a man will leave his father and
his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one
flesh.' This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the
church." Marriage prefigures the final consummation — "I saw the holy
city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven as a bride prepared for
her husband" (Revelation 21:2).

The strongest consideration is
one the writer never considers: human frailty. We live in a world
divided by sin and death, as well as circumstance. There might be
social value in civil unions — independent of gender — that would
extend practical benefits to unmarried friends who desire to form a
legal association. Domestic partnerships could grant rights having to
do with visitation, taxes, inheritance, and insurance benefits. Such
voluntary associations could be beneficial to groups of widows,
celibate clergy, or single persons in the absence of family —
relationships that do not depend on sexual desire. At least it is worth
some discussion. Domestic partnerships are friendships, not marriage
and would not endorse behavior that many Americans deem wrong. It's
true, as she says, Jesus "does not want people to be lonely and sad" —
but Jesus does not want people to sin, either.

All of us know
that this response to Newsweek will be dismissed as "homophobia," but
such dismissals are unpersuasive and have lost their power to
intimidate — as a majority of the citizens of California recently
demonstrated.

Pocket Concordia

December 22nd, 2008 5 comments

You may recall a few months ago I did a survey asking you to let me
know if you would be interested in a “pocket size” edition of the
Lutheran Confessions. The response was a resounding YES. And
so…..here you go. Coming soon, in the New Year.

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: Pocket Edition

This edition presents all the official texts of the Book of Concord,
plus three appendixes of historic Lutheran writings, a "Book of Concord
Reading Guide," a Scripture index, and a subject index. It is only the
texts of the Confessions, sans all the notes, pictures, introductions,
etc. And, believe it or not, the type size is not super tiny!

The
standard for whether or not it would be a “pocket edition” was my
colleague’s Rev. Ben Mayes ability to put it into his sport coat's outside
pocket. With that standard in mind, this qualifies, at 6×4 inches, and a tad over an inch thick.

Read more about it here and place your order. If your congregation
orders ten or more copies you can get it for only $10.99 otherwise, it
is $14.99.

Categories: CPH Resources

A Prayer for Our Pastors

December 22nd, 2008 Comments off

Shepherd
Let's be sure to remember our pastors in our prayers as they are preparing to preach on the Nativity of our Lord during these coming holy days of Christmas. Here is one such prayer, for you to consider using. And, be sure to tell your pastor you are praying for him, and when you do tell him that, then be sure to pray for him! God bless all those called to shepherd the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit has appointed them overseers.

O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, my Lord and my God, I humbly pray that you would pardon my sins, and my pastor's sins. Look not on our unworthiness but on your great mercy, by which you have appointed my pastor to be your ambassador in Christ's stead. Put your word in his mouth and speak with his tongue. Bring forth fruits through his ministry and let not the preaching of your word be without effect in my life and in our congregation.

May all that our pastor says be in accord with your word and the confession of your church, that your name maybe glorified, your congregation truly awakened, and thus, through him, your unworthy servant, your church be edified.

As you inhabited the praises of your people Israel, dwell in the praises of our congregation. Let the sacrifices of our praise be acceptable to you, and preserve us from insincerity and thoughtless worship.

Incline your ear to hear my prayer, O God of Jacob; hear the voice of my supplication and help us. Preserve unto us your holy word that it may be joyfully and boldly proclaimed in its truth and purity, and guard us in the right use of the Sacrament in accord with the institution of Christ, our Savior.

Be with and protect my pastor. Keep far from him the temptations of the Evil One. Use me, your unworthy servant, to care for and love my pastor and his family. Let me be to my pastor a faithful Aaron, holding up the prophet's arms. Strengthen my pastor and give him joy and peace in his service to you and to our congregation.

Be our God and our children's God, now and henceforth, and hear my prayer, O Father, for the sake of your dear Son, Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter divine. Amen.

Based on a prayer in the Pastoral Care Companion, p. xix.

Reformation and Counter-Reformation

December 19th, 2008 1 comment

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Categories: Uncategorized

Heirs of the Reformation: Treasures of the Singing Church

December 19th, 2008 3 comments

Treasures of the singing church

Read about it here.

A special offer for all Lutheran congregations is coming in the new year, so be looking for it! We will offer promotional pricing and materials to make this collection available to the whole congregation so they can place a group order. Or you can order now and pay full price if you do not want to wait. If so, here is where you can place your order.

Categories: CPH Resources

Burgundy Book Contest

December 16th, 2008 9 comments

I have seen, in several places, photos of the "burgundy books" that Concordia Publishing House has been publishing in recent years. This is an open call for you to submit your best photo of your collection of "burgundy books." Post a link to your "burgundy book" photo as a comment and I'll move it up into the main post. I will feature the winner of the contest on this blog site and great and wonderful prizes will be awarded to the winner.***

Let's get this party started.

Burgundybooks

*** Consisting of a word of thanks and a virtual hearty-hand clasp.

Categories: CPH Resources