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A Reading List for Lutherans

May 18, 2015 Leave a comment

All of these books can be purchased through Concordia Publishing House as well as Amazon.

The Basics

The Bible.  Choose a sturdy literal (formal not functional) translation to investigate individual points of doctrine.  I’ve gravitated toward the English Standard Version (ESV), but others like the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the older New International Version (NIV) (although less so with the NIV) can be very good too.  If you want to get the sweep of the narrative of Scripture, a paraphrase is not a bad idea.  Here’s where the old Living Bible comes in handy or the newer incarnation by Eugene Peterson, The Message.  These are paraphrases not necessarily strictly translations so don’t argue points of doctrine with these versions.   The Bible I most turn to these days is The Lutheran Study Bible because of the copious notes and the excellent cross references.

The Lutheran Confessions.  For laypeople, I recommend the Reader’s Edition with helpful introductions, footnotes to explain contexts and historical items and for the trove of beautiful Reformation era artwork.  The standard English translation of the Confessions for years was Tappert, which has been somewhat supplanted by the Kolb-Wengert edition.

The Large Catechism.  If you’re not ready to jump with both feet into the Lutheran Confessions, at least read Luther’s Large Catechism, essentially sermons on the chief points of Christian teaching and life.  You can’t do much better for yourself than to read and reread on occasion one of the best things Luther wrote.

Basic Lutheranism Explained

Spirituality of the Cross, by Gene Veith.  An engaging explanation in layman’s terms of the nature of faith and grace.  I don’t know how many times I’ve simply put this in someone’s hand and said, “Read this and let’s talk.”

Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness, by Harold Senkbeil.  This is “the other one,” though not inferior in any way to Veith’s book.

The Hammer of God, by Bo Giertz.  This is the one they make every first-year seminarian read and there’s a good reason.  It’s a collection of three stories, where we see Lutheranism lived out by real people in real, even if novelized, life.  It may even cure you of your pietism.  It did me.

Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  This is the other must read for first-years.  And it may be Bonhoeffer at his best.  I’ve read this book a number of times.  It seems like it and Hammer should be on an annual rotation.

Biography of Luther

Here I Stand, by Roland Bainton.  This is an older book but the approachable classic to understand the life and writings of Luther.  Kittleson has a newer book and I think just as approachable as Bainton’s.

Growing in Christ

Heaven on Earth, by Arthur Just.  Read this.  Seriously.  You will never see the Sunday service the same.

Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, by John Kleinig.  This book broke me out of a funkadelic funk and showed me joy again.

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Message for Easter 6, May 10, – Mothers’ Day

May 12, 2015 Leave a comment

The audio can be heard by clicking the player below.

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Message for Wednesday night in Easter 5

May 12, 2015 Leave a comment

I’m especially indebted to Rev. Scott Murray’s devotion on this text in A Year with the Church Fathers, published by CPH.  I took his devotion as an outline and built up from there.

Luke 12:35-53

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It’s hard to not make too much out of our first parent’s fall in the garden.  Only when we begin to ancient-oil-lamp-2see how everything became different, twisted from God’s original intent and the perfect goodness with which He created them and the cosmos in which they dwelt, do we then have some inkling as to what makes Easter and even more momentous historical event.

It was a kind of spiritual anesthesia that the serpent administered to Eve and Adam in the Garden.  The effects of which lingered until Jesus wakened us from our slumber and made us once again watchful.  Now that He has come and awakened us and yet also left to return to the right hand of the Father, we await His return.  I remember as a child waiting with anticipation the arrival of a family guest, my grandparents or sometimes better, a friend of my parents who was bringing with them their children, other kids for my brothers and I to play with.  We would sit on the porch and wait and wait.  We had already done all the straightening up so we were just waiting.  So we made sure we were playing the front year but always with an eye on the corner to watch for an approaching car.  Nothing could cure us from the expectation of their immanent arrival except their arrival itself.

We typically hear Matthew’s version of this reading at the end of the Church Year.  There it’s not servants waiting for the master to arrive in the might but virgins waiting on the coming bridegroom.  But the effect is similar.  Be ready.  Be watchful.  Don’t put your pjs on and get ready to go to bed, stay dressed for action, be ready to welcome him who will come, who is coming.  The risen Lord has promised His return.  But I wonder how we hear this.  Do we hear this as a good thing or a thing that makes us a little anxious?

One of the great benefits of living in the buckle of the Bible belt is that our neighbors are also looking for the Lord to come back.  But at least when I hear it, that teaching seems to be more of a validation and a justification for their sometimes severe views and attitudes towards others, especially unbelievers.  “The Lord is coming back, you’d better straighten up.”  Larry, a cut out man in the shop I worked in during the summers through college and seminary, had a sign on his bulletin board over his table saw.  “The Lord is coming back and boy is He ever upset.”  I don’t see that kind of attitude in in our reading tonight.  Jesus is not coming back as a threat.  His return is supposed to be pure joy for us.  In the language of the text tonight, there is no accounting of the servants’ labors and faithfulness, no judgment of the duties of the servants done in the master’s absence, no fear of being unemployed should he return and find the servants asleep, just the joyful anticipation of the master returning because when He comes back, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!”  They’ll be blessed because they’ll be served.

John reveals to us toward the end of his apocalypse,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  That sounds like something I want to be awake to see.

My wife and I will occasionally watch a movie together and even if it’s a movie she likes, she tends to fall asleep.  Back when I was often deployed, I came home having seen a bunch of movies she had not and we’d watch them together and sometimes, I knew a good part was coming and I’d look over and see the eyelids start to get heavy and nudge her and say, “There’s a good part coming up, you don’t want to fall asleep now!”

This is the tone, of Jesus’ words to the disciples tonight.  “Be ready, you don’t want to miss out on this.”  We don’t want to be overcome by the demands of our lives, our work, our struggles, even the good things in life, that we slip back into the spiritual anesthesia from which He has awakened us in His coming.

The baptism with which He was baptized was His cross and by it He has straightened up, made everything right between us and the Father.  Truth is often times when my grandparents came, they’d have little gifts for us.  And my brothers and I were as excited about that possibility.  Jesus says He will dwell with us and care for us and even invite us to His table and serve us.  That sounds like a Guest worth waiting for, staying awake for.

Often times, our guests had not arrived by nightfall and so we went inside but we always left the porch light on for them.  The same was true two thousand years ago and so Jesus instruction to be ready, to keep your lamps lit and burning to welcome Him who promised He will return, who promised He is coming.

Easter is the proof that all has been made right and we can look forward to meeting the Lord face to face when He comes.  He’s coming back because He was raised and so shall we be too into the eternal company of our Lord.

I want us to hear this tonight, less as an exhortation to straighten up and more as a nudge in the arm to stay awake or you’ll miss this good bit that’s coming up—to be looking forward to the eternal company of our Savior, Jesus.  He return is a good thing for those He came to save.  Truly.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.  Amen.

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Message for Weds in Easter 4, April 29

May 12, 2015 Leave a comment

This is the message excerpted from the Evening Prayer service posted below.  As usual, you can listen by clicking the embedded player below.

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Luke 10:1-20

We’ve been talking a little on Sunday mornings about the different Gospels and what they have Jesus sendsin common and what makes them a little different and this account of Jesus sending the seventy(two) is one of those stories that we get only from Luke.  Matthew and Mark, and Luke as well, tell how show Jesus sent out the Twelve to much the same work we see here, but Luke is the only one who tells us about the 72.  And that may not be a necessarily important theological point to make except that it’s also in Luke second book, the Acts of the Apostles, where all the disciples are sent from Jerusalem, into Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Ac 1:8) to witness to the restoration of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ.  So, here the seventy-two are sent to say the kingdom of God has come near again, and to provide evidence to that effect, they’ll heal and perform miracles and bring peace where they go.

This is one of those Bible passages that church mission executives trot out to make sure congregations and pastors feel like they’re not doing enough outreach and evangelism and what they mean by that is that they are collectively not knocking on enough doors, making enough cold evangelism calls and asking people the Kennedy evangelism questions.  “If you were to die tonight, are you sure you’d go to heaven?”  It’s supposed to open the person up to a discussion of things eternal and specifically the church you represent as a place to learn more.  I was trained in this method at the seminary and actually did a number of these kinds of evangelism calls.  I can tell you that it was as terrifying as it sounds.  I’m not a sales guy.  I can’t make a hundred cold calls before lunch and not have it affect me.  I’m convinced that there are only a very few of us that aren’t bothered by being told no because most of us grow out it when we stop being toddlers.

So this text is a favorite of the mission and evangelism execs or consultant as if the real problem with Christianity in general and our congregation specifically in our community is that people either don’t know we’re here or they aren’t terrified enough of hell.  I’ve heard enough of these presentations now to realize they never read the middle bit.  They read the sending bit.  They read the bit with Jesus’ instructions.  They read the bit about the return and the amazing miracles the seventy(two) were able to perform in the name of the one who sent them, as if it’s all rainbows and unicorns.  As if they themselves had healed and the demons were subject to them on the doorsteps of those they asked Kennedy evangelism questions.  But the bureaucrat never reads this:  “behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.  They act like it’s easy.  They never say it’s hard.  And I’ll say it’s gotten even harder from when these people were on the front door steps of their communities, if they ever were.  That often makes me angry as a pastor and as a Christian and so it’s one thing I’ll never ask you to do.

And so if this text is not about reenacting this sending of you as the new seventy(two), then what is it?  We, the disciples of Jesus, are indeed being sent out and but we’re being sent not specifically to evangelize.  There’s no commission here.  We’re not be sent to teach.  We teach disciples.  This is the not the great commission.  You’re not being sent to preach the Good News of the Gospel, so much as we’re being sent to be a force for good in this broken world and to bring a measure of the peace we’ve experienced.

I really think we’ve been doing this wrong over the last 40 years.  We’ve been beating up the disciples of Jesus and reminding them what they aren’t doing in an effort to get them to remind others what they aren’t.  What if, instead, it we went about it the way that Jesus does it here?  He reminds them who sends them, that is, not who they aren’t but who they are, sent ones of Jesus.  And He’s straight with them.  He says I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves.  He describes the world out there not as some wonderful place where people are just waiting to hear where they can go to church and hear about Jesus, but a world that is hostile to the message of God’s kingdom come and into a world willing to do violence to those who bear a message of peace in it.  These disciples who are sent enter into a ministry of peace that is informed by the sacrifice of the cross not the glory of a growing kingdom.  Like their Lord, they too will be sacrificial victims of the Gospel that calls for a reversal of what the world values.  Remember it’s in Luke’s chapter 1 that Mary sings, that God scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and sent the rich away empty.  The baby she bears restores God’s values in the world and shows the world’s values of power, wealth, and pride to be empty and worthless.

And so they are sent to bring healing.  So Jesus is out to destroy the power of the medical industrial complex.   They are sent to speak peace.  So Jesus is set to destroy the power of the military industrial complex.  They are sent to say that the kingdom of God is near.  Jesus is set to destroy the power of the world’s governments.  No wonder the world hates this message.  It’s the end of life as we know it, just as it was in Jesus’ day.  Remember its Luke who tells us that the earliest Christians sold all that they had, held everything in common and distributed to each as they had need.  (Ac 2:44-45)  A message and really a calling socially and politically conservative Christians simply don’t seriously enough today and I count myself, somewhat, among them.

And Jesus instructions are specific.  Go into the town.  Heal the sick in it and when you have the attention of the people say, “the kingdom of God has come near.”  He says it twice so that the very message rings in their ears as they are to continue to speak it where they are sent.  The healings are a proof that the old way of sickness has come to an end.  The Lord has come back to the creation and renewing it.  The ultimate proof of this will be the resurrection.  The old way of the curse of death is now over too.  The kingdom of God is being restored.  The kingdom of disease and soon, death, that is sin and power of the devil, is coming to an end, and with it, at the institutions of that false kingdom—death power, wealth, and violence.  God has returned to rule in Christ Jesus.

And if this is the case, and I think it is because I read serious, careful, even Lutheran, exegetes of Luke-Acts, it doesn’t necessarily mean we all have to become bleeding heart democrats, but it probably does mean we need to argue for everyone to have an equal chance in our society, protection from exploitation of the poor and the weak and encourage our society to find solutions to problems that don’t involve violence even on a global scale, even if it means sacrificing.  It’s who we are as disciples, and as ones sent from Jesus to speak a word of peace where the world would have war.  It probably also means that if the mission execs are using this passage as a proof text for community canvass marketing, they’re probably using it in a way our Lord did not intend.  But I have met only one bureaucrat who was a serious and careful exegete of the Scriptures and he’s also the only one I know who will call himself a bureaucrat too.

Jesus message in our second reading tonight is that the kingdom of God has come near, and as we go we are supposed to give evidence of its coming, this is what He has called us to do.  Where we go, let’s be citizens of God’s kingdom come anew, people of healing and people of peace.

Blessed are the eyes that see.  Amen.

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Evening Prayer at the end of April

May 12, 2015 Leave a comment

It occurred to me that maybe someone might like to hear the entire Evening Prayer service.  So I’ve included it here.  I’m the officiant and the organist is our own music director, Ms. Katie Alms.  The service is Evening Prayer as it is in Lutheran Service Book, p. 243 and following with the only difference that we used the opening versicles for Eastertide.

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Message for Good Shepherd Sunday, April 26

May 12, 2015 Leave a comment

The audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

The text for the sermon is John 10:1-11

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