Archive for September, 2016

Luther on Love, Marriage, and Parenthood

September 26, 2016 Leave a comment

This is the latest on our Sunday morning class.



And the slides.  Enjoy.


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Message on 25 September

September 26, 2016 Leave a comment

Heavenly Host, 2016                            

“The Power of the Gospel Delivered”


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This is the third sermon in this series, the Power of the Gospel.  We’ve already heard how the Gospel has the power to save and in its saving reorders our lives by its power.  Today the same major theme applies, the power of the Gospel, specifically, the power of the gospel delivered.

You may or may not think of it this way, but the pastor, specifically the pastor in the act of preaching is delivering the gospel.  Most everyone here knows that Lutheran Christians insist on the external and objective justification of the sinner before God on account of Christ Jesus’ death on the cross.  Jesus died on the cross to bestow forgiveness on sinners, on us.  That’s the Good News.  As we heard in the first message I preached in this series, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  No other message has the power to free a sinner from the chains of sin.  Certainly not any of the false gospels “do your best and God does the rest” or anything less than the free and full forgiveness of Jesus’ death on the cross.  In our Lutheran confessions, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession puts it clearly and succinctly, “It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith,

2 when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.[1]

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  That’s the singularly powerful message of the Gospel.  Paul knew it which is why his letters to the Romans and Galatians are so precisely clear about all this.  From Romans 4, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…”  That’s it.

But there’s another Lutheran distinctive besides our insistence on the clear word of the Gospel and it’s clearly biblical because it’s the subject of Paul’s letter to Timothy we hear this morning about overseers and deacons.  These people are charged with the administration of the Gospel.  Immediately after Article IV in the Augsburg Confession is Article V, which reads, “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments.

2 Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.[2]

The God who acts powerfully to save and reorders our lives in the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, also provides for the administering of this Good News into the ears of those He saves.  I’m not sure we really think about faith in this way.  We think of it as far more mysterious, far more mystical.  We think of faith as something like an Indiana Jones movie, were people have to slogging through swamps and hacking through jungles to ancient temples to find the real deal.  But God doesn’t play tricks on us like that.  The Gospel is not hidden away.  The singularly powerful message that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners is proclaimed from this pulpit every week.  God has instituted it.  He has called a man to proclaim His powerful, saving Word to His people.  God has acted to save and to ensure the saving message is proclaimed.

But people being people, what do we do?  Are we here to listen to that message or for some other mix of motives?  Why do we operate the school?  Is it for the sake of the Gospel or is it for some other set of reasons?  I ask these rather pointed questions because they are in the front of my mind these days.  We’ve had three installations of new pastors in our circuit this summer and the fourth is today at Trinity in Columbia.  And every time I go to an installation I hear these words about the Gospel and the office of the Holy Ministry and these very words from chapter three of First Timothy are read.  And the new pastor makes his vows and the congregation makes their vows to want to hear the Gospel.  And I think it’s a good thing we do this because it doesn’t always work out.

Sometimes it’s the pastor.  He cannot live up to what’s required of him in this office for whatever reason, many of them not his fault.  After nineteen years, I’ve seen many of the brothers I went to seminary with undone by factors beyond their control, and of course it’s just as bad if they succumb to their own weaknesses too.  But more often, the case has been the congregation who say they seek a pastor, a Gospel office man, and yet they want very little to do with the Gospel.  These congregations are not built on the foundation of the Gospel but are more like civic organizations that have an array of activities but can’t be bothered to attend to the Gospel message.  A sad story that stays with me was about a church that had a supper club that met on Thursdays and when that holiest of Thursdays rolled around they decided to continue to meet rather than attend the Divine Service.  And they didn’t even understand why their pastor was shocked.

What do we expect of our pastors?  I’m including myself in this because I need a pastor too.  Eugene Peterson is a pastor and scholar I’ve turned to for years.  His many books and articles have served as a surrogate mentor pastor for me because mentor pastors are harder to come by than you might think.  He tells a story that is particularly appropriate to our discussion this morning.

A number of years ago, I injured my knee. According to my self-diagnosis, I knew all it needed was some whirlpool treatments. In my college years we had a whirlpool in the training room, and I had considerable experience with its effectiveness in treating my running injuries as well as making me feel good. In my present community, the only whirlpool was at the physical therapist’s office. I called to make an appointment. He refused; I had to have a doctor’s prescription.

I called an orthopedic physician, went in for an examination (this was getting more complicated and expensive than I had planned), and found he wouldn’t give me the prescription for the whirlpool. He said it wasn’t the proper treatment for my injury. He recommended surgery. I protested: a whirlpool certainly can’t do any harm, and it might do some good. His refusal was adamantine. He was a professional. His primary commitment was to some invisible abstraction called health, healing. He was not committed to satisfying my requests. His integrity, in fact, forbade him to satisfy my requests if they encroached on his primary commitment.

I have since learned that with a little shopping around, I could have found a doctor who would have given me the prescription I wanted.[3]

The connection is clear in my mind, most of the time anyway.  We should insist that our pastors not merely give us what we want or even what we think we need, but that they be committed to the Gospel which is one thing and is not so many other things.  It’s a noble task to bring others into great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Peterson goes on in the article to ask these rather pointed questions.  “Is our talk of citizenship in a kingdom of God anything that can be construed as the “real world”? Or are we passing on a spiritual fiction analogous to the science fictions that fantasize a better world than we will ever live in? Is pastoral work mostly a matter of putting plastic flowers in people’s drab lives-well-intentioned attempts to brighten a bad scene, not totally without use, but not real in any substantive or living sense?”

The answer to these questions is the singularly power message of the Gospel.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  I realize in the drab world these words can sound like just words but because they are proclaimed by the power of the Holy Spirit they are not just words, they are “justifying” words, saving words.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to save us, to save you.  He has done it.  Amen.

[1] Tappert, 30.

[2] Tappert, 31.

[3] This story appeared in Peterson’s article “Lashed to the Mast” in an issue of Leadership Journal, Winter, 1996.

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Bible Class on Luther’s Ethics

September 26, 2016 Leave a comment

This is the audio recording of what we’re doing on Sunday mornings right now, Luther’s ethics.  This session didn’t have any slides prepared and so I just talked.  There is a recap of this presentation with a recap slide in the next post.



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Message for 9/18, The Power of the Gospel to Order our Lives

September 26, 2016 Leave a comment

Heavenly Host, 2016

Part 2 of a Series:  The Power of the Gospel



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Last week I started this thing that I’ve never done before, this message series on the power of the Gospel.  And I said that this message, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” is the message of the Gospel.  And that message is the singularly powerful message our world so desperately needs to hear in order for each of us, for all of us to be saved from a life of rebellion against God.  But this week I wanted to focus on what happens after that initial rescue, on how this powerful message dynamically shapes and reorders the lives of the people in whom this message lives.  That is certainly the case in our second reading today, the second reading in this letter from Paul to young pastor Timothy as serves the church in Ephesus.

It should not come as a surprise to use that the God who is a rescuing God is also a God of order.

I’m always amazed at how much we need order, even crave order.  Kim’s stories about her work in kindergarten this year have reminded me of how much younger children need and thrive on order.  Certainly there’s a spectrum of tolerance to the ebb and flow of the day, but even the most withersoever kid seems to thrive on a schedule.  Parents can remember this, I’m sure.  All it takes is one hour.  Miss meal time or nap time by one hour and the peace and stability created and ensured by the schedule breaks down.  Yeah, that’s putting it kindly.

Adults aren’t really that much different.  We crave order and are really uncomfortable with things outside their normal order.  Take something simple like travel.  Travel can be exciting, new foods, new customs depending on how far away you go.  But travel can be exhausting, disorienting, and frustrating.  Why?  Because when we travel the order of the day is disrupted.  Even adults crave and thrive on order.

And the powerful message of the Gospel that transforms the lives of sinners restores God’s intended order to His creation, maybe not all at once, but it’s a start.  Even the way God goes about the work of salvation is orderly.  In a different letter the same Apostle Paul tells us that this is typical of God.  In the opening of Ephesians, he writes even as [God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will[.]” (Eph 1:4–5)  That’s a glimpse at the orderliness of God’s work, God working for good, predestining, His plan set before the foundations of the world coming to fruition in order to conform His people to the image of His Son,.  Hold on to that idea of God working to conform those who are called to His purpose, His will.  That’s the idea we’re working with today.  That’s what’s happening in chapter 2 here of Paul’s letter to young pastor Timothy.

We can look at it this way.  Because God has saved His people by sending His Son, the relationship with God is restored and God’s desired order for His people is being restored in them and in their relationships.  Of course, the easily identifiable relationship is the vertical relationship of the believer to God.  In God’s restoration through Jesus the lines of communication are open again.  God hears our prayers and we hear God’s Word as the gift of life that it is rather than some ancient, irrelevant law code.  Adam and Eve in the garden once enjoyed unrestricted access to God.  But that was lost in the Fall.  But in Christ, that relationship with God is restored once again.  All Christians know that God delights to hear their prayers and all Christians delight in knowing God once again.  That mutual delight is the basis of true worship.  In Christ even worship has order restored to it.

The city of Ephesus was the hotbed for the worship of Artemis, a female fertility goddess.  The temple built in Ephesus to honor Artemis is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  And it’s in Ephesus that Paul starts a riot with the silversmiths who make their living making little Artemis idols.  In the leadership at the temple itself the women ran the show.  And as it was a fertility cult, you can imagine the kinds of worship at the temple of Artemis.  This kind of worship and even this reversal of leadership was not good and pleasing to God.  Jesus is the one mediator between God and man and though it is left unsaid, you don’t have to bribe good with fertility rites for the crops to come in.  When Paul starts preaching the Gospel that saves those that come into the church in Ephesus and he leaves Timothy to continue the work, God’s desired order is begun to be restored.

In our Epistle reading, it’s this order that Paul is speaking to. Now, as I realize that there’s been some pretty bad teaching in the Christian Church over the centuries regarding Biblical manhood and womanhood.  And most of it is squarely rooted in our Epistle lesson today.  I think the right way to read this passage is probably not through the lens of a modern day movement of women’s liberation, something Paul could have never seen.  Nor do I think it’s right to read this passage as apostolic authority for the subjugation of women as second class citizens in the kingdom of heaven.  So the harder work is to read the text carefully, in its context, and see what Paul is saying and what he is not.

In our day, movies and entertainment play on male and female stereotypes.  But the order God has for His creation is not stale stereotype.  Thus Paul calls for the end of both male and female stereotypes here.  Men, when you pray, there’s no room for testosterone fueled quarreling.  God has more for you than that.  Women, you are more than just concerned with wearing pretty dresses and jewelry, adorn yourself rather with good works.  Now again, this phrase is a cultural key to understanding this passage.  Paul is an educated fellow of his day.  He knows that in the broader Greek world, this phrase means engage in positive contributions in the wider society.  It’s short hand for spending time and money on the less fortunate and helping the community through public works like medicine, the arts, and so on.  We might call this philanthropy today.  I don’t think Paul is encouraging plain anonymity in the home.  Paul is encouraging the women of Ephesus to be about helping others and fixing broken society.

As we keep going, remember that the Apostle Paul is writing to a young pastor in a small church in a town that is absolutely topsy-turvy with respect to how women and men have related to one another in society and perhaps even in their homes.  So there should be some reordering when the powerful message of the Gospel is proclaimed.  But I want to be clear that the Gospel message doesn’t mean that women have to be second class citizens in God’s kingdom, as this passage has often been read.  First, it’s just kind of plainly unfair to half the human race.  But it also doesn’t fit with the rest of the New Testament.  Remember, it was the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection.  And remember Paul uses the word apostle to describe one woman Junia at the end of his letter to the Romans.  But maybe most especially the Lord treats Mary, Martha’s sister, as a disciple, a learner and full follower when she trespasses the male female divide and sits at His feet to learn with the men.  She has chosen the one thing needful.  Read out of this context, verse 11 makes better sense.  “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.”  We might say, like Martha’s sister, Mary.  And by the way, with submissiveness to whom?  To men?  To their husbands.  I know elsewhere Paul does talk about wives and husbands but this passage isn’t. And so I think the women should be learning with submissiveness to the Lord, the same way Mary did.  The same way anyone should.  Yes, Paul does say women should not teach or exercise authority.  But consider the context.  It’s Ephesus, the disorder needs to be reordered.  I don’t think this means there should be women’s ordination.  We’d have more biblical support for that if the Lord had set some women among the Twelve and/or the apostles had added some women specifically into the office of overseer in the early church.  But Paul is clearly dealing with the situation pastor Timothy faces in Ephesus.  If Jesus saves, among those He saves God’s order should be restored.

This is specifically why Paul mentions Adam coming first and then Eve.  There is order in God’s creation.  Yes, Eve was deceived first but it was Adam’s responsibility.  Eve sinned in ignorance.  Adam sinned deliberately and in full knowledge of the command.  The OT is very stern about punishments for those who sin deliberately.

Then there is this enigmatic line about women being saved through childbearing which adds to our confusion.  Paul is not referring to an alternate way of salvation for women or that their punishment for their sin is the pain of childbearing.  We have plenty of other Scriptures that say God’s salvation is given freely to all, both men and women.  So, perhaps Paul is suggesting that by bearing children, women participate in the creative and saving act of bearing and raising children in the knowledge of the Lord.  It certainly makes more sense that way.

Remember Paul is writing about the power of the Gospel to save and now reorder people’s lives.  Stereotypes that reflect our chaotic rebellion from God’s order will no longer do.  That saving and reordering is a building up of men and women into the godly models of manhood and womenhood this world needs.  And so the God who saves is the God who restores order if we will but have it.  Women leading fertility cults is certainly not part of the very good and orderly creation God has given us and restored us to.  And men subjugating women is not God how desired us to work together.  That would reflect nothing of God’s love.

We’ve been talking about worship and how men and women relate to one another, but are there other ways God order should be restored among us?  What are the ways women can use all the talents they’ve been given to God’s glory and for the reordering of society without transgressing God’s order?  There’s certainly more here for us to consider than we have time for.  But perhaps it’s time for mutual repentance among men and women for trying to take what we want and make some spiritual reason for it.  Take heart, though.  It is for us, who have made such a mess of God’s order and denied the goodness of God in one another that Jesus came into the world.

That message has the power to free us from stereotypes and sexual politics and look to God.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and restore the order of the kingdom of God among you, among us all.  Amen.


Note:  I am greatly indebted to Tom Wright and his commentary on 1 Timothy for helping me to sort out what’s what here in this passage.  I should be clear that Wright is a bishop and teacher in the Church of England which does allow the ordination of women and while I agree with his understanding of 1 Timothy here, I do not support such a stance.

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Thoughts on mission today, 9/16/2016

September 16, 2016 5 comments
So, I’m sitting in the back room of my favorite place to write and think, Poet’s Coffee, and the question from Malphurs’ Advanced Strategic Planning is, “What business are you in?”  And I got to thinking about that question with regard to my coffee shop.  It’s a coffee shop.  They’re in the coffee business, right?  Except they aren’t, not really.  Yes they sell coffee and they make sandwiches at lunch time.  But they have free wi-fi and quiet places to study and work.  They also sell tea and some other sickly sweet beverages completely unlike coffee.  And that’s when it hit me.  They really aren’t in the coffee business.  They’re really not in the business of providing people the best cup of coffee in town so much as they are in the business of providing a third place, not home, not work, not school, where people can meet with others, or sit alone thinking and working, while sipping a great cup of pretty good coffee.  If you’re interested, the house blend is a medium roast, nuttier than most, with floral notes.  I like mine black.
Now Starbucks does this to a certain extent, but it’s not that comfortable there and there are no meeting rooms.  They have a really good cup of coffee, but they are far noisier than Poet’s.  And again, most people are not drinking coffee black at Starbuck’s either.
How is the typical American church much different from my local coffee shop?  What do you think the chances are that even half of the people are coming to church because the truth of the Gospel is proclaimed in its purity?  They come for a variety of other reasons, mostly because they know the people and they’ve been coming there for a long time or they have some connection to the brand (aka denomination) of the church but the vast majority don’t even look for the Gospel in it’s truth an purity, they like their messages to be gospel-inspired.  Maybe some would complain if the message got watered down.  Still others might complain if I encouraged more drinking of the straight, pure Gospel.  But most people treat the Gospel like it’s coffee.  Perhaps once it was foreign, exotic, and a rare few appreciated it but now it’s everywhere and pretty much everyplace.  So what’s the big deal about the truth and purity of the coffee, ahem, I mean the Gospel?
Well imagine if the only beneficial reason to drink coffee was a certain health benefit.  Yes, it tastes good, although it is an acquired taste.  It does warm you up on a cold day.  It does fuel passion and creativity (as evidenced in this blog post).  But imagine that if you drank coffee in it’s purest form, it helped you live longer, and not just longer but forever; it helped you defeat death itself.  But if you drank it at too great a dilution or drank it with so much junk in it the tremendous life-giving benefits were wiped out.  Instead of drinking the pure, clear coffee you drank a coffee-inspired beverage.
And this is where the extended metaphor comes home for me.  If I was a coffee shop owner, I’d be attempting to sell the best, purest form of coffee.  I’d be like one of those barristas in Brooklyn I’ve read about that have not just studied how to make coffee but have learned to delightfully express the essence of the hand-roasted bean into liquid form the benefit of the drinker.  I wouldn’t be worried about the decor or the seating or the lighting or the signs or the parking or the font on the menu.  I’d be concentrating on crafting the purest expression of the coffee bean, roasting the original bean by hand just like I was taught at seminary, ahem, I mean at barrista school.  And I’d go broke.  I’d go broke because most people just don’t care that much about coffee, or the Gospel.
The supermarket version is good enough for them.  Flavor?  Who cares about nuttiness and floral notes?  Stopping for a great cup?  If it’s convenient and I can meet my friends there, sure.  A special trip?  Not likely.  And I think that’s where we are.  Any unique claims about the benefits of the pure Gospel make me sound like I’m some Brooklynite hipster going on about the temperature of the water to brew coffee.  Most people want to dump the cheapest grounds into the basket and have Mr. Coffee do his thing.  Not to mention, lots of people don’t really like coffee and prefer something else instead like something from the East, a chai perhaps?  This metaphor really has some legs.
The claims of the Gospel today are less credible in the minds of Americans, even church-going Americans, than the health claims for coffee that conflict with the data that coffee is actually not good for you.  And so people today treat these claims for each similarly.  Sure, the pastor is going to on about the truth and purity of the Gospel, but he’s a “Gospel guy.”  But everybody knows too much of something isn’t good for you.  Just look at him.  He’s lost his mind and started to equate the Gospel with something like coffee.  A little less coffee might be good for him, and perhaps, a little less Gospel too.
No more metaphor.  What business is your church in?  Is it the Gospel business or is it something else?
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Lutheran Ethics, 3

September 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Below is the audio from the third session on Luther’s ethics.

These are the slides that go with the presentation.



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Lutheran Ethics, 2

September 12, 2016 Leave a comment

This is the audio and the second set of slides from the presentations about Luther’s ethics.

And the accompanying slides can be found here:


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