Are we only playing games?

Posted on April 4th, 2014

Hermann Sasse on Christ’s cross and ours:

The theology of the cross is never a Christian philosophy, as is always the case with the theology of glory. I cannot stand over against the One on the cross as an objective observer and give my judgment on Him. Rather, it is He who judges me–condemns me, acquits me.

Here lies the reason why the theology of the cross has such a terribly practical side. To believe in the cross always means also to carry the cross. A yes to the cross of Christ is also a yes to my cross. If this is not so, we are only playing games. It is not by chance that whenever Jesus spoke of His cross to His disciples He also thought of the cross which they would have to bear in following Him (Matt. 16:21-24).

We Confess JESUS CHRIST, p52

Consolation for troubled hearts

Posted on April 3rd, 2014

Troubled hearts should have a firm, sure consolation. Also, due honor should be given to Christ’s merit and God’s grace. Therefore, the Scriptures teach that the righteousness of faith before God stands only in the gracious reconciliation or the forgiveness of sins, which is presented to us out of pure grace, only for the sake of the merit of the Mediator, Christ. This is received through faith alone in the Gospel promise. In the same way also, in justification before God, faith relies neither on contrition nor on love or other virtues. Faith relies on Christ alone and on His complete obedience by which He has fulfilled the Law for us. This obedience is credited to believers for righteousness.

SD III.30; Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition (Pocket Edition) (Kindle Locations 10163-10167). Concordia Publishing House.

The “Star Wars” God

Posted on April 2nd, 2014

yoda

God is a person and not a force. There are dangers in a “Star Wars” mentality that conceives of God as “the Force,” for we are persons, and therefore assume, correctly, that we are superior to forces. We harness and use forces; so if we conceive of God as a force, we might wrongly imagine that God is some power that we can harness and use, rather than regarding him as our Creator and Lord, who is worthy of and due our allegiance and worship. It is for him to use us, not for us to use him.

John C. Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science (p. 96). Zondervan.

Materialism and Morality

Posted on April 1st, 2014

The New-Darwinian materialist, if he is consistent, must deny the existence of objective moral truth, or at least that it can be known:

One can intelligibly hold that moral realism is implausible because evolutionary theory is the best current explanation of our faculties, and an evolutionary account cannot be given of how we would be able to discover judgment-independent moral truth, if there were such a thing.

Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (p. 75). Oxford University Press.

Justification prior to Augustine

Posted on March 31st, 2014

This is a very serious problem – and does much to explain how modern apologists (whether Lutheran, Reformed, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox) are able to get away with deceptive statements about their position being the sole teaching of antiquity:

The teaching of justification prior to Augustine seems to be largely ignored by doctrinal historians.

D.H. Williams, quoted in The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul (by Jordan Cooper; Kindle Locations 696-697)

Sermo Dei: Laetare 2014

Posted on March 30th, 2014

“I don’t know what to do.” Paralyzed by our problems, sometimes no real answer appears. So we stare at the screen, stare off into space, throw up our hands and cry, “I don’t know what to do.”

 

We’re all broken in some way. One person feels out of place, unaccepted. Another struggles with lust. Broken bones, broken hearts, broken marriages, broken promises, broken lives. And I’d like to tell you everything will be okay, but that’s a lie. You’re going to die.

 

Once again, we have a Gospel reading with Jesus in the wilderness. Three weeks ago, He was there alone. Just Him and the devil. No food. No angels. No crowds of people. He was hungry, but He resists the temptation to turn stones into bread. He’s offered a way around the cross, a way to grasp the thrones of this world without suffering, but He resists.

 

This time, in John 6, Jesus is in a wild place, a place without food. The crowds have followed Him there, hungry for a miracle, hungry for solutions to their problems. And the immediate problem is food. “Where shall we buy bread,” Jesus asks His disciples, “that this great crowd may eat?”

 

It’s a test. Phillip doesn’t need to fish out his laptop and fire up the spreadsheet application to know that the budget won’t allow for a meal for 5000 men plus their families. “There’s not enough money,” comes the despairing reply, summing up every Voters meeting, every budget meeting, every trip to the store, every review of the checkbook register or investment report. “There’s not enough money.” Phillip doesn’t know what to do.

 

He is gripped by despair, anxiety, fear. An ancient hymn summarizes Phillip’s feelings:

“But you, on beholding the multitude, are

worried,

And you do not consider the One who

provides abundantly.”  [Romanus Melodus]

 

Despair. Anxiety. Fear. “I don’t know what to do.” And that is because we, like Phillip, do not consider the One who provides abundantly.

 

But then, the miracle. The crowd quickly falls into the opposite ditch. They see the abundance, Jesus the Bread Bestower, and they lust. An endless supply of bread is an endless supply of gold. In Jesus is a miracle cure. With Him there is wine from water, and the sick are healed. It’s the promise of free healthcare without website troubles or Supreme Court challenges. “All our problems are solved! Let’s make Him king!”

 

Nobody understands. Not Phillip. Not the crowd. The disciples despair. The crowd lusts. And Jesus goes away, by Himself, to pray. No doubt He prayed for Phillip. And the crowd. And us fools, who somehow stumbled into a Lutheran church a couple of millennia later with the same basic problems and questions. We lust. We doubt. We don’t know what to do.

 

What’s really going on here? Is there any solution to your own weaknesses, your lust and greed, your anger, your cancer, or just not knowing how exactly you’re going to get through this week with your work done, enough sleep, and your family intact?

 

On one very simple, basic, human level, Jesus is just providing for the people. They need food, He’s the Creator, He gives it to them. This is just like what I said when last we heard a creation-miracle in John’s Gospel, on the Second Sunday after Epiphany. When Jesus turned water into wine, it was the same thing as this multiplication of the barley loaves and fish: God is doing quickly and grandly what He does all the time all over the place. All of creation is a miracle – a miracle that evolution cannot begin to explain: that something came from nothing, and in matter is the power of life, we live on a privileged planet in a finely tuned universe with complex code in the very cells of our bodies.

 

The Word of God, made flesh, speaks and creation springs forth. Every time wheat comes from the ground, it is a miracle. Jesus who did not make bread for Himself makes it now for His people. That’s who God is. That’s what He’s like. So that’s the basic level of what He does here.

 

But it all points to the greater miracle when Jesus attaches Himself to the bread of John 6 and the wine of John 2. You lust for wine, you are worried about bread, but you do not consider that your lust and your worry point to the underlying contagion. Your lust and your worry are signs of the death that creeps in you, the death that pervades now this creation, so beautiful but marred and infected with the curse spoken over our ancestors.

 

Consider anew the familiar words describing the miracle. Jesus takes bread and gives thanks. Two questions: Do you say a table prayer? And if so, is it perfunctory? Every sip of coffee, every morsel of chocolate, every drop of wine, every speck at the bottom of the cereal box should, if we rightly considered it, provoke jubilant hymns of thanksgiving sung at full volume in our kitchens, yes, even at dawn’s early light when the sleep is not yet rubbed from the eyes. The haste of our mumbled prayers damns us as thankless brutes.

 

Jesus takes bread and gives thanks, and gives it to His disciples. He gives. That’s the Gospel in two words. He gives. That’s the nature of God, He is the giver and forgiver. The heart of it we confess about the Spirit in the Nicene Creed: “The Lord and Giver of Life.” He gives. That’s what God does, that’s who He is, and the more we are in Him, the more we give away what we have received, recognizing that nothing is ours, nothing do we possess, but it passes through our hands, from God to our neighbor.

 

We don’t get the bread of heaven, the body of Jesus, directly from Him, just as the people in today’s Gospel didn’t get it from Jesus directly. They got it through means, the instrumentality of the disciples. That’s the doctrine of vocation that we spent the last few months talking about in Scripture Study. God gives His gifts through means, through people. He feeds children through parents, He heals people through physicians and pharmacists, He loves people through you, even as you get the bread from my unworthy hand.

 

And that’s the final point, the place where the whole Gospel of John, the whole season of Lent, is driving us toward: Holy Thursday, when the same words will be spoken again, Jesus taking bread, giving thanks, giving it to the disciples, with the culminating words, “This is My body, given for you.” And then Good Friday, the body abandoned on the cross, the words of the Baptist finally hitting home, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

 

When the water splashed on Liam’s head, that’s the road he was starting down. When the water splashed on your head, that’s the road you were starting down. The road through the wilderness, haunted by demons, tormented by lusts, filled with doubt and despair, stupid pride and insidious cancer. And all we really see in this life is the cross. The dead body on the tree, confused disciples and greedy people always clamoring for more, looking for the next guy to make king hoping they’ll get free stuff.

 

But it doesn’t end there. Not for Jesus. Not for you. It ends with the words we gave Liam this morning: the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Stop clinging to your doubts. Stop clinging to your pride. Cling instead to the death and resurrection of Jesus. When you don’t know what to do, look to Him, and see everything is done already.

Pietism and False Legalism

Posted on March 28th, 2014

From a sermon by Walther on Lent IV:

Others are satisfied if they always have enough bread and fish, like the Jews in our text. A secure, carefree, comfortable life, that is the heaven they seek. God’s Word says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6: 12). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5: 24). “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2: 5). But what do most so-called Christians do? Are they concerned about their sins? Do they seek to understand them ever more clearly? Do they battle against them? Do they despite their flesh diligently watch and pray, hear and read God’s Word, that all sins may be purged from their hearts and life and thus grow in sanctification? Not at all! Most of them think: “To be that worried about sin is enthusiasm. That is pietism and Methodism. That is false legalism.”

Gospel Sermons – Volume 1 (Kindle Locations 3739-3745). Concordia Publishing House.

The role of works in the last judgment

Posted on March 28th, 2014

Jesus clearly speaks about a salvation based upon works (e.g., Mt. 25). How can we reconcile this with the clear statements of Scripture that attribute salvation to the grace of God? Matthew Levering helpfully observes,

Works of love have this role in the last judgment because they show that we share in the grace of the Holy Spirit, who makes us adopted children of God.

Jesus and the Demise of Death: Resurrection, Afterlife, and the Fate of the Christian (p. 94). Baylor University Press.

As Luther would put it, “Works serve the neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.”

House Judiciary Committee statement on Religious Freedom

Posted on March 27th, 2014

House Judiciary Committee

Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) issued the following statement on the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius religious freedom cases in the Supreme Court, which center around the government mandate that businesses provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives that could end human life after conception, despite their religious beliefs.

 

Chairman Goodlatte:  “Our nation’s laws have long-protected the rights of people to freely exercise their religious beliefs and recognized their convictions as valuable and nonnegotiable. The Obamacare mandate at issue in the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius cases in the Supreme Court signifies a growing willingness for federal bureaucrats and President Obama to blatantly disregard the consciences of people of faith.

 

“As an original co-sponsor of the broad, bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), I filed an amicus brief with other original co-sponsors in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga earlier this year. The RFRA, an enacted law for over a decade, clearly provides free exercise protection in that the ‘government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.’ Corporations led by people of faith, such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, are included in this definition. However, Obama Administration officials at HHS ignored the requirements of RFRA.

 

“In Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court will determine whether the HHS mandate is consistent with RFRA or whether it is yet another example of the Obama Administration substituting its policy preferences for the requirements of the law. After hearing arguments from both parties yesterday, I hope the Supreme Court justices will affirm our nation’s legacy of protecting religious freedom.”