Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trinity Sunday: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 6:1-7 In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With two he covered his face. With two he covered his feet. With two he flew. One called to another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of Armies! The whole earth is full of his glory!” The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar. He touched my mouth with it, and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin forgiven.”

Romans 11:33-36 Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to him, and it will be repaid to him again?” For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen.

John 3:1-15 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The same came to him by night, and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Most certainly, I tell you, unless one is born anew, he can’t see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into the Kingdom of God! That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and don’t understand these things? Most certainly I tell you, we speak that which we know, and testify of that which we have seen, and you don’t receive our witness. If I told you earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended out of heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Unlike the gods of our imagination that end up being little more than bigger versions of ourselves, the true God can only be known through what He has revealed to us. Our sinful minds could never conceive of the true God, because the true God is Holy, Holy, Holy. Our sinful minds are too occupied with the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. We could not stand in God's presence and live. We cannot get inside God's head. We are so sinful that we have no idea how sinful we are.

God owes us absolutely nothing but eternal wrath and damnation. But in His unsearchable judgment He determined to send His only-begotten Son to die for us. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and healed those who had been bit by the serpent. Christ became sin and was lifted up on the cross so that all who look to Him might be healed from their sins. If you insist on looking to yourself, you will die from the poison of your own good works. As attractive as your own good works may look to you, they will kill you. The poison of our good works cause us to live a life full of hallucinations and delusions. We become utterly convinced that we are alive and that God is pleased with us because of all the good that we do. Why would anyone need to die for us?

Only through the work of the Holy Spirit can we come to see how bad we really are. We are not in need of a moral improvement plan. We are in need of resurrection. We are in need of rebirth. The Holy Spirit works throught God's Word in the waters of Holy Baptism to regenerate us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we catch a small glimpse of how holy God really is. We see how unclean we really are. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we believe the words of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man. He did not cease to be God while on this earth. Although we cannot understand why, through the Holy Spirit we believe that God died for us. We see through the eyes of faith given through the Holy Spirit that God reigned by hanging dead on a cross for us. The reign of God was not demonstrated in any way that anyone would have expected. Jesus did not conquer the Romans. God was crucified by the Romans. God was crucified by the state. God was crucified by the church. In the crucifixion do we see how God reigns and is lifted up.

Only through the work of the Holy Spirit can we know the Holy Trinity. Only through the Holy Spirit can we believe that God is one and God is three and there is no contradiction in these statements. The Trinity is holy, holy, holy and loves unholy creatures like us. We are baptized into the singular name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Through baptism we are united to the Trinity. The Trinity now owns us. The Trinity has marked us. In baptism we are marked with the cross--the ultimate and incomprehensible expression of God's love for us. The Trinity is impossible to explain. By faith we confess what Scripture says. God's love is impossible to explain. By faith we believe what Scripture says.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Height, Depth, Breadth, and Length of the Love of Christ

Ephesians 3: 15-19 For this cause, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

St. Gregory of Nyssa:

To the Ephesians, moreover, he describes by the figure of the Cross the power that controls and holds together the universe, when he expresses a desire that they may be exalted to know the exceeding glory of this power, calling it height, and depth, and breadth, and length , speaking of the several projections we behold in the figure of the Cross by their proper names, so that he calls the upper part height, and that which is below, on the opposite side of the junction, depth, while by the name length and breadth he indicates the cross-beam projecting to either side, that hereby might be manifested this great mystery, that both things in heaven, and things under the earth, and all the furthest bounds of the things that are, are ruled and sustained by Him Who gave an example of this unspeakable and mighty power in the figure of the Cross.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cognitive Ability and Faith

Baptists often argue that babies are incapable of faith and therefore should not be baptized. Faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). It is not something that we produce. The Baptist will sometimes say, "Yes, faith is a gift of God and God is capable of giving that gift to anyone but the baby is not capable of having faith." I believe that this demonstrates a deeper problem--the Baptist does not understand what faith is.

To have faith is to trust in God. A baby will not ordinarily be able to demonstrate his trust in God in the same way that an adult can but that does not mean that the baby is incapable of having faith. Because I get hungry, I got a job. I work hard at that job. I go to the grocery store and buy food. I bring the food home and cook it. Then I eat it. If a baby gets hungry, he doesn't get a job. He doesn't go to the grocery store. He doesn't buy food. He doesn't cook it. He just cries. An adult with faith will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. A baby is not capable of speaking. But it would be just as foolish to conclude that a baby does not have faith because he cannot speak as to conclude that he is not hungry because he doesn't have a job. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says that if a person will not work they shouldn't be allowed to eat. But most do not let their children starve to death in hopes of fulfilling this command. But many Christians will withhold something far more important from their children--baptism. And what of those who are mute? Since the passages specifically speak of someone calling on the name of the Lord, does that mean that every mute person goes to hell?

In Psalm 22 the Psalmist says that Yahweh was his God from his mother's belly. Apart from faith it is impossible for Yahweh to be our God. In the ultimate sense this Psalm is about Christ as all the Psalms are but this same Psalm was taken upon the lips of all Israel and each Israelite sung it of himself. Later, the Christian church would sing the Psalms and each Christian would sing this song of himself. John the Baptizer lept for joy in the womb because of his faith in Jesus. Later in life, John the Baptizer would express some doubt as to whether or not Jesus really was the Messiah but there was no indication of doubt while he was in his mother's womb.

During the ministry of Jesus, infants were brought to him by their parents to be blessed. The Apostles turned them away, but Jesus rebuked the Apostles for doing so. The Apostles thought, as many today do, that God's good gifts are useless to a child that does not have cognitive ability. But Jesus said that they were absolutely wrong. Jesus said that in order for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven they had to become like these little children. He did not tell the children they had to become adults. The Baptist will argue that a blessing is not the same thing as baptism and they are correct. But a blessing must be received by faith just as the good gifts of baptism must be received by faith. Jesus was not just conducting some sort of baby dedication service to appease those who wanted something special done with their babies.

Cognitive ability is a good gift from God but because of our sinful nature we often abuse it. Men have used their cognitive ability given to them by God to try to disprove the very One who gave them the gift. The doubt that we experience as adults would not be there without the development of our cognitive ability. We should use our cognitive ability for the good of our neighbor but we often use it only to serve ourselves.

Recent scientific studies have shown that babies are able to discern good and evil when they are six months old. Already at six months old the baby is able to demonstrate that he is able to tell good from evil. But there is no way scientifically to determine whether or not a baby is able to tell before that time but simply unable to express it.

The Scriptures are clear that sin is not something that occurs once we reach an "age of accountability." We are sinners from the time of our conception (Psalm 51). We are all in need of baptism. We all need our sins washed away. The Scriptures never define baptism as our first act of obedience or use any of the other non-salvific language that various man-made traditions like to use today. According the Scriptures, baptism is for the remission of sins and baptism now saves us. Unless babies are not people they need baptism too. In the so-called Great Commission, Jesus says to disciple the nations by baptizing them. Unless babies are not part of the nations they need baptism just as much as adults do. There is no explicit mention of babies but there is not explicit mention of ninety year old ladies either. In Acts 2:38-39, the promise that baptism washes away sins is applied specifically to children.

In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul compares and contrasts circumcision with baptism. From other passages we know that baptism is applied to women as well as men and therefore more inclusive. We are never told that it is more exclusive in any way.

If we doubt that a baby can have faith it is because we doubt the power of God's Word. Scripture is clear. The Devil doesn't go around trying to get us to believe the plain teaching of God's Word. The Devil tries to get us to rationalize and deny the plain teaching of God's Word. Can God really work faith in a baby? The baby can't do anything, how could God save someone like that? But Christ came to save the helpless. Christ did not come to save those who think that they can save themselves. Those who think that they can save themselves through their cognitive abilities are welcome to try. But how would you know if you ever attained a high enough level of cognition? There's always someone smarter than you? What exactly does your IQ have to be?

Those who deny infant faith find themselves in the company of the Apostles who were rebuked by Jesus. They find themselves in the company of those who think that children have to become adults to enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who deny that baptism is salvific find themselves among the likes of Namaan the leper. Do not trust in your cognitive ability to save you. Trust in Christ. Trust Christ's Words.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Whit-Tuesday: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 32:14-20 For the palace will be forsaken. The populous city will be deserted. The hill and the watchtower will be for dens forever, a delight for wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks; Until the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is considered a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness; and righteousness will remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in a peaceful habitation, in safe dwellings, and in quiet resting places. Though hail flattens the forest, and the city is leveled completely. Blessed are you who sow beside all waters, who send out the feet of the ox and the donkey.

Acts 8:14-17 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

John 10:1-10 “Most certainly, I tell you, one who doesn’t enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. Whenever he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. They will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him; for they don’t know the voice of strangers.” Jesus spoke this parable to them, but they didn’t understand what he was telling them. Jesus therefore said to them again, “Most certainly, I tell you, I am the sheep’s door. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture. The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.

Banish all the sentimental pictures from your head. We are not fluffy, cute, little sheep wandering calmly through the meadow. We are fat and ugly sheep stained with sin and unrighteousness, surrounded by sheep thieves. But Christ has marked us as His own in the waters of holy baptism and so we know His voice. Do not listen to the other voices that call to you and promise an easier or better way. They're only trying to kill you. Do not listen to the guy with the Jesus mask. Do not listen to the guy who claims to bring you the words of Christ but brings his own concerns. Do not listen to the more attractive shepherds that promise you health, wealth, and success but they only bring death. Do not trust in the shepherds who are pointing you to your own works and life principles. Your own work only leads to death.

Jesus is your Shepherd. Jesus identifies Himself as God Himself by identifying Himself as the Shepherd of Psalm 23. The Lord is your Shepherd. Jesus is the Door. These are not mere metaphors. Jesus really is the Shepherd. Jesus is the true Door. All earthly doors and shepherds are mere shadows of Him. All other doors and all other paths lead to death. Jesus brings us life abundantly. By all earthly standards, the path of Jesus appears to be the path of death. He was crucified and many have been killed for being His sheep. But true life only comes by being united to Jesus in His death. True life only comes by being drowned in the waters of holy baptism and being united to Jesus. Jesus guides, guards, and protects us. Jesus lays down His life for us. Jesus is the only true Shepherd.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Whit-Monday: A Devotional Commentary

Isaiah 57:15-21 For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, neither will I be always angry; for the spirit would faint before me, and the souls who I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I angry, and struck him; I hid myself and was angry; and he went on backsliding in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts to him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips: Peace, peace, to him who is far off and to him who is near,” says Yahweh; “and I will heal them.” But the wicked are like the troubled sea; for it can’t rest, and its waters cast up mire and dirt. “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Acts 10:42-48 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that this is he who is appointed by God as the Judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him, that through his name everyone who believes in him will receive remission of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. They of the circumcision who believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was also poured out on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in other languages and magnifying God. Then Peter answered, “Can any man forbid the water, that these who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we should not be baptized?” He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay some days.

John 3:16-21 For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him. He who believes in him is not judged. He who doesn’t believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light, lest his works would be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God.”

In the darkness, we cannot tell what people look like. But the light exposes us for what we really look like. In the darkness, we cannot see who is stealing or even if something is being stolen but the light makes both the crook and his deed apparent to everyone. In the sea of humanity, when our own sins don't seem as bad as the next guy's, it's easy to walk around in the darkness and deny that we are sinners. It's easy to think that we truly are holy. But Jesus is the light. He exposes us for who we really are. He alone is God-incarnate, He alone is holy. As we stand before Him we see what horrible sinners we really are.

Our sinful nature does not appreciate this revelation of who we really are. We close or eyes or hide behind some fig leaves and explain why these things that we are doing are not really sins. We blame somebody else for our actions and we talk about how our good deeds offset these bad deeds. But the revelation of God in Christ makes all of this impossible. The only sane response is, "Lord have mercy." We cannot hide what we have done from the light, we are only hiding what we have done from ourselves. God knows exactly who we are. God knows how utterly unholy we are. But God loves us. God showed His love for us by sending His only-begotten Son to die for. Christ crucified for us is proof that we are sinful and unclean. Christ crucified is proof that God loves us. Christ crucified is proof that our sins have been paid for. Christ washes away our sins in the waters of holy baptism. Christ makes us clean. Christ heals us. Christ gives us eternal life.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Feast of Pentecost: A Devotional Commentary

Genesis 11:1-9 Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Acts 2:1-13 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”

John 14:23-31 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I. “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.

Sin, self-reliance, and self-righteousness bring confusion, division, and babbling. Any attempt to climb a ladder to heaven--whether it be the ladder of moralism, mysticism, or rationalism--will only show us how blind and dead we are. Inventing some god of your own imagination with your own likes and dislikes that you can visit from time to time by engaging in some man-made spiritual exercise will only bring the wrath of God upon you. If you find someone else to join you, eventually division will result as each of you ends up seeking after his own god because your god is really yourself and his god is really himself.

But the Holy Spirit brings unity. The Holy Spirit brings unity because the Holy Spirit speaks the same thing to everyone. Regardless of race or social status or occupation, the Holy Spirit will always speak Christ to you. The Holy Spirit does not speak of organ players or board members or paint. Divisions that result over these things are the result of demonic spirits, not the Holy Spirit. A spirit-filled church will conduct its business matters in order to support the speaking of Christ. A spirit-filled church is filled with sinners who are influenced by all manner of evil spirits and at times the Holy Spirit seems completely absent. But wherever Christ is preached and given to eat and to drink and people are baptized into the name of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit is there.

The unity among those who built the tower of Babel was based on a shared language. Their own abilities, strengths, and brotherhood in a common language convinced them that their own works could save them from any enemy.

The Holy Spirit speaks of the crucified God. He doesn't unite people around their ethnicity or language or favorite hobbies or common abilities or political persuasion. The crucified God unites those who are divided by all these things. The crucified God unites us by a common confession of our inability to do anything to save ourselves. The crucified God unites us in dependence upon the crucified God.

Church Inc. mocks those who insist on the crucified God as the only one who is able to save us. Surely, God saves us after we've done our best or perhaps works along side of us. But the idea that the crucified God does it all is scandalous. Surely our plans for church growth have tactics must contribute something. Church Inc. thinks that all who insist on the crucified God alone are drunk on new wine and we are. We are drunk on the blood of Jesus. Once we have tasted it why would we want to go back to the old wine of works righteousness? Why would we want to build towers to reach the god of our own imagination? There is no peace in the construction of towers. When you climb to the top, other people look smaller but you don't find God up there. You might think that if you keep building just a little bit higher you'll reach God, but you're only fooling yourself. But there is peace in partaking of the new wine. There is peace in realizing that we cannot ascend to God. There is peace in realizing that God has descended to us. O taste and see that the Lord is delicious!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ditching the Clerical Collar For a Tie is Too Roman Catholic

I have heard certain Protestant ministers make fun of Roman Catholic vestments. I have even heard some make the claim that the wearing of these vestments will eventually cause a person to become Roman Catholic. But I am convinced that ditching the clerical collar for a necktie is perhaps the most Roman Catholic thing you could possibly do. Why?

Vestments in some form or another date back to the time of the Apostles. They cannot be considered Roman Catholic unless a person considers the Apostles to be Roman Catholic. They serve as teaching tools and are designed keep our attention away from the personality of a particular pastor. A white collar shows that the pastor is owned by God and that his teachings should not be his own but the words of Christ. Pastors should be replaceable because they should all be bringing us Christ and not themselves. But does the tie symbolize anything at all? I always think it looks like the person is dressed for a fancy business meeting. But where does the necktie come from?

Wikipedia says:

The necktie traces back to the time of Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) when Croatian mercenaries from the Military Frontier in French service, wearing their traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs, aroused the interest of the Parisians. Due to the slight difference between the Croatian word for Croats, Hrvati, and the French word, Croates, the garment gained the name "Cravat". The new article of clothing started a fashion craze in Europe where both men and women wore pieces of fabric around their necks. In the late seventeenth century, the men wore lace cravats that took a large amount of time and effort to arrange. These cravats were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow.

The French were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. To wear a necktie is to adopt the style of the Croatian mercenaries that were fighting for the Roman Catholics. So ditching a piece of historic Christian clothing such as the clerical collar for a necktie is a deviation from historic Christian practice and a celebration of Roman Catholic soldiers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Consequence of Christless, Man-Centered Preaching

This guy is the pastor of an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. He's gotten some media attention for praying for the death of our president. I'm not going to bother reviewing this sermon. I'm guessing that most are able to see that this guy is missing the entire point of the passage. God said he was going to strike down all the males and used a Hebraism for males--"those who piss against the wall." It would seem to make a little more sense to say that you shouldn't piss against the wall based on this passage. Why would you want to be struck down? But that would miss the point as well. God is not providing an instruction manual on how to urinate. The pastor also uses this as an example of why you need to use the KJV--because they retained this powerful pissing language. I think it would be wise to retain more of these Hebraisms but the KJV also cleans up some of these Hebraisms too. What was offensive in one generation is not offensive in another and so the KJV just watered down some other Hebraisms. This pastor is certainly not preaching Christ and when people stop preaching Christ they look for life principles everywhere.

I don't think we should waste our time talking about how ridiculous Steven Anderson is. If we have opportunity we should encourage him to preach Christ instead of all this nonsense. But more importantly, we should see this as the logical conclusion of not letting the Scriptures speak by interpreting verses in context and with the knowledge that all of Scripture is really about Jesus and not how to be a good husband or how to be successful or whatever else your hobby horse might be. If you choose a non-potty related life-principle people probably won't think you're silly but you'll be doing the exact same thing as Steven Anderson and neglecting your duty to preach Christ-crucified.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Exaudi: A Devotional Commentary

John 15:26-16:4 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you."

Just before His ascension, Jesus promised to send the "Helper"--the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do? He testifies of Jesus. If somebody claims be filled with the Holy Spirit but is speaking of someone or something other than Jesus he is a liar. The Holy Spirit is not sent to testify on national Israel, money, America, or anything else. The Holy Spirit can't stop talking about Jesus. The Holy Spirit doesn't even testify about Himself. The Holy Spirit only speaks of Jesus. Regardless of the claims that a church may make to miracles or tongues, if it's message is not all about Jesus it is not Spirit-filled. Regardless of how moved people may feel, the Holy Spirit is absent if something other than Christ is being proclaimed. Some people are moved when they go to rock concerts. Others feel such a religious fervor that they are willing to fly an airplane into a building. Excitement is no indication of whether or not the Holy Spirit is present. The Holy Spirit is present when the Gospel is being preached. The Holy Spirit is present when people are baptized. The Holy Spirit is present when Christ gives us His body and blood.

Jesus says that the church will testify of what the Holy Spirit testifies. The Holy Spirit speaks of Christ and so the church will also. Because the church preaches Christ, it will be persecuted. The world will kill the church just as it killed Jesus. Most of the Apostles were killed for preaching Christ. Jesus tells us to expect this. He doesn't promise protection from slander or even death. He tells us to expect it. Expect to be kicked out of religious societies. Expect people to hate you. Don't fall away from the faith when persecution hits. Persecution is proof that the Words of Jesus are true.

Even in the "Christian" church, those who insist on preaching Christ-crucified and are critical of those who do not suffer persecution. Even in the "Christian" church those who replace "Christ-crucified" with something else think they are doing God a service. Even in the "Christian" church, those who persecute people who upset the establishment by insisting on "Christ-crucified" think that they are carrying out the will of God. But the Holy Spirit is not present.

The Holy Spirit is with those who preach Christ. The Holy Spirits comforts us in the midst of our suffering. The Holy Spirit comforts us in the midst of our persecution. The Devil comes along and says, "God must not love you. If God loved you, all these people wouldn't hate you. If God loved you, the church would love you. Your message must not be from God." You can say, "Jesus Christ was crucified for me. Why should I expect better treament than He received. Jesus told me to expect all of this. Jesus speaks truth. Jesus is the truth. Everything else is a lie regardless of how many people vote in favor of it."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Feast of the Ascension: A Devotional Commentary

Mark 16:14-20 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; theywill take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Jesus rebukes the Apostles for their unbelief but He doesn't kick them out and He doesn't desert them even if that's what it looks like to the outside world. He continually told His disciples that He would be crucified, but they didn't believe. He told them that He would rise again but He must have meant something else. There were eye-witness reports from those who saw Jesus after the resurrection, but these people must just be hallucinating or mistaken.

We can sit around and laugh at how stupid the Apostles were and how slow they were to understand the plain words of Jesus but we do the same thing. We doubt the Words of Jesus when they conflict with those of our religion, our reason, or what we see around us. "This my body" has to mean something other than what it sounds like it means. Jesus said He would never leave me nor forsake me but where is He when I can't afford to pay the mortgage or when I get in a car accident or when a child dies?

Jesus does not fire the Apostles but commissions them. He sends them out into the world to preach the very Gospel that they doubted--the unbelievable Gospel about the Messiah who died for you and rose again for you. He sends the Apostles out to baptize. Through baptism your sins are washed away. Jesus does not promise salvation to those who follow a moral code or who are the most sincere. Jesus promises salvation to those who believe and are baptized. Jesus promises salvation to those who believe what the Apostles did not believe.

When the Gospel goes out into new lands, often miraculous signs will follow in confirmation of the message--miraculous healings and tongues. But the signs are not the main thing. Jesus crucified for you is the main thing. The signs were only a confirmation and always seem to die away as the church takes root. But make no mistake about it, the miracles remain in forms that the world considers useless. Jesus miraculously works faith in us and heals us through the preaching of the Word. Jesus miraculously drives out demons, washes away our sins, and claims us as His own in the waters of holy baptism. Jesus miraculously gives us His body and blood and the Lord's Supper. The Great Serpent may bight us but he has no power over us. He may kill us but we will live.

By all earthly standards Jesus appears to be absent. Isn't He just sitting around at the right hand of God? But the passage says that the Lord was working with them? And where is the right hand of God? You can't see it no matter how powerful of a telescope you build. God's right hand is God's power. Christ has been exulted. Christ reigns. Christ is not absent from His church but present in a powerful way. Christ is present for you in the Word that is preached. Christ was present for you in the waters of holy baptism. Christ is present in His body and blood in the Lord's Supper.

Monday, May 10, 2010

David Klompien on Belgic Confession Article 5 and Other Matters

A special message to the Duttonites before I begin: My review of Rev. Miller's sermon was never intended to be a personal attack. If you look at the reviews that I have done, far more prominent Reformed ministers have scored lower than he did. If I did a larger sampling of sermons done by modern Reformed ministers, most of them would probably score similarly to Rev. Miller. Rev. Miller claims that if I had a problem with his sermon I should have talked to him first about it. But the review is not about him personally. The review is in regards to a particular sermon that he preached. I did not contact any of the other ministers prior to writing a review of their sermons. In the past, when I have brought outright errors to the attention of Rev. Miller he has been completely uninterested in talking about them with me. When I heard that Rev. Miller was upset and wished to talk with me about the sermon review, I called him up to discuss the review. He called me a coward and yelled at me and said he didn't care what I wrote and hadn't read it. I said he sounded like he was pretty upset and that I would like to get things straightened out but he just kept saying that he didn't care what I said. He accused me of spreading the poison of the Federal Vision in the Reformed churches and said that I was now spreading that poison in the Lutheran churches. I tried to explain that none of this is true. I never promoted the Federal Vision. I just thought they should be represented honestly. Otherwise, when people found out that what they heard about the FV wasn't true, they might embrace everything that the FV teaches. The FV is primarily an argument over two groups that both believe that the Scriptures should be read covenantally and only makes sense within the Reformed community. If somebody tried to import this into Lutheranism they would just get a lot of weird looks, because Lutherans read the Scriptures with Christ at the center, not any covenantal lens.

A special message to Rev. Miller: My sermon reviews are designed to encourage lay people to demand that their pastors preach Christ and to encourage pastors to preach Christ. I don't see how that is Satanic as you claim. I bear no hatred towards you and I'm not sure why you think I'm doing all kinds of things that I'm not doing. I encourage you to search my blog and if you find me spreading the doctrine of the Federal Vision please let me know. I haven't even read anything by any of the FV authors since I left the Reformed Churches. I bear no grudge against you for impeding my entrance to seminary. I'm actually very happy that I didn't go on to seminary. If I became a Lutheran after starting seminary things would have been much worse. I'm very happy with my job and my employer is happy with me. I love my wife and my kids and am fulfilling my vocation as father and husband. I stumble and fail at my vocation because I am a sinner. But I would much rather be doing what I am right now than going to seminary. I don't believe I am qualified to be a pastor. I enjoyed studying theology and thought that becoming a pastor would give me the most time to do that. But that's no reason to become a pastor and I have repented of my selfish reasons for wanting to be a pastor. Jesus Christ died for my selfishness and I have been forgiven by Him. I ask your forgiveness for wasting your time by trying to pursue the ministry under your guidance. I'm always willing to discuss any issues that you have with me. I find that sometimes people who don't know me very well get all kinds of false ideas about me. Christ died for your sin of slandering me. But by walking around with a chip on your shoulder and making up things about me in your head, you are rejecting that forgiveness. You're only hurting yourself and I would love the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings. If you think that my criteria for evaluating sermons is bad or that I have unfairly evaluated your sermon based on the criteria please let me know. I am a terrible sinner, worthy of God's temporal and eternal punishment just like you are. Jesus died for my sins just like He died for yours.

To all: What is the purpose of my reviews? My reviews are designed to judge sermons in an objective way. The sermon review does not take delivery, stuttering, or a whole host of other things into consideration. The sermon review is based strictly on content. Sermons which preach the law to convict us of our sins and preach Christ as the solution will do very well. Sermons which do not will not do well. If you preach Christ-crucified you will do well, if you preach about what I need to do then you will not do well. A sermon that is not centered upon Christ and His work is not a Christian sermon. My criteria is based on criteria from a number of different sources and is not infallible. I am open to criticism of the criteria and my application of it. I am a sinner. I used to give short messages at nursing homes and if I evaluated those messages they would probably fail my test. I hope these reviews will encourage others to evaluate sermons objectively. There's too much grumbling in the church. People often complain about sermons that just conflict with their personal preferences.

I also understand that Reformed people sometimes find open criticism of a minister or his sermon to be wrong in some way. I think that churches could improve greatly if people were more open with their grievances. Instead of an open conversation, the person in the pew in front of you starts grumbling to the guy sitting next to him. Gossip is spread by pastors and elders about different people in the church in the name of "caring" for the person. The secrecy and red tape make true reformation impossible. Lutheranism certainly has its problems. But it's been wonderful to hear so many Christ-centered sermons. It's as if other churches have gotten tired of Jesus and think we need to move on to something else. I've also found the openness refreshing. Pastors and lay people are openly critical of bad synodical decisions and leaders who lead the church astray.

In the last conversation I had with Rev. Miller, he asked me to review this sermon by David Klompien. Rev. Klompien is also a minister at Dutton United Reformed Church. The sermon is based on an article of the Belgic Confession.

Belgic Confession Article 5 We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith. And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them—not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God. For even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in them do happen.

There is some difficulty in reviewing this sermon because the sermon is based on an article of the Belgic Confession, not Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 was read and the pastor made reference to a couple of things contained in this passage, but the sermon was mostly on this article from the Belgic Confession and titled "We Receive This Word."

1. Does the Pastor explain the text correctly? Yes, with some caveats. The text is not the Scriptures and the text goes beyond the Scriptures. Article 4 contains the list of accepted books (the 66 you find in most Protestant post-1880's Bibles). Article 5 is in reference to that list. Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation have been among the disputed books throughout Christian history. Throughout Christian history, the church has universally accepted the Hebrew canon, the Gospels, the letters of Paul, Acts, 1 Peter, and 1 John but there has been no universal table of contents beyond that. The Lutheran confessions provide no table of contents and Lutherans do not establish doctrine based on the disputed books. The first council to establish a table of contents was the Council of Trent. Protestants seem to make the same error as the Roman Catholics when they try to create a table of contents. The article leaves quite a bit to be desired. Why just these books? Why this many books? But Pastor Klompien did explain the text in front of him. (+1)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? The law never seemed to be preached in such a way that each person there would have been convicted of his sin. The law was applied against enthusiast groups who add to the canon by their prophecies but I think most of us could have walked out thinking we had kept God's law. (-1)

3. Is Jesus mentioned? Jesus is mentioned briefly. Strangely, the sermon complained about other churches that were not Christ-centered, but the sermon wasn't very Christ-centered. However, nothing false was said about Jesus. (+1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? No. There was some brief mention of what Jesus has done for us but it was mostly about what we need to stay away from. (-.25)

5. Does the creation of a Wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? Probably not but I don't have the text in front of me. (0)

The final score is 0.75 or 57.5%.

The current standings are:
James Roemke (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) 100% A

Friday, May 7, 2010

Larry Starett on 1 Corinthians 7:12-16

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

I was asked to review this sermon by the pastor of First Baptist Church in Chesterton, IN.

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? I think there is a problem with preaching a sermon on this short passage of Scripture. The pastor misses the point because he misses the context. It would seem better to have preached about what Jesus said on divorce and to bring this passage in as a commentary on that text or at least to preach. Some lectionaries use vs. 1-28 for one of the epistle readings and there seems to be some wisdom in using that larger chunk. The letter itself was probably intended originally to be read as an entire sermon in one sitting. So the pastor ends up preaching a sermon on a little part of someone else's sermon. Verses 12-16 are controversial and hae been interpreted a number of different ways. The pastor gives one of the more popular interpretations but spends more time appealing to authorities like Calvin and Luther and talking about how long he has studied this rather than preaching the text or even offering a thorough explanation for his interpretation. Some of the interpretive problems seem to be a result of a lack of familiarity with the Biblical languages. The pastor seems to be relying solely on the NIV. In verse 14 the NIV uses the word "bound." The ESV uses the word "enslaved," which is a more accurate translation. The pastor makes the claim that the word in verse 14 is the same word found in Romans 7:2. But the Greek words are different and have different meanings. The pastor did stay pretty close to the text but he did not preach it correctly. (-0.5)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? Absolutely not. The law is preached as completely doable and very weakly. The pastor keeps emphasizing that Christians can disagree on this issue. He seems to believe that certain practices are sinful but says that people who disagree with him and practice these things should not be barred from church membership. Engaging in this sin would only keep them from serving in leadership positions in the church. Everyone could have walked away thinking that they had perfectly kept God's law or that if they were breaking it, God would look the other way. The law should instead be preached sternly to show everyone there that they are a sinner and worthy of God's wrath. Otherwise Jesus is completely unnecessary. (-1)

3. Is Jesus mentioned? Jesus barely sneaks in by the skin of his teeth. He gets mentioned once in the last two minutes of the sermon. Unbelievers are told that if they put their faith in Jesus they can plug into the power supply and be transformed. I don't even know what that means exactly. It seemed to mean that their marriages would improve which seems strange given the passage in which unbelievers were leaving believing spouses. Jesus is never even presented as necessary for the believer. (-1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? No. It's all about what we should do. (-1)

5. Does the creation of a wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? I do not have the text of the sermon but I can guarantee that it would not. (-1)

The final score is -4.5 or 5%.

The current standings are:
James Roemke (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) 100% A

Thursday, May 6, 2010

One Little Word Shall Fell Him

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

I always thought that the "little word" was Christ. I've heard others explain it as referring to the Bible. But Martin Luther was once asked what the "little word" was. The "little word" is "liar." Martin Luther knew from personal experience that the Prince of Darkness works within the church. I'm sure that Martin Luther often wondered if what he was doing was right. He was standing firmly upon the Holy Scriptures--upon God's very Word, the icon of Christ. But Church Inc. called his teachings Satanic. This should really come as no surprise. Church Inc. of Jesus' day condemned Jesus as Satanic (Matt. 9:34). Throughout church history, not much has changed. Athanasius was accused of rape and murder and sent into exile several times for standing for the doctrine of Christ.

In the United States, people are persecuted for insisting that ministers preach Christ. Most of us don't have to worry about being killed or brought up on criminal charges. But you will called names. People may even say you are Satanic. But when Church Inc. comes along and calls you Satanic for insisting that Christ be preached they are not functioning as a church of Christ but as a tool of Satan. Do not get drawn in to the psychological nonsense that suggests that you are the one with the problem---that somehow you are Satanic and poisoning the church for expecting to hear Christ. Remember the "little word"--"Liar!"

When Church Inc. is exposed for what it really is, it will lash out at you. Sometimes it will happen as the elders gossip about you behind closed doors. If you attempt Biblical reconciliation, the Devil may shout at you through the mouth of one who claims to speak for Christ. But Church Inc. has no real power of you. Cling to the crucified Christ and simply say, "Liar!"

Christ will win the battle for you even if it looks like you're losing.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

James Roemke on John 16:12-22

John 16:12-22 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me." So some of his disciples said to one another, "What is this that he says to us, 'A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me'; and, 'because I am going to the Father'?" So they were saying, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about." Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, "Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, 'A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me'? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am reviewing my own pastor's sermon. He is the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Middleville, MI. He has promised not to go into a rage if I give him a poor review and the criteria are pretty objective so I shouldn't have too much trouble giving an honest review. My method is not infallible and I am open to critique but I do believe that my results are accurate based on the criteria I have laid out.

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? Yes. The pastor focused on verses 21-22. He stayed very close to the text and gave an illustration from his wife's pregnancy. (+1)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? Yes. The law was never preached as doable but we were called to repentance for taking our eyes off of Jesus. Because only Jesus can bring us true joy. (+1)

3. Is Jesus mentioned? Yes and everything that was said about Him is true. (+1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? Yes. The sermon applied what Jesus did for us through His death on the cross in a personal way. (+1)

5. Does the creation of a wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? I don't have the text and so I am unable to create a wordle but based on the words that were used I am confident that a wordle would show a Christian focus. (+1)

The final score is +10 or 100%.

The current standings are:
James Roemke (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) 100% A