Category Archives: The Cross

There are NO Seekers in the Church

A couple of months ago I posted an article entitled “Do We Miss the Point of Worship?  Is it for Seekers and Evangelism?” I have been thinking about that article quite a bit lately in the context of the worship life of the church. Seekers are generally thought to be unchurched persons who have a desire for things spiritual.  They know there is something more, they are just trying to find it.  They are said to be seeking God, looking for Him.  We are told that our services need to be user friendly, non-threatining, not offensive, and accessible so that unchurched visitors — seekers — will not be turned off to our message and will return.  Listening to an Internet radio program the other day — Chris Rosebrough on Pirate Christian Radio —  the commentator observed that there are no seekers in the church.  As the basis for this statement, he referred to Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 3:9-12:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; 
 no one understands; 
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

Paul quotes Psalms 14 and 53 here, for the proposition that no one seeks for God, that we have all turned aside, becoming worthless, pursuing what pleases us.  This recognition that there is no one who seeks after God, therefore, has ancient authority as the Psalmists attest.  Paul says elsewhere in Ephesians that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Read the rest of this entry

Christ in King Ahab of Israel — Sermon from Rev. Jonathan Fisk

I have become a sermon junkie of late, seeking out good preaching to fill in quiet times.  Preaching that tells us the whole story of God — the law and the Gospel — wrapped up in Christ.  A couple of week’s ago, my wife shared a sermon from Rev. Jonathan Fisk of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Springfield, Pennsylvania with me on 1 Kings 22.  This is an example of expository preaching on a particular text, preaching that is designed to draw out the meaning of particular passages of scripture and throw a clearer light on the meaning of the passage.

In this text, Ahab of the northern tribes of Israel meets with Jehoshophat, King of Judah to talk about joining forces to go to war with Syria to take back the land of Ramoth-gilead.  Before doing so, Jehoshophat tells Ahab to inquire of the Lord whether they should do this or not.  Ahab gathers his gaggle of prophets together, 400 of them, and they all support the king and his plan.  One prophet is left out, Michaiah, because he does not tell Ahab what he wants to hear.  This sets up an interaction between the false prophets of Ahab and the true prophet of God, Michaiah.  Michaiah tells Ahab that he will be killed in battle.  What makes this sermon so compelling is that it takes you where you do not expect.  Normally, you would think that the lesson to be learned here is listen to the Word of God and do what it says.  Ahab did not listen to God’s Word given through the prophet, he was killed in battle, and the northern tribes were thrown in disarray.  Ahab listened to false teachers who led him astray, therefore, beware of false teachers.  Not so fast.  Rev. Fisk takes the listener through the story straight to Christ and shows how Ahab — yes Ahab — and Micaiah prefigure or are types of Christ in this story.  The layers to Scripture are deeper than we can ever imagine.  Scripture is broader than we can conceive.  But it all, in the end, talks about that one thing needful, Jesus Christ.  Click the link below to listen to the Sermon, you will not be disappointed.

Pentecost 6 — 1 Kings 22

The Gospel is For Proclamation By YOU and ME

“Where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit to create, call, and gather the Christian church, apart from which no one can come to the Lord Christ.” Large Catechism II.45 (Kolb/Wengert, 436)

“Wherever there is God’s Word, no matter whether it is in Baptism, in Absolution, in the Sacrament [Lord’s Supper] there God Himself speaks to us. In the Absolution, He Himself absolves us from [our] sins. In the Sacrament or the Lord ’s Supper, Christ Himself feeds us with His body and blood. We thus have God’s Word in the church, indeed, in the home. Whenever the pastor speaks to us in the church or the father in the house, then God Himself speaks to us.” Luther, sermon on Luke 18:31-43 (1534). Quoted in J.T. Mueller, “Notes on Luther’s Conception of the Word of God as the Means of Grace” in CTM 20 (August 1949), 588.

“The Lutheran assertion that…preaching, in so far as it is Lutheran preaching, is God’s own speech to men, is very difficult to maintain in practice. Instead, it is very easy to slip into the idea that preaching is only speech about God. Such a slip, once made gradually alters the picture of God, so that he becomes the far-off deistic God who is remote from the preached word and is only spoken about as we speak about someone who is absent.”

Gustav Wingren, The Living Word: A Theological Study of Preaching and the Church (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1960), 19.

“It is remarkable that during his sojourn in Corinth, Paul was day and night wrestling with the problem how to bring Christ into people’s heart and how to lay a solid foundation for their faith in Christ and their joy in Him. Jesus Christ was the marrow and substance of all his preaching, the golden thread that ran through all his sermons.” C.F.W. Walther, 39th Evening Lecture in Law and Gospel (CPH, 1929), 405.

Quotes taken from Faithful and Afire, Participant’s Guide, Rev. Dr. Peter Nafzger, www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=1161.

I am amazed at the excuses we make for not using words, more specifically, THE WORD, to proclaim the Gospel.  I have heard it said, “I do not know the Bible as well as others do.”  Or, “I am not a good speaker.”  Or, “Evangelism is not my ‘Spiritual gift.'”  Or, “I am not a preacher.”  Or, “We just need to model Christ, be a good example.”  The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”  He also writes to the Romans:

“For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Romans 10:5-17, ESV.

This faith that we are given, this faith that we live is more than simple belief and trust.  That is what it is in its most basic form.  Yet this faith is more than simple belief and trust, it is living, breathing.  It is made alive by the very Word of Christ.  In us, it is like the mustard seed that, although it is the tiniest seed of the garden plants, grows to be the biggest.  Not because of any work or obedience on my part, but because of the working of the Word that quickens my soul.  So it is with the Word of God that is sown in us, it produces tremendous yields of fruit working in and through us.  It is the Word acting, working, producing yield beyond our wildest imaginations.

This Word is not just in our hearts so that we can be an example for others.  It is, as Paul says, in our mouth — your mouth, my mouth.  Ezekiel and St. John give us pictures of eating scrolls containing the Word of God, something that we can chew, taste, ingest, absorb.  But the Word is placed in our mouth, not simply for our own personal benefit, to nourish only me — the Gospel must be proclaimed.   It is the Word of faith that we proclaim.  We confess — that is we, publicly declare, praise, give thanks, declare, speak with another to a reasoned conclusion — with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord.  The Greek — and I am no scholar — always seems to have a deeper connotation than our English.  This confessing is more than simply saying I believe.  It is coming together with another person and speaking to them the Good News of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.  For if the Gospel is not spoken to another, they cannot hear, and so cannot receive the faith that comes from Christ.

But you say, I can lead a godly life and provide a Christ-like example for others.  They will know Jesus, by seeing the Jesus in me.  All I need to do is share the love of Jesus with others, and those who are speakers will do the rest.  God will take care of that.  We must, certainly, lead a godly life and be an example for others — our actions must show that we are followers of Christ.  A good tree bears fruit, while a bad tree bears no fruit or, even worse, bad fruit.  But our deeds MUST match our confession — there must be a profession of the faith we have been given.

Christ Himself tells us that we must proclaim Him before this world.  In Matthew 10, He speaks of persecution that will come to His followers.  He tells us that we will be called to bear witness of HIM before this world, its kings, princes, and rulers.  Our Lord tells us not to worry about what to say, that we will be given the words at that time.  If He promises to give us words to speak when we are called before great and mighty people, how much more so will He give us words to speak to the least of this world?  Do not be afraid, speak Christ!  Proclaim the Gospel!  A city on a hill cannot be hidden;  do not put the light of the Gospel under a bushel!  It is meant to be seen!  Christ issues a stern warning to those who would hide Him, when He has made Himself known to us:  “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 10:32-33, ESV.

Hide who you are, who Christ has called you to be, remove references to Scripture in your print materials, provide a different face than who you claim to be at your core, and you are hiding Christ.  You are, in effect, denying Him before men.  Whatever the reason — marketing decision, attempt to appeal to the world, self-preservation, not a good speaker, more of a behind the scenes person — there is a deception involved when dealing with others.  More importantly, there is a failure to trust in the God who comes to you in your Baptism, and in the very Word we are called to proclaim.  Just as you do not get the full import of God’s saving message by reading only bits and pieces, for the Gospel encompasses all of God’s story (you cannot have the Law without the Gospel), so too the Christian life is not complete without confessing Christ before men, sharing the Word verbally with others.  Moses was not a good speaker and God found a way to use him and his voice.  But what if he only led by example?  What if Moses never proclaimed the salvation of Israel before Pharaoh?  Better yet, what if Jesus said nothing?  No, the good news is always proclaimed before men by divine imperative.  God’s Word never returns to Him void, in spite of our attempts to circumvent His plan for us.

The next time you are tempted to make an excuse as to why YOU cannot share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, why you can only be an example by sharing the love of Christ, remember our Savior’s parting words to us:  “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”

The Proper Work of God and The Alien Work of God

The proper work of God is the work of the Gospel, that is, to create mercy and forgiveness.  God makes peace, righteousness, mercy, joy, love, truth, patience, kindness, and health.   God is the Creator.  He creates.  God creates that which pleases Him and calls it good.  The Gospel.

The alien work of God is condemnation and judgment upon sin.  It is the crucifixion and destruction of the old Adam;  the suffering and death of Christ;  the satisfaction of His justice and holiness; the punishment of sin;  chastisement and discipline of His children.  Justice.  God’s Law.

Hans Holbein the Younger, Allegory of the Old and New Testaments, c. 1524, oil on wood, 49 X 61 cm. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

“It is as if he were saying: “Because you scoff at the Word, the Lord is forced to do a strange work, namely, to judge and to destroy.” For the proper work and nature of God is to save. But when our flesh is so evil that it cannot be saved by God’s proper work, it is necessary for it to be saved by His alien work. Because in good times we stroll and stray from the Word, our covers have to be made narrow, and we must be disciplined by various afflictions so that we may be saved by God’s alien work; the ungodly are altogether driven by God’s proper and foreign work because they   V 16, p 234  do not want to get under these narrow covers but want to stretch out in their own. Meanwhile God keeps His own by means of the cross and narrow covers and thus separates them from the ungodly. This is God’s alien work, by which He condemns the ungodly, so that we may be saved. So you see that our flesh is outwardly indulgent when it is without the cross, and therefore various afflictions are necessary to control that flesh.”

Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 16: Luther’s works, vol. 16 : Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Is 28:21). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Article from Concordia Theology » Reframing the Story: The End of the Emergent Conversation

Concordia Theology » Reframing the Story: The End of the Emergent Conversation.

      For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  Romans 1:16.
The is an absolutely fascinating and thorough review of the effects of post-modernism on the body of Christ and review of the the spiritual, but not religious movement in the church.  Carol Geisler does a terrific job of summarizing the theological underpinnings of the so-called “Emerging Church” movement in Christianity.  This is the movement that says historical Christianity, grandma and grandpa’s church, Cardinal John Henry Newman’s church, Pope Benedict’s church, Luther’s church, St. Augustine’s church, Christ’s church, is not for today’s modern, spiritual seeker.  I may have more on this article after having the opportunity to thoroughly digest it, but for now it has been re-published in its entirety below:

by Carol Geisler

Carol Geisler works at Lutheran Hour Ministries and the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations. A former teacher and principal, she earned the Ph.D. in historical theology from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

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The emergent church movement is by no means a new conversation (the description preferred by its advocates) but the discussion continues to attract mainline denominations searching for practical ideas in ministry. Emergent interests such as social networks, personal stories, and “authentic” spiritual experiences are pursued to reach the unchurched or to encourage a generation of young Christians. Admiration between denominations and emergents is something of a one way street, however, as emergent advocates tend to regard the denominations (sometimes referred to as “tribes” or “villages”) with a certain amount of disdain. There are emergents from many tribes, including Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans, but emergent theologian Tony Jones comments, “In the end, the new definition of ‘Christian’ may not be what particular doctrines one believes or which flavor of church to which one belongs but whether (and how thoroughly) one is woven into the fabric of global Christianity.”[1] The language and practices discussed in the emergent conversation also attract listeners from the Missouri Synod tribe eager for new ideas in evangelism. Before Lutherans join whole-heartedly in the conversation they may want to consider the discussion’s general direction because it is not an open-ended dialogue. What do its leading voices have to say? What will the fabric of global Christianity look like when the conversation ends and the emergent reweaving is complete? Read the rest of this entry

Stephen, The First Martyr — Sunday School Lesson, May 8, 2011

Acts 6-7.  Listen to this week’s interview with Deaconess Pam Nielsen and Pr. Todd Wilken here on Issues, Etc.

Stephen was one of the seven chosen by the Apostles to serve as deacons, essentially, to assist the Apostles in the ministry of that early church.  The Greek Christians complained that their widows were being neglected and left out of the daily distributions of food and other necessities by that early church.  They made it the work of the church to take care of the poor and the needy, in their midst, caring for their daily needs.

Luke describes Stephen as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, full of power and grace, who did great wonders among the people.  Some of the Greek converts to Judaism got into a dispute with Stephen.  The specifics of the dispute are not mentioned in Acts, but Luke suggests that it had to do with Scripture and most likely Christ as fulfillment of the Old Testament and the Way to Life.  These Greek converts instigated rumors of blasphemy against Stephen.  They seized him and brought him before the council and elders charging him with their false accusations of teaching about Christ.  Luke tells us that all who sat on the council looked at Stephen and his face was like the face of an angel.

In the midst of the council, Stephen recounted the history of the people of Israel and how it led to the rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ.  Stephen does not mince words.  He confronts them with the very Cross of Christ and how their rejection of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit killed the Savior on the Cross, and, ultimately, will lead to their own death.  It is fitting that Luke points out that the accusations were brought by Greek converts to Judaism, for they are included in Stephen’s message.  Thus, his message is not limited to the people of Israel alone, but to all people.  Just as Israel was the church, God’s chosen people on earth, so too are we the church God’s chosen people.  We cannot escape the accusation that we killed our Lord, nor can we shift responsibility to God’s ancient chosen people.  They are still God’s special people, chosen for a purpose.  God does not forget His promises.  What He has in store for them remains in the council of the Godhead.

Yet what happens to Stephen should serve as a message for believers in His Church — the Word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing.  It is difficult for unbelievers to grasp, painful.  It causes anger and resentment in them, but it is God working on them, a suffering that they must endure to receive faith.  They will turn this anger, resentment, and wrath on us as God’s visible instruments in Christ on earth.  Their pain will in turn be our pain, and we must be prepared for it.  In Stephen’s case, He was stoned.  The ring leader was a pharisee of pharisees, from the tribe of Benjamin.  He held the coats of the men who gleefully pummeled Stephen to death with stones.  As he died, Stephen was given by the Holy Spirit a glimpse of the Glory of God, with our Lord Christ standing beside the Father’s Glory.  He was given the faith to pray for those who persecuted him to death.  God grant each of us this faith to endure to the end.

Luther Before the Diet of Worms, 1521

In 1521, Martin Luther was called before the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Worms to recant his writings and teachings.  It had already been determined that he would die if he did not recant.  By the grace of God Luther escaped with his life.  It was here that he gave his famous “Here I Stand” speech.

Just Heard on Issues Etc. 24: When you raise a child like he is the Messiah, you get Cain.

Dr. John Saleska, Director of the Concordia Bible Institute at Concordia University Wisconsin, just made a brilliant point in his talk on the book of Genesis on Issues Etc. 24.  Referring to the children of of Adam and Eve, Dr. Saleska observed that “when you raise a child like he is the Messiah, you get Cain.”  And who was Cain?  A selfish murderer of his very own brother.  He was jealous of his brother Abel’s sacrifice, and had no difficulty in killing him out of pure rage and spite.  And that was simply with the first children of our forbears.   Just imagine what we do to our children when we raise them as if they were like a Messiah.

Don’t Forget — 24 Hours of Uninterrupted Bible Study Begins 4pm CST 4/8/2011

24 hours of uninterrupted study of Holy Scripture.  Live.  In person at Issues Etc.org This is one of the best shows out there in Christian Talk Radio.  And for 24 hours straight, without interruption, you will hear nothing but pure Gospel awesomeness, as Pastor Todd Wilken discusses 12 books of the Bible with 12 of the best and brightest Pastors and Seminary Professors God has gifted to the LCMS.  Isaiah, Revelation, Daniel, Mark, Ephesians, Psalms, and 1 Corinthians will be covered.  Wilken and guest will spend two full hours on each book.

Make some time with the family, your youth group, Bible Study class, men’s group, women’s group, spouse, friends, etc. and study the Scriptures for a couple of hours.  It will be the best time you have spent on a Friday night in a long, long time.  Your kids always beg to stay up late on a Friday night, now you have no excuse not to let them.  MarkApril 8, 2011 beginning at 4:00 p.m. Central Time until Saturday April 9, 2011 at4:00 p.m.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Nazi Germany: New Biography on the Life of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932)

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

February 7, 2011 marked the 56th anniversary of the date on which Lutheran Pastor,Dieterich Bonhoeffer, was transferred to Buchenwald Concentration Camp where he was hanged three (3) months later, just three (3) days before the camp was liberated.  A new biography by Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace, renews the spotlight on Bonhoeffer and his life and times.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Nazi Germany video: Eric Metaxas – Christian foundations – Christianity.com.

Near the beginning of World War II, Bonhoeffer found himself an exile in America for speaking out against Hitler and the Nazi regime.  Rather than stay in the safety of the then neutral country, Bonhoeffer returned to his homeland and continued to preach and speak out against the Nazi atrocities.  He aided the underground resistance as well, helping Jews to safety.  He was also involved in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler.

Because of his actions as a member of the clergy during World War II, Bonhoeffer is often cited as an exemplar of social justice programs and as a proponent of the social gospel.  He is also held up as an “authentic disciple” or an “authentic Christian” or, rather, an “authentic Christ follower” whom we should emulate and follow.  However, just as the Gospel cannot be reduced to a “social gospel” or a “prosperity gospel” or a “_______ gospel,” neither can Bonhoeffer’s life and writings be reduced in such a manner either (The terms “authentic” and “Christ follower” are often used by advocates of the post-modern-emerging-church-rejection of the traditional-orthodox-church-worship-life to justify a search for a church and/or community that fills the needs of the individual Christian in a real way that church as it has been for 2000+ years somehow can no longer do).  He was an orthodox Lutheran theologian whose contributions to the church in the Lutheran tradition and, ecumenically, in the entire Body of Christ go beyond his writings on Ethics, and the Cost of Discipleship and his choice to participate in the assassination of an evil dictator.   A cursory examination of his writings reveals that there was more that motivated the man than the writings and actions by which he is most well known.   Bonhoeffer’s life was characterized by Christ — Christ at the Center, and a realization that our lives are more than just you and me as individuals.  For our lives encompass, as Bonhoeffer often stressed, our life TOGETHER as Christians not just as individual disciples of Christ, but as members of the larger Body of Christ.   Ethics and The Cost of Discipleship may be his most well known books, but both must be read in context with his other writings on the church — Communio Sanctorum (Communion of Saints) and Life together.  It is within this context and tradition that Bonhoeffer’s life and contributions to the catholic Church must be examined.