Monday, January 26, 2015

National Lutheran Schools Week: Part One

Today begins National Lutheran Schools Week. Thanks be to God, I have been a Lutheran teacher for twenty-nine years.  Celebrating Lutheran Schools means sharing, promoting and teaching Christ's redemptive work on the cross. This year's theme is Standing in Christ, Serving others.  Mercy Forever.

It's a privilege and  blessing to teach the young men and women sitting in my classes.  Teaching in a Lutheran school means that while I am in the midst of teaching Shakespeare's Macbeth, I can also allude to this Higher Things devotion from Rev. Cwirla.
Sin has left its mark on you - on your soul, your body, your mind, your psyche, your robes.  The damned spot of Adam, the original sin and the origin of all sins - your lies, your immoralities, your blasphemies, your idolatries, your greed, your coveting, your murders, your disobedience, insolence, arrogance, hatred - there’s no covering them up.  They have all left a mark on you. You have blood on your hands.  You search in this world for something that will wash that damned spot of sin away- drugs, alcohol, religion.  You discover the terrible truth of Lady Macbeth.  That damned spot doesn’t go away, no matter how hard you try.  Your prayers and pieties won’t do it.  Your guilt and shame won’t wash it away.  The smell of sin is on you and all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten it.  And then you hear Jesus say, “I am coming soon, bringing my recompense to reward everyone for what he has done.”  So now what?
Not only do I have the blessed opportunity to share Shakespeare's literary treasures, I can also use those as launching pads into the eternal treasures of forgiveness, grace, mercy and salvation that are ours through Christ's death and resurrection.
The Spirit and the Church, say “Come.”  You are invited.  Come.  Come, you sinners, poor, broken, needy.  Come, young and old, torn by guilt and shame.  There is living water to refresh you here, cleansing blood to wash away that damned spot.  Flush it down the drain of your Baptism together with the old Adam and all his sinful desires and deeds.  Let Jesus deal with it.  He already has.  Come, drink of that stream of forgiveness that flows from His cross to you.  Come the church, God’s inn of mercy.  Come to the ministry of forgiveness and healing, to your fellow priests clothed in Christ.  Come, sons and daughters of Adam, no matter how great your sin, no matter how deep the stain, it’s all washed away by the slain Lamb who lives and reigns.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reading Buddy Basketball Night

Each month seniors from my AP Lit class meet with my wife's 2nd grade students from St. Peter, Macomb to read and write books. During one of our recent meetings, students read Eric Carle books and then wrote and illustrated their own Eric Carle-esque creations.


Another event that does not involve reading, but lots of fun and laughter is Buddy Basketball Night.  My students invite their reading buddies to a girls' basketball game. They sit with each other, eat lots of snacks and at halftime participate in the always intense uniform relay race. 

Galloping out of the corral for this year's Buddy Basketball night was Lutheran North's mascot, Marty the Mustang.  Marty cheered for the buddies and then posed for buddy pictures preserving a fantastic night.

A unique dimension to this year's Reading Buddies is that twelve of the second grade parents are Lutheran North alumni.  It's a unique blessing to see my former students return to Lutheran North with their families and walk the hallways of their old high school. 
It's even more important that all of these parents have selected Lutheran schools to help nurture their children's mind and more importantly, through the power of the Holy Spirit, their faith.
In his Large Catechism explanation to the Fourth Commandment, Dr. Martin Luther explains the important role parents have in their children's education:
  • For if we wish to have excellent and able persons both for civil and Church leadership, we must spare no diligence, time, or cost in teaching and educating our children, so that they may serve God and the world.  We must not think only about how we may amass money and possessions for them.  God can indeed support and make them rich without us,  as He daily does.  But for this purpose He has given us children and issued this command: we should train and govern them according to His will...Therefore, let everyone know that it is his duty, on peril of losing the divine favor, to bring up his children in the fear and knowledge of God above all things (Proverbs 1:7)  LC I 172

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Feed my sheep; not try experiments on my rats" - C.S. Lewis

"Hearing the Word of God was once a weighty phrase, corresponding to an awesome reality. Today, in the thinking of many, the whole thing can be taken care of without inconvenience or loss of time if need be, by tuning in to the “Lutheran Hour” while devoutly chewing Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way to Six Flags!"  - Rev. Dr. Kurt Marquart
Unfortunately, we convenience church into our lives. It's a perfect fit as long as we can squeeze it between Starbucks and soccer practice or a late morning's sleep and tailgating or fishing and the NFL preview show… or  __________________ and ________________. 

Recently Rev. Matt Richard posted a quote from Dr. Marquart’s article, “Liturgical Commonplaces” published in Concordia Theological Quarterly.  The quote was so intriguing it compelled me to read the entire article.

Perhaps these excerpts will whet your appetite for a feast-filled reading of Dr. Marquart’s article. 

  • Richard Wurmbrand, having noted the frequent refrain in church-bulletins that refreshments will be served after the service, asks pointedly: “Why do you not provide refreshment in the service?”
  • The idea, for instance, that the Service should be “meaningful,” that is, clear and obvious to any casual visitor who might pop in from the street is short-sightedly pragmatic.  A “service” tailored to such a misguided ideal would comprise a mélange of threadbare banalities, which even the casual visitor is likely to find unbearable after the third time – not to speak of the faithful who attend regularly for threescore years and ten. People who come to the church seeking divine truths do not expect it to be huckstered like soap or soft drinks, with mindless jingles.
  • What then shall we make of the idea that “the youth” get bored with sameness and therefore require constant innovations to keep them interested? The sentiment is well-meaning enough but is essentially misguided…In the long term, however, such an approach is bound to produce conscious or subconscious contempt for the church. Who, after all, could respect an institution which is, after two thousand years’ experience, so confused about its functions as to say, in effect: ‘Dear Children, help us! We are no longer sure about what we out to be doing.  Perhaps you might have some good ideas?’ Who could possibly take seriously the play-worship prefixed with that horrid word, ‘experimental’?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My AP Lit. trifecta: Huxley. Walther. Christ Alone.

My AP Lit. class was recently discussing Huxley's Brave New World.  The conversation focused on absolute truth vs. the fabricated truth present in Huxley's dystopia. 

Me:  If people don't believe in absolute truth does that mean it does not exist?

Student A:  It doesn't exist for those people who don't believe it.

The Ever-Patient Me: That's not what I asked.  Does absolute truth exist even if people don't believe it?

Student B: It must. It's like Christianity.  There are many who don't believe Christ is true God and true man.  Believe it or not, Christ alone saves.  Christ is the world's Savior. That absolute truth is undeniably true even if people deny its truth.

At this point I strolled to my desk and picked up God Grant It, Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther and read from the day's devotion: Thursday of the Eleventh Week After Trinity:

Whoever has not experienced any of the pains of true repentance, whoever has not yet felt the force of the Law and regarded himself as a sinner through the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost, whoever has never groaned for the depths of his distressed heart of Christ’s grace, and whoever still fails to recognize that a person cannot believe in Christ by his own powers but alone by the working of the Holy ghost is certainly still without faith.  The birth of faith in the soul of a sinner cannot leave him unmoved.  Indeed, it is a work that transforms the whole person – from darkness to light, from spiritual death to spiritual life – and brings him out of powerlessness into a divine strength.

And this is precisely why I love teaching in a Lutheran school.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Glory Without the Cross

In his book, Grace upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, Dr. John Kleinig discusses a problem with the Pharisees: 

Their problem was that they put their own brand on their acts of piety; they claimed their achievements for themselves rather than for God. Their righteousness and their holiness, they thought and taught, were self-generated rather than God-given. They were so full of themselves that they displaced God.  They refused to acknowledge their dependence on God and his gracious provisions for them...
We face the same dangers in our spiritual lives. We quite readily imagine that we are actors performing before God to gain His applause rather than beggars receiving His gifts. Nothing excites us more than the desire to do something great, achieve something extraordinary. Of course, we don't do this for ourselves but only for God!  Since we secretly admire those who seem to be spiritual superheroes, devotional highfliers, we focus on our spiritual performance and our religious achievements.  We use God's gifts to gain spiritual kingship, power, and glory for ourselves, though we say we use them for God and the growth of the Church!  We therefore become blind to the depths of our sin and the extent of God's grace. All too quickly our spirituality becomes an exercise in blatant self-deception and glossy self-promotion.  We cover up before God and advertise ourselves as our own creation.  We want the glory without the cross.  We avoid full exposure to the scrutiny of God's Law; we belittle the call to repentance; we protect the old self from demolition and reconstruction by Christ.  And all this because, like the Pharisees, we want to be seen to be holy, approved, admired, and praised by those around us, rather than by God."
This is why preaching that skirts the Law and preaches about the Gospel but does not actually preach the Gospel is disturbing.  Preaching that vaguely alludes to sin but does not horrify us is dangerous. However, it does make sense that if the Law is not preached in its severity, there is no need for the eternal comfort of Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross.

That's why LCMS president, Matthew Harrison's insight on the importance of  Law/Gospel preaching is important. "The Law should be preached like there is no Gospel and the Gospel should be preached like there is no Law."

What is the solution?  Harrison, Kleinig and God's Word proffer the only solution to the damnation of our sin:

President Harrison:
I want to hear declarative application that tells me my sins are forgiven right now and that I am directed to Christ and his comfort.

Dr. Kleing:
God always wants us to start where we are, rather than where we would like to be, on our spiritual journey.  We are justified by God's grace and approved by Him.  That's given! Our justification does not depend on our piety and our spiritual performance but on Christ and His performance.  We can therefore face up to our recurring failure to live as His holy people and people of prayer.  In fact, our failure is meant to teach us to ask for what we lack and receive everything from Christ.

God's Word: 
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
-Romans 5:1-2

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Preaching Law like there is no Gospel. Preaching Gospel Like there is no Law.

Recently Issues, Etc. interviewed President Matthew Harrison concerning the basics of preaching. President Harrison made some excellent points about the basics of preaching. This poor, miserable sinner agrees with President Harrison's points on preaching the severity of the Law and the cleansing assurance of the Gospel.

Here are some of the points President Harrison made in the interview: 
  • I think we are in a preaching crisis.
  • The biggest problems I see is very little dealing with the actual text.
  • I think we have a great challenge because in preaching we hear preaching that talks about Christ, about the Law about people who break the Law, about the Gospel.
  • The sermon is a proclamation
  • I hear very little preaching of the Law that stings or hits home.  They will not hit at the gross sins that adhere in every one of us.
  • Step into the office and say this Christ is for you and for sinners just like you.
  • If I don’t realize the depths of my own sin how do I view people around me when they sin against me?
  • Paraphrasing Luther, President Harrison said, “If the pastor fails to give you the Gospel in a sermon you should on the way out say ‘You are a thief and a liar.  You have robbed Christ from me.’”
  • I want to hear clear Law, clear damning Law in all its severity. The Law should be preached like there is no Gospel and the Gospel should be preached like there is no Law.
  • I want to hear declarative application that tells me my sins are forgiven right now and that I am directed to Christ and his comfort
Listen to the interview and let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Never be thirsty again

This past Sunday the Gospel reading was from John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well.  I've read or heard various sermons on this text and while each pastor's approach differed, each pastor's message was the same: Christ's cleansing water is unconditional, eternally cleansing and eternally satiating.

John 4:16-17
1Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

Why would Christ point out the Samaritan woman's sins?  In his commentary, Dr. Paul Kretzmann insightfully explained:
The Lord told her all this, by His omniscience, for the purpose of making her realize her sinfulness, of making her see the depth to which she had fallen. She must become fully conscious of her guilt against the Sixth Commandment and the entire Law before she would have the proper desire and longing for the riches of Christ's salvation. Note: It is always thus when the Lord converts a sinner. At first there are only a few faint sparks of penitence, which would be extinguished without the aid of the Holy Ghost. But then He deepens the consciousness of transgression and guilt, in order that the longing for salvation may be instilled by the sweet message of salvation, by the Gospel. Very often the real battle in the heart of a person begins only after the desire for salvation has been felt. Then Satan tries to drive the sinner into despair. It is then that grace must much more abound. 
In The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, CFW Walther stated similar truths on the purpose of the Law and the Gospel:
These two points must be made: The Law creates a thirst and leads us to hell; the Gospel, however, satisfies the thirst and leads to heaven.  The Law states what we must do, but that we have fallen short of doing it, no matter how holy we may be.  Thus it produces uncertainty in me and arouses this thirst.
"but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  - John 4:14

If your are thirsty for more sermons on this text read Rev. Charles Henrickson's sermon or listen to Rev. Anthony Voltattorni's sermon.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Strenuous attempts to gain adherents...

Always test the spirits

4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.  - 1 John 4: 1-6

Dr. Paul Kretzmann's commentary offers worthy insights on why we should always test what is taught us:
Good prophets are preachers through whom the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, teaches and preaches, whether it be by direct inspiration, as in the Old Testament, or whether it be by the teaching of the pure Gospel, as in the case of all true ministers today. In that sense they are spirits. But the Christians are here warned to use all care, to be on the lookout in ceaseless vigilance; for unfortunately not every man that claims to be a true prophet is able to present such credentials as the Word of God demands in such a case. These men, who presume upon the rights and duties of true Christian ministers, go out into the world, they display a remarkable missionary activity, they make the most strenuous attempts to gain adherents for their false tenets. Therefore Christians, as they value their soul’s salvation, must examine, test, such spirits and their doctrines, whether they are of God.
One of the fundamental facts of Christianity is the doctrine that Jesus Christ came into the world, became flesh. That is the touchstone which enables the believers to distinguish between true and false teachers. For in this doctrine is included the confession that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, who, according to the promise given by God, became man, and by His vicarious suffering and death, and by His victorious resurrection and ascension merited our righteousness and salvation. He that accepts and confesses these truths unequivocally, with all that they imply, may be considered a preacher from God. But every professed teacher in the Church or outside of the Church that denies the incarnation of the eternal Son of God; that denies that Jesus Christ is our only righteousness and salvation; every one that teaches that we, in order to be saved, should not trust in Christ and in His merits alone, but also in our own works: such a man is not of God.
The apostle adds another reason for carefully examining the claims and for guarding against the evil influence of the false teachers: They are of the world, therefore they talk as of the world, and the world listens to them. No matter what their pretense and their glamour, the false teachers belong to the world, they have the world’s manner and mind. This is shown also in their talking, in their teaching and preaching, for its substance is not divine and leading to godliness, but it is inspired by the world, by its manner of thinking and acting. False teachers usually have messages that tickle the itching ears of their hearers. The children of the world will gladly hear them, the world receives their doctrines with enthusiasm. It is an almost unfailing criterion: if a certain preacher is widely advertised and acclaimed as a prophet for our times, he has probably managed to accommodate the old Scriptural language to some of his own philosophy in denying the fundamentals of the Bible. Witness the so-called Christianity of the social gospel.