Monday, June 29, 2015

Toward UNConfusion!


[ NOTE: The below article was first published in our parish's July Newsletter. The rest of the newsletter can be found HERE. ]

        Confusion reigns. Lord, help us!
Someone recently took me to task for commenting on the Bruce/Caitlin Jenner sex change which has recently been in the news. They said that it is so obviously wrong that it needs no commentary at all, much less from a pastor. My answer was/is that if I remain silent, then there will be some people who, confused by the media responses, will say that, hearing nothing to the contrary from the church, they figured that the church agrees. It’s maddening.
Even as I write this article, I am waiting, with others of  you, for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on same sex marriage.
There is so MUCH confusion in our culture. People are confused about who they are, where they belong, what they should (or should not) do, and what is their future (if they even have one).
On top of people’s personal crises, there are far too many “churches” which are trying to find out where the cultural winds are blowing, and then are rushing to get out in front to pretend that they are somehow representing God. Many are MISrepresenting God!
I offer here for you and anyone who will pay attention, the cure for the astonishing cultural confusion: DOCTRINE.
Yes, that’s right. The very doctrines (teachings) which too many people (and even churches!) reject, are what will lead us toward Cultural UNconfusion!
+  +  +
THE PROBLEM
It was/is a problem which repeats itself. Judges 17:6 - “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
Whenever Scripture says this, it always carries a negative connotation. Look up some other, similar Scriptures in:
Judges 21:25
Psalm 81:12
Proverbs 3:5
Proverbs 14:12
Proverbs 21:2
Isaiah 63:10
Jeremiah 8:2
and others.
Our culture (and some churches) arrived at this point by the relativism phase through which we went some years ago. Your pastor preached against that, too. :-)  Relativism taught us that there is no such thing as absolute truth. You may have your truth and I may have my truth. And, even though those truths may conflict with each other, they are both equally true.
Yep, it always confused me, too! 2 + 2 can equal 4 AND 5? BOTH are true? It can’t be! Can you see the devastating effects which such thinking could have on families? The husband’s “truth” is that he can have girlfriends; the wife’s “truth” is that she can have man-friends; what a mess will be made of that family! Who CAN’T see that?!
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Toward UNconfusion: The Doctrine of Man
The purpose of doctrine is to teach us how things are, and how they are to be. A famous theologian has been noted as saying “doctrine is life” (“google” the phrase sometime). The doctrine teaches us about man. While MUCH has been written to teach us about man, we share a nutshell teaching here.
1. We come from God. God created humankind. We were created for life with Him. We do not exist independently from God. He created us for fellowship with Him. We were intended, by our very creation, to live forever in fellowship with God. We were made the way He wanted us to be: perfect. Man and woman. Together. To serve each other. And to procreate. In other words, to be a family.
2. BUT, tragically, our parents Adam and Eve rebelled against God. As a result of their “fall” into sin, the entire creation has been tainted with sin.  Where there is sin, there is death. Where there is death, there will be decay and trouble. Now we are subject to things like disease (of the body and the mind). As we all know, there are entire industries which have sprung up to deal with disease (consider St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the Kenny Rogers Center, etc.)
3. Where there is sin, there is continuing rebellion against God. Some things which we know are right we do not do. Intentionally or unintentionally. Some things which we know are not right, we do anyhow. This is called “sin.” The Bible says that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).
4. Therefore, humankind is in need of redemption. If you do not believe that, you do not have to look any further than to history, where you will learn all manner of the atrocities and perversions of humankind.
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Toward UNconfusion: The Doctrine of God 
God is not something which you can just make up (though many try to do just that). God has existed from before the beginning of time, and will exist until after the end of time. He is eternal.
The Bible ascribes any number of attributes (characteristics) to God. Omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent. eternal. Just. Merciful. Holy. Just to name some of them. You can find more of them by reading Luther’s Small Catechism (or, directly, by reading the Bible).
God has revealed HImself to us as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three separate and distinct Persons in the one God. While we generally speak of God the Father as the Creator, of God the Son as the Redeemer, and of God the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier, it is proper to understand that all Three Persons participate in all of the work of God (see the Athanasian Creed).
It was in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ that God the Son became flesh and blood, born of the virgin Mary. Jesus is God Who took the sins of the world upon Himself. He never sinned. He died to pay for all sins. He arose from His grave on Easter morning. He forgives the sins of those who repent of their sins and believe in Him. He does not forgive the sins of those who are impenitent. He will visibly return to the the world when time ends and will judge all sin and evil. The unbelievers will be damned to hell for all of eternity. The believers will be taken into heaven for all of eternity.
                                               +  +  +
Toward UNconfusion: What Happens When . . .
So, we rightly ask, “What is happening when so many societal values are being challenged?”
The answer, simply, is sin. Mankind is naturally inclined, since the fall into sin, to challenge God’s Word and Commands. Different people challenge different commands: one challenges marriage by committing adultery; another challenges marriage by “shacking up;” another challenges marriage by refusing to befriend his/her spouse; still another challenges marriage  by their homosexuality;  and on it goes. One can easily discern that it is not just one sin which marks man’s rebellion, but many different sins. Against many different commandments, not just against one. Nor are these sins unique to one generation or the other (some years ago, there was reported to be a significant rise in STD’s in some of the retirement communities where there were a number of widows and widowers who reasoned that, since they could not get pregnant anymore . . .).
All of this results in the confusion which we see in our current day. We have seen it before. We will see it again. It is man’s rebellion.
                                                 +  +  +
Toward UNconfusion: What is the Cure? What shall we do? 
Two different questions need two different answers:
[1] The “cure” is obvious, but many people don’t “get it.” Repentance is: turning from the sin and trusting in God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Just like faith is the gift of God, so this repentance truly is a gift from God. He is the one who teaches you His ways, shows you the error of your ways, and breaks down whatever rebellion or stubborn pride is keeping you stuck in the world’s confusion. He will also welcome you and not throw your past in your face.
[2] We in the Christian Church need to learn to simply stand fast. Too often, we long to be a part of the latest and greatest “movement.” We get tired of being called “fuddy duddies,” or the like, we get tired of our statistics going the wrong way (because the world keeps rejecting God!), and we are sorely tempted to compromise with the Word of God.
                                                 +  +  +
May the Lord help us poor sinners to get things straight and to keep things straight! We know of the Lord’s great love for us. We rejoice in the forgiveness of sins which we have through our blessed Savior! 
And may the Lord cause us to stand fast against societal confusion, model the life which God intends for us all, and make a concerted effort to reach all who are confused, and to lead them (with us!) to repentance!   +
                                                                                                             In Christ,
Pastor Wollenburg
Audio of the Sermons for each Sunday are ordinarily posted on the Church’s FaceBook page. Announcements are made there also. Please “friend” us on FaceBook by looking for: “Concordia Lutheran Church & School” in Sikeston, MO.
Audio of our Sunday Services are also posted at: lcmssermons.com/ajwrev . You may go to that site at any time to listen to past sermons and services.

QUESTION: So, Pastor, I have acquaintances (friends) who are homosexual. How should I as a Christian treat them? And what does the Church say about them?
ANSWER:  That’s a very big and certainly “loaded” question in our day and age. EVERY SIN is an abomination in the Lord’s eyes. He Who is holy in every way is offended by our every transgression of His commandments. That is what makes the work of Jesus shine so very brightly! That God would place every sin upon His Son and that Jesus would pay for every sin is awesome.
You or others may be troubled by another’s sin. But try to remember that Christ has paid for every single sin. What God wants is for every sinner to be led to repentance and to war against their own sinful flesh. God wants the heterosexual to repent of his/her natural (and sinful) tendencies toward lewd thoughts and crude words and actions. He wants the same for the homosexual.
You should continue to love your friend, and they should continue to respect your Christian view of homosexual acts. Even though some in the homosexual community have sought to rewrite the Scriptures and even though some of the churches have “bought into” those rewrites, it will be plainly evident to any student of the Word that God condemns such actions and tendencies. If the person says that they can’t help but be homosexual (another discussion for another time), remind them that the Lord still expects them to be celibate (the heterosexual is also commanded by God to live a celibate life unless the Lord brings him/her into marriage).
As to the subject of same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage plainly is NOT God’s plan for our world. He created Adam and Eve and placed them together in Eden. There is simply no Biblical support whatsoever for same-sex marriage.
Please try to understand that your friend/acquaintance may be just as lonely as the heterosexual might be. We in the Church befriend all kinds of sinners. We call all sinners to daily repentance. As the heterosexual should repent of his/her unnatural and sinful desires, so should the homosexual. When the heterosexual sins, s/he confesses his sins and receives absolution. The same would be true of the homosexual. No one should EVER use confession and absolution as a license to sin more.
  In a nutshell, then, while the Christian Church condemns every sin of every stripe, so the Christian Church is also called by God to love and speak of Christ’s forgiving work to sinners of every stripe.
By maintaining an appropriate relationship with your friend/acquaintance, the Lord may be giving you the opportunity to lead him/her to repentance.
There is SO MUCH MORE which could be said on this subject. I pray that this much is helpful to you . . . for Christ’s sake! /s/ Pastor ajw

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wilderness Travels -- and Travails -- and Lessons

This short article was written in the monthly newsletter of our congregation for the March edition of that newsletter. No, it is not as polished as it might be. But, perhaps, the reader will find some encouragement in Christ herein. /s/ ajw

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord:
So, we are now in the middle of Lent. 40 days. Some people give up something for Lent as a reminder of the Savior’s suffering. Others add something salutary to their lives (an extra time for devotions each day, a pledge to work in the community in some way, coming to all of the Lenten services, etc.). At any rate, the purpose of it is NOT the action itself – the purpose is to be reminded of some greater thing.
We Christians do well to guard ourselves against “giving up something for Lent” or “adding something for Lent” which shows others that we are particularly pious. It is entirely possible to do certain acts of piety which, we imagine, will make others think that we are somehow “more saved” than others. If you are tempted to either one of these sins, please be sure to re-read the appointed Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday (the words of our blessed Savior in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21).
We are in this 40 day period as a time for personal discipline so that we are focused on God. It’s a lot like (and is truly reminiscent of) the travels of the children of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness. After they were rescued from their 400 years of bondage in Egypt and before they were brought to their “promised land” of Canaan, they spent 40 years – yes, YEARS – in the wilderness.
Reflect on it with me, please . . . .

+ + +
You’re Not Always in Control Nor are You Setting the Direction!
When the children of israel were delivered from their captivity in Egypt, all they knew was that they were going to be free! They did not know where they had come from (they were a nomad nation), and they did not know where they were going. What they did know was that they had been promised a “Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
“Flowing with milk and honey” sounded pretty good to them. They had grown up – every single one of them - in slavery. They had been conceived, born, and raised in slavery. Until they were led out of Egypt, they all figured that they were going to die in slavery. They knew no other way of life. They had no hope. They had nothing.
They had one thing which was intangible: God. God had made them His own through the promise which He had given to Adam and Eve, and which He had renewed through the generations of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the descendants of Jacob (aka Israel). They had God’s promise. There were times when they were not so sure that they wanted to live in God’s promise.
When you live under a promise there is one thing which you have to do: believe it. And, when you believe it, you have to conduct yourself accordingly. This is, sadly, why so very many marriages fail and why friendships destruct: either promises are not made, or promises are not kept, or promises are never believed.
When you live under another person’s promise, you are not necessarily in control of where you are going. All that Israel knew was that they were going to be “free.” What they truly wanted was to be in charge of themselves: what they would receive and where they would go. But, when they found themselves in the wilderness, with the Red Sea before them, and Pharaoh’s army pursuing them, they were ready to surrender and return to the land of Egypt.
They expressed their lack of faith in God’s promise in terrible ways:

“They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’”(Exodus 14:11-12 ESV)
Yeah, right.

Or, do you remember when the children of Israel became discontented with the miraculous manna which God was giving them every day? Their discontentment is astonishing: “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’.”(Numbers 11:4-6 ESV) Astonishing ingratitude, huh?
LESSON: They kept trying to control that of which they weren’t in control, and they could not.

+ + +
Hunger, Danger, Enemies
We have already seen how the children of Israel were hungry. When they cried out for hunger and suggested that maybe they should return to Egypt, God provided them with the miraculous manna. Manna was an amazing food. Wikipedia gives about as good and concise definition as any:
“In the description in the Book of Exodus, manna is described as being ‘a fine, flake-like thing’ like the frost on the ground. It is described in the Book of Numbers as arriving with the dew during the night; Exodus adds that manna was comparable to hoarfrost in size, similarly had to be collected before it was melted by the heat of the sun, and was white like coriander seed in color. Numbers describes it as having the appearance of bdellium, adding that the Israelites ground it and pounded it into cakes, which were then baked, resulting in something that tasted like cakes baked with oil. Exodus states that raw manna tasted like wafers that had been made with honey. The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Leftovers or manna stored up for the following day ‘bred worms and stank’: the exception being the day before Shabbat (Preparation Day), when twice the amount of manna was gathered, which did not spoil overnight; because, Exodus 16:23-24 [states] ‘This is what the LORD commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”‘ So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.’”

For this manna they should have been wonderfully thankful. And they were . . . until they got bored with it.
Then they cried out for meat to eat so the Lord miraculously provided the quail: “Then a wind from the LORD sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.” (Numbers 11:31-32 ESV)
There were times when they ran out of water and they cried out: “But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’” (Exodus 17:3 ESV) .
We do not know precisely who all of their enemies were, but we do know that they had enemies. It angered and frustrated Moses when the people would rebel against God and so their enemies could make fun of them (Ex. 32:25).
On more than one occasion, the people tried to replace Moses: while he was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, they started to worship an idol; Miriam and Aaron tried to rebel against Moses (Num. 12). In these and other cases it caused Moses to question God’s call to him, and it caused him heartache.
Lessons:
[1] When you’re in the wilderness, at some point you’ll get hungry and thirsty. [2] When you get hungry and thirsty it will be tempting to blame God and His appointed leaders. [3] When you are hungry and thirsty, it is tempting to go back to a life and lifestyle which you start to imagine to have been good - but it was really just slavery! [4] When you are bored, lonely, and frightened, it is tempting to lash out at God and those whom He has made your leader(s). [5] In the wilderness, it is tempting to fall into idol worship.
+ + +
HARD Lessons to Learn
It IS hard to learn our lesson, isn’t it? We are just like the child who must be told over and over again to do some thing. That child, we hope, will soon grow up to some level of maturity and come to the realization that we are trying to teach them for their own good.
Alas, it is difficult to be a child who is to learn a given lesson. A child is so full of what he wants to do at the moment, that he refuses to see the good which is being taught to him. He keeps going back to old habits and wrong, even self-destructive, activities.

Why? Because a child can only see what tastes good or what he desires (candy, etc.). Our sinful nature is a bit too much like a little child. We see what we want, we covet what we do not have, and decide that, no matter what, we will have it. But we were not raised that way, and that certainly is not the way of the Christian.
+ + +
God’s Constant Provision
It is really interesting to reflect on the Children of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness and to see the constant provision of God, and to observe how, over and over and over again, He remained faithful to His promises!
They were hungry. God gave them manna.
They craved meat in their diet. God gave them quail.
They needed water: God provided for them. Example: It has been estimated that the Israelites who left Egypt numbered somewhere around 2.5-3 million. If you figure (conservatively?) that each person would need 5 gallons of water/day (I’m not even counting livestock here!), then they would have needed some 12,500,000 gallons of water DAILY at a minimum. The standard for a railroad tank car is 34,500 gallons maximum. So, at at a minimum, they would have needed, and God would have daily provided, the equivalent of more than 36 railroad tank cars of water daily! In the wilderness! Amazing!
Know what God’s lesson was? “And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” - Deut. 8:3
You could not be an offspring of that generation of Israelites and not know that God is faithful and all powerful!
+ + +
God at the Center!
Another observation: Did you know that, whenever the Israelites broke camp and moved, when they made camp again, everything was arranged (by God’s direction) so that each “tribe” was located in relationship to the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of Meeting was exactly what its name implies: it was the place where God met with Moses. And the Tent of Meeting was NOT removed from the people but was always the center of the camp so that everything was built around it. The lesson? God is at the center! God WANTS to be with His people! God IS with His people. Even though traveling through the wilderness can be full of travails, God had chosen to be with them!
+ + +
The Obvious Parallels!
We Christians are “pilgrims” who traveling through our wilderness of this life on our way to our “Promised Land.” That Promised Land for us is, of course, our heavenly home, purchased by Christ and prepared by Him for our eternity.
Any “pilgrimage” will have its share of difficulties, ranging from just plain being hard to travel for a long time, to getting lost, to robbers, to the possibility of wild animals, to getting sick along the way, to burying dead loved ones as you travel along, to losing interest in the traveling, to possibly going broke, etc., etc.
But these lessons, and more, are surely ours to learn as we are journeying through the Lenten Season to ward Easter and, in the larger picture, as we traveling through the frail, mortal existence on our way to heaven:
1. We are not in charge of their lives – God is.
2. He sometimes allows trouble to enter our lives to cause us to repent of our sins.
3. He sometimes allows trouble so that we will learn to cry out to Him and depend upon
Him in every need.
4. We are not the center of it all. Life, as worship, is about God Who has loved us and
redeemed us in Christ!
5. We are in the wilderness with other believers – none of us is in this alone – what we
each individually and/or as a group do or don’t do will affect the others!
6. God is faithful! Always!
+ + +
How to Arrive at the “Promised Land”
When God, in His mercy, decides that the time is right, He will open the way for us.
In all of your contemplation, consider as the most important thing of all, that God who created you has also redeemed you. He has redeemed you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He has redeemed you by the holy, shed blood of Jesus, by the Christ’s innocent sufferings and death. He has opened heaven for you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As a true pilgrim longs for the day when he “arrives,” so we in the Church long to “arrive” at blessed Easter. More importantly, we long to “arrive” in our eternal home of heaven.

In Christ, + + +
Pastor Wollenburg

Friday, February 24, 2012

time to update this blog

OK -- it's been entirely too long! Stuff happens which sidetracks a person. I hope to renew my blogging in the very near future. It will probably consist of parish newsletter articles, and other things as they come up. Sorry for being so far apart with blogposts.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Don't Just DO Something! STAND There!


NOTE: This article was prepared for the April 2010 Parish Newsletter of Concordia Lutheran Church of Sikeston, MO. One of the problems which has surfaced in modern Christendom (perhaps it has always been there and I have been blissfully unaware of it until recent years) is that we always feel that we in the church must be “doing something.” We are “builders” and are proud of it. For decades we have heard pastors remind us, from James 1:23, that we must be “doers” of the word of God. I know, of course, what James the brother of our Lord meant; but I also believe that we have not always presented James in the context of the rest of Holy Scripture, and a Lutheran pastor in particular MUST always present a proper mix of Law and Gospel to his hearers. On top of this, we are, by virtue of our sinful nature, people who believe that we must somehow “help God along” in His work of salvation. On top of this, we look at lagging numbers in terms of church attendance, church membership, youth at worship and active in the life of the church, young adults who seem in some large measure to be abandoning the modern church (I'm not quite sure this statement “paints” those young adults fairly), and we resolve that “by gum, we had better DO something!” So we begin all manner of frenzied activity. We resolve to “remake” the church. Some write books and put on seminars. Others purchase said books and attend said seminars. To and fro. Back and forth. Rising early and staying up late. Burning gasoline and electricity. Wringing our hands. Pointing the finger at those who caused it. I fear that we are only making things worse and worse. But, dear reader, do you not know that God (Psalm 46:10) says: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Amongst all of the church leaders who constantly tell us to “do something,” are there any who tell us to “be steadfast, immovable?” Does the Lord Christ want us to “be busy” by serving our neighbors? Of course! But, sometimes, ‘busyness’ keeps us from standing firm in the faith! Read on, please . . .

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord :

No, it does not seem like a familiar title at all. What we are accustomed to is the phrase: “Don’t just sit/stand there; do something!” Frankly, this more familiar title is much more to my personal liking. I like to think of myself as a man of action, a person of energy, one who is willing to do the hard work.

But I have deliberately rephrased the familiar so as to cause you, I hope and pray, to rethink how we too often think in (post-)modern Christendom.

+ + +

Remember “Busy Work?”

Ahh, what great disdain we in high school had for those terrible teachers who assigned us what we termed “busy work.” “Busy work,” by our high school definition was: work which we had to complete and which took up our time but which was so shallow as to not require any thinking whatsoever; it was work in which we merely went through the motions of learning without learning or reinforcing anything. “Busy work,” we thought, made the teacher look good because s/he was giving assignments and sometimes (but not always) grading those assignments. From our perspective as students, they took up our time and energy but produced no lasting results.

Please permit me here, as a teacher of adults and children (for so very much of what a pastor does includes teaching!) to defend proper homework assignments. Writing out memory work, for example, is an excellent exercise which reinforces things which we think that we have committed to memory. Most students do not want to do memory work because memory work, whether for children or adults, requires some effort (sometimes quite a bit of effort!) on our parts — and most of us are lazy and do not want to be forced to do anything! This is different from “busy work” which only amounts to doing things which give the appearance of work while not accomplishing anything (why does the filling out of government forms spring to my mind when I think of “busy work?” :) ).

I fear that there are too many things which we do in Christendom in our day which accomplish little except giving the appearance (usually to ourselves but sometimes to others) that we are doing lots when, in fact, we are doing little or nothing. This we do while ignoring things which we ought to be doing but which we imagine to be too much work or rather boring or just not “cool” enough. Sometimes we change things which we ought not to change. I’ll try to explain but I do not have a lot of space here . . . read on, please . . .

+ + +

Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Workshop”

That adage is most certainly true! It is the reason why parents sometimes impose curfews on their children (“What can I do after midnight that I couldn’t do before midnight?” Answer: “Nothing, but you are more likely to do the sinful, life-changing things, because there are less of the wholesome things to do before midnight.”).

Every parent knows that, when children are left in one another’s company without any supervision or direction, they will often end up fighting or bothering one another simply because they get bored. For that very reason, good parents and teachers will help their children structure their time with wholesome activities like playing running games outside, or drawing things inside, or putting together puzzles, etc.

“Idle hands” is also one of the reasons why we teach ourselves that a proper posture for prayer (it is NOT required by Scripture but it is an ancient practice) is to fold our hands and close our eyes: doing this, we keep ourselves from being distracted from our prayers whether when we awaken, at mealtime (before AND after), during our daily devotion, at bedtime, or at any other time.

We should stay busy. If you are bored at home and need something to do, for example, there are always some things which we need to have done here at the Church: floors can be scrubbed and buffed, shrubs can be trimmed, leaves can be raked, windows can be washed, stuff can be dusted, papers folded, neighborhoods can be visited (a great way to take a walk), etc. If, however, you are bored at home and tend to fill your time with internet sites which tempt your sinful flesh or with junk on TV which only fills your mind with sinful ideas, well, then, the adage is proven true: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and you should get busy with something edifying (easy for me to say, I know, and harder to do).

THIS IS IMPORTANT: When you get bored and start looking for stuff to do, be very careful that you do not start messing with the wrong stuff, including at church!

+ + +

The Case for “Just Standing There!”

Dear Concordians (and anyone else who reads this), please mark this well: the pastor who is forever cajoling you to “do something” is probably beginning to panic as he fears for the future. I know about that because I have sometimes thus cajoled folks in the past AND because I sometimes still do fear for the future of Christ’s Church (I am not supposed to be afraid but when I forget to look at Christ’s promises, my sinful flesh sometimes becomes very afraid).

When we who are “ministers of the Gospel” start telling the sheep whom we serve that they must do all kinds of things, we are guilty of skewing the Word and counsel of God. Look at these Bible passages which tell us to stand:

+ Remember when the Children of Israel were being brought out of Egypt? And Pharoah was sooo angry and pursued them? And they were at the Red Sea? And they got angry with Moses? And they were ready to go back to Egypt or just surrender? Remember how scared they were? Remember what Moses told them? “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." (Exodus 14:13-14)

+ In his great “Resurrection Chapter,” St. Paul reminds us of our “standing” because of the work of Christ: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:1-2)

+ At the end of that same great chapter, as the apostle comes to his grand conclusion, he tells us who live in the grace and power of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58)

+ In the parting words of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13)

+ Gal. 5:1 - “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

+ Did you know that one of the reasons why God has established the office of the ministry (what I am!) is “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, . . .” (Eph. 4:14-15)

+ In the apostle’s great metaphor of how we Christians are dressed up in the armor of God, he speaks of what soldiers do: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, . . .” (Eph. 6:11-14)

+ Philippians 1:27, Philippians 4:1

+ Colossians 4:12

+ 1 Thessalonians 3:8

+ 2 Thessalonians 2:15

+ 1 Peter 5:12

The above list is by no means exhaustive on the subject. Sure, we actively serve in the Lord’s church, but more important (if one can say it that way) is that we stand firm!

+ + +

It’s Hard to Just “Stand There!”

No kidding! Just ask any soldier! Or, ask any Congress! When there’s no immediate danger, the “job” of a military is to “stand there.” “Standing there” is a deterrent to our enemies. A strong defense keeps them from attacking or, if they do attack, makes it less likely that they will do any lasting damage. I am not trying to make a big political point here, and I apologize if I am accidentally stepping on your toes politically, but everyone knows that the job of a military is to at least be there in front of our enemies (example: playground bullies do NOT pick on kids who are bigger or stronger than they are — guess why!). When we are not being attacked, it is easy for our military to become complacent even as it is easy for our congress to quit spending money on military readiness.

It should come as no surprise to you to be reminded that the Church on Earth is properly referred to by a couple of very descriptive names: “Kingdom of Grace” and “The Church Militant” (sadly, you do not often hear of the Church described in the latter way in our day and age because it is not popular to Christians these days that suffering might be a part of their life in Christ — but suffering is very much a part of your lives, dear Christians! — oops, I’m ahead of myself here).

The church on earth is often called the “Kingdom of Grace” because the Lord Christ rules over our hearts with His grace (He does NOT rule the Christian with His holy laws).

The Bride of Christ (the church) is also called “The Church Militant” because the Church is always at war on this side of heaven — our enemies are the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Amongst the enemies of our souls are false doctrine and false practice.

It truly is difficult to “stand fast” when people around us are ducking for cover or whenever people are taking the easiest ways “out” of problems. It is hard to “stand fast” when it seems to be very boring for a soldier to “man his foxhole,” but give thanks for those who do stand fast!

Similarly, when the enemies are attacking and others are deserting their posts, it is hard for a soldier to “stand fast,” but because he stands fast others are kept safe from the enemy! Try to picture your “standing fast” in that way.

Your pastor and other Christians who are learning to “stand fast” despite the trends and fads which come along throughout Christendom are protecting you from silly ideas and false notions which waste your time, money, and other resources (and which could destroy your soul).

+ + +

How do I Stand?

There are a couple of things which you “do” in order to stand fast! [1] Attend worship every single Sunday (and other times) for there the Lord comes to you and bolsters you for the hard times; He also uses your presence to give much needed encouragement to others (including your pastor). I know that many Christians no longer think that it is “cool” to go to every Sunday worship, but how can you be a Christian who does not worship? In Worship you are reminded over and over again of the baptism by which your merciful heavenly Father has brought you into His family of faith (what privilege!), you will repeatedly hear the Lord’s own absolution spoken to you to bolster you, and you will receive the Supper in which Christ Himself comes to strengthen and renew you! [2] Attend Bible Classes; sadly, this is quite a problem for our own congregation as for other churches — in Bible Classes we examine some of the trends which are coming along and give answers, from the Word of God, which will help you to be steadfast. We study the Word (obviously) so that, when false ideas come to us, we will be able to spot them as false and will be ready to answer them. [3] Daily devotions (read the daily devotions which I send out in my daily email or read the Portals of Prayer devotional, or both!).

This is needed in Christendom today, “Don’t just do something . . . stand there!” May God give you grace, dear Christian, to stand fast. In Christ, Pastor Wollenburg


Most of this article, along with our entire April newsletter, is available online at: http://lcmssermons.com/images/aut112/2010.april.newsletter.pdf

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Living in the End Times, Etc,.

Well, it has been quite some time since I have blogged -- sorry about that. I'm going to start doing more of that and hope that it can be a blessing, at least in some small way, to some . . . Below is the start of a discussion which I have had online at the Wittenberg Trail site with a man who had questions about end times stuff. Perhaps his questions are yours and perhaps my answers will help you, too. Feel free to comment or ask more questions below. His questions are in red. My answers are in purple (a nice, Lenten color) . . . /s/ ajw

They say that when we look back on the "Good Old Days", they weren't really as good as we might remember them. We may repress bad memories, focusing on our successes while seemingly forgetting our failures.

In Bible Study, most members seem to have the idea that things are getting worse and worse as time progresses. Some have leaned toward premillennialism, and see this pessimism in light of the end times. Another member is more optimistic and sees that some things have gotten better. She does not go along with the view that things are always getting worse.

If we were to look at specific things that have gotten worse, some may be legitimate (increased violence in schools) whereas some may not, as crimes and troubles are better reported today than in the past.

Scripture tells us that before Jesus returns again, things will be just like in the days of Noah. Pastor, it is true we can have great joy about the imminent return of Jesus, but regarding the sin that is rampant in the world, is it right to see each generation as more evil than the one before it, or is this a faulty look at the world, theologically? What is a healthy, Christian view of the overview of human existence on the earth over the centuries?

Dear __:

Neither pessimism nor optimism, as such, is in order for the Christian. We live by faith. To be sure, we know that in all things God works together for good with those who love Him (Romans 8:28); in other words, God will most certainly take care of us Christians. This is, in part, the Gospel teaching of election (do NOT fall prey to the false doctrine of double predestination). Herman Sasse, has a great quote about pessimism and optimism: "Only this faith in the living Lord poises us properly for our tasks. He guards us from the two great sins of Christianity of our times. The terrible sin of pessimism doubts the possibility that the church can accomplish anything, because it no longer takes seriously the confession of the present Christ. Such pessimism does not take it seriously that to Christ also today all power is given in heaven and on earth, and He is just as near to us as to Christianity of the beginning. He guards us too from the terrible sin of optimism, which overlooks the fearful reality of sin in the world, and knows nothing of the fact that the power of evil works most wretchedly where it destroys the community [Gemeinde] of Jesus. Pessimism and optimism are human emotions. Where they rule, faith is falsified. For faith has nothing to do with emotions. It is the unshakable trust in the unbreakable promises of God."

Will things get worse? Sure. The "signs of the end" are always intensifying. They have been in place all along but they continue to intensify as the world groans under the weight of sin (Rom. 8:18ff.). But we Christians have the reassurance of the Lord Christ Himself that He will preserve us safe. For the Lord's own discussion of the signs of the end AND His promise to preserve us, look closely at Matthew 25 -- in particular, note the changes in verb tenses in v. 22-25.

The book of Revelation indicates that there will be a "little season" of great trouble right before the End - Rev. 20:3. Of course, the church of every age has asked the question, "are we in the 'little season' now?" since it always seems as though it can get no worse -- at least to each succeeding generation. So we keep on crying out "How long?" AND we keep being fed with Word and Sacraments so that our faith may be kept alive during the trying times of our lives -- incidentally, I am right now working my way through a little book titled "Handbook of Consolations" written by Johann Gerhard -- in his book, he suggests that we all do quite well to closely contemplate death since death will come upon all of us, sooner or later (most American Christians, in my experience, hate to consider this b/c we seem to think that admitting to our mortality is somehow sinful (?)). Gerhard's book is an excellent devotional tool, in my opinion.

Is your friend wrong who thinks that things are getting better? Well, overall, yes. To be sure, we get to see some wonderful technological advances (the internet, for one -- well, mostly, although we have heard what pornographers and others have done with it, too). However, the world is wearing out: just as our bodies which are not perfect and are more and more subject to age and disease and will eventually succumb to them, so this wretched world which we think we know and love so well, will also betray us and will wear out.

Our hope is Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebr. 13:8)

Helpful? Want to unpack some of the stuff referenced above? :)

Then the gentleman asked this followup question:

Yes, this helps some. I shouldn't have really used the words "pessimism" and "optimism"--I knew as Christians we have a real, solid hope in Christ, who is able to do all things, who conquered the grave. "God desires all men to be saved..." This clearly doesn't leave room for pessimism. African-Americans are treated better today than they were over a hundred years ago. We have been given people with smart minds who have made all kinds of inventions, vastly improved transportation, and all kinds of convenience (yet while these conveniences have helped save time, much of the time they saved is now wasted, IMO). For decades, the Cold War dragged on, and in God's good time communism fell, the Berlin Wall came down, Poland and other satellite nations found new freedom. Yet today our country seems less of a democracy than in the past, and Roe v. Wade has not yet been overturned, socialized medicine is making inroads, replacing freedoms with governmental demands. Many needed jobs are still overseas, and uncontrolled immigration is still not solved, as U.S. citizens can no longer count on unity of language. Public schools are required to proselytize our children with a God-less form of universalism which demands tolerance yet is quite intolerant of Christianity. The government was only called to make sure all children had access to a good education, yet the government monopolizes education, and when budget cuts are inevitable, we sacrifice our children's exposure to art and music, even though some may be going into these fields. But even if I could only see the positives, optimism is not the way of the Christian, as we know the realities of Satan (who lurks as a lion, seeking whom he may devour) and his demons, their craftiness, and the world's blindness to their existence. St. Paul is quite clear about the evil in "the ways of the world", and how Christians are not to conform to this. Clearly, we are told that no matter how bad things get (or appear to get), God is still in control, Satan was defeated, death is dead, and God loves His people. The gospel has transformed us, taking us from the prison of spiritual death to new life and freedom, and we have been trusted to carry this Great News forward to others who dwell in darkness. But, overall, will the wickedness of future years, decades and centuries get more and more evil (unprecedented), and will persecution of God's people become as it was in the first century (a.D.) or worse? How could you explain this to us in relation to Amillennialism, to a generation who has largely been exposed to Premillennialism? Some talk of a required implanted chip with health records as if it were the "mark of the beast." Some seek to stockpile food to prepare for a period of unprecedented persecution. Amillennialists recognize that Christ could come back ANY day, and that nothing more needs to be fulfilled before the parousia. Could you please further explain this, contrasting Biblical eschatology to the dominant eschatology of the day, rampant in much of 21st century Protestantism, helped along by Hal Lindsey, the Left Behind books & movies, etc.? I appreciate your help here. You wrote, "Will things get worse? Sure. The "signs of the end" are always intensifying." I remember being told the world was going into another ice age, yet some herald "global warming" as a threat to our coastlands, and arctic habitats! I understand that there is to be an increase in natural disasters, but how will things get worse in other ways? When I was growing up, the thought of a one-world government was pure science-fiction, yet there are many who push for just that. Christians should not expect material prosperity beyond God providing for our daily bread. But how bad could persecutions really get here? And please return us to the comfort of God in Christ.

Dear __: How will things get worse? Your guess is surely at least as good as mine. But Holy Scripture makes abundantly clear that the world is not "curing" her problems -- not by a long shot. One of the big problems is that we all tend to think that we know so much about time AND eternity based on our relatively insignificant span of time. Example: So I live to be 100 years old (highly doubtful). What difference does my one life make in the greater scheme of things? I live, I sin, I am forgiven (by God's grace in Christ), and then I die. What changed? The only ways in which i might influence the future is by the faithful witness of faith in Christ which God may use to influence (an)other(s) -- so that the whole concept of Christian vocation becomes a central theme of my existence. Sure, every so often some bright shining star bursts upon the scene for a short lifetime and that person's life leaves a lasting influence (Luther for one) -- but in truth, unless that bright shining star changes things for eternity (as did Luther b/c he spoke, preached, taught and wrote of the things which are eternal), it has only changed things, at the most, for the short time of this world, a world which will come to an end. Some passages to contemplate in this regard: Romans 8:18ff. and 2 Cor. 5:1ff. There are others, but if you try to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest these very plain scriptures, they will remind you (and me) of how very frail our short existence is. I suppose that, speaking for myself, whenever I imagine what a difference my life ought to make in the greater scheme of things, I am being a bit (OK, a lot) vain. The global warming, new ice age, and blah blah blah debate is a classic example. People think that WE are such a big influence on the life of the planet. But those who closely study history note that the planet tends to cycle through things, or at least that seems to be the indication of science (I'm not a scientist so I cannot speak with the authority with which others speak). Who knows what will come? My grandparents (3 of whom I never ever met but at whose graves, in Lutheran cemeteries, I have stood) could not imagine just my mp3 player on which I listen to Issues, Etc. and other great stuff -- shoot, I didn't imagine such a thing 30+ years ago when I was admitted to the Pastoral Ministry (and I remember a secretary who REALLY did not want to give up her typewriter for 'one of those new computers' when i told her that it was the future -- that was a little over just 20 years ago). Imagine what else will change! I am as concerned as the next guy (probably more b/c I tend to worry -- may Christ continue to forgive me for that) about what governmental changes are coming to us and to our children and grandchildren, but even a cursory reading of especially the minor prophets will demonstrate how God picks up one nation and uses it to punish another, and how He changes the whole course of world history in the blink of an eye. I share some of the concerns of the Christians who get all worked up about chips being implanted. BUT, I also like 'plastic money" (debit cards) even though some fundamentalist Christians have warned against it for years (and likely will continue). I remember, in the very early '80's, when attending the MO. State Fair (at Sedalia in case you care), being behind fundies who had a hissy when the guy tried to rubber stamp their hand so they could be readmitted if they returned to the parking lot during the day ("Oh, God, it's the mark of the beast...."). All of that to say that i don't know altogether what to worry about b/c it seems like there's new stuff coming along all of the time -- and deadly serious stuff, but there are issues which remain the same: sins against the 10 Commandments, including adultery, a generally low regard for marriage, abortion (THE great moral failing of our age!), homosexuality, abusing our neighbors, turning our backs on God and His word, false doctrine, etc., etc. The premillenialists and postmillenialists and dispensationalists all misread Holy Scripture which is truly amillenialistic as that term is commonly understood. The 1,000 year reign of the gospel is a perfect number (10 x 10 x 10, aka 10 to the third power) and is the rule of the Gospel era -- not necessarily a literalistic 1000 year reign. Rather, at the end of time (as we know it), Christ will visibly return on the clouds of glory, the time of grace will be over, He will send His angels to gather the elect, and we will be with Him in the new heaven and new earth (whatever that will be like). I've heard some pastors try to describe the new heaven and the new earth as being in (a) new dimension(s) -- that seems plausible to my incredibly puny, finite mind. So I am driven back, again, to the things which do not change: God's mercy in Christ (but be sure to read 2 Cor. 6:1ff. lest you or I think that the day of grace will never end); Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebr. 13:8); God stands above time (2 Peter 3:1-13 is EXCELLENT commentary -- and note how succinctly the psalmist affirmed it in Psalm 90:2 and other psalms). In fact, in all of my contemplation, I try not to wander from these truths (alas, but I sometimes do) which do not change, for they are the truth of my salvation in Christ my Lord. I'm pretty sure that you already know this stuff but would just like to hear a pastor reaffirm it for you -- I'm delighted, frankly, to do so for you or anyone else. I think that a lot of Lutherans and other Christians have these kinds of questions but they never get around to asking them -- I wish they would so that they could be comforted and learn to live out their lives in humble faith in Christ, being fed by Him in His Word and Sacraments, and serving Him by serving their neighbors humbly. The Lord bless you and yours for Holy Week and bring you with humble joy to blessed Easter and the culmination of all our hopes! Again, I pray that this is helpful to you . . . .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Augsburg Confession Article XV: Traditions

PLEASE NOTE: This post is part of my continuing effort to educate myself and the members of the congregation which I serve about how very practical the Augsburg Confession is for our current day and theological climate. As its message and themes were valid in 1530 Germany, so its message and themes remain valid and important in 2009 U.S.A. It is my prayer that this short exposition will also be of some salutary use to you also, dear reader. To read the original article in the October 2009 issue of our parish newsletter, you may go to: http://f1.grp.yahoofs.com/v1/oI7vSmbVqET4rfLqnmDPBxXKz6V5DUYx1yQc1rbxa626ysbEeF9tAO0hnYRSm_WGNFPETdHNSVRCRvbDK7cBdg/NEWSLETTER.OCTOBER.2009.pdf . /s/ Pastor ajw



The Augsburg Confession
“Chief Articles of Faith”
Article XV — Church Ceremonies


NOTE: Immediately below is Article XV itself . . .

Our churches teach that ceremonies ought to be observed that may be observed without sin. Also, ceremonies and other practices that are profitable for tranquility and good order in the Church (in particular, holy days, festivals, and the like) ought to be observed.

Yet the people are taught that consciences are not to be burdened as though observing such things was necessary for salvation (Colossians 2:16-17). They are also taught that human traditions instituted to make atonement with God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. So vows and traditions concerning meats and days, and so forth instituted to merit grace and to make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the Gospel. +

In Concordia The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, there is this “forward” which is intended to help first time readers of the Augsburg Confession understand the context in which it was written:

“Lutheranism embraces the good historic traditions of the Church, especially those of the Western Church. These include such things as following the pattern of the Church year, lectionary readings from the Bible, a liturgical order of worship, various festival days, vestments worn by clergy, and the use of candles, crucifixes, and other objects. As this article makes very clear, in the Lutheran Church, rites, decorations, or traditions are never used or followed to appease God’s wrath or to earn the forgiveness of sins. Lutheranism removed from the Church useless and harmful traditions such as monastic vows and insisting on certain foods on certain days. (See also Ap XV; SA III XV; FC Ep X and SD X.)(Source: CONCORDIA The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. p. 64. © 2005, CPH, St. Louis, MO.)


“CORE VALUES: HARMFUL TRADITIONS”


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord . . .

TRADITIONS! Are they good? Are they bad? What makes the difference?

Does your family have the tradition of gathering with other members of your family on Christmas Day? Most of us would agree that is a good tradition. BUT, if your family gathers to celebrate Christmas Day by stealing the hubcaps off of your neighbors’ cars; well, that would be a bad tradition.

Traditions can be good or bad. They can sometimes be good and sometimes be bad. This is especially true in the holy Christian Church. Read on, please . . .

+ + +

ARTICLE XV: Church Ceremonies

The Lutheran reformers inherited a BUNCH of traditions from Catholicism of their day. There were certain ways of doing things which were traditional. Examples would include, but would certainly not be limited to, things like how to fold your hands, how to posture yourself when approaching the altar, how to make the sign of the cross over yourself, and things like that.

They also inherited the tradition of having worship services on certain days besides just Sundays. They inherited the tradition of rosaries which, with their beads, could serve as a handy reminder and as a handy outline for praying. They even inherited some dietary traditions.

Considering those traditions, the thing that the Lutheran reformers absolutely insisted on (and we MUST insist on it in our day) was: do traditions [1] serve the Gospel? and [2] build people up in the holy Christian faith?

SO . . . when they were preparing the Augsburg Confession (to demonstrate that the “Lutherans” were not merely an impious group of troublemakers), they drafted Article XV on the subject of “Church Ceremonies.” Please go read that Article XV on p. 3 of this newsletter before you go on. Thank you . . . .

+ + +

The “WHY?” Question . . .

It is terribly important that, in the things which go on in the Church (the local congregation!), we always ask “Why?” In fact, the Passover Meal which the Old Testament church celebrated until the coming of Christ was a meal which, with its unusual setting and unusual foods (bitter herbs, unleavened bread, etc.), was designed to cause especially the children to ask “Why?” The liturgy of that meal came to be prepared so that a child would regularly ask “Why?” and then the father of the household, as the teacher, could answer and explain the meaning of the meal to the whole family over and over again.

The “Why?” question was what was very much on Luther’s mind when he wrote the Small Catechism (intended to teach adults so that they could teach the children) the “What does this mean?” of Christian doctrine.

“Why?” the hymns? “Why?” the liturgy? (Join us on the Sundays in the basement Bible Class starting in October for the answer to that one.) “Why?” worship on Sundays? “Why?” weekly worship? “Why?” Sunday School and Bible Classes? “Why?” crosses and candles and bowing and making the sign of the cross? “Why?” the midweek worship services during Advent and Lent? “Why?” the Church calendar?

If we in the Church cannot “make the case” for the “Why?” of our traditions, customs, and ceremonies, then we had better re-examine them to be sure that they do (or not) three things: [1] that they do conform to Holy Scripture; [2] that they do serve souls for the sake of the Gospel; and [3] that they do not substitute our work for Christ’s holy work! You should also know that your pastor fully welcomes your “Why?” questions and is (mostly) prepared to answer them!

+ + +

When You MUST Say “NO!” to Tradition!

As a Christian, you are required to say “No!” to any tradition which violates the above two criteria. Consider this example as just one example:

Do Midweek Worship Services during Advent and Lent meet the above criteria? [1] They certainly are not against Scripture; [2] as the Law and Gospel are preached there and all of the Holy Scripture is expounded upon there, they serve souls; and [3] if they always point to Christ and His work for our salvation, they are ok; BUT, in the event that the impression is implied or explicitly given that by attending midweek services you are somehow meriting favor with God, then you must say NO.

What?! OK, a further word of explanation is truly in order. . . .

Attending worship is good for your soul. It calls you to repent of your sins when the Law is preached to you. Thanks be to God, it strengthens your faith when the Gospel is preached to you. However, worship is NOT an act by which you garner any favor with God. If you worship God thinking that He now “owes me one,” then you have another think coming! There are bunches of Bible passages in which God says that He expected sacfices and burnt offerings in the Old Testament (for the O.T. sacrifices and burnt offerings were always to point the people to the coming Savior!). But there are other places where God plainly says that He does not want those burnt offerings (“Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to Me.” - Jeremiah 6:20) BECAUSE the people’s hearts were not given to Him. God wanted His Old Testament people to worship Him properly; just going through some motions by which they thought they might manipulate Him was NOT worship. See?

So, similarly, we should attend Sunday worship services but NOT thinking that, by coming to Church, we merit salvation. That would turn worship into merely our gift to God and would ignore the wonderful truth that worship is primarily about God bringing His gifts to us!

Eating fish on Friday’s was a custom in many Roman Catholic households. That practice was not restricted to only Friday’s during Lent; rather, it was every Friday, all year long. It was a salutary practice insofar as it was a kind of fast. By not eating meat on Friday’s, folks were supposed to be reminded that our Lord Christ died on a Friday. That is a very good thing to remember. But when the tradition becomes important in itself, it is no longer of salutary (for our souls’ good) purpose.

Making the sign of the cross is likewise a very good thing to do. “I am baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” is what we are saying to ourselves when we make the sign of the cross. I as your pastor am glad to see more and more of our members freely making the sign of the cross. I even encourage making the sign of the cross and have taught it to our confirmands. BUT, no one may dare to insist on making the sign of the cross. Nor should anyone make fun of another who makes the sign of the cross. Nor should anyone think him-/herself more of a Christian if s/he makes (or not) the sign of the cross. It serves our faith. It does not give us faith. It does not make us “more righteous” with God or before others.

The pre-worship light suppers which we customarily serve in our congregation are a wonderful tradition which I, for one, applaud. They serve our members who will attend worship later that evening. But if it happens that people come to the church for the meal and then ignore the worship service, or skip worship in order to prepare or clean up from the meal, then the meal has taken on the wrong significance.

+ + +

And the point is . . .

. . . since the local congregation is supposed to distribute (properly!) God’s holy means of grace, the congregation must be careful that her time-honored traditions always serve souls by serving the Gospel to souls. May it ever be that Godly traditions may be properly observed for souls’ good! This is our prayer . . .

. . . In Christ,
/s/ Pastor Wollenburg

Thursday, August 27, 2009

CORE VALUES: Properly Prepared Pastors

This article, prepared for the monthly newsletter of his parish, is a continuation in a series of articles on “core values” of the Christian faith. The articles of the Augsburg Confession were those “core values” of which the Lutheran reformers wrote when given the chance to prove that, far from an upstart sect, the “Lutheran” reformers were actually directly in step with the early Christian Church. It behooves Christians in our day and age to learn and to reaffirm these same “core values.” Immediately below is Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession. At the very end of this post is the introduction to Article XIV of AC which is written in Concordia The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.

The Augsburg Confession
“Chief Articles of Faith”
Article XIV — Order in the Church




Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call. +

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord:

Another of the “core values” of the reformers is/was that there should be properly prepared pastors to watch over and serve the flock of God. Where a pastor is improperly prepared for his task, he will act more like a CEO or a kind of pope in all matters. It is a safeguard for the individual soul and for the Christian congregation to have a properly trained and properly called pastor! Yes, it is good for him, too, but it is primarily for the good of the individual Christian, the Christian congregation, and the whole Christian Church! Read on, please . . .




ARTICLE XIV: Order in the Church



“But why can’t we just put an add in one of our Lutheran papers? Then pastors could give us their resume’s, we could interview them, and decide who we are going to hire to be our pastor! It makes sense to me!”

While it is unfortunately true that some of our Lutheran congregations are doing just that, and while at some level it does make perfect sense to secure a new pastor in that way, it also has pitfalls! What if a pastor deceives the calling congregation? What if a pastor tells a congregation that, because he is so good, they are going to have to give him more money than they might give to a ‘lesser quality” pastor? Can you see how some congregations might get “the cream of the crop” while others would imagine that they were getting the “dreg” which collect at the bottom of your coffee cup? Can you imagine, then, how congregations might not value their pastors properly? Can you imagine how pastors might start to compete with one another for “good” positions?



While it is certainly true that some of those attitudes will exist because we are sinners in a fallen world, nevertheless the Christian congregation should do everything in its power to negate such attitudes! Congregations and pastors should seek, in every way, to see to it that the Gospel is properly preached, and that souls receive proper pastoral care.



Immortal Souls and “Church”



The “Church” is the local congregation which God the Holy Spirit has brought together (see Dr. Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed — If you do not have your Small Catechism handy, you can view this on p. 8 at https://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/LCMS/smallcatechism.pdf ). The “church” is made up of those souls for whom Christ died who believe in Him and are fed by His Word and Sacraments.

All souls are immortal in that all people will go on forever in either heaven or hell. These souls are not to be taken for granted. These souls are not to be trampled upon. These souls are to be nutured so that they will remain in the true Christian faith and be in heaven forever! (John 20:19-23, John 21:15-17) (For a largely excellent discussion of “church,” go to: http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/CTCR/theofellow.pdf .)



Properly Trained Ministers and Immortal Souls



So who SHOULD do the public teaching of these immortal souls? The Pastor, obviously! He cannot do all of the private teaching because he does not put your children to bed at night or sit with your family at the breakfast and supper table where your family might have a short devotion. But he is not to abdicate the public teaching of God’s Word for the same reason that not just any Tom, Dick, or Harry is supposed to teach in the school, namely, you want someone there who is going to get the teaching right. If whole generations of children are mistaught in the public schools, then our whole understanding of the role of government and the like gets changed, and our entire nation would suffer. Similarly, if people are mistaught in the Church, they might actually think that salvation depends upon them, their works, their decision(s), etc.; then, if people consistently believe the wrong teaching, souls could go to hell for eternity! Tragic!

The same holds true for the administration of the Sacraments. Many Christians think that just anyone should be permitted to distribute the Sacraments. All they see is the minister handing out Baptism or doling out bread and wine. But this is not something for just anyone to do. It is given to the Office of him who has been called to perform these functions.

The pastor, by virtue of his training, has been instructed in God’s Word and has learned when to deliver the sacraments and when, sometimes, to withhold them. He has been put in the position of feeding Christ’s sheep much as the shepherd had been put in charge of feeding the sheep. The sheep should not learn to take feed from strangers lest a false shepherd come along and, deliberately or accidentally, poison them by feeding them wrongly.

Perhaps the case can be compared to going to your doctor, dentist, or surgeon, or pharmacist. You do not lest just anyone examine you because they do not know what, precisely, to look for. You will not permit just anyone who says that he has “read up” on appendectomies to perform your appendectomy. You will not permit just anyone to fill or pull a bad tooth. You do not want just anyone to mix up the prescriptions which are supposed to help and heal your body. It just makes good sense and it is ultimately for your good!

So the reformers made the point that not just anyone should publicly teach in the church or administer the Sacraments without a proper call.



Upstart Churches and Upstart Preachers, and Immortal Souls . . .



One can understand the hanky-panky which could take place where ministers are improperly trained. As an example, it was not a new phenomenon when, in the days of the American tent revivals, “ministers” would realize that there was good money to be made in hosting tent revivals where there would be relatively little accountability for offerings brought to such revivals. We do not hereby call into question the sincerity of all traveling revivalists, but history has shown us that some were insincere. This same tendency arose also in the New Testament church (Acts 8:14ff.).

This pastor has been acquainted with “ministers” who have spoken of dreams which they claim to have had so that they have awakened in the morning to quit their present vocations and have presumed to serve the flock of God. In many cases, they had the barest acquaintance with the Word of God. In many cases, they do not meet the Biblical criteria for being a pastor. In most cases, they knew nothing of the original languages of the Bible. In many cases, they attracted a small group, preached for a while, and then their “church” was dissolved, sending immortal souls adrift in many cases no longer (if they ever were!) being catechized in the holy faith. Most claimed to be “non-denominational” and mistaught those who were under their care, substituting their ideas for the Word of God.




Keeping a Pastor Properly, and Immortal Souls



In the liturgy of the Divine Service most well known in Lutheran circles (TLH p. 15, LSB DS 3), the absolution begins thus: “Upon this your confession, I by virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, . . . .” The word “ordained” does not refer so much to the act of ordination as it does to the fact that the pastor has been called in an “ordered/proper way,” that is, he has not participated in attempts to manipulate the process of his call to either the pastoral office or that particular congregation. Therefore, the congregation may be assured that they do not have a “fly by night” pastor but one who has been properly trained and who, they may be reasonably assured, will serve them faithfully because of that proper training.




And the point is . . .



. . . that our Lord Jesus Christ lived His perfect life and suffered His innocent death so that YOU can have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven. He wants faithful pastors to serve as shepherds over His flock.

Because there were those in the Church at the time of the Reformation who had forgotten the importance of a properly prepared and properly called clergy, the reformers wrote this article as they did. The need remains for Christendom today because God has redeemed you, dear reader, . . .
. . . In Christ,
Pastor Wollenburg


In Concordia The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, there is this “forward” which is intended to help first time readers of the Augsburg Confession understand the context in which it was written:
“When this article speaks of a rightly ordered call, it refers to the Church’s historic practice of placing personally and theologically qualifeied men into the office of preaching and teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. This is done by means of a formal, public, and official call from the Church to do so. When this article was presented, it was understaood that a call into the preaching office would be confiormed and formally recognized by means of the apostolic rite of ordination (with prayer and the laying on of hands). (See also Ap XIV; SA III X.) (Source: CONCORDIA The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. p. 64. © 2005, CPH, St. Louis, MO.)