There is Only Today

It’s an extra day. The world lengthened just a few hours, a 29th in a world of 28ths, an eighth day in a week.

What to spend this extra day doing? For most of us it’s just the same: work and the usual Wednesday commitments. The same old same old grind. And its February.

But it’s another thing. It’s “Today.” It is the day of salvation. Heaven and earth, angels and demons hang on this day and your soul is living or dying. It is a time of rebellion or a time of repentance, of dying or rising. The cross is here and the tomb is here and the ladder to heaven is hanging before our eyes. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow does not exist. For God and for salvation it is Today. Always today.

And it can be today for you as well, if you take your mind off the cemented past. It can be today for you if you take your mind off the psychic future in its occluded blackness. There is today, the day of salvation, the day of repentance, the day of faith, the day of resurrection.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,

for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Heb 4:7-10 ESV)

 

 

“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, (Heb 3:7-8 NAS)”

Specific and Particular

I am called to particulars. I serve and minister to particulars. A pastor is called to such-and-such congregation and those actual, living, breathing people there in the pews and walking in the doors. There are no generic congregations, and there are no generic Christians, and there is no such thing as generic people. God’s Law is proclaimed and applied to that person, sitting right there, and the death of Christ is for this person’s salvation, sitting right there.

This is how God works–He gives His eternal Word, but not in a vacuum. He gives it to this or that person, each one. This is the way God works. He became man–but not men, or humanity: Jesus is a guy. A dude. With a Mom, holy and virgin, but Mom nonetheless. God is particular. Choosy, even, but not discriminating. He’s choosy and particular with each and every one of us. Christ, the man, Son of Mary, does not deal with us as people, but as a person. Me. You. And what I need from Him, whether Law or Gospel is different than what you need, when and where and how. At Seminary they called this”The Scandal of the Particular.” God is not a vague, effervescent God, but a particular, specific God.

So the pastor does not preach against “grumblers” but this grumbler and that  complaint. He does not forgive “sins” but your sins. That actual thing you did. This is what we need. Not sermons railing against “those problems out there” but calling you and me to repentance. Not vague “hey, God forgives sin,” but a specific, “God forgives you for that sin.” This is far better.

Does Pastor Have an Opinion?

“How does Pastor feel about that? Does he have an opinion about it?”

Such a loaded question! Yes, you can be sure pastor does have an opinion about it. Pastors are human; we have opinions about having opinions and more opinions about not having opinions. Of course we have our own ideas and expectations.

But the pastoral ministry means realizing that you have opinions about half of everything and of those, half you really feel strongly about. Half of those may be things that need to be addressed sometime. Half of those things need to be addressed soon, and half of those need to be nipped in the bud. That leaves us at about 3%. That still may be too high. Maybe it’s only 1/4 of things that you have opinions of.

The trick is realizing which half of half of half of half is what, and then being patient on top of that.

President Harrison Goes to Washington

Matthew Harrison, President of the LCMS spoke to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today regarding the HHS decision to mandate contraception and abortificant pharmaceuticals for all heath care providers or insurers. Below is the transcript of his opening remarks. You can also find links to the video of the testimony, including questions and answers and other information at the LCMS Website.

“Mr. Chairman, it’s a pleasure to be here. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a body of some 6,200 congregations and 2.3 million members across the U.S. We don’t distribute voters’ lists. We don’t have a Washington office. We are studiously non-partisan, so much so that we’re often criticized for being quietistic.

“I’d rather not be here, frankly. Our task is to proclaim, in the words of the blessed apostle St. John, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sin. And we care for the needy. We haven’t the slightest intent to Christianize the government. Martin Luther famously quipped one time, ‘I’d rather have a smart Turk than a stupid Christian governing me.’

“We confess that there are two realms, the church and the state. They shouldn’t be mixed – the church is governed by the Word of God, the state by natural law and reason, the Constitution. We have 1,000 grade schools and high schools, 1,300 early childhood centers, 10 colleges and universities. We are a machine which produces good citizens for this country, and at tremendous personal cost.

“We have the nation’s only historic black Lutheran college in Concordia, Selma. Many of our people [who are alive today] walked with Dr. King 50 years ago on the march from Selma to Montgomery. We put up the first million dollars and have continued to provide finance for the Nehemiah Project in New York as it has continued over the years, to provide home ownership for thousands of families, many of them headed by single women. Our agency in New Orleans, Camp Restore, rebuilt over 4,000 homes after Katrina, through the blood, sweat and tears of our volunteers. Our Lutheran Malaria Initiative, barely begun, has touched the lives of 1.6 million people in East Africa, especially those affected by disease, women and children. And this is just the tip, the very tip, of the charitable iceberg.

“I’m here to express our deepest distress over the HHS provisions. We are religiously opposed to supporting abortion-causing drugs. That is, in part, why we maintain our own health plan. While we are grandfathered under the very narrow provisions of the HHS policy, we are deeply concerned that our consciences may soon be martyred by a few strokes on the keyboard as this administration moves us all into a single-payer … system. Our direct experience in the Hosanna-Tabor case with one of our congregations gives us no comfort that this administration will be concerned to guard our free-exercise rights.

“We self-insure 50,000 people. We do it well. Our workers make an average of $43,000 a year, 17,000 teachers make much less, on average. Our health plan was preparing to take significant cost-saving measures, to be passed on to our workers, just as this health-care legislation was passed. We elected not to make those changes, incur great cost, lest we fall out of the narrow provisions required under the grandfather clause. While we are opposed in principle, not to all forms of birth control, but only abortion-causing drugs, we stand with our friends in the Catholic Church and all others, Christians and non-Christians, under the free exercise and conscience provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

“Religious people determine what violates their consciences, not the federal government. The conscience is a sacred thing. Our church exists because overzealous governments in northern Europe made decisions which trampled the religious convictions of our forebearers. I have ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War. I have ancestors who were on the Lewis and Clark expedition. I have ancestors who served in the War of 1812, who fought for the North in the Civil War – my 88-year-old father-in-law has recounted to me, in tears many times, the horrors of the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, Bud Day, the most highly decorated veteran alive, is a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

“We fought for a free conscience in this country, and we won’t give it up without a fight. To paraphrase Martin Luther, the heart and conscience has room only for God, not for God and the federal government. The bed is too narrow, the blanket is too short. We must obey God rather than men, and we will. Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences. Thank you.”

The Philosophy of Lutheran Sermons

Lutheran sermons don’t just teach you what the Bible means. Lutheran sermons are not intended to give you simple information. They are not for instruction purposes. Oh sure, we do instruct and explain the word of God. We tell you what the parables mean, and who the central players are, and what some of the background of the text is. But this isn’t the primary purpose of the Lutheran sermon, just like the primary purpose of Scripture is not to give information*. The primary purpose of the Lutheran sermon is to confront you with the word of God. The Lutheran sermon is experiential–or existential of that other word gives you heartburn. The Lutheran sermon is an experience of being shown, or exposed to, or receiving the Spirit of Christ. It is hearing that word of God and the law of God striking your heart and showing you your sins. It is also hearing that gospel– that great good news of Jesus Christ and knowing and receiving the forgiveness of sins which only comes through his merciful blood shed for you.

The Lutheran sermon is the application of law and gospel to your heart. It is more the work of prophecy or of a prophet than it is the work of the teacher. It is the work of a prophet in revealing the word of God to you and for your eternal salvation. Revealing the law of God, and showing you your sins. Revealing the gospel of God, and showing you your Savior Jesus Christ. When you hear a Lutheran sermon, your salvation is being worked out.

This is why sometimes you walk away and wonder what the sermons “was about.” It’s often not about anything other than calling your to repentance and faith in the mercy of Jesus Christ. It is about salvation, about repenting for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

 

*More on this in the next post.

Darkness of the Human Heart

Susan Powell went missing on December 7, 2009 after her husband left the home for a sub-zero, spur of the moment camping trip in the middle of the night, only to return later the same day. Joshua Powell was under investigation for her disappearance and presumed murder. He lost custody of his two children in September 2011 after his father was arrested for child pornography and voyeurism charges. He had been living with his son and grandchildren.

On February 12, 2012, Joshua separated his children from a social worker during a supervised visit, locked them in his home and then engineered a gas explosion. Later investigation suggests he took a hatchet to his own children before carbon monoxide poisoning killed him and the children.

How can such things happen?

You can blame demon possession, I suppose. It may not be far afield. You could blame mental illness. You could blame addiction and abuse, perhaps illustrated with the moral deprivation of Joshua’s father. You could blame all these factors and more, but you are still left with a picture of hell itself. The father with a hatchet, in an inferno. It makes your mind reel. It slashes reason away and shatters the supports for our ordered, moral world.

But this is the world. This is the hell that we have created for ourselves, and if not but the mercy of God, this is where we would all burn. We live by illusions that people are basically good, that this world makes sense, that humans basically do good to one another, but all these aphorisms and platitudes form a thin veneer over the dark demons which find harbor in our hearts.

You don’t need to look far to see barbarism and demonism: the atrocities of Abu Grahib, US soldiers who skinned Viet Cong alive, scalpings and the torture of catholics and protestants in England (see Braveheart), the Inquisition, it goes on and on. And if this doesn’t sicken you, consider what our children play on the computer. Watch this video and remember it’s little boys who play these games and watch their brothers play.

What’s the cause? We are fallen and corrupted creatures, turning away from light and life and embracing death and darkness. This is our species. You want to know the miracle? That this doesn’t happen more in this wicked world. You want to know the miracle? That we don’t see more of this stuff all the time happening in our neighborhoods and schools. As much as we deplore Political Correctness and The New Sensitivity and how Offended people are, we live in one of the most human and gentle ages, even considering the massacre of the unborn. We live torture-free lives here in the West, which is more than most people in history can say. That’s the miracle.

And this is the reason I believe in Christ and the resurrection. If my hope were in men, all would be lost. This is my reason for faith in Christ and resurrection. Without this, it’s all meaningless hell.

Fasting Fast Approaching

I haven’t been good about fasting for the past….well, let’s just say a while. But with Lent approaching fast, the fast is fast approaching.

Here is a link to a document I prepared for my congregation. It includes Scripture and the Confessions on the value and command to fast, articles from the Lutheran Witness and the LCMS website, as well as (simplified) guidelines for how and when to fast as we do in the western tradition.

The more modern practice is simply “giving up something” for Lent. This is fine too. In fact, I recommend doing both, if you are able. But only do so slowly and carefully. It is too easy to set your goals too high, fail, and then miss the rest of Lent and the benefits entirely.

Above all, do not get discouraged. Pray and prepare. Talk to you family and spouse. Talk to your pastor about your plans and enlist his prayers and support. But don’t talk to others about it. Don’t advertise to friends and colleagues. Keep it close, and as my Orthodox friends say, “Keep your eyes on your own plate.”

Patience and Evil Deaths

I think it’s sometimes better to be blindsided than to see it coming. To have the future, your fate, your new life or calling come crashing onto you rather than sitting and waiting and waiting for it to arrive, seeing the rain coming and waiting, seeing that train chugging and puffing and grinding in the distance waiting for it to make its way into the station. Waiting is nuts, especially when there’s not a cotton-picking thing you can do about it.

We went through all this last summer, as Marjorie was waiting on this University and that University to decide what she had to do to finish her degree. She made the calls, submitted the applications, did everything she could and meanwhile, we had decisions to make for our family, but everything hinged upon what this and that University would tell her.

Waiting requires patience, and patience is no fun. It would be great if we just got the news without waiting. If we got accepted on the spot. Waiting is no fun. This is why so many people would rather die in their sleep or be hit by a bus than suffer the slow death of COPD or cancer. But they are wrong in this. Our Fathers called this the “evil death” because it comes so suddenly and there is no chance of repentance. When the car crashes or the piano falls, you don’t have a chance to pray, to repent, to say goodbye, to gather your loved ones around and share you faith and hope and love. While it may spare you pain, it doesn’t spare others–not at all. It makes the survivors ache all the more. Rather the blessed death is the one you see coming, the one you wait for and prepare for and say your goodbyes for and pray for.

Patience is a virtue, a gift of the Holy Spirit, and one that is hard-learned, but learned nonetheless. Or hard-received, as the case may be.

So what do you do while waiting, while learning patience? Get on with life, essentially. Pray for patience, but also pray for joy and for nepsis–watchfulness, that you may live each day fully, watchfully, thankfully, mindfully of your life and repentance, of your faith and your blessings, of your vocation and salvation. This is the day the Lord has made.