Those marketers targetted the wrong guy

So, I’ve been seeing one particular ad incessantly lately. It’s a fairly generic-looking ad, with the words “Jesus Christ is Lord” in bold letters across the top. Scroll down a little further, and there’s a very heavily tanned woman, under a thick layer of makeup wearing a skimpy halter top. She’s probably in her early 20s. It’s an ad for a certain Christian-themed dating web site I won’t mention by name.

It seems to be targeted advertising. Fine, my religion is no great secret. Most public databases that I’ve queried about myself identify me as a Protestant, and some even peg me as Lutheran too. But there’s this one other little detail that’s even easier to find out than what religion I practice.

I happen to be married. Read more

The LCMS won’t be able to work out its differences in the dark

I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard a journalism professor say, “Don’t ever do something you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.”

It’s worse today. In the 1990s, the news cycle was hours long. Today, with three major cable news channels and the Internet, the news cycle is minutes long, and marching toward real-time.

That’s the problem with Dr. Matthew Harrison’s hope, reported in the Post-Dispatch, to handle the LCMS’s Sandy Hook Vigil controversy “[Internally,] well out of the public spotlight.”
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I do not agree with my church president’s forced apology over Newtown, Conn.

This morning, I read something in the St. Louis-Post Dispatch that disturbed me greatly. I didn’t say anything about it until I had a chance to confirm with my pastor that it is true.

In the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, spoke at an interfaith service designed to give comfort to the community. the Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, of which I am a member and a former employee, forced Rev. Morris to apologize. (I will refer to him as Dr. Harrison throughout because he has earned that degree, not because I agree with what he says. It is possible to acknowledge rank while expressing disagreement.)

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Fred Phelps and the Sermon on the Mount

Fred “God Hates Everyone But Fred Phelps/Thank God for Dead Soldiers” Phelps and a couple of his family member-followers paid St. Charles a visit today. And I thought of him when I read the Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, Matthew 5:11-12.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Suddenly I think I know what motivates them.

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Churches: Don’t run away from tough questions

I’ve seen and heard a growing concern over the phenomenon of “Leavers”–young adults who leave Christianity.  This month, even Christianity Today is talking about it. That’s not really anything new. Growing up, I heard more times than I could count in confirmation class and theology class that some of us would walk away once we graduated. What’s new is the percentage of those who are leaving, and how few ever come back.

Reasons vary. Sometimes it’s Christian beliefs getting in the way of how we want to live. Sometimes it’s the church hurting us. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. By all rights, I should have been one who left and never came back. The reason is in the article, but I think it’s glossed over. Read more

A story of baseball, drugs, vengeance and redemption

I saw a familiar name that I hadn’t heard in a long time–years, probably–mentioned on a Royals fan site.

Lonnie Smith.

Lonnie Smith was a talented but troubled outfielder who rose to prominence while playing for Whitey Herzog’s 1982 St. Louis Cardinals. He could run like nobody’s business and he was a fearsome hitter on top of that, but he also had a drug problem.In 1985, Smith had a minor injury and missed the beginning of the season. His bat was diminishing anyway, and the Cardinals had a young guy by the name of Vince Coleman waiting in the wings. Coleman got Smith’s job, and the Cardinals shipped Smith off to the Royals in exchange for John Morris, a prospect who made it to the majors the next year but never became a star.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Smith put up respectable but unspectacular numbers. But the Royals needed someone who could hit between Willie Wilson and George Brett and, like Wilson, run like his hair was on fire when Brett made contact. Smith did that pretty well.

Now, about that drug problem. Smith spent 30 days in rehab in 1983 when he was playing in St. Louis. In 1985, after the World Series, when the players all had a chance to speak, Smith thanked three people specifically. He thanked Royals’ hitting coach Lee May and Royals’ DH Hal McRae for helping him get his hitting stroke back, and Jesus Christ for helping him get off drugs and stay clean.

He stayed clean for about four years.

Smith’s hitting improved the next season in Kansas City, but then history repeated itself, and Smith lost his left field job to another prospect, the two-sport flameout Bo Jackson. Jackson’s 1987 season showed much more promise than it did powerhouse, but the Royals liked what they saw enough that they considered Smith expendable, and they released him in December of that year.

Smith waited for a call from another team interested in giving him a chance, but the phone never rang. Depressed, Smith started taking drugs again. And as the story from earlier this month goes, if the phone hadn’t rung one day with the then-lowly Atlanta Braves offering him one last chance, he might have flown back to Kansas City and tried to murder the general manager who released him.

Instead, Smith signed a minor-league contract with Atlanta and worked his way back into the major leagues. He once again blossomed into a minor star, and earned $7 million in his 6-year comeback tour. Unlike many professional athletes, he saved enough of his fortune that neither he nor his wife have to work today. They live comfortably and he has established trust funds to take care of his kids’ future.

I had never heard the murder plot angle of the Smith story.

The story (linked above) makes for an interesting read. After reading so many stories about ex-Royals with unhappy endings, it’s nice to see a happy ending this time.

Today\’s focus on Christ\’s death is misplaced

I’ve been thinking about Mel Gibson’s upcoming The Passion of Christ. It’s hard not to, with all the publicity drummed up about it, and my church bought two showings of it on opening week and me finding out today that we’ve already sold all of our tickets.

I believe the controversy is misplaced, but I don’t want to dissuade the people who are up in arms about the movie. Keep talking about it. Keep drawing attention to it. That only means that more people will talk about it, and more people will see it. And talking about it and seeing it is exactly what Mel Gibson wants. And talking about Him is exactly what Jesus wanted.

The rest of this post is for the rest of you.This movie is controversial because it deals with the execution of Jesus Christ, which for some reason is always a controversial topic. In the past, it has been used to drum up anti-Semitism for questionable purposes. Christianity is not about anti-Semitism. Need I point out that Jesus was as Jewish as they come? And so were the 12 guys he ran around with for 3 years? So was Paul, the most prolific of the early missionaries.

Christians should know (and I hope they do) that who killed Jesus is irrelevant. Jesus had to die, period. He had to die because that was what God sent Him to do.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it is relevant. I’ll play the game.

Technically speaking, it wasn’t even the Jews of the day who killed Him. They couldn’t. By law, they didn’t have that right. They encouraged the Romans to kill Him, but it was Pilate, the Roman governor, who gave the order, because only Pilate had the right to order the death penalty. It’s no different from someone who hires a hit man to kill somebody. Both the hit man and the person who hired the hit man are guilty.

The Rome of Jesus’ day doesn’t exist anymore, politically speaking. But its tradition, its form of law, and its very philosophy of life lives on in modern Europeans. I’m of European descent, and if you’re reading this, chances are you are too. If the Jew down the street from you is responsible for Jesus’ death, then you are no less guilty.

And that leads us very nicely into where our focus should be. Our focus should not be on who killed Jesus, but rather, why did God send Him to die in the first place?

The reason is very simple. Sin.

Here’s an exercise that I’ve had people do from time to time. I want you to picture the person who has grieved you more than anyone else in life. Remember the pain that person caused you. Now, put that person on trial for what she or he did. The judge hands down the verdict: Death. A horrible death. Crucifixion, to be exact.

So that person who grieved you gets flogged 39 times (40 would kill you), then they strap a big piece of lumber to his/her back and begin the march up the hill. You go along, because you’re going to drive the first nail. About halfway there, the beaten and tired executionee falls. Someone grabs the closest man out of the crowd and makes him carry it the rest of the way. He does so willingly.

And once they get up that hill, just as the executionee is about to have an ugly face-to-face meeting with fate, that man from the crowd cries out, “Wait! I’ll go instead.” And pushing everyone out of the way, He lays down, willingly, on that cross.

That executionee, in some people’s minds I’m sure, is me. In someone else’s mind, that executionee is you. Or my neighbor. Or your neighbor. Because we’ve all hurt somebody, regardless of our intentions or anything else. We’re all guilty.

Jesus died so that you and I wouldn’t have to. And then He drove the point home by coming back from the dead three days later. And Jesus didn’t really focus on His death after coming back. Instead, He talked more about His life, and what His surviving followers were supposed to do next.

Our attitude about Jesus’ death should be like that of Joseph. See Genesis 45. Joseph was the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. The brothers faked his death and sold him as a slave to some traveling Arabs, who in turn sold Joseph in Egypt. Joseph gained favor through the years, and eventually found himself in a position of high power. There was a serious famine, but the shrewd Joseph had been stockpiling food, so during the famine, Egypt was the only country who had anything. Then one day, guess who shows up wanting to buy food from Joseph? His brothers. And guess what Joseph had to say to them?

“God sent me here to save your lives… So it wasn’t you who sent me here, but God.” (my paraphrase of Genesis 45:7-8.)

Just as God meant the horrible thing that happened to Joseph for good, God meant that horrible thing that happened to Jesus for good.

Specifically, for your good and mine.

My well-dressed visitors

One evening early in March–the first really nice day of the year, as I recall–my doorbell rang. My girlfriend was coming over that night, but I didn’t expect her for another 45 minutes or so. I looked out the window and saw two guys in their early 20s, wearing black dress pants, white shirts, ties, and engraved nametags.
I knew instantly who they were representing. I debated whether I should answer the door, but I figured it would be better for them to come in and talk to me than to go knock on my neighbor’s door. My neighbor already has a church and doesn’t need another one, and I really didn’t want these guys trying to convince him otherwise. (For the record, my neighbor’s church isn’t my church and it’s not the same denomination as mine. I just want you to know that.)

They came in and they told me who they were representing. Then they proceeded to tell me that everything I know is wrong. I’ve been told that before. I think the first time was at a U2 concert, but I don’t think they really meant it. At least they didn’t mean everything. I heard it again at college, but their main motivation was to teach me how to think.

They told me a story about a prophet. When this prophet was about their age, he didn’t know what church to go to. So God the Father–this is important–and Jesus Christ appeared to him. They told him a couple of things, and the result of this was the church that the two of them represent.

There’s only one problem with that story. There’s another prophet named Moses. You’ve probably heard of him. He’s the one God handed the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. He also wrote the first five books of the Bible. Among prophets, Moses is in an elite class. When Jesus was transfigured in front of three of his disciples, two prophets also showed up. Those prophets were Moses and Elijah. To those three disciples, who were Jewish, the presence of Moses and Elijah and their submission to him indicated that Jesus was something special.

Well, one of the big reasons that Moses is something special is because he saw God. Once. Only he didn’t get to see God the Father’s face, because it would have killed him. (See Exodus 33:19-23.)

St. Paul was in an elite class of apostles. (According to these two guys, St. Paul was sort of a prophet. Remember the “sort of.”) St. Paul was on his way to Damascus to kill some people (see Acts 9:1-22) when he got interrupted. He got blinded by a light, then he looked up in the sky and saw Jesus. Jesus gave him a talking-to, then Paul went and changed the world.

When God shows up visibly to people, things change. It doesn’t happen very often, so when someone comes along saying he’s seen God, people tend to follow.

But the problem with the story these two guys told me is that it doesn’t mesh up. Moses couldn’t see God’s face because it would have killed him. Paul’s story meshes up with Moses’, because Paul didn’t see God the Father. He saw Jesus. But their prophet saw God the Father.

I pointed out this discrepancy to them. When they left that night, one of them handed me a piece of paper with the verse Acts 7:55 written on it. That’s the story of Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. It says so. So how does that mesh up with the story of Moses and Paul? Five verses later, Stephen was dead.

These two guys put a lot of emphasis on their prophet’s testimony and on their own experience and feelings. I resented their implication that I’d never had an experience with the Holy Ghost. I resented them coming right out and telling me my baptism was invalid. It annoyed me when they told me that neither one of them had read much of the Bible, and they continued to talk down to me even after I told them I had read the Bible in its entirety. On a subsequent visit, one of them told me he very rarely read the Bible because he didn’t like it, but this other book they wanted me to read… He loved that book. That made sense to me though. Americans are very do-it oriented. Give an American male a list of things to do to be successful, and he’ll probably do them. He’ll probably thank you for it. Even if the list is 613 items long. There’s a reason why the self-help section in American bookstores is so big. The book these guys wanted me to read is well-suited for an American audience. While the Bible likes to talk about the things God did for us, this book is full of ideas about things we can do for God.

But the most important thing about that book is the experience and feelings you get when you read it. Let me tell you a little bit about my experience and feelings reading the Bible.

When I was about the same age as these two guys, I began the process of reading the Bible cover to cover. I was questioning everything I knew and everything that had ever happened to me, and that book and what I perceived as the misuse of that book was at the center of those questions. So I read it, looking for answers. I prayed at the same time too. I asked God where I should be going to church, because I didn’t know. He told me where I should go. Not because it was where I wanted to go–I didn’t want to be Lutheran–and not because the LCMS is right about absolutely everything, because they aren’t. When it comes to understanding the needs of a guy in his 20s and resources to help them, the LCMS has a whole lot of nothing. But the LCMS’s specialty is its teachings on grace and forgiveness, which was what I needed more than anything. God knew it, and I know it now, and I needed that message so desperately that I would have listened to the pastor talk through an electric fan if that was what he wanted to do. I returned to the denomination of my youth about a month after I finished the Bible.

These guys talked a lot about feelings. Sure, it was an emotional time. And while you should pay attention to feelings, you also should remember that feelings aren’t infallible. Our emotions can be 100% wrong and totally detached from reality. There are plenty of moments in just about any relationship of a romantic nature can illustrate that vividly.

Four years after I returned to the church body of my youth, I went on a mission trip to a very impoverished part of Florida. I saw the life of one of the teenagers in my small group completely change over the course of a couple of days. If God the Holy Ghost didn’t have a hold on him, then I don’t know who it was. That same week, five or six of us had finished up our task for the afternoon, so we went walking. We came upon a church, and it had become our habit that week to pray for the churches in the area. The prayers were pretty simple and generic: That the area churches would reach out to the community, and that they would have the desire and the ability to meet the needs of the people around them. After we finished, our pastor looked up and saw an elderly woman standing on a second-floor balcony across the street from us. “Are you watching us?” he asked playfully. “Yes I am, sir,” she said, humbly but without any shame or nervousness or timidity in her voice. Pastor asked if he could send a few of us up to her to pray for her. “I’d like that very much, sir,” she said. So I grabbed three guys and we walked up to her apartment. We talked to her for a few minutes, prayed with her for a few more minutes, then talked for a while again. The last thing she said to us is probably something I’ll never forget: “I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit outside when your group walked up to that church, and I just had to step outside and see what was going on out there.”

When my two visitors told me the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is beyond description, I had to agree with them. And I’m sure that the Holy Ghost is working on them, trying to show them the way to truth, and I’m sure they feel that work in their lives. But they have it backwards. To them, the Holy Ghost is their reward for doing the right thing once. To use a baseball analogy, the Holy Ghost is a World Series trophy to them. That’s wrong. Yes, the Holy Ghost is there after you’ve gotten right with God, but only because He was already there. The Holy Ghost isn’t a World Series trophy. The Holy Ghost is the leadoff batter on opening day, and His work never ends until our final breath and the final beat of our heart.

These guys have a lot of things backwards, but I could never convince them to even think about any of that stuff. They’re constantly talking about proving things to God. The only thing we can ever prove to God is our inadequacy, but even that isn’t really proving anything. How can you prove anything to an all-knowing being? Of course, I’m not sure that their god is an all-knowing being.

They never encouraged me to read the Bible. They wanted me to read their book and pray about it. But they wanted a very specific prayer: Pray to know that their book is true. The problem is that when you pray a prayer like that, God may say no, but since you prayed for a yes answer, if some other being comes along posing as God and says yes, that’s the one you’ll listen to.

Truth be told, the ethics of their book aren’t bad. Their book reads much like the books Protestants call the Apocrypha: the books between the Old Testament and New Testament that Catholics and Episcopals accept but Calvinist and Lutheran denominations don’t. If the church these guys represent only believed and taught what was in the Bible and this other book, they’d still be a fringe group but mainline Christianity would have far fewer problems with them.

On the Saturday before Easter, they paid me a visit again. My friend Matt, who’s working on his Master’s of Divinity, happened to be over. They talked to me some more about why my baptism was invalid and theirs is valid: The authority to baptize died with the apostles and wasn’t restored until the 19th century, they said. After a half hour or so of miscommunication, Matt asked me if he could ask a question. I said certainly.

He had them turn to a second book they use–one that I was aware of but didn’t have a copy of–and read a passage from it. That passage stated that the Apostle John never died. (Matt later told me that that belief is a misinterpretation of John 21:20-22. Interestingly, John 21:23 specifically warns against just this interpretation.) But Matt went with their interpretation. Is it true that John never died? Yes, they said. Then the authority to baptize, which disappeared with the death of all the disciples, never left this earth.

The younger of the two was visibly taken aback. The older of the two struggled for a minute, then regained his composure somewhat and changed the subject.

The discussion quickly turned to the Nicene Creed and never veered back to this contradiction. But that very neatly illustrates a problem.

Whenever the Bible appears to contradict itself, it’s due to misinterpretation. Since English is a terribly imprecise language, often the problem comes down to word choice, and reading the verses in question in more than one translation (if you can’t read Biblical Greek and Hebrew) will resolve the issue. Or, often the problem is due to taking verses out of context. Re-read the offending verses in context and in light of similar verses, and the conflict resolves. Biblical prophets do not contradict themselves or one another because they were repeating the words of God, who doesn’t contradict Himself.

Statements such as “The Apostle John never died” are not the words of a prophet. They are the words of someone who didn’t read John 21:23. (Church tradition states that John died in Ephesus around the year 100 AD, at the age of about 94.)

In an early conversation, they told me that God used prophets in the Old Testament to bring people back after they became wicked. They then asked if it doesn’t make sense for there to be a living prophet today. I said no. They were taken aback; I’m certain that usually they get the opposite answer.

I held up my well-worn NIV Bible, then I said something like this: This is a book about relationships and sin. It took several centuries to write. There isn’t a single relationship problem that exists now that didn’t exist then and isn’t mentioned somewhere in here. And sin hasn’t changed. We’d mastered sin by the time this was written. Our need for God hasn’t changed, and what we have to do to be right with God hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s changed since this book was finished is our technology. God’s given us our answers; He doesn’t need to add anything else to it.

I’ve read books written by people who claim to have the gift of prophecy. But their revelations from God mostly affect them and the people directly around them, and they make no other claims about the messages they receive. They’re also incredibly short. And, most importantly, they don’t contradict scripture. In fact, many of them are simply restatements of scripture.

But when I’ve run across someone claiming infallibility, it usually hasn’t taken long for them to say things that do contradict scripture, such as that statement about the Apostle John. Verses such as Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and 2 Peter 3:16 have harsh words about these kinds of people.

Before they left angrily, one of them asked Matt what his motive was. Their motive, they said, was the truth. Matt said his motive was the truth. Have you read it?, one of them asked, holding up his secondary book. Matt said he had, and he was in the process of reading it cover to cover now. They each agreed that the other needed to find the truth (the less experienced of the two visitors didn’t say much and left looking shellshocked)and that was the end of it.

I see two major problems. The first is the assertion that the Bible isn’t enough. That opens the door to all sorts of crazy things. The second problem, just as bad, is the overemphasis on self and de-emphasis of God. Virtually every sentence they said began with the words, “You need to” or “We need to.” But it’s God working in us that enables us to do things. And in my experience, often when God’s working in us, we don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing, and it’s only after the fact that it makes sense. That doesn’t happen when your motive is to prove something to God though.

It’s been a couple of weeks now, and they haven’t called me or stopped by. I hope some of the truth has sunk in. But it usually takes a while.

Where are we now?

It’s September 11, and I’m mad.
I’m not mad at the government for not finding Osama Bin Laden. The government sent him running. He’s weaker today than he was a year ago. I can be patient about the day he finally gets sent to the universe’s highest court.

I’m not even certain that I’m mad at Bin Laden. One of my college professors said you can’t get mad at a dog for barking. That’s what dogs do. Can I get mad at a raving lunatic with money and a bunch of guns and no guts for brainwashing some of his henchmen and making them hijack some airplanes on suicide missions? Just as dogs bark, that’s what raving lunatics with money and a bunch of guns and no guts do.

But given the opportunity, I’d still shoot him. Nothing personal. It’s my duty to my country. Raving lunatics with money and a bunch of guns and no guts brainwash henchmen into hijacking planes and slamming them into buildings. Patriotic Americans protect their fellow countrymen against enemies of the state.

No, what I’m mad about is the headline I read this morning that said church activity is back down to its pre-9/11/01 levels.

Osama Bin Laden hit a really easy pop-up to Christianity. And we fumbled it, let it squirt out of our glove. And then we didn’t even bother to run after the ball afterward and catch him off guard.

“This is not what the beautiful religion of Islam is about,” some said after 9/11. Here’s what the beautiful religion of Islam is all about: Do a bunch of deeds. When you die, Allah might let you into heaven. There is no assurrance. No security. You live your life, doing deeds, hoping it’s going to be enough.

Christianity can be summed up in two verses:

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will never die, but have eternal life. –John 3:16

I write these words to you who have believed in Him so that you may know that you have eternal life. –1 John 5:13

It’s not about deeds because it’s not about you. Believe in Jesus Christ, then let Him work in you. Deeds follow. But the deeds don’t get you into heaven–the deeds are just confirmation that you’re going to heaven. You’re saved before you’ve done your first good deed. Remember the story of the crucifixion? The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. And Jesus said, “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.” How many good deeds do you think that thief did between the time he said that and the time he died? He didn’t exactly have the ability, did he?

Christianity offers all the beauty of Islam, and then some.

After Sept. 11, Rudy Giuliani invited speakers from all faiths to attend a community prayer event at Yankee Stadium. A number of Christian speakers showed up. None of them mentioned Jesus. I guess they didn’t want to offend anyone. But without Jesus, Christianity is just another religion. Why would anyone want to have anything to do with it? I wouldn’t.

Well, actually one of the speakers did mention Jesus. His name was Dr. David Benke, a Lutheran pastor from New York City who also serves as president of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Dr. Benke’s reward for doing the right thing–offering comfort and support to the grieving people around him who desperately needed it, and not just offering any comfort and support, but the very best comfort and support this world has ever had to offer in the form of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–was to be brought up on charges of unionism. Unionism is a fancy Christianese word that means watering down Christianity and making all religions look equal.

LCMS has been fighting amongst itself ever since. On one hand, you have evangelical-minded people like Dr. Benke and LCMS president Dr. Jerry Kieschnick who have dedicated their careers and their lives to reaching as many people as possible with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. On the other hand, you have so-called “Confessional” Lutherans who talk mostly about something called “doctrinal purity.”

“Doctrine” is Christianese that can be roughly translated into “what you believe.” Confessionals like to use a lot of Christianese language. I have no idea why. And to be honest, if I were to take what my evangelical-minded pastor believes, write it down, and put it in a hat along with what Confessionals like LCMS First Vice President Daniel Preus and LCMS Second Vice President Wallace Schultz believe, you and I wouldn’t know the difference.

Now, maybe evangelical-minded Lutherans are more lax about what they require someone to believe. If you’re right about John 3:16 and understand that what Jesus did is the only reason you can go to heaven (and for that matter, the only reason you have any value whatsoever), you’re going to heaven. And an evangelical-minded person is more interested in getting as many people as possible right about that point than about making sure a smaller number of people believe the right thing about everything.

Yes, we have different priorities.

But I don’t think confessional Lutheranism is about doctrinal purity. It’s more about control. These are the hymns you may sing. This is what your church service is going to look like on any given day. These are the topics you are going to preach about each Sunday for the next year.

Unfortunately, you cannot anticipate the needs of the people around you months and years in advance. Different people in different places at different times have different needs.

The greatest treasure of Lutheranism is not that great hymnal we have. You can tell because it doesn’t seem like anyone can agree which of our many hymnals is the great hymnal we have.

The greatest treasure of Lutheranism is the greatest treasure of Christianity: The teaching that God wanted to save you in order to spend eternity with you, so He did anything and everything it would take to make that happen, in the form of sending Jesus Christ to come show us how to live, then die for us and rise again. That resurrection, and the deeds we do once we start to believe in it, are our 100%, iron-clad, unshakable assurrance that we are going to heaven.

In Christianese, that’s salvation and grace.

After Sept. 11, that was the message the confused masses needed to hear. A few churches heard the call and ran with it. Others responded to it the way they respond to everything: With a confusing message only a committed, longtime Christian would understand.

But the committed, longtime Christian was the last person who needed that. Jesus did not come for the healthy.

One man dared to stand up and challenge the convention of being a doctor for the healthy. Dr. David Benke accepted the invitation and preached the gospel to all who would listen at Yankee Stadium. He is now standing trial in his denomination for that dastardly deed. LCMS has now been called the Taliban of American Christendom in the press. Is this what we want to be known for?

Our willingness to compromise the Gospel, our unwillingness to meet the needs of the unchurched, and our eagerness to throw bricks at one another are the reasons why Christianity in this country grew for a short while after Sept. 11, then dropped back to its previous levels. Meanwhile, Islam grew.

A large number of LCMS churches are doing special services today, in rememberance of the events of a year ago. Many of them promise to be beautiful services, with high liturgy and beautiful hymns. I won’t be going.

One LCMS church is hosting an inter-denominational prayer gathering, where large numbers of Christians with gather and, for a day, put their differences aside and pray for this country and for American Christendom.

There might be some non-believers there, wondering about what this Christianity thing is and what it means, and asking some really hard questions. I hope so, at least. I want to talk to them.

That church might be disciplined for allowing such an event to take place on its grounds. I might be disciplined for taking part in it.

If that happens, I’ll take comfort in 1 Peter 4:19, as I hope Dr. Benke and Dr. Kieschnick do:

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

My spiritual journey

I guess this is as good of a time as any to write my spiritual autobiography. It’s not as long of a story as some–years of apathy have ways of shortening stories.
I guess I could sum up my current state in a couple of lines: Reach the world. Work within the system and change it from within.

Here’s how I got there. Read more

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