Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sermon: Epiphany 3 – 2014

26 January 2014

Text: Matt 8:1-13 (2 Kings 5:1-15, Rom 12:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith,” said our Lord Jesus Christ, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.”

Jesus made this remarkable observation about a centurion, a captain in the Roman army.  This man is not a son of Israel.  He has no reason to believe God’s Word.  He doesn’t even believe in his own worthiness for Jesus to come under his roof.  And in spite of all of these liabilities, he comes with faith, a faith in Christ that trumps everything else.

The centurion believes in the power of our Lord to affect a cure for his servant.  He believes, and He doesn’t even have the benefit of a sign.  Unlike the leper whom Jesus made clean, the centurion does not see and feel the laying on of hands.  He has no reason to get involved with the priests and the sacrifices like the children of Israel.  He knows that Jews (like Jesus) made it a practice not to come under the roofs of gentiles.  And yet, the centurion still believes.  He has faith in the power of Jesus in spite of all that could have driven him to despair. 

The centurion may not understand the creation of the world or the giving of the law to Moses, the prophecies of a Savior of the world, or even how the forgiveness of sin works.  He may know nothing about sacrifices and priests and the Lord’s covenant with Abraham.  But the centurion knows one thing: this Jesus, by merely saying the word, has the power to heal his servant.  This Jesus, by having authority to say to say “go” or “come” or “do this” – even to creation, even to the things that cause sickness in this world, and even at a long distance away from the servant who is suffering – the centurion knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus has the power to heal.  And so he asks.

The centurion knows how authority works.  The emperor commands the general, the general commands the captain, the captain commands the sergeant, and the sergeant commands the soldier.  The centurion is a man under authority, and he understands that Jesus is too.

Dear friends, this is a remarkable thing for the centurion to understand.  How could he possibly know that Jesus is a “Man under authority” and yet is a Man who wields authority even over matters of life and death?  For a Man to have authority over life and death, that Man must also be God.  And yet, this Man who is God is also “under authority.”  The soldier sees the two natures of Christ, that He is divine and in control of all matter, and that He is a Man and is under the authority of God.  There is something of the Trinity in this man’s faith, and He surrenders to that mighty power.

This is why Jesus marvels.  Jesus is pleased.  Jesus praises the man’s faith.  And Jesus explains the irony that not even the children of Israel – who have Moses and the law, who have Elijah and the prophets, who have the Scriptures and the Messiah Himself – not even these chosen people, demonstrate this kind of faith.

Jesus uses this opportunity to explain that the kingdom of God is not limited to Israel, for indeed, “many will come from east and west” and will have table fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in heaven.  And this is remarkable, for as the gentile centurion knows, Jews many not enter his home, let alone eat at table with a gentile.  And here, Jesus says the gentiles from across the globe are invited to the table of the patriarchs and prophets.  Like the Naaman the leper who was healed by Elisha, and like the leper who was made clean by the Lord Jesus, even the gentiles, people not given the promise of the Old Covenant, will even be invited to the table of the eternal banquet with the patriarchs. 

Our Lord is not condemning the children of Israel, but is rather pointing out their misguided faith.  They had faith in themselves.  The centurion has faith in Jesus.  The children of Israel sought after a sign.  The centurion seeks after Jesus.  The children of Israel constantly tested Jesus.  The centurion steadfastly trusts Jesus: “Only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Only say the Word…

Dear friends, this is what faith looks like.  The centurion has no power to compel Jesus, but he can ask.  He cannot control the power of Jesus, but he can request with faith and with boldness.  He cannot, by his own strength or worthiness, cure his servant, but he knows that the mere Word of Jesus has just that kind of power and authority.  And the centurion has faith in the Lord’s mercy to answer this prayer, and to do so without a sign, and without an explanation.

Dear friends, this is the faith that saves!  This is the faith that can result in mountains being removed into the sea!  This is the faith that cures the sick and raises the dead, through which comes the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life!  This is the faith that is not centered on us or our own power, but rather admits our helplessness and confesses that all things are under the authority of our all-powerful and all-merciful Lord.

His Word is powerful enough to create the universe.  His Word is powerful enough to cure leprosy.  His Word is powerful enough to make us worthy to share a table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  His Word works upon us poor miserable sinners, we who are unworthy to have Jesus come under our roofs.  “But only say the Word,” Lord Jesus, “Only say the Word and we servants of God will be healed.”

Dear friends, this is perhaps the most comforting passage in the Scriptures.  For here we see the Lord’s mighty power.  He stands over all things: sins in need of forgiveness, sickness in need of healing, death in need of resurrection.  We come to Jesus like the centurion, knowing that whether the Lord says “yes” or “no” to our specific prayer, He has all the power in the universe to make it happen, and He wants us to have eternal life.  There is no higher court of appeals, no-one with more pull to escalate the matter to.  And even though we are unworthy, if Jesus only says the Word, it will be so.

And we know that it is the Lord’s will to heal all men from the wages of sin, from death and from the power of the devil.  This is the prayer of faith, dear friends, and the centurion’s prayer is our prayer: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the word and Your servant will be healed.”  Amen.


on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Goals! Devotional and Educational Reading for 2014, etc.

Last year, I read an article that mentioned a book by self-help guru Brian Tracy called Goals(also available in Kindle format).  I was intrigued enough to buy the e-copy and give it a read.

We Lutherans tend to be smugly skeptical of self-help books, programs, and speakers, because there is so much of this kind of stuff "playing church" out there - supposedly Christian books teaching you how Jesus can help you to have a whiter smile, better breath, bigger hair, a faster private jet, health, wealth, and fame in just seven easy steps - that I think we have a healthy (or sometimes not so healthy) cynicism toward any hint that we can improve ourselves.  We certainly don't want to be accused of denying original sin or not placing the Doctrine of Justification at the front and center, so we typically don't even try to improve ourselves (an endeavor with which the sinful flesh is ever eager to assist).

In fact, the Rev. William Weedon may be on the trajectory to canonization for taking slings and arrows from many of his Lutheran brethren who see his enthusiasm for being healthy and fit to be scandalously un-Lutheran, bordering on the worship of Baal or siding with the French in the Franco-Prussian war.

Well, that's the caricature, anyway.

In spite of my Lutheran scruples, I found the Tracy book (as well as another book of his called No Excuses!) to be intriguing.  The gist of the Goals! book can be found here.

Our own auto-educational program here at Chez Hollywood has included the One Year Bible for several years now, and it is the foundation of our home study and family devotions (along with the LSB family prayer cards from CPH).  We typically add another reading of some sort, before or after COSEMP (the Caffeinated Order of Scrambled Eggs and Morning Prayer) - and the nature of the lection has been wide and varied over the years, e.g. spiritual authors such as Augustine, Chesterton, Pascal, and Lewis, etc. along with the pursuit of academic interests, such as the Free Market newsletter and political, philosophical, and economic thinkers by way of articles, essays, and various other books and podcasts.

For this year's devotional readings, we decided to take up the bibliography given by the Rev. Dr. Joel D. Biermann of Concordia Seminary - St. Louis as part of his course called "Woman and Man According to God's Plan" (we attended an abbreviated version of the lecture series last year in Pensacola).  We also listened to the entire lecture series on a subsequent road trip (available free of charge at iTunes University as video and audio).

Disclaimer: I heartily endorse Dr. Biermann's treatment of the vocation of male and female according to the order of creation, but I completely disagree with his views of government.

Anyway, given that the issue of the roles of the sexes is "the" issue in society, in the Church at large, and even the source of great disagreement within the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (which I would refer to as the GMWO issue: gay 'marriage' - women's 'ordination'), we have decided to systematically read through all of the texts referenced in Dr. Biermann's lectures - some of which are theological, some secular.

Here is the list (dates refer to publication):

Since it was available electronically, we started with Eggerichs's Love and Respect right off the bat.  The author is a Ph.D. and an ordained Protestant minister who spent many years serving as a pastor.  We both found his book remarkably illuminating - even as we celebrate our 20th anniversary next month.  We would love to have had this book when we were first married.  Today's feminist culture virtually assures that men and women go into marriage brainwashed that there are no fundamental differences between the sexes other than the obvious plumbing, and to the really radical, perhaps admitting some very slight difference in upper body strength (although TV shows and movies have largely taught us that women and men are even identical in regards to physical strength, Girl Power and all that).

We highly recommend Dr. Eggerich's book for married people, engaged couples, and anyone who might want to be married.  I recommend the book also to pastors.  It is a scriptural treatment of how husbands and wives can better communicate with one another, and avoid the communication breakdown the author calls "the crazy cycle."  It is a very practical work, fun to read, based on both scripture and years of seminars given by the author and his wife.

We have bought Grudem, Rhodes, and Sax in non-digital form, and they are patiently waiting their turns.  We will buy the others as the time gets closer, though the Fritz book is out of print and may prove more of a challenge.  We are working through Dr. Sax's book (Why Gender Matters) now.  The author is both an M.D. and a Ph.D.  His book is culturally iconoclastic, arguing from a purely clinical and biological secular perspective that the sexes are wired differently.  He cites a lot of research and presents it in an engaging way.  It is funny, though, how often he tries to weasel out of the obvious conclusions to be drawn.  We're just shy of being a quarter of the way through the book, and find it fascinating.  The egalitarian and feminist foundations of our entire culture - which is driving the current debate about marriage, sex vs. "gender," the role of women in the church, women in combat, etc. - are really laid bare for the fraud that they are.

Another project - which actually takes about five minutes a day - which Grace and I are pursuing separately, is the reading of St. Augustine's epic The City of God over the course of this year.  We joined a facebook group dedicated to that goal and have joined up with more than a thousand people on the moderator's reading schedule.  I am also taking a more disciplined approach to reading literature that I should have read in school, but didn't.  I began reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment while in Russia two years ago, but got busy and stopped reading.  I restarted, made an overall goal and reading plan, and am now more than halfway done with the book.  This is especially good reading at bedtime (I'm reading this one without the electronic screen, as it seems that e-reading interferes with the production of melatonin which helps the body sleep).  The chapters are not long, and as long as I don't "stall" again, I should be able to complete it within a few weeks with just a short bit of reading each day.  We're also finishing up a delightful book about books, given to us as a Christmas gift by a friend: Howard's End is On the Landing by Susan Hill.  It makes for good reading in the car while running errands.  We'll have that one done in a few days.

Along the suggestions of Brian Tracy's Goals! book, I am tracking our reading and various projects using a planning Moleskine.  So far, I like the way this keeps us focused.  I'm using this same Moley to work on other projects that I have let slip because of not writing things down.

For example, I am working on the Pimsleur Russian course, which is an outstanding audio based series.  I own all 90 half-hour lessons broken down into three courses.  I have never gotten past about lesson 17 or so.  I am going to see if Tracy's premise that writing things down is the key to getting things done really works.  So far, it is helping!  I started back at the beginning with Unit 1 and and trying to get through 5 units or so a week (more if I am able).  I'm currently on Unit 10.  And since this course is audio, I listen while walking (which I am doing now), jogging (which will be a transition), and running (which I'm looking forward to doing regularly again, once more using the journal to keep myself in line).  I am also figuring out how to work in some more ambitious fitness goals, but at age 49, running a marathon by just showing up the morning of the race isn't an option the way it was when I was in my 20s (though even then that wasn't my brightest, shining moment, not that I regret doing it, for like most crazy things we do in life, I got a story out of the deal).  So I'm taking it a little slower these days.  We also eat paleo, though we need to tighten up after loosening the reins a bit during the holidays.

Another goal I've set for myself this year is to work on my Latin in a more disciplined way.  I have never completed the entire book Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata: Pars I Familia Romana by Hans Oerberg (which is the natural method Latin course I taught to Junior High students for many years).  I want to not only complete all 35 chapters (I restarted with Chapter 1, and am currently on Chapter 9), but also want to read the sequel, Roma Aeterna.  Once those are done, I might like to tackle the two volumes of ecclesiastical Latin in Latin Grammar and Second Latin by Cora and Charles Scanlon.  Of course, elephants are eaten one bite at a time.

FH readers will note that I have not been keeping up with posting my sermons nor have I done much blogging.  I hope to be more diligent on both counts.

I also have other projects that need to be done bit by bit, and I am journalling those as well.  I adopted this Circle System for project management, and here is how it works, as explained below by Sara Caputo at Radiant Organizing (note: some of the links are dead):

The Circle System is another that was developed out of pure need and logic by another gentleman from Amsterdam.  Simply put, it’s a blending of his own to-do list with a series of circles that he devised and gave meaning to — here’s a picture of what it looks like:
Cool, huh?
Here’s the jist from his site:
Ok, this was about the bones and now it’s the meat. The Cir­cle.
We now have projects with its actions, all with cir­cles in front. And we surely have indi­vid­ual actions that are not part of any project, like Pay this bill and so on. Put every­thing in, every action you need to exe­cute at home or work. Don’t try to remem­ber every­thing — except one thing: The note­book remem­bers.
As things progress I add few things to the cir­cles. Here a list that explains in words and the pic­tures should be help­ful guides too.
  • Cir­cle : Project or an action
  • Stroke, a diag­o­nal line across the cir­cle : Work has started
  • Filled lower part of the cir­cle : Work is half done (or wait­ing for some other step)
  • Filled cir­cle : Work on the project or action is fin­ished or off my hand (delegated)
  • Cross over the cir­cle, sec­ond stroke : Can­celled
This makes up the basic Cir­cle sys­tem and is a great starter. I also use a few extras for empha­sis In addi­tion to this you could also use:
  • Num­bers to note in which order I need to execute
  • Excla­ma­tion mark in front of the cir­cle for an impor­tant action
  • Arrow or > after any cir­cle tells that a project or an action has been del­e­gated or moved to my GTD appli­ca­tion. Don’t for­get to fill the cir­cle at the same time. And also write down who is con­tin­u­ing the work if that is impor­tant. It usu­ally is.
  • Dot in the mid­dle of the cir­cle is a sub­tle atten­tion mark.
I like them both because they were created around NEED and the system was devised around the individual’s workflow. Very often, task management systems that we try to plug into that others have created don’t work well because it is not a system that follows our individual needs.  When we devise our own system, as the gentlemen above have done, we are better able to follow it and have it be sustainable.  Just my own 2 cents.  More to come next Tuesday as we review 2 more systems…. have a great week of getting stuff done!

I don't carry my planning book around with me, but I do keep a personal notebook on me at all times.  In it, I have made my own calendars for several months, a to-do list for day-to-day tasks using the Circle System, a section for quick incidental notes, and I use the rest of the notebook for taking notes for all other meetings or other situations requiring note-taking.  At the first of the year, I completed my pocket Moleskine that I used for July through December 2013, and am now trying a notebook that I hope will be more robust: a German-made Leuchtturm 1917 pocket ruled notebook.  So far, I'm quite impressed with it.  I used my Leuchty to take notes at the 2014 Mises Circle in Houston, where we heard lectures by Jeff Deist, Tom Woods, Lew Rockwell, and Ron Paul (note: Dr. Woods's lecture is linked, the rest are on the way!).  The Leuchtturm is slightly larger than the Moleskine, and has very nice cream-colored high quality pages that are pre-numbered!  I'm hoping that it is more robust than its Chinese-made Italian cousin.

In terms of economics self-education and personal development, we attend the unique and delightful  Dr. Walter Block's Human Action seminars held at Loyola University twice per month (which restared this month after a long Christmas break).  In that ongoing seminar, we are reading, discussing, and debating Murray N. Rothbard's Economic Controversies (available as a free download here).  These seminars and the discussions that come afterwards really keep the brain running in overdrive!  

While at the Mises Circle, we picked up the following which we also look forward to working into the reading program:
Since we were on a road trip, we started reading together aloud Dr. Paul's The School Revolution.  We're more than halfway through, and it is an insightful read!  

I know someone is going to respond: "You have too much time on your hands."  (I used to get that a lot when I was more prolific at writing and when I used to post funny broadsides at seminary). Actually, we all have the same amount of time. Well, here is what Grace and I have found helps us to get things accomplished.  These work for us, and I'm sure other people have great techniques as well for reclaiming time:
  1. Get up early (last year, we set the alarm for 4:45 but got out of the habit later in the year when we were swamped with work that caused us to stay up too late - but are working our way back). 
  2. Don't watch TV.  Aside from an occasional Netflix movie, we don't watch anything on the television: we don't have cable, we don't watch network broadcasting, no football, no news - no nothing. 
  3. Eat at home.  We used to go to restaurants a lot, but now eat almost exclusively at home.  Not only does this save a ton of money, it buys us loads of time not spent getting ready, waiting for a table, dining, waiting for the check, and driving back.  During food preparation at home, we have additional time to read aloud to one another.
  4. Turn the car into a 4-wheeled university.  Road trips are perfect for podcasts or long stretches of reading.  Running local errands is great for reading a chapter here and there aloud to one another.
  5. Take Advantage of supermarket lines with a book, e-reader, or books on the iPhone.  Instead of complaining about the long line, turn it into a class, an opportunity to learn!
There is actually a lot of time for reading, studying, thinking, and writing - if it is a priority.   In spite of the time it takes to be a parish pastor and high school teacher; in spite of the time it takes to homeschool a third-grader, run a home, and serve the church as a volunteer - there is time to continue to learn and grow if we make the time and have the self-discipline to stick with it.

I hope Brian Tracy is right.

The Best Lent/Easter Devotional Reading

It's almost that time again. Here is a link to my pre-review of Thy Kingdom Come:Lent and Easter Sermons by David H. Petersen.

You can order a copy here from Emmanuel Press, or here at Amazon.

I can't recommend this magnificent proclamation of the Lamb of God, sacrificed and risen, enough!

One Year Greek New Testament

I'm a fan of the One Year Bible for personal study and family devotions. It provides a discipled and systematic tour of the entire Bible over the course of each year, and the readings are short enough not to be a burden. There is also an online version.

To help with reading the Greek New Testament in a year, I started a blog called the One Year Greek New. Testament that provides audio (by means of embedded YouTube videos) of the English text in interlinear form to listen while reading the Greek text. The time investment per day is between three and ten minutes.

Since this is a year-long project, it won't be complete until the end of this year.  I'm trying to stay about a month ahead of the readings.

You can read more here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Attention Econ Junkies!

31 free video lectures you can look at online to make you more knowledgeable about freedom and economics, courtesy of Robert Wenzel of the Economic Policy Journal and the Ludwig von Mises Institute - just click here!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Adam on the History Channel?

Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio's Fighting For the Faith has exposed a History Channel misrepresentation (yes, I know, dear reader, you are shocked!) regarding the Hebrew word אָדָם ("Adam") and its translation and interpretation in the creation account of the Book of Genesis.

The History Channel's premise is that the Christian Church, out of either deliberate misrepresentation or out of knuckle-dragging ignorance, has led its followers astray concerning the word "Adam."  And, of course, there are the Usual Suspects, the same TV celebrity scholars who are trotted out every time TV producers need to drum up ratings, such as Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman.

Anyway, Rosebrough demonstrates the power of TV propaganda, as countless people undoubtedly watched this program, convinced that the History Channel has integrity and genuine balanced scholarship, and now believe the ridiculous claim of the program.  These are the same people who will now smugly dismiss their Christian neighbors as idiots, while their own interaction with the text is a few TV shows rather than any serious study.

Of course, scholars can (and do!) disagree.  But the fact that the History Channel had to engage in blatant disinformation that can be debunked in a 30 minute presentation is evidence that they are not interested in educating anyone.  They are pushing an agenda, and even twisting the words of a scholar who disagrees with them to give the illusion of agreement.

This is yet another reason why we must not cave into cultural and financial pressure to end-run the seminaries and place men into the Office of the Holy Ministry based on nine internet classes.  We need pastors who are well-trained, who can engage in apologetics, who have studied Greek and Hebrew, who have been through painstaking pastoral formation in classroom and chapel, and who have been thoroughly instructed academically in not only the biblical languages, but in church history as well.

The old Alternate Route program at Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne used to allow men to be certified for ministry without an M.Div. degree, without taking a single course in Hebrew, and without studying the history of the early church.  I know the program has been revamped, but the continued existence of shortcuts to the altar, font, and pulpit are (or ought to be) cause for concern.

To paraphrase some old public service announcement, if you don't train your pastors in biblical languages and church history, someone else will, like the History Channel.  Well-trained pastors are not a luxury item.  Our congregations deserve to have men shepherding them who can see through this nonsense.

Thank you to Chris Rosebrough for his fine work in exposing the flaw in the History Channel's scholarship as well as their obvious agenda to dishonestly approach the sacred text of two billion people.

Sermon: Epiphany 2 – 2014

19 January 2014

Text: John 2:1-11 (Ex 33:12-23, Eph 5:22-33)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord’s first miracle happened at a wedding feast in the city of Cana.  Then, just as they are today, weddings were a big deal.  They unite two people and they unite two families.  Weddings bless the union through which the Lord creates children.  There is tradition and protocol to be followed.  There are many details to attend to.  And weddings are a big deal because marriage is a big deal. 

On this day, a detail was forgotten.  Somebody messed up.  There was not enough wine.  This is a huge deal, as wine is crucial for the celebration.  What a terrible embarrassment for the couple!  An argument might even erupt between the families.  This could jeopardize everyone’s happiness.

But Jesus steps in, takes the burden upon Himself, covers the transgression, and in the end, using His divine power, “manifested His glory” by serving the good wine when all that was left was water and all that was expected was mediocrity.

The image of the wedding feast is all over Scripture.  Eternity is described as just such a feast.  Jesus is described as the Church’s husband, and the Church is described as our Lord’s bride.  We are to respect Him unconditionally, and He is to love us unconditionally, laying down His life for us.  And we are to respect Jesus even when He doesn’t do things the way we want, even when we are in a bad mood, and even when we wonder whether He still loves us.  And Jesus is to love us even when we are unlovable, even when we spit on Him, crucify Him, and murder Him out of selfishness and spite.

Unconditional love and unconditional respect are demanded and expected in the marriage between Christ and the Church.

St. Paul teaches us that the human institution of marriage is a profound mystery, and that “it refers to Christ and the church.”  And indeed, St, Paul gives us careful instructions from God Himself about how married people are to live.  And there is nothing more controversial at this time in history than marriage.

Everything is up for grabs as governments and societies seek to redefine marriage: who can be married?  How many can be married?  When may it end?  The biblical view that a marriage is between a man and a woman and is a lifelong union has given way to all sorts of legal definitions of marriage.  And even among Christians, feminism has redefined marriage into something quite different than the biblical model that St. Paul reveals to us by means of the Holy Spirit.

Some churches that claim the name Lutheran even go so far as to say that we can ignore this because society doesn’t approve.  Some pastors actually remove the word “submit” from the wedding vows because women don’t like that word. 

Who does like the word “submit”?  Certainly not our sinful flesh.  Wives do not like to submit to their husbands, and men do not like to submit to God by placing their wives first.  And maybe this explains why marriage is such a touchy subject for Christians and non-Christians alike.

On one occasion, I conducted a wedding, and when this text was read, people laughed out loud.  They laughed at God’s Word, dear friends.  Could the Bride of Christ be any more disrespectful to her Bridegroom than to laugh at His Word and to mock the very thing that He, who died for us, has revealed to us in His love and mercy?

The Lord tells us that men and women are different.  It isn’t politically correct, but neither is the entire Bible.  It doesn’t conform to our modern and postmodern worldview, but then again, neither does the Gospel.  If you want a religion that reinvents itself with every human fad and philosophy, then become something other than a Christian.  If you want to be a Christian man or woman, you must submit to His Word, dear friends.  And that Word simply has different instructions for husbands and wives.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church…. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her….  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”

So, husbands, you must be willing to give up everything for the sake of your wife – up to and including your very life.  You are to love her unconditionally, even when she is not so loveable.  For you husbands aren’t always very loveable yourselves sometimes.  You husbands should never badmouth your wife to your friends.  You husbands should not treat your wife the way men do on TV shows.  Do you honestly love your wife the way Christ loves the Church?  If not, you must repent. 

And wives, you must submit in everything to your husbands.  You are to respect him unconditionally, even when he isn’t so respectable.  For you wives aren’t very respectable yourselves sometimes.  You wives should never badmouth your husbands to your friends.  You wives should not treat your husbands the way women do on TV shows.  Do you honestly respect your husband the way the church respects Christ?  If not, you must repent. 

And in case you missed it, St. Paul repeats himself: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”  St. Paul lays out different requirements for husbands and wives.  Husbands, you are to love; wives you are to respect.  Husbands, you do not have the freedom to do whatever you want without first and always considering whether it is the most loving thing to your wife.  And wives, you do not wear the pants in the family.  If the husband does not love and the wife does not respect, this will cause marital strife that will ultimately destroy a marriage.  And that is a far worse fate than running out of wine on the wedding day.

Again, this is not politically correct.  We don’t want to hear this.  We all think we know better than God.  We all think it applies to the other spouse.  And some people will say that this is only Paul’s word, not God’s Word.  And again, dear friends, if you have a problem with this passage, your issue is with God.   You and God are not both right.  One of you is wrong.

But the good news, dear friends, is that even though we all fail miserably, as human beings, as Christians, as spouses, remember that our Bridegroom is perfect (unlike all of us husbands, we poor miserable sinners), and that He has died for us, though we fail to give him proper respect (as do all wives, every poor miserable sinner).  When we fail to love and respect, we have a Savior who loves us, who respects the Father, and who was obedient and submissive even to the cross, who gave Himself up for us, “that He might sanctify [us], having cleansed [us] by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that [we] might be holy and without blemish.”

And this promise is for you, dear husbands, when you fail to love your wife, when you are childish and selfish, when you forget that you are to be like Christ, unselfish and living for the sake of her who pledged her very life for you.  And this promise is for you, dear wives, when you are disrespectful and domineering, when you forget that you are to be like the Church, submissive and building up the one who pledged to lay down his very life for you.

And just as a “man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” so does Christ leave His Father to die for us, dear friends, for all sinful men and sinful women: married, single, divorced, or widowed.  Jesus has bound Himself to all of us in our sinfulness and His righteousness, and He has saved the best wine of all until now, as we forgiven sinners become one flesh with Him in the wine of His blood and in union with His body.  Let us respect the Lord who loves us.  Let us submit to His Word.  For He has promised His people, His bride: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Amen.


on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sermon: Epiphany 1 – 2014

12 January 2014

Text: Luke 2:41-52 (1 Kings 8:6-13, Rom 12:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  And typically, those two realms stay separated.  Or as St. Augustine put it, there is the City of God and then there is the City of Man.  There is the perfect existence of God’s creation, and then there is the broken and corrupted creation that we now inhabit.  There is the eternal and the temporal.

And when these two worlds collide, weird things happen. 

This “weirdness” is why Jesus often had to resort to parables to teach us what the Kingdom of God is like.  And when we see the divine meet the human, the eternal meet the temporal, the immortal meet the mortal, we see things that just don’t add up in our tiny minds.  Sometimes, these things even cause debates to happen in the church.

For when God took flesh in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, the two worlds collided in a cosmic and universe-changing way.  The omnipotent and omnipresent God became a microscopic fertilized egg.  He grew into a boy and then a man.  He died, then rose.  And the world has never been the same.

Look at how this taxes our minds, dear friends!  Does the eternal and timeless God have a mother?  Yes!  Did God die on the cross?  Yes!  Are we sinners also saints?  Again, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”  Did God increase “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man?”  Yes!
For consider also the paradoxes of God being a condemned criminal on the cross.  Or the Word of God being documents written by the hands of men.  Or bread and wine being the true body and blood of the Lord.  Think of the dead rising again, of sinners being declared perfect, of human beings outranking angels.  All of these mind-bending miracles happen because the divine met the human, and in the case of Jesus, the divine became fully human, and the human remains fully divine.

The incarnation of God into human flesh taxes our minds and stretches the bounds of logic.  But even more importantly, this incarnation was God’s plan to save us by the forgiveness of sins, a rescue operation undertaken by God Himself in a sacrificial atonement that does not reduce the holy to the profane, but rather elevates the common to the holy. 

When Jesus, God in human form, was twelve years old, this confusing incident happened that demonstrated the collision between the human and the divine.  Here we have a woman who lost God, and who scolded God for doing what God came into the world to do.  And we have a young boy teaching the teachers and correcting his mother.  We have God acting in a submissive way to His mother and step-father.  And we have God increasing “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

Dear friends, what makes us so uncomfortable with this intersection between the divine and the human is not that the divine is out of place with the human, but rather we humans are out of place with the divine.  And the reason for that, dear friends, is “sin.”  The “weirdness” is solely ours.  We are uncomfortable with the man Jesus because He is the only man who is truly what a man, a human being, was truly meant to be.

Look at what we count as “normal.”  There is an old saying, “To err is human.”  But this is not true!  Jesus is human, but without error.  Sin does not define humanity, but rather distorts it.  Jesus is the ideal man; we are caricatures of true humanity.  We speak of the “common cold” and “every day aches and pains” – as though sickness and pain are an integral part of being human.  But God did not create Adam and Eve to be sick or to suffer or to die.  The things we count as normal are in fact abnormal.  How often are we told that “death is natural” and is just a “part of life.”  How absurd, dear friends!  For in dying our death and overcoming it, Jesus revealed the fact that death is not a natural part of the human condition.  Jesus remains human, and He has been resurrected to eternal life – even as we who believe and have been baptized are promised to rise again in Christ’s name, by Christ’s mercy, and through Christ’s power. 

Indeed, when the divine meets the human, “weird” things happen, and thanks be to God they do!  For they only seem weird to us in a world where sin, sickness, suffering, and death are all treated as normal, natural, and by many people, even good and beneficial things!

And even before the birth of Jesus, the Lord God would break into time and space to physically be with His beloved people.  The ark of the covenant did what makes no sense at all: it contained the very presence of the omnipresent God.  And God was to dwell in a house that by definition could not contain the glory of God.  And yet that glory was permitted to be seen by mere sinful men as a cloud, a sight that made it difficult for the priests to minister before the Lord.

Dear friends, our Lord is even more available to you than He was in the days of the ark and the temple and the priests and the sacrifices.  For your body has become the ark and temple of His body and blood.  His divinity is contained in your humanity in Word and sacrament.  In your baptism, your own flesh has been given a spiritual rebirth, and you have been given a priesthood and the glory of God in your flesh.

“By the mercies of God, your bodies [are] a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

This is how it is, dear brothers and sisters, that we can live in the world and not be of the world.  St. Paul can exhort us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

The Lord Jesus came into our world to raise it up, to reign in space and time so that we might reign with Him in eternity.  He has come as God to men so that we men might stand in the presence of God.  He was put to death by sinful men, so that sinful men might rise with Him to be “put to life.” 

Let us, like the teachers in the temple, be instructed by the Lord Jesus.  Let us hear Him, and be amazed by Him.  Let us join Him in His Father’s house, and let us too be submissive to our Father who is God and to our mother who is the Church.  And even as the Lord Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man,” let us in Christ receive His wisdom, stature, and favor. 

For these two worlds have collided.  And glorious and wondrous things beyond all imagination have happened, namely, forgiveness, life, and salvation!   Amen.


on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Thank you, Cat Practice!

We are so blessed to have quality health care for our cats - The Cat Practice at  1809 Magazine Street in New Orleans.

As should be obvious, The Cat Practice specializes in feline medicine - not dogs, iguanas, birds, or fish.  So, it's pretty apparent that they know cats!  And boy, do they ever!

We've brought six cats to them (five pets and one to be adopted out) over the past three or four years or so - including a couple of very difficult cases to diagnose.  There are many, many wonderful things about The Cat Practice:

  • Top-Notch Feline Medicine. Both doctors, Cousins and Dunn, are experts in the field.  Dr. Cousins in particular lectures around the country.  The staff is professional, efficient, compassionate, and extremely competent.  The office is well-organized and well-run.  We have brought cats to both doctors and have a wonderful rapport with both of them.  You can tell right away that these are experts.  We are always amazed to watch both of these outstanding veterinarians at work.  
  • Methodology and pricing.  You might think that the prices would be prohibitive compared to local general vets.  But this is not the case.  In fact, there is a great sensitivity to the fact that we have to pay for the services rendered, and unlike human medicine - in which costs are buried and hidden in the insurance system - pricing has to be up front.  We have found that The Cat Practice has such advanced diagnostic tools and methods that you can generally get information back - sometimes within minutes - that help guide where to go next in diagnostics and treatment.  There is never pressure or deliberate running up the bill.  The doctors always consider how to make treatment affordable.  The options are laid out in full, in writing, and the doctors will assist in prioritizing procedures to determine exactly what tests to run, and exactly how much money to spend.  And thanks to the diagnostics that they are able to run, there isn't the "try this, try that" groping about in the dark that we've experienced with other veterinarians.
  • You are not a number.  The doctors and the staff understand that they are dealing with people in addition to dealing with animal medicine.  We are always treated with professional courteous respect, but with great warmth and familiarity.  They know our names, they know our cats, they treat us like we're part of their own family.  Nobody likes to have to go to the vet, but going to The Cat Practice is unlike our other experiences in dealing with vets and animal hospitals (and we do have a lot of experience!).
  • They are kind and compassionate!  The entire staff, from the receptionists to the techs to the doctors, are not only competent and professional, but pleasant to deal with.  We always end up laughing with the staff and the doctors and often become engrossed in medical discussions.  The doctors do not talk down to us, but actually teach us as they go.  They appreciate questions and informed discussions - which are never rushed.  
  • Community relationships.  The Cat Practice has relationships with area pharmacies and other doctors.  The doctors will immediately get on the cellphone to give special instructions to pharmacists and other specialists if need be - right then and there.  We are always completely involved in these conversations and it speaks volumes about the respect that The Cat Practice enjoys in the community.
Both doctors are open to communications by phone or email.  In spite of their busyness, they make the time to follow up with us regarding our cats.  They make use of cutting-edge drugs and treatment, and they entrust us to administer the medicines ourselves by carefully teaching us how to give care from home. 

This past fall, our oldest and dearest feline friend, Vicar, became very sick.  It was obvious that he was at the end of his life of more than 14 years.  Dr. Cousins ran diagnostics that confirmed that Vicar was suffering with cancer and pancreas disease.  But observing Vicar's will to live and our closeness with him, we all agreed to try a few things that could extend his life.  We decided against surgery or heroic measures, but there were things we could do to get him to eat again and possibly get him back to a stable level of health as his life drew to a close.

Amazingly, we were able to get Vicar to eat again.  The doctor prescribed what is essentially ground up cow pancreas to mix with Vicar's food in order to assist in his digestion.  By using this and an appetite stimulant, he was able to start eating again.  We did inject food into him for a couple days to get things started.

We knew that his days were numbered, but thanks to Dr. Cousins's compassionate and competent care, we had an additional couple months with our dear friend, with a good quality of life.  It gave us time to say our goodbyes and to treasure our time with him.  He had been through a lot with us, he was the household's alpha male and chief steward of the home.  Dr. Cousins could have, on the one hand, pushed us to take extraordinary measures and try to pressure us to run up a big bill.  He did nothing of the sort, and in fact, recommended against any kind of surgery.  On the other hand, he could have just offered to euthanize Vicar right then and there.  But he did not want to give up yet.  He even took pictures of Vicar, and commented on his robustness in the face of serious illness.  He did not use the word "will to live," but it is apparent that Vicar was willing to work with us to try to help him.  He trusted us and understood that we were trying to help him, and he expressed his appreciation and his desire to be with us in spite of our having to administer medication to him.

Finally, the day came when we had to bring Vicar to the cat practice for the last time.  Leo had never been through this experience, and it was not easy.  The staff was wonderful.  Dr. Cousins was "pastoral" with us, and that is not a word that I use lightly.  We were given as much time and privacy as we wanted.  We stayed with Vicar to the very end.  Dr. Cousins spoke kindly with Leo, with great compassion, but with great respect as well.  As a pastor, I am with people in the midst of death.  I was very impressed with Dr. Cousins.

We even received a follow-up call from Dr. Cousins to check on Leo and to give us some additional information about Vicar's illness.  We received a card, signed by doctors and staff, that included an inked paw print from Vicar.  They also made a donation to the SPCA on behalf of Vicar.

In their business, I'm sure it would be easy to become callous, to see the animals as objects, to treat people as almost an annoyance - the way our human healthcare system often seems to be.  But they don't.  That is not by accident.  It is their conscious effort combined with their genuine love for cats, for the owners, and for feline medicine that makes them different.  We can't imagine going anywhere else for veterinary care.

Grace and I have joked about visiting Drs. Dunn and Cousins for our own health care.  They're excellent doctors, and we like the way we're treated when we go to The Cat Practice.  One day, they may be shocked to find us waiting in the treatment room clad in a hospital gown and with no cat with us.  If only our human healthcare system was as humane, competent, and committed to excellence as The Cat Practice!

In all seriousness, we are grateful for The Cat Practice, and if you live in the New Orleans area and have cats, we can't recommend them enough. In the long run, you will spend less money and get far superior care to many other more general vet practices.

As a postscript, one of our cats, Walmart, made The Cat Practice's 2014 calendar.  She is depicted in the black and white picture in the lower right corner of November.

Walmart - Miss November

Issues, Etc., the War on Poverty, and Wittenberg Academy

Thanks to the world's greatest Christian talk radio program, Issues, Etc. (especially the Rev. Todd Wilken, the host, and Jeff Schwarz, the producer - along with Justin Benson, the president of Wittenberg Academy, who has the idea to have me on the program today to address the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty).

It was, as always, great fun.  You can listen here.

There were a few more points I had hoped to make during the course of the interview, but didn't get around to it.

One quote from president Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty Speech" from 1964 that I found interesting was this: "The war on poverty is not a struggle simply to support, to make them dependent on the generosity of others."  But this is exactly what we've seen happen: generational dependence.

I was also hoping to link to the following video which demonstrates the difference between voluntary, private charity - such as works of mercy provided by churches - vs. compulsory government programs such as the War on Poverty.

Finally, I was hoping to mention Lutheran Church Charities and Orphan Grain Train - whose nimble and responsive actions after Hurricane Katrina were incredibly helpful to the group of us Lutheran pastors and laymen who were working at the site of the 17th Street Canal breach (providing satellite communications, boats, ATVs, and other equipment) while the lumbering dinosaur of bureaucratic government was nowhere to be found.  Supporting LCC and OGT are two examples of how the Church can continue to serve our neighbors apart from the apparatus of the state.

Thanks again to Issues, Etc. and also to Wittenberg Academy's Justin and Jocelyn Benson (and congratulations on the occasion of the birth of their daughter Miram today!).

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Sermon: Epiphany – 2014

5 January 2014

Text: Matt 2:1-12 (Isa 60:1-6, Eph 3:1-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Light is a theme woven throughout Holy Scripture.  Light is mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis near the front of the chapter, and light is mentioned in the last chapter of Revelation near the end of the chapter.  Light was the first thing God created on the first day, and He created it by means of His Word, through which He created all things.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’”

Light is both matter and energy, both a wave and a particle.  Light is foundational to the universe, and its speed is a numerical formulaic constant in cosmological calculations.

There is also a common human intuition about light.  We are disoriented by darkness.  Our senses don’t quite work right when deprived of light.  Sin and violence are often lurking about in the absence of light.  Darkness is unnatural to us as God’s creatures.

Since the fall in Eden, we grope about in a kind of spiritual darkness caused by sin, a result of our lack of communion with God, a manifestation of the gloom of death itself.  The entire narrative of the Bible is about this darkness, and more importantly, about how this darkness is overcome by the light, this great light promised by the prophets and manifested to the world with the birth of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome!”

The universal darkness that enveloped the world was to be forever shattered by this great and pure light.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,” prophesies Isaiah, “and the glory of the Lord is upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.  And the nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Into this dark and lost world came a guiding light.  The nations were led to Him by the light of a star.  And this light, this child of hope, this Christ and Savior, is the “light of life,” His light shines upon the world with a radiance never before seen.

We celebrate the festival of the Epiphany today, a word that means a manifestation, or a showing.  And in Christ, the love of God is made manifest, as the bright light of God’s incarnation in the flesh gives light to all mankind, and illuminates us out of sin, away from death, and beyond the grasp of the devil.  And even as moths are drawn to the flame, the peoples of the world, the Gentiles, those lost in sin and wrapped in the darkness of death, have seen this light manifested by a star, and by the testimony of the prophets.

They were drawn to Him.  “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

The light, the true light, “God of God, light of light, very God of very God”, has broken into our gloomy world as the Morning Star of our salvation.  This is what drew the “wise men from the east” to Bethlehem, where the star and the prophets led them to the Word Made Flesh, the Word by which, and by whom, light came into being on that first day, and through whom the world is enlightened by the Gospel, which brings to “light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”

This light is indeed for all the earth, for all men, for those living in every corner of the planet, people of every tribe and tongue, and this great light beams His grace and mercy upon us.

Dear friends, we have been freed, liberated from darkness and the shadow of death.  We have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, who has drawn us to the light of Christ, who dispels our darkness and whose blood has set us free.  This Christ manifested Himself to Peter, James, and John as blazing white light on the day of transfiguration, and it is Christ whose rule among us means we “will need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be [our] light.”

And it is this light preached by the apostles and proclaimed by their successors that brings “to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages.”  Christ, the light of the world, is no longer hidden.  He shines forth brightly among all nations, beaming from His Word and gleaming in the Church’s sacraments, “so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our days of the darkness of sin are over.  Christ has come into our dark world shining brightly not simply to expose our sins and illuminate our failures, but to chase away the shadows where Satan lurks, to dispel the darkness of our sinful flesh, and to enlighten our souls to eternal life through the forgiveness of sins.

Dear friends, we live in the light because we live in the hope that shines in us and upon us, through Him who was manifested by a star, who was worshiped by the magi, and whose light in this dark world is unable to be extinguished by anyone or anything.

Let us rejoice in this light!  Let this Epiphany shine with us day in and day out, not only in this season, not only over the course of this year, but for the entire duration of our lifetimes, and even unto eternity!  Amen.


on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Call Kim!

Call Kim Patrick at 678-878-7888 (cell) of American Financial Network if you need to refinance your house!  You can also connect with her at LinkedIn here.

We had been trying for two years to refinance.  Our current bank was unable to help us without a huge down-payment.  We tried both Discover and Quicken, but to no avail.  We have a particular carrier of mortgage insurance that made it impossible for those companies to help us.  We were locked into almost 8% interest on a 30-year (10-year interest-only loan),  6 years in, and we were in a kind of no-man's land: making too much to quality for government programs, but not making enough to make a big down-payment.  It was extremely frustrating.

But after I called AFN and got the ball rolling, the entire matter was settled in less than two months - including the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  I was blown away every step of the process.

Kim was assigned to our loan, and she was my contact person.  I did not have to call with an account number to be put on hold only to deal with different people every time.  Kim made herself available to us by office phone, cell phone, e-mail, and text.  When we did have to deal with insurance matters, for instance (and a shout-out and huge thank you to Lisa Matherne and Sabrina at Allstate for their wonderful help as well!), Kim handled this for us.  When we did need to speak with other people, she was on the phone with us or involved in e-mails.  When we called, she either answered the phone right away, or returned our call quickly.  How often can we say that about anyone?

The process is subject to a lot of bureaucratic and governmental regulation.  But thanks to Kim, we sailed through all of that.  AFN makes maximum use of technology, and a lot of the forms were taken care of by e-signatures and by scanning into PDFs and e-mailing.  This was an extraordinary experience, especially since Kim lives near Atlanta, we live near New Orleans, and her home office is in California.  You would think that this would cause communications breakdowns and a long period of time.  But again, thanks to Kim and the way her company does business, it was very easy.

At closing (which took about 15 minutes) a local notary came to us after hours.  We ended up with a much lower interest rate, lower monthly payment, and we had two months off from making payments.  We did not have to put anything down, and in fact, we will receive a check for the overage as well as a check reimbursing us out of our escrow account in a few weeks.

The final result was even better than Kim's estimate - which suggests that she makes conservative estimates and is not just throwing numbers out there to hook a sale.  She even called us afterwards to check up on us and make sure we were happy with the results.

Grace and I are blown away by this company and by Kim.  I'm a big believer in free markets, and when someone offers an excellent product and superlative customer service, I want to make sure I do everything in my power to tell others about them.

If you have not refinanced, now is the time!  The Fed is starting to make rumblings about tapering.  I'm skeptical, but it does stand to reason that at some point, interest rates will rise.  They simply can't stay where they are forever.  If you want the process to be competitive, easy, and completely transparent, and if you want to work with a real person who knows what she is doing instead of a faceless bureaucracy, call Kim!

Thank you, Kim!  You are doing the Lord's work!