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Pragmatism is not our friend

I'm a very pragmatic guy in general.

As a child, in math class I wanted to skip to giving the answer that I'd already figured out in my head rather than write down all of the steps that showed the teacher how I got to the answer.  To me, showing the steps was an enormous waste of time.  (But of course, the teacher was right in making me show my work, because if there was an error, he or she could show my how I arrived at the correct answer).

In English class, I couldn't have cared less about verbs, nouns, and adverbs.  Why did I need to know about those things?  Why couldn't we just use the language?

I'm a pragmatic person by nature, but I learned early on that pragmatism is poisonous for the church. "Whatever works" might be great for some areas of life, but for the church "whatever works" is dangerous and deadly.

When we find pragmatism in the Bible, things do not go well.  Such as when...

Sarah told Abraham to have a child with Hagar

Sarah wa…

What in the world is a DCE? A DCO? Or a Deaconess?

The only office of the church established by God in His Word is the Pastoral Office, yet today there are all kinds of different "professional church workers."  So what gives?

Here's how the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod explains it.

The Office of the Public Ministry - it is the divinely established of office referred to in Scripture as "shepherd," "elder," or "overseer." This term is equivalent to "the pastoral office." Within this of office are contained all the functions of the ministry of Word and sacrament in the church.

Auxiliary Offices - These are offices established by the church. Those who are called to serve in them are authorized to perform certain of the function(s) of the office of the public ministry. These offices are "ministry" and they are "public," yet they are not the office of the public ministry. Rather, they are auxiliary to that unique pas…

A Lutheran You Should Know

Charles Porterfield Krauth (1823-1883) isn't likely a name that you're familiar with (unless you attended a confessional Lutheran seminary), which is a shame because he is one of the most important figures in the history of Lutheranism in the United States.

He stood firm for the faith while more popular individuals (like Samuel Simon Schmucker) wanted to dismiss and/or change the Augsburg Confession and other statements of faith so that they would fit in better with the thinking of the culture of his day.

Krauth's message resonates today because there are still many who claim the title of "Lutheran" while undermining basic Lutheran teachings.  The battles that he fought (the authority of scripture, use of the sacraments, sound theology, etc.) are the same battles we face today.

Below is one of the most famous quotes from Krauth and boy does it resonate today!

When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages in its progress are always three.…

You're Not Special

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A few years ago a commencement speaker made waves when he told graduates that they are not special.  It was a dose of honesty that many of us need to hear.

As Christians, we need to hear "you're not special" because when Christians begin to believe that they are special, bad things happen.  When a Christian believes that he or she is special, things begin to be looked at in a skewed way.  God has established ways that He wants us to act and things He want us to do and it's really important to walk in those ways...for everyone except me of course, because I'm special.

David thought that He was special and so instead of being on the front lines, leading his army, as he should have been, he was instead at home and got himself into trouble with Bathsheba.  And it all started with David thinking, "I'm special." The son's of Eli thought that they were "special."  Therefore they exploited their positions and abused God's people for person…

Dandelions, filthy rags, and the Gospel

I wrote this for the newsletter a few years back and recently came across it while in search of another article. I thought I'd share it here too. It is from May 2009.

This past week I decided that it was time to do something about the dandelions.  I wasn't very concerned about the ones in the yard, but the ones in the nicely designed area with beautiful flowers surrounded by wood chips were really starting to bother me.  So I got some weed killer and sprayed them.

I think I made them mad, because after a few days they hadn't died, but instead had multiplied!  I have to wonder, was it really herbicide or was it fertilizer that I sprayed on the weeds?

So it was time to remove them the old fashioned way.  I got out the dandelion removal tool and got to work.  Pretty soon Timmy came along and asked what I was doing.

"Pulling weeds," I responded.

Timmy looked puzzled.  "Those aren't weeds, those are mommy flowers."  And to Timmy, they are mommy flowers.…

Depression is Not Due to a Lack of Faith

There are a lot of false teachers in this world and there always have been.  One false teaching that Christians have always had to battle is the idea that once something comes to faith in Jesus, everything will go well for them.  There is an idea that as long as your faith is strong, God will give you health, wealth and happiness.  Even though Jesus told His disciples to "deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me," and Paul wasn't healed of the "thorn" in his flesh, but instead he was told "My grace is sufficient for you," there are still false teachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer who tell people that God's plan for them is physical and financial blessings in this life.

Physical afflictions are not God's way of punish us, but a result of the fall into sin.  However, they can be used by God for His good because when you are weak, you must look to Christ for strength, just as St. Paul did.  I think that most Christians understand t…

Starting Life Dead

"We never become really and genuinely our entire and honest selves until we are dead -- and not then until we have been dead years and years. People ought to start dead and then they would be honest so much earlier." 
-Mark Twain

Twain was on to something here.  Throughout our lifetimes we tend to try to cover up who we really are.  We put up fronts.  We play the part expected of us.  We struggle to be genuine for fear of offending someone, giving them a reason to dislike us, or sometimes just because it is the path of least resistance.

Then, after death, we can no longer control our reputation, we can no longer manage people.  Death does away with trying to win the approval of other people.  Often, its not until after a person has died that we truly find out about that person, through their diary, e-mail correspondences, or other things that have been left behind. 
But what if we could start off life, as Twain suggests, dead?  What if our identity wasn't bound up in the …

A Laypersons Theological Library

I love books.  I didn't always, but thanks to encouragement from my parents (and the need to read as a pastor) I have learned to love reading.

And since I love books, I have a lot of them.  My personal library is large and always growing.  I have massive theology books, small children's books, and everything in between.  I have read good books and lousy books, helpful books and heretical books.

But for the average Christian, with the large numbers of books that exist, where are they to start in trying to build a good, personal/family library?  What books would be helpful and theologically trustworthy?

Here's a start...I'll add to it from time to time, but this is a good place to begin.

Doctrine
"The Spirituality of the Cross" by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
This is a fantastic book for someone who is new to Lutheranism, but will also be greatly beneficial to the well seasoned reader.  Veith takes the reader with him through his own personal journey and through his st…

Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

Music is powerful.  You can probably still sing songs you learned as a child.  You could hear a couple of words to the lyrics of a song that was big 25 years ago, that you haven't heard more than a couple of times since then, and you could still rattle off the lyrics.

Music is powerful.  There's an old maxim that is tossed around by theologians "lex orandi, lex credendi" (which means something like "the law of praying/worship is the law of believing."  In other words, the word and way in which you worship is both determined by and simultaneously determines what you believe.

So the words of a song, used in worship, will both be determined by what is believed, but will also shape what is believed.

Music is powerful.  Perhaps that is why Christian music artists are given such powerful voices in the Christian community today (that and the fact that the celebrity driven culture has infected even the church).

There's no way to cover everything concerning the …

Re-Lent

Lent is a time to...

Re-Focus on Christ by spending time in His Word and in prayer.
Don't know where to start with reading the Bible?  Here you go. You can also get daily devotions from Lutheran Hour Ministries. Re-Evaluate your priorities
What is getting in the way of your walk with God?We're great at making excuses, but excuses don't do us a bit of good.Are you putting yourself in position to be in God's Word by regular church and Bible Class attendance? Has a hobby, job, or anything else become an idol that is #1 on your list, even ahead of God? (If you're skipping church and Bible Class, then the answer is almost certainly yes). What is getting in the way of your relationship with your spouse?Has work started to consume your time and energy so that you have nothing left for your spouse and children? Has entertainment (hello smartphone!) started to consume time that should be spend with your spouse or children?  Remember who you are
You are who God says that you …

"You are forgetting your coat, sir"

At that moment, the overcoat lying on the chair caught the eye of the elder Jondrette girl. 

"You are forgetting your coat, sir," said she. 
Jondrette darted an annihilating look at his daughter, accompanied by a formidable shrug of the shoulders. M. Leblanc turned back and said, with a smile:— "I have not forgotten it, I am leaving it."
In this scene from the famous book "Les  Misérables," Jondrette is trying to exploit M. Leblanc (a.k.a. Jean Valjean).  It's clear from earlier sections that Jondrette has no interest in working for a living and that he resents those who have wealth.  Jondrette had purposely broke a chair and had his daughter break a window in order for his family to appear even more impoverished than they really were (he rejoiced when his daughter cut her hand in the process of breaking the window because it made them seem all the worse off).

Leblanc (Valjean) might know that he's being exploited or he might not.  But either way, h…

No Shoes Necessary

Victor Hugo's masterpiece,  "Les Misérables" contains many insights on the human condition.  In these two paragraphs, a daughter in an impoverished household complains about having to wear shoes when she enters the church (and in this case she had entered the church with the sole purpose of seeking to exploit a wealthy man who was regularly there to worship). "A clever girl, possibly; but I tell you I won't put these shoes on again, and that I won't, for the sake of my health, in the first place, and for the sake of cleanliness, in the next. I don't know anything more irritating than shoes that squelch, and go ghi, ghi, ghi, the whole time. I prefer to go barefoot."
"You are right," said her father, in a sweet tone which contrasted with the young girl's rudeness, "but then, you will not be allowed to enter churches, for poor people must have shoes to do that. One cannot go barefoot to the good God," he added bitterly.
"O…

Mocking Christians

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Recently I read an article on the internet about Alton Brown, who just so happens to be my favorite Food Network personality (bring back Good Eats!).  In the article he talks about his experiences in the world of television and towards the end of the article he is asked about his Christian faith.

After sharing the post on Facebook, a brother pastor pointed out that the first two responses to the article in the comments section that followed it were as follows.

Alton Brown, i hope you have a quick recovery from your mental illness and get back to being the amazing cook and host you are. and
 I'm a grown up and don't believe in fairy tales and I'll never watch God Eats the same way again. I would think that a healthy relationship to food and growing and planting and weeding and sowing would move you away from the fairy tale, but I guess not.  Ah yes, the mocking of Christianity.

This has become very popular these days. Throughout the 20th century Christians in the United S…

Sunday is...

Sunday is...
...a day to gather together with other Christians as God desires. (Hebrews 10:25)
...a day to hear God's Word taught and to offer Him prayer and praise. (Colossians 3:16-17)
...a day to encourage others and be encouraged by others.
...a day to hear God's law proclaimed.
...not complete if you, a believer in Christ, aren't there, because you have something to offer and something to gain from fellow believers. (1 Corinthians 12)

Note that these are all things that we cannot do alone (with the exception of prayer and praise, but even those are not spoken of in Scripture as merely personal, individualistic things, but things we should also be doing with fellow believers).

But even more important than the list above, Sunday is...
...the day of the resurrection!  Every Sunday is a mini-Easter celebration.
...a chance to hear the Good News of the Savior who has come.
...a chance to hear that Christ, his forgiveness, and His gifts are "for you."
...a chanc…

Nostalgia is Dangerous

We all love the chance to relive our childhood.  That's why products that came out when I was a child have been brought back, movies have been made based on old TV shows, and stores called "Nostalgiaville" exist. Kenny Chesney has a cheesy song intended to play upon nostalgic notions, but he's not the first as the Statler Brothers have made a killing off of playing on the romantic notions of one's childhood.

The church also likes to dwell on nostalgic notions of the past.  "Remember how great things were back then?"

But the thing is...nostalgia can be dangerous for the church.

Romantic longings for the past keep us from looking to the future.  Longing for things to be how they used to be keeps the church from evaluating its present situation and taking the appropriate actions based upon the present, rather than the past.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love to listen to the stories of the past.  The past is very important.  We just can't live there a…