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Blessed Palm Sunday 2014

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May you have a blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

From Olivet they followed
Mid an exultant crowd,
The victor palm branch waving
And chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of saints and angels
Rode on in lowly state
Nor scorned that little children
Should on his bidding wait.

“Hosanna in the highest!”
That ancient song we sing,
For Christ is our Redeemer,
The Lord of heaven our King.
Oh, may we ever praise him
With heart and life and voice
And in his royal presence
Eternally rejoice.

— “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” Christian Worship, 130:2-3.

The morning sun illuminates daffodils.

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The Lord came to the earth, and from the earth He receives praise.

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

— Luke 19:40, ESV.

WELS logoIf a man desires to be a pastor, he desires something that is noble, he also desires something that is public.  A pastor is a public representative of the Church.  The Scriptures declare that all public representatives of the Church (pastors) must be “respectable,” “well thought of by outsiders,” and “above reproach.”  (1 Timothy 3:2, 7, ESV).

Paul writes that those who seek to serve in the public ministry “must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve …”  (1 Timothy 3:10, NIV1978).  God’s word says that there must be “nothing against them,” they must be blameless, and above reproach.

If a pastor sins privately, then he can repent privately, and he can receive private absolution from his confessor.  Pastors are not expected to be sinless, nor should they expect their private sins to be exposed in a public manner.  Private lust is a sin that can remain between the pastor, his confessor, and God.

But what if a pastor takes his private lust, and makes it public?  For example, what if a pastor uses his position as a pastor to make sexually inappropriate comments to his employee?  To his parishioner?  To another man’s wife?  Those are not private sins.  They are public sins.  They are public sins, first, because they involve other people, and second, because they are an abuse of the public ministry.  When one abuses the authority and power of a public office, that abuse of power is in no way a private matter.

Nonetheless, when a pastor falls into disgrace for abusing his pastoral office and must resign from the public ministry, it is possible that under certain circumstances he could be allowed to do so privately.  This is because he would be leaving the public ministry, and would no longer be a public representative of the Church.  If he will no longer be a pastor, then he does not need to meet the Scriptural qualifications of a pastor.

However, what if this pastor did not start looking for a private vocation?  What if instead, he began to use the remaining power of his pastoral office (connections, colleagues, church staff, and a large audience) to attempt to falsely discredit the victim and/or her family?  That would be another abuse of the power of the pastoral office.  A pastor who did that instead of repenting, would be compounding his sin.  He would be demonstrating, that even if he had understood his sexual sins, he clearly did not understand his abuse of the pastoral office to commit those sins nor his abuse of the pastoral office to continue sinning against the victim and/or her family.

The pastoral office can wield tremendous social power.  That is why the men in that office should never abuse that power.  When it comes to abuse of the pastoral office, they must be blameless, or they cannot be a pastor.  If a WELS pastor has abused the pastoral office, then he has abused a public trust, and he should not be quietly transferred to another congregation.  The Church needs to be able to trust all her pastors.  And the Synod needs to be able to trust that certain leaders are not just covering up for their friends.  When it comes to conflicts of interest and covering for its friends, parts of the WELS leadership need a lot more transparency and honesty.

The Death You DeserveMy brother Jonathan is writing a fictional book called, The Death You Deserve, and he recently released the cover art for the book.  Jon is a Lutheran Christian, and I’m curious to see whether the title will lead to any theological or philosophical implications.  I’m planning to follow his efforts closely because I’ve also taken an interest in reading and writing fiction.

A recent book that I read, and can recommend is The Year of the Warrior by Lars Walker.  Lars is a somewhat well known Lutheran Christian author with numerous books already published.  The Year of the Warrior is a work of historical fiction set in the land of the Vikings.  It deals with topics of paganism, Christianity, swordsmanship, the supernatural, magic, history, and politics.  One topic that it did not cover, but one that that I would have enjoyed, was romantic love.  The Year of the Warrior had lust, but no real romantic love.  Overall, I liked it, and gave it three out of five stars on Goodreads.com.  I also added Lars’ Troll Valley to the list of books I’d like to read.

WELS logoRecently, a WELS pastor used an assault rifle as a sermon prop, specifically an AK-47.

The original Kalashnikov AK-47 was developed by the Russians during the Cold War, and came to be associated with the enemies of America and the West.  During the Vietnam War, it was the primary infantry weapon used by the North Vietnamese Army and The Vietcong.  (Vietnam War.net).  Although often associated with the Cold War, the AK-47 is still in widespread use today.  (GunClassics.com).  Because it is easy to produce and operate it is a favored weapon of many guerrilla and resistance groups, and is currently in use by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Recently, the U.S. Army fought against an insurgency in Iraq.  When a soldier serves in an area of insurgency, he must be on constant guard because he could be shot at anytime, anywhere, by anyone, even people dressed as civilians.  Over prolonged periods of time this can be very stressful, and often has a profound negative psychological effect.  Even after returning home, when in public, many combat veterans still prefer to keep their backs to a wall as protection.

Therefore, under such circumstances, one can imagine how veterans of a recent insurgency war like Afghanistan or Iraq might feel when they see the preferred weapon of their enemy.  I can imagine that they would be made to feel at a minimum profoundly uncomfortable.  In fact, a veteran of the Iraq War complained about the sermon prop, and said the AK-47 made him uncomfortable and that it was an improper prop to use in a sermon.

The sermon took place at a WELS congregation that calls itself (among other things) “922 Church.”   922 refers to 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”  According to their website

being “all things to all people” means the following:

•  offering a variety of worship opportunities each week all grounded on the truth of God’s Word but different in style—some using the traditional Lutheran Liturgy, others being modern traditional, and still others that are non-traditional.  We believe this variety is essential so that we can reach more people.  Different worship styles “speak” to people differently, so our members and guests are able to pick the form of worship that is most meaningful to them so that they’re motivated to live their lives for the Lord.

•  using technology and the visual arts in worship and beyond

What purpose does an AK-47 have in a sermon?  An assault rifle does not deliver the forgiveness of sins, nor does it render unto God a sacrifice of praise.  After the service, what were people talking about?  Jesus?  Sin?  Forgiveness?  Or the fact that the pastor had a gun in church?  And not just a gun, but a big gun?  And a notorious gun?  But that is just the point.  From the perspective of the church Growth Movement, getting people excited about “church” is what is important.  “Becoming all things to all people” is about giving the customers what they want, and bringing them back for more.  And if a big notorious gun will serve to get people excited and talking and coming, then it served its purpose.

However, a gun is not God’s word.  God has promised to come to us in word and sacrament.  Do we trust God’s promises and means?  Or do we trust in the “wisdom” of men?

It is not wrong to use a prop in a sermon.  But what is the wisdom supporting the prop?  Is it the hidden wisdom of God hidden in word and sacrament?  (1 Corinthians 2:7).  Or is it the wisdom of men that seeks attention and earthly glory?

In the video above, Chris Rosebrough interviewed Janet Mefferd about the scandals surrounding Mark Driscoll.  Mark Driscoll is a leader in the church growth movement, and a self styled pastor of other pastors.

The problems discussed in this interview exist not only in many nondenominational churches, but also in the Lutheran churches who have copied their methods and practices.  Unfortunately, this also includes WELS Lutheran churches.  (DP Engelbrecht on Plagiarism).

At twenty-five minutes, fifty seconds in, Rosebrough said:

I’m worried for the church because [on issues of honesty, such as plagiarism] the world has more ethics and better values than Christians in the church, and this cannot end well.  Things do not go well for a society when the world, people who are dead in trespasses and sins, have more morals, more scruples ethically than the people in the church.  I don’t know what this is.  Historically, I can’t find a parallel in the two-thousand year history of the church…  People keep talking about how they’re hoping for revival, that there is going to be this great outpouring of the Spirit.  That’s a bunch of nonsense.  You want to see revival?  It begins in the church with people saying we have sinned against God by tolerating evil men who are publicly sinning, who are not qualified to be pastors, we have not only tolerated them, we have defended them, and we have attacked those who have raised the Biblical issue regarding these men, and we repent.  Until that happens, there’s not going to be revival.  It’s only going to get worse, and Christianity is going to continue becoming more of a moral joke as it slips into a complete laughing-stock [and] morass based upon celebrity cults.

The entire interview is worth a good listen.

Kyrie eleison.

It’s Still Winter

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The sun sets over a frozen Lake Winnebago.

Seasons Come and Go

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Many in the mid United States are tired of the windy cold and snow.  Yes, it’s been cold.  The picture above is of a September day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The sun shone off and on, and it was a fairly warm day.  Some of those trees are young, some are old, and some are lying on the ground.  Trees, people, and seasons all come and go.

It won’t be Winter forever.

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A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns…

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun…

[Nonetheless, God] has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

— Ecclesiastes 1:4-6, 9; 3:11, ESV.

Be it people or seasons or any other natural beauty, may God grant to all of us the ability to enjoy everything that is beautiful in its time, today.

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‘Brave German Woman’

The title of the video is “‘Brave German Woman’ rebukes Islam’s lie.”

The Middle East used to be a Christian land.  The political arm of Islam conquered the Middle East over a thousand years ago, and almost conquered Europe a couple of times since.  Through centuries of systematic repression and organic persecution of Christians, Christianity is on the verge of disappearing from some middle eastern countries.

Will Europe and America follow through surrender?  Do we care nothing for religious freedom?  Where are the men of The West?

This video reminds me of Deborah.  God had told Barak to go, and defend his people, but he would not.  Instead, Barak said to Deborah, “‘If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’  And she said, ‘I will surely go with you.  Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’”  (Judges 4:8-9, ESV).  Barak and Deborah went, and God defended his people Israel so that the Lord Jesus Christ could eventually be born.

The Lord will always defend his people, but we will not always receive the full glory God wants to give to us because we do not always boldly speak the truth.  (Heaven itself is a free gift, but in heaven some will receive greater glory than others).  I don’t know where the men of Germany are, but I am grateful for the courage of one brave little German woman.

“Jesus Christus allein ist Herr.”

Jesus Christ alone is Lord.

Amen.

White Epiphany Winter

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All the pictures in this post were taken in a field on Christmas Eve 2013 A.D.  So the original title of this post was supposed to have been “White Christmas Winter,” but Flickr changed some of its code, and I had difficulty posting pictures here to WordPress.  So now it is an Epiphany post.  It was a white Christmas, and so far God has blessed us with a snowy and cold Winter.

Whether God sends us warmth or cold or wind, we rejoice in all things.

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In the picture above, one can see that the trunk of a very large tree was snapped in half by a tornado last August.

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A lot of trees were bent over by that tornado.  Many were also broken.

New trees will grow in their place.

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The light still shines.

Epiphany is a season in which we celebrate the revelation of the shining light of Jesus Christ.  The baby born in Bethlehem is the Son of God and the promised Messiah.

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The Christmas Eve snowstorm delivered about eight to ten inches of a very flaky fluffy snow.

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The picture above shows the flat reflective flakes this snow can form.

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Only a very cold day will preserve such delicate flakes in a bright Winter sun.

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If one cross-country skis at night with a headlamp through this type of snow, the snowflakes will reflect the light back from the lamp in a million little points of light.  As one schusses through the snow, those lights can sparkle.

It is beautiful on a cold winter night with twinkling stars above and sparkling snow below.

Above is a short video to give an idea of what that sparkling can be like.

Unfortunately, internet compression has caused this video to lose much of its rich blue color and sharp detail.

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Tracks from a Christmas Eve Field Mouse

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These tracks would often suddenly end.  This snow is so fluffy, it must be easy for an adventurous mouse to tunnel underneath.  I suppose they have to watch out for hawks.  How does such a little mammal stay warm when it is so cold outside?  God watches over all His creatures.

I saw a number of animal tracks in the snow.  I’m not an expert, but I thought I also saw tracks from wild turkeys and possibly a pair of foxes.  Maybe the Lord’s creatures were out preparing for Christmas.  We know that all “creation waits with eager longing for the” second coming of Christ.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  {Romans 8:19-21, ESV}.

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Winter photography seems to be best only when it is very cold, or maybe that is just my fingers’ imagination.

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Usually, this is as close as I get to a selfie.

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May the true love and selfless beauty of Christ be revealed to you.  May God bless you and your family in this season of Epiphany.

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Objective Justification is the righteousness of all people.  And the righteousness of all people is Jesus Christ.  As the prophet has said, He is “The Lord Our Righteousness.”  (Jeremiah 23:6).  Jesus Christ is Our Righteousness.  And Jesus Christ objectively exists independent of our faith, therefore, Our Righteousness objectively exists independent of our faith.  However, Jesus Christ and his benefits are received only through faith.

Some have become trapped in endless quarrels over the meaning of words, but God has charged us to not quarrel over words because it ruins the hearers.  (2 Timothy 2:14).  Those who claim that our justification and righteousness do not exist apart from our faith cause those struggling with doubt to doubt even more.

What is important to remember is that our lack of faith does not nullify God’s faithfulness.  (Romans 3:3-4).  What is the work of God?  “To believe in the one he has sent.”  (John 6:29, NIV1978).  For even faith itself comes from God.  “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”  (1 Corinthians 1:30, NIV1978).

Christ is the beginning and the end.  Christ alone.  He is Our Objective Justification:  He is Our Righteousness.  Do you want to know where your forgiveness and righteousness is?  It is in Christ and Christ alone.  He is for you, and he is for all people.

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