Ash Wednesday 2016

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“God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life …”  (Genesis 2:7 KJV).  However, man fell into sin, and God cursed him saying, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  (Genesis 3:19 ESV).  We all share the same fate as the first man.  In Adam all die.

In Adam we have all been one,
One huge rebellious man;
We all have fled that evening voice
That sought us as we ran.

“God created man in his own image …”  (Genesis 1:27 ESV).  But after sin, Adam’s children were born, not in the image of God, but in the image of Adam.  (Genesis 5:3).  Adam’s son Cain murdered his brother Abel.

We fled Thee, and in losing Thee
We lost our brother too;
Each singly sought and claimed his own;
Each man his brother slew.

Jesus Christ came in our flesh.  (Hebrews 2:14).  He was our brother, but we crucified him.  Like Cain, we killed our brother.

But Thy strong love, it sought us still
And sent Thine only Son
That we might hear His Shepherd’s voice
And, hearing Him, be one.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians receive ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross as a visual reminder of the consequences of sin.  From the ground we were created, and to the ground we will return: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  (Book of Common Prayer, burial).

O Thou who, when we loved Thee not,
Didst love and save us all,
Thou great Good Shepherd of mankind,
O hear us when we call.

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:22 KJV).  The Christian Church is the Body of Christ.  As he rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, in him so shall we.

Send us Thy Spirit, teach us truth;
Thou Son, O set us free
From fancied wisdom, self-sought ways,
To make us one in Thee.

— “In Adam We Have All Been One,” LSB, 569:1-5.

Junc the Cat

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July 1996 – September 8, 2015.

The wages of sin is death.  (Romans 6:23).  So we wait with eager anticipation for the return of Christ and the freeing of our bodies from the tyranny of sin.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  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.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

For in this hope we were saved.

— Romans 8:19-24, ESV.

Excerpt from “Through the Looking-Glass”

The following is an excerpt from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.  It is a conversation between Alice and the White Queen:

“I’m seven and a half exactly.”

“You needn’t say ‘exactually,'” the Queen remarked: “I can believe it without that.  Now I’ll give you something to believe.  I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone.  “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed.  “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

The White Queen is of course mad.  She can believe anything because she chooses her beliefs.

Sin is a sort of dark madness through which we often delude ourselves.  Contrariwise, the truth is a rock.  We receive truth as a gift, not a choice.  (James 1:17-18).

Blessed Ash Wednesday and Lent

“God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life …”  But man fell into sin, and God said, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  (Genesis 2:7, 3:19 KJV).

“In Adam we have all been one,
One huge rebellious man;
We all have fled that evening voice
That sought us as we ran.”

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”  But after the fall, man’s children were born, not in the image of God, but in the image of Adam.  (Genesis 1:27, 5:3 KJV).  In Adam all die.

“We fled our God, and losing Him,
We lost our brother too.
Each singly sought and claimed his own;
Each man his brother slew.”

However, one son of man was born in the image of God.  His name was Jesus.  His mother was bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.  He was our brother, but we crucified him on a tree.  (Genesis 2:23, 3:15, Hebrews 2:14 KJV).  Like Cain, we killed our brother.

“O Savior, when we loved you not,
You loved and saved us all;
O great good Shepherd of mankind,
Oh, hear us when we call.”

On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, many Christians receive ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross as a visual reminder of the consequences of sin.  From the ground we were created, and to the ground we will return: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  (Book of Common Prayer, burial).

“But your strong love, it sought us still
And sent your only Son
That we might hear his shepherd-voice
And, hearing him, be one.”

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:22 KJV).  Christians frequently partake of the Lord’s Supper, communing in the Lord’s very body and receiving his life giving blood:  “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”  (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 KJV).

The Christian Church is the one Body of Christ.  Jesus is our head and the new Adam.  As he rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, in him so shall we all.

“Then shall our song united rise
To your eternal throne,
Where with the Father evermore
And Spirit you are one.”

— “In Adam We Have All Been One,” Christian Worship, 396:1-4, 6.

Intrepid Lutherans on Plagiarism

Recently, Intrepid Lutherans hosted a poll dealing with the topic of pastoral plagiarism.  This poll asked the question: “Is it acceptable for a pastor to commit plagiarism?”  Here are the results of their poll:

  • No.  Plagiarism is fraudulent misrepresentation — 166 votes – 87%
  • Maybe, if everyone else is doing it — 1 vote – 1%
  • Maybe, if it’s not copyrighted — 9 votes – 5%
  • Maybe, if it helps spread the Gospel — 14 votes – 7%

This poll was then followed by a series of blog posts on Intrepid Lutherans.  Each post is a worthwhile read:

It is good that Intrepid Lutherans attempted to tackle this issue.  They made many good points, and appear to have brought some WELS pastors to repentance.  There is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents.  (Luke 15:7).

However, what about the WELS pastors who were confronted privately by other laity & pastors, and they refused to repent?  What about a District President who appears to justify plagiarism by saying that “many WELS pastors” do it?

Plagiarism is a Sin.  It is foolish to attempt to justify plagiarism because (allegedly) many WELS pastors routinely take credit for other people’s work.  Church leaders who say this not only defend sin, they defame other WELS pastors who are children of God.

It is likewise foolish to attempt to justify plagiarism because one is allegedly spreading the gospel.  Plagiarism is a sin, and the wages of sin is death.  (Romans 6:23).  The Gospel brings life, therefore, the Gospel is the antithesis of sin.  Trying to excuse sin for the sake of the Gospel is damnable heresy.  (Romans 6:15).

Why do so many religious leaders think that the rules do not apply to them?  What causes such arrogant pride, that those whose full time vocation is to teach Law & Gospel and to conquer sin, would so brazenly engage in sin, and teach others to sin?  Oh pastors, the rules do apply to you!  Do you think that because you are pastors, God will be more lenient?  No, those “who teach will be judged more strictly.”  (James 3:1).

How long shall we wait for repentance?  How many times should we call to repent?  Should we wait a year for pastoral repentance?  Should we wait a year and a half?  Should we wait two years for repentance?  Is it too much to expect that pastors would be forthright and honest?  Is it too much to expect that WELS pastors would not teach others to sin by their bad example?  Is it too much to expect that when confronted a WELS pastor would confess his sin and repent?  Or should we expect unending deceit until Christ returns?

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.  Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.  I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

— Matthew 5:25-26.

Be clear that the judge spoken of by Christ in Matthew 5 is not the District President.  When Christ demands an accounting of His shepherds and how they have cared for His flock, the District President will not be able to defend.  District Presidents cannot save (Psalm 146:3), and God does not tolerate those who teach His children to sin.

“… if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!  Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!

… if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”

— Matthew 18:6-7, 9.

The “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23).  Therefore, repent.  Then “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves,”  We are WELS pastors who grow the church.  For out of the very stones God can make true Christians.  (Matthew 3:8-9).

It is good that Intrepid Lutherans were able to proclaim truth, and call some to repentance.  However, what about the rest of the WELS?  There needs to be repentance.  And there also needs to be resignations from those church leaders who have engaged in sin and refused to repent, and also those who have defended and protected sin.

Plagiarism is a Sin

The WELS produced video below teaches us that it is wrong to plagiarize.  The description says: “Sinning results in breaking the trust of God and of others, and has consequences, but grace always forgives.  (Psalm 51, Proverbs 16:13).”

The young lady in the video repented of her sin, and received forgiveness.  She also was put on report, and received the consequence of getting an F on her paper.  Even though there are consequences for sin in this world, heaven rejoices when we repent of our sins, and avoid the eternal consequence.

However, what would have happened had Ginger (the young lady) not repented?  What if she had said, “I’m offended that you would even ask me about plagiarism”?  What if she had refused to answer the charge of plagiarism, and then defended her plagiarism by saying that she had the permission of the original author to surreptitiously copy?  What if she had stood by that phony defense even after it was explained to her that that was wrong?  What if after repeated private rebukes she continued to plagiarize paper after paper, week after week, year after year, and refused to stop plagiarizing?  What if she expected and demanded passing grades for her plagiarized work?  What if she started teaching others that plagiarism was not a sin, but rather was an acceptable practice in school and the workplace?

What should the Church do with someone like that?  Should the Church continue to sweep such behavior under the carpet?  Should the Church do nothing?  Should the Church defend and promote unrepentant sinners who teach others to sin?

Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Galatians:

But if they obey the flesh in fulfilling the lusts thereof, then do they lose faith and the Holy Ghost.  And if they do not abhor their sin and return unto Christ (who hath given the keys to his Church, to receive and raise up those that be fallen, that so they may recover faith and the Holy Ghost), they die in their sins.  Wherefore we speak not of them which dream that they have faith, and yet continue still in their sins.  These men have their judgment already:  They that live after the flesh shall die [Rom. 8:13], … they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

[Martin Luther, Selections from his Writings by John Dillenberger; Anchor Books, 1961, pages 152-153].

Plagiarism is a sin.  This law applies to laymen, students, teachers, and pastors.  Plagiarism is a sin.  Anyone who repeatedly rejects rebuke over this sin is on the road to hell, and should not be a leader in the Christian Church.  There must be consequences for those who openly engage in sin, and teach others to sin.

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  (Matthew 18:6).  “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.”  (1 Timothy 5:20).

Recently, a WELS pastor in Fond du Lac resigned over allegations of theft.  (Fond du Lac Reporter).  Plagiarism is a form of theft, it steals wages that are payed for original work and the trust of those who listen.  Plagiarism is also deceit.  Plagiarism is a sin, and the Church needs to deal with sin by exercising the office of the keys, and also by removing from the ministry those who persist in unrepentant sin.

The Church needs to rebuke and discipline for the sake of the eternal souls of those involved in sin and also those who may be led astray by their bad example, and for the sake of proclaiming the truth.  The Church is called, not to condemn just the sins we personally find abhorrent, but also those sins we personally cherish.  All sin leads to death, and plagiarism is a sin.

Repent.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23).

Words of Truth

As Christians we must be careful how we use words.  Children of God must always testify truthfully, and in order to speak truthfully we must use words correctly.

We have been blessed by God because many English words were developed in the light of his Word.  We have words like sin, good, evil, and God; and most everyone still understands the meanings behind these words and the truth they represent.

However, imagine traveling to a land where they do not have a word for the idea of sin.  Or to them the word “sinful” is associated with ideas like delicious.  Then when someone like John the Baptist proclaims, “Repent of your sinfulness,” they hear but do not understand.

When Satan speaks, he lies because that is his native language.  And one of the first tactics of a liar is to use words incorrectly.  This causes confusion.

When we consistently misuse words we cause them to lose their incisive meaning in our lives. We lose the ability to cut through a fog of confusion.  For example, when we hear the phrase, “Buy one, get one free,” do we stop to think that “free” means we do not have to pay?  Are we able to get the “free” burger without paying?  No.  No matter what he says, the Burger King does not give out free burgers.  On the other hand, the King of the Universe has prepared an eternal banquet, and it is free.

However, some Christians still preach a message similar to “Buy one, get one free.”  They say, “Do good works, and then get salvation for ‘free.'”  But we are destitute.  We have nothing.  In fact, we have less than nothing:  We are sinners who owe an eternal debt that we can never repay.  Must we pay for what is “free”?  No!  Such a “gospel” is absurd.  We might as well tell penniless people to go to Burger King for “free” burgers.

If we must work for something, then “free” is no longer free.  If salvation is by “grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”  (Romans 11:6).

True faith is not useless.

Only after God makes us realize through faith that salvation is free, do we then begin to do good works.  This is because we no longer work out of fear of punishment or greed for reward, but rather our works are motivated by His love.  True good works are done for their own sake, and therefore can only come from a heart that is already free in Christ.  Salvation is what sets us free.

God’s free promise creates faith, and this faith loves and will work because this faith wants to work.  True love is free, and true love loves willingly.  Only God can make our unwilling hearts willing.  Then without fear or greed or self-conscious thought, we do good works motivated by Him.  Having received freely, Christians give freely.  Having received what is free, we have been made free.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  [Galatians 5:1].

This true faith is living and active in our lives because Christ works in us to produce his fruits through our faith.

On the other hand, dead faith is mere historical knowledge that Jesus died and paid for the sins of the world.  Dead faith is not a relationship of trust in Jesus.  Dead faith is useless.  Dead faith knows that God exists, but does not actually trust God.  Dead faith believes about the promise of salvation, but does not actually trust the promise.  Dead faith knows of Jesus, but does not know Jesus.

Anyone who calls himself “Christian” but makes a practice of sinning and does not daily repent and struggle against sin, and does not strive to do what is right, is no Christian at all.  Anyone who calls himself “Christian” and says, “I have faith” should ask themselves what they mean by “faith” and, “Faith in what?”  Is our faith merely knowledge that Jesus is our savior?  Or is our faith actual trust in Jesus?  Do we trust our “faith in Jesus,” or do we trust Jesus?

The person who trusts Jesus, believes Jesus’ words, and Jesus says: “Repent.” (Matthew 4:17).  Do we know what it means to “repent”?  Do we really trust Christ?  Then we should care what he says, and we should believe what he says.

Correctly using words keeps our minds clear.

If we want to communicate Jesus’ message of the Law and the Gospel we must always use words truly and correctly.  Only then will people’s minds be clear so that they can hear and understand and believe.

We should never say “bad” when we mean good, or “free” when we mean not free.  Misusing words is similar to misusing God’s name, which is a violation of the Ten Commandments.  Just as misusing God’s name causes confusion about who God is, so also misusing words causes confusion about reality.

Another word that people abuse is “truth.”  Some gibber, “That’s your truth, not mine.”  They might as well say, “Lies are true” or “Everything is true.”   To them the idea of Truth does not exist and the word “truth” has no meaning.

God’s word is truth.  It is a like sword that flashes like lightning.  It is sharper than “any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  (Hebrews 4:12, Ezekiel 21:28, & Revelation 19:15).  However, when we misuse words, we dull the impact of that sword in the minds of the hearers.  When we misuse words we make ears that cannot hear and eyes that cannot see.  (Isaiah 42:20 & Jeremiah 6:10).

So we must be careful how we use the tools that God has given us for communicating his word of truth.  Through misuse they can become dull and lose their incisive power.

If a prophet says, “Repent of your sin!” and the people who hear him identify the word “sinful” with ideas like delicious, tasty, and indulgent, then they won’t understand what he is saying.  We should be grateful to God because our language was shaped in part by an understanding of his truth.  The English language contains words like God, sin, grace, justice, love, and truth.  But if we allow or participate with the world in changing the meaning of those words, then we will have lost some very powerful weapons for communicating the truth.

Satan is smarter than we.  He is a prowling lion seeking whom he may devour and he is on the attack on fronts we do not even imagine.  But God is all powerful.  We are his servants who are at war with the spiritual powers of this dark world, and we must keep our swords sharp.  (Ephesians 6:12-17).

Free.  Grace.  Faith.  Love.  Works.  Truth.  Prepare your words/swords for the battle!

copyright © 2008 Rick T. @ vdma.wordpress.com

Notes:  This article was first published in the St. Peter Church newsletter May 2008 A.D.

“Watchmen” Movie Discussion

This post is a discussion of the issues and ideas presented in the 2009 movie “Watchmen.”

Watchmen” is a super-hero movie set in an alternative 1985 where the United States won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon was still President.  The Watchmen are investigating a murder mystery, and also trying to stop a nuclear war.

The problem with the super-heroes in the movie is that they never actually rise above the evil world from which they came.  They were still only human.  For example, at a demonstration the Comedian was shooting protesters at random, and said of the Watchmen: “We’re society’s only protection.”  In disbelief the Nite Owl asked, “From what?”  “From themselves,” replied the Comedian.  Indeed.  These “heroes” were a part of the society from which they came, and no better.  Who watches the Watchmen?

Even Dr. Manhattan, who because of a scientific accident had super physical powers, was guilty of the sin of indifference.  He could have saved many lives, but he did not.  “Why would I save a world I no longer have any stake in?” he asked.

In the end, the Watchmen’s “pacifist,” Ozymandias, murdered millions, and framed Dr. Manhattan in a preemptive bid to avoid total nuclear holocaust.  He figured that if the world were threatened in such a way by a “god” like Dr. Manhattan, then men would stop trying to kill each other.  Afterward, Richard Nixon did appear on TV to assure the world that the two sides in the Cold War had pledged to work together to rebuild their cities and oppose Dr. Manhattan.

After discovering what Ozymandias had done and seeing the results, the other Watchmen concluded that the world would be better off not knowing the truth.  The world would be better off alive, at peace, and living in fear of Dr. Manhattan.

Much of their conclusion is true.  Threats and fear can be powerful motivators.  In fact, the real world probably did avoid nuclear war in part due to the fear of nuclear war.  But if that is true, all the Watchmen really did was murder millions and substitute one fear for another.

Because the Watchmen were sinful, they had nothing to really offer the world.  They may have had super physical powers, super intellect, and even super dedication to the truth, but they did not have super morality.  Dr. Manhattan could promise the world an unlimited supply of electrical power, and he could threaten the world with destruction, but he could not change the human heart, not even his own.  Although he could reassemble himself physically, he could not change himself spiritually.

In a world without God, there are no real heroes.  There are only sinful men, some with more physical power than others, but still sinful nonetheless.  Some refuse to use their power to help, others use their power to hurt.  Rorschach was the only character in the movie fully committed to the truth, and he said, “The world will look up and shout, ‘Save us!’ and I’ll whisper, ‘No.'”  His conclusion was that the world did not deserve to be saved.

As a result, “Watchmen” is a cynical movie devoid of joy.  If God did not exist, it would be the whole truth.

Thankfully, a true Hero and a true God named Jesus came to earth to rewrite our history, he came to conquer our sin and change our hearts and give us eternal life.  He was able to do this, not because he had super physical powers, but because he had super moral powers:  He was without sin.  No hero who is sinful can defeat sin.

As fantasy, the Watchmen symbolize the best that sinful man has to offer.  They took the lives of many to save the world physically, but the world was not worth saving.  Jesus gave his own life to save the world spiritually, not because the world deserved it, but because he is the true Savior.

The “Watchmen” aren’t really worth watching: for a true hero, look to Jesus.