Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Theology: The Art of Making Distinctions

Pastor Tom Baker has a daily radio show at KFUO called Law and Gospel. He has many sayings he loves to use, but perhaps the most insightful (inciteful?) statement he makes is "theology is the art of making distinctions". In a post just three spots down from this one, I wrote a piece about The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr. and his statements about genetic reasons for homosexuality and curing it if such a thing were possible. That's fine. He can make his distinctions if he wants to, although there are a lot of people who disagree with the distinctions he makes.

But that's not what this post is about. I have some great teachers, not the least of which is the Holy Spirit, but both Pastor Tom and Pastor Gary (of Risen Savior Lutheran Church and School in Palm Bay) have been challenging me to make fine distinctions. I tell them, "hey, I'm an artist. Asking me to make fine distinctions in theology is a bit like asking Botticelli to paint one thousand songbirds on a one inch canvas". I'm game for trying, always, and ready to be corrected if necessary, but I do like to try.

Another blogger asked me in the comments to the Mohler post the following:
I would like, however, to explore this statement regarding "not for the sake of Christ's work alone." When you say "work" do you mean the work of Redemption, or are you referring to the work that God does in the sinner? If the latter, then I agree with your statement. Faith can never be in what God accomplishes in us. But if the former, I would like you to elaborate more. In once sense is our faith not also in the finished work of Redemption? That is a fine edge indeed, and I am not sure where you are going with it (if that is indeed what you meant). Perhaps that could be the subject of a new blog entry.

I promised him I would, so let me get out my tiny little one-hair brush and get to painting those songbirds.

The Bread King?

Crazy sounding statements like "salvation is by Grace alone, through Faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone, Not for the sake of Christ's work alone" jar people, and I'll admit that part of the reason I make them is to make people stop and do a double take. This one in particular is becoming a favorite of mine because it helps people (lutherans especially) understand how weird the statement "faith alone" must sound to Roman Catholics. The word "alone" makes Christians crazy, and sometimes the hearer is thrown into a fitted battle between his old man and his new man.

Let's consider Jesus' actions in John Chapter 6 when the people wanted to make him king by force. "Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." (John 6:15) It's interesting that Jesus would do that. Why wouldn't he want to be king? That was part of his mission on earth, wasn't it? Was it because he didn't want to be king? Was it because the people had missed the point of his miracle?

The problem with talking about Law and Gospel is twofold in this current culture (there's actually more, but we'll stick with two for time being). Because it's pretty much unique to Lutherans, the evangelical on the street has no idea what you're talking about beyond maybe a old testiment/new testiment dichotomy. But even once you've dispelled that view, usualy what comes up next is "works vs. faith", which isn't necessarily true all the time either. The discussion I had (and am sure to have again in the future) ended up in a question, "When you say "work" do you mean the work of Redemption, or are you referring to the work that God does in the sinner?"

Answer? Both.

THE way, THE truth and THE life.

Ok, I've only painted half the birds, so let me continue. In John 6 starting with verse 25, the people have followed Jesus to Capernaum and he told them, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill." I can hear them saying to themselves even, "well, duh!" So he says, "work for food that endures to eternal life". They immediately ask, "what must we do to do the works God requires". Then Jesus says, "the work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent".

Then what do they do? Demand a miracle from him so they can believe. They are right back where they started, wanting more miraculous signs. "Feed us more bread and fish" they might say. "Raise a man from the dead" they might say. They might even say, "die on a cross and then be raised from the dead yourself so that we can believe in you." In fact, if Jesus wanted to have maximum marketing effect to draw more people into his church on earth then he should have opened up in Jerusalem playing three performances per night at the temple. "Come one, come all and see the Amazing Jesus of Nazareth and his performing 12. Be amazed at the spectacle of people raised from the dead! Watch as the deaf hear, hear as the blind see, jump as the lame walk." In fact, it could have been the beginning of the election campaign of all time. "Cast your vote for Jesus for King of Israel. Free bread and fish and wine in large jars provided at no charge." The Herods wouldn't have stood a chance.

Does all that sound right? After all, the people with Jesus bring up the point that their forfathers ate manna in the wilderness and that was a miraculous sign. God gives signs and commands the people to remember the things that he's done, repeatedly saying to them, "I AM the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt", and one could add the rider, "with no help from you people, thankyou very much". What Sign indeed? What sign will wicked people accept?

No, Jesus dropped a bombshell on them. "The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." When they demand that he give them this bread he says... "I AM the bread of life." Why they didn't try to kill him right then and there is a mystery. They grumbled about it. They wanted a sign, but all Jesus seemed to want to talk about was himself. In fact he get's more and more explicit as time goes by, talking about flesh and blood in a way that's strangely intimate. No signs, no wonders, just eating flesh and drinking blood. True food and true drink. In fact, Jesus puts himself on the scene in the wilderness as the giver of life, as does St. Paul, when he wrote in 1 Corinthians, "They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ."

But before the conversation was over with, all of the disciples left save the twelve. I mean, Jesus can give you just about anything and everything you could want, right? Bread for the feast, and turn water into wine. Outcast? Jesus can fix that. Dying? Jesus can fix that too. Lame? Deformed? Blind? Deaf? He can fix all of that, and more! He can even die and rise again! Amazing! Where do I sign up? I believe! I believe in Jesus.

Thing is, there are a lot of people who believe in Jesus who aren't saved at all. And I don't mean the backslidden Christian, the carnal Christian, or any of that. No, they believe everything the bible says. They believe the miracles happened. They believe Jesus died and rose again from the dead. They believe it all. What they don't believe is the promise. Jesus kept coupling the promise of eternal life with a kind of intimacy with himself that is both strange and yet familiar, even to my own ears even today. "I will raise them up in the last day"... "Eat my flesh and drink my blood"... "The words I speak to you are spirit and they are life"...

"...and I will raise you up in the last day". Luther said that, in the Lord's supper, the most important words in the institution is "for you". Because if you don't believe that all of this is "for you", you have nothing. How many times did Jesus say that? "...and I will raise you up in the last day". Four times. Remember also, what St. Thomas had to say about this, silly though it was. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it (he rose from the dead)." Jesus pretty much "nails" Thomas after that. "Because you have seen me you believe. Blessed are those who have not seen and believe". In fact, if you stop and think about it, this stuff about Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life is preposterous. This whole thing is too loopy to believe. In fact, even if Abraham Zapruder (famous for his film of JFK's assasination) had been on the scene with his camera filming the Jesus' death and resurrection... People still wouldn't believe. CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and MSNBC could have been camped around the place of the skull broadcasting the event to the world with commentary and interviews with the Caiphus and the others, even Pontius Pilot could have been soundbyte of the week: "What I have written, I have written."

Thankfully, Salvation is by grace alone (God has created a way to be overtly overgenerous to sinners), through faith alone (the tool that God provides to grasp and hold onto the promise), for Christ's sake alone (grounded in the person and work of Christ himself), for the glory of God alone (He alone has done this, at great cost). What we have in Christ is not just a miraculous sign of resurrection, but a living Christ who serves himself up to us in a way that's as startling as it is intrusive in our faithless world. It's not just Christ's work that saves, but his presence, "the word of eternal life", as Peter put it. The word that is spoken that is spirit and life. The Word made flesh.

So it's sort of a trick saying. "...For the sake of Christ alone, but not for the sake of Christ's work alone". That very fine edge, especially during this time of lent, is a fine thought indeed.


I would like to thank each person who's responded to this blog. One thing I'm certain of, God wont let me run to far astray, mainly because of the great people He's put nearby me to act as shepherds in his stead. This was by far one of the hardest and scariest posts I've done so far. Hard, in that I'm being made to reach out hard for things I don't fully understand yet, and scary in that I don't want to lead people or myself out into weird places.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

When to be outraged...

Female Judge in Frankfurt Germany says Koran Verse allows Husband to beat Wife.

In an absolutely bizzarr ruling, a divorce Judge in Frankfurt German quoted a Koran Verse that is often interpretted to mean a man can beat his wife if she is "unchaste".

The woman wanted a "quickie" divorce from her husband because he hit her and threatened to kill her. The judge ruled that being "castigated" by a husband was not sufficient grounds for a divorce.

It's seems to me that the judge missed the point. What we have here is a man threatening to kill his wife... That's murder folks. The west needs to wake up and rethink this stupid notion that Islam is a religion of peace. Case in point...

There's more youtube video of this nature than anyone can realize. If Sharia law were to come to the United States, and actually be tolerated, then this would be what we would get in so called "sermons"... Practical advice on how to beat your wife.

Heavenly Father, have mercy on us all. Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Under His Wings...

Psalm 91

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday. (4-6)

This Psalm is often seen as a messianic Psalm, for two reasons. One is because it seems to point to someone other than your average Israelite (including David), and the other because it includes a passage that Satan used to tempt Jesus. Satan had taken Jesus to the top of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: " ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’"

Of course, Jesus replied back with better from Deuteronomy 6:16. It's known today that a sign the Israelites were expecting of the messiah was that he would be able to jump off the top of the temple and angels would come to rescue him. They probably took this also from Psalm 91, but Jesus refused to do this, even though it would have shown the whole world he was truly the messiah. In this case, he proves himself to be God's own son by obeying his Father, saying, "it is written; you shall not put the LORD, your God, to the test".

But what else might Jesus have been up to? Many of today's teachers say that Jesus was proving himself in wilderness, and indeed it's obvious that he was. But what's even more remarkable is that in that same Psalm that Satan used to tempt Jesus, it says, "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways". (Ps 91:11) This line, I think, is important because later on, on Maundy thursday night, Jesus said as the temple guards were preparing to arrest him...

"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him (one of his companions), "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Mt 26:52-54)

Here, we have Jesus saying he could call out for help, but refuses so that the scripture would be fulfilled. He could call, but he didn't. Isn't it remarkable that only a short while before a ministering angel was there in the garden with him? (Luke 22:43) Jesus, while being tempted by Satan, turned down the help of angels, even if it were to show all the world he is the Messiah. Here, Jesus turned down the help of angels... to show the world he truly is the messiah!

Jesus said, many times, that he came to fulfill the law and the prophets. (Mat 3:15, 4:14, 5:17, 8:17, 12:17, 21:4, Jn 12:38, 13:18, 15:25). He also said, he came to be a ransom for many. (Mat 20:28, 1Ti 2:5-6, Heb 9:15). His entire life, from start to finish, was about fulfilling the righteous demands of God, even to the cross itself and death on Golgotha for all. Each time he turns down the gifts that God would give his only son, whether it's food in the wilderness, or angels to rescue him, or riches or the world, or life itself... he turns it all down, suffering instead in our place, taking our sins, our trials, our torments, our hunger... Just as the prophet said, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows" (Is 53:4) And because of this, we can now have the promises of God in the Psalm:

Just as it says, "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways". Guard our hearts and minds in the true faith unto life everlasting. This, for our lenten season, we see your glory and sacrifice, and recieve the promises ever in your name, Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sin as act or sin as condition.

The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Souther Baptist Theological Seminary, has created a furor by publishing and article entitled, "Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?" Click here to read his article.

The furor comes over his admission that there could be a genetic cause for homosexuality and if so, could there be something done about it. Gays, of course, are up in arms over this because they still mix a strange worldview wherein they want free will but at the same time want to uphold that free will by saying they don't have free will (hence the genetic arguments).

But that's not the issue I'm going to pick on. In a news article written by David Crary for the Associated Press, he reports that "Proof of a biological basis would challenge the belief of many conservative Christians that homosexuality - which they view as sinful - is a matter of choice that can be overcome through prayer and counseling."

I'm glad he says "conservative Christians", but actual conservative Christians aren't interested in a list of sins, but rather the sinful condition. Historic Christianity says that all human beings (save for one) exist in a fallen state wherein it is in their nature to sin. Martin Luther, in his work Bondage of the Will, expounds on the biblical concept of sin and mankind's fallen state, reiterating the Christian doctrine that "all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God". The reason we are all sinners is because our wills are in bondage to sin, and the only solution to that problem is a savior, Christ the Lord.

I'm not certain about the assertion that we should look into a medical treatment for homosexuality. It's my belief that the cure would turn out to be curse. I would be curious as to whether anyone would be interested in a cure for, say, hateful thoughts, or gossip, or depraved indifference to fellow human beings. But that's a discussion for another time. People do need to understand that just because another person's sin seems greater than yours does not make you less in bondage to sin than another. Both Albert Mohler Jr. and the gays that assail him need to understand this.

Lord Grant your command, In Jesus name. May it be so.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

This week on the Whitehorse Inn March 11th...

This week the boys at the Inn are joined by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, to discuss how to do outreach without it being "sellout" reach. In fact, Driscoll's point is that people in America have been so oversold on religion that they are done with it. Moreover, most of the time the niche marketing tactics used by today's church is seen to be, for the most part, insulting to people's intelligence.

I tend to agree there. I know from personal experience that it's very difficult to go to a church where you are talked down to by people who don't know enough about a given subject to fill a gnat's naval. And it's even worse when you are being talked down to on a subject (like say, the Bible) and the person talking down to you should know more than you and they don't. It's a bit like going to the dentist and finding that he or she talks to you like you know nothing as they are about to drill on your teeth without giving you novacaine first.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Nothing to do with anything...

But I thought this was pretty neat. I wish I'd had something like this when I was a kid. He's playing a video game called "dance dance revolution", which is played on a special control pad that you dance on.

Daddy says to his son, "That's amazing", and the kid calls out to mom to come and look. It is amazing.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Faith Connected to Something Real...

What is the point of Faith? The reason I ask the question is because there seems to be some growing confusion as to what faith is. Christians understand (at least Lutheran Christians do) that their faith is based on extra gnose, or knowledge that is outside of us. That knowledge comes from God in His word and is demonstrated in real human history by His acts and His intrusion into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. This Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to God's will, suffered on a real wooden cross, shed real RH typable blood, and died a real, true death. He was raised from the dead, really and truly, in the flesh, was touched by real people, ate real fish in front of his disciples, and breathed real breath on them. It's all true.

But even more so than all that of that, our faith is based on promises that are connected to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "Whosever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life". This is just as true as anything else about Jesus, whether people believe it or not.

Faith is nothing more than the utensil -- the empty hand -- that grasps and hangs onto these truths. But lately, there seems to be a push to redirect people's attention away from that which faith grasps and believes, and turn their attention to faith itself. After the recent "documentary" about the lost Jesus tomb, there was a discussion panel moderated by Ted Koppel. It would seem that there was a concensus, led by the Roman Catholic (priest?) that it wouldn't matter how much proof there was that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. No matter what, they would still believe.

No matter what, eh? On a recent broadcast on a Christian radio station, the host of the show gave the following fake scenario as a news report: Archeologists have found a second chamber near the "lost tomb" of Jesus that contains a cross, and on that cross is a sign written three languages that says "JESUS OF NAZARETH - KING OF THE JEWS". The letters on the sign are written in Aramaic, Greek and Latin. DNA testing shows that the blood on the cross matches the DNA samples of the bones in the ossuary that bears the inscription, "Jesus, son of Joseph".

Ok, what I'm hearing is that, faced with such a scenario, people would continue to believe no matter what. I'll grant that this amount of evidence that Jesus didn't rise from the dead isn't incontrovertable, but it's pretty good. But what I'm hearing that's even more disturbing is that quite a few teachers and pastors are, in essence, telling people to look at the fact that they believe that Jesus rose from the dead as proof that it's all true and the report is not.

That's exactly the trap that Satan has set for us. He absolutely loves it when God's people examine their faith in times like this. I mean, after all, do I really have faith? In the face of such strong evidence that Jesus never got out of the tomb, never was resurrected... is my faith strong enough to withstand that? Or should I turn away from myself and my faith and look to God and his promises?

Any time we tell someone to examine their faith, we could well be doing the work of Satan. Satan's biggest single trap is he wants us to doubt. He wants us to say goofy things like "I'll believe, no matter what" rather than simply looking to the Cross of Christ for comfort. In fact, if people want to do something in times like this as a bible study, just start with chapter one of Job. God's message for Job, whose faith was assailed on all fronts, is exactly the message we need to hear. If anyone points you to your faith as proof, or tells you that you have strong faith or weak faith in the face of Satan's barbs and schemes, just think about Job when he said "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. "

Along with the truth of Jesus Christ, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his promise to "raise you up in the last day", is the truth that God's plans cannot be thwarted. It's impossible for people to refute the Jesus of God's plan. They can try, but they cannot succeed. So let them keep digging in the sand. They wont find peace there.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Pearl of Christian Comfort

The Pearl of Christian Comfort was written in the sixteenth century by a Dutch reformed pastor named Petrus Dathenus. The book consists of a series of letters written between himself and an aristocratic lady who was afraid for her soul.

This is a short, sweet, masterful presentation of Law and Gospel. The book itself only costs 9.50 from Amazon.com, and I highly recommend it. Dathenus rightly places the law in it's accusitory position and shows us how our sin is so great that we have no hope of ever living up to that standard and allows us along with the woman to whom he is writing to look to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. He shows how the Law is fulfilled In Jesus Christ to it's fullest.

What's particularly nice is how he responds to at first to a question concerning the famous passage from Deuteronomy, "Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out." When she states that she knows she hasn't kept the law and questions why God would require us to do something we cannot do perfectly, his startling answer is, "it's because you do not rightly know Jesus Christ".

An amazing read for anyone trying to understand Law and Gospel as a distinction, especially how it pertains to the reformation.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Tonight on Issues Etc...

Tonight on Issues Ect. Tod Wilken talks to Dr. Craig Evans of Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, Canada about the new Documentary called "the Jesus Tomb". This program begins live on KFUO.org at 10 PM EST and is live for two hours. You can call the show with questions, just talk to Jeff and tell him Matt sent you.

"The Jesus Tomb" is a film made by film maker Schimca Jacobovici with hollywood director James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator). The claim that is made is that a tomb found in Jerusalem contained the remains of not only Jesus, but Mary Magdalene, another Mary, and a son named Judah. The claim is based on "statistical analysis" that shows that the odds are 1 in 600 that these names would be found in the same tomb and supposedly means that this is the actual tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.

Click here to begin listening live. If you don't have Windows Media Player, you can find a link to the program to the right of this column under links to KFUO.

This week on the Whitehorse Inn March 4th...

This week on the Whitehorse, Mike Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, Rod Rosenbladt and Ken Jones take discuss "Finding truth in a world of Spin".

Justice? How do we spin a word like that in today's culture? Sin? Grace? Do Christians understand what these words really mean with regards to God's word? Holiness? Does that have anything to do with man, or does it have everything to do with God? Rod Rosenbladt says that today's evangelical church is a "comfortable materialism". He believes that the materialism of our culture makes us blind to being frightened by death and a judgement by a just and holy God.

Click here to listen to the show.

Number 2 on google!

Don't know how that happened, but it's pretty cool. Tear Down the High Places comes in second on a google search. It used to not be listed at all!


Now all I need to do is figure out how to bump off this "branches in the vine" site. ;)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lenten readings

This year for wednesday night services, we are having a series of "dramatic readings" that read like a testimony from each person from scripture that Jesus touched in a special way. Ash Wednesday featured Pastor Gary doing "the Leper", which reads as though he's there near the cross as Jesus is hanging there. It was outstanding, since Pastor Gary seems to have had considerable training in oration.

I've been asked to do one of these readings. I've been tasked with doing Lazarus on Maundy Thursday. Gary gave me the text from the reading booklet, and he also gave me one of the ones that he already completed a rewrite for. Each "reading" is not too bad on it's own, but He said that he felt they needed some work. He's letting me rewrite it.

It's pretty cool, actually. It means that I'm going to be reading during the time when the sermon is normally given. What's nice is, each reading is very much like a sermon and contains law and gospel. I'm about to record what I've written to an MP3 to send to the Pastor for his approval.

I'm excited.

New graphics for a new perspective

I just finished doing a custom graphic package for "High Places". I wanted my own look that I haven't seen on a website before, one that glows and seems to be lit from behind.

The new perspective comes just as I find been accepted into a lutheran blog webring, "Blogging Lutherns". It's interesting seeing some people like myself perhaps just as interested in a new reformation as I am.

Friday, March 02, 2007

More on "the Jesus tomb"

On KFUO this week, Tod Wilken talked to Dr. Paul Maier (Western Michigan University) about the so called "Jesus tomb" revelation in a documentary by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron (the Terminator). I'm amazed at what Cameron had to say about this. He says he's really not trying to derail Christianity, but rather provide for the first time real, tangible evidence that Jesus really existed.

What's he thinking? Very few people think that Jesus was a mere fairytale. Almost every modern scholar will tell you that Jesus was at least a real historical person. It's the resurrection that bothers people. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then there is no Christianity.

the big test

Since someone, somewhere, has seen fit to deprive the world of Issues etc and take a huge bite out of confessional Lutheranism at the same time, I will not take up the mantle of working to see that those who did it answer for their actions.
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Grants For Single Moms