#THEBETTERMESSAGE      Coming in Lent!

Heb. 6  Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.

In a world full of seemingly as many opinions, philosophies, religions, social constructs, and overall “positions” as there are people, one thing is making itself more clear to me by the day:

We Christians have the better message.

Let me state that again. We Christians have THE better message.

If that is true, you may wonder, why not just call it “the best message?” I’ll give a two-part answer to that. The word “best” seems to close off all discussion of the other options out there. It invites us simply not to consider them. The word “better” keeps all the other failed ideas out there in the discussion better so that we can see why the Bible’s message is THE better one. We should want to engage all other failed ideas out there if we believe ours is better.

The other part of my answer to the question, though, is that the word “better” is the term of preference for the preacher in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is not a letter; it is a sermon. It is a sermon about Christ. But the goal of the sermon is to help his Jewish Christian hearers to understand that in Jesus, they have the better message, the one better than all others. The word “better” appears no less than 14 times in the book of Hebrews (an average of slightly more than once a chapter). Peter, in his two epistles, uses the term in a similar manner twice as well. The early church made it their point to preach the Gospel as better than all other options.

At present, I am working with the Board of Elders and the PPC to craft a vision for the next few years here at St. John’s around the theme: #thebettermessage. I even created this hashtag on Twitter a couple of years ago. Now the idea is, however, to make it the focusing principle of the work we do here. We have been given this better message. Now what are we going to do with it?

We will start casting this vision in Lent. The theme of our midweek series is #thebettermessage. We will be exploring the powerful way the Preacher to the Hebrews comforts his hearers with this better message and gives them strength to demonstrate to others that they have a better outlook and worldview and that the world can have this better message too!

I hope you will join us on Wednesday evenings this Lent. There’s Good News, the better message, for you! Don’t miss this opportunity to have your faith strengthened in the better message!

Sincerely, Pastor T.

Silence Is Golden

I’m not a doer of New Year’s Resolutions. I stopped around ten years ago. Like many people, most of my resolutions did not make it out of January intact. It dawned on me about ten years ago that our Lutheran, Biblical teaching explains exactly why this failure happens to most of us. The Law is limited in its ability to motivate. A successful change often only happens because of a change in the heart…and that requires both Law and Gospel.

The exercise of self-examination–the sort we often do at New Year’s–is a good thing, however. For me, this is a good time of the year to take stock and renew. I think most of us see it that way.

I have moved over to what I think of as 3 or 4 “themes” in my life I wish to concentrate on. The first one is usually the most important one and impacts the others quite often. My first priority theme for 2019 is “silence is golden.”

This is not a commitment to not talking! Although I do hope this theme means that when I talk I do so more positively and constructively. This theme isn’t as much about what comes out of my mouth as it is about what goes into my ears.

There is too much noise in our world today. All the noise is easy enough to see when one turns on the television. Recently, in a public place, I was subjected to a television tuned in to the day’s episode of TMZ, the entertainment show. It looked as bad as a 24/7 news channel in that its staff were busy arguing. About what? Brad Pitt’s new hairstyle? There may be too much arguing and noise on the news channels, but I will contend that a good old political argument still has more value than what I was seeing and hearing.

It doesn’t improve when you move over to social media. Our exhaustion with social media continues to grow for the same reasons. It may be in text form, but the noise is still very much there.

What should we fill our ears with? The apostle Paul leads the way. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). The word of Christ never ceases to astound me. One, because Jesus never seems to waste a word in His speaking. Two, because He understood the value of silence. At the manger, at the crowd who wanted to stone the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), and on the cross, Jesus is silent. (He is in many other places as well). He doesn’t argue or fill our ears with more noise. The noise is always trying to force us. Jesus’ silence and His powerful Word economy only invites us. His words fill the ears not with noise, but with the beautiful Good News, the most important thing we need to hear.

For me this theme will bring other good things. It will bring less time in front of screens, perusing social media, or idly listening to anything other than the Word…and probably music. It will also mean, God-willing, more peace, joy, and hope. We are not better for all our media saturation. We are better for hearing the Word of Christ.

I share this with you in case you are looking for more of what only the Word of Christ brings. My prayer for you is that you will have a 2019 of greater peace and joy. I hope you find it in the silence and in the Word of Christ.

Sincerely, Pastor T.

Chicken Little – Lesson To Learn? BIG

The simple story of “Chicken Little” is known to most of us. Running around yelling “the sky is falling” repeatedly when it isn’t hurts your credibility and makes you an untrustable character.

Or at least it should.

I’m not sure this moral to the story is true today. Today brings just the latest example. Brett Kavanaugh now has a #metoo accuser. Color me skeptical. Here’s why:

  1. Nothing was said about her during the hearings although her Senator claims to have known about it since mid summer.
  2. The claim was not brought until almost the minute of the confirmation vote.
  3. The accuser has now come forward, with such inexact details that she can’t even remember what decade the incident took place.

Now whether or not Kavanaugh becomes the next Supreme Court Justice matters not a bit to me. I see him as fairly similar to the man he is replacing, Justice Kennedy. I don’t think he will always be a party line voter on the Supreme Court. Maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s bad. Maybe it’s both. I am more of the mindset that it’s truly rare when only one person is qualified for any position. I can live with either outcome when the Senate votes on this. It might still be that she has a case. It’s just that at present there’s not much there to see.

But the larger implication I draw–the reason I mention the classic old story–is the implication of America’s incessant victimhood for our overall health as a society. My problem is not what’s happening to Brett Kavanaugh in particular, but that this sort of victimization in order to castigate happens all the time now. Kavanaugh may just be the most recent example of this.

As a Lutheran pastor, I walk a fine line here, but that’s also why I write this. I am not saying there are no victims. On the contrary! I have known real victims. I have had to help them deal with the residuals of the tragedies that have happened to them. I have had to recognize that bad things happen to people and these can create real victims. [Note: I will add that a real victim does not want to be one. If someone wants to be viewed as a victim, there’s my reason number one to have doubts].

My fear is that the real victims lose their credibility when everybody wants to claim to be a victim. I’ll use another example from the arts. In the movie, The Incredibles, Dash is arguing with his mother after he got in trouble at school. He argues that because his family has superpowers they are special. His mom responds that “everyone is special.” The young boy follows that comment up with some pretty good wisdom. “When everybody’s special, no one is.” Later on, the villain in the story uses the same logic. Credit this movie for exposing this logic as damaging! It truly is.

Call it the “Chicken Little effect,” if you will. If everyone’s a victim and shouting that loudly, then the real victims will not be respected, trusted, and ultimately, helped and nurtured through their traumas. Why should we believe anyone anymore? When everyone’s a victim, then no one is.

[Oh, and by the way, if they get away with it in the Supreme Court hearings, then who will ever be good enough to be on the Court]?

When Asia Argento, one of the actresses who came out against Harvey Weinstein, was later exposed for sexual advances to a 17 year old teenage boy, it put the lie to the conventional ideas about victimhood. Keith Ellison’s former girlfriend was apparently beaten by him, but is her victimhood touted about in the media the way Kavanaugh’s accuser’s is? No. We’re already as a society to that place of ultimate cynicism where we know we can’t trust anyone anymore, so we’re just picking the victims we want to believe. There’s not much room for sympathy there for someone who is a victim NOT by his or her own choosing. You know, a real victim?

As Christians, we have an 8th Commandment responsibility to put the best construction on everything, but this does not mean that the facts aren’t still important in determining guilt or innocence. If the facts reveal that someone claiming to be a victim is not one, we are not keeping the 8th Commandment by asserting they are. After all, if another party is involved and they actually are innocent, we have the same commandment to remember with them. In most of today’s victimhood allegations, it’s important to remember that two parties are involved. What sort of sympathy and care we should want to show to both sides can still only be determined by the facts. If we won’t do that much for both sides, then not only do real victims lose credibility, but we will fail to defend the innocent as well.

This game only has losers. It’s petulant, divisive, dangerous and, in my humble opinion, evil.

Image result for Good FridayConsider Jesus Himself. Truly innocent, He was crucified as guilty and mocked by His tormentors through the whole situation. And people say the Bible is irrelevant! I can’t see a story that is more relevant to today’s headlines than what happened to Jesus. If we make everyone a victim, then the innocent will truly get crucified along with the real victims who have lost our sympathy.

I’ll give a little suggestion. If the media says there is a victim, be careful. Such allegations, if false, can create new and very real victims. We owe it, in our love for the neighbor, to pursue our own facts about the case and not let some reporter mediate the story to us. Our job is not to assume there are no victims, but to find the real ones. In today’s mess of a society, that can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Love should never allow us to become that cynical. When you meet a real victim? Love them. When you meet someone falsely accused who is actually innocent? Defend them and care for them.

One crucifixion’s enough.

Hope Is Here

Matt. 24  32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

As I write this, it’s our second consecutive 70+ degree day. There was plenty of sunshine until about an hour ago, but it is still very nice outside. After a 100 year snowstorm only a couple of weeks ago, the earth is showing signs of waking up. Jennifer mentioned to me last night that it seems like we’re a month behind, but let’s not let lose our gratitude for this gorgeous weather.

The change from winter into spring, and then from spring into summer, has served as a symbol of hope both inside and outside Christianity. Those outside Christianity would do well to notice the cycles of the seasons and how well they intersect with the Bible’s “dying and rising” Law and Gospel message. Every year the earth dies its little death. Every year the earth rises to new life. Death and life, dying and rising, these are the most basic themes of the Law and Gospel message recorded for us in God’s Word.

For the Christian, this dying and rising is not limited to the seasonal cycle. It’s a daily reality. The daily meaning of our Baptisms is that we daily drown our sinful natures and a new man emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This daily gift of God is our greatest asset. God’s will is to put our sinful natures to death and that a new person, freed from the guilt, regret, and death of sin, would get a chance to live a new life TODAY. God does not want us burdened by sins He has forgiven. He gifts us with new life, a good conscience, and the freedom to pursue the good works He has ordained beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:8-10).

The world that does not know this wonderful news is consigned to death. By choosing not to hear the Word, the unbelieving world chooses its own fate. This is sad. Don’t you think?

We have the #thebettermessage. The only thing that holds us back is our own fears and doubts from not fully hearing this great message as well. We have hope, a hope for today, a hope for eternity. It’s already ours! Look anywhere else and will you find such a great hope? Peter writes that all Christians are to be “always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Christ is our hope and the world needs that hope. That is painfully obvious.

And Christ will return! As we look for that return, we let the beautiful and hopeful return of summer remind us, just like the fig tree in Jesus’ words above, that Christ is returning. He is at the very gates. This is not bad news. This is great Good News! Lord, come again soon! Deliver us to a new heavens and new earth!

Praying you are enjoying this first shot of warmth! God use it to bolster your hope in Him who is returning soon!

Peace in Christ,

Pastor T.

Too Bored To Care?

For many friends and acquaintances who are far too anxious these days…

Are we living in consequential times? Or do we just think we are because we have nothing better to do?

Over the last several months, I have noticed certain writers out there who have been advancing the argument that the world’s situation in 2018 is not as consequential as most of us believe. I suspect one thing most people would agree on today is that we are living in a period of significant consequence. There’s an abiding belief that we live in an age unlike any other, and while the advent of the Internet and its easy breezy access to “data” as well as the onslaught of social networking probably is as revolutionary as the printing press was in the mid 15th century, do these innovations necessarily mean we now live in an age that is more consequential than any other? Or is this just a myth perpetuated through endless strings of tweets and posts and comments from people whose understanding of their own importance is higher than it ought to be, fueled by the fact that social networking has now made it easy for them to do so?

In a March 11, 2018 article titled, “There Will Be No Civil War Today,” Kevin Williamson rather brilliantly advances this point that the world’s current situation is not as consequential as we imagine it. Moreover, we only imagine it because of a distorted view of our own lives. The truth? We are bored. This explains why we are glued to our TwitFacetagrams and why we take endless selfies and post them for the world to see. Wouldn’t Narcissus himself be proud? Just think what he could do with a selfie stick! Meanwhile, we post all these things thinking our legions of followers need to know and must necessarily agree because they follow us.

Williamson’s more basic point is that this boredom, played out all over the place on the Internet, makes us suckers for just about anything. He cites the “QAnon” conspiracy theory that is the rage among many conservatives. Confidently asserting that our current president is winning a 9-Dimensional chess match with the Left and the Media, Q-Anon predicted that yesterday (March 11) John Podesta was going to be arrested. (It didn’t happen). Former President Obama is slated to be incarcerated at  Gitmo according to this theory.

The problem is actually how many people really believe this stuff. Williamson is not arguing that we are lacking the intelligence to see through this piffle. He’s arguing we’re too bored, so we are too ready to believe it must be true. He portrays modern life as a constant seeking of tension and release, tension and release. We go looking for this tension and release because it breaks up the boredom. Online fake news, online porn, online social interactions, 24/7 “news,” (add drugs and alcohol here), etc.  In our little online echo chambers, we pick the sources of our information. So obviously what we know must be true. Do you watch Fox News or CNN?  Truth is determined by us and which of these outlets we believe is telling the truth. The sad reality is that much of this tension does not get released. Of course, much of this tension didn’t need to happen in the first place. Americans need to learn to engage their higher brains before putting their emotions, particularly anxiety, into gear.

Slaves to the grind? We are the guilty parties here. We let all these pursuits ratchet up our anxiety and then release it when other information comes out. If it’s what we want to believe, we will believe it. Facts need not enter into the discussion for us to believe it. We have “our facts,” not necessarily objective facts. Certainly, this is partially the fault of a biased media. The word “media” translates “middle” and precious little in the media seems to be objective enough to be presenting the middle of anything. Still, our suspicion of the media, or even our own preference for this or that outlet for our information, really fails to deal with the problem. We remain slaves to the very outlets we seem to distrust. The only real solution is to turn our TVs and computers and devices off or at least cut off our addiction to news and information, whether or not any of it is true.

But then we would be really bored. But whose problem is that? The justification of all this silliness is that we live in consequential times. Ergo we need to know the truth. Unfortunately, the objective truth is not what we mean. We need to know that what we believe is the truth and it’s not about facts. It’s about how many people agree with us. This is what brings the millennial college student who protests a speaker off the campus and a conservative Fox News viewer together. They are both looking for validation not of the facts, but of what they believe is true. They are both threatened by anyone who sees things differently. They both get angry when someone raises valid questions about their beliefs. (It’s getting increasingly dangerous to be a pastor in these times as the Bible doesn’t offer validation for any of this). The opponent provides tension. The ally provides release. To give all this up would be to bore ourselves to death.

Or would it? America in 2018 is an anxiety driven mess and this chronic anxiety is the only thing that makes our age consequential. Countering boredom with anxiety does not seem like a win to me. I could make the argument that there is a case to be made for boredom, for allowing oneself to be bored. I don’t really believe that. As a pastor who teaches the Holy Scriptures, I believe the better argument is to fill our minds with better things. I have always loved our church body’s youth ministry “Higher Things” if for no other reason than its name. The idea is to give young people higher things to think about. Those higher things come from the Scripture, not their Snapchat accounts, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, et al.

One of the more beautiful things Paul ever wrote encourages Christians to rise above the din of all the noise in our world today.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. [Phil. 4:8-9 ESV]

If Christians, in particular, are feeling the weight of all this anxiety, if they can’t relate to the idea of “peace,” I would suggest there is something seriously wrong with their faith. I am not arguing that peace is a feeling necessarily. I will argue that filling our minds with Paul’s “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy” things WILL ratchet down our anxiety. It will not be boring. And peace, whatever we think it is, will likely emerge.

There is a better way. The boredom which fuels the information addictions that fuel the anxiety that fuel the echo chambers that fuel the narcissism, all of that is a dead end. There is a better way. All of Paul’s terms are summed up in the Gospel, in Christ, in the Good News of a God who saves us. Time spent meditating on the Gospel is time far better used than the time spent glued to our many and various screens.

The biggest benefit of all is that such a pursuit will draw us outside of ourselves. Narcissus, our Old Adam, will drown in the pool from which he admired his own reflection. The Gospel draws out our concern for others and their needs. We won’t be too bored to care. We will care, and care for others means we are not bored. We are engaged, engaged in our salvation and engaged in our concern for others.

There is a better way.

In the love of Christ,

Pastor T.

Good Works For Poorly Taught Christians (and Lutherans too)

Something saddens me. I’m not sure it always made me sad, but lately I have been more and more bothered by it.

I have heard many stories over the years about how those who attend the “fun churches” often struggle with the subject of good works. Their consciences are bothered by questions of what good works are and whether or not they have done enough of them. Not that they argue they are saved by them, (although it could be that they feel this way), but that they often worry that they simply do not do enough of them and it burdens their consciences.

I could make the rather bold statement that they should attend a Lutheran congregation and get some real teaching on this, but before I do that, let me put forward the Biblical  teaching. We Lutherans are probably not teaching this enough, especially in our preaching, precisely because we do not want to sound like the evangelicals. Nevertheless, good works are an important part of the Christian life. Let me address both questions above in offering a whole, Biblical teaching on good works and, hopefully, offer a little comfort to people who worry about not doing enough of them.

The Biblical definition of a “good work” has three parts to it:

  1. It can be thought, a spoken word, or an action;
  2. It is done in accordance with the Ten Commandments;
  3. It is done to the glory of God, not the doer.

What is noticeable about this definition is actually how elastic it is. Thoughts and spoken words can be good works. Most of us think before we speak or act. This is true of sinful words or actions. It is also true of good works. Remarkably, a lot of ordinary, everyday actions seem to qualify as good works under this definition. How are we able to comprehend all of the things we do everyday that qualify as good works under such a definition?

Here we see part of the problem with the way the popular churches define good works. For them, good works are often limited to the actions themselves. Not all actions are willfully active in nature, however. For instance, the 3rd Commandment stresses the importance of hearing the Word of God. In other words, hearing a sermon is a good work. You don’t get to choose everything you hear, but faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). I have even heard it argued that church time is wasted time that could be spent doing more good works. Unfortunately, disconnection from the Word is not going to lead to more good works in the end. God’s Law shows us what a good work is every bit as much as it shows us what a sin is. A full bodied teaching of the Ten Commandments reveals how it can be said that thoughts, words, and actions can be good works.

But you can see another problem with this definition of good works in contrast to the Biblical definition. For many churches, good works are the “above and beyond” works of our everyday lives. It’s not what a father does everyday for his child that qualifies as a good work. It’s the willingness to engage the stranger, testify to your faith, make a personal witness, that matters most. This is the Parable of the Good Samaritan on steroids. Nowhere in the parable does Jesus really suggest that a good work is “above and beyond” just because it was done for a stranger by a stranger. He’s defining who our neighbors are, and as such, they are everybody. Should we do good works for strangers? Absolutely! Let the reader understand, however. Your relationship to the beneficiary of the good work is not even part of the definition of a good work.

Many Christians are being taught a far more limiting and narrow definition of good works than the Bible actually teaches. No wonder consciences are burdened. This is what I find sad.

This “above and beyond” understanding of good works is the natural consequence of our age’s loss of the doctrine of vocation. Vocation, properly understood, is the arena God places us in to do good works. That many evangelicals will not recognize a parent’s changing of a baby’s diapers as a good work, but will continue to push their hearers to go above and beyond is the explanation of why many come to question if they are doing enough good works and what it says about their faith. Why anyone would subject themselves to such a discomforting message is really beyond me.

In our vocations (husband, wife, son, daughter, worker, boss, citizen, etc.) we have so many opportunities every day to do good works. God’s Word gives not only an elastic definition of a good work, but He also puts us in daily vocations where many, many good works are done every day…even by the same Christians who question whether or not they do enough of them.

This is where my sadness comes from. Many Christians are browbeating themselves over doing enough good works when the Bible has two very clear things to say to them which they are simply not hearing:

  1. Of course you are not doing enough good works! That’s what sin does to all of us. But it’s also why God gave His Son to die for you and to forgive your sins in your Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper.
  2. Still, at the same time, you are doing more good works than you know. If you think this is not true, perhaps you need to tell the devil where to go. God’s not accusing you of that. He already knows you’re not doing enough. He has forgiven you these sins. It’s the devil who wants you to keep thinking you are failing.

In other words, the whole, Biblical teaching of good works for the Christian has one thing in common with the whole, Biblical teaching on sin itself. In Psalm 19:12, David prays, Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Here David admits he sins too often to remember all his sins. What is the standard by which he makes such a judgment? The Ten Commandments themselves, which are too high a standard to ever keep perfectly and, hence, our sin interferes with our ability to do good works.

The standard for defining a good work is the same standard as what defines a sin: The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments teach us that it is impossible to number our sins. They are too many. I would argue the same is true of our good works. It’s impossible to number them. In our daily vocations, we do far more than we even realize. Also, others do far more good works for us than we often realize too. Perhaps one of the problems with misunderstanding good works is the notion that we don’t need others to do them for us too?

Lastly, a word about the third part of the Biblical definition of a “good work.” Good works are done to the glory of God. Sadly, when many Christians talk about their good works it does get to sounding like they are talking more about themselves than they are about Christ. I think there is a validity to the idea that a singular emphasis on one’s own good works always runs the risk of making the works not good anymore because it’s more about the doer than the Lord who works in the doer.

Sadly, this is probably the sticking point for why many Lutheran pastors, myself included, find it hard to preach about good works. I believe, as long as we are working out of the back of The Small Catechism, that we are teaching them correctly in our classes and teaching. In our preaching, however, we have failed. We are afraid of sounding like the evangelicals so we omit them a lot from our teaching. Ultimately, this is inexcusable. The fact is, we have a better teaching. We have the full Biblical monty on good works. We should not apologize for that. We should trumpet it from the skies!

Because last I checked, there are way too many people who call themselves Christians who are letting an incomplete teaching on good works burden their consciences. Christ completes every good work. He covers our sins. His sacrifice was for sinners. Of course, we do not do enough good works! Confess that as sin and receive His forgiveness. It will always be true until we leave this life. Nevertheless, the Gospel of forgiveness teaches us that God does not want us to live our lives with guilty consciences, but rather with good consciences. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).

Perhaps our problem is our fascination with numbers? Today, the average Christian is going to commit more sins than they are able to number. Today, the average Christian is going to do more good works than they are able to number. The actual number of our sins should concern us, as they do David in Psalm 19. The actual number of our good works is something we should celebrate and give thanks and glory to God for. It proves that He works in our lives and in marvelously ordinary ways (the father and the baby). I don’t think we should let numbers of good works burden our consciences. Rather, we should simply confess we do not do enough while rejoicing in doing more than we even know.

In short, probably the best good work is the one you never realized you did. At least that way, the only One who can be glorified is God Himself.

Thanks be to God for any good works that God accomplishes in this life of sin.

Sound like saint-and-sinner stuff! Of course, if you want to learn more about that and hear the comfort of the Gospel, then go to a confessional Lutheran Church!


Pastor T.


Lutherans Love The World Enough To Tell It The Truth

The take on confessional Lutherans is best described in a poor choice of terms I have heard too many times in my 20+ years as a pastor. When talking about confessional Lutheran churches, the word “strict” is the incorrect word used to describe them.

Having started my pastoral career in Iowa, and first heard the term used of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (Capital T with endash) there, I find it interesting how relative such a judgment is. In Iowa, it was Missouri Synod Lutherans who were the “strict” Lutherans. I always found this humorous having grown up in Wisconsin, where families have divided on the fault lines of the LC-MS and the WELS. Here in WI, the accusation is that the LC-MS is not nearly so “strict” as the WELS. Indeed, that divide often suggests that the LC-MS is liberal, positively permissive in its theology and stance. In Iowa, no one had heard of the WELS, at least not in Battle Creek.

This relativity in the use of the term “strict” belies just how poor of a word it is to describe what really is going on. Regardless of church bodies, we Lutherans of a confessional stoutheartedness do not adhere to the Scriptures, the three ecumenical creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions to the high degree we do because we are “strict.” We Lutherans do not avoid cavorting at the altars of churches who do not share our confession because we are “strict.” We do not practice closed communion and church discipline because we are “strict.” No, such a term is one giant fail in describing what we are really doing.

A much better word to describe what non-Lutherans view as our very peculiar “strict” behavior is actually love. We Lutherans adhere to the Scriptures, the Creeds, and the Confessions because they are the truth, and love always rejoices in the truth. There is no truth apart from the words and teachings of God’s holy Word. We love people enough to hold to this Word and tell them the truth.

We love our brothers and sisters of other confessions enough to hold not only them, but ourselves, to the highest standards of truth. If this means we cannot practice altar and pulpit fellowship with them, we will at least love them enough to say so, even as we pray that the Holy Spirit would increase unity among us until Christ comes again and such differences will no longer exist.

We love unrepentant sinners enough to withhold the Body and Blood of Christ from them until they repent because the Scriptures are truth and they tell us that an unworthy recipient of the Sacrament eats and drinks to their detriment. For the unrepentant sinner to partake of the gifts of forgiveness and life only perpetuates the lie and grants the horrifyingly wrong idea that sin is OK and that grace is cheap. As long as other Christians wish to have a cheap Lord’s Supper, the question comes back to love. The loving parent doesn’t let the toddler drink the household poisons. The rather crass practice of open communion gives strength to the lie and is, ultimately, unloving. The failure to confront public sins in the congregation commits the same lie.

You cannot love someone and lie to them. What the world derides as “strict,” only reveals how little the world really knows. Lutherans are serial truthtellers. Yes. The truth often hurts. The truth of God’s Word, however, is the only thing that can truly heal after it puts our sinful natures to death. “Love,” Paul wrote, “always rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).

So today we celebrate 500 years of truth. That truth may not make the Lutherans the largest or most successful confession within Christianity, but Jesus didn’t necessarily die a very popular person either. This is precisely because He never failed to tell the truth.

This is why I am a Lutheran. Here is where I can love people enough to tell the truth, proclaim it, and let the Holy Spirit use it in their lives as He wills.

We’re not strict. We just love people enough to tell them the truth. Given the degree the world has bought into the lie these days, no apologies will be coming forth from us. We have been given the truth in God’s Word and, as Jesus said, it will set you free.

Praying that the truth will open the cold, dead ears of our present world,

Pastor Torkelson

Defending The Sinner?

It’s been another long (too long) period since I posted. I could invoke the standard “busy” excuse but I myself have had little sympathy for it. We’re all busy. There is an old saying, “Want to get something done? Ask a busy man.” So I won’t bore you with that old canard.

In fact, the opposite is actually my problem. Not that I’m not busy, but rather that there is almost too much to write about these days. It hasn’t been lack of inspiration. That’s for sure. The news cycle moves SO quickly these days that it makes me glad I’m not a columnist or pundit. Their lives must be miserable at present.

On top of that, I’m not a pundit. I’m a pastor. My job is not to be political. My job is to point people to Christ, to give out Christ in His Word and Sacraments. Nevertheless, the so-called “wall of separation” is not nearly so much a wall as it is a window and the Law and Gospel I preach has DIRECT relevance to our world’s situation. I call it #thebettermessage. It is better than all others. (And to any brothers who may wish to criticize me for not calling it #thebestmessage, I simply say, we need to keep the middle comparative here. Nothing is better than this message and I think “better” says that better than “best,” which likely would turn off the person who needs to hear it the most. I agree it’s the best. But I want to lead people to it, not force them to accept it. You won’t get apologies from me).

Ergo, there is much in our news cycle that Christianity speaks to. Indeed, it speaks to all of it…in a better way than any other “message.” Today, I wander into the whirlwind we are reaping for our lack of education. Let’s talk about the bringing down of monuments to historical figures and why Christians probably should not engage in it.

The man on the left is Robert Lee, an Asian American play-by-play broadcaster, replaced by ESPN for calling UVA football games, (UVA is in Charlottesville), because of his nominal association with the man on the right, Robert E. Lee, Leader of the Confederate forces in the Civil War. The word “nominal” here is used quite literally. They share a name (nomen).

The notion that the name is all they share, though, is false. This is why I write this post. Despite their different ethnicities, politics, vocations, preferences, etc etc etc, they still have more in common than the geniuses at ESPN want to admit. Oh, and those geniuses share much with Robert E. Lee as well! (Shhh! Don’t tell them that)!

A few years back, PBS did a wonderful documentary on Robert E. Lee as part of their program, “The American Experience.” I mention this because PBS’ documentaries usually are done by people who lean toward the Left, which seems now to have gone all the way toward erasing Lee’s memory from the face of the earth. Lee is a confounding figure from an historical perspective and the documentary didn’t soft pedal that. How can this man be so inspiring on one level, and so ignorant on another? Lee was soft-spoken, humble, able to inspire merely through his presence. (Grant couldn’t do that). He didn’t shout his opinions at anyone. Still, he led the Confederate forces in the hopes of preserving slavery. How does one handle the problem of hating someone who is eminently like-able, nay, respectable on many levels?

In short, let’s apply the “personal meeting”-test. Who would I rather meet? Robert E. Lee? Or Ulysses Grant? Or some angry protester who is violently pulling down a Lee statue while never really considering the whole story? From this vantage point, I can’t tell which one is more self-righteous. Given the other things I know about him, I know I’d rather meet Robert E.

Still, Robert E. Lee was on “the wrong side of history” (to use the nefarious term of President Obama). Slavery is not a proud part of our history. Word on the street is that people are calling for the removal of the Jefferson Memorial and, possibly, the Washington Monument. (After all, both were slave owners, right)? Consider this phrase one of President Obama’s many forays into blind arrogance. In order for this to be correct, one has to view the present age as more moral and ethical than the previous ages of history. I’ll let the news cycle itself speak for whether or not such a position isn’t just plain folly.

This brings me back to the original point. Robert Lee, the broadcaster, and Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General, have one more vital thing in common. Sinful natures. Both made mistakes. Both probably knew/know what it’s like to fight for the wrong cause sometime in their lives. (Not that I’m trivializing slavery. The scope of slavery is much larger than many of our causes. Still, it’s the same sin that corrupts us all, regardless of scope). Both also knew/know what it’s like to have to suffer consequences for their names. ESPN should apologize not only to Robert Lee, but to the nation for their silly calculations. The muckety-mucks at ESPN are on the wrong side also. (Translation: not any better than Robert E. Lee). Need I explain why?

We Christians do not rejoice in sin. As ones forgiven by Christ, we should seek to emulate Christ’s righteousness, even if sin will always limit the results. Still, part of having a sinful nature may be to have a compassion and sympathy for fellow sinners, which is to say, all people. I don’t like slavery, but does that mean that Robert E. Lee is the devil himself? Especially since I share a sinful nature with him? He was, also, a Christian. Perhaps I will get that meeting with him one day! If so, will it matter anymore what he (or I) did in this life?

Ergo, I defend the sinner without defending the sin itself. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood…(Eph. 6:12). That includes figures from history whose legacies surely are mixed and confounding. Should their monuments be torn down? It seems to me that no one who has ever lived has the credibility to do such a vile thing. When you see protesters in the streets calling for the removal of monuments, see them as the sinners they are, and pray that the Law and Gospel would reform their hearts just as it does ours.

Who am I to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee? Chief of sinners though I be…Christ is all in all to me.

With prayers that Americans would confess their many sins and find a little humility,

Pastor T.

Sacrifice, Homeschooling, And Parenting

Genesis 22:2  “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

It’s been a couple of months now since our oldest son, Matthew, learned he was accepted at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA. As our oldest child, this is one of life’s “firsts” for Jennifer and I; the first child to leave the nest. As many parents can relate, this is a “first” that engenders a lot of thought in the mind of a parent. Is he ready? Did we do a good job? Are we ready? Will he be successful?

I believe these thoughts have been complicated a bit for us by Matthew’s chosen field of study: strategic intelligence and national security. This area puts Matthew directly in the line of possibly becoming a part of what President Trump has called the “dark state.” Matthew stands a high likelihood of becoming part of “the apparatus;” the same apparatus we all love to criticize–government. He also stands to become a part of the most untrusted part of said apparatus.  It feels like we’re sacrificing him. It feels like we’re throwing him to the wolves.

It has raised another very penetrating question in my mind. Since we are homeschoolers and have homeschooled Matthew since he could barely talk: Is this what we were preparing him for? Did we know that one day we would be sacrificing him to the world? Is this what we were thinking when we chose to go down the homeschool path?

The answer is, undoubtedly, yes. It’s only now, though, that the reasons for our decision to homeschool have become frightfully real. Our decision to homeschool was not a statement against public education, nor was it a critique of Lutheran education. Jennifer and I both got good educations in public education and Jennifer herself went to Lutheran school until High School. While we have had our concerns about both over the years, we had no interest in making our decision some sort of political or churchly statement. (We still do not).

Our decision to homeschool was not motivated by an overly sheltering mindset that was intended to completely insulate our children from the “big, bad world out there.” While homeschooling does offer some protections for our children, we always knew these would not last forever and we always knew that they would face exposure to the world just by living in it. Yes. We were building a “safe space” of sorts, but it was never entirely safe. The idea was that they would leave that safe space and go out into the very unsafe space of this fallen world as Christians ready to engage. I doubt our kids will ever join the army of millennials who cry out for safe spaces. (The reason they do is that they either never had one, or were too pampered to imagine the unsafe space the real world actually is).

Why did we homeschool? Because we knew how important it is to train up children in the way they ought to go and then unleash them on a world that needs smart, competent, compassionate, Christians. We chose to use a classical curriculum so they would learn how to think critically at a young age. We raised the bar on them because it was going to be high bar they would have to meet when they went out into the world. My wife, in particular, scrimped and saved and sacrificed to make this happen. She especially gets credit for keeping us focused and for loving her children enough to get them ready. I have always used the word “fierce” to describe her dedication to her children.

As for me, I realize my sacrifice is not the same as Abraham’s. Nevertheless, the same promise Abraham held on to so tenaciously in Genesis 22 is mine as well. I do not know what the future will bring for Matthew. It does feel like a real sacrifice. Now, I can only listen to him, pray for him, and trust God to work out all things for Matthew’s good and the good of others who he works for and with.

I think the bottom line here is that we did not homeschool just for our children’s sake, but with the very strong appreciation that our children will one day make a contribution to the world in which they live. We are not neo-monastics with an itch to separate from the world. We raised them as we did with the high hopes that the world would benefit from their lives and service. We argued and deliberated and cried and prayed for them to engage the world for its good.

One might say that all parenting and teaching is at least supposed to be focused on the good of the world, but the world’s current chaos is the ultimate indicator of how well we are actually doing in this regard. Parenting is not spoiling our children or pampering them. In this day of “helicopter parenting,” spoiled children are emerging left and right, scaring even the most liberal of their professors. In our age, children have become possessions; not privileges to be nurtured and raised in a way that benefits all. Our nation’s current narcissism is an epidemic fueled by decades of parents’ teaching children they could have whatever they want. We now have almost two full generations of such myopia.

Faithful parenting is sacrifice. It’s going to the mat for our children, not so that they would have everything they want, but that they would have everything they need. To thrive in this world, especially as a Christian, means our children need a lot. They especially need their parents to love them enough to teach them the disciplines necessary to be the most competent people in the room. That was our aim.

Our heavenly Father established the paradigm. He sent His Son into the world to be the perfect sacrifice. Again, He had the world in mind. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. As Christian parents, there is comfort that comes from knowing that our sacrifices pale in comparison to our heavenly Father’s. Our children are not called to save the world. They are called to engage it. Christ works through His children. When faith is restricted to the privacy of the bedroom, the world indeed suffers.

Many years ago, I attended a prayer breakfast with Tony Campolo. At the time, he was President Clinton’s new “spiritual advisor.” (The Lewinsky scandal was in full bloom). Mr. Campolo is not a theologian, although he is a Christian. He is actually a sociologist by trade. I could argue that sociology is a major contributor to all that is wrong with the world…and I’d be right. Still, that day, Mr. Campolo said something that was very revealing and I have never forgotten it. He said that the death of the family in America was a 20th century phenomenon, betrayed by societal shifts of a very high degree of magnitude. The first half of the century saw Americans still living mainly on the farm. Farmers had large families, which gave them cheap labor, and got rich! (With the exception of the Great Depression, the story of the “poor American farmer” has largely been a myth). The second half of the century saw Americans move to the cities… and then the suburbs. Family size got smaller in order to preserve wealth.

With these changes, parenting goals also changed. Ask an early 20th century American farmer what he wanted most for his children and he would have answered, “to be successful.” Ask a later 20th century parent what he/she wanted most for their children and the answer would be: “to be happy.” This latter option is still our answer…and the nation and the world are dying because of it.

Parents today need to explore in their own minds the correlation between success and happiness and recognize that it takes tremendous sacrifice to help a child get what he or she needs to be successful. Should all parents homeschool? I would not necessarily advise that. I would only say that they should insist on the highest standards for their children. They should teach boundaries and love their children enough to enforce them. They should see their roles sacrificially, knowing that there is a whole lot more to life than the 18 or so years we have to raise them to be adults. If we parents cannot see past graduation, our children will never see past it either.

As for Matthew, it is premature to say he will be successful. It is also premature to say we gave everything to help him be so. We continue to pray, with tears even, for his future and the futures of all our children.

And we continue to pray for our world, the world into which we always knew they would go. The world will always need smart, compassionate, competent Christians…because Christ is the one resource we can never have enough of.