Episode 3 – Sermon on Indulgence and Grace

Mike Yagley and I are working on a podcast about the events, documents, and people that helped define the reformation. The podcast can be found at GraceOnTap-Podcast.com.

We posted the third episode this morning. I encourage you to take some time and listen to this episode. Provide any feedback you desire. We are interested in getting better and communicating the story and the ideas of the reformation.

This episode focus on Luther’s sermon from the spring of 1518 that helped explain to the German people why the grace of God is at stake in the controversy surrounding the sale of indulgences.

Episode 3 – Sermon on Indulgence and Grace

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Print of Luther’s “Sermon on Indulgence and Grace” from the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford

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Grace on Tap – Podcasts

Grace is flowing today.

Mike Yagley and I have been working on recording podcasts for a project called GraceOnTap. Today we have uploaded our first episode on the background of the 95 Theses. Our plan is to release an episode each week. I hope you enjoy.

http://graceontap-podcast.com/2017/01/02/episode-1-grace-on-tap-background-on-95-theses/

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My Report of 66th LCMS Convention

Here is a quick report of what happened at the 66th The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee.

The convention took place July 9-14, 2016. I attended this convention because I was elected last summer to be the Ann Arbor pastoral delegate. Every circuit of congregations sends one lay delegate and one pastoral delegate. There were about 1,125 voting delegates sitting in the often frigid conditions of the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The theme for the convention was “Upon this Rock: Repent, Confess, Rejoice.”

The primary business of the convention is the “opportunity for worship, nurture, inspiration, fellowship and the communication of vital information” (Bylaw 3.1.1). The worship services were filled with the most spectacular music from the organ, brass, and soloists. The theme focused on the rock solid confession of faith that Jesus Christ is our savior. As much as the world may change around us, we can remain confident that Jesus is our hope and salvation. The most important business at the convention for me was the opportunity for relationship renewal and building. The communication of vital information was found in printed reports, speeches from the stage, and some attractive videos that were shown to introduce new programs.

The second item of business is elections. The president was elected before the convention by electronic vote. So delegates arrived at the convention knowing that Rev. Matthew C. Harrison was reelected for his third term as president. We spent several hours at the convention electing people to various offices. There were not many surprises in the elections. Before the convention an anonymous group mailed to the voting delegates the “United List.” This produced and distributed list influenced the outcome of the elections. I think only a handful of the nearly 100 elections went against the list. I did not utilize the list and so therefore I found my votes in the elections were often on the wrong side of victory.

The third item of business at the convention is for the assembly to consider reports, overtures, and resolutions for action. Overtures were submitted to the convention by congregations, circuits, districts, and officers and committees of the synod. Floor committees met over Memorial Day weekend to craft these overtures into resolutions. The convention assembly debated and voted on the resolutions. Some of the controversial resolutions presented to the assembly concerned the dispute resolution process, the role of lay deacons functioning in support of the office of the public ministry, and the governance of the universities.

President Harrison had a majority of delegates supporting his positions in these controversial areas. He had a consistent 60% voting block, but he demonstrated at this convention a commitment to the unity of the church. He did not utilize his support among the voting delegates to pass anything by slim margins of majority. He sought consensus. For instance, the modifications to the dispute resolution he proposed had very little support from the district presidents. His proposal would have increased the power of the president to overrule decisions by the district presidents. When the opposition to this change became publicly evident, the resolution was revised so that both sides could find agreement. Providing a route towards ordination for those deacons that have been doing the duties of the pastor was approved by over 70% of the assembly. This route towards ordination was approved without considerable discussion because the leadership of the synod has spent a great deal of time over the last few years nurturing this idea.

Our synod voted with considerable unity on issues that appear to divide the rest of our country. We affirmed that marriage is between one man and one woman. We affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth. We affirmed that Lutheran universities, seminaries, and schools should be Lutheran. We affirmed that we should regularly read the Bible (yep we voted on that tough topic).

I can report that Jesus is at work in this world bringing His saving message of redemption, and graciously God is using our own church body to be a part of delivering this saving message. God also uses, throughout the world, tremendously brave people in our partner churches to share this good news.

You can learn a great deal about what happened at the convention by visiting LCMS.org/convention. If you are looking for a less varnished reporting of the events of the convention, then you could visit the online forum of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. The ALPB sent Rev. Dr. Paul Sauer to report the events of the convention. HIs comments and the musings of others that watched the convention can be found at alpb.org/forum.

When I came home, I received wonderful hugs from my kids and wife. It was good to see our church body at work, but I think it is even more powerful for me to witness the daily ways God is using the people of our congregation. Thank you for sharing the Word of God with your friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers. When I witness Jesus being shared with the children of our community during Vacation Bible School, I rejoice God is at work.

Blessings Shared with Others

One of the moments that captures my joy as a pastor is when I have the opportunity to speak the words of the benediction. I speak words of benediction at the end of the worship service. I also speak these words during hospital visits and whenever I want to leave a person with confidence in the graciousness of the Lord God.

I recall visiting a woman in the hospital and speaking the words of the benediction. With my lips I said the words and with my hand I made the sign of the cross upon her forehead. As I spoke the words I found her lips moving along with mine, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” The woman answered my words of benediction, by saying, “Thank you.” I know that her gratitude was not only directed towards my visit, but more importantly she was thankful to God that she could trust in His blessing of peace and grace.

These words of blessing that I enjoy sharing are from Numbers 6:24-26. This benediction is known as the Aaronic Benediction because the Lord God spoke to Moses these words of blessing with the command that Moses should teach these words to Aaron and his sons. God desired the priests of Israel to share with the people that their Lord God desired them to blessed with peace.

The people in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and still now trust in the graciousness, favor, and peace bestowed by God. The Lord our God who created all that is seen and unseen seeks to bless His people. The words of this benediction express our faith that the Lord is the giver of blessing. When we share the blessings of God with people, we declare to them the good news of Jesus Christ and affirm that we are claimed and loved by God.

When I speak the words of the benediction, I make the sign of the cross. I remember that God delivers to us His peace through the work of the cross when I make the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross for me is a wonderful devotional aid because I find it an expression of unity between my heart, my lips, and my body. I desire all of me to trust in God through the mercy of Jesus. The sign of the cross is a gesture to recall the salvation that God has made available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

You do not need to be a pastor to speak words of blessing to someone. All Christians who know the hope and promise of Jesus will find themselves in moments when God use them to share words of blessing. When you see that people are in need of the peace and joy of God’s presence, assure them that the Lord does desires peace for them. Please do not assume that a person has enough peace that you can walk past him or her or count on someone else to share the joy of Jesus Christ. Take the time to share with a person your confidence that the Lord does look upon him or her with favor. When you do deliver words of blessing to someone, discover the profound way that touch can communicate peace and joy. Make sure you use touch that is non-threatening, respectful, and communicates the love of Christ. You could place one hand on the person’s shoulder and with the other hand trace a cross on the person’s forehead. Then hold both of the person’s hands in yours while making eye contact and speaking the benediction. Depending on the level of relationship with a person head-touching will be considered rude or confusing so always ask permission before making a blessing in this way. With good eye contact, speak the words of blessing. Deliver the blessing with the conviction that God’s peace and favor is a free gift you are offering to the person.

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Tri1406 – The Journey of Four Pastors to Complete an IRONMAN Triathlon

Four pastors, including myself, are training to race in an IRONMAN Triathlon in Louisville, KY on October 9, 2016. Pastors Mark Milatz, Ben Vogel, Drew Gruenhagen, and I hope that this race will be a path towards something bigger. We are using this 140.6 mile race as a vehicle to raise money for 20 scholarships in the amount of $1406 for students that are training for careers in churches and Christian schools.

Pastor Milatz commented, “None of us has superhuman strength or endurance. We are going to make our way to the finish line by trusting each other, receiving encouragement from friends and family, and especially by relying on the grace of God. In many ways, this journey will look very similar to our journey of faith– just a lot sweatier!”

Our training will be challenging. Corners cannot be cut. We need to be ready to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles in less than 17 hours. Some weeks we’ll be training for 20 hours, while also balancing the responsibilities in our families, churches, and communities. The chance to help lighten the load for a group of college students makes this heavy burden worth the effort. Pastor Vogel said, “It is hard to start something new. I need the proper motivation. I need an end goal.” Our goal is to complete this race and raise support for students preparing for ministry in our congregations.

Help us raise 20 scholarships of $1406 each. Consider going to Tri1406.com and clicking on the donate button. Consider donating $14.06, $140.60, $1406, or any other amount.

Scholarships will benefit students training to be professional church workers in our church body, the Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS operates 10 colleges and two seminaries, where students receive solid theological training in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. These students need our help so that they are not mired in debt that negatively impacts their ability to serve!

To learn more about the journey of these four pastors completing their first IRONMAN Triathlon you can visit their website: Tri1406.com. Your prayers are greatly appreciated as we train.

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Going forward with trust

ConnectAs Christians we go into the world connecting people to Jesus through a ministry that springs from God’s Word and His blessed Sacraments. When we connect people to Jesus, we find ourselves connected to one another and to opportunities to serve our neighbors. I trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in congregations preventing us from coasting in neutral. We go forward with the confidence that our Lord God is equipping us to share His good news so that the disconnected become connected to Jesus Christ.

God blesses every person from the infant to the homebound with His good gifts so that we all are a part of how He is building His kingdom in our community. The diversity of gifts in a congregation is a part of the mystery of God’s love. I do not want a single person to consider his or her gifts as less valuable to God or our community. The offerings we bring to God are powerful and effective in building His kingdom by the grace of God.

Take a moment to consider how God has uniquely gifted you to be a part of His kingdom. Stand firm on the Word of God and trust that God will share His life-giving promises through you when you share the good news of Jesus Christ.

  • Thank God for the blessings He has given to you.
  • Seek His wisdom to guide your giving so that you may be give to support your local congregation with planned, purposeful, and proportionate first-fruit gifts.

Bridge Building to Eternal Life in Christ Jesus

114402291_2c547d3a07I desire that the baptized children of God take on the role of bridge-builders in America. We are the Holy Spirit’s agents bringing the dying into new life in Christ. We cannot pull up the draw bridge into the kingdom of God and hide from the assaults of the devil. We must trust that our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings. In the midst of the evil that surrounds us we are called to be a people of refuge and shelter. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14 -16).

If we pull away from the conflicts of our time and hide behind our walls, we are denying the power of the Spirit of God to be at work through us as we share the good news of Jesus. The sharing of the Gospel is not served when we are quiet in the public square. When Jesus told the disciples to go to all the nations and baptize people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, He promised to be with us to the very end of the age. I trust the power of the Holy Spirit to call me to faith through the words of the good news of Jesus. In the same way I trust the Holy Spirit to call the church together to be a holy people of God. So therefore I trust the Holy Spirit will be at work in this world calling people from all the nations to faith in Jesus. I trust the Spirit to be at work when I speak the Words of the Lord.

I know that American culture is becoming increasingly secular and stridently anti-Christian in the public square of debate. In reaction to this change, Christians and churches should not become silent. If we become silent we deny the important role we have to bear witness to King Jesus. I do not speak to be right or to dominate someone else into submission. Jesus has sent His people forward to pronounce judgment on those who defy God, and He has sent us on a mission to pronounce forgiveness and freedom upon those who realize their gods and lives are broken. Indeed there is a divide between people in America on many issues, but the most important divide the church must always be concerned about exists between the Word of the Lord and those who are deaf to its message.

The task to build the bridge that connects the Word of the Lord with people that are deaf to its message requires listening to voices from every direction. We must listen to the Word and hear how God’s voice speaks to the troubles and vanities of our age. We must listen to people so that our Christian witness speaks properly to people.

A person who does not know the hope of Jesus may be comfortable in his or her own source of identity, security, and meaning. We can be honest with people about the dead-end paths that lead away from God. On the other hand when people have come to realize their false gods were not gods at all, we must speak a message of mercy and forgiveness. It is unhelpful to continue to speak judgment to a person who has already been broken by the Word of God and the world.

Law-Gospel2The bridges we seek to build in our society will be empty if our message is only wrath and judgment or only mercy and forgiveness. I trust that when we share the both the Law and the Gospel we will find the Holy Spirit bringing people to faith in Jesus.

The central task of the church in the world is to share the good news of Jesus. The Holy Spirit of God will use you to share this good news. Please listen to the false confidences and brokenness of those you care about and properly apply both the Law and the Gospel.

Baptism is for Infants and Adults

ainfant-baptismThis is written in response to Wes McAdams blog article in which he attempts to explain why it’s not biblical to Baptize an infant.

http://www.radicallychristian.com/why-its-not-biblical-to-baptize-an-infant

First, he says, “Infant baptism is usually NOT even ‘baptism’”

Wes McAdams makes his first point because he believes that the Greek word for baptism means immersion. This Greek word is used in Scripture to refer to “washing.” He is mistaken to require of all hearts to believe in their baptism that they must be immersed.

The Greek word can mean cleansing or washing as well as immersion. It is just bad use of a dictionary to say that in Greek the only definition for this word is “immersion.”

Second, he states, “An infant cannot believe.”

I’m not really sure what Wes McAdams would do with the passage in which Jesus says, “Let the little children come onto me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14) The word “little children” is a specific Greek word that is used to describe an infant. The infants are the focus of the passage. Jesus speaks to us the promise that faith is an act of trust even before it may be words upon our lips.

Baptism of an infant is an opportunity for us to witness that faith is not a work of our reason or strength but entirely a work of the Holy Spirit, at work in the gospel, turning our hearts to trust in God to be our salvation.

Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit for an adult and for an infant. Adults in their arrogance are taught a lesson when they confess that the Holy Spirit may provide faith to an infant. We all were once dead in our trespasses and we are saved purely through the work of Christ (Ephesians 2:1-4). We receive this work of Christ through faith. Our saving faith is a gift from God that comes through Word of God (Romans 10:17).

In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All nations is a phrase that has been understood to mean “everyone.” Jesus desires that His saving messages be shared to everyone, regardless of race, color, sex, age, class, or education. If we say that infants are not to be included in the command of Christ, then where will we stop?

In the Old Testament an infant boy entered into a covenantal relationship with God through circumcision when eight days old. In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul shows that baptism has replaced circumcision.

Wes builds on the idea that baptism only follows an oral confession of faith and he says that neither parents nor anyone else can make that confession for a child. I agree that a child is not saved through the confession of faith that a parent nor anyone else will make for that child. A child and an adult are all saved equally through the work of Christ. In baptism we receive this work of Christ by the command of Christ in the water and the word. The benefits of baptism are not provided in a mechanical way just by being near the water. The benefits of baptisms are delivered through the water and the Word and received through faith. Faith receives the gift of baptism. When we confess our faith before a baptism, we are putting to words the very same faith that the Holy Spirit is providing to us through the working of His Word. We are not offering our faith as effective for an infant, we are showing our unity with the same faith that this child is receiving in Christ.

Third, he states, “An infant has not inherited sin.”

At this point Wes McAdams has significantly diverged from the way sin is described in the Scriptures and by the church for centuries. Scripture teaches that we are sinners from the time of our conception. Psalm 51:5 confesses, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Also in Romans 5:12, St. Paul explains that death has come to all because one man sinned. In other words, we all experience the effect of sin; we all die. The fact that infants die is a sign that they are sinners. We sin because we are sinners. We all have this condition even as infants and little children. One way to describe sin is that we are unable to have true fear or faith in God. When we describe sin only as actions we make sin something we can overcome through our own efforts. When we properly describe sin as a broken relationship with God, that is something that can be overcome only through the reconciling love of Jesus. Also in Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) we find the truth that ALL have sinned and need the rescue of salvation that Jesus provides.

Now Wes uses Ezekiel 18:20 in an attempt to demonstrate that God does not hold the guilt of past generations upon future people. Okay, I am not judged on the sins of the past. Unfortunately, I am judged because I am a sinner.

Fourth, he notes, “An infant cannot repent.”

Repentance is the turning of a heart to trust in God. This repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit and is accomplished through the power of God’s Word. He turns repentance into an appeal to God, when in fact not one of us can make this appeal through our own human will. We are dead in our sins. We are blind in our sins. We are unable to turn to God through our own will. This failure of the human will is true for adults and for infants. The only ones that can be saved are those born again of water and the spirit (John 3:1-17).

Baptism is commanded by Christ and offers to all the benefits of the forgiveness of sins, rescues from sin and death, and grants eternal salvation.

Some other helpful places to read about baptism:

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

http://wittenbergtrail.org/forum/topics/lutheran-responses-to

http://www.orlutheran.com/trinfbap.html

http://www.lcms.org/faqs/doctrine#baptism

What I think I think for this week

Here is what I am thinking about this last week in January 2015:

As I prepare my stewardship series of sermons for February I find it remarkably easy to move towards commands, compulsions, and obedience. I know my heart inclines towards building actions on the basis of requirements. I must do this and I must do that… Reaching a particular dollar amount deceptively seems more possible if I would just tell people they must give. The devil wants us to incline back towards trying to stand before God on the basis of our own good works. This stewardship sermon will be an opportunity for me to speak about the foundations of the Christian life. I know that my salvation is not secured through my keeping of the law of God. I fall short of the glory of God and I cannot rely on my own reason or strength to get me right with God. I am thankful to God that He knows my sin and yet still He invites me to have faith in Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior. The strength of my Christian life will not be found in becoming more self-reliant. I am amazed that the more I live my life in Christ the more I realize that I could not live without Jesus. These next three weeks I am going to share with the people at my congregation that we are blessed by God to be in need, maladjusted to injustice, and a blessing to others. So this Sunday we are going to talk about how a healthy view of blessing starts with why God makes us to be needy people.

This week I start teaching Lutheran Confessions for the spring semester at Concordia University Ann Arbor. Every week this semester I hope I am fair to the time each of my vocations require. My schedule as a husband, father, pastor, and professor is a juggling of time. Dear God don’t let me drop anything while I juggle what you have placed into my hands. When I fail, please pick me up. The last time I taught the class I piggy backed on another professor’s lecture topic schedule. I grabbed the assignment to teach that class close to the start of the semester. This time around I have had more time to get ready for the class. I hope that each class I find myself sharing the joy and wonder of God’s love with the students. Today I introduced the Book of Concord and talked about the inclusion of the ecumenical creeds at the beginning of the Lutheran Confessions.

Here are some of my thoughts about my congregation preparing to undertake some building renovations. I trust in God to provide us the resources to be His witnesses in our community and around the world. Building programs and me have not always gotten along. I want to like renovations, yet I find myself keeping this friend at a distance. I have found when I want to get along with someone, I paradoxically keep my distance. I think I allow the distance to become a buffer so I am insulated against the failure. This time is different. I know that there are many wise people in this congregation and that we will figure out a way to renovate our facility that makes sense. Facilities and church mission live in strange tension. We do not need facilities to do the work of being witnesses for Christ. On one hand we are the people of God in our community because of the power of God’s Word. On the other hand our congregation will find our ability to meet as God’s people helped if our facility is equipped to support our gathering. Hmmm. This renovation friend is a tough one but I think I am going to become better friends with it.

My birthday last week was fun. My wife encouraged people to fill out index cards with suggestions for how I should live my next forty years. So many kind and creative people wrote words to me that will fill me up for many days. There was also a special collection taken to support the building fund in honor of my birthday. I marvel at how people have given glory to God in honor of my birthday. The birthday wishes were fun, and I enjoy that yesterday my wife wished me a happy baptism birthday. My birth into this world is important. My new birth in Christ is even more important. Thank you Lord for working through your Word and water to bring me into your kingdom.