Picking fights with God’s people


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The Pharaoh who took over after Joseph rose to power did not seek to dominate the children of Israel from a position of strength, but rather one of weakness. He felt threatened by the numbers and vigor with which the Lord had blessed the children of Israel, and he felt compelled to do something to counter them. So he put harsh slave drivers over them, and made it his policy to crack down on the children of Israel.

Often, we, too, have to contend with those who feel threatened by us. Often it’s when we are minding our own business, or even engaged in doing something good and praiseworthy. We try and help others, or be peacemakers and children of God, as He urges us, and instead of others listening and accepting what we say (never mind being grateful — gratitude is a lot to ask sometimes in a fallen world) we meet with resistance and even outright opposition: deceit, conniving, or backstabbing.

When we run into such treatment, we should not be dismayed, “as though something strange were happening to us”, as St. Peter reminds us (1 Pe 4:12). Rather, we should remember that opposition will naturally be the Christian’s lot when he or she joyfully confesses the gospel — and that such opposition does not come from a position of strength, but rather one of weakness and even desperation. If the enemies of the gospel thought themselves secure, why would they feel the need to resort to duplicity or lies? The Church is not the only one to know this lesson. As even a professed unbeliever like the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has noted, “Often we attack and make ourselves enemies, to conceal that we are vulnerable.”

Therefore “do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened” (I Pe 3:14); rather, hold Jesus Christ as Lord in your heart, and entrust all things to His loving care. He knows how best to defend and protect you, while still accomplishing His purposes. The enemies of His Word cannot thwart that. To Him alone be glory and honor, amen.

Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.

And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:

10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.

11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.

12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.

13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour. …

–Exodus 1:8-13


Joy after the Snow: A Devotion on Isaiah 55


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our trees snowLiving where we do in southern Minnesota, there’s not a real need to explain how snow works. (We get a refresher every week or so — sometimes more.) Yet with all the complaining, the bellyaching, the schedule delays, changes in plans, and cancellations, it’s easy to forget the positive side of the snow. Not only is it pretty (some of the time — dirty snow is a sad sight), but most importantly of all, it brings moisture that we need. When spring comes, the snow melts and then the fields are ready for planting, and we are provided for for another year.

Snow do not come down without having an effect. It’s impossible. It may not seem like it at the time — it may seem like nothing’s happening, when the world around you is frozen and silent — but it will have its effect at the proper time.

God’s Word is like that. It may not seem like it’s working, but it always is. It accomplishes what God wants, in His time — not always ours! And that’s fine! He knows how best to accomplish His aims. God has perfect patience to wait for the exact right moment. But let’s not deceive ourselves, either: when He knows the right moment has come, He can act fast – faster than any of us can discern or perceive. And when He does act, it’s decisively, because His Holy Spirit is inseparably given with that Word. That’s why it’s so powerful. That’s why His promises, given in that Word, always come true.

And that’s why we have hope. The promises God makes — and keeps — through His Word give us joy. They assure us that one day we will “come forth”, as Isaiah says.

From where will we “come forth”? What does Isaiah mean by this? Ultimately, we will come forth from our graves on the Last Day. We will hear the voice of the Son of Man, and all who hear will live. We will not stay in the “dust of death”, for “God will redeem my life from the grave; He will take me to Himself” (Psalm 49:15).

Then the ancient curse of sin will be finally be fully and completely undone, when “instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree”. In Genesis, God cursed the ground by decreeing that it would bear thorns and thistles instead of allowing mankind to easily grow crops. Weeds are part of the curse of sin, under which we all labor. When Jesus returns, He will undo all the effects of sin, because He has destroyed sin by His death and resurrection. The full fruits of that victory will only be seen on the Last Day, however. Creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed; until then, we trust that what we will have fully on the Last Day and in heaven — freedom from sin, peace, joy, and the most intimate communion with God — we have now by faith.

Jesus’ victory over sin includes not only weeds that infest our fields and gardens, but the sin that lives in our own bodies; illnesses and sicknesses of every description; old age; and even death itself. Looking ahead, and knowing what Jesus has won for us, what He’s promised us, and what He will do, we rejoice too. We look forward to the day when all creation rejoices with us, and we will see all of God’s promises kept before our eyes. May He keep us faithful until that day!

For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

— Isaiah 55:10-13

sun thru pine trees

Daily and fully

I may not be able to spark a reformation of the entire Western Church, but I can teach my own children.

One of the great benefits of drilling my progeny in the Small Catechism is that I review it for myself. I find that when I go back to the Enchiridion and repeat it word for word, as Doctor Luther advises us, I constantly find new and wonderful things in the old, familiar words. I honestly don’t think I would have done that for myself had I not been gifted with children by the Lord God, but I thank Him for them, and for the chance to dwell on what God tells us.

I had another such moment the other day. We’re drilling the Third Article of the Creed right now, along with its explanation. As we went through it, I was struck forcefully by the following words:

In this Christian Church He daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers.

This is such a basic truth that we sometimes pass over it. Ask your average layperson what God does for them, and along with feeding them and caring for them, defending them from danger, etc, they will invariably mention that God forgives their sins. But sometimes I fear that we spin that phrase off our lips without our brains or our hearts truly engaging it or learning what it means.

Note how Luther dwells on that forgiveness. Daily and fully — so you don’t have to wait for it; so you don’t have to work off the rest of our sin, or part of it, as we’re accustomed to doing with the people in our lives. Too often we treat each other in that way: “Okay, I forgive this offense — mostly — but I’ll hold your past sins over your head, and if you mess up again I’ll trot this time out. Just so you don’t forget I’m better than you.”


“Jesus sinners does receive…Even I have been forgiven!”

God doesn’t do that with us…even though He could. He knows all things, and yet He promises to remember our sins no more (Jer 31:34). How wonderfully amazing is that? God, who knows all things, even the things that could have happened but didn’t, promises that He will forget and not actively remember your sins anymore! They are gone — sunk in the sea of Christ’s blood, which He poured out on the cross! (Micah 7:19) “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Rom 8:1) So rejoice! Forgiveness comes to you, daily and fully, through faith in Jesus’ blood. You are well-pleasing to God, even despite your imperfections and your faults and your flaws and your shortcomings, when you are in Christ, because “He daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers in Christ.”

So come to Him — hear His promises — believe the good news! Be what you are — a rotten sinner — so that He may make you as He is — holy, perfect, and sinless! Through faith in His Son, you are forgiven. It is possible! Repent and believe the good news!

The making of a true Biblical exegete

erasmuscomputerMany pastors nowadays use computer programs to help them study God’s Word. These programs, while often pricey (not all are), can be very useful. You can compile an excellent library in a very portable format in a hurry with one of these. I use one myself (Logos, for those who are interested.)

But these programs have drawbacks, too.

Logos — or Accordance or whatever you use — can give you meanings of words (or a start at understanding meanings, more accurately — meaning has a large contextual component), it can tell you how many times a word appears, and all sorts of trivia about it that may or may not be useful.

But it can’t make you an exegete.

The computer program can’t apply your heart, brain, and guts to a text, and let that text apply itself to you however and as much as the Holy Spirits wills. Only a man of God can do that. Logos does not have the fear of the Lord — we do. It does not have the capacity for reverence that removes its shoes before the burning bush, or kneels before the manger, or stands at the foot of the cross.

But we do.

So use that reverence, that fear of the Lord. Bow before His holy Word and then open it — and let it work His will in you. That’s how you make an exegete.


A different sort of Veteran’s Day

Today, Nov 11, is Veteran’s Day in the United States, where we remember all those who have served in our armed forces. Today the Christian Church commemorates St. Martin of Tours, who started a career as a Roman soldier before deciding that he might serve the Lord better as an evangelist and bishop (today we’d say pastor).

It’s an interesting coincidence that on the day where the nation thanks our soldiers, the Church also thanks her Lord for the service of a former soldier. In his service as a bishop, Martin displayed many of the virtues commonly seen in the military — energy, endurance, courage, a clear-sighted practicality, abundant loyalty and unswerving obedience to his “superiors” in the faith (for want of a better term — perhaps it would be better to say “fathers” in the faith). Several times he chose to follow Hilary, the bishop who was his teacher and pastor, into exile. Martin also displayed the compassion that comes from true strength, and the truest strength is faith in Christ. The story is told that during his days as a soldier, as he rode along, Martin saw a half-naked, shivering beggar by the side of the road. Martin immediately stopped, cut his cloak in two with his sword, and gave half to the freezing unfortunate. How many of us would hack our coats in half to give to a homeless person? Yet that’s exactly the sort of thing that Martin of Tours became known for.

All this reminds us, too, that proclaiming the Gospel is not for wimps. It takes a certain amount of dedication, fortitude, courage — in short, the grit that comes from a living trust in the Savior — to face down the challenges of life and the rage of the old enemy, Satan. It takes discipline to push your flesh down and not give in, and a certain amount of daring to not care what the world will say or what it will do to you for preaching Christ. “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” St. Paul advised Timothy, and that’s good advice for us all. Being a Christian is rarely easy or fun (the devil, the world, and your flesh see to that), but the victory that Christ gives in the end is worth it.

Lord God of hosts, Your servant Martin the soldier embodied the spirit of sacrifice. He became a bishop in Your Church to defend the catholic faith. Give us grace to follow in his  steps so that when our Lord returns we may be [found] clothed with the baptismal garment of righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

— from “A Year with the Church Fathers,” p.354

The one fact you won’t hear about the Oregon college shooter


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In the modern age, the first thing any reporter does when a story breaks is hop on the Internet and start searching for anything connected to a name. That’s what happened last week after Christopher Harper-Mercer carried six guns from his collection into Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, and opened fire on college students in a writing class, their professor, and anyone else in his path.

What did those reporters find? Several social media accounts turned up. A review of a purchase of Nazi-related memorabilia. A number of posts made anonymously or semi-anonymously in different places. A profile on a dating website — and a blog that mused about mass shootings. That was also where he sometimes posted pornographic posts.

Of all the coverage I’ve read or watched about the tragedy in Roseburg, I’ve seen only one or two mentions of this fact — that he was a user of pornography. Why would this not be mentioned? Perhaps it doesn’t seem germane to the issue. Perhaps it doesn’t fit the neat narrative arc that we’ve come to expect from mass shootings (which in itself might be a problem — as well as the fact that this sort of thing keeps happening.) Perhaps it just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere at all. But I think that one fact, mentioned here and there amid the reams of coverage for this event, holds the key.

What’s the Connection?

What’s the connection between pornography use and mass murder?

Both involve viewing other people as objects.

Pornography breaks the 6th Commandment because its entire goal is to incite lust in the human heart. For the pornography user, the people in the media he (or she) consumes become no longer people, but mere objects used to gratify his (or her) lust. This can progress to the point where any real love or affection withers and dies, real relationships become increasingly difficult and distant, and the pornography user ends up alone and numb. Sadly, millions today know all too well what’s that’s like.

That same process of objectification of other people — treating them as objects to be used and then discarded, instead of human beings requiring empathy, respect, love, and care — is exactly what’s required for mass murder. How else can someone walk into a college classroom, or a kindergarten, or a mall, and open fire randomly on anyone in their path? It almost seems inconceivable to do that to another human being, or crowd of people. The only way someone can manage it is if they no longer view their victims as human beings.

Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole says much the same thing in this video clip from CBS News. The process she describes is chilling. It reflects what James says in his epistle:

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (1:14-15)

Harper-Mercer is not the only example of the intersection of pornography use and murder. Osama bin Laden was apparently addicted to pornography. The US Navy SEALS found large amounts of it on hard drives they took from bin Laden’s compound for intelligence purposes. It only fits that someone who spent a good chunk of his days consuming pornography would feel no compunction at ordering the death of hundreds, if not thousands, of people — and would gladly have killed more if he could have.

Here’s another example: Remember Ted Bundy? In his final interview, given with Dr. James Dobson not long before he was executed, Bundy names pornography use as one of the main factors that sent him down his murderous path.

Now please note carefully what I am and am not saying. I am not saying that using pornography will turn you into a serial killer or a mass murderer. If that were true, our society would be in far worse trouble than it is, which is a disconcerting thought in and of itself. What I am saying is that pornography use always has a cost, and it’s higher than the user thinks at the time. Violence and sexual immorality flow out of the same dark fountain, the polluted wellspring of the sinful human heart. They have the same source and are often closer than we in modern-day America often are willing to admit. Jesus’ words are proven sadly true yet again:

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. — St. Matt. 15:19

Pornography is nothing to dabble with. It destroys relationships, marriages, careers, and it can destroy souls too. Untold pain and suffering results from this supposedly ‘victimless’ crime. The only cure is found in Jesus Christ, who bestows His blessings of grace, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, joy, and peace to those who turn from their sin and turn to Him, relying on Him alone. Otherwise the results are too horrific to contemplate.

My Healer, My Health


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Lord Jesus, how wonderfully comforting it is to me that You are the healer of my illnesses! Whenever I recover from sickness, it is Your doing. You have all power to heal and to cure, for me as much as for those people You helped long ago — and Your love does not fall short of Your power. You care for me at all times, well or sick, awake or asleep, with You or away from You. As long as my sickness lasts, then, I will trust that You care for me. I know that one day, You will heal all my sicknesses when You raise me from the dead. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.

When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.

— St. Matthew 8:16-17

Homily for the 100th Anniversary of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Appleton, WI — In Appreciation of Called Workers


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Last weekend I was privileged to preach for the 100th anniversary of the congregation I grew up in, St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Appleton, WI. They have been having anniversary services all year long, one a month, and I got to be the penultimate guest preacher. (Rev. Mark Schroeder, our synod’s president, is up in November, so I reckon I’m in good company.) A lot has changed at St. Matthew since I went there, but a lot is still the same. God’s people still gather around His Word and His sacraments, and where that is, there the Body of Christ is living and active. The focus of the service I preached for was giving thanks for called workers. I was honored to be asked and to get to serve God’s people. (My sermon starts about 28:00 or so.)

Just One? (a Homily for the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist)


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Whenever the topic of a person’s life work comes up, or the good that each of us hopes to accomplish before we leave this world, inevitably someone says, “Oh, if only I can help one person — just reach one person! If only I tell one person about Jesus and that person is saved, or my sufferings and my sacrifices can benefit just one person, then my life will have been worthwhile! Then everything I’ve gone through will not be in vain!”

Being the contrarian that I am, whenever I heard those sorts of statements, my first thought immediately is: “What if you don’t help one person?”

What then?

What if you go through your entire lifetime, and not one single other person ever benefits from your experiences, your kindness, your compassion, your witness or testimony? It’s unlikely, but given how often I’ve heard people say similar things to the above, it bears asking: What if nobody at all listens or believes what you say? Will it have been a waste then?

Today the Christian Church commemorates the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. By all appearances, his life was worthlessly given. He was the foremost of the prophets, occupying a unique place in salvation history: summing up the Old Testament prophets, while inaugurating the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which the apostles were soon to take out into the world. He was the Forerunnner. Jesus said that there was no one born of women that was greater than John the Baptist — and this is how he dies?

He didn’t die making a great heroic stand. He didn’t die in the arena, torn by the lions, or run through by the sword of a frustrated, angry pagan soldier. He didn’t give his life saving anyone from a burning building, or jumping on a grenade to save his buddies in battle.

John the Baptist was beheaded because he rebuked the wrong, powerful, person, and he incurred the anger of wicked, conniving people. You can read about it in St. Mark 6:14-29. Herod the king had married his brother’s wife — stolen her, in fact. John had rebuked him, and Salome, the brother’s wife (now Herod’s wife) in question, plus her mother, wanted revenge. So when Salome danced for Herod’s birthday party, and he being in an expansive move, he promised her anything, up to half his kingdom. Bad idea. She asked for John the Baptist’s head, and Herod, though he enjoyed listening to John and was afraid to do anything against him, was afraid of looking like a fool in front of the high rollers and power brokers — so he had John beheaded in prison. As one professor I heard years ago put it, John the Baptist died because of a bimbo. Put that together with a weak and scared ruler, and John looks like he was in the wrong place at the wrong time — and his head ends up on a platter.

Someone might well say, “Why did you speak up, John? It wasn’t your business! It didn’t bother or hurt you at all that Herod married his brother’s wife! Why provoke powerful people and make them not like you? Just let it go — it’s not your problem anyway.” That’s the voice of fear. That cowardice manages to silence Christians all over the world every day, because at the least hint of trouble — even before anything actually happens! — we’re running up the white flag in our minds. What if someone gets mad at me! — what if I lose my job! — what if I lose my friends! — what if my family member won’t speak to me! — what if, what if, what if! And we are intimidated and shamed into silence by our ungodly fear and cowardice.

John the Baptist spoke up because he didn’t care what happened to himself. All he cared about was God’s Word. His death was one that had no honor in the eyes of the world, but it was an honorable death and a good death in the eyes of God, for he died rebuking sin and speaking God’s truth. That reckless consistency of conviction, that fearless confession, unheeding of what may happen to one’s own life or livelihood, is part and parcel of bearing the cross. Without sin being rebuked, how will anyone know or care that they are wrong? How will they be moved to search anxiously for a solution, for a Savior, if they don’t know they’ve done wrong, or they’re accustomed to silencing or placating their conscience? How will they find peace and salvation, if they don’t encounter the Word from us that gives life?

More importantly — how will a sinner be saved if God’s Word is never brought to bear on his or her heart? Maybe the person we’re rebuking or correcting will hear and take it to heart; maybe they won’t. But whatever happens after we confess and proclaim God’s Word is His business, not ours. He doesn’t ask us for results. He asks us to be faithful. Let me repeat that again, loud and clear, so you can hear it over our “leadership”-saturated, overly pragmatic, manager culture: God doesn’t ask us for results. He asks us to be faithful. Once you grasp the difference, John the Baptist’s death becomes more glorious, a death full of honor. We could all use a dose of John the Baptist’s don’t-give-a-hoot, unfailingly upfront confession of God’s Word. Speak God’s Word the way John the Baptist did — with a bracing, straightedge moxie, but also never without love for the other person. Regardless of the consequences. Never backing down from God’s truth. It scares the enemies of the gospel and it encourages the fainthearted, and it glorifies the Lord, to whom be all power, glory, honor, and strength, for ever and ever. Amen.

Preached at the nursing home in Morgan, MN, for the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, 2014.

 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.

17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her.

18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.

19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not:

20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;

22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.

23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.

24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.

25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.

26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.

27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison,

28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.

29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.

— St. Mark 6:16-29

An answer, any answer


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It may seem paradoxical to the reason of the flesh to pray for an answer to prayer, to pray, “God, please give me an answer, any answer” — but pious Christian hearts understand that request very well. Sometimes all that is needed is an answer, any answer, from the Lord — for then we know that He hears us, which is the most wonderful comfort and consolation, and we are content, knowing that whatever He sends will be good.


Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

— Jesus (in St. Mark 11:24)