Monthly Archives: February 2023

The World’s Wealth, God’s Wealth, and Gen Z

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Feb. 26, 2023


“Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

– Matthew 4:10


“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

“No,” Jesus says. 

Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.

In some ways, all of this might seem a bit much. Did the devil really think that he was going to pull this off?

Get Jesus to bow down and worship him?

Perhaps the devil was just getting really frustrated by this point, with his more subtle temptations – like trying to get Jesus to turn stones into bread to alleviate His legitimate hunger – failing so badly…

On the other hand, perhaps when we really do consider the appeal of the world’s splendor, or its glory… one can understand this move…

For truly, the world and its glories can be intoxicating, and which man is exempt from its temptations?

There is so much to experience! So much to enjoy!

Who would not like to have more material plenty, wealth, money? 

Why not have a grand mansion with lots of well-developed land? Would it be wrong for me to have two or three or four? And I love to play golf. Why not have my own beautiful course as well? And a large swimming pool, some beach front property, a home in the mountains, my own tropical island, and perhaps a fast sports car or two might be nice.

And why not strive to have success and influence in all that I do? Why not dress to the nines and look to impress my friends and neighbors with the skills and gifts that I possess and have developed? 

And how about power? Showing that you are able to effectively manage things, others, and the circumstances you find yourself certainly shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing! 

And if that leads to increased status, attracting a more beautiful spouse (or maybe two) with whom you can share the great times – the people, the food, the music, the games, the dancing, the entertainment, the fun – why the hell not?

I mean, I don’t need to worship Satan to do all this right? Sell my soul? Even if, yeah, I might need to spend a little less time on all that stuff Jesus talks about…

Yeah, maybe his offer to the man Jesus Christ to worship him seemed plausible to Satan…


There is a popular hymn called “What is the World to Me?” that always strikes me as powerful in its message if not a bit grand in its spiritual ambitions.

It opens with this line: 

“What is the world to me

with all its vaunted pleasure

when you, and you alone,

Lord Jesus, are my treasure!

You only, dearest Lord,

my soul’s delight shall be;

you are my peace, my rest.

What is the world to me!”

“You only, dearest Lord…” Gotta love the sentiment…

The hymn also reminds us that 

“The world seeks after wealth

and all that money offers,

yet never is content

though gold should fill its coffers…”

“The world is like a cloud

and like a vapor fleeting,

a shadow that declines,

swift to its end retreating…” 

What is the world to me? Is it really true that: 

“I have a higher good,

content with it I’ll be;

my Jesus is my wealth.

What is the world to me!”?

What does that even look like? Have you figured it out yet? 

I know family is one of God’s greatest gifts and is indeed a true kind of wealth, and yet, they too are to play second fiddle to our Lord!

So perhaps the things I talked about earlier were a bit crass, right? While it might describe some of the young and restless, perhaps many more, getting a hold of their more wild feelings and desires… 

…just want to really know a sense of meaning and purpose; to know a life that has not been in vain!

Maybe, perhaps, just to be praised – or perhaps just known – as a good person by the ones around them… 

Maybe, perhaps just to know the love of one man or woman, and to know the joy of having close family members or friends who will stand by their side, and to have a sense of calling, vocation, in their life…


Here though, I think it is reasonable to say that many increasingly feel like they have no real wealth or very little wealth in this world. 

They feel no weight of glory in their life at all… 

You probably have not heard of the philosopher Robert Nozick’s rather jarring idea of the “Experience Machine”. I learned about it a few weeks ago. Fifty years ago, this man wrote:

“What matters other than how people’s experiences feel “from the inside”? Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience that you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life’s experiences? If you are worried about missing out on desirable experiences, we can suppose that business enterprises have researched thoroughly the lives of many others. You can pick and choose from their large library or smorgasbord of such experiences, selecting your life’s experiences for, say, the next two years. After two years have passed, you will have ten minutes or ten hours out of the tank, to select the experiences of your next two years. Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think it’s all actually happening. Others can also plug in to have the experiences they want, so there’s no need to stay unplugged to serve them. (Ignore problems such as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside? Nor should you refrain because of the few moments of distress between the moment you’ve decided and the moment you’re plugged. What’s a few moments of distress compared to a lifetime of bliss (if that’s what you choose), and why feel any distress at all if your decision is the best one?”

The writer Rod Dreher quoted this in an article he wrote that goes on to talk about the increasing popularity of psychedelic drugs that many younger people are looking to for comfort… Pointing out how these drugs seemingly allow one to “escape” the world, he sees the “Experience Machine” as being a similar escape and asks:

“Would you plug in? This is the concept behind The Matrix — the idea that everybody lives inside a mass hallucination, when in fact their bodies live in a kind of suspended animation. This is the substance of the red pill vs. blue pill choice in the movie: would you prefer to live within a pleasant lie, or within the unpleasant truth?”

Now, many of you would no doubt argue as Nozick did and say we want to be people who are not dependent, people of great character and strength who are not just hooked up to a tank but hooked up with reality, and what is really real.  

Dreher points out however, that someone he would not expect to be interested in this wrote him to say that she was… 

In an article titled “Young, Christian, And Eager To Escape”, we hear about an an orthodox Catholic Gen Z reader, 26 years old, who “says she would plug in to Robert Nozick’s ‘Experience Machine’”

This young woman says things like “the social impetus of going out and making it for yourself doesn’t really affect us anymore…. In a declining economy, housing costs are through the roof, full-time decent work hard to come by without higher college degrees and connections, and stifling health insurance costs discourage her and many… Because of the economic struggles, she feels her outlook as far as marriage and family go is “overwhelmingly bleak also” and she worries about declining fertility the longer it takes to find someone…

Many in her generation 

“…feel stuck in lives we didn’t want, didn’t choose. We feel failed by the voices that told us things like ‘just get your college diploma, it’ll work out’ or ‘life is always hard when you’re young’. We see peers older than us still living barely making it every day, and we see our parents pushing off retirement. And the meaning has been sucked dry from our lives for the most part…”

She says her generation feels it was lied to and that this largely explains the increasing drug use in our country. And “Given a bleak enough outlook, most people would choose not to think about, feel, or come into contact with any of life’s problems…” 

She shares these chilling words as well:

“This generation knows “that their efforts will never produce the results in material wealth those same efforts might have in their parents and grandparents generation, so they instead cling to a darkly pessimistic outlook, and consider it to be virtuous that they reject the idea that they will ever be happy, fulfilled, etc. in life. Nihilism As Virtue is a strange sense of being, because Gen Z wears it with a smile on its face, becoming almost giddily addicted to the latest trends re: escapism and compelling others to do the same because, after all, life is meaningless, and it will never get any better, so we may as well, right?…”

She ends by saying this: 

“To come full circle, I myself find that I spend a great deal of time engaging with escapism. I also spend a lot of dreaming about what life could be like, if only things could be different, or alternate universes existed where my worth in terms of the world was higher. So I can’t honestly say, considering that, and all the problems I’ll likely face in the next five years, that I feel confident I wouldn’t say yes to the Experience Machine. And I highly doubt a lot of Gen Z would, either.”

Rod sums things up again, sharing his own confidence in this woman’s faith: 

“What struck me so hard about this letter is that I know this young woman’s parents, and I know that she received a solid traditional upbringing in a faith-filled home. She has faith herself, and not just a notional faith. And yet, the bleakness of her generation’s prospects are grinding her down.”


Again, many feel endlessly discouraged… for they feel like they have no real wealth in this world.

…that they have nothing of the world’s splendor.

Well, they are surely not all innocent here. Critiques could be leveled against them to be sure. But let’s leave them alone this morning…

Because the Western world – a wild West if there ever was one – is certainly a mess like never before…

I mean, look at their Gen Z’s wider cultural context. 

They see young women cutting off their breasts and men their members and our educated elites and popular media influencers swoon with approval. Even pre-pubescent children are taking hormones, without their parents knowing. Grooming pedophiles who would prey on children are increasingly present and grow bolder and more open about their designs. They were forced to mask up and go to school online for two years and many had to take a “vaccine” that was known to have particularly bad side effects – myocarditis and the like – on their age group (at least the men). Race-baiters exist around every corner. Any of those wise enough to be concerned about rapid amounts of cultural change due to things like a surfeit of immigration and dearth of assimilation are shamelessly called racists. 

Of course, increasing problems have been picking up steam for a while. Should we talk about all the fruits of that “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” revolution that killed folk culture, high culture, church culture? 

One child of the sixties writes about the “rapid removal of all landmarks, signposts, objective measures and maps which left us where we are now, lost boys and girls trying to invent our own ideas of the good, condemned to repeat every stupid mistake in human history, which really defines our age…”

My own generation has been divorcing like mad since we were born. 1/3rd of us were aborted, and there is no way we, much less the Millennials or Gen Z, will be collecting any social security. And to top it off, fewer and fewer of those who get married want many kids – or any kids…

Men and women.

The Daily Mail reports: 

“The famous American work ethic helped the United States become the economic superpower of the 20th century. 

But experts warn the decision to prioritize careers over families has set the country on an irreversible path to economic destruction. The reason? People do not have enough children anymore.

A baby boom in the mid-20th century saw the average woman give birth to between three and four children. Today, just 1.6 children – the lowest level recorded since data was first tracked in 1800.

This could lead to economic devastation in America down the line – as the federal government would need to collect more taxes to fund programs such as Medicare and Social Security – while dishing out less benefits to each person.

The downward trend of American fertility has accelerated in recent decades, as the ‘Instagram generation’ of millennials and zoomers prioritize their careers, travel and relaxation over building families.”

Feminism, often popularly felt to be the belief that a woman can do most everything a man can – has not helped here… So many thinking it was a good idea for both parents to work – so a bigger piece of the American Dream could be attained – has really been a disaster for the American family.

Men, for example, by nature programmed to be protectors and providers, are increasingly no longer seeing the incentives or the point of getting married. Or even going to college, as colleges don’t want them (particularly if they are white) and women continue to graduate at far, far higher rates. 

Many of them themselves did not know stable marriages growing up… and they see that upwards of 70-80% of marriages end when the wife ends it… and with the law being stacked against them in ways that are often shocking…

Maybe some better politicians who also lead and inspire could be of help here. 

At the same time, what should we think when a majority of citizens no longer trust the electoral process?

And, when a wildly disproportionate amount of newly college-educated women vote en masse for the politicians who say they’ll make provision for them and any children they might bear…

…much like any husband would have been expected to do previously? 

Like everything else, it is now just a responsible and reasonable choice you make in the Experience Machine that is yourself.

Me, myself, and I. 

Who else matters, really?


I don’t know about you, but I am looking for some answers. Even if we surely don’t have all the answers.

What is a better way to live? 

Now, I would never be tempted to join the Amish. 

In fact, I worked with a guy this past week who lives in the country, and is close with a young Amish family.

They want out, he says, as the community’s legalism suffocates them. I do not know if it is true of all Amish communities, but I know for many that if you leave the group, you will be shunned and told that you are sealing your damnation by leaving the group. This was the case with the community of my co-worker’s friend.

That said, this past week I heard a report about a group that seemed a bit like the Amish, but much better. They are called the Danthonia Bruderhof.

This group of about 200 from the state of New South Wales in southeastern Australia has a large farm and lives off the land in a commune-like fashion, evidently somewhat successfully. 

They live, work, and serve together because they believe that God has called them to do this… even as they recognize this kind of life is not for everyone (it also seems you can here without  having to worry about leaving your salvation!)

I heard a podcast program which in part talked about this community helping to cater a wedding featuring the food grown on their farm… meat, dairy, veggies, and fruit. This is not unusual for this community that has their church, neighborhood, and workplace “all rolled into one.”

The article reports that 

“It’s a self-contained village, complete with school, a sign-making business that provides income, an on-site doctor, and 5,500 acres.

The Bruderhof have 24 communities in seven countries. Because of the women’s skirts and head coverings, people sometimes mistakenly think of the Bruderhof as Amish. But unlike the Amish, the Bruderhof have all things in common and personally own nothing—except clothing and toothbrushes. They resonate more with the early Hutterites, who believed strongly in the Great Commission and welcoming new neighbors…”

They use technology judiciously as they will often carry the latest cell phones in their pockets. Some are also responsible for recording all their agricultural data, for example. 

One member of the community says, summing things up: 

“Our way of life, our expression of faith community, is not about retreating from the world, but actually being an encouragement both to the church at large and also to people that don’t share faith that another life truly is possible. And clearly, that starts with our faith and a life that’s centered on Christ…”

Sounds pretty good, huh? 

Some tough questions though…

1) I mean, is it a good thing to leave your parents overseas, 10,000 miles away, as one couple did? Are your parents taken care of? Are they able to see their grandchildren? Happy with the arrangement?

2) I know I’d have to think twice before joining something like this! On their website, we read “Once someone has become a member, all of his or her earnings and inheritances are given to the church community, and each receives necessities such as food, clothing, and housing.” And if someone does decide to leave the community – and with it their vows of poverty and obedience – and decides they want to leave their child who is also leaving the community an inheritance like the Bible says would be good to do, that is too bad… 

One can perhaps see why monasteries in the past were for single persons…

3) And really – no property except for clothes and a toothbrush? Is that really wise? Do these communities ever work on larger scales? 


OK, I don’t want to come off as too immediately critical! 

There is no doubt something here with these folks, and it got me wondering if some Lutherans – especially struggling younger folks – might feel called to communities like these.. 

After all, we remember that even when God gave his law to Israel in the Old Testament, he specifically said that other nations would be attracted to the way of life of the Israelites!

What this tells us is that communities that approximate obedience to God’s law in one way or another, will find themselves surrounded, in general, by Earthly blessing. His commands really are for our good, our wellness, our health… because He cares. 

We dare never forget this or even that the early church was in fact commended in Acts for trying to live in a more communal fashion!

With that said, we dare not also miss the bigger picture. When Jesus talks about worshiping the Lord Our God and serving him only, He means to direct us to something more than just directions about how to live in this world, even as living by every word that comes from the mouth of God certainly does not exclude this kind of thing…

People loved by God, whatever we strive to accomplish in this world culturally and politically – whatever kinds of earthly communities we find ourselves to be part of – there is something we must know above all.

The Bible readings this morning tell us that the true history of the world is critical for finding our place in the world, being able to navigate in a broken environment, and understanding where we are and whose we really are.

God made Adam and Eve and they turned from Him and fell. As the Apostle Paul most unpopularly sums up the matter, “[Eve] the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” 

And when Adam went along with this and listened to his wife – for whatever reason – we are told in our Epistle reading that he took all of humanity down with him. In Adam’s failure we all sinned and sin and die…

God however, has begun to reverse the curse. For if we have ears to hear, we will also hear where we need to go during such a time as this… 

What does Paul say right after his words about Eve’s deception?: 

“…women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

I know this sounds crazy and wrong to so many but think on this. Children are always a gift and blessing and bring joy. Children grow up to be those who serve others. And it is God’s intention that we all grow to be those who serve one another with His good news.

The One who fulfills this to the nth degree – the One who we should think of first and foremost when we hear these seemingly insensitive and shocking words from Paul, is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This is the Promise we read this morning in Genesis 3:15, about the woman’s offspring crushing the head of the Serpent.

And here, I think I can do no better than echo the words of one of the most beautiful Christmas hymns I know: 

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,

The cross be borne for me, for you;

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come peasant, king to own Him;

The King of kings salvation brings,

Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,

The virgin sings her lullaby;

Joy, joy for Christ is born,

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Mary is quite satisfied with this arrangement. And so looks you in the eye and says “Listen to Him”.

Everything He has said. Through His Apostles and Prophets. In His Holy Scriptures.

Repent always, receive His forgiveness always, and treasure every word from His mouth.

And you will reign forever in glory and splendor with Him. 



Posted by on February 26, 2023 in Uncategorized


Response to Mahler’s “The European Peoples and Christianity”

Sent to the author one year ago.

I am sure others could do better. His words are in italics below.

Given that this post is still online and I have heard of no retractions, should we not assume that this remains the author’s thinking — and that subsequent statements should be understood in light of these words?


“There is a reason that Christianity was able to convert the European Continent. It was not, as some would claim, simply a matter of the sword. Christianity was able to supplant the Old Faiths as it was their fulfillment, and it is the Truth. The European Peoples have always sought after truth, and it was this that they found in and it was for this reason that they were drawn to Christianity. Our old gods were our explanation for the world given what we had then seen of the Light. When the truth of Christ reached our shores, we embraced it as our desire for truth saw it for what it was: God finally revealing Himself to His true children…”

First of all, again, drop the “our”. The EU aside, these are distinct peoples now, different ethnic groups. I lived in Slovakia for two years and I can tell you, they do not see themselves as one or the same, even if blood connections in most families are certainly closer to their surrounding nations than others, quite obviously. Second, no one is denying that there is not light that has been given to the nations, but the light given in Psalm 19, unless it involves some “Gospel message” in the stars that can be translated and that we are no longer aware of, is saying nothing more than Romans 1, which leaves us condemned. Per Acts 17, men seek God but do not even seek Him rightly, with appropriate fear, love, and trust. They seek the power of God for motives that ultimately fall short of His glory. That they stumble upon Him as they find themselves in places where He dwells (particularly among His people) is ultimately no credit to them. As Walther said, there is no doubt that in this or that locale there was a rumor of salvation, a veiled intelligible message, that had been passed down (like the butchered flood accounts around the world), but men need the assurance, nay certainty, of the truth of the Gospel as revealed in Jesus Christ. Even Luther is very interesting here when he speaks of the Old Testament God and the somewhat veiled Gospel message they had (see LW 13 on Psalm 90, definitely worth the read). So when you say “Our old gods were our explanation for the world given what we had then seen of the Light” how is this actually not horrendous blasphemy and syncretism of the worst kind? And again, going along with this, as I said to you before, “To say that culture is downstream from genetics ultimately does not work because the highest aspect of culture is the cult, or worship. Our worship of the true God, which hence creates good culture and formation, does not derive from our biology…”

I believe… that God presented Himself to us in two revelations: the second, and arguably the lesser of the two revelations, is the Bible; the first, and arguably God’s greatest and most glorious work, is Nature…” 

Saying creation, by the way, is better. : ) Great for antagonizing your secular allies who need the Gospel more than our politics. And the greatest thing about the creation, of course, is the incarnation – because the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world. And the creation doesn’t reveal Christ on its own, apart from the testimony of those created and called by God to proclaim the whole counsel of God and pass it on in the Holy Scriptures. 

“Only the Europeans, of all the peoples of this Earth, truly understood the first revelation. Without access to the second revelation, we interpreted the first as best we could. Intuitively grasping that we are made in the image of God, we created gods in our image. Our mythology is all to the glory of God. Our innate and inextricable reverence for the natural world is an expression of our unique intuition that it is the natural world, more than anything else, that reveals to us the face of God.” 

I’d submit that that mythology is not to the glory of God but is utter and damnable idolatry. And to say “Our innate and inextricable reverence for the natural world is an expression of our unique intuition that it is the natural world, more than anything else, that reveals to us the face of God” – what? In heaven there will be no tears, pain, suffering and death and right now in the natural world that is all around us. If Jesus Christ, as the God-Man, is seen as the “pinnacle of the  natural world” according to his human nature I’ll agree with you, but otherwise, how is this not a completely false statement? Again, it appears to me that you are operating as if there were some point in human history that God could have been understood, and, it seems, worshipped rightly (though not completely), without words from God, a message from God, to create faith. Again, Psalm 19 might give us the “words of the stars” but that is all law and no promise, and so right worship could never have taken place. Communication, explanation, revelation, was necessary (Chemnitz is all over this by the way). As it stands, you, in effect, appear to be intent on making the Europeans morally superior when the focus, insofar as we are Christians, should be this: all of us are in blind and groping darkness without a word from God revealing Christ breaking through… That is true salvation.  

“To gaze upon the vastness of the sea, to lose oneself in the depths of a forest, to stand in awe of the stars on the night of the winter solstice, or to stand before a tree that was ancient when Christ walked the Earth is to come closer to God than any scholar who locks himself away from the natural world to drown himself in words. God’s Word reveals to us His plan, but it is Nature that reveals to us His truth. Our ancestors were not misguided in their reverence for and even their worship of Nature, for the God of the Bible is Nature’s God and Nature is His first and greatest work.”

We need the Word, the Logos. Again, when you say that “Our ancestors were not misguided in their reverence for and even their worship of Nature, for the God of the Bible is Nature’s God and Nature is His first and greatest work….” how is to not embrace paganism? Yes, the natural world should promote worship of the Divine Mind responsible (in both senses, as originator and sustainer) of it all, and in whom we live and move and have our being… Man is created to worship and indeed will worship the creation because it is so impressive – at least after they look up from their smartphones. Nevertheless, this is ultimately what we call idolatry, per Romans 1. Man has turned away from God, turned away from the messages passed down from his ancestors, or distorted the messages (again the damaged flood accounts)… And, as the O.T. makes quite clear, there is darkness, “Europe” not excluded (nor prophesied about, I note)…

“When Christianity arrived upon European soil, it was only the second of God’s revelations, little more than words on a page and stories relayed by men.”

The power of God for salvation for all who believe. Comes in weakness to those who “are not”.

“It was European thought, European philosophy that gave flesh to the bones. Even as we raised great cathedrals into the sky, we also constructed the theological underpinnings of the faith.”

How is Scripture really not enough here? Neither Plato or Aristotle give it strength, though they might, in certain areas, track with it. Scripture is ultimately God’s Word, not man’s, and it is its own interpreter and, first and foremost, provides its own context as well…. We can certainly be thankful for the good, true, and beautiful things that we have in our Western heritage, coming from the very beginnings to the civilized ancient world to the Middle Ages until now, but we also aspire to keep it in its proper place… 

“Our greatest minds have taken the ancient roots of our Culture and our People and shown that they are not at odds with the God of the Bible, but rather that they were the groundwork necessary for our ancestors acceptance of the Faith when it finally found them.”

There are indeed good, true, and beautiful things in all cultures around the world, and we should recognize that there are certain things that have indeed been achieved in some places, among some peoples, and not others. There are good and bad habits in all cultures and they are not all equal, to be sure. There are certainly places I would prefer to live, as the Law of God is at least externally adhered to in some places better than others. 

Nevertheless, God levels all of them to humble us and to prepare the way of the Lord! For what do we have that we have not received? 

“Though born in Judea, Christianity did not truly have a home until it reached Europe. As Christians, we are God’s chosen people.”

You seem to almost make “Europeans” and “Christians” one in the same here. That only confirms liberal and leftist stereotypes that really are ultimately unhelpful, not only in a political sense for Christians, but as regards the proclamation of the Gospel. 

“We are faced today, as our ancestors were repeatedly in the past, with an invasion of our homelands by uncivilized, barbarian hordes.”

Clearly, those who would give no thought to limiting immigration are creating massive issues, whether to intentionally destroy Christianity or not. Immigration should always be limited, and assimilation and enculturation and integration are not evil but good things. 

“Our gods did not leave us, He simply revealed Himself.”

Those gods were indeed false and evil! Does not Yahweh puts up with glory for no one but Himself?! 

“Christianity is not a veneer laid over a pagan structure; rather, Christianity is the beating heart of our Culture and it is the soul of our Volk.”

No, it is not. But you are, at the very least, in danger of making this the case. And, of course, as much as Luther was a nationalist in a sense, he also often complained about the ongoing paganism and unbelief of his people. 

“We may no longer call Him Odin or seek intercession from Wotan, but our God is as He has ever been and we are, as we have ever been, His true People.”

Seriously, I stop here to learn, knowing full well the history of missionaries and their debates over these matters: What evidence would you put forth that Odin should be connected with Yahweh – and Jesus? 

“We do not honor our ancestors or serve the interests of our People when we deny truths we have known for centuries.”

Agree – maybe we can build on that. What am I clearly missing?  

“European thought forms the foundation of that Civilization, but it [also?] does so with Christianity.”

Again, a leveling must occur, even as that which is good, true, and beautiful can indeed be redeemed, I believe. Those customs, those traditions. 

“Just as a tree torn from its roots inevitably withers and dies, so, too, must the West perish without Christianity. Naturally, the reverse holds equally true: Without the West, Christianity will wither and die…”

I do not believe this. Luther’s rainstorm. I don’t want to lose it, but I do not believe this for a minute. 


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Posted by on February 23, 2023 in Uncategorized


The Glimpse of Glory We Deserve and the One We Need

Preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Waseca, Minnesota, Feb. 19, 2023


“But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank….”

– Exodus 24:11


Would you like to see God?

I mean, when we love someone, we long to see their face, right?

Perhaps even more so if that person we love is akin to a King or even the real King of Kings.

I remember the words of a popular worship song I’ve heard a few times:

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

Open the eyes of my heart

I want to see You

I want to see You

To see You high and lifted up

Shinin’ in the light of Your glory

Pour out Your power and love

As we sing holy, holy, holy…”

Then lots of repetition occurs, singing, for example, the following refrain seven times in a row:

“Holy, holy, holy

Holy, holy, holy

Holy, holy, holy

I want to see you…”

Such a popular worship song might make some of us feel really good. 

How well though, do any of us understand the words we sing?


What does the Apostle John, for example, say about seeing God in all His glory?

Bluntly, He says that “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). 

And later he quotes Jesus saying that no one…

“…has seen the Father except He who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46).

Jesus is saying that only He, the Son who is from God, has really seen the Father. 

Why? Well, the Bible does tell us of several instances of what happens to men in God’s presence:

In Numbers 17:12, after the Israelites realize their arrogance in challenging Moses’ brother Aaron, they cry out, “Look, we are perishing! We are lost; we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we going to die?”

In the book of Job, after he encounters the “golden splendor” and “awesome majesty” of the Lord (37:22) out of a whirlwind, he exclaims “My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes…” (42:5-6)

Early on in his book the prophet Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord, exalted and seated on a throne. Isaiah is overwhelmed and can only cry out: 

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John sees a particularly strange vision of Jesus Christ as the exalted son of God, and writes “I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last…’”

Even angels in the Bible promote a similar reaction…

We read that at the appearance of one angel, the Roman soldiers at the tomb of the risen Christ “became as dead men” (Matt. 28:4)…,

And even when it comes to believers, what does the Bible tells us is the first thing that almost all angels say to them when they appear?

That’s right: “Fear not”. 

Evidently, what every angel must learn in their Angels 101 class. For in their presence, sinful man’s natural response is one of fear. 

Terror of the Other. Terror of the Holy.


In the book of Exodus – in the chapters before and after where our Old Testament reading this morning was from – we learn a bit more about all of this. The fearsome presence of God, seen particularly on Mt. Sinai.

And yet, perhaps because of the kind way God had approached him, Moses wants to see God’s face as well…

Well, the text says that he wanted to see God’s glory… 

You see, even though Moses talked to God as one would a friend in the temple, he – the greatest of God’s prophets! – wanted to see more (Exodus 33:18-20)!

But his request was denied as God said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Exodus 33:20).

And so Moses was told that he could only see God’s backside…by hiding in the cleft of a rock and watching God’s glory as it passed him by…

At the same time, I think it is very interesting to note that prior to letting Moses see his back side, God nevertheless revealed something about himself, saying these words: 

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation…” (Exodus 34:6, 7).

The context of John 1 discusses a similar revealing of God’s good character as God becomes man. It reads:

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

One Bible commentator helpfully sums up matters this way:

“John discusses God’s fullness (hence, His glory)… and points out that no one has seen God (in this fullness), but Christ, who declares Him ([and] who was God in humbled flesh, according to Philippians 2:8 and the earlier context of John 1).” (See also 1 John 4:12) 

So there is no contradiction here, as God does indeed speak face to face with men, but not while in all His glory, or fullness.


Something similar happens in our Gospel reading for this morning.

On the one hand, there is the element of fear in the presence of God, in this case the voice of God the Father:

“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified…”

There are echoes of our Old Testament reading here, where we read:

“When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain….

As we read on in our New Testament lesson, however, 

“But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus…”

It is interesting that here the presence and words of Jesus bring comfort to Peter, James, and John.

After all, this is not uniformly the case in the Bible when Jesus’ disciples encounter him. 

One recalls, for example, Peter’s initial reaction to Jesus, with His miracle where He causes Peter and Andrew catch a multitude of fish…

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees. ‘Go away from me, Lord,’ he said, ‘for I am a sinful man.'” (Luke 5:8).

But now, even though Jesus has been transfigured on the mountain, His own presence – even revealed to be a divine presence! – causes no fear or discomfort in the disciples whom He brought up the mountain…

In fact, in reflecting on the significance of this event I came across a wonderful quotation from one preacher whose comments I read online:

“As Christians, our highest satisfaction will come when we see our God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and when we stand before Them in perfect uprightness. Heaven will provide us with that privilege – an undiminished, unwearied sight of His infinite glory and beauty, bringing us infinite and eternal delight. We can begin to understand why Peter, after seeing only a faint glimpse of that glory, wanted to make a camp on the Mount of Transfiguration and stay there permanently! (Matt. 17:4)….”


The event of the Transfiguration was truly a remarkable occasion…

You heard the Apostle Peter recall it in glowing words that we heard in our epistle reading this morning, as he spoke about how he and James and John were “eyewitnesses of His majesty”…

He also, however, said this:

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

In the Gospel text for this morning, the Father proclaims of His Son Jesus, “Listen to Him!”

And yet, when Peter recalls the event, he only talks about how the voice of the Father said “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The reason is because Peter does want to talk about how God speaks to us, but has done so particularly in the Holy Scriptures!

Truly, it is instructive to see what the Apostle Peter, who really could have complete assurance that he had felt the positive effects of God’s presence at the Mount of Transfiguration – a “mountaintop worship experience” if there ever was one! – had to say his hearers about the sure and certain experience of hearing God’s very words. Let’s hear it again, with a slightly different translation:

“…. we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…”  (2 Peter 1)

Peter is saying that the Holy Scriptures, the prophetic message, provide us with God’s very voice, giving us the surety and certainty that lasts not just for a moment, perhaps in the midst of some good feelings that may have been produced, but for a lifetime!


So, let’s talk about that prophetic message. The message really is always, in various ways, about who we ultimately are, and who our God ultimately is…

The great 17th century Bible teacher Matthew Henry said:

“A full discovery of the glory of God, would [have] overwhelm[ed] even Moses himself. Man is mean, and unworthy of it; weak, and could not bear it; guilty, and could not but dread it…”

You see, the problem, as Henry identifies, is found in us. Because of the sin that inheres in us – because of the sin that we inherited from Adam and Eve’s fall – the full and good glory of God does indeed destroy us. 

For Scripture clearly tells us that God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Hab. 1:13). 

Correspondingly, there are times that the Scripture speaks of the law being weak, for example. Why is this? It is because the problems in us are what make the law weak, and what ultimately makes it fatal to us… 

One preacher rightly reminds us that 

“Our sight here on earth is virtually like blindness compared to the clearer vision we will have in heaven (1 Cor. 13:12).” 

This is indeed why the law cannot make us righteous, but rather breaks, kills, and condemns us.

Here, however, Matthew Henry goes on with news we need to hear, reminding us of some of the other good things we’ve talked about this morning: 

“…The merciful display which is made in Christ Jesus, alone can be borne by us…[it is] imperfect knowledge of God in the present state, even as revealed in Christ; for this, when compared with the heavenly sight of him is but like seeing a man that is gone by, whose back only is to be seen. God in Christ, as he is, even the fullest and brightest displays of his glory, grace, and goodness, are reserved to another state…”


What does this mean? 

Even though you are his new creation, you remain a sinner, one who is saddled with an old Adam, and hence, until heaven, God’s glory – even God’s glory as revealed to you in Christ – must be veiled for your sakes….

This is why he comes to us in veiled means. In humble and simple and even boring ways and will never terrify us or cause us to fear. 

For God came as a simple and humble baby in human flesh. He also comes to us through the simple means of words, words spoken to us in love that mold and shape and form us.

And He also comes to us in humble and simple means like bread and wine… a holy meal…

Thankfully we do not get the kinds of revelations of His glory we want, which is what we deserve, but the revelations of His glory that He knows we truly need. 

This is why in John 12 Jesus talks about how God will glorify Him by lifting Him up… that is lifting Him up on a cross… so that He will draw all persons to Himself.

This is our powerful but veiled King – who finally desires not that man be terrified as he deserves, but rather comforted! 

And we saw an incredible foreshadowing of this in the text I chose for this sermon today from the Old Testament: 

“But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank….”

Did you notice the word “But”? ““But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites…” 

Instead, God brings these men up His holy mountain in a space with an amazing sapphire floor, clear as the sky itself… 

There they see Him, there, they eat and drink in His presence…


In I Cor. 1:29, we read:  

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…


“…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God…”

And so we foolish, weak, lowly and despised ones… in this time and age, are nevertheless made able to embrace in faith God’s glorious brightness!

God’s glorious brightness!

Though it be concealed beneath humble and simple things – foolish, weak, lowly and despised things – like the cross, like water, like bread, like wine, like simple and humble words… (which the world constantly abuses with the Earthly power it is drunk on, treating them only like power tools!)

And, amazingly, it is through these foolish, weak, lowly and despised things that we foolish, weak, lowly and despised ones begin to have revealed to us everything we ultimately need to know…. 

As 1st Corinthians 3 puts it, we can therefore begin to have the veil removed…:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit…”

And so we too then, Jesus says – in spite of our lowly estate! – are the light of the world (Matthew 5), as we walk in the Light that He is and He brings! (I John 1)…

Peter even says we are “partakers of the Divine Nature!” (2 Peter 1:4)

Let us remember here that as this becomes increasingly true what it is men of God say we should boast in…

The Apostle Paul says that he will boast in his weakness, and also adds in the book of Galatians this: 

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world…”

And I so love hearing what the prophet Jeremiah says. He says that we should boast:

“…that they have the understanding to know me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight…”


So, finally, what does this all mean?

How much do you think it matters?

“What really satisfies you? New clothes? A new job? Promotion? A new house or car? A great meal? A fun time? A vacation? Don’t set your heart on such paltry earthly pleasures. The redeemed will be able to see God…” (Macarthur)

Philip, is a better model for us! He, speaking for all the disciples, said to Christ, “Show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (John 14:8).

After all, Revelation 22:3-4 reminds us that “The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve him. They shall see his face”.

David says of himself, “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Ps. 17:15). 

And Paul hits us with this: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)

So all of this means we are not those who are left with the word:

“…you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

We are instead those who repeat Jesus’ answer to Philip:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

…and say “This is it!  Amen!” 

With notes:

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Posted by on February 19, 2023 in Uncategorized


Abounding in Good Works with an Easy Yoke

“I’m not relying on my own merits, as I have none, but I put my hope in Him who is goodness and holiness Himself… We can never have too much confidence in the good God.” — Thérèse of Lisieux


Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Feb. 12, 2023


“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him…”

– Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a 


“Trust and obey… there is no other way…”

We sing that in one of the hymns you have in your hymnal. And some good Lutherans might get a bit nervous about this!

Trust sure, but “Obey”? 

What? Do you think you can earn, merit, your salvation? Don’t you know why the Reformation happened? Don’t you know that man is so focused on works that other men will even take advantage of this?

That last stated concern, at least, is true.

During the days of the Reformation, do you know what happened?

The idea was like this. The highest authorities in Rome had a great, grand bank account. A bank account of merit, of worth.

This merit could be distributed to those in need, as they had need, making them worthy.

Of course most of this merit that the church dispensed was earned by Christ, but much of it was also earned by the saints. The saints were those who did even more than was expected of the average Christian.

They made it to heaven right away, and then they had merit to spare. Merit that the church could distribute to those in need.

If you were a Christian who was a bad Christian, you would make it to heaven eventually. It might, however, take a long time. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. This is what the church called purgatory.

And they, with its treasury of merits, could help. For a certain fee, er, free will donation, you could access these merits, which would decrease the amount of intense suffering and purgation (by fire) that you would need to undergo in purgatory.

And, I mean, even better if you could do this not for yourself, but your parents, grandparents, children, etc.

This is all rather shocking when you think about it. If you have ever been to the largest Cathedral in the world, St. Peter’s in Rome, it is rather mind-numbing to realize that the entire thing was built on the backs of simple people who believed all of this was true.

And Rome hasn’t changed. Even though there was no promise of a specific amount of years that would be taken off, I recently heard a man share how after his Roman Catholic grandmother had died, they got a letter from the Roman Catholic church saying that they would do a private mass for her, to facilitate her soul’s entrance into heaven, for a donation…


So, what was Rome’s main problem?

Rome’s problem is the human problem writ large. 

It has to do with a misreading of the Bible; largely because the Bible is not believed… 

In our Old Testament reading for today we see that God promised his people life when they walked in His ways and death when they abandoned His paths.

So, at one level, Rome might seem to be on target here. For God, don’t blessings for right behavior and curses for wrong behavior go hand in hand?

They do. Even if the text from Deuteronomy is not about heavenly blessings, but earthly blessings. 

It works like this: 

First, by grace, from all the nations God chose Abraham apart from works, with “Abraham believ[ing] God, and God crediting this to him as righteousness!

And then, by grace, apart from works, the Lord chose His descendents: Isaac, and Jacob, later called Israel. 

Then the distinct people the Bible calls Israel came from Jacob’s 12 sons. 

As Solomon would put it, “You separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be Your inheritance…” (I Kings 8)

This grace and inheritance, as Jesus teaches us, always was meant to include immortality. 

To echo our Lord, God is not the God of dead Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but living Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… 

And even though Moses would not receive the earthly blessings of the promised land, as he was kept from this – he would certainly receive the eternal promised land by faith in God’s mercy and promised Messiah!


One might think this grace which chose Israel would produce humility. But Jesus tells a stinging parable in Luke 17 that shows the problem that often occurred.

The idea of grace got twisted, as it was combined with a pride in one’s own person, status, actions…

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus then, right on cue, goes on to talk about little children. 

This Pharisee’s problem was that he did not have the hidden heart, or core, of the Bible – even just the Old Testament of those Scriptures! – in his heart. 

He did not see the centrality of God’s gracious act of  adoption.

Or, at least, the centrality of God’s grace of adoption of wicked people, apart from works, by faith in the promise… the Promise of the Messiah who would come and came in Jesus Christ…

He should have seen it. 

In Luke 24, in the story of the Road to Emmaus, Jesus exclaims to the two men that He is walking with: 

“‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…”

And, going along with this, the Apostle Paul was absolutely clear that by keeping the Law no person could be justified or declared righteous….

And not only did Jesus know that the Old Testament was clear that He, the Messiah, would come – fulfilling God’s prophecies and promises – it was also clear that no man would be justified by His works…

In Psalm 130:3, we hear: “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”

Psalm 143:2 states “Do not bring Your servant into judgment, for no one alive is righteous before You…”

In Daniel 9 we hear the prophet say: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous [Lord], but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!”


And even right before our passage today in Deuteronomy, we hear something that is absolutely remarkable from God through Moses…

We hear Him say: 

“For this commandment I give you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven, that you should need to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it for us and proclaim it, that we may obey it?’ And it is not beyond the sea, that you should need to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and proclaim it, that we may obey it?’ But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may obey it…”

And just what is that word that is to be heard, believed, and yes, obeyed (“obey” here, by the way, simply means listening such that the words are taken to heart)?

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 10, quotes this passage by saying that this is not the righteousness of the law, which the Pharisees, for example, practiced, but the righteousness of faith. 

And right before that, he says this of his own people, the Jews:

Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone… Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ[, who is that stumbling stone for the Jews,] is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes…”

Think about this. 

Paul says this and goes on to quote the passage from Deuteronomy about trying to bring God down or ascending to heaven to reach Him – even as that book is the one that is the apex of God’s law!

Even there, he is telling us, the Promise that is grasped by faith, the very Gospel of Jesus Christ, was known by Moses, was known by Israel, and should have been known by more! 


Nevermind though. 

We, as human beings – as fallen human beings – even as redeemed fallen human beings who are washed in the blood of the Lamb! – cannot avoid thinking about life according to law. 

We, we ourselves – by our own efforts and will and powers – will get to where the divine is. We will cross the sea or descend into the deep to find Him. We will ascend to heaven to be with Him…

No, no, no.

Luther called this the “opinio legis” – the opinion of the law.

All men, all fallen men in particular, think in this way. Like the two-year old who can’t, we say “I do myself!”

Blessings, good things, are earned by me, merited for me, because of my own person and powers resulting in my good behavior. 

I can always make myself worthy, redeem myself, even reach heaven, through my positive actions…

We, like so many did in the Old Testament and like that Pharisee who thanked God he was not like other men… continue to find a way to ignore God’s word of promise and grace – which we are to freely take again and again – but to instead live according to the things we do, we accomplish… the things we do by our own powers for God…

And when we do – because man does and will – this is why God will give us over to our delusions, that we might be brought to our senses. Turning up the law a thousand degrees…

We see this in our Gospel reading for today, a section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. 

It is here that Jesus makes it clear that even though the Pharisees are the most noticeable exemplars of following God’s law externally, they still are not cutting it.

Hence, he says that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven…”

He turns up the volume, getting to the heart of the law.

It is not just enough to not kill anyone, you are not to hate them or call them a fool.

It is not just enough to not commit adultery, you cannot look at a woman with lust.

It is not just enough to not make oaths, you must simply let your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no”…

Hence we also hear from both Paul that: 

“Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them…”

And James (2:10): 

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it…”


We will not teach Him.

He will teach us.

We will not ignore Him.

He will command our attention.

We will not act as if He does not exist, or as if He has not promised that He is, by His great mercy, our Father – and that we are His beloved children.

Children whom He means to delight in. 

Children He means to be close to. 

Children He means to spend time with.

What do I mean?

Well, I think Jesus makes all of this very clear and graspable in a way when He teaches us two main things.

First, when He assures us that His yoke is truly easy and His burden is light. 

Elsewhere, His Apostle tells us that His commands are not burdensome. If they are for us, we have something dreadfully wrong.

Second, when He invites us to abide in Him. He is the vine and we are the branches, He says. You can do nothing without me, He says. Here, we have the distinct impression that if anything that is good comes out of us, it will be because we are connected to Him.

And here is the thing: we, like God’s chosen people of Israel in the Old Testament but in a New Covenant way, a New Testament way, are already fully connected to Him. 

Not because we were baptized, but because we are baptized…

There was a time in your life when God, through His appointed servant, put His Name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – upon your head and publicly declared you to be His own, a member of the Kingdom of God.

Because of Christ’s work, you too, with Him, were buried in death, raised from the dead, ascended to God’s right hand, and now are called to be and reign with Him now and forevermore, being good and doing good, as your Lord does.

If there has not been such a moment in your life – if you in fact have never been baptized – I urge you to talk with me more about it after the service….


You see my friends, with this salvation, this knowledge, we can overcome the world. 

We can be the kinds of soldiers that Christ calls even today and needs today.

Even if the church at large goes astray…. Even if its leaders fail… We can still know God and confidently walk with Him, as He guards our hearts from lies. 

Oddly, I sense that this happened with probably the most popular – or at least the second most popular – Roman Catholic saints. 

The French girl, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, known affectionately as “The Little Flower” .

Wikipedia says that “Thérèse has been a highly influential model of sanctity for Catholics and for others because of the simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life…”

One of nine children, Therese was born in 1873 to Louis and Zélie and at the age 15 entered a convent of “very aged nuns, some odd and cranky, some sick and troubled, some lukewarm and complacent”… where she remained until her death from tuberculosis at the early age of 24….

If you look closely at her, she seems to have grasped a few things that Martin Luther came to learn: the centrality of the grace and mercy of God in Christ for sinful people and the doctrine of vocation, including God’s call to find joy in the littlest things.

After hearing one preacher say, in good Roman Catholic fashion, that “No one knows if they are worthy of love or of hate” she heard months later another visiting priest preach about abandonment and God’s mercy and this, she says, expanded her heart… 

Shortly thereafter, she got 

“the [four] Gospels and the Epistles of St Paul bound into a single small volume which she could carry on her heart. She said, ‘But it is especially the Gospels which sustain me during my hours of prayer, for in them I find what is necessary for my poor little soul…”

Later on, she would famously say 

“I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. […] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow. On the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less…”

In many ways she was like Luther.

Like Luther, Therese also took a trip to Rome which put her on notice of the church’s worldliness, was highly scrupulous, sensitive, and stubborn, not having a temperament “not formed for compromise or moderation”, revered but did not focus on Mary, saw that believers would struggle with some sins their whole life, found comfort in the church’s mystics, emphasized God’s and the Christian’s descent and not ascent, and ultimately found relief by turning outside of herself to the gift of God’s grace.

Unlike many later Lutherans and other Protestants, she did not conclude that living the life of a nun was a bad thing – but feeling called embraced the role with fervor while yet keeping all the things mentioned above in the forefront…

The Wikipedia article says many interesting things about her, but I found this to be particularly moving: 

“Therese deliberately ‘sought out the company of those nuns whose temperaments she found hardest to bear.’ What merit was there in acting charitably toward people whom one loved naturally? Therese went out of her way to spend time with, and therefore to love, the people she found repellent. It was an effective means of achieving interior poverty, a way to remove a place to rest her head… ”

We also read that “the smallness of Therese, her limits”, became her grounds for joy, rather than discouragement.

Again, going against the popular and even more refined Roman Catholic piety of the time, she wrote that she wanted to go to heaven by what she perceived to be an “entirely new little way”. 

“I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus”. The elevator, she wrote, would be the arms of Jesus lifting her in all her littleness…

In spite of all Rome’s errors, I believe that St. Therese not only began to overcome these – even as many in Rome perhaps did not see this subtle subversion of its doctrine! – but lived in such a Christ-like and in fact Lutheran way that Rome could not help but take notice of the devotion she inspired…

In the heat of the theological battles of the Luther-led Reformation of the church in the 16th century, the Lutherans were keen to emphasize that Jesus had said: 

“…when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty…’”

300 years later, it doesn’t seem that someone like St. Therese failed to understand this. 

It seems almost laughable that she would have found herself capable of what the church calls “works of supererogation”, that is, works that Rome teaches go beyond our duty, what God calls us to do…

Thanks be to God!

When people – from whatever background – have, read, and rely on God’s word, these are the kinds of things that inevitably begin to happen…


Again, in our reading for today, we read that blessings in life are associated with doing good and curses and death are associated with doing evil.

We also read this, a word that the Lord meant to be encouraging to people who He had declared were His own precious people: 

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him…”

Again, do not think you will call God down from heaven or ascend to heaven.

When we are energized by the old Adam, or the old man, who still resides within us, we may indeed be inclined and tempted to deceive ourselves. 

When we have performed some good external action we might think that there is nothing that remains to be done or accomplished.

This is false. As those whom Jesus has forgiven, made holy, and continues to work with in spite of our ongoing sin, we can, in peace, strive to act with the love of God.

In like fashion, we also may be tempted to perform our own good works – works that we feel are more important to accomplish – instead of the works that the Lord has given us to do for example… the works that the Ten Commandments direct us towards.

This also we cannot do, for we live not only by God’s grace, but every good word, command, that comes from God’s mouth.

He has come down to you, to be with His people, to dwell with His people… 

And He dwells with us still. He comes to us still.

He has sent us messengers – and given us a message, to let us know that we are not alone, we have direction in this world, and our work is not in vain…

Hear this bit from our Epistle lesson again: 

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I[, Paul,] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow…”

God is making us grow. 

It is not only Apostles who need to be reminded that the true word of God always does this without fail, being at work in those who believe (I Thes. 2:13).  

So sit down. 

Be still. 

Abide with Him. 

Listen to Him. 

Be small. 

Descend, to meet with your Lord, who descends….

Whenever you drink the blood of Christ and eat His body, call out in joy with David: 

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered!

…blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not  count his sin!”

You have a God who suffered the worst this life had to offer to bring you back to Him – who will lead you to be children of God, not acting like “mere men” as the Apostle Paul said, but becoming “sons of gods” – or even just “gods” with a little g! 

Scripture says so! 

Don’t doubt His love for you or His easy yoke.

And so don’t be afraid to talk back, even saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” if you must…

Because He always turns back to us, and He is big enough to hear that kind of desperate cry as well. 

That kind of trust, faith… that has nowhere else to go… 

But Him.


With footnotes:

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Posted by on February 12, 2023 in Uncategorized


Private Pastoral Counsel Regarding Dr. John Pless’s Influence

Dr. John Pless, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW)


First, context for those who need it.

Now… a man (we’ll call him Jake) contacted me on Facebook almost two years ago… He knew I had written this (the first edition of the post).

Some details below from the conversation have been changed.


A local pastor hosted a continuing Ed class and invited all his online listeners to come, (of course I was the only one who did, and I did feel a bit sheepish, but thankfully there were a few other laymen so I didn’t stick out too badly). Here’s the thing, Dr Pless taught it. And frankly he taught it extremely well, it was truly a pleasure to learn from someone who has that kind of knowledge of Luther.

The first thing I have to say is- That man (Dr Pless), is NOT an antinomian, the topic he covered was Luther’s letters of pastoral care, and one of them was to Agricola (yes, that Agricola). He covered the letter on the last day and while he quoted Paulson once and Forde twice, throughout the week, he also quoted Jack Kilcrease, Dr Kleinig.

Throughout the week, not a single syllable that he spoke could in any way be considered outside the bounds of what I’ve been taught is legitimate Confessional Lutheranism.

Of particular note, he gave a brief explanation of Agricola’s error, and it was precisely the explanation that I was given by my pastor at the time (who was fond of teaching Pastor Surburg’s observations of soft antinomianism).

Now I’ll never appreciate Paulson or Forde’s teachings, but it’s clear to me that Dr Pless is not Forde or Paulson.

Dr. Pless quoted Luther as saying “you must set aside the Decalogue”, but he was extremely careful to explain when, why, and who Luther taught to do this- those suffering persistent depression, and then only when suffering a specific attack.

Anyway, I thought I would give you my perspective after I got an up close look at Dr Pless and the way he teaches.


Jake — Thanks for writing this. First of all, this was in person? I know that pastor and know that he likes and respects Dr. Pless, his beloved teacher, no doubt. I too, have learned a lot from Dr. Pless over the years and respect him. He is knowledgeable and a good teacher, and he also will always give you the pure Gospel. I do not think he wants to throw out God’s law. I do not think he is like Paulson and Forde in the things he believes or does not believe either.

This said, the problem like Dr. Pless is akin to the problem with Pastor John Drosendahl[, whose views I described in the article]. It is almost always what they do not say, what they will never say, what they seemingly will not be caught dead saying. One last thing:

Pless, I am sure, has a presence that demands respect and gets respect. This is the man who sent some 20 or more young men to the seminary when he served as a campus pastor at the U. of Minnesota. I’ll stick with my eval. though, because I am confident it is true after listening to the man for many, many years.

I am not calling him a heretic. That said, this post starts to point out the issues.


It was in person at the pastor’s church.

I re-read my message to you and I apologize to you, it was far more terse sounding than what was in my head when I set down to write it.

What I wanted to express was a sense of relief that we don’t have a fire breathing radical, antinomian running roughshod over the seminary.

The topic of the class was one that has weighed heavily on my mind for some time both for myself and for others, it was and will be very helpful.

You know that I have NO love whatsoever for Forde and Paulson’s teaching and I never will, I’m firmly in line with my Pastor’s thoughts on them and my Pastor is firmly in line with Dr Scaer’s (and yours) thoughts on them.

I like your blog because I LIKE your thoughts and careful way that you arrive at them, as I’m sure you’ve noticed I have tendency to shoot from the hip and spray verbal bullets in every direction without regard for who and how badly that might wound, your careful way of expressing your thoughts are a good influence on me.

Your last blog is a case in point….


Jake — well, I now want to say that I didn’t mean for my last comment to be a rebuke at all. I am glad some of what Dr. Pless had to say was helpful to you. You see, this is the thing: he is indeed focused on delivering the Gospel to hurting people and I also know he does not want to pitch God’s law. That is great. I know he is not a fire-breathing antinomian and, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone in the LCMS is. I think the antinomian temptation, however, is strong with us in that we are so very hesitant to speak like Paul. Ever! You know? And that is why the whole 3rd use question is such a perennial struggle. Again, the strength of our theology and our current pastors is indeed delivering the gospel and giving the peace of Christ to sinners. Which we all are and we keep needing it! We do divide law and gospel well here, but the issue is the struggle to talk about sanctification in ways that don’t sound stilted and formulaic and, of course, sound something like Paul! : ) Glad you could go to that pastor’s church!… Thanks again for your continual engagement Jake. You shoot from the hip a bit, but don’t lose that either. It is not always a bad thing, I think! (so long as we also listen to correction, can admit when we went too far, etc…).


Thank you brother!

Jake, recently:

I owe you a profound apology- Dr Pless is worse than I thought. You right, I was wrong. I am sorry.


Pax, fighter. Onward.


Will do!


I do not know what news specifically prompted Jake’s apology to me, but if it this post didn’t do it for him, maybe it did for someone else (post since deleted; cataloged in a FB post from Jan. 23 at 11:06 am):

Tell me again about the rude people on Twitter who blew this thing up. Sure.

We need new leadership.

Lord have mercy.


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Posted by on February 8, 2023 in Uncategorized


My Letter to President Harrison about the Large Cataclysm of 2023 (and More)

As most folks reading this blog would know by now, President Harrison has basically given the new edition of the Large Catechism a clean bill of health.

Clint Poppe, who has been a challenger to him for the LC-MS Presidency, has weighed in:

I continue to maintain that all copies of the book should have been destroyed and that Dr. John Pless, especially for allowing Steven Paulson to participate, should no longer be an LC-MS seminary professor (see my letter to Harrison about this below).

The LC-MS really needs to take the views of its sharp Gen Z members into consideration. See this short thread (also see here).

I like Larry Beane’s attitude. To a member who said he was deciding to leave the LCMS because his trust in pastors and church leadership was at an all time low and so would be a “churchless confessional Lutheran” the good pastor said this:

“Can you imagine living in the days when Arianism was was winning? When St. John Chrysostom was in exile? When Luther was excommunicated? When the king of Prussia forced Lutherans into a union with the Reformed?

This is our cross. We don’t have the option to flee. We live in the church militant.

There is literally nothing that is more worthy of fighting for than the truth of the Gospel – not family, country, or self-defense.

This is why Paul gives us the picture of the militant Christian in Ephesians 6.

Gird up your loins, sharpen your sword, grab a quiver of arrows, and let’s have at it.”

Here, by the way, is AALC seminary President Jordan Cooper’s evaluation of the project. I’ve commented on a few of his tweets there, including here:

It looks like Issues ETC. will be having him on. If you have good questions you’d like Pastor Wilken to ask him, consider contacting Pastor Wilken, who is on Twitter or at @toddwilken and also at

Here is my email to the President, which I sent before the decision was made, followed by the content of my two Facebook posts on the issue (also posted before the President’s decision):

President Harrison,

Greetings to you in Christ Jesus! My name is Nathan Rinne, and I am a Lutheran layman concerned about the direction our Synod seems to be taking as indicated in the CTCR’s new edition of the Large Catechism.

I know that you have put this project on hold. Nevertheless, my level of concern remains very high.

Even though I do share many of the thoughts of those who became aware of this issue through the 19-year-old layman Ryan Turnipseed (by the way, have you read this August 2022 post from Ryan at Gottesblog? In my mind, that a young man like this can make such astute observations speaks well of his future in Christ’s church!) – namely the issues pertaining to CRT and gradual capitulation to the demands of the “LGBTQ+” crowd – I think my concerns go even deeper.

I believe one of the most insidious things about this new edition of the Large Catechism is the presence of ELCA theologians, particularly Steve Paulson. In his 2011 magnum opus, titled Lutheran Theology, Paulson made the claim that Jesus Christ committed his own personal sin (see here for the briefest of summaries). When I heard Paulson had been published through CPH yet again (he was also in the most unfortunate The Necessary Distinction book), I decided to get involved with the online discussion (see here, for example).

Even though Paulson has been so bold to say that Christ committed his own personal sin, this has not stopped Concordia seminary professor John Pless from promoting his work at almost every opportunity. In a 2011 LC-MS Reporter article “ELCA’s Paulson to speak at Ft. Wayne seminary,” Pless said of Dr. Paulson that he “is an outstanding theologian with a deep grasp on insights from Martin Luther for contemporary Christians.” And David Scaer reports (in Scaer, David, “Is Law Intrinsic to God’s Essence?”, p. 11) that in 2018 Dr. Pless also wrote an article titled “Twenty-Five Titles in Twenty-Fives Years,” that touts Paulson’s same 2011 Lutheran Theology book. I am sure Dr. Scaer could fill you in on more of the concerns he has had about Dr. Paulson.

It pains me that Paulson wrote what he did and has never taken back what he said. I know some have asked him to at least clarify, but the one time I know that he did address his claims he really did not give an explanation at all, but really artfully dodged the issue.

Of course I would be concerned about all of this even if Paulson were not such a compelling and charismatic figure. But he is. I once wrote this about him:

“Now, I know Paulson’s teaching and style hold no appeal to many folks, even many highly intellectual folks. They find him confusing, even uninteresting, and ultimately not worth listening to. I, on the other hand, am drawn to it like a moth to the flames. Paulson is highly educated, knows his historical theology inside and out, is highly creative and sensitive to human nature, skewers contemporary philosophical outlooks (and ancient ones as needed), deftly alludes to and addresses our current cultural moment, and uses intense rhetoric which is clearly backed up with intense conviction and thought. In my mind, there is basically nothing not to like.”

Pastor Harrison, I appeal to you as the head earthly shepherd of one of our Lord’s most faithful remnants. I pray that you would feel some of the confusion and anger and horror that I know many of us feel when we think about what Paulson said, and how Dr. Pless has continued to unapologetically promote him.

I believe that John Pless – like Dr. Gene Veith has done when I talked to him about it – needs to publicly recant his support and promotion of Steve Paulson, and that if he will not do this (not to mention addressing all the other essays which he approved in this volume!) that he should be removed from his teaching post from CTSFW for the sake of the church.

As with Paulson, I bear no ill will towards Dr. Pless. I would write concerning Larry Vogel as well, the other editor, if I knew more about him. I do know what Pless must know, however, and has publicly said.

I hope you will prayerfully think on my words, and consider the kinds of things that I think need to happen. God bless you on your service and most difficult of callings!

Pax Christi,


PS – Please feel free to share my email with anyone you please.


Facebook post #1:

I am deeply grieved today.

I understand that my church body, the LC-MS, has published a new edition of Martin Luther’s Large Catechism and that it includes an essay from Steve Paulson, who has written that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Innocent Lamb of God, committed his own personal sin.

Given some of the other questionable things about this new catechism as well, saying we are witnessing the fruit of out-of-control tolerance doesn’t even begin to do the situation justice.

I cannot comprehend this, and will explain why with a story from the early church, when men actually feared God (complements to Timothy Tennent, from whom I quote):

“According to the story, John, the Apostle of love, was inside a Roman bath house getting cleansed, as was the custom of his day. However, through the hot steam he suddenly realized that the heretic Cerinthus was sitting just across the room. John immediately jumped up and fled the bathhouse, explaining that Cerinthus was inside and he didn’t want to be killed when the building collapsed under the righteous judgment of God! Why such a strong reaction? Cerinthus was one of the gospel’s chief opponents.”

John wasn’t wrong about God’s judgment, even if he didn’t get the timing quite right. Lord have mercy.

Here is a screen shot of that post, which was shared 22 times:


Facebook post #2:

We didn’t start the fire.

Concordia Publishing House actually put forward an edition of the Large Catechism which included an essay from an ELCA theologian who has publicly proclaimed (in his 2011 magnum opus) that Jesus Christ committed his own personal sin.

I am convinced that tolerating things like this explain the many other deep problems with the “Large Cataclysm of 2023”.

Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison announced yesterday the book was being withdrawn. As one highly respected pastor put it, “[Concordia Publishing House’s streak of publishing great resources has come to a spectacular end, a veritable crash-and-burn”

Who is ultimately responsible for this? It is easy to point to President Matthew Harrison, who wrote the forward to the book. That said, it may sadly be the case that President Harrison did not actually know the contents of the book, but trusted another.

Who is that other one? He is the eminent and highly respected Concordia Theological seminary professor John Pless. I’ve now done an updated review on one of Pless’s most important (and disturbing) books here:…/a-critical…/

Please note that Dr. Pless is also a good friend of Steven Paulson, who is the man who believes Christ sinned. He seems to never miss an opportunity to promote the propagator of this God-hating (that is what this is) teaching.

Why? Well, John Pless says that the problem in today’s church is that “The chief aim of the church is thought to be producing a culture that runs counter to that of our world, a culture defined by biblical values. The Gospel is pressed into the service of the Law. It becomes a means to morality, not a word from God that forgives for Jesus’ sake” (12).

Pless is exactly right that the proclamation of the Gospel is what is absolutely central to the church’s mission and that it must not be a “means to morality”. As he goes on to state:

“The Gospel alone has the power to forgive sins and make alive the heart that is dead to God. This is why Walther insisted that the Gospel must always predominate in Christian preaching and witness” (13).

One can understand Pless’ conviction that the church’s chief aim is not to produce a culture that “runs counter to our world”. Again, the Gospel is the main thing. At the same time, is not the proclamation of the Gospel also connected with, in a sense, a specific kind of “culture”? And one, indeed, that “runs counter” to that of our world?

This is one of the issues that any honest person must have with many contemporary “conservative” Lutherans. It doesn’t seem like even the best at our seminaries, with some rare exceptions (one who recently left), are able to think this way, recognize simple and obvious truths like this.

Thanks for reading.

Screen shot of that one:



Posted by on February 5, 2023 in Uncategorized