Author Archives: Infanttheology

Being Christ’s Body, and Filling the World

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Clam Falls, Wisconsin, May 21, 2023


“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way…”

— Ephesians 1:22-23


Heaven is up, hell is below.

Where does that idea come from? Well, interestingly, the idea of heaven and hell is common throughout the world. 

And this idea can definitely gain and hold our attention.

Hence, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul – making an effort to exalt His Apostleship among the Corinthians who were not so impressed by him but found those Paul disparagingly called “Super Apostles” more interesting – attempts to regain their attention by “boasting according to the flesh”…

This “foolish” boasting culminates in his describing a man he knows who was “caught up to the third heaven” or Paradise … (2 Cor. 11-12), out of the body or in the body, he doesn’t know. This man – who yes, is almost certainly the Apostle Paul himself – “heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell…”

The third heaven is also known as Paradise and probably also known as the “heaven of heavens” (Genesis 28:12, Deuteronomy 10:14 and 1 Kings 8:27) – it is a distinctly spiritual realm, while the first and second heavens are simply the sky, and the “farther regions of the sun, moon, and stars…” (regarding the sky, think of Satan being called “the Prince of the Air”).


Again, even if more and more in our “Western world” suppress these kinds of thoughts and questions today, trying to be more “secular”, they cannot wholly retreat here.   

Generally speaking, throughout world history, there has been a sense that life continues beyond the grave.

And some eventually go to a good place, up above, while others go down and remain in an “underworld”, a realm of the dead and the grave, full of restless spirits or worse. 

In the Bible, this picture is sharpened, and there is the definitive sense that the grave, the underworld, sheol is the place to where the dead descend, with hell being the final destination of the damned, and heaven being the destination of the just. 

And that heaven is above. Even as heaven – yes, even the Third Heaven! – is also, in some sense, closer than our own breath.

What do I mean? Well, at various times throughout the Scriptures, we get a sense that God’s spiritual realm, Paradise, is indeed among us, just behind the curtain so to speak. 

One recalls Moses and the burning bush, Jacob’s ladder, or Elisha’s servant getting a glimpse of the angel armies, the chariots of fire, ready to defend Elisha against the army of an earthly king (2 Kings 6).

Again, it is just behind the curtain, the veil, and this is something to remember as we speak of Ascension Day today. For as Jesus told the inquiring Pharisee Nicodemus, only He can give us certainty about “heavenly things”, for “no one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven” (John 3:13) – Him, the Son of Man.

He has run this course already!

And let us also remember that Jesus ascended into the heavens, but Jesus is not farther away, but in fact closer than ever before – even if we can no longer eat with Him, walk with Him, talk with Him, in the flesh.

For the eyes of faith understand that He is indeed not only on our lips, but in our ears, in our mouths with His body and blood, and in our hearts by His Holy Spirit, who dwells in His people. 

And He is going to complete His mission of love – in which He and His Kingdom is revealed – through us.


What is the fundamental message of Ascension Day?


As the book of Hebrews says (4:14), Jesus Christ has run His course, and He has now passed through the heavens or ascended, and is now sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3) according to His exalted human nature.

For Christ has accomplished His work on Earth and has entered into His Sabbath rest. 

But even as His passion, His agony, His suffering is done, when Jesus now rests, imitating His Father after the first creation, He loves. 

And, we who are baptized into Him, are also with Him at the very right hand of the Father, behind the veil in a sense, dwelling in His love. 

And you see, this is always fresh, or can be!

His mercies are new every morning. His love never rests regarding His people… regarding you. 

Jesus Christ, your true high priest, having offered himself as the sacrifice for your sins, still intercedes for you.

He prays for you. 

Think about his words to Peter, after he told him that he would betray him: Satan has asked to sift you as wheat Peter, but I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail, and that you would go and strengthen your brethren. 

This strength of Jesus, this His strengthening of His people – giving them stout hearts and spines of steel that laugh at sin, death, the devil, and the world – is what the Feast of the Ascension is all about. 

Again, Jesus ascends into heaven, and while no longer with us in visible human form, He is as close as our breath. 

In fact, He is now with us through the breath of His Spirit, through the Holy Spirit, whom he sent at Pentecost. 

You will recall that Jesus said that He needed to go away from His disciples so that He could send them the Holy Spirit, who would be their Advocate or Comforter, and also the One who would help them confront the world in its sin: 

“…it is for your benefit that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

And when He comes, He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because they do not believe in Me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world has been condemned….”

So Jesus prays for us, Jesus gives us His Holy Spirit, and Jesus teaches us how to pray.

And in His spirit, we recall that He also tells us to ask for His Holy Spirit. 

Reciting the example of the father who will not fail to give good gifts to his children, Jesus says how much more will God give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him? 

Do we pray this way? When we pray and open the word of God, do we expect to truly meet Him, to know He is present with us, that He will always help us and always change us yet again?

Your Father, your Brother, are closer than your breath, just behind the veil: 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” 


All of this also ties in with our text for today from Ephesians…

Let’s look at it again:

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way….”

According to a parallel passage in Colossians 2:9-10, Christ fills and governs not only the third heaven, the second heaven, and the first heaven, but the whole universe as true God. 

And “fill” in this sense means to “dominate for rule”, and the idea is that God’s rule and omnipresence, or His being in all places, go hand in hand (Franzmann, cssc, 187)

Yet now, through His perfect life and innocent death, through this puzzling and yet magnificent work of the Lord Jesus Christ — again, planned from the very foundation of the world (Rev. 5: 4-6) — the true enemies of mankind, sin, death, and the devil, have been defeated once and for all at the cross.

Again, the Father put all Heavenly and Earthly rule, authority, power, and dominion under Christ’s feet, giving him as Head Over All Things to us, for our good, for our salvation and our victory.

The great 20th Century theologian Martin Franzman put it this way talking about how Christ was the head over all things for the church his body:

“Head signifies dominion, lordship (not the intellect as with us). Christ’s relationship to his church is more than mere power-dominion over it; he is vitally and organically united with his church and functions personally through it. This unique lordship is expressed by the head-body image (cssc, 187)

Not only this, but we are now also told that with the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, becoming man and accomplishing this work of salvation, the church has now become the fullness of Him, with it being his body, with Him as its head.

In other words, in His plans, God has graciously chosen that the church should “make Him complete”, and likewise “be filled by Him…

Again, to make this clear, why does our passage say that we are Christ’s body, and have been made the fullness of Him?

It means that in some very real and mysterious way, we, God’s church, His Hold-Spirit-filled people, have been not only been forgiven by Him – and not begrudgingly so! – but rather deeply loved by Him, and hence united with Him in the deepest and most intimate way possible…

Not only your spirit, but your body — and not just this or that congregation, but the whole Universal church together as one – those who have gone to be with the Lord and those who are still with us, the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant, we say — is united with God. 

We are all filled with the Holy One.

For where He is, Jesus Christ and His Spirit, there His disciples are as well, and where his disciples are, He is truly there…

Again, we who hear the voice of the Lamb are all filled with the Holy One! 

And He encourages us to be filled even more with Him, to the brim. To be intoxicated with the Holy. 

For as Paul put it, “do not be drunk with wine… but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

For, again, God has chosen for us to make Him complete, and to fill all the world with His presence with flesh on. 

As one man provocatively put it, God’s people, the church, is not an organization with mystery, but a mystery with organization.


Now, let’s be honest. This takes faith.

After all, if one looks at the condition of the church from an Earthly perspective, this might appear to have been a very bad idea.

For the church, as I have heard it said, does not appear to us as a bride dressed in a glorious white dress but rather a bedraggled and beaten woman…

I’m sure it has always been this way without the eyes of faith, but things have almost certainly gotten worse. Yes indeed, the church has always been beset by divisions, scandals, and schisms and heresies…

…but there also was, at least, a time in the world when the church was more or less considered one entity, as strong men of faith held things together. 

Then, however, in the year 1054, the split between the eastern parts of the church and the western parts of the church was finalized. Today we see this the split between the Eastern Orthodox churches and everyone else.

Then, almost 500 years later, the Western church split again, this time due in part to the agitations of a professor and Friar of the church, Martin Luther, who insisted – rightly! – that the church had gone off the rails, and, captive to worldly philosophies, had left the Word of God behind.

And while Martin Luther endeavored to have a “conservative Reformation”, where only the errors of the Western, or Roman church, were corrected, other reformers, seizing the opportunity, decided to take steps to actively create new “churches”, letting a thousand flowers, or maybe weeds… bloom.

For their part, the Lutheran reformers insisted that we could have certainly that Christ’s true church, those with true faith in him, was present among those who gathered around the true preaching and teaching of his word, and where the sacraments were rightly administered according to Christ’s command. 

Again this is how we could have certainty of being a true church.

So, in spite of all the divisions that we see today among those claiming the name of Christ, in spite of the fact that we might strongly feel this or that weakness in this or that congregation, in spite of the fact that as the great hymn says,

“…Tho’ with a scornful wonder

the world sees her oppressed,

by schisms rent asunder,

by heresies distressed,

yet saints their watch are keeping;

their cry goes up, “How long?”

and soon the night of weeping

shall be the morn of song…”

We can also take comfort in the words that Martin Luther spoke about the true nature of God’s church, when he said:

“Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray, ‘I believe in one holy Christian Church’” (SA III XII 2–3).

Indeed. He is ascended into heaven, and is gathering His faithful people. 


So what does it mean to become like a little child, when we think about Ascension Day and what it means for us, Christ’s Church?

I personally think our Lord’s parable about the yeast working through the dough, describing how the kingdom of God gradually spreads, becoming more and more present in more and more places, is helpful and instructive here…

All of this is not so obvious and glorious, but is more subtle, occurring perhaps with some fits and starts.

Also, so often, we forget that our Lord wants us to set our minds on things above, and not to leave the Earth behind, but to put matters into perspective.

This is really what happens in the Ascension Day hymn, Up Through Endless Ranks of Angels. 

The hymn attempts to help us understand the meaning of Ascension day, not from taking a view from below, on the earth, but by taking a view From Heaven. Let me share the verses from this short 1974 hymn with you.

“Up through endless ranks of angels, 

Cries of triumph in his ears, 

To his heav’nly throne ascending, 

Having vanquished all their fears, 

Christ looks down upon his faithful, 

Leaving them in happy tears. 

Death-destroying, life-restoring, 

Proven Equal to our need, 

Now for us before the Father 

As our brother intercede;

Flesh that for our world was wounded, 

Living, for the wounded plead! 

To our lives of wanton wandering 

Send your promised Spirit-Guide; 

Through our lives of fear and failure 

With your pow’r and love abide: 

Welcome us, as you were welcomed, 

To an endless Eastertide. 

Alleluia, alleluia, 

Oh, to breathe the Spirit’s grace! 

Alleluia, alleluia, 

Oh, to see the Father’s face! 

Alleluia, alleluia, 

Oh, to feel the Son’s embrace!”

I think this hymn puts matters exceptionally well.

Again, Ascension Day tells us about how Christ ultimately has everything under his feet, even if it does not appear this way now. 

This might appear foolish to the world – and particularly when one looks at the shape of the church as a whole – but Jesus really does have all power and authority to continue to say to us, as He did to Peter: “I have prayed that your faith will not fail, and when you are strengthened help your brethren…” 

In like fashion, the Apostle Paul says also in our epistle reading,

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better…”

And likewise, Jaroslav Vajda’s wonderful hymn can do just this as well.


Our Great High Priest has ascended into heaven, and we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…

…and so let us with confidence draw near His throne of grace, that we may receive every mercy and find every grace to help us in our time of need.

The Gates of Hell will not overcome his church. 

He will preserve his people, feeding them with His word and sacraments, so let us never grow discouraged or despair, but carry on in His hope and strength!

And let us always remember that Christ is not only head of the church, but also over everything that exists!

When we look at the disarray and confusion in the world, when we look at the disarray and confusion and evil in our own hearts, we can certainly become discouraged. 

But resting in Him who has entered His Sabbath rest, let Him set your minds on things above, as He certainly will bring us and those we love to those great things above…

I think of the verses from a favorite bedtime hymn, Now the Light Has Gone Away, I always loved to have sung to me by my mother and which I have sung to all my little boys: 

“Jesus, Savior, wash away

All that has been wrong today.

Help me ev’ry day to be

Good and gentle, more like Thee.

Let my near and dear ones be

Always near and dear to Thee;

Oh, bring me and all I love

To Thy happy home above.”

Let us ascend above with Him now, knowing we are with Him behind the veil, as we will indeed ascend at our last breath!

Breath on us your Holy Spirit, O God!

And come Lord Jesus!


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Posted by on May 21, 2023 in Uncategorized


What is a Woman? What is a Nation?!

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Clam Falls, Wisconsin, May 14, 2023


“From one man [blood, ἑνὸς] he made all the nations [ἔθνος]… we are God’s offspring [γένος]…”

–Acts 17:26, 28


Sermons are meant to help, educate, and comfort the souls of the congregation.

And what about the preacher himself? As he meditates and reflects on the word of God in order to help him know how, he too, should live?

This is true about this morning’s message…

Please bear with me. 

Now, in 2 Corinthians 5:16 the Apostle Paul says 

“From now on… we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.”

What does he mean by this? Is the Apostle Paul saying that the body is not important?

Is that what he means?


We will get back to that question later. For now though, let me ask you this: 

Have you heard of Matt Walsh?

Matt Walsh has produced a film named, “What is a Woman?” In the film, he tries to get a number of people, including those who have “transitioned”, to answer this question.

And you see, for some, evidently for more all the time, they will give you the impression that the question “What is a woman?” has little to do with the body.

For a person is a woman when they feel they are a woman!

Walsh recently was invited to speak, probably by a more conservative group, at a university in New Mexico. There, after talking about this topic, a man in the audience, who our media would call a “trans woman”, challenged Walsh.

After mentioning that he was successful, had a six-figure job, and was a “mother”, he said that everything in his “life experience” – including all the support and feedback he had gotten from others – pointed that he was really a woman.

You see, many people from very diverse backgrounds had not only respected him as a woman, but assured him that he was a woman. Not only was this his life experience, his material experience, but evidently theirs’ as well. “Girl, there is no way you are a man!” he said they said…

Note that this person was not saying they are a woman trapped in a man’s body. He was just saying he is a woman, period. 

The body, for this person, was completely irrelevant. Everything was not so much about personal choice or individual self-decision, just about experience, which is king

Going along with experience as king, the social is king. All of this boils down to a pure social construction… you have been approved and accepted in the world in this way, and so it is legit.

How did Walsh respond? He first pointed out that while this man might fool others, he wasn’t fooled. 

Walsh said, “I see a man, 100%, and I think most people would.” (I’d like to point out here that majority vote wouldn’t change things either).

He also pointed out that, with him being a man, no one in his life had ever needed to say to him: “You are totally a man, Matt.” 

Further, if they did say something like this to him, it would be weird. This only proved, he said, the point he was trying to make.

What is a woman indeed!


Now, why do I bring up all of this with Matt Walsh?

I do so because, first of all, we need to see not just how insane and crazy but how evil… how deceptive… how not only anti-Christian but anti-creaton all of this really is. 

This would probably become more clear to many if the manifesto from the transgender person who shot up her old Christian school some 50 days ago now were to be released.

When Jesus says love your enemies, this presumes we have real enemies, and this is not just Satan. 

We need to be thinking about this, and also relate it to the core topic of today’s message too: the nations.

Second, I bring this up because as the church deals with the exceedingly difficult phenomena of gender dysphoria and the causes thereof, there are indeed many persons who are being tempted to downplay the significance of our bodies. 

Does it really matter if one is born male of female? Do our bodies really matter? Or is the only thing that matters how we experience ourselves, what we feel is true inside…? “My truth” as many say today…

It seems that even many unbelievers know that this question matters. They want to insist that, yes, what our body indicates should have at least some priority.

What is a woman? A woman is unique and beautiful creature that compliments the male of the species. We should recognize women and their particular characteristics, abilities and roles as distinct. 

What you are matters!

And so now, let me throw another question at you: What is a nation?


Consider this question in our own context: America.

Growing up I always felt very blessed to be an American. As a matter of fact, I felt so blessed to be an American – and felt that it had so much to offer – that at one point, relatively late in my life even, I felt that perhaps people from more and more nations, perhaps everybody, could become an American!

Perhaps that seems a bit crazy to you. I can tell you that my wife Sheila thought it was strange and said so at the time. 

Still, you might ask what is fundamentally wrong with that? What if places not only like Puerto Rico, but other countries that had been influenced by America – and really felt they had been blessed by America – freely chose to become a part of the American nation?

Yes, what really is an American? 

What is a nation?

The Bible considers the nations significant, and so this is an important question.

After all, among other things, the Apostle Paul said in our reading: 

“From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands…”

I am guessing you know more than this about nations too. Many of you, for instance, likely will recall that the Old Testament divides the nations into Jews and Gentiles. The word Gentile, goyim, is the Old Testament word for nations. In the New Testament, the word used is ethnos, from where we get “ethnicity”. 

Not only this, but there is another reason we know this is an exceptionally weighty matter. The Scriptures, for example, make it clear that God judges not only individuals, but nations. God judges individuals both eternally and temporally, but He also judges the nations temporally, that is, regarding things having to do not with heaven, but rather real blessings and curses while on earth. 

Since God judges the nations in this way, one might think it a good thing to know what the nations are!

But this, of course, is not the only thing. Being a part of a family, a tribe, and then a nation, is a beautiful and wonderful blessing and gift in itself – something not to be despised or ignored!

Nevertheless, again, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all remind us that this is not all sweetness and light. For when Jesus speaks about the last days he also says that: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…” 

Again, we have real enemies. Who are they? 


Well, we’ll get there, just like we will get back to the question about considering others according to the flesh. But first, let’s compare women and nations.

God creates men and women, and God creates nations. From one man, Adam, God made the first woman and also from one man, God made every nation, as our text says…

Is this like Matt Walsh’s question “What is a woman?” in any way? In other words, is this something that is natural or, as the academics say today, purely “socially constructed”? 

Well, I hope you have all become wary of “social constructionism”.

When God creates a woman, for example, there is no absolutely no “social construction” involved. Throughout man’s history, during acts of procreation, two X gametes have been joined in the womb of a woman to create a woman. 

For the most part, this is pretty straightforward. And so, in like fashion, there are some who make the case that nations are also relatively straightforward.

We should say that one is genetically, biologically, a man or a woman, and this is reflected in one’s body. In like fashion, we should say that one is genetically, biologically, a member of a nation or race, and that this is likewise reflected in one’s body. Language, for instance, might be important too, but it is “downstream” from these genetics.

Even if he almost certainly did not share the view that everything was downstream from genetics, perhaps the most well-known Lutheran of the 20th century, Walter A. Maier – the first speaker of the Lutheran hour – implied in a 1939 sermon that a very key category for us is race, and that races should not mix:

“University lecturers, with a flare for this new enlightenment, have based their advocacy of Negro and Caucasion intermarriages on the theory that the strains of negroid blood will strengthen the white race. But these social revolutionists will never be able to remove the insurmountable difficulties that are created by interracial alliances. What of the children? What of the social restrictions? We heartily agree with the deliberate verdict of Dr. Charles Eliot, former president of Harvard: ‘Intermarriage between members of races that are not kindred is generally condemned by medical, sanitary, and eugenic authorities; so that the right policy in nations which include many different races is not fusion or blending or amalgamation but a separate, parallel development of each race, acting in concord with the other races, but each preserving through many generations its own bodily and mental characteristics.’”


Contemporary social taboos and concerns about political correctness aside, was Walter A Maier right to place such an emphasis on scientific notions of race here?

Are scientific ideas of race so important, such a key category, that they should trump other ideas of race like that of the English race, the French race, and German race, making them all Caucasion? What happens to the idea of nation here? Is it not basically trumped by this category that becomes more and more and more all-encompassing?

May it never be!

Today, many rulers of the world appear to want – for this or that reason – to highlight contemporary scientific categories of race even as they eliminate the traditional nations! 

At least, they certainly want to downplay nations as sovereign entities or groups! 

Anything but nations! Give us “nation-states”, countries, republics, “proposition nations” (like “America as an idea” only) and especially Empires! We might call this the centralizing or globalist impulse! 

But Jesus speaks of nations, and the book of Revelation speaks of the nations worshiping before the Lamb, and we Christians know that nations will exist until the end of the time!

Christians must not be like those who think otherwise, for they are enemies of God!

Again, we have already spoken of God’s temporal judgment of all the particular concrete nations, people groups!

God did not come to judge the seven or five or three distinct races some people might think exist today! God says that he will judge the concrete and particular nations! 

To focus on what we today call the races is to be too universal, too global, and not nearly particular or distinct enough. The families, the tribes, the nations –  this is what God is concerned about!

And regarding such judgment, this may not seem fair to us, but we need to remember that each and every one of us is a member of our family… or our tribe… or our nation. 

We don’t have a choice in this, and indeed, we are our brother’s keeper.


But if we suggest that Walter A Maier was incorrect, are we in danger of saying that not only nations, but women as well, can be socially constructed?

We are not. While the categories of men and women are not socially constructed in any sense, the categories of nations, to some degree, are!

Nations, unlike the modern ideas of race that Maeir found himself working with, do not have to do only with matters of genetics, biology, blood relations – all is not “downstream” from these things – but also cultural practices including religious heritage, shared history,  common language, and, yes, to highlight the “social construction” involved here, other experiences held in common…

This all comes together to form the unity that nations must have and exhibit. 

Again, the biblical term for nations is “ethnos”, from which we get the term ethnic. 

And while it is true that in the Bible the word sometimes translated race in the Bible, “genos”, is basically the same thing as ethnos, or nation, again we must say more. 

Nation, or “ethnos”, must trump race, or “genos” in our minds because contemporary and scientific notions of race, whatever value they might have, are something that is not even on the Bible’s radar… not even in the picture!

The Bible knows a lot about matters of descent, lineage, and patrimony, but does not speak in the language of modern and reductionistic biology, narrowly focused on genetic and physical characteristics alone, genotype and phenotype. 

What more can we say about this? Things like ethnicity? 

Well, again, we know that it is related not only to one’s descent or lineage, but one’s entire history that leads to a sense of rootedness… and a love of home! 

A nation, an ethnicity, is somehow something organic and concrete and something that you perhaps know when you see, even as it is hard to precisely define. 

In some ways avoiding measurements, numbers, percentages, even words…

Just as the Jews have persisted as an ethnic group or nation among many nations for years, separate groups like the Kurds, the Romany or Gypsies, and Native American groups show this as well… Evidently, God has determined their places too…


Again, as the movie Black Panther illustrated beautifully, being a member of a nation is something precious, something to be treasured – and it is something to be defended.

This is why as tragic as it might be that nations, sometimes even Christian nations, go to war with one another, it is good that one will fight for one’s nation.

And if there is not all-out conflict among the nations, there will always be a large amount of disagreement, and even separation… 

While the Bible knows nothing of the modern notion of inter-racial marriage, it does know of interethnic marriages… but even these may not be easy to pull off! 

What, some might insist, does even a German have in common with a Frenchman? Even a Russian with an Englishman? Even a Finn with an Italian?! 

And how about the various groups calling themselves Americans of this or that sort, seemingly so uncertain of who they are or even wish they were?

Are we going to condemn as racist or worse the fact that the Czechs and the Slovaks underwent what they called a “velvet divorce” in 1993 because they had jointly determined that their “union” had been artificial?

No. We shouldn’t. In fact, do you remember the Tower of Babel? 

Some of this separation, some of this self-segretaion even… is by God’s design to humble us in our pride. 

And let’s not miss the bigger picture. When the Bible says that at the End of Time nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, it is of course speaking in an earthly sense, but in an earthly sense that mirrors the heavenly reality. 

For the nation and Kingdom of God’s Church, God’s true people, are under attack from Satan’s (by the way, every earthly kingdom has a king. What this means is that while every kingdom is a nation, not every nation is a kingdom. An Empire is the attempt, more, the fantasy, of putting many kingdoms or nations under one sovereign ruler).

Again, the nation and Kingdom of God’s Church, God’s true people, are under attack from Satan’s.

This is the war between kingdoms, between nations, we should ultimately be focusing on.


Again, the bits of our Acts reading for this morning that I have chosen for our text are these: 

“From one man [blood, ἑνὸς] he made all the nations [ἔθνος]… we are God’s offspring [γένος]…”

Everyone is one blood! 

Every man is God’s offspring! 

While it makes sense for us to prefer our own wife, our own children and grandchildren, our own tribe and nation, we must recognize that God is not like us.

Jacob did not necessarily think that Joseph and Benjamin, the sons of his favorite wife Rachel, were superior to his other sons. But he preferred them nevertheless.

God is not even like Jacob! Yes, he preferred Jacob over Esau (like Jacob preferred Rachel to Leah, who the Bible even says was “hated”, indicating this strong preference) but in a very specific sense! 

He chose Jacob, not Esau, to be the one be the father of the people Israel, the one to be the line of descent from where Christ came!

Again, we are one blood. We are all from Adam. And after the flood, we are all from Noah. 

And from Noah’s sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, all the nations were born, and then were scattered to the places God chose for them after Babel, so they would not put their prideful minds together to do the most anti-God things imaginable. 

When God tells us that He made all the nations from one man, and that we are all His children, or offspring, we need to say focused on what matters.

What matters above all things is that men from all tongues, tribes, and nations are sinners in need of Jesus Christ. 

Only humility is appropriate here.

What also matters very much is that we do not say “We are all God’s children and so people do not need to hear about Jesus!” Yes, we are all God’s children in that He is the creator of all men, men who He loves, and yet all men still need to be reconciled to God in only one way, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Finally, we should understand that God desires that His righteousness would exalt all nations, for He desires that all persons – each precious individual person – be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.


Again, God created the world in a certain way.

Nations are those persons are united by things like marriage, religious heritage, language, culture, and history. They have shared experiences, and it is right that they love their own people before others, even as they are to recognize that God is not like Jacob, preferring one son over another. 

In like fashion, “other nations are likewise responsible for themselves first and therefore seek to govern ourselves separately from them but live in peace with them whenever possible” (Cochran). What this also ultimately means is that it is good when a people, a nation, in faith, “strive to honor Jesus Christ as king in every area of life, including government.”

Government in nations matters, as Romans 13:1-7 teaches. As “Government’s purpose is not to make men righteous, but to restrain human wickedness by commending rightdoers and punishing wrongdoers” (Cochran)

“Cultural Christianity” in a nation will not save any person, but it will provide a better environment for one to realize the truth of God’s law, to feel conviction, and to come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

So cultural Christianity, what we used to call Christendom – what today we might call Christian nationalism if we dare – is not something that Christians should ever fear, but a true blessing from God. 

These are the priorities of the Christian. 

There are other things that should not become priorities, such as the purity of one’s blood, or one’s line. 


Back to the Bible verse that we started with this morning. 

Again, the Apostle Paul says that from now on we regard no one according to the flesh.

But that is not all he writes, as I left out a word. He says: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer….”

So what does he mean? 

He means that we do not regard people, particular individual people, from a worldly point of view, as the NIV translation says…

If we look at the wider context of the passage, we can see what the Apostle Paul is saying. In the wider context, Paul talks about how it is not a good thing for Christians to take pride in appearances rather than in the heart.

Instead, “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, therefore all died…” What he means is that our old form or way of life has passed away, because having faith in Him we are new creations!

And, Paul says, as God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ, He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus Christ is the one who not only forgives sins but breaks and destroys all barriers between all men! 

We are the same, in Adam. And we are all different, in the nations. Sometimes painfully so. 

Sometimes, like the Apostle Paul did with the Cretans, we may even have to say to a particular group (an ethnos, not a “scientific” “race”) that the stereotype that they are something like liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons is true.

And yet, Jesus Christ grants healing and repentance to those who go astray. Including those who go astray by wrongly ignoring or downplaying the bits of the Bible that they, or their culture, do not like.

Don’t be confused. When Paul says we now do not regard Christ or anyone else according to the flesh, he is not saying that the love that created you in your family, tribe, or nation is not important.

He is saying that, insofar as we are new creations we will not fall prey to those things that all the nations run after: power, money, wealth, possessions, sex, popularity, fame, great attire, status, and influence.  

He is saying that Christ’s Apostles now understand that they never should have seen Christ in such a worldly way, but rather as the Eternal Son of God who is in but not of this world, being truly beyond it, and came and suffered and died for all men, for the silly and stupid sheep.

That is you and that is me, and He is never stopping to pursue us, but us on His shoulders, and take us home.

The One who was not our blood became our blood, becoming one with all men.

And in His blood, all the nations – including you as an individual, find forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And hope. 

Go, forgiven ones, and find joy in learning how, with your Lord, to continue tearing down “dividing walls of hostility”…. (Eph. 2)


With extensive footnotes:

Image credit:


Posted by on May 14, 2023 in Uncategorized


God’s Doubt-Destroying Signs of Love for You, for All

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Clam Falls, Wisconsin; April 16th, 2023.


“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples… these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God…”

– John 20:30-31


In the book of John, in chapter 3, verse 16, we find the wonderful words:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

And at the end of this book, as we just heard, we learn that by hearing about and understanding Christ’s signs, God means for those who read or hear these words to believe in Jesus Christ…

That they may have life – true life! – in His Name!

Ever since I was young, I have believed in Jesus. 

Moreover, I have wanted to believe in Him, in everything He said, did – and in all that He urges us to treasure and embrace…

I have wanted, or at least always managed to convince myself that I have wanted, all His words to be true – even when I have not understood them. 

I don’t see this so much as me having a strong faith, of me having a strong hold on God, but His having a strong hold on me – often doubtful, desperate-feeling and weak me…

It is not the same for everyone else though, I know.

Many, for example, believe but their doubts seem to get a very strong grip on them, clinging tightly to them…

Basically, like parasites clinging to their hosts… 

And many, also, seemingly have not only doubt regarding Christianity but worse! At best, they “just can’t believe such a thing” (though they insist they wish they could!)!

And here, going along with what Our Gospel reading for today says about signs, I have always found claims from people that they would believe in God if He did a miracle for them interesting.

Both from an intellectual and a personal point of view…

Surely you have heard some of these folks, people talking like this… Whether their requests seem small or large…

In any case, like I said, I have always found this interesting…

Intellectually, because it makes it seem like if God granted this or that request for proof all the problems with doubt would be taken care of… and that really appeals because we all, no matter if we believe or disbelieve, experience doubt, and must decide how we will deal with it, how we will handle it… 

Is doubt as regards God some kind of a friend to be nurtured, or an enemy that must, and will, finally be put down (it is the latter)?

I find it interesting on a more personal level because the idea that we could make our belief in God contingent or dependent on Him fulfilling a miracle for us always seemed, to say the least, a bit insubordinate to me…

Surely those not believing in God could at least see how inappropriate, how audacious, how grandiose, how rebellious, their supposedly reasonable point-of-view, request, approach… could be seen as? 

After all, who is really the Creator, who is the One Responsible for All Things we see and know? 

Who orders and judges all things? 

God – or them?! 


I think many of those more agnostic and atheistically-minded people who say they would believe if God did this or that for them are just blowing smoke…

I appreciate what I consider the honesty of the late, great, science-fiction author Isaac Asimov, who once proudly proclaimed that if Noah’s Ark was recovered and paraded through the of New York City, he would still not believe…

I think that, frankly, is often what is going on. The seemingingly humble request for a personal miracle is in truth just another reason to put God, or the thought of Him even, on hold. To keep Him far away…  

And so, Jesus is simply dismissive of these kinds of people. 

Of this kind of orientation towards Him that would be unjustly critical of Him, His work, His mission – and horrifically incurious about it all to boot. 

What did Jesus say to the man who went to hell, and then who asked Father Abraham to send someone to warn his five brothers, saying…. 

“I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment…’”?

Just this:

“‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’… ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [and hence come to repentance], they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

One thinks of the generation that witnessed the 10 plagues, the Exodus, the pillar of Fire and Fire on Sinai, and God’s provision of manna as well. 

One thinks of the generation that saw Elijah’s and Elisha’s miracles – or Jesus’ generation as well. In all of these cases, there was still much doubt… disbelief, and even sheer unbelief.

The Bible, for instance, describes the Exodus generation as hard-hearted (Ps. 95:8; Heb. 3:7-9), grumbling (Exod. 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Num. 14:2, 29; 16:41), disobedient (Acts 7:39; Heb. 3:18; 4:6,11), and unbelieving (Num. 14:11; 20:12; Heb. 3:19). 

In Elijah’s day that particular prophet even thought for a while (wrongly) that he was the only Yahweh-worshiper in Israel (1 Kings 19:10,14), as Baal worship seems to have predominated… 

And many did not believe in Jesus either, and our Lord even said that the unbelieving reactions of the residents of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were worse than what the reactions of Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah would have been had those cities seen Jesus’s miracles (Matt. 11:20-24)!

More recently, I read in an article titled “Would You Believe if God Gave You a Miracle?” this:

“God has signaled his existence through a massive and beautiful cosmos, conveyed his will through prophets and apostles, and entered this world in the person of Jesus Christ — who in fact did rise from the dead. If you are waiting for a personal miracle, you probably will never believe.”


None of this is surprising to God, even if we are also given from scripture every impression that it is not what should be happening at all… 

At the same time, for His own reasons, permits it to happen.

And it is downright remarkable to discern the Bible’s attitude towards those who will not believe in Jesus or His resurrection.

In the New Testament alone, the impression is given that we now, with the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, really, really have more than enough to be confident of the faith and our personal faith! 

We have, after all, evidence that is not only “true and reasonable” (Acts 26), but that is called by God proof for everyone (Acts 17); more, we have “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1). 

Hence Jesus to the men on the road to Emmaus: “O foolish ones, how slow are your hearts to believe all that the prophets have spoken!

In like fashion of course, the Bible simply assumes, presumes, God’s existence. 

Such a thing is nothing that needs to be proven, “deserves” to be proven, to anyone!

Atheists and agnostics might be a dime a dozen today, but in the ancient world, they were few and far between.

Most everyone believed in some kind of a Divine Mind that was behind the creation! 

Or, was at the very least Responsible for the ordering of the Cosmos – even if this ordering was not “from nothing” or ex nihilo but was done using pre-existent materials…

And this… the Bible says, is the way it should be… the starting point really for any conversation about God.


That is not the line today though. 

Whatever the crow does though, no matter. 

Know again that God does not play by our rules….

According to the Bible, what needs to be demonstrated – and has been demonstrated – is not that God exists, but rather who speaks for God…

Many today want to simply say “Well, we all worship the same God”, or at least, all good persons worship the same God… whoever or whatever God might be! (we can’t dig too deep, because that is not science… real knowledge after all!)

You have probably all seen the Coexist bumper stickers, concerned above all to have peace and order in our society. 

Those asserting such things often seem to be our authorities, the ones calling the shots, today.

Those who lived in the past, however, were much wiser here. 

They could readily recognize that different religious leaders made what were in fact conflicting truth claims…

A contemporary Christian apologist, or Defender of the faith, Francis Beckwith, wisely reminds us that 

“God cannot be impersonal, personal, transcendent, polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, able to beget, not able to beget, relevant, and irrelevant all at the same time… Irreconcilable data gives us no knowledge of God whatsoever.”

This is why we must start with and also test authoritative claims…

If someone senses in his heart that he should give serious attention to religious and spiritual things – perhaps asking questions like “Why do we die and what follows death?” and “has God spoken?” –  he will, sooner or later, realize something….  

We all believe some authorities over others. 

We all believe some religious authorities over others. 

Yes, Jesus spoke with real authority. 

And yet, so did, evidently, Confucius. And the Buddha. And Mohammad. And even Joseph Smith. And the “Woke” today… 

And again, their teachings about God conflict. While there might be some significant overlap here and there, the teachings of these men also wildly contradict one another at important points.  

If persons become aware of this – particularly in this pluralistic day and age – many might find themselves asking: which of these religious teachers speaks the truth about God and man – or at the very least, gets closest to the truth? 

How to really know?

Things become more complicated when we come to understand that many of these teachers often talked about how people could know that what they said was true by an internal self-attestation of sorts. 

In other words, when listening to their authoritative-sounding words – words often later put down in authoritative writings – one will feel it in one’s heart. That is how the truth will be known. 

Some of these teachers – even Jesus Himself – add that one can know whether the teaching is from God when one puts it into practice (see John 7:17)…

Regarding the self-attestation of the truth, Christians talk about something like this as well – with a basis for such thought being found in the Scriptures. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”, we hear… Or… “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”

Christian theologians have spoken about the “self-authenticating” nature of the Christian message in general, and the Christian Scriptures in particular.

More specifically, this is seen to be a work of the Holy Spirit, and it is called the “testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum” or the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. 

Still, some might want to ask “but what about our own capacity to verify what authorities might be telling the truth”? 

This is a good and important question and here is an interesting illustration demonstrating the stakes of what is involved. 

“Suppose someone is running from an island volcano to a harbor, and sees a large fleet of boats.  He has been warned before that many of the boats have terrible holes and cannot be trusted on the open sea.  If this person hopes to escape the coming wrath, he will surely be concerned with which of the crafts is seaworthy.” (Angus Menuge, p. 252, Reformation and the Rationality of Science, Theologia et Apologia)

A good question. And going along with this, another good question here is “which boats should I look at first”? 

Here, one notes that of all the religious leaders in the world’s history, there is only One who is claimed to still live – not only spiritually, but physically.  

Of course the Christian faith is unique in this claim of its founder’s overcoming of death – and His claims to have its final answer – and, again, it’s willingness, invitation, and even the demand to open the way up for actual boots on the ground… that is, actual “leather-foot journalism”… actual historical investigation into these matters (again see Acts 2, 17 and 26 regarding this matter!).  


As Jesus’ disciples said concerning him: 

“Come and see”.  

While the Scriptures would assert that you are not able to give yourself true spiritual life, you certainly can decide to put yourself in the path of the One who can.

Still, still… there is great resistance. 

Despite the fact that ancient persons from all great civilizations at least believed that there must indeed be a god, many of today’s most “sophisticated people” say the problem of evil is too overwhelming, too terrible… so much so that any evidence that God exists can’t help but be questioned…

The God of the Bible is seen as directly contributing to this problem, in fact…

The philosopher Daniel Dennet says, for instance: 

“Hardly anybody today believes in—or would want to believe in—the wrathful, Old Testament Jehovah… A God who commands our love is a nasty piece of work by today’s perspectives.”

Still, this widespread concern regarding the “problem of evil” is in fact, a modern, a contemporary, problem. Even if many say they have this problem today, they betray their complaint that God could not exist because of all the evil in the world.

For almost certainly most people using such arguments also would insist that they are happy, appreciate life, and would desire to extend their lives… many even searching for ways to live forever. 

Again, even if this is last aspect particular is largely driven by the fear of death, people nevertheless betrays themselves here.

For they still, as a whole, desire to live… to experience the joy and happiness that the world offers even to the unbelieving… eating, drinking, and being merry! 

No, the problem is not God and his good creation, but the problem is man.


All men do not fear, love, and trust God because of their sinful nature – and hence, we do not rightly love our neighbor as we ought as well… 

And still, things can get even worse! 

Because even if there is indeed a fire of sin that inheres in each one of us there is also proud human reason’s stoking of that fire.

Today, many say that the only real knowledge, the only thing that we can be sure everyone must believe, comes to us from science. 

And saying that science does not need to take into account God but only what we can taste, smell, touch, and above all see, they practice something called scientific naturalism, also called scientific materialism or methodological naturalism…. 

Karl Marx, attempting to follow Charles Darwin, wanted to do this not only with biology but with everything. He talked about how his science, or philosophy, would be a ruthless critique of everything that existed, and that it would seek to change the world. Today, his attitude lives on in forms of Critical Theory. 

You can – to say the least! – see how this will undermine our natural knowledge of God’s creation, as well as trust in God’s word…

And you see, even those who would never dare go so far as Marx might nevertheless embrace a modern scientific and technological mindset that they would see as being the mature way to approach the world, the courageous and even manly way to do so, over against childish fears and sentimentality” (p. 365, p. 77 in James K.A. Smith, discussing Charles Taylor’s magisterial work A Secular Age).

There is a story here of proud human reason, the power of the individual: an ethic, in fact, which does not uphold the importance of authority, history, and legacy, but rather the values of independence, self-control, self-responsibility, a kind of disengagement which results in control, all born of a supposed neutrality towards questions of God… (hint: there is never any neutrality)

It is not that men like Darwin and Marx introduced us to this kind of unbelief. They just made it more prominent and supercharged it. 

As Richard Dawkins would say of Darwin, no doubt echoing Marx’s own sentiments: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist.”

I think we can sum things up in the following way: at root, if everyone were being completely honest with themselves, they would admit that, at some level, they like the idea that there is a universe without transcendent meaning, without eternal purpose, without supernatural significance… 

They are free to pursue whatever goals they desire to pursue, to eat, drink, be merry, and more…

This is “what they deserve”, as they believe they are better than God Himself… 

For, finally, what is deemed “immature” by the highest of men is not belief in God per se, nor that the world is designed, nor that there is true right and wrong, etc., but rather that God – particularly that “nasty and psychologically abusive” O.T. God – would dare judge us elite men – we who exercise such scientific, effective, and responsible control over his universe… 

They are on the right side of history and they, the Reasonable persons, will rise to the top. 

What is true will be what works for them, and what works for them will be true…


And the rest will be left in the dustbin of history, they say…

But they are wrong, and at some level they all know it, just like they know that infanticide is not health care, gay marriage is an oxymoron, and that only woman have uteruses and men cannot give birth. 

Romans 1 insists that, in truth, even as they suppress their knowledge they nevertheless, to some degree, finally know God… and know right and wrong.

Although there has never been an excuse for this kind of unbelief, with the coming of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ they have even less of an excuse! 

Again, the question is not whether or not God exists or is real, but who God is. 

In spite of all the schemes and unbelief and creative storytelling of men…  

And this is not only about the godless and corrupt elites of our world, but we too must own up to our own complacency and complicity in our participation of these modern games… these modern social illusions… these modern narratives….


We too have let our doubts get a hold of us. We have let our own lack of confidence in His word as that which is reliable, true, life-altering and which lasts forever… shape and mold us…

So, behold the Word of the Lord that comes to us now:

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

God grant us repentance and faith! Strong faith! 

We all need a renewed appreciation for the wisdom of God’s word – and the absolute and utter folly of man!

This is true courage! 

This is true maturity! 

This is a real concern with Truth! 

Again, God is real but what is He really like? 

Here, in our passage, we see this in spades. Jesus is revealed to us not as the One not proves God exists – for this is a question that only the most depraved of persons allows to conquer them – but the One who shows us who God is… who reveals His true identity. 

And not by any miracles proven for man to His satisfaction, but by signs fulfilling His loving promises…

Signs fulfilling His loving promises. That is what these are.

And those loving signs and promises are for you now.

Increasingly so in these last days.

“Come to the feast!”

All of God’s promises are “Yes” in Jesus and He is the answer to every single issue and struggle and problem and question and complication that you or any of us have!

May we too, all say with the Apostle Paul: 

I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (II Tim. 1:12)…”

Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe, said our Lord to Thomas. So blessed are you who believe this day! 

And Christ’s appointed leader of the disciples, the Apostle Peter, no doubt had our Lord’s words here in mind when he, no doubt speaking for his fellow disciples in his first Epistle, said this: 

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an inexpressible and glorious joy, now that you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

And, going beyond what we heard in our Epistle reading, he goes on: 

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who foretold the grace to come to you searched and investigated carefully, trying to determine the time and setting to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, when they foretold the things now announced by those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.


With endnotes:

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Posted by on April 16, 2023 in Uncategorized


Preparing for the Son’s and Our Glorious Vindication

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Clam Falls, WI., Apr. 2, 2023.


“It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.

    Who will condemn me?”

– Isaiah 50:8b-9a


The text from Matthew was long, I know. 

Still, believe it or not, it is the historic reading for Palm Sunday, also known as Sunday of the Passion. 

And why not? Everything in it is ultimately more important than anything I – or any preacher really – could say to you. 

Again, after all, over ⅓ of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, is devoted to Jesus’ final week. 

This is why our beloved Lord came. And words such as these especially are words God wanted us to have, to hear, to meditate on. 

Words which, as our Isaiah reading indicates, will help us “know the word that sustains the weary”, “waken[] [our] ear to listen like one[s] being instructed”, and give us a “well-instructed tongue…”


In our Gospel text for today, we find out what happens at the end of Holy Week.

Holy week begins today, when right after raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a donkey with shouts of adulation: 


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

And then the religious leaders – the chief priests, the elders of the people, the high priest – panic a bit… 

What does this mean for them? 

And, from their perspective, things go from bad to worse when over the course of the next several days Jesus teaches in the Temple, telling several parables, some of which challenge them and even indirectly point to them as the ones who are determined to oppose Him to the end.

And here, as we heard, our text picks up with how things unfolded…

The Pharisees plot with Judas, Jesus meets one last time with his disciples for the Passover meal, He predicts His disciple’s abandonment, particularly Peter’s, and is betrayed by Judas and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Jesus is then falsely accused and unjustly judged in the religious court, the Sanhedrin, Peter denies Him, Judas kills himself, and finally Jesus is crucified under Pontius Pilate, the Temple curtain is torn, and events build to the grand finale where all will hear – and some will even see – that the grave, indeed, cannot hold Him….

Through the course of it all, there is much irony that occurs. 

In other words, the words someone says appear to have one meaning, but really show us something else.

For example, after Judas betrays Jesus, he is filled with remorse and says to the chief priests and elders: “I have betrayed innocent blood”! They reply: “What is that to us? That is your responsibility.”

They mean Judas acted freely, made his choice, and should own up to it. But these are the very men who are supposed to help those who have committed sins appropriately deal with them so that they might have forgiveness or absolution… through the blood sacrifices they administer…

When Pontius Pilate is attempting to get a fair trial for Jesus, a mob, really led by the religious leaders, says in a loud voice: “May His blood be upon us and our children!”

They mean that they have acted freely, made their choice, and will own up to it. But the prophecies of Scripture indeed say that it is indeed the suffering Servant-King’s blood will make atonement for their sin and be available to them, to all…

After Jesus is raised from the dead, the religious leaders, this time the chief priests and Pharisees, had soldiers guard Jesus’ dead body, reasoning that Jesus was a deceiver and if the disciples stole his body and said he’d been raised from the dead, the “last deception will be worse than the first.”

They mean that Jesus and his disciples had acted freely, made their deceptive choices, and would not be permitted by them to continue in their evil deceptions. But of course Jesus was the truth, they were the ones who had clearly used deception to trap and judge Him, and they would never be permitted to hold Him down….

…even later after they paid the soldiers to keep quiet about how they’d become so afraid of the angel God sent that they had shook and become like dead men.…


Again, after Palm Sunday a lot happens in Scripture, so much in fact that historically the church held services not just on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter, but Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as well…

Here, again, the religious leaders of God’s people face Jesus down in the streets of Jerusalem so to speak… and being out-argued and out-smarted by Him time and time again in the Temple… they resort to murderous deeds done in darkness… to deception… even to much self-deception about what they must, at some level, have really known… 

There is a saying that there is no rest for the wicked. 

That is true and really seems to be true here…

And yet, as terrible as this time was for our Lord, He was truly at peace about what He was to do in Jerusalem.

For He was indeed the suffering servant prophesied in the book of Isaiah, the Scriptures which hundreds of years earlier had foretold the one who:

“took up our pain

    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

    each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all…”


“He was oppressed and afflicted,

    yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

    so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

    Yet who of his generation protested?

For he was cut off from the land of the living;

    for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

    and with the rich in his death,

though he had done no violence,

    nor was any deceit in his mouth…”

The innocent Lamb of God lived the perfect life that God meant for Adam, Eve, and their descendents to live – and He did so in a fallen world, a sinful world that was intensely hostile to the absolute goodness of God’s character… 

So much so that it could not help but crucify the King of Glory.

But this was no surprise to God, who is in the business of using evil for good, making the first last and the last first, and defeating the world’s power through simplicity, humility, and weakness. 

As the Proverb says, 

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you;

    bind them around your neck,

    write them on the tablet of your heart.

Then you will win favor and a good name

    in the sight of God and man.”

We see this. Jesus has certainly won our favor, for we especially remember his love and faithfulness today. 

I believe that the greatness of this being displayed… in His grand mission… is beautifully expressed in the moving 15th century hymn by the church mystic Thomas a Kempis,  “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High”:

“O love, how deep, how broad, how high,

beyond all thought and fantasy,

that God, the Son of God, should take

our mortal form for mortals’ sake!

He sent no angel to our race,

of higher or of lower place,

but wore the robe of human frame,

and to this world himself he came…

For us he prayed, for us he taught;

for us his daily works he wrought,

by words and signs and actions thus

still seeking not himself but us.

For us, by wicked men betrayed,

for us, in crown of thorns arrayed,

he bore the shameful cross and death;

for us he gave his dying breath…”

This was God’s intention. This was all in God’s plan. Yet, in spite of being God’s chosen people with all the benefits coming with that, many did not see. 

Many today, even many of Jesus’ own people, the Jews, still do not see…

If you pointed out the irony of the religious leader’s actions, would they care? If you pointed out their hypocrisy in paying off the guards, for example, would it matter? 

Unless your name was Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, unlikely.

Jesus needed to suffer for our salvation, and God used this unbelief to accomplish His plan. 

And remember that even as Christ’s suffering secures for us eternal life – with our sin, death, and the devil being definitively taken care of at the cross – our Lord also said that if they did this to the Master… 

…they will also do it to His pupils. 


A couple weeks ago, I talked a bit about being the victims of this kind of thing…

But we can be victimizers as well, can we not?

Do we not also need to guard ourselves from becoming like the religious leaders?

Why did everything in our Gospel reading transpire as it did? 

Sin, to be sure, but more specifically, these blind leaders betrayed our Lord Jesus out of a sense of their own righteousness, envy, and pride…

We are not immune to these things – and the further callousness and blindness that these things can engender… 

Even among us… among the very best of us… we all miss the mark, we all fall short of God’s glory…

-We might not be like those heartless men who told Judas that his participating in Jesus’ betrayal didn’t concern them, but how often have we failed to eagerly forgive those who desired reconciliation with us? Or even simply failed to desire that they might find both repentance and grace? 

-We might not be like those who killed Jesus, saying, “let his blood be upon us and our children,” but how often have we sinned not only ignorantly, but even knowingly… in effect willingly and deliberately hammering the nails into our Lord’s hands and feet?

-We might not be like those who called Jesus a deceiver, accused his disciples of plots to steal his body, and even would pay hush money to keep others quiet about His real resurrection… but how often have we just wanted Jesus to shut up, leave us alone, and stay out of our business!

Again, those who did so betrayed Jesus out of a sense of their own righteousness, envy, and pride… We face the same temptations, even if our sins are often more subtle. 

-We might not be relying on our own righteousness, but it’s easy to take an unhealthy pride in our involvement with this or that good work, even sometimes feeling that we might well be doing God a favor by participating in the work that He invites us to find joy in!

It is, after all, easy to get so excited about letting others know all the good that we are doing that we forget about emphasizing the most humble and simple and wonderful gifts of them all, that make it all possible… 

  • Knowing “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb”… 
  • Remembering “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”
  • Believing “God loves me dearly…loves even me…” 
  • Praying “Jesus, Savior, wash away; All that has been wrong today…” 

-And we might not be filled with envy or jealousy, but it’s easy to get caught up in busy-ness and want recognition. So much so that we might come to resemble Martha more than Mary, who Jesus said had “chosen the better thing”.

–And we, buoyed by pride, might not be fixated on our status in this or that institution, but we might perhaps be too willing to ignore, and hence forget, our deep roots and heritage found in the fullness of the Scriptures, in the church’s rich history… just like the prophet Isaiah warned God’s people in chapter 8 of his book: 

“[Run] to [God’s Word] and to the testimony! (2x) 

If [others] do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them!” 

How ready are we to be students not so much of our world and of our culture but, first and foremost, God’s word? 

That we might be able to see more clearly our purpose and end – and recognize all the opportunities to bring it to bear in our lives and the lives of those around us? That we might know His blessings! 

How ready are we to, as Peter says, give an answer for the hope that is within us? 

Or, as Paul exhorts us, to take every worldly philosophy captive for Christ? 


How short we fall! 

And still, let us never give up brothers and sisters! 

For look again at the One that we gather around today!

He “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…” for our sakes…

And just as our Lord’s Father did not abandon Him…

…in our Lord Jesus’ actions to make us His brothers, friends, and, yes, soldiers, He does not abandon us…

I mentioned Isaiah 53 earlier. It continues: 

“…it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,

    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,

[the Lord] will see [the Suffering Servant’s] offspring and prolong his days,

    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.”

You are the fruit of His success. 

His prosperity. 

And may His harvest still increase from Him, that Seed that was sown and buried in the ground… 

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the religious leaders complained that “the whole world had “gone after Him…”

There is no rest for the wicked… but there will be for those wicked who rest in Him, the Crucified and Risen One.

May it indeed be the case that those from all tongues, tribes, and nations – though overall numbers be smaller – increasingly go after Him in these Last Days… 

Starting with me, with you… 

For He came precisely to take the nails and the spear… for me… for you. 


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Posted by on April 3, 2023 in Uncategorized


Woe! For our Good God Blinds the Church!

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Clam Falls, Wisconsin, March 19th, 2023


“Who is blind but my servant,

    and deaf like the messenger I send?

Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,

    blind like the servant of the Lord?’”

– Isaiah 42:19


Imagine, for a moment, that you are blind.

In physical blindness, you cannot see how to get here or there, and you must rely on others – or use certain tools to grope about and find your way… a good, safe, and dependable way to walk in.

Now, with spiritual blindness, you also cannot see how to get to your destination. 

In order to safely arrive there, you can only do so when you rely on the Light of the World… and the one who is the Way.

In the Bible – like in our Old and New Testament readings this morning! – we sometimes read how God’s people and even appointed leaders are blind.

There is the blindness all men have to be sure – a blindness by nature – but there is, frighteningly, also a blindness that God’s people can fall into… (see, e.g., Matthew 23:2)

Again, this is all throughout our selected readings for today… 

Israel, in Old and New Testament times, rejected God’s will and His promised Messiah…. 

In the Isaiah reading, we not only hear this hopeful word: 

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,

    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them

    and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do;

    I will not forsake them.”

But sadly, this:

“But those who trust in idols,

    who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’

    will be turned back in utter shame.

“Hear, you deaf;

    look, you blind, and see!

Who is blind but my servant,

    and deaf like the messenger I send?

Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,

    blind like the servant of the Lord?

You have seen many things, but you pay no attention;

    your ears are open, but you do not listen.”

How can we prevent this? 

Well, in the Bible we are told that if we do what the Lord desires, if we are aligned with His purposes, we will know that we are pleasing to Him…

We are told to taste and see that the Lord is good…

And Jesus tells us that anyone who wants to know if His teaching is from God will find out if he does it… 

The writers of the Epistles in the New Testament are not shy to say that if one does God’s will, walking in the light as Jesus Christ is in the light – with His blood cleansing us from all sins (I John 1) – one will have a true and godly confidence that God is pleased with their actions… 


And as we act, my friends, we are to test everything – everything – with Scripture. 

And we will find out that when we do this, when we really do this, it will put us at odds with the world…

God’s word tells us that man’s greatest problem is idolatry. 

And idols are not just images. Coveting is said to be idolatry (Colossians 3:5). 

The 16th century church reformer Martin Luther helps us to better understand here in his explanation of the First of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me (basically, before my Face)”:

“A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”

God wants you!

God means to covet, to steal, our hearts brothers and sisters… to be the One who consumes us in His Holy, Purifying Fire…

And He is not silent! 

As all truth is God’s truth, all things, created by Him and very good, point to Him, the Truth… 

As G.K. Chesterton once said:

“You cannot evade the issue of God; whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him.” 


God will be all-encompassing in one way or the other. 

The world, for example, ultimately will make politics and religion one and the same. 

It can’t help itself, because man is religious by nature. Even those who claim to be non-religious – just something like “secular humanists” – end up being religious, for even they have their many idols, things other than God in which they rely for all things.

And even though God is all-encompassing for the Christian in a positive way, as Chesterton said, ultimately we make a critical distinction here: 

Jesus tells us to give to Caesar what is his, and to give God what is God’s. His Kingdom is not of this world, and we are strangers and aliens in this fallen world. 

God rules the world not only through His church, but through any of those He places in positions of political power and authority… all who should do His will.  

The world does everything in order to achieve pleasure, what it thinks will make it happy, give it comfort, and achieve peace in this life. 

We, on the other hand, are to recognize that God’s blessings on earth will always come in the midst of suffering, both in the sense that we receive everything passively through Him as a gift, and that He uses real forms of pain, what we usually call suffering, for our good.  

The world, when at the height of its own natural powers, assigns some men as oppressor and others as oppressed by the power of its Narrative or Mythology – and attempts to control life’s circumstances so that paradise can all at once or progressively be achieved by humanity’s innate goodness and rationality… 

As it further disconnects from God in its drive to do so, it must “tear[] down statues, edit[] old movies, put[] trigger warnings on old books [and even change them], and… cancel[] some historical figures [while] reinvent[ing others] as members of an oppressed group” (Cochran). 

We, however, are those who recognize that all men are God’s offspring, created in His image, and that the True Oppressor is the Demonic One. 

Furthermore, that all men are called to the act of dominion, that is to be stewards of God’s creation who humbly manage it and attempt to improve things in our backyards as we can – even as only Jesus’ return can restore it and make it whole!

We know our fathers were not perfect, but while being honest about their failings, we nevertheless honor them, covering their sins in mercy…

As the world worlds – that is, does what it will inevitably do – it will finally declare most everything of significance to be social constructs, making and assigning what is true… Truth is what works for them, for getting them what they want. This means that nothing is real in itself, by itself, but that by man’s words there is power to make all things new… to make them what the world wants them to be in order to liberate the good people from the bad oppressive ones. For such power is all there finally is…

The Christian however, does not assign, make or create truth but observes it, recognizing both power and authority. He recognizes that highly regarded and influential men of the Western world like Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Foucault were not only wrong in important respects, but disastrously so. For reality always limits us, as it is gloriously real apart from our words… because of the love of God, whose words created everything out of nothing… 

But the world doesn’t care. The world approves of abortion and even infanticide, encourages psychologically damaged kids to cut their bits off and be the other sex, says that marriage is whatever we want, and that any sexual activity is OK if it is consensual, with this age creeping down all the time… 

We are those who know that every life is valuable to God, that He created us male and female, that He means for one man and one woman to be together for life, and that the only proper place for sexual activity is the confines of Christian marriage, the good, true, and proper fireplace for the fire. 

The world, when its fallenness truly ripens (or rots) – and its arrogance feels unbounded – will shamelessly lie to get what it wants. It will say that being privileged is evil, that it is never right to act in accordance with prejudices and stereotypes, that families are whoever cares for you, that no one should ever be called an “illegal alien”, and that it would be best if all groups had an equality of outcome, with quotas being the answer…

The Christian should recognize that nurturing and educating children is theirs and our godly privilege, that fair observations which lead to generalizations about certain groups are part and parcel of life, that natural families have a special bond due to their being flesh and blood, that God implies it is a curse for foreigners to gain influence over a nation, and that He means for some to achieve greater rewards than others.

The world says, in Tower-of-Babel fashion, that we should be citizens of the world, that it would be good if we own nothing but share everything, that hierarchy is evil, that patriarchy is toxic and that we would almost always certainly be better off with women ruling us…

God says that He made all the nations and “mark[s] out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands”, that private property and personal ownership is a blessing and gift, that He chose the Apostle and their successors to rule the church, and that He was pleased to provide good men to lead His people… with women and children leaders being mentioned as curses…


Christians today have been so concerned about not offending anyone – and becoming as innocent as doves – that we never bothered to become as wise as serpents (Cochran)…

Folks, in case you haven’t noticed, the world doesn’t care that it is hypocritical. 

Work needs to get done after all. That men and women like you say you have godly “principles” and care what the Bible says is the problem, and you stand in their way. 

But always remember what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12-17:

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

So, this morning, it is appropriate that the Apostle Paul leads us as he does…

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…

Even though the Bible translation we used this morning doesn’t clearly indicate this, Paul does go on to tell us to “make fruit of goodness, truth, and righteousness” and to “put your stamp of approval” on what pleases God (the text we read says “find out what pleases God” but that is not the best translation…).

He then says: 

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light….”

All is to become illuminated, enlightened… by God’s Word.

Again, the problem is that the world, stealing and then modifying some ideas from God’s word and will, think that it is Enlightened. 

And believers are not immune to this virus, this virus that actually does not cause sight, but blindness…

Even fellow Christians may persecute us, as full of the world’s Spirit, they are confident of what they condemn us for. 


This will leave us confused, as this is a burden and a sanctification process that is extremely difficult:  Being driven back to Scripture to find out what God’s law – God’s love – really looks like. 

But we should not give up, because Jesus said we will suffer.

Always keep in mind it is not our suffering or even confusion that saves us. 

It is the One who suffered for us who saves us in the midst of suffering… even when the world is working us over, gaslighting us… and even our own hearts are mistakenly condemning us….

Again, with spiritual blindness, you cannot “see” how to get to your intended destination. You do not even understand what that destination is..

In order to arrive safely to it, you must rely on the Light of the World… 

This, the Bible tells us, is going to get much harder. Jesus, after all, tells us the love of many will grow cold and asks whether when He comes back he will find faith on earth.

He says that He and the world are fundamentally at odds.

That if the world hated Him it will hate us.

That the way, the path, of light and not darkness, of true sight and not blindness, is narrow – and that few find it. 

Mark my words, you will be called a Fundamentalist and worse. 

Get ready. No matter how sweet you are, no matter how kind your words and actions, no matter how much good you do in the world, you will almost surely be called a prude, fascist, a racist, a Nazi, an anti-vaxxer, a homophobe, a transphobe, an Islamophobe, an anti-semite, and a sexist… maybe even in the church.  

Not because the Bible tells anyone to do truly evil things. 

Not because the Bible encourages us to hate anyone… 

Not because God wants to be against them and not for them (we know God desires that all would know the truth, to repent, to be saved). 

…but simply because as the world, in its blindness, does what its heart wants – as it chases false and foolish promises, hopes, desires – Christians who get in the way will need to be dealt with. 

They will need to be hated: that is, shamed, marginalized, excluded…

As Jesus’ death on the cross draws many to Himself, others will pass Calvary by en route to setting up new locations of persecution and punishment for those who are alien, foreign to it.

Where Christians can be lifted up and exposed to public shame and scandal. 

The Christian is like the immigrant to a new country that can never fit in, that never quite manages to adopt the other’s culture…

Because He can’t. Because this world is not our home. 


This will only get worse as with our Evil Woke World Government reveals itself to in fact be religion more and more and more. A friend of mine, Matt Cochran, puts it bluntly:

“G.K. Chesteron famously wrote: “You cannot evade the issue of God; whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him.” Well, the Marxist would say the same about class and the Queer Theorist the same about heteronormativity. Feminists likewise view everything through the lens of men oppressing women. Critical race theorists view everything through the lens of whites oppressing people of color. Every individual, institution, social custom, and field of knowledge is placed under the judgment of Critical Theory’s narratives[, that is, the pragmatic view of truth devoted to revolutionary progress…] Nothing is immune, including other religions. And in every one of those narratives, goodness is defined purely in the pragmatic terms of successful liberation of the oppressed from the oppressors…”

Baptized children of God, you who have been brought out of darkness into His glorious light…

…again, the godless among us borrow biblical metaphors like Enlightenment or being awake in order to undermine the Bible itself.

Of course, again, these Woke people claim that they are awake. 

They are not sleeping, but there eyes are opened…. They see, they “get it”. 

They see reality, what everything critical is all about.

But they don’t. They are deceivers, also being deceived.

Remember though you may not have been born physically blind, you too were born spiritually blind, in darkness.

Jesus, however, has healed our blindness and will keep us from falling into blindness again…

Even if your church, more concerned about what the world thinks then what God thinks, were to exclude you…

Like the blind man, you could, perhaps, be kicked out of your congregation… or perhaps, at least, lose any position of influence you may have…

But God will never cast away those who humbly depend on and even cling to His every word… 


Children of the Most High God, of the King of Heaven and Earth, listen:

We can imitate Jesus’ wisdom – arguably like how the man born blind did in our Gospel reading today! (John 9) – no matter how intelligent we are…

We can learn, we can see, how Jesus was wise to His enemies’ schemes and traps.  

When the world uses your principles against you and demands that you denounce this or that on their terms, you are under no obligation to do so. 

Rather, always make your condemnations on God’s terms and not your enemies’.

You see, the world’s accusations have no credibility because they, despite their power, have no credibility… because they have no respect for the truth. 

They undermine and twist true authority. 

And so when the “culture war” finds you as it comes knocking at your door…

…as revolutionary religion that is no respecter of a separation of church and state, that is no respecter of some distinction between religion and politics, shows its face more and more…

…and as the world inevitably infects the church and steadily gains influence within…

…remember God’s words, and remember the implications for all those who are caught up in it will be absolutely lethal … 

As Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians:

“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God [ – yes God – ] sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness…”

O love not the world! 

Love not the world! 

This world that perishes and will ultimately burn in the flames!

Do not let that be you! 

Do not let that be your Christian leaders! 

Do not let that be your teachers, your pastors! 

And do not say “I am just a layperson, how can I know what is true?”


Please, my friends… for the sake of Jesus Christ, I urge you to get ready. 

Don’t think your Sunday meal here is enough! 

Fill yourself with the meat of His word!

Learn to love God’s ways – which are not ours! – now, this side of heaven! 

Drink His Spirit like never before…

Do things like devotions with spouse and/or kids, spend time each day reading the Bible, worship with all God’s people whenever it is offered, set aside time exclusively for prayer, and practice small acts of kindness you might not otherwise attempt.

And realize God may be calling you also to get others ready, particularly your family, your friends, and your closest neighbors… 

That you might say unto them: 

“Wake up, sleeper,

    rise from the dead,

    and Christ will shine on you.”

Because unlike you, even if others may never pick up a Bible to read it, they will read you, and they will see the light of Christ shining through you…

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as all these things happen to you remember how our passage from Isaiah ends:

“It pleased the Lord

    for the sake of his righteousness

    to make his law great and glorious.”

And remember always that no matter how far you might fall, failing yourself to reflect the light of Christ… failing yourself to be a light-bearer because you are dwelling in your own darkness… that Christ is always there, knocking at your door.

Yes, perhaps that creates some anxiety. After all, this is the Self-Same One who we heard this morning:

“lay[s] waste the mountains and hills

    and dr[ies] up all their vegetation;

turn[ing] rivers into islands

    and dry[ing] up the pools…”

And yet, unlike the power-brokers of the world, He is not looking to make you dependent on others, to demand reparations from you, threatening to fire you from your job until you conform to His artificial and unnatural whims.. or insisting you just be willing to endlessly “dialogue”, or rather just “listen”… 


His heart is the opposite of such as these, for His Heart of True Love has already overcome the world…

He is coming to eat with you, to spend time with you, to teach you to overcome the world too, and to offer you pardon and power, sweet and free forgiveness and a new life that goes and sins no more… 

For He has promised that He will never leave you nor forsake you, even if all else, father, mother, sister, brother, pastor, church, might…


Let’s close with a short passage from I John: 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them.”


with notes:

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Posted by on March 19, 2023 in Uncategorized


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