No Surprises

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I have listened to my pastor preach for over seven years. I can count on one hand the times he has given me one of those “aha!” moments. He is a great, faithful preacher. But he is mostly unoriginal. And, that’s just fine. 

His preaching has cured me. For most of my pastoral career, I have lived for that “aha!” moment. Run-of-the-mill theology was fine, but it didn’t give me the theological buzz I craved. I lived on the edge of boredom, always looking for something to stave it off. I tended toward the pastors, professors and authors who helped me do so. I read the Bible always on the lookout for something I had never seen before. I preached, always trying to find the new spin on the old text. I taught Bible class, always exploring some new angle on an old passage.

Then, I started listening to my pastor preach. It was great preaching. It was consistently textual, consistently clear Law and Gospel, consistently centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners. But, there were no surprises. 

My pastor’s preaching has been my therapy: Simple, straightforward, strong, and often completely unoriginal preaching of Sin and Grace. It wasn’t new. But it was the crucified and risen Jesus for a sinner like me, every Sunday, every sermon.

I was listening for something new; I should have been listening for something final, God’s final word. And, that’s exactly what his preaching has given me. In fact, that’s how he ended almost every sermon over the last seven years: “In Jesus Christ, you are forgiven of all your sins.” It wasn’t new, it wasn’t original, it wasn’t edgy. It was the Gospel. It was true. It was God’s final word.

If that Gospel no longer comes as a surprise, that’s okay. It doesn’t have to. The Gospel isn’t there to surprise me or alleviate my boredom. It’s there to forgive me. Even if I’ve heard it a million times, it’s still the Gospel. It still does what it says. It still gives me Jesus.

This is an edited excerpt of a forthcoming article, “New Thing Theology,” in the Issues, Etc. Journal.

Nothing But Leaves

 

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On Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree.

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves.

The evangelist says, “It was not the season for figs.” Even then, Bible historians and botanists say he should have found immature fruit. But no. Nothing but leaves. “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

That tree was a lie. All green and promising, but bare and naked underneath.

Jesus had seen this before. A tree, its fruit, the lie, and those leaves that could not cover the nakedness underneath. This fruitless fig tree must have been a cruel reminder of that day so long ago. It must have made him all the more determined to see that curse through to its end.

The tree of the Cross has no leaves. It hides no lies.  

But, the Cross is full of fruit. May we eat of that fruit forever.

12 Things, None of Which Make Your Pastor Lutheran

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  1. He has a German last name.
  2. He is from/lives in ____________ (some famously Lutheran town/city/state/country).
  3. His father/grandfather is/was a Lutheran pastor.
  4. He can sing all the stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress” from memory.
  5. He listens to Bach/drinks beer/eats some kind of wurst all the time.
  6. He went to a Lutheran seminary.
  7. He has books by Lutheran authors (usually Walther or Pieper) on his bookshelf.
  8. He is friends with/plays golf with ____________ (a seminary professor/synodical official) once a week.
  9. His paychecks say “_____________ Lutheran Church” on them.
  10. He is a rostered clergyman in a Lutheran church body.
  11. His congregation/District President considers him Lutheran.
  12. He is more Lutheran than those guys/gals in the ELCA.

Has Your Lutheran Pastor Secretly Converted?

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Here’s a simple way to know if your pastor is still Lutheran, or if he has secretly converted to non-denominationalism.

Does he still preach Law and Gospel?
Does he still teach the Small Catechism?
Does he still conduct his ministry according to the Lutheran Confessions?

If your pastor has stopped doing these things, there’s a good chance that he has converted to non-denominationalism.

There’s also a good chance that he hasn’t told anyone about it. He couldn’t very well go on pretending to be a Lutheran pastor if everyone knew he had converted to non-denominationalism, could he?

It’s even possible that your pastor’s conversion is so secret, he might not be aware of it himself. He might mistakenly think he’s still Lutheran. You might need to tell him that he isn’t.

But, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t believe you.

Lutheran to Orthodox, Step-by-Step

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Step 1
“Orthodoxy is compatible with Lutheranism.”

Step 2
“Orthodoxy is Lutheranism fulfilled.”

Step 3
“Becoming Orthodox is the only way to remain Lutheran.”

Step 4
“I’m converting to Orthodoxy.”

Step 5
“Orthodoxy is incompatible with Lutheranism.”

Mozilla & the Unappeasable Self

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Brendan Eich will land on his feet. He founded JavaScript, after all. He was, for few days, the CEO of Mozilla. Then it was discovered that he gave $1,000 to a group that supported natural marriage. Now, he is on the street. Albeit a very, very nice street.

So, don’t weep for Brenan Eich. Weep instead for our culture where every institution, business and enterprise exists to affirm the self.

The original Narcissus was captivated by his own reflection; the new Narcissus demands that everyone join him at the edge of the pool and share his opinion of himself. It is a public, militant narcissism. Government, church, business —all of them exist to affirm me. Disapproval, even disinterest, is intolerable and is quickly punished.

Christians know how it works. At our worst, we have demanded the same when we were the loudest, best organized and funded voices in culture and politics.

Our response, now that the tables have turned? Regain the upper hand? No. Repent. Brendan Eich is no Christian martyr. He is the victim of the unappeasable self.

All of us are.

The Chief

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I have spent my Sunday mornings with this man for the last seven years. First, as his parishioner, then, as his assistant pastor.

One month from today, he will leave us. It is God’s will; but it isn’t mine. 

If you know Michael Kumm, you know what I am talking about. He is the whole package. He was born to be a pastor.

He is the Chief.

When my family joined Trinity-Millstadt, the Chief had only been there a little more than a year. He already knew everyone, everyone’s relatives, everyone’s second cousins, pets, hobbies and friends.

The Chief LOVED his congregation. He fathered some, grandfathered others. He served all of them.

The Chief preached the simplest, clearest sermons I have ever heard. Every sermon was a holy absolution. Every sermon was Jesus, living, dying and rising for you. It was great.

I love this man. The best I can say of him is: He is a faithful pastor and a good friend. I will miss him.

Your will be done.

One month from today, he will tell his congregation of eight years goodbye. He will go where God has called him, to do the same thing all over again. That congregation is getting one of the best.

God speed, Chief.