Archive for February, 2012

How Lutherans Read Scripture

Monday, February 27th, 2012

This is a great sound bite from one of our guys. Thanks goes to Issues Etc. for running this ‘Soundbite of the Week’ contest. Check out the one by Mark Pierson (Sorry about being late for the contest, Mark.). Here’s the link:

Issues Etc. Soundbite of the Week Contest

For more, check out the entire interview here:

Issues Etc. Interview with Mark Pierson

You can listen to stimulating conversations on topics like: The Confession of Peter, Birth Control, Materialism, Classical Education and more.  Issues, Etc. is a radio talk show produced by Lutheran Public Radio and hosted by LCMS Pastor Todd Wilken.  You can listen LIVE weekdays from 4-5 p.m. on KSIV, 1320 AM.  You can also listen on-demand at
NOTE: The picture above depicts the Disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) where Jesus, ‘beginning with Moses and all the Prophets … explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.’ (v. 27)
By Steve B

40 Days of Purple

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Like the title? A pastor friend of mine came up with that funny monicker for Lent. Eat your heart out, Rick Warren!

But seriously, folks…

Lent is a time when Lutherans think about what Theologians call the active obedience of Christ. That is that God the Son, in His humiliation (Philippians 2:6-8), came to Earth to be the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-19, I Corinthians 15:35-49) and face the ruined garden of His predecessor (Genesis 3:17-19), going into that wilderness to stomp on the snake (Genesis 3:15) who had temped the first Adam to fall.

This comparison between the first and second Adam is made explicit in Christ’s temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13), but extends past and around that episode to the whole of our Lord’s natural life. He obeyed the Law perfectly in our place, succeeding where our first father failed, and we, because we are in Him in the sense that we are His children by faith, receive the benefits and merit of His obedience as if it were our own.

Usually, we think of Christ’s obedience in His many sufferings, culminating in the Cross where He allowed himself to be led like a Lamb to the slaughter as a sacrifice for our sin and in our place. We call this Christ’s passive obedience because He was a passive recipient of those torturous ministrations.

He also ‘actively’ obeyed every letter of the law for our sin and in our place. Where the the first Adam was tested and failed, the Last Adam succeeded.

For Lutherans, as with all the church seasons, Lent is about Christ and what He did. Lent is not about us and our self-denial as a means for climbing some spiritual ladder. If we do deny ourselves in some way during this season, it is not because we have an ascetic bent; it is as a reminder, a physical prayer if you will, focusing on what Christ did for us.

Now, on a separate note...

My pastor sent this out for Ash Wednesday (this last Wednesday, which happens to be the start of Lent). Luther is always good!

From Martin Luther on Temptation – Matthew 4:1-11

“When the devil tempts me, my heart is comforted and my faith is strengthened, because I know Him who for my sake has overcome the devil, and that He comes to me to be my help and my comfort. Thus faith overcomes the devil. Then, since I now know that the devil has no power over me but is overcome by faith, I must be ready to be tempted. The purpose of this is that my faith may be strengthened, and that my neighbor may be given an example by my/Christ’s victory over temptation, and may be comforted.

And mark this: whenever faith begins, temptation soon follows. The Holy Ghost does not leave you to rest in quietness, but soon He throws you into the desert. (Matthew 1:1) Why? In order that your faith may be confirmed and you learn to trust the Word, for otherwise the devil would blow us about like chaff. But if God comes and hangs a weight on us, making us weary and heavy, then it is manifest to the devil and to all mankind that the power of God is at work in you.

Thus God manifests His glory and majesty in our weakness, therefore He casts us out into the wilderness, that is, He casts us down, so that we are deserted of all creatures and can see no help, save Christ. We even think that God Himself has utterly forsaken us. For as He acts toward Christ, even so does He act toward us. It does not run smoothly. Our heart must faint within us. And when the Word has run its course. Then, God sends angels to minister to us, as He did with our Lord in the desert.”

By Steve B

Speaking Truth to Power, Lutheran Style

Monday, February 20th, 2012

For anyone who says we are quietistic, watch this video:

President Matthew Harrison of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod appearing before the House Committee to discuss the recent U. S. Health and Human Services ruling violating citizens’ freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

By Steve B

More Than a Feeling

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Long quote, but worth the read…

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe.

It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it.

The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.

…Theologically this country is at present in a state of utter chaos established in the name of religious toleration and rapidly degenerating into flight from reason and the death of hope.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos?

Dorothy Sayers, mystery writer, apologist and ‘friend of Narnia’, is one of my favorite theologians. It’s been a while since I read the book ― saw the quote in passing at the bottom of an email. For a moment, when reading, I wasn’t sure whether she was talking of England in the 1940′s or prophetically of present-day America.

By Steve B

And He Told These Crazy Stories

Monday, February 13th, 2012

I read The Cross And The Prodigal, by Kenneth E. Bailey a few years ago and it really opened my eyes to the radical nature of Jesus’ parables in a Middle Eastern context. Blew my mind, actually.

Here’s a video I ran across the other day where Dr. Bailey touches upon some of the main themes in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32):

His treatment of this subject in the book mentioned above is far more detailed. When you compare the image of the Middle Eastern Patriarch of Jesus day to the Father in the story of the Prodigal, the good news of the Gospel just keeps getting bigger and bigger!

Some might even say Dr. Bailey’s approach makes the Good News out to be too good. They can take on Dr. Bailey’s scholarship.

Dr. Bailey knows the culture (which hasn’t really changed much since Jesus day), having spent 40 years (1955-1995) living and teaching in seminaries and institutes in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus!

On the parables, Dr. Bailey, along with Robert Farrar Capon, is essential reading. Both men are splendid exegetes!

For more of his material and some astounding observations, check out Dr. Bailey’s website.

By Steve B

John Bunyan Loved Luther!

Friday, February 10th, 2012

I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all books that I have ever seen.”

John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress

This one goes to all our Baptist friends out there. If you haven’t checked out Dr. Rosenbladt”s study on Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, get over there! Faith Capo did the videos.

“Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians” (Lesson # 4) taught by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt from Faith Lutheran Church on Vimeo.

“Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians” (Lesson # 5) taught by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt from Faith Lutheran Church on Vimeo.

We have the outlines here and here.

Dr. Rosenbladt did a close reading of Luther’s Galatians commentary over the summer of 2011 and outlined the preface and first four chapters. The videos are a must see. The outlines are study guides written by Dr. Rosenbladt from which he created the lectures.

The free previews of the four main chapters which Dr. Rosenbladt provided for the lectures are available in our Freebies section. This is great fodder for group study! Get together and go through Luther’s study of the ‘Magna Carta of Christian Liberty’ with Dr. Rosenbladt.

Whether you are a life long student of scripture or a newbie, this one’s for you; we all need to get excited about how good the Good News of Christianity is! The death of Christ saves!

By Steve B

Great Post on Vocation

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Found this through the Lutheran grapevine on The Brothers of John the Steadfast website:

I am simply amazed by the recognitions that many in the missional movement continue to make. I have applauded them for their honesty and willingness to make such diagnoses. First, there was the recognition that attractional worship models no longer work. Next, was their observations that mega-churches are a bust; then small groups are a flop; then programmatic churches are failing to make disciples; then, more recently, being “missional” itself has become a burden that potentially blinds the mission.

Read more…

By Steve B

Mars Hill and Proverbs 18:17 In Action

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

I recently put up a post contrasting the supposed mishandling of church discipline at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and my own experience in a Lutheran congregation in Southern California. You can read that post here.

A friend on staff at Mars Hill read that post and reached out to me earlier this week. After a fairly lengthy discussion, I have decided to post this retraction and clarification. There is much more to the story than initial reports, including the ones I linked to, than it first appears. It is a classic case of Proverbs 18:17 in action.

The first to plead his case seems right,
Until another comes and examines him.

While being discreet to protect the identities of those involved, and avoiding many of the gory details, my friend laid out enough evidence to satisfy me that the initial accounts given by Andrew and those promoting his story are at best incomplete, and most likely deliberately misleading. Large parts are left out, including the majority of action taken by the church to reconcile him. Also, Andrew’s case involves a confluence of several situations that it appears Mars Hill has properly and thoroughly dealt with. Because the details involve the sin of others that are not publicly known, the church has decided the best course of action is to remain silent to protect those people’s reputation and privacy. They did not divulge the identities of the people involved, or the specific details of each situation to me, but they gave me a rough overview of the pieces missing in various accounts of the incident now in circulation. In light of these facts it is only right that I publicly retract my former comments directed at Mars Hill.

In the future I will keep Prov.18:17 clearly in mind, and heed the admonition of our catechism to put the best construction on everything.

I have elected to keep an edited version of my original post up on the blog. My point remains valid, and I personally know of a number of instances of abuse of church discipline. However, I no longer feel it applies to Mars Hill or their handling of this case.

By Pat K

Not Fair, But Gracious

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

The last post I did about Robert Farrar Capon reminded me of a fine sermon I heard a while ago at from Pastor Cwirla at Holy Trinity, Hacienda Hights, California. And it just so happens that the Gospel reading for that sermon is the same as the one for this coming Sunday: Matthew 20:1-16. ‘Holy Serendipity, Batman!’

Here is the sermon in its entirety.  And for many more fine offerings where this came from, check out Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere.

In Nomine Iesu

An hour’s pay for an hour’s work. You reap what you sow. You get out what you put in. A day’s wage for a day’s work. And we expect God to operate by the same rules. We expect God to be fair. We expect Him to recognize and reward our blood, sweat, and tears.

Then along comes the parable of the vineyard workers, and Jesus drops a loose bolt into the machinery of our fairness. It comes on the heels of one of those upside-down statements from Jesus. The first will be last, and the last will be first. Winners are losers, and losers are winners. Is it fair? No, not a bit. God isn’t fair. He’s just. And He’s gracious. But He isn’t fair.

The parable bears retelling.* Listen. A vineyard owner went out to hire workers for his vineyard. Let’s call him Robert, shall we? As in Robert Mondavi, maker of fine wines. He has a vineyard busting full of grapes. And like all the fine grapes at the end of September from Napa to Paso Robles, their sugar is perfect, their flavor at its fullness, the little yeasts sticking to their skins are ready for action. The winemaster says it’s picking time. There’s no time to waste.

So Robert gets in his pickup at the crack of dawn and goes down to the local union hall of Grape Pickers Local 101 and hires every available worker at union scale. A denarius a day, about $120. And off they go into the vineyards.

Robert looks over his vineyards and notes that the workers he’s hired are barely making a dent in the Cabernet that day, much less the Merlot and the Pinot. So about nine o’clock in the morning, he gets back in his pickup and heads over to the local Home Depot where day laborers hang out looking for work. “Work in my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.” He doesn’t say how much, just “whatever is right.” (The word, by the way, is “righteous” or “just.”) The workers figure, “Hey, it’s Robert Mondavi, and he pays union, so why not.” And off they go to work in the vineyard.

Again, he looks out over his ripening vines and at the clouds looming overhead. It looks like rain is on the way. And the Chardoney really needs to be picked. So he heads again at noon and at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and picks up whatever workers he can find.

Still, there aren’t enough. It’s five o’clock, the sun is sinking, and there are still grapes to pick. So Robert goes over to the local bar where he encounters…. Well, how shall we describe it? Tattoos, leather, pierced body parts, two pounds of mousse holding up blue hair, six-packs, music with the bass loud enough to reprogram a pacemaker at 200 yards. Robert turns the volume down on the offending boombox, and says, “Why aren’t you working?” And one of them says, “Duh. It’s ‘cause so no one’s like hired us, dude.”

Robert looks at his watch, looks up at the setting sun and the gathering clouds, lets out a long sigh, and says, “Look, Mondavi’s the name. I’m famous. I’m rich. I pay. I need workers; you need work. It’ll only be for an hour. So what do you think?” And they figure, hey it’s only an hour, and a few buck will buy some beer, so why not?” And off they go to work in the vineyard.

Now you know how people are, especially at work. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is making. You know how much fuss there is when someone finds out what the rest of the office makes. Especially when someone gets paid more for doing less. So as load after load of worker gets dropped off in the field, at nine, at noon, at three, and at five, you can be sure that before they touch a single grape they are asking the workers who are already there what good old Robert is paying today. And when they find out it’s a denarius a day, they do what the whole human race always does: math. Before they even touch a cluster of Cabernet, they have old Robert figured out and are sure that they’ll get $100, $70, $40, and $10, respectively.

At six o’clock, the bell tolls, and the fun begins. The grapes are in the hopper on their way to the crusher, and Robert, our vineyard owner, is one happy camper. He’s in a good and expansive mood, and says to the foreman, “Let’s have a little fun. I’m going to fill the pay envelopes myself. And when you hand them out to the workers, do it LIFO – last in, first out.

And so the first girl in line with purple hair and a nose ring gets her envelope. She walks off, cracking her gum, and opens it to find six crisp twenties inside. And what does she do? Well, the one thing she doesn’t do is go back to the foreman to report the accounting error. She just keeps walking – really fast. And when her barechested boyfriend with tatoos running up one arm and down the other catches up with her, he can’t resist going back to the end of the line and telling all the hard-working union guys how they just got a day’s wage for an hour’s work.

And what do you suppose the rest of the workers in line are thinking? They’re thinking, $120 an hour, which, if you’re at the end of the line with the all day workers, comes to $1,440. And so one by one they step up to the table, rubbing their hands together, expecting the biggest payday of their grape-picking life.

Ah, but in all their figuring, they hadn’t figured on one thing. Robert’s pay is based on his goodness, not on their work. And in his goodness, he gives out six crisp twenties to everyone, regardless of how much or how little they worked. Whether twelve hours or one hour. Whether they picked a hundred bushels or half a bushel. Each worker gets his or her denarius. And as the line of workers gets shorter, the faces get longer.

“Not fair,” say the sweatiest and most exhausted. We’ve knocked ourselves out in the heat for the whole day, and these pot-smoking deadbeats worked less than an hour. That isn’t fair!

But old Robert won’t hear any of it. “Look pal,” he says. “A denarius is what we agreed on, and a denarius is what you got. So what’s the gripe? If I want to give a full day’s wage to some eleventh-hour deadbeats, that’s my business, not yours. And who said anything about fair? I may be crazy, but I’m not fair. Fair has to do with the Law, with bookkeeping. I’m good., as in good news, as in Gospel. And in my crazy goodness, if I chose to be outrageously gracious and give everyone the same regardless of the work they did, what difference does that make to you? Or are you so busy keeping book on everyone else that you resent my goodness? Now, we’re tasting a very nice Cab over in my tasting room, so why don’t you just go and have a drink. But remember, drinks are on the house, and, as usual, the last are first and the first last.”

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast.

This is a parable of both grace and judgment. Grace for those who least deserve it. Judgment for those who resent it, who turn the evil eye to God because He isn’t fair and dispenses salvation for free. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to die for the world. Not just for the redeemable, respectable, cooperative, hard-working part of the world. But for the whole world. For the first-hour winners and the eleventh-hour losers. Jesus was going to Jerusalem to close the books of the Law once and for all, to become last among the losers to save every last loser in this world.

This parable reminds us that amazing grace is also outrageous grace. It galls the religious. It grates on our religious sensibilities. It’s grace that puts the first last and the last first. It makes winners out of losers and losers out of winners. John the Baptist, who worshipped Christ from the womb, gets the same salvation as a terrorist who turns to Jesus at the eleventh hour of his life and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The lifer Lutheran gets the same denarius as the drunk driver who says, “Jesus have mercy on me” as he crashes through the windshield on the way to his death at the eleventh hour, 59th minute, and 59th second of his life.

Nothing irritates the religious of this world more than undeserved kindness. It just doesn’t seem fair, this upside-down, undeserved goodness. And the labor unions of religion howl at the thought. Unfair to Commandment-Keepers Union Local 101! But then grace wouldn’t be grace, would it? It would be bookkeeping. And if the world could have been saved by bookkeeping, it would have been saved by Moses with his ten commandments and not Jesus with his bloody ross.

It’s unfair, at least from the perspective of the first-hour workers. And in one sense, many of us are among the first hour workers. Or maybe more accurately, the third or sixth hour ones. We were baptized as babies. We’ve grown up in the church. There has never been a moment of our conscious life when we did not know Jesus as our Savior. We’ve worked in His vineyard our whole lives, literally grown up there. And we can easily resent those eleventh hour converts, who benefit from everyone else’s hard work without lifting a finger themselves.

Jesus would remind us that we rob ourselves of the joy of working in our Lord’s vineyard, and we spoil the happy hour of the resurrection, when we live by the Law and insist on keeping books on ourselves and each other. There’s no joy in work if we’re worried about what the next guy is making. And there’s no joy in rising to eternal life if we expect grace for ourselves and deny it to others. Grace is undeserved kindness. Unconditional kindness. Kindness on the part of God that has nothing to do with what we did or didn’t do, whether we are a success or a failure.

And if a dying thief on a cross or a drunk hurtling through his windshield get the same denarius as we do, well then praise be to Jesus that it truly is by grace through dead trust in dead and risen Jesus and not in anything we do. If there’s room enough in the kingdom for eleventh hour losers – for hookers and tax collectors and thieves – then there is room enough in the kingdom for me or you.

Then again, we really aren’t first-hour workers, are we? Others have believed before us. Others have suffered before us, and much more than we have. St. Paul reminded the Christians at Rome that the Jews came first. The Church is a curious hybrid of Jew and Gentile grafted onto Israelite rootstock. And we too are heirs of a tradition. We aren’t the first to believe in Christ. There have been workers in the vineyard for nearly two thousand years.. The disciples. St. Paul. Ignatius, Irenaeus, Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius, Luther. There were countless, nameless believers who bore the heat of persecution, who defended the faith, who suffered for the name of Jesus.

And now in these last days, at the eleventh hour with the sun setting on this old creation, with the fields ripe and harvest near, the Lord of the vineyard has been so kind as to call us to work in the same vineyard. What a privilege! When you look at it that way, we are the last, the least, the losers at the end of the line. We came on the scene when the bulk of the work was already done. And we get the same denarius, the same salvation, the same resurrection to life in Jesus, as all who came before us. In fact, if we push the parable just a bit harder, we’ll recognize that we haven’t done a blessed thing to earn our denarius. It was there in an envelope with your name on it long before you ever showed up for work. And even the work you showed up for is God’s doing.

And so whether first or last, whether called at the first, the third, sixth, ninth, or even the eleventh hour, whether we have worked hard, or little, or barely at all, there is a denarius of salvation awaiting us. It was won for all by the death of Jesus. That may not be fair. But then God isn’t fair. He’s good, and He’s gracious.

In the Name of Jesus,



* Pastor Cwirla: I am indebted to Robert Capon, Parables of Judgment. (Eerdmans, 1989) for this breezy paraphrase of the parable. If this is to your liking, I recommend the recently released compilation of Capon’s treatment of the parables: Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002).

Republished with permission.

By Steve B