Why The Church Is Producing Atheists

576103_10151016145053801_767033988_nI was an atheist until I was twenty four. I was raised to be an atheist. As a young man, I scolded Christians for their naive stupidity. God’s just a human idea that helps you hide from reality. An invisible friend that lives in the sky and is really bad at money management. I don’t need to go to church to be a good person. Then, when I’d hit my bottom through drugs and alcohol and self-destructive relationships, God revealed Himself to me as a God FOR ME. It was violent, mostly on my part. I didn’t want or need another god. I had drugs and alcohol… and myself. I freaked out. I thought I was suffering a psychotic break. Following the suggestion of a friend’s father, I flew away to Mexico. God was there. I took a train to Portland. God was there. I took a bus to Louisiana. God was there. For ten years I flew, rode, drove, and ran away but everywhere I stopped, there He was. Waiting, like some divine hunter.

I gave up my fight and joined a church. The pastor pointed me to Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. His explanation of the Third Article of the Creed blew all the circuits in my brain. If this is what a Lutheran is, I said, I want to be one! I’ve been in recovery ever since. I’ve learned that not a lot of Lutherans actually think the Small Catechism is all that mind-blowing.

I eventually gave up my fight and got baptized – I’d been accepted to seminary, so I thought it’d be best to show up for the first day of class baptized. When I arrived at seminary I was introduced to classmates who were not that excited by “old” Lutherans or their theology. I was taught that we need to adapt our theology to “our context” otherwise we’d lose members and eventually the churches we serve will shut down.

After a time I gave up my fight and was ordained. I was told that the church’s core message is, “Believe in Christ, belong to a Lutheran church (LC-MS), and behave yourself… and go, teach others likewise.”

And that’s when I said, “But this is what convinced me as an atheist that the church’s message is a lie concocted to escape from reality. The reality I live in every day as the child of an alcoholic. What about the abuse I suffered? Who’s to blame for that? What about my addiction and the terrible, wicked things I did to myself and other people? What about that? What’s God got to say about all that? I’m not saying I did bad things. I’m saying I AM A BAD THING! Now what?

jesus-on-crossBelieve in God, belong to a church, and behave yourself isn’t the Gospel. It’s not what Paul teaches in Romans, that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe, that faith alone in Christ alone is the fulfillment of the whole law, that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness… that there is no good in my flesh and nothing good that I can do to contribute to the coming kingdom of Christ. What about “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit…”?

What I’ve heard and been taught and been scolded about the past twenty years, by well-meaning, pious, life-long Christians is a message that doesn’t draw people into the church. It’s what causes people to grow up in the church and someday walk out. It’s not about demographics, or peer groups, or “this generation”, or any of the stuff we imagine to explain why people walk out of the church. People who, like me, even though in their heart they want to believe in a good and loving God, they’ve been convinced there’s no such thing. So why waste my time trying at all.

In short, what people that grow up hearing the sermon “Believe, belong, behave” are hearing is, “The Law can gain you rewards and spare you punishment, if you just…” That is, there’s an invisible man in the sky who will give presents to good little boys and girls, but won’t put anything under your Christmas tree if you’re naughty.

The fancy term for this is “moralistic therapeutic deism.” It’s not Christ, not the Gospel, not the Spirit… It’s not anything but the old Adam trying to escape from the God that is FOR ME. To define and use God on his own terms, to get him what he wants, which is to escape having to suffer and die, and enjoy himself while he does it.

But, if you are baptized into Christ’s death, as St. Paul writes, then you will live as Christ lived, suffer as Christ suffered, and die as Christ died… and be raised from the dead as Christ was raised from the dead. Where is God in your suffering? He is bearing it FOR YOU. Where is God when you do what is evil? He is receiving it FOR YOU. Where is God when you say, “I am not doing bad things, I AM A BAD THING!”? He is on the cross carrying all your guilt and shame FOR YOU.

That’s the Gospel. That’s Christ FOR YOU. That’s the truth that blows all the old Adam’s circuits, and creates a new man who lives free before God, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

That’s the power of the Gospel that turns atheists like me into believers.


Sermon on Romans 4:4-5, Preached at Divine Shepherd (Blackhawk, South Dakota) ~ Can The Gospel Save Christians Too?

CLICK HERE FOR SERMON AUDIO: https://dl-web.dropbox.com/get/Public/2014-08-17_10-58-01_129.mp3?_subject_uid=3204952&w=AADVR7hXkhEEZE5dsYJ3SnHPymOdR8_MfwNh-sgXSPnpDg


1378216_10153296111090570_542787900_nNow to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. The bad news is you’re dying. The worse news is you’re dying because you hate your Creator. So you’re going to die physically, then suffer eternal death in hell. Your primary problem in all this is not that you feel guilty about what’s been said, but that you are guilty in fact, because God has already pronounced His judgment against you. You have happily, willingly, gladly, proudly, and on a daily basis piled up against yourself God’s wrath. The judgment that is coming against you is exactly what you deserve. But, God shows His love for you that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. God took out His furious anger on Jesus instead of us.

But, is the blood of Christ enough to save you? Is it enough for a still-sinful-Christian? Or isn’t it? Does the Gospel still apply, even if you are a Christian? Does the category “sinner” still apply to you? Does the category “sinner” still apply to all Christians? Here, what Martin Luther said about the Christian being “simultaneously sinful and yet justified before the holy God” is critical. Is what Luther said Biblical? Or isn’t it? Is it Biblical to say that a Christian is “simultaneously sinful and yet forgiven” or no? Are we Christians saved the same way we were when we were baptized into Christ? Saved the same way we were when we came to acknowledge Christ’s shed blood and His righteousness as all we had in the face of God’s holy law? Saved the same way as when we were led to believe and confess that all of our supposed “goodness” is just like so many old menstrual rags, to use the Biblical phrase.

Does God freely give to those who trust Christ’s cross the true righteousness of Christ Himself? We’re pretty sure that unbelievers who come to believe this are instantly justified in God’s sight, declared innocent, adopted as sons or daughters, forgiven of all sin, given eternal life, and so on. But are Christians still saved that freely? Or are you not? You’re pretty clear that forgiveness declared to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit saves sinners, but can this forgiveness save a Christian? Can it save you all by itself? Or no?

In Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, the tax collector goes “down to his house justified rather than the other.” Okay. But let’s follow him as he goes through the week and comes again to the temple to pray. What is it you want to see him doing during those in-between days? What does your moral sense tell you he ought at least try to accomplish? Shouldn’t he go into another line of work? Something maybe a little more upright than strong-arming his neighbors for fun and profit? Shouldn’t he try just a little, or at least make up his mind that tomorrow he’s going to change his ways? In short, don’t we feel compelled to insist that he try fixing himself just a little?

Now let’s go back to the temple one week later. He goes back there with nothing in his life reformed. He walks in this week just like he walked in last, after seven full days of skimming, whoring, and high-priced whiskey. Put him through the same routine. Eyes down, breast beaten, God be merciful to me, and all that. And what will the conclusion to the parable be this week? The same as last week. God will not mend His ways any more than the tax collector did his wicked ones. God will do this week exactly what He did last because the tax collector is the same this week as he was last. He’s still dead in sin and he simply confesses it. In short, God will send him down to his house justified.

progressive_sanctificationThe question then is, do we like that? The answer, of course is that we don’t. We gag on the unfairness of it. The little pig is getting off free. You can’t wallow with the pigs at night and then sing with the angels in the morning!

To use a second example, let’s take him back to the temple with at least some self-improvement under his belt. No whoring this week, or he ordered cheaper whiskey and gave his left-over change to the Red Cross. What do we think now? What is it that we want God to do with him? Question him about the lengths to which he’s mended his ways? Why? If God wasn’t impressed with the Pharisee’s list why should he bother with this two-bit cheat? Or do we want God to look on his heart, not on his list, and commend him for good intentions at least? Why? The point of the parable was that the tax collector confessed that he was dead not that his heart was in the right place. Why are we so bent on destroying the parable by sending the tax collector back with the Pharisee’s speech in his pocket?

The honest answer is that while we accept the thrust of the parable intellectually: the Pharisee was a narcissistic, self-justifying little turd but the tax collector confessed his sins and God justified him, our heart has a desperate need to believe the opposite. We put our best foot forward daily. We try to establish our identity by seeing ourselves as approved in other people’s eyes. We spend our days preening ourselves before the mirror of their opinion so we won’t have to think about the nightmare of appearing before them naked and uncombed. So we hate this parable because it exposes us as creatures just as greedy, and diseased, and dishonorable as the tax collector. Pigs gone blind in the wilderness.

We fear God’s acceptance of the tax collector’s confession because we know precisely what it means. It means that we will never be free, never go down to our house justified until we’re dead to the whole business of trying to fix-up ourselves. But since the business of fixing ourselves up is our life that means not until we’re dead.

It is certainly a terrifying step trusting God’s promise to give you life even while He’s busily killing you. You’ll cry and kick and scream, because it means He’s putting you out of the only business you know. It means you can’t lay down with pigs anymore, you have to go home to your Father’s house. For your comfort though, I can tell you three things. First, the distance from here to the resurrection is only a single step. Second, it’s not a step out of reality into nothing but a step from your dead morality into His resurrection grace. And third, it will make you laugh out loud at how short the trip home was. It wasn’t a trip at all. You’ve already got one foot in the resurrection. As the apostle Paul writes, “we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him…Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more.”

324473_1519743250083_439558556_oThe grace of the resurrection is this: you don’t need good intentions, self-improvement, or rehabilitated living to make yourselves fit for the kingdom of Christ. You need only to be dead. Physical death, to be sure. But ultimately and most horribly, spiritual death – being cut off from God forever. Everyone must die. It is the basic human dilemma. But the cross is God’s great answer to our predicament. We need not die alone.

God the Son freely agreed to die your death FOR YOU, to suffer your deserved condemnation and doom FOR YOU in your place. And He didn’t just agree from eternity to do that. He actually did it in fact. On the cross, historically. For free. For each one of you. (Romans 5:8) Jesus and His death put you right with God, solved your real problem, which is sin and your real hatred of God. Jesus’ blood and death rescued you. It worked then and His body and blood still works today. Are you a sinner, a child of Adam? Yes. Are you forgiven, a child of our Father in heaven? Yes. Are you dead on account of sin? Yes. Are you alive on account of Christ? Yes. Are you guilty? Certainly. Are you forgiven? Most definitely.

Final exams are over. The holidays have begun… Forever. The great marriage feast of the Lamb in the Body, and feasting on the finest meats and the best wines. Welcome child, welcome to the feast of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Three Videos To Help Make Presentations That Don’t Suck

Below are three brief videos by experts, who have helped me recognize why I need to improve how I communicate ideas, explain doctrine, and engage my hearers. It’s not our doctrine that needs to be changed to engage our hearers (our Lutheran doctrine is exciting stuff), instead it’s our method of delivery that often bores our audience so much that they don’t listen or remember what we’ve said. In short, know what you’re going to say, know how to say it, and know when to stop… These have helped me, so I thought I’d share them with you. Enjoy!

Sermon 1 Corinthians 10:13b ~ Ain’t No Temptation High Enough, Ain’t No Sin Low Enough ( A Nagelite Sermon w/Audio)

SERMON AUDIO: https://dl-web.dropbox.com/get/Public/2014-08-10_10-29-04_146_2941.mp3?_subject_uid=3204952&w=AAAq3oI-ggSnzzcnKtxqzXTS45XjD4Qbn_D-gXFU-MGQ8A  Click-here-button

576103_10151016145053801_767033988_nGod is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13b)

In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. Is God to blamed when we give in to temptation? No, of course not. Is God the one to blame for the resulting curse and damage? No, course not. God cannot be blamed. He’s never responsible for evil. His desire is to bless His children. When we sin, when we give into temptation, we cannot blame God. We are responsible. What could have been blessing for us is rejected for sin. And the temptation that curses is never the will of God. This is the temptation which the Small Catechism speaks about when it says, “God tempts no one.” And the Bible teaches us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God. For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does he tempt anyone with evil. But everyone is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and stirred up.” (James 1:13-14)

The temptation that curses us is the temptation of Satan. So he tempted Eve. So he tempted Job. But here we see the wonder of God, that is beyond our understanding. God uses Satan so that even the evil intentions of Satan serve the blessing of God’s children. God would have us strengthened in faith. He would have us stirred up to greater love for each other. God could destroy Satan by His almighty power, but He wants us to be strengthened and stirred up so we are able to get the victory over the evil one. God does not want us to grow weaker or to have our hearts grow cold. Therefore, He does not stop temptations coming to us. In spite of themselves and what they want to achieve, the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are made to serve the purpose of God. They have no choice. God is almighty, we are not.

1361948646_adam_and_eveTemptation then teaches us the frailty, the fragility, the weakness of our wisdom and strength. Our strength is not in ourselves. It never was, never will be. Our wisdom and strength is in God, His faithfulness and Word. Thus, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, He defeated Satan three times with the victorious, “It is written.” The same weapon, God’s Word is put in our hands, and poured over our heads, and stuffed into our ears, and poured into our mouth. If we hope to gain the victory over Satan and his temptations we must know God’s Word and use God’s Word. The guarantee of God’s Word is His faithfulness to His promises. We know this because He has revealed them to us in Christ crucified FOR YOU and fulfilled His promises to us in Christ crucified FOR YOU.

And from the crucified, dead, buried, and risen Christ you are baptized. There you were made a child of promise to God and God was promised to you. He can’t break His Word and abandon you. In Baptism, the old Adam was held under the water so that there never again will be enough strength in him to overthrow the new man in Christ, the Spirit of God whose taken possession of you. This Sunday, as last Sunday, as every Sunday, you receive the Lord’s Supper. There Christ comes to dwell in you, and with Christ comes the strength of God. You cannot be overthrown. God is true, and no temptation can hurt or harm you if you stay true to God.

God wants you to be much blessed, to live with a strong faith for Him and fervent love for one another. Therefore, He will not allow much temptation. The stronger the faith the greater the temptation He can allow, and the greater blessing of faith and love He will make yours. For most, your faith is not yet strong enough for God to allow so great a temptation as came to Abraham and Job. Not many of us would be able to bear it. But the temptation we can bear, He will lead us through it. He will use it to strengthen us from strength to strength. Sickness. Mourning. The bitter heartlessness of brother and sister Christians, not to mention neighbors and coworkers. The lying, flashy promises of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh will try to make you doubt God. They will try to drag you away from Him, from His Word, His body, His blood, and faith that trusts His promises. But He will be there regardless, in simple earthly words, water, bread, and wine, speaking to you, feeding you, keeping His promises to you… Your faithful, loving Father.

LE BON SAMARITAINWhen you are tempted, you can show God that you are His devoted children. And by His Spirit’s strength be made stronger in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another. You are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us”, writes St. Paul (Romans 8:37), even Christ, our living Redeemer and Lord. When you struggle with temptation, focus and fasten all your thoughts and feelings on Jesus alone. Hang onto Him, and He will pull you through. AMEN.

Sermon on Matthew 11:25-3 ~ Burden, easy. Yoke, light. (A Nagelite Sermon w/Audio)

SERMON AUDIO: Click-here-buttonhttps://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3204952/2014-08-03_10-25-05_173_4021%201.mp3

Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

pict0215-1In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. If being a Christian makes you groan then you have almost certainly got it wrong. Burdens, heavy loads, and great worries are for groaning under. And burdens are what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel. If you have burdens, then it’s to you that Jesus calls: “Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Now yoke is a word used from the Law. The burden of the Law is the yoke Jesus Himself shows the heaviness of in those parts of the Sermon on the Mount that make very clear we cannot bear it no matter how hard we try. But only in trying, only in laboring at it, do you know the heavy load, a load you cannot bear. You don’t qualify for God’s favor by your performance in obeying His commandments. You are sinners. Lawbreakers. Yoked to a god who gains weight the longer you bear him… Or her… Or it.

Jesus invites you in these Gospel words to come to Him and bring your heavy load. Give over all that laboring you point at to justify yourselves, to describe yourselves, to measure yourselves. All of that is the yoke of the Law. He relieves you of all that. What you cannot bear, Jesus bears FOR YOU. He carries the yoke FOR YOU. He is obedient to the Law, fulfills the Law, FOR YOU. It’s accusation and judgment against your sin He bears FOR YOU. On Him is laid the burden of all your lawlessness. The death for sin Jesus dies for in your place. The abandonment of God, which is yours to bear, He carries FOR YOU. He is the Sin-bearer for all of you. Anything you hold back from Him, any part of your thinking, and speaking, and doing that you don’t consider sin, makes His death of no use for you. Got no sins that hold you down? Then this isn’t the God for you. The God of the Gospel is the God who forgives miserable sinners. This is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus died for sinners. Jesus died FOR YOU.

Then Jesus gives you His yoke. It is a happy, easy yoke, He exchanges for yours. “Jesus, I am your sin, You are my righteousness.” Your yoke of sin He takes and bears FOR YOU. Then He gives you His yoke. Really no yoke at all. Yoke easy, burden light. What is light is no burden. What is easy is no yoke. You know this from the cross. It is a terrible death for sin. Abandoned by God. That is yours… That is His… That is yours. Jesus gives His cross to you and with it forgiveness of sin, acceptance. God is your Father as surely as Jesus is His Son. The One who exchanges yokes with you. And the yoke that you are given is easy. The whole heart’s ease and happy freedom is in that easy yoke Jesus lays on you. It’s how you feel when the heavy pack comes off and you take off your heavy boots and your feet can’t believe the ease and the lightness of walking. That is in the word light when Jesus says, “My burden is light.” A word that is quick, nimble, skips along like when we say a dancer is light-footed.

UntitledThat is the Jesus on our St. John’s altar. Dancing Jesus, light of foot, down on one foot, and the other up toward the next part of the dance. This is Jesus who dances, Jesus who is free, Jesus who you can’t predict, demand, force, or command… This is free Jesus, giver Jesus, bodied and blooded Jesus, crucified Jesus, resurrected Jesus, burden lifting Jesus, yoke breaking Jesus, good Jesus… But never safe Jesus.

The Law demands that we play it safe. But no law can hold Him down. Not the One who is gentle and of no importance to those who want to get by by carrying the weight of the Law on their shoulders. He is free. He has taken all that the old Law could do to crush Him. That yoke is not there for Jesus, or FOR YOU. He carried that yoke. When you crawl back under that yoke (as if it is still yours to bear) in the pride of your doing it, you move away from Him, contradict Him. The more you groan, the more proof you’re doing it alone, without Him. Sadly, much of what qualifies as Christian piety is the dreary and groaning contradiction of this Gospel word of Jesus and of His cross that is yours, too. Your life and your joy. What would have destroyed you is dealt with at Calvary by Jesus. Whatever comes now in laughter and in tears, you are in it together with Jesus. What is with Him is not for groaning. To those who don’t know Jesus, it may appear you have an awful heavy load. For you it is what He happens to have gotten you into with Him. Listen to Luther and hear the singing:

The world looks upon it [the load we bear] as heavy and more than we can bear but it is not, for we have one with us who is a good companion, as the saying goes, “The singing goes great when you have a good companion.” Two can carry a burden easily, that would be too much for one.

With the Jesus-yoke, you can only be crushed if He gets crushed too. He has been there, and on from Calvary no more yoke of the Law. No more yoke of sin. No more yoke of sin’s death. But forgiveness, life with Him, dance with Him, sing with Him, eat and drink with Him, hope with Him, and yes, rise from death with Him.

Not by great power or strength, but Jesus. The gentle, of no earthly importance Jesus. He invites you to join Him, learn from Him, and live free. The yoke He gives you in exchange is easy, and His burden is light. AMEN.

So Let It Go… Drown Me In You

Christ-of-the-AbyssWhen I was four years old I came close to drowning. I’d run off the end of the dock and everyone there, my aunts and their friends, assumed I could swim. It was almost a minute before they realized I wasn’t coming back up. Flash forward twenty years. I hadn’t gone into water above my waist since that day I’d almost drowned. Now, here I was floating in the Pacific Ocean, boogie board under me, staring at the houses along the cliffside at Costa Brava. Then to my left a fin cut a watery furrow along the edge of my sight. Was it a dolphin or a shark? A shock of recognition hit me. I was exposed. I was too far from shore to escape the water quickly. I had gotten distracted and the undercurrent has carried me out into the deep water. In that moment of fear, that frantic instance, I realized I was completely naked. I had no defense if it was a shark. I had no protection, no quick escape, I was at the bottom of the universe’s food chain. So I floated, watching the beach shrink as I was pulled further along by the tide, and all that came out of my mouth was, “I give up… If this is how you’re going to kill me, just do it… I’m done.”

Forty five minutes later I was sitting on the beach. The tide had pulled me sideways, parallel to the shore. When I calmed down I understood that if I swam slowly I could work my way in. About three miles from where I’d entered the water I climbed out of the ocean. Exhausted. Aching. Crying.

After that day I didn’t fear the deep water anymore. It’s not that God had given me some great epiphany, that I realized in that moment of helplessness that God was on my side, that I had nothing to fear, that all good boys go to heaven, or any of that nonsense. No. I did realize though that I’d devoted most of my life to trying to determine the when and the where and the how of my living and dying. Out there in the ocean I was brought up short. I wasn’t in control. No one was coming to rescue me. No one was going to jump into the water to haul me out. I wasn’t God’s special little snowflake. I was just a young man who forgot for a moment (or twenty years) that if you don’t pay attention there are things in this world, big things, things without conscience, like the ocean, that will swallow you.

Four years later, when I was baptized I went down into the water again. This time someone did follow me in. God’s Spirit wrapped me in words and Himself. He didn’t save me from drowning. He drowned me. He killed me, but He went down into death with me. He revealed to me that He is the one who holds the keys that unlock all death’s doors. The Creator who hovered over the deep waters in the beginning, bending the whole universe into a bowl to conceive me, and cradle me, and birth me again. An ocean of faithful, loving kindness swallowing me, then belching me back up onto the beach… Go in peace, serve the Lord.

When I crawled out of the ocean I was changed, but the same. I wasn’t scared of the deep water anymore. But after the emotional shock faded, day after day I continue to try to control my destiny.

When I lifted up my head from the baptismal font I was changed, but the same. I was a child of God. Dead and raised a new man in Christ. But the old me, the me who fights for life even when everything around him seems to signal his demise demands another day.

That is the unfathomable love of God in Jesus Christ. That daily I plunge into the abyss of my own death, and daily He dives in after me to unlock the door of my death. “If I ascend into the heavens, You are there. If I descend into hell, You are there”, writes the Psalmist.

Daily I die a sinner, daily I am raised a new man in Christ. Every die I try to choose how I am going to die a “good death.” Every day my Lord chooses to give me a good life instead. So whether I live or I die I go along baptized, wearing the watery garments of Christ all the way into death and out the other side into eternal life.

Sermon on Luke 21:25-38 ~ Fig Tree Jesus (A Nagelite Sermon)

Figs25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. (Luke 21:25-38)


In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. Summer is here. But can you be sure? This year, it often seems not. It has been a foul summer. Maybe the jet stream is out of whack. Something called a “polar vortex” is partly to blame. Global warming perhaps. I don’t know, and neither did Martin Luther. He didn’t know about the jet stream or what a polar vortex had to do with anything. What Luther knew about was faith. That is Jesus, for sure. Luther noted that there was no shortage of people who had explanations for all sorts of things, even this passage from Luke 21.

There is a plausible explanation, a natural explanation for everything, even without knowing about the polar vortex. Confronted by these explanations, we can get into a hassle with them. We attempt better explanations. We come up with more reliable calculations. We miss the whole point — faith. Jesus.

drowning_pool_bodies_let_the_bodies_hit_the_floorThere is a lot of heavy stuff in Luke 21 before we get to the Gospel, today’s Good News. The fig tree is good news. Think about how the fig tree grows. It’s skeletal outline in winter. All it’s leaves stripped off, naked, bare branches, quite dead, finished. Not so. Around Spring, fresh leaves comes alive, sprout, and grow. On the old branches, the first figs fall. Later, on the new growth, there comes a further crop of fruit. But, before we get carried away dreaming about succulent fruit, the fig tree is a parable, Jesus expressing something about Himself, using the fig tree as a point of comparison. “As surely as the fig tree puts out leaves, so surely is summer near.” In our Gospel, that work is called the kingdom of God. All that belongs to the kingdom of God will surely be accomplished.

In Jesus’ generation, and during this one in which we live, all things will be accomplished for the kingdom of God. After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and the sending of His Spirit, the next and last big thing will be the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory of summer’s full harvest.

We live in the time in between. The parable of the fig tree tells about Jesus of whom we can be sure. Anything that suggests we can’t be sure about Him, that there has been a slip-up, that maybe His promises can’t be trusted, is a contradiction of the message of the parable of the fig tree. If you can’t be sure about Jesus, then the temptation is to try to come up with plausible alternatives. But Jesus plus anything else equals no Jesus at all. If we can get a handle on the signs, then maybe we can show others that Jesus is actually not off course or behind schedule. Or we can give our explanations of what’s going on. “With the way the world is going, any day now some terrorist is going to wipe out an entire city with a weapon of mass destruction.” We may even have it worked out how the Lord will manage the end the world. “The heavens will be on fire, the sky will dissolve, and the ground will melt with the heat.” (2 Peter 3:12) In the last generation, it was nuclear missiles. In this generation, it’s weapons of mass destruction. Same idea, different name. The point is, now we have the weapons to do it. Or if the world won’t be fried by the sun getting too hot, it will be frozen by the sun cooling off.

Not much of a future. Not much hope. Grab what you can, while you can. The president has made a mess of things. Our society is on the brink of disaster. The politicians, as they give their readings of society, will occasionally make respectful references to God, sometimes even linking Him with their promises, usually with a vagueness that makes them applicable to people of any kind of a “God bless you, and God bless this country” religious leaning. All of this can so capture our attention that we completely forget the fig tree, about the “fig tree” Jesus. As surely as the new leaves mean summer is near, so surely Jesus is doing His work through it all, bringing to completion the kingdom of God.

Where is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is where Jesus is king. Where Jesus-king is, there is where the kingdom of God is too. “Where I live is where Jesus is King,” says the faithful. The message of the fig tree and of the signs is given ONLY to faith. That is sure Jesus. All your past He has taken on Himself. All your future is His sure gift, as the fig tree says. So you have a present, a Jesus present. No absent Jesus. No denying Jesus. But present Jesus. You are given His words that tell about Him and give what they say by the working of His Spirit. Heaven and earth and all the evidence people may supply, every natural explanation, are not so sure as Jesus’ words.

We can’t be sure of when summer begins or when it ends, but for you who’ve heard the parable of the fig tree, for you who live in the present sure of Jesus, sure of His words, as sure as He is sure, there is no time to escape into the rising and falling, the running forwards and backwards, the constant agitation that comes with trying to do the things that we insist are our work where He is king.

images (6)The way of the kingdom of God is given through Jesus’ sure words spoken into your ears, poured over your head, and fed into your mouth. They are more sure than anything or everything in heaven and earth. You close your eyes to nothing. Only faith can have the courage to face it all without blinking, without holding back, without pushing down or pumping up any of the evidence. A spade is a spade and Jesus is a fig tree Jesus. Thus, the sober realism, the watchfulness, the bottom-of-it-all confidence that it is fig tree Jesus, Jesus king before whom you stand. He is the one who gave His life as a ransom for many. He is the one who was lifted up and cried “It is accomplished.” That fact holds through it all. The one who sits on the throne to judge is the same one who sits enthroned on the cross. Jesus’ rule and authority is an everlasting rule and authority that will never pass away. His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. The tree bears its fruit. The fig tree and vine give their full harvest

Is that where you live? The answer does not come from yourselves or from your calculations. The answer comes only from Christ, from His words. Your faith, your life, your prayers and your hope is built on His sure words FOR YOU. AMEN.

Sermon on Luke 6:41-42 ~ Slivers and Logs (A Nagelite Sermon)

41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41-42)

nathan-log-eye-4In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. When Jesus gives us the absurd picture of a sliver in one man’s eye and a log in our own, we don’t notice. We’re to focused on spotting the sliver in the other man’s eye. Some logs you just can’t budge, it seems.

The kick in the rear-end of Jesus’ story is that now you’re told, so now you know, and now that you know you are called to repent. The first piece of business then is the log in your own eye. After that’s removed, THEN you may be able to help your neighbor with the sliver in his or her eye. The first sins to be known, confessed, repented of, are your own, not somebody else’s. We often do a much better job confessing other people’s sins and pointing them out: their lack of love, their pride, their insecurities and prejudices, their lack of understanding. Against such a dark picture our own goodness shines all the more brightly. We are not like those people. In fact, they ought admire us, but more than them, God especially should admire us. And we can do it so piously: “I thank You, God, that I am not like these other people… Just look at them!”

Our log is not just large, but so near to us that it blocks our vision and we don’t even see it. JESUS is the one who gives sight to the blind. He reaches out His hand to our log and pulls it out. “This must go. I want you to see.” JESUS takes the log out of your eyes. He drags it to Calvary, and on that wooden cross He binds and kills it. He is killed. JESUS dies for our sins, and the wood we have supplied becomes, by His death, a declaration of that sin’s forgiveness. When Jesus takes your sins, He takes them all the way to the wood, and there God forgets your sins.

When the logs in your eyes have been run through the Calvary way, you see. You see Jesus on the cross that’s supplied by you, FOR YOU. You see yourselves as forgiven sinners. Then, when you bump into another sinner, you may help, because love comes sideways. You are baptized, your are forgiven, you are fed, you are catechized and preached to, so you know the things that contradict Christ’s work, and the pain and ruin they work in a person’s life. What this means is, we want every person we meet to be freed from them, and we are there to help him or her.

Most slivers in our eyes hurt like hell. But, we can’t get them out by ourselves. Often we can’t even see them. When I was a boy and got a sliver in my eye, gouging at it with my finger was like trying to pick up a pebble out of a mud puddle with a tree. So, my mom would have to grab me, hold my head still, pry apart my eyelids, and flush out it with drops of water. “Hold still. Quit moving. I can’t help you if you keep moving your head like that!” Then, happy eye, sweet release. Let me help. You’ve got a sliver. Hold still. Don’t flinch. There it is. See it? Throw it away.

Jesus.Carrying,the.Cross.Your help will not always be appreciated. People get slivers, carry them around, forget them, or sometimes even brag about them: “Look at the size of my sliver!” So it’s easier to pretend you don’t notice it. You will get along much more smoothly if you let them slide past you and stroke their ego as they go. Why risk the relationship? Risk it is, and it is bound to turn out bad if you come to them down from above and not sideways, or better still, from below.

Love — true, godly love — always comes as a servant. Love goes there, and over there, and right here, and then again over there for that person without thought of personal benefit. Love cannot not care. Love takes the risk of losing the relationship, of being the easy-going, good person they want you to be for them. Love grows through the risks, through the possible resentment, to the possibility of being for the other person something more, something for his or her own good. Perhaps your best friend is someone you got mad at when he or she pointed out how you were putting people down, gossiping about them, blocking off love, hurting them. We often do that unaware, and it is helpful to be made aware of it. It may hurt, but how else will we get rid of the things that damage and block the flow of love? My real friends don’t tell me what a wonderful, remarkable man I am. I don’t have that many ignorant friends. I know they want my good. A true friend levels with you.

The Bible calls us to thank God for the person who hits us straight in the face with the truth, that rubbing the right lotion on our skin is not the way to happiness. There are things, though, that block happiness… all the things we do to block happiness or hurt others. A friend will help us see them and help us get rid of them. Before you can thank God for this kind of friend, you must have received His Christ, then you will be led by His Spirit toward being such a friend.

But for heaven’s sake, do not… do not… don’t go around hunting for slivers in people’s eyes. You have some logs to confess — God knows you have many logs! You have logs to be pulled out and dragged to Calvary. Baptized and forgiven, you may then see as a servant sees, as a burden-bearing Savior sees who comes to us from below us. Lord, take from us, though it hurts, all that blinds us and blocks the flow of Your life-giving, life-restoring, enlightening love. AMEN.



To the Pain… Wake up. Repeat.

1655065_4074995729798_4314261963222890916_oI knelt at the back of the closet under a pile of dirty clothes, palms grinding into my ears. “Stop…. stop… stop… just stop…. make them stop”, I whimpered. Mom and dad were screaming at each other again. It was about money. It was usually about money. We needed some, but never seemed to have enough. Wait… No, that’s not right. Paying bills was the catalyst but their fight was about me. “You always take his side.” It was that way a lot. Dad versus his only son. Mom accused of betraying his trust. As though we were trying to take the best of him away, slip the noose round his neck, arrest his heart. First the screams, then the belt, or the rolled up magazine, or whatever was nearby, a threatening stare, a slammed door, hours tick away, mom in the kitchen, me in my bedroom. Then he’d re-appear, pick at left-overs, and pass out in the recliner.  Wake up. Repeat. Suffer it.

It wasn’t always like that but the fights came often enough, the violence, the physical pain, trauma, the constant volatility cuts deep, especially into a child’s Play-doh mind. When a parent does violence to his child the hurt is for a moment, but it leaves angry scars. The kind that ache. The kind that wake me up at 7am because my four year old son walks into the bedroom and says, “Good morning, Dad! What’s up?”

What’s up? I’m trying to wake up, but it’s not working.
I’ve got pictures in my head and I need to get them out.
What kind of pictures?
The kind that make me crazy, so I need to get them out.
How do you do that?
I write. I write the pictures into words, and that gets them out of my brain.
They’re in your brain!?
I have Play-doh in my brain!

That’s all it takes to tear the scars open again. They remind me I’m someone else now, but still the same person I used to be. It’s times like these that I learn to live again. It’s times like these I learn to love again.  I am bled, I am healed, I write the pictures into words and leave them behind. The pictures bleed out in words, pour out in waves of emotion, singing, pounding on the desk, tapping at the keyboard, inhale then exhale, loved and in love. It’s times like these that even old scars are gifts from my heavenly Father’s gracious hands. I am exposed. I am weak. I am vulnerable. His strength is made complete in weakness. I know whose I am. When I was conceived, He made me. When I whimpered, He heard me. When I was undone, when I didn’t want anymore, twenty-four years was long enough — big pain, go away — He picked me up, breathed the breath of new life into blackened lungs. He gave me faith. He gave me hope. He led me out of the darkness of addiction and self-destruction, out of hopelessness, out of slow suicide, to the font, to the altar, to His Word: “I don’t want your blood, I want to give you my blood. I don’t want your life, I want to give you my Life. Give me all your rage and hate, hate me… I’m not a bigger, divine version of your Dad. I will never scream at you, beat you, leave you, or treat you as enemy. Let me tell you about what My Son did for me… and FOR YOU.”

For almost twenty years I’ve poured out my fear, my rage, my anxiety, my hopelessness, self-hatred, doubt, insecurities, accusations, everything I can throw at Him. He takes it, and still, still His only response is, “Take and drink, this is my blood, shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of sins…” He’s even given me His words, His own blood placed into my hands, to give me as gift to others, to say to my son “FOR YOU,” to pour into my son’s mouth His blood. Wake up. Repeat. All gift.








“Big Darkness, Soon Come…”, by Anthony S. Thompson

filesHi, folks, my name is still Thompson, and I still drink Seagrams 7 with ER Nurses at night — but in one particular way, I am a New Man, a different man, a more dangerous man than I ever was: I’m baptized, dead to the world.

Indeed, I can walk again, and I like it, because last month I felt an acute spasmodic pain in my soul when I walked. There was nothing cute about it, no socially redeeming factor. It just plain sucked.

But I have just returned from an extremely intense week at the world-renowned Higher Things Conference in Mequon, Wi., where I had radical Gospel surgery to repair what was beginning to give me some pain. Great pain on some days, and the Good Lord finally decided to get rid of it.

I am no stranger to organ replacement, and I always find it refreshing, always a happy improvement over soul-pain.

I hate soul-pain, despite my apparent ability to tolerate it beyond all known parameters, which is not necessarily a good thing. I once gouged about two-thirds of my palms into mush for three consecutive years, until I finally heard the Gospel preached.

And the Gospel turned out to be far more comforting and satisfying than the imagination of the human heart anyway, especially mine. It is lighter, stronger and far more free, in every way, than bone or flesh or anything else in the human body — and I am insisting it be preached regularly to me as rapidly as possible without doing anything stupid.

My old man is about 70 percent finished, and after he’s physically buried, I will take a break. And maybe have a look at this weird and degrading story of how the church transformed into a monstrous self-preservation society, which interests me. The more I learn about this case, the more I understand that this is not about grace at all. It is about power, undiluted power and nothing else. Nobody is going to jail in this case, but on the Last Day some people are going to pay.

The downward spiral of dumbness in the LC-MS is about to hit a new low. You thought early 20th century Methodism was bad? Wait until we get a taste of this scandal. It will be like a feeding frenzy and a long parade of cannibals.

Big Darkness, soon come. Take my word for it. At least I have Higher Things to look forward to…