Monday, March 30, 2009

The Daily Me

This morning I was shaving and brushing my teeth as I was listening to CBC radio - as is my habit most mornings. Yes, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - yes the left of centre publicly funded bunch (or if you are an American the socialist communist bunch). Well, it is either that or country music to listen to in our area! Anyway, there was an interview with some fellow from New York, whose name I have forgotten, who was discussing how we tend to watch and read news from people with whom we agree. We like to have our points of view validated and reinforced. It is like we put blinders on so we do not need to see any other opinions or ideas that do not match our own.

This is not anything particularly ground breaking - but he was noting how this is increasing exponentially with the Internet being the main source of our information and how easy it is to customize and personalize the information we receive. We can tailor it to receive only what we want from whom we want. The problem with this is we are rarely, if ever, confronted with another way of looking at the information or are rarely challenged in our way of thinking. He called it "The Daily Me." Clever indeed.

I have often struggled with this as a Lutheran. And not just any Lutheran but one of the Lutheran Church-Canada (LCMS) stripe. I tend to read materials published by Concordia Publishing House - especially the biblical commentaries (which are excellent by the way!). I tend to buy and read books by authors whom I already trust. I read Logia. I read Concordia Journal. I read Concordia Theological Quarterly. I don't always agree with what I read in those books and journals - but more often than not I do (except on the Office of the Holy Ministry - but don't get me started).

I recognized this a long time ago. So, a long time ago, I subscribed to Touchstone - a wonderful journal that has writers from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, and more backgrounds. I have truly enjoyed it and have grown in reading it. I am at times challenged. At times I really disagree with what I read in it. That's the way I like it. However, in Touchstone I know what I am going to get. The writers in Touchstone are all coming from the "conservative" side of the Christian Faith. I also used to subscribe to Christainity Today but I grew bored of that. I also used to subscribe to Modern Reformation which was also a good journal - but it is just so "reformed!" I had to make some choices financially and also time wise - and I stuck with Touchstone.

So, as I was brushing my teeth I made a decision. Partly out of curiosity, partly for an experiment, and partly out of conviction - I am going to find and read a blog or website daily from the ELCA/ELCIC. Either a pastor's blog or from the church body. Yes, I could go and read one from the United Church of Canada to really go "out there" - but I think I ought to keep it within the realms of what I know. In doing this I endeavour to:

1. Be confronted with points of view I may disagree with as they are expressed within the Lutheran context and seek to converse and/or consider them.

2. Always, in every circumstance, remain absolutely 100% civil, never losing temper or expressing anger. One must be able to discuss issues over which one disagrees with civility and respect. I must grow in this.

I will begin tonight after doing some searching around for some blogs to read.

Finally, as I was listening to the interview on the radio I had one thought that kept coming back. "Yeah, I know what I am going to find when I listen or read people from that perspective. I don't like it. I disagree with it. I find it useless and hopeless and agitating. Why should I bother?" Part of me still thinks this. However, I realize this is a prejudice. Let's see what I find. I may find I am completely justified in this feeling and after this experiment (I have no set time limit as of yet) I may never ever, ever, read from that perceptive again. Or, perhaps, I will find my prejudices clouded my perspective and what I will find will be helpful. We will see...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sermon for Lent 5

Lent 5B/03.29.09/Fort Q & IH/Mark 10:35-45
“The Upside Down God”

What is greatness? What is glory? To me as a kid growing up Wayne Gretzky was greatness. To me growing up Joey Walters, the wide receiver for the Riders, was glory. I even would have said Dieter Brock of the Bombers was great – but I would have been gritting my teeth in saying it. Most of what I considered great and glorious had to do with sports as a child.

Sports stars, movie stars, rock stars, celebrity of all kinds. We associate this with greatness and glory. If someone is wealthy we consider them successful and accord them a certain amount of glory as well. We tend to associate greatness and glory with fame and riches. But this is not necessarily how God looks at it

We have an “upside down God” - Look at what Jesus says to His disciples,
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
Ugh. I don’t know about you but I don’t like this one bit. I’d rather be served than to serve. And so would the Disciples. And Jesus needed to teach them another way. "It shall not be so among you."

James and John thought they would do an “end around” - They thought they might have a little chat with Jesus and that He would then put them both in positions of honour and power. You see the Disciples still figured that Jesus was going to end up being a powerful ruler. And they wanted a front row seat, they wanted a piece of that - And James and John wanted to be in prominent positions. That’s why they ask: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They wanted to be #1 and #1a in Jesus’ Kingdom. They wanted greatness and glory through power and might.

But we have an upside down God. Greatness and glory are not from being in positions of authority. Greatness and glory are not from wealth and riches. Greatness and glory do not come from celebrity and fame. Jesus says: "But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

We have an upside down God. Well, upside down according to our perspective. The truth is – we are the ones who are upside down. We are the ones that have it all wrong. The truth is – greatness and glory in God’s view comes through serving your neighbour. Greatness and glory comes through humble service - Through putting others before yourself. Jesus said: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In God’s eyes, in the true reality, greatness comes through Service. Greatness comes when we put our self-interests aside and focus on the needs of others. To us it is upside down. To God – it is the only way.

We like to say “Practice what you preach” - We don’t like it when people are telling us what is right and wrong, how we should or should not act, and then they go out and do the opposite. We have a word for that – hypocrite. In fact that is what a lot of non church going unbelievers will say about the church- it is full of hypocrites. If someone ever says that to you – don’t argue with them! Why not? Because it is true! But you may want to make them aware that we always have room for one more…
Well, from one hypocrite to another I say – there is only One who truly practiced what He preached - And that is Jesus. "But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus was our servant. He practiced what He preached. He put your needs and my needs before Himself. He thought of you before He thought of Himself. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary – He became man. He took upon Himself the weakness of human flesh. He endured temptation not because He had to – but because He wanted to serve you. He lived a perfectly obedient life – not for His sake but for yours. He wanted to serve you. He fulfilled the Law – not for His sake but for yours. He wanted to serve you. He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. Not for His sin for he had none. But for your sin. He wanted to serve you. And because His sinless service on our behalf was accepted by the Father – He rose from the dead. Our risen and triumphant Lord sits in power and glory. But His service is not yet complete. He still wants to serve you.

Even this very morning Jesus serves you. You are not here to serve Him. He is here to serve you! "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus comes to serve you this morning through His Word and Sacraments. Jesus, stoops down with towel and basin to wash your feet. Jesus through His Word and Sacraments serves you. He washes you, He cleanses you, He feeds you, He gives you what you need.

Jesus “practiced what He preached” - He still does. He instructs us in the way of greatness. Humble service to others. Seeking nothing for ourselves. This is greatness. This is glory. To us, it seems upside down. But we have an upside down God. But He is at work in us. Even this morning He is at work in you. He is slowly turning us – so that we will come to see that He is right side up!

May God help us to see right side up. May God help us to see glory in service and greatness in humility. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent

Lent 4B/03.22.09/Fort Q/John 3:16

“God So Loved the World That…”

John 3:16. Luther called it “the Gospel in miniature.” It has been called the Gospel in a nut shell. It is likely the most well known portion of the Bible apart from Psalm 23. People paint “John 3:16” on posters and hold it up at football games - I suppose because in John 3:16, in one sentence, is a summary of the entire Gospel. Many of you have a picture or plaque hanging on your wall at home with this verse written on it.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Simple. Clear. Understandable.

How come we mess it up so badly all the time?

“For God so loved the world…” We don’t do too badly on that part. We like to think that God loves the world. We don’t mess that up too often I don’t think.

“That he gave his only Son…” Well, this is what we celebrate at Christmas, so we don’t do too badly with this. We may not always understand it as we should, but generally speaking we understand that Jesus is the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. Though it is a great mystery of the Faith - We don’t mess that up too often I don’t think.

“…that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Hmmmm. Now here is where we often run into trouble. “…that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The words are clear enough - But we stumble here – even as Lutherans. “that whoever believes in him…” Our natural tendency is to reject that statement. In fact part of us hates that statement. “that whoever believes in him…”

Our Thursday morning Bible study group has been going through a study called A Longer Look at the Lessons where we study the texts for the upcoming Sunday . One of the statements in the study this past week was: “It is said that everyone wants an insurance policy that guarantees eternal life, but most want it to be at least 10 percent deductible.” Our sinful and prideful selves rebel against this sort of thing. You mean all I need to do, all I can do, is receive eternal life by grace through faith?

When we hear what St. Paul says in the Epistle we almost get angry – it hurts our pride and illusions of self sufficiency. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” This is where we mess it up. All of us. Yes, even Lutherans who pride themselves on being Gospel centred. We all have a tendency to mess this up because we are all by nature prideful. Because of our sin we tend to read John 3:16 a little different than it is written:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever gives enough money to charity deserves not to perish but have eternal life

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever goes to church regularly is better than other people and deserves not to perish but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever prays often can look down on those who do not and deserves not to perish but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever is not addicted to alcohol or drugs is better than those who are and deserves not to perish but to have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever looks and sounds like us deserves not to perish but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever puts big cheques in the offering plate at church deserves not to perish but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever does not do “all those bad things” deserves not to perish but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever has not murdered a person deserves not to perish but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever…

Oh, I am sure you would never be so crass to say such things. But you think them. Even if you don’t want to – you do. You look at how others live and the bad things that people do around you and you think to yourself: How could they? What’s wrong with them? Why are they so bad? We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others – to rank others. We like to see how we “stack up.” And invariably we find that we stack up quite well thank you – better than those people that do that and this and all those terrible things. I am certainly better than they are. And, since almost everything else in life works on the merit system, we imagine God does also. And so we imagine that we merit God’s grace and eternal life – certainly more so than “those people.”

But what this shows is not so much our superiority over others or our holiness against other’s wickedness. What this shows is an astonishing lack of self knowledge. St. Paul writes in the Epistle: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” In your sinful state you are dead - Dead! A dead person can do nothing. Nothing! In your sinful state you can do nothing to merit anything from God. Nothing. Nadda. Zilch. Nicht. Let’s get this clear in our minds. It is essential if we are indeed to understand the Gospel in a nutshell.

And so to explain this St. Paul writes: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” St. Paul did not write: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of how righteous and holy you are, made us alive together with Christ.” No! By the moving of the Holy Spirit St. Paul wrote the divinely inspired words: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” That applies to you. It applies to me.

We are saved by grace through faith. We are made alive together with Christ because of His mercy. Our sins are forgiven. No, we did not earn or merit this forgiveness - Jesus did. We receive this forgiveness that Jesus earned for us through faith. Faith is the hand that takes hold of the gift given by God. Faith simply receives. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” we sing. “By grace you have been saved through faith”

It does not happen inside us – it happens outside us. Just as we say in the Small catechism in the explanation to the third article of the Creed: “I believe cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This is not something we “muster up” from within ourselves, this is not something we come up with in our minds or by reason – it happens outside of us, it happens to us by the grace of God.

One of the great theological terms we can learn is the Latin term extra nos – “outside ourselves” Our salvation comes not from anything in us – it comes from outside us – it is GIVEN to us. We receive it by grace through faith.

Notice in the following who is the active participant and who is receiving:

We are baptized and in that blessed water God reaches out to us, makes us part of His family, washes us of our sins, and grants us the Holy Sprit

We are called to faith and into the family of God, the Church, by the Holy Spirit and in that Church we hear the Word of God - In response to the Word of God we confess our sins and believe the Gospel

God, through the Office of the pastor, speaks His Words of forgiveness in the Absolution and when God speaks He accomplishes what He says – the forgiveness of your sins

God comes to you in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, His Body and Blood, feeding and nourishing you in your faith and forgiving your sins

It is God acting in all these ways for your benefit. It is God coming to you and giving you what you need - Faith. Forgiveness. Love. Mercy. Grace. Extra nos. It is outside you. It is given to you. Receive it dear Christian with thanksgiving and joy.

But maybe you are beginning to ask: “But what about me? Can’t I do something?” Yes. After God has acted, after He has made you alive together with Christ, after you have received from God’s gracious and bountiful hand – you can say “thank you.” We can “pray, praise, and give thanks” as the Small Catechism instructs us. And we do this with hearts, and hands, and voices, as we sing in the hymn. How are you saying thank you in your life?

Friends, receive from God His incredible gifts. That is why He has called us together here this morning – so that He might give to you what you need through His Word and Sacrament. Let’s rejoice in the good news of the Gospel. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is simple. It is clear. Thanks be to God!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Political Interest and the News Media

After the last election in Canada there was much complaining, often with an almost chastising tone, that there was such a poor voter turnout. 58.8% of eligible voters turned out in October 2008 for the general election. According to Elections Canada's website that is the lowest turn out ever for a general election and the second lowest turn out ever for any vote (the lowest ever turn out was for a referendum in 1898 - 44.9%).

The complaining and worrying over the apathy toward politics in general among the Canadian public is a fairly regular point of discussion on radio talk shows and television news shows. It mostly boils down to the commentators saying that the public need to be "re-engaged" or that there is just not the same sense of "community" anymore. Some of this is true to be sure. However, I have a different theory.

I am of the opinion that the loss of interest in politics is due to the lack of objectivity found in the media. Combine this with the post-modern way of looking at truth (i.e. truth is relative) and you have no source of trusted information. Everything we hear we today hear with jaded ears. We don't even expect objectivity anymore. We believe the CBC has a left of centre bias. We believe the National Post has a right of centre bias. We accept the bias. And in so doing we don't trust any of the news.

When you don't trust the information you are getting which you are to base your opinions and decisions on in political issues - you quickly lose interest. Instead of considering the issues themselves - you have to consider the source and the bias. So to get information you have to wade through with filters - and it gets tiresome. So - you give up. You lose interest. You stop caring.

This may not be the only reason why there seems to be growing apathy toward politics in Canada but I believe it is certainly a contributing factor.

Testing Windows Live Writer

I am just seeing how Windows Live Writer works for posting on the blog. You never know with Microsoft’s stuff. For example…

Windows has an update. I download and install it. Then, it tells me there is another update I need to download and install. I did it 5 times before I realized it was the same update. So, there is something wrong – the update keeps showing up to be downloaded and installed. Isn’t that great? Microsoft sends out an update for Windows Vista – and the update doesn’t actually work! I looked at the troubleshooting page and the list of instruction is crazy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Documentary? What does this mean?

I finished watching the most recent documentary film by Morgan Spurlock (of "Super Size Me" fame) called "Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?" It was an entertaining film to a degree. I enjoyed it - to a degree. The basic premise is Spurlock goes to the Middle East to look for Osama. Along the way he discovers that the people he meets along the way in the various Middle Eastern countries he visits are not hate filled people out for American blood. I suspect there is indeed some truth to this and perhaps it can be helpful to consider this. However, as I watched the film I had this sense that he seemed to be presenting a pretty glossy and rosy picture of it all. And then it came. There is a part in the film where he interviews an Orthodox priest in Egypt. The orthodox priest claims he has never had any problems with the Muslims in his area. He also claims that he believes that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all pray to the same God. A couple things here...

1. No orthodox "Orthodox" priest would say this. Furthermore, nor would a Muslim. The God whom Christians worship, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is not the same as Allah.

2. Egypt, and other countries that Spurlock visits in the video, routinely persecute Christians. For example:

Spurlock seems to overlook some very serious problems in some of these countries in an attempt to make his point that really we are all after the same thing: we want safety for our kids, peace, and freedom. This may be true. However, to overlook the problems and persecutions in these countries is very troubling.

Which brings me to Michael Moore's film "Sicko" which I watched a few days ago as well. Basically, it is Moore's cry for a publicly funded health care system in the US. He presents Canada and the UK's socialized medicine as a glowing example of what it could be. He visits a clinic in Windsor, ON (just across from Detroit) and interviews the people there. All the people he interviewed report hardly having to wait to see a doctor and complete satisfaction with the health care system. Well, it is not quite that rosy is it fellow Canadians? There are long waits at times in clinics, Emergency rooms, and especially to see specialists and to have certain tests done. I am not arguing for or against socialized medicine... but it seems to me that such a misrepresentation of the truth should be made known.

Moore's films are interesting and entertaining. Spurlock's too. However, because of Moore's misrepresentation of the truth (this has been pointed out in several instances in "Bowling for Columbine" also) - make me doubt everything he does. Spurlock too.
In a previous post I recommended "Indoctrinate U" as a good look at the lack of free speech on "liberal" campuses. I enjoyed it. I found myself agreeing with it. However, I don't doubt that there is bias behind that documentary as well.
Documentary = propaganda in our day and age. I guess it is up to us to pull out the nuggets of truth from each one we watch.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Indoctrinate U Documentary

Last week on Pastor Cwirla's Blog he posted something about a little documentary film called "Indoctrinate U" and by his description I was intrigued. I went to the website of the film ( and found I could download a copy of the film for 10 bucks (well, American bucks so a bit more for us Canadians). I did. I watched it. It is great. It clearly shows how "tolerance" and "liberal" etc., are typically only followed when it agrees with a certain agenda. I highly recommend the film - at least to make you think. The documentary only looks at American campuses - but it is the same here in Canada if not worse.
In Canada we have serious problems with the Human Rights Tribunals and Commissions. Much of what is said int his documentary would be applicable in our country with the Tribunals and Commissions - except in the US you might get thrown out of a College - in Canada you can be fined and found guilty according to the law!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

St. John Chrysostom Lutheran Preacher's Retreat 2009 Registration Update

Just another note regarding the registration for the Retreat this summer. If you are sitting on the fence as to whether you want to register or not - I suggest you wait no longer. 20 of 30 spots are taken (or, to keep in line with the last report, 66.6% occupancy). I have already received payment from some of the more diligent of the brothers :-). Do not delay! Check out the Retreat's website at

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Great Article and Interview

Pastor Jared Melius of Mt. Zion Lutheran Church in Denver, CO has prepared an excellent article dealing with certain myths surrounding death. I think it explains things very well and also will challenge some pre-conceived notions. Find it here:

Pastor Melius was also interviewed on Issues, etc. discussing his article. Listen here:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fourth Annual St. John Chrysostom Lutheran Preacher's Retreat Update

The Fourth Annual St. John Chrysostom Lutheran Preacher's Retreat being held June 22-24, 2009 with the Rev. David Petersen as speaker is now 53.3% full. The .3% is currently under investigation.

If you are wanting to attend please regitster ASAP. I have not had this number of registrations this early before. It may indicate we will reach capacity this year (we have been close every other year). I live by the motto:

"Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."

Yes, I know, very Gospel oriented. Check out the retreat's website (helpfully kept up by the Rev. Alex Klages) at

Sunday, March 1, 2009