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Steven S. Billings

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

HOW CAN MEN WHO PREACH SUCH GOSPEL

HOW CAN MEN WHO PREACH SUCH GOSPEL
do such ghastly things?

I used to love to read his sermons. Pastors don't get to be preached to very often. So I enjoy reading sermons written by my friends. This friend in particular wrote such beautiful Gospel that I would weep. Recently, however, he turned his back on the Gospel altogether, abandoning his congregation and leaving them behind to pick up the pieces. How can men who preach such Gospel do such ghastly things?

Then there is the professor who was a noted teacher of the church. He was a brilliant hymn-writer, whose works – profoundly beautiful in their expression of the grace and mercy of God – are found in our new hymnal. Recently, however, he resigned not only his teaching position, but the clergy roster of the synod. It seems he was being unfaithful to his wife and refused to repent. How can men who preach such Gospel do such ghastly things?

A well-known president of one of our synod's institutions of higher learning is known for preaching amazingly beautiful Gospel. I myself have heard him, and have been moved to my core in faith to God and praise for the gifts He has given to men. The only problem is that I personally know a number of employees of this institution who have been mistreated and wrongfully discharged for obviously political reasons, and in such a cold and uncaring manner that would shock the average "outsider." He has done nothing to halt or correct this, much to his discredit. Upon hearing him preach again recently, and others on the faculty who also have learned to play the political game, and being filled with such awe and joy at the marvelous proclamation of God's love and forgiveness, I was compelled to cry out in my spirit: "How can men who preach such Gospel do such ghastly things?"

We can all think of examples of this. Over the years there have been some famous ones. But, you know, I started thinking about myself, and while my sins may not be nearly so public, I have my share, just like anyone else. There are times when I celebrate the Sacrament with tears in my eyes for the great sense of my own unworthiness. And when I preach the Gospel of God's grace, mercy and forgiveness, I know I need to hear it as much as anyone, for I know the things I have done; I am all too aware of my own evil contributions to the nailing of our Savior to the cross. So, as long as I'm posing the question, I might as well look at my own life and ask: How can men who preach such Gospel do such ghastly things?

What's important for us to remember is that preachers are just men; we are not paragons of virtue. We do our best, but as sinful human beings, our best is never good enough. We stumble. We make mistakes. We fail. We need the Gospel too. As we forgive others in the stead and by the command of Christ, we, too, need to be forgiven. And God knows the truly penitent heart. And God, for Jesus' sake, forgives the ghastliness of His sin-laden servants.

Perhaps you have been hesitant to speak the Gospel to your friends and family because your own sinfulness is all too readily apparent. Perhaps you believe that your witness would be disqualified because you don't always live up to the faith that you profess. Remember that the Gospel is not a message about how well people live or how closely they conform their lives to the Ten Commandments. It's not about how "good" we can be. It's about forgiveness for when we aren't "good." It's about how Christ fulfilled the Law of God on our behalf. After all, if we could live up to God's expectations, there would have been no reason to send His Son to the cross to suffer, bleed and die. No purpose for Good Friday. No joy in Easter.

How can men who preach such Gospel do such ghastly things? The Apostle Paul wrote: "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the desire is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. O, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:18-25a)

Men who preach such Gospel do such ghastly things simply because they are men. And men are sinful, even preachers. God forgive us for the evil we do and continue to work repentance and faith in us as well as those to whom we proclaim the precious saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

10:14 pm est

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

SYMPOSIA REFLECTIONS - PART 2

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

 

9:00 – Dr. Dean Wenthe: The Identity of God in Comparison to Ancient and Contemporary Pluralism

 

10:00 – Chapel

 

D. Wenthe was preacher, preaching on Romans 7:21ff – “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

 

11:00 – Dr. John Nordling: Pauline Perspectives on Slavery

 

It seems a running theme for this Symposia is the communication of the Gospel in terms/language/imagery that will best be received by the intended audience.  In this case, Paul uses slavery image to communicate to those who are or have been slaves.

 

Another stumbling over one’s own manuscript, especially the Greek.  Why include it if you haven’t practiced actually saying it?

 

The conclusion is that slavery in the New Testament era was not the same as slavery in the modern sense.  Often these were prisoners of war, sometimes indentured servants.  Nothing new here, actually.  Alas.  Just old stuff re-worded with lots of historical documentation.  Solomon was right.

 

12:15 – Lunch

 

1:45 – Dr. Adam Francisco: Luther, Lutheranism, and the Challenge of Islam


At least he reads well, and intersperses interesting asides at appropriate moments.

 

Luther did quite a bit of study of Islam, and had some thorough critics of the Koran.  Much information here regarding the teachings of Islam in contradistinction to Scripture.  Perhaps a bit too much for one sitting.  Luther certainly sees Allah as the devil and Islam an instrument of his kingdom, which must be responded to by the kingdom of the left when necessary.  Looking at the Koran itself, and especially as Luther has pointed out its own internal  contradictions, demonstrates what a threat this religion is to Western culture as a whole, and Christianity in particular.  This is a paper I will want to get and read and keep for future study.

 

2:45 – Dr. Phillip Cary: Sola Fide: Luther and Calvin

 

This is perhaps the best paper of the week.

 

Calvin’s Syllogism (assurance of faith):

 

Major Premise: Whoever believes in Christ will be saved.

Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.

Conclusion: I am saved.

 

Luther’s Syllogism (promise of God):

 

Major Premise: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Minor Premise: Jesus never lies.

Conclusion: I am baptized, and therefore I am saved.

 

The Calvinistic (Protestant) basis of salvation looks inward, attempting to strengthen faith by looking at faith itself.  It’s the old “trying to lift yourself up in a bucket” concept.  Lutheranism teaches us to look outside ourselves to God and His promises for comfort and assurance.  Dr. Cary used the example of how to answer the question of whether or not it is sunny outside.  Do I look inward to see whether I truly believe that it is sunny outside?  Of course not!  We go outside and see for ourselves.  In similar fashion, we don’t look to our faith, but to the sure promises of God, as to whether or not we are saved.

 

The one point at which Dr. C is confused is when he makes a distinction between baptism and conversion.  Of course, baptism IS conversion, but he misunderstands this.

 

I am sometimes amazed that scholarly people can understand Lutheran theology so well, but not be Lutheran themselves.  Dr. C is so very close.

 

3:45 – Dr. Lawrence Rast: Revival of a Confessional Lutheran Awareness in the LCMS.

 
A splendidly delivered paper, as usual.  Rast is a shining star on this faculty, which clearly demonstrates the genius of promoting him as Dean of Students.  I hope and pray that he realizes this and backs away from what seems to be a newly-developed tendency to play the political game on campus.  He is a talented theologian, a skilled preacher and presenter.  To be a man of integrity in all aspects of his public life would be the one improvement I might recommend.  Let the reader understand.

2:18 pm est

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

SYMPOSIA REFLECTIONS

 

Monday - January 15, 2007

 

8:00 - Prayer Brotherhood Retreat at Redeemer

 

The day began with registration, followed by a brief explanation of Gregorian chanting. We then fulfilled the morning office (Lauds), followed by a delightful comparison of the hymns of Ambrose and P. Gerhardt by Dr. R. Stuckwisch.

 

12:00 - Office at Sext

12:25 - Lunch

1:15 - Presentation by B. Mayes on the life of J. Gerhard, with particular focus on his work "Common Places."

 

2:30 - I left to go on a delightful social outing.  It was great fun, ended far too soon, and I look forward to much more in the future.
 

Tuesday – January 16, 2007

 

8:00 – Phone call to Dr. Arnkoff

 

This day began with a phone call to my urologist to obtain the result of my recent blood test (PSA) and scout abdomen x-rays.  He said my PSA is .7 – I still have to find out what this means.  The x-rays indicate not one, but two stones!  Not surprising.  I’ve had pain on both sides.  I have scheduled a follow-up appointment on Feb. 2, and have been instructed to pick up the film to carry with me to the appointment.

 

9:00 – Registration for Symposia

 

By 9:00 I was on campus to pick up my registration materials and to attend the first lecture (by Dr. C. Gieschen).  At this point I couldn’t begin to tell you what he talked about.  He kept stumbling over his Greek, “clicking” his teeth, and was just plain dull.  Perhaps it was due to the early hour, or maybe that’s just him.  Nice man.  Good theologian.  Not a great presenter.  Maybe that’s why he drew the time he had.

 

10:00 – Chapel

 

It was good to be in chapel.  I needed it.  Among the (apparently) great piety (pietism?) of this campus, I feel like an outcast.  I feel used-up, wasted, spent, worthless.  Again, it may be that I am tired, feeling insecure, and will be bolstered by further visits to the chapel and some companionship with the good brothers under the Cross.

 

L. Rast was the preacher today.  Great sermon on Romans 7:1-20, in view of the Office hymn (O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright).  It was difficult to sing this hymn, because of the great meaning of its verses, especially the last.  Tears begged for release, and the voice warbled.  Thanks be to God for the uplifting of His Word in preaching and singing!

 

11:00 – Dr. A. Just

 

A somewhat interesting paper on the change of personality after conversion, in light of the life of St. Paul.  A bit more compelling than the earlier paper, but I can’t stand the style of simply reading what one has written.  Publish the danged paper, let us read it, and then TALK to us!  Perhaps I misunderstand the nature of such Symposia, but this would not be the first time I have found fault with tradition for its own sake.

 

1:00 – Dr. Abraham J. Malherbe: Paul among Stoics and Cynics in Corinth

 

Interesting South African accent, and some informative insights into the philosophic milieu of Paul's world.  Apparently, in typical Pauline fashion, Paul focused his words for the audience to which he was writing, borrowing Stoic terminology to teach Christian concepts.  This is, beyond a doubt, the most engaging presentation of the day.
 

D. Scaer asked Dr. Malherbe to expound upon the notion that congregation sizes were small, due to the fact that they met in homes.  Dr. M responded by speaking of the traveling nature of communities back then; people traveled a lot.  One such Christian – Gaius – hosted such a congregation, but its size was a maximum of 60 people.  Dr. S then wondered aloud about what this might say about programs such as Ablaze.

 

2:15 – Dr. Harald Tomesch, President of St. Catherine’s: Early Church Catechetics

 

Some delightful humor at the outset.  A gentleman was defined as: Someone who knows how to play accordion, but doesn’t.  An accordion was defined as bagpipes with pleats.  And the range of an accordion was defined as: About 20 feet, depending on the strength of the one throwing it.  Ha ha!

 

Dr. Tomesch’s presentation, while informative, explains for me the meaning of the saying: "beware of exegetes."  First of all, they'll bore the heck out of you.  And secondly, exegesis, in and of itself, offers little of value for the listener/reader.  It's only part of the insight of a given passage, and such presentations often leave me asking: "so what?"  I mean, it's good to know the original languages and understand through them what the Scriptures actually say, but that, it seems to me, is purely prologue and no end or conclusion.

 

3:30 – Dr. Peter Scaer: The Lord’s Supper as Symposium

 
This is perhaps the most difficult time of day to read a paper to a room full of exhausted pastors and students.  This is the minor peak of the circadian rhythm, in which the body cries out for sleep.  Usually, our schedule, not permitting an afternoon siesta, distracts us from this urge, and we go about our business uninterrupted.  Not so when all one has to offer distraction is a halted, stuttering reading of a paper by its author, sounding as though he had never seen the manuscript before in his life!  The room quickly resemble a narcolept convention!  About a fourth of this convention has avoided this fate simply by abandoning the premises.  I, thank God, have my computer to keep me awake.

 

4:10 – Question and Answer Period

 

Why is it that those who step forward, ostensibly to ask a question, seem always rather to be making their own speech or somehow attempting to prove their own theological worth?

 

4:40 – Dismissed for Vespers

 

Went to a movie in the evening – Rocky Balboa – and it was delightful.  Chatted with Aunt Donna and Larry for about an hour before heading to bed.

1:46 pm est

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

HOPE
 
Hope is such a fragile thing
A whispy, frail waif of a thing.
Yet it is powerful.
 
It has the strength to move mountains,
To vanquish every foe,
To raise the dead and give health to the ailing heart.
 
With hope you can dare to dream,
Dare to believe that the best of life can be yours,
That happiness and love are very real possibilities.
 
But hope can easily be broken,
With a word unspoken,
A letter unsent, a glance in the wrong direction.
 
And then the world comes crashing down,
The wings once full of wind
Scorched for flying too high, too soon?
 
And then it is easier to wish
That hope had never been born,
That it had remained an alien notion.
 
For hope, though fragile, though glorious,
Is also a dangerous thing.
For it makes us dream.
 
But dreams can turn into nightmares,
Running, but never arriving,
Churning, twisting images that confuse space and time.
 
Can hope be harnessed, bridled and controlled?
Can it be saddled so that the rider remains atop his mount
Through the wildly winding course of life?
 
For hope is a stallion, a rippling, gleaming steed,
A Pegasus, whose mighty wings will carry you
To heights unknown, and at lightning speed.
 
But take care to grip the rein tightly,
Or better yet, hand it to the Master,
Whose guiding hand never fails.
 
And focus your hope in Him Who knows all and sees all.
And trust that His desire for you will bring joy beyond your greatest hopes,
And love beyond your wildest dreams.
2:38 am est

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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