Pastor Peter Burfeind (pictured right) recently asked me to do an interview for his blog Gnostic America. I accepted his gracious request. The fruit of said interview can be found here. Pastor Burfeind also recently released his book “Gnostic America: A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion According to Christianity’s Oldest Heresy.” This book is quickly climbing its way up my to-read list and I would encourage you to also pick up a copy. You can find it here. In addition, Pastor Burfeind is a solid confessional Pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church and Student Ministry which is a campus ministry at the University of Toledo. If you are a person who likes the idea of a solid confessional ministry for college students, then I would encourage you to consider supporting this important ministry. You can do so here .
Let’s get right to it… Do we really need youth pastors? Are they necessary? Are they truly helpful? These are rather taboo questions in the context of current church culture. I grew up hearing the mantra “the kids are our future” and rightly so in a sense (Christ is actually our future…), but is the youth pastor and children’s church adequate means for preparing our future generation? (more…)
I once again find myself in the midst of December internally conflicted.
While I thoroughly enjoy Advent and the ensuing Christmas celebrations that stir a nostalgic concoction of warm memories and tender fellowship, I cannot help but catch a case of the “Bah, humbug’s.” It’s not that I revel in negativity, or remotely desire it. I enjoy spending time with family & friends, looking at the wonderful decorations and watching classic Christmas films. More than all, however, I want to celebrate the coming of Christ and his eventual birth.
So why the negativity you may ask? (more…)
This post is strictly for my confessional Lutheran brothers and sisters.
I’ve spent some time researching and writing about a network called FiveTwo. If you are a confessional Lutheran within the LCMS, I encourage you to make your acquaintance with the FiveTwo Network and its founder, LCMS Pastor, Bill Woolsey. My encouragement to familiarize yourself with this pastor and his network is a lesson in discernment. You see, whether you realize it or not, FiveTwo is a church planting network and though it’s not directly funded by our synod, it’s leadership is overwhelmingly comprised of rostered LCMS pastors and their sights are firmly set on transforming our synod. I could write of the vast issues I see within FiveTwo, but for anything to get accomplished we, the confessionals, must take ownership of our synod by educating ourselves about the clear and present dangers within this movement. (more…)
This upcoming Sunday, October 5th, will mark the end of my first year in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It was, and has continued to be a breath of fresh air. It’s not that my previous 16 years in the Christian & Missionary Alliance were terrible. I had sound pastors that cared for me and always pointed me to God’s word, and although we now disagree on several key doctrines, I am still thankful for the care and instruction they gave me. (more…)
I spy something with my little eye…
Picture yourself sitting in your favorite church pew.
Do you see it?
It’s right there…
It’s a staple.
It’s not as if you are actively aware of its presence, but you’d probably notice it’s absence.
It’s usually in the front, left hand side of the sanctuary in most US churches. (more…)
Music is one of my favorite indulgences. Thanks to my parents, I grew up on a healthy dose of Motown, British Invasion, CCR and Abba. Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s, my ears were subjected to a melting pot of style and influence and I loved it all. This fondness of music eventually birthed a desire to write and play my own ditties. Upon learning of my newly acquired talents, my church’s newly formed worship team asked me to join. They needed another bassist for Sunday morning and since I was going to be there either way, it was a match made in heaven. The year was 2000 and I was 21 years old. As my abilities grew, I blossomed into a worship team leader as lead vocalist and guitar player. (more…)
This week is the last post in the series on Isidore of Seville and his work on the many names of the God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and the Trinity taken from his work titled “The Etymologies.” Once again, this work can be found completely free online here.
iv. The Trinity (De Trinitate)
The Trinity (Trinitas) is so named because from a certain three (tres) is made one (unum) whole, as it were a ‘Tri-unity’ (Triunitas) – just like memory, intelligence, and will, in which the mind has in itself a certain image of the divine Trinity. Indeed, while they are three, they are one, because while they persist in themselves as individual components, they are all in all. Therefore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a trinity and a unity, for they are both one and three. They are one in nature (natura), three in person (persona). One because of their shared majesty, three because of the individuality of the persons. For the Father is one person, the Son another, the Holy Spirit another – but another person (alius), not another thing (aliud), because they are equally and jointly a single thing (simplex), immutable, good, and coeternal. Only the Father is not derived from another; therefore he is called Unbegotten (Ingenitus). Only the Son is born of the Father; therefore he is called Begotten (Genitus). Only the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; therefore it alone is referred to as ‘the Spirit of both the others.’
For this Trinity some names are appellative (appellativus), and some are proper (proprius). The proper ones name the essence, such as God, Lord, Almighty, Immutable, Immortal. These are proper because they signify the very substance by which the three are one. But appellative names are Father and Son and Holy Spirit, Unbegotten and Begotten and Proceeding. These same are also relational (relativus) because they have reference (referre, ppl. relatus) to one another. When one says “God,” that is the essence, because he is being named with respect to himself. But when one says Father and Son and Holy Spirit, these names are spoken relationally, because they have reference to one another. For we say ‘Father’ not with respect to himself, but with respect to his relation to the Son, because he has a son; likewise we speak of ‘Son’ relationally, because he has a father; and so ‘Holy Spirit,’ because it is the spirit of the Father and the Son. This relationship is signified by these ‘appellative terms’ (appellatio), because they have reference to one another, but the substance itself, in which the three are one, is not thus signified.
Hence the Trinity exists in the relational names of the persons. Deity is not tripled, but exists in singleness, for if it were tripled we would introduce a plurality of gods. For that reason the name of ‘gods’ in the plural is said with regard to angels and holy people, because they are not his equal in merit. Concerning these is the Psalm (81:6 Vulgate), “I have said: You are gods.” But for the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, because of their one and equal divinity, the name is observed to be not ‘gods’ but ‘God,’ as the Apostle says (I Corinthians 8:6): “Yet to us there is but one God,” or as we hear from the divine voice (Mark 12:29, etc.), “Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is one God,” namely inasmuch as he is both the Trinity and the one Lord God.
This tenet of faith concerning the Trinity is put in this way in Greek: ‘one οὐσία,’ as if one were to say ‘one nature’ (natura) or ‘one essence’ (essentia); ‘three ὑποστάσεις,’ which in Latin means “three persons” (persona) or “three substances” (substantia). Now Latin does not speak of God properly except as ‘essence’; people say ‘substance,’ indeed, but metaphorically, for in Greek the term ‘substance’ actually is understood as a person of God, not as his nature.
This week will begin a series of interconnected parables that build upon each other. The series will start with Chapter 1a, The Parable of the Lost Sheep which is found in Luke 15:3-7. In the preceding text (Luke 15:1-2) Jesus finds himself preaching to sinners and tax collectors while the Pharisees looked on with scorn and ridicule as they attempt to condemn Jesus simply for ministering to these outcasts. Jesus, knowing the hearts of all men, begins to tell a series of parables that masterfully minister to both crowds simultaneously. The first parable he tells is that of the lost sheep.
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Addressing the full crowd, Jesus asks “What man of you…” This question sets the stage to be answered individually by all. The answer had to be “yes” from all in attendance as this was standard practice for those who owned sheep. It was common practice to leave the flock in an open field to find the one that strayed. Jesus’ implication is that as they do for lost sheep, how much greater is it that he does for lost men. Much ink has been spilled reading all sorts of theological ideas into this parable that simply are not present in the text. Many stories are told about an arduous journey that the shepherd makes through canyon and summit to find this poor little sheep. That idea is simply adding to the text. The better analogy is found in Genesis 3:9 where God calls to Adam “Where are you?” Equally so, it has often been suggested that the shepherd bears great pains and severe burden to carry the lost sheep back to the flock. This too is implied as the parable merely says that the shepherd lays the sheep on his shoulder, rejoicing, and thus carries him back to the flock. This parable makes a better case for the shepherds heart being more burdened by the realization that the sheep is lost than by the physical burden of carrying the sheep back to the flock. The parable ends by likening the straying sheep to a heart of unrepentance.
The most difficult part of the parable to understand is the phrase “99 righteous persons who need no repentance.” Precisely who is Jesus talking about here? Is he saying that the Pharisees are indeed righteous and need not repent? The key to understanding this is found in the beginning of his declaration. Jesus says “…there will be more joy…” This is important because it points to the fact that there is also celebration for the 99 that did not stray. As pointed out, straying is likened to unrepentance, and therefore staying is likened to repentance. Thus the 99 do not need repentance because they already have it. This declaration was directed at the hearts of the undesirables and Pharisees alike. The Pharisees sought righteousness by strict adherence to the law, but Jesus is calling that idea into question by saying that repentance is actually what delivers righteousness; not works. This picture would have cut the Pharisees to the quick.
This leads to the necessity of setting an objective definition of “repentance.” Repentance has two parts; contrition and faith. Webster defines contrition as “the state of feeling remorseful and penitent.” Therefore, repentance begins with the realization of being lost without anyone else to blame.
It is God’s call to each of us as if we were Adam in the garden.
It is God saying “Jonathan, where are you?”
It is the reckoning of a righteous God.
It’s knowing that I messed up and that I am responsible.
Contrition prepares the heart to receive faith. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” True contrition cultivates the heart, plowing the way of salvation and planting faith. Faith always has an object and therefore looks to Jesus as the assurance that contrition hopes for. Thus faith is the passive hand of a beggar that passively accepts the gifts of Christ as a passive response to what contrition has wrought. John 1:13-14 says…
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Faith is a gift born from the will of God. Ephesians 2:8-9 carries this forward giving the reason “…so that no man may boast.” This all fits precisely within the parable. The sheep doesn’t realize that he is lost of his own accord, nor does the sheep desire to return to the flock on his own accord. The sheep is simply lost. The sheep’s owner finds the sheep and carries him back to the flock. The only role the sheep played was getting lost. All the work was done by the sheep’s owner and therefore what does the sheep have to boast about? If the sheep must boast, let him boast in his master (1 Corinthians 1:31).
The Greek word that is translated as repentance is μετάνοια (metanoia) which means “change of mind.” Repentance is simply that. Contrition forces realization of the dire circumstances of the soul and gifted faith grasps the promises of grace purchased by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sadly, our sin nature is ever present as long as we inhabit these earthen vessels. All of us are prone to wander and will continue to forsake our gracious heavenly Father each time that we give into our sinful flesh. It was by no coincidence that the first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance is not a one time deal in the Ordo Salutis, but is exemplary of the new life in Christ. Thanks be to God that he calls each of us to repentance and by thus, restores us to his flock. Therefore let us look upon repentance as the great and gracious gift that it is.
Tune in next week for “The Lost Coin (Chapter 1b)”
I am a sinner. Just ask my wife…or my family…my friends…or my pastor…
I may seem like I have it all together, but I can assure you that I do not. It’s merely a facade to get through this life as best as I can and if you know me well enough, you’ll see glimpses, if not outright effects, of my own brand of sinfulness. I lust, covet, wish bad things upon people, gossip, get unrighteously angry and the list doesn’t stop there. You name it and I’ve at least thought about it. It was only about a year ago when I truly began to figure things out. To best explain my discovery, I think it best to start with a little biographical information.
I’ve grown up in various Christian denominations over my 35 years of life.
I was born a Methodist and remained one until age 5.
My dad took a job transfer that moved us to the big city where we spent 8 years in a conservative nondenominational Christian church.
At age 13 my dad was once again transferred and we moved north. I spent the first 5 years, up north, in a Nazarene church before transitioning into a Christian & Missionary Alliance church for the following 16 years.
I guess one could say that I was an American Evangelical Mutt.
Each denomination had varying degrees of legalism, but ultimately all taught that in some sense obedience to the law is where one looks for assurance of continuing salvation for the Christian. The old question of “How’s your walk going?” Throughout my life I was taught to “trust and obey for there’s no other way.” The concept was sure enough easy to grasp. Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for my sins gifted me salvation, but continued obedience was what Jesus really wanted and if I obeyed I would not only stay in his good graces but continue to seal my salvation and ultimately end up in heaven.
It seemed legit.
The Gospels are full of lists of sin that should be avoided. The Apostle Paul was also quite the list maker when it came to sin. This all seemed well and good even though something inside tugged hard in opposition to this idea. I was perplexed because even though I tried really hard to obey my parents, my teachers and Jesus, I always failed. When I was caught in sin I expressed remorse and was typically asked what would Jesus think if he was sitting next to me? I for sure let him down…again. He must really be frustrated with me! I was typically encouraged to just do better. Try harder. Make Jesus proud. The problem was me. I just needed to let go of the wanton desires of my sinful flesh and really give it a go with Jesus. Next time will be better. Next time I will succeed.
Next time around I usually did succeed, for a time, only to eventually fail again. A pattern was forming. I was aware of this paradigm at a rather early age. I remember realizing early in my childhood, around age 5 or 6, that obedience was really hard. I remember reasoning that if I try really hard to obey, but keep failing, I might not be good enough to make it to heaven. That would result in me not only going to hell, but more than likely I’d end up being the lowest on hell’s totem pole (as if there was such a thing). Human reason kicked in and I contemplated the thought of being really bad. I thought if I tried to be bad instead of good, that would ultimately be easier, and maybe then I could climb hell’s corporate ladder. I mean I didn’t like the thought of hell and any picture of the Devil, no matter how cartoonish, scared the crap out of me, but I was shooting for the best position within grasp; not my ultimate preference. I told myself that maybe, if I was just bad enough, the devil would take kindly to me resulting in better hellish amenities such as cooler flames, flesh eating worms that took work breaks and maybe even getting awarded regional supervisor of sector 6. That sure sounded easier than trying to be fully obedient only to constantly fail. This good versus evil struggle often crossed my mind. The bar of expectations was always so far out of my grasp that I could certainly relate to a rabbit chasing after a carrot on a treadmill. I was plagued with thoughts about whether I’d end up in heaven or hell. I remember practicing basketball in my driveway as doubting thoughts reeked havoc in my mind. Thoughts like “if you make this next shot, you’ll go to heaven, but if you miss, then who knows?” I was internally consumed with assurance and instead of church delivering the healing salve of the gospel that my soul so desperately needed, it became the catalyst for what troubled me most. Even though these thoughts attacked me like arrows from the quiver of Olympic archers, I knew that they weren’t rational. I never spoke of my issues to anyone. Maybe it was because they seemed insane. Or perhaps I didn’t want to let my parents down. Or possibly I feared my spiritual superiors and youth leaders might confirm my worst nightmare and condemn me or say that I had a demon or something. So I kept quiet, continued to play the part of the normal, good kid while a battle raged within.
I continued contemplating these thoughts through my teenage years and into my adult life. In scripture, I was always drawn to the book of Revelation. It seemed so veiled and mysterious. I also reveled in the fact that my parents nor leaders at church could really explain it with any certainty. I enjoyed the salvivic images and overtones strewn throughout the book and I began to search for assurance there. This indeed would have been a fine plan had the churches that I attended not been premillennial dispensationalists. This led me to always be on guard for the rapture. If my parents were supposed to be home and didn’t answer the phone…maybe the rapture got them and I was left behind. If my mom ran to the store without telling me and I couldn’t find anyone home…maybe the rapture took them. You can see how this supposedly comforting doctrine of the rapture is really anything but. It was even reinforced when my mom would catch me watching something on TV in which she didn’t approve. I remember once while watching the Simpsons, my mom exclaimed “Is that what you want to be watching when Jesus comes back?” Once again, assurance was questioned. The excruciating part was not being able to honestly talk with anyone about these fears. Not because my parents were bad people, they are in fact great parents. Neither was it because my youth leaders, or pastors were especially terrible either, they were generally nice folk who cared for their flock (some much more than others). The issue from my perspective was that if I told them that I feared I didn’t make the rapture cut, then that would spark their curiosity about what kind of sins I was involved in. The microscope of failure would be zooming in on me with its lights on highest magnification. This added a new dimension to lack of assurance because now I only confessed to sins in which I was caught in. Anything else was left for internal deliberation as to not let anyone down or avoid damnation talk. Therefore, I was constantly looking inward to see if I was meeting the requirements and for the better part of my life I knew that I was triumphantly missing the mark but didn’t really know what to do about it. All of the youth conferences that I attended just tried to answer my questions with endless lists and sermons about detaching from society, being a world changer and a light to those in darkness. This was all well and good, but how do I become a light to others when I know my own heart is as black as coal?
There were several times that I almost hung it up. I was tired of putting on the mask and playing the role of the prototypical conservative Christian evangelical…Mr. Everyday Goodfellow. But something wouldn’t let me go through with it. That something was the word of God. There were months upon months that I failed to read my bible and there were also months that I read it every day. Every time that I tried to give up on Christianity, scripture always reeled me back. Each time that I willingly entered into sin, my conscience would toss scripture my way and leave me with overwhelming guilt. While this was ultimately good, the only tool that I thought I possessed in my spiritual quiver was obedience. Thus, the old try harder next time, read your bible more, pray more, go to church more, volunteer more attitude was the same old snake oil that failed to fix me every time. I ultimately discovered that I wasn’t fed up with Christianity after all, but was merely tired of the snake oil that obedience was selling me in the name of Christianity.
I was about 30 when things truly started to change. After a couple trying years dealing with financial problems and job loss, I had a new job and thanks to my wife, finances were in much better order. My new job had a 50 minute commute each way. I began to use that time to listen to sermons and podcasts. This lead to a desire to search out theology with a great fervor. Questions began to arise deep within my soul.
What did I truly believe?
Could I defend my faith?
What would I teach my kids (if and when I had kids)?
My prayer life began to change. I stopped asking God for favors and temporal desires and began asking him to strengthen my faith and to help me fight against the sin that was entrenching my life. I asked him to cut away all of the junk-pop-theology and help me figure out what his word truly says as revealed instead of just taking my parents, pastors, and pseudo-Christian teachers word for it. I was beginning to see progress in all areas of my life, but still continued to struggle with obedience and sin. I remember thinking that God is helping me to clean up my life, my prayer life is better, my scripture reading is better, I have a desire to study like never before, but…I still struggle with obedience and sin. Every time that I read Romans or Corinthians, I saw myself in the lists of sin that Paul called out by name. How could I truly be improving if I still identify with the worst of sinners?
As I continued to read my bible alongside many notable theologians I began to realize that while obedience is found in the Christian life, it is not where I was supposed to be looking for assurance. Obedience has an object, which is God’s law. God’s law can be simplified into two commands. Love God and love people. This was the heart of the problem. In church, Sunday school and small group I was commanded to love God and people as if that was the gospel message. It was the imperative that supposedly defined the Christian life. It was the litmus test to determine whether one was truly a Christian or not.
I would often hear the question “Are you loving God and people?”
The answer, more times than not, was an emphatic no. I heard many lessons and sermons throughout my life encouraging me to do more, pray harder, read more, serve more, love more. The problem is that none of these “actions” are the gospel message. This confusion was at the heart of all of my problems. The gospel message is not an action at all. It is simply good news. One cannot “do” good news. One can only receive good news. This was the message that I desperately needed, not just once at my conversion, but constantly. I needed to hear it not only in my personal study, but on Sunday mornings from the lips of the pastor. Week in and week out I needed to hear the ridiculously good news that “All have sinned (Romans 3:23), and the sin of all has accrued a debt that no mere man could ever pay (Matthew 18:21-35). God, in his great mercy and love, sent his willing Son to take on flesh (John 1:14), live a sinless life in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21), die on the cross and rise again for our justification (Romans 4:24-25) and that all of this is secured by gifted faith alone (Ephesians 2:8 & Romans 3:28). That is the gospel. There is nothing that I must do in any of that. God has even taken care of gifting the faith necessary so that no man may boast. It is totally and exclusively God’s grace apart from my works. The command to Love God and people is merely condensed law that Jesus uses in Luke 10:25-29 to show that we are completely incapable of fulfilling! That is why he fulfilled it in our place. Therefore, since Christ has fulfilled the law, it is no longer a burden to us, but a joy. It allows for order in the world through the rule of law, exposes our sin which produces the fruit of repentance, and gives us a target to shoot for. The great blessing here is that our assurance is not tied to how many times we miss the target or fall short, but to Christ’s objective work on the cross. The best way to remember the three uses of the law is…
Curb – 1st use – The general revelation of rule of law that is written on the hearts of man and dispensed through civil and governing bodies. This is how sin is curbed in the world (Romans 2:15).
Mirror – 2nd use – The law mirrors Christ’s will for each of our lives. It shows us all the places that we each fall short. This is blessing as it leads us to repentance (Romans 1:18-32 & 3:23).
Guide – 3rd use – The law gives us a guide to strive toward in Christian living. The striving is fueled by the gospel message, not by a meritorious method of obedience. This is also a blessing because it shows us what God desires, but deals no condemnation to those in Christ (Romans 8:1).
This means that we can, as King David says, delight in the law (Psalm 1:22). By it, God gave us a picture of his perfect will and thus we should strive for it solely because of the grace he has dispensed to us. The spiderweb that often catches us is when we attempt to look to our obedience (or lack there of) for assurance. For those in Christ, meaning those with faith in Christ, the law is a guide alone, not a means to salvation. This can be said confidently because Christ fulfilled the law for us, in our place, and therefore we have been freed from the burden of the law. The law no longer has condemning power for those in Christ Jesus. Therefore the gospel, not the law, gives us the desire to strive forward.
This is where the legalistic majority will retort “So you’re saying that we can do what ever we want and retain salvation!?! You’re an antinomian!” Although logical, this is a false dilemma. The person asking this question isn’t someone who believes the gospel too much, but sadly someone who doesn’t have any grasp on the gospel message at all. Paul is asked the same question in Romans 6 and what was his response? He preached more gospel. He pressed the gospel message in further as the fuel to fire the new gifted desire of obedience. If someone thinks that the gospel gives them a free pass to sin, they really don’t realize the unfathomable debt their sin has charged to their account. They don’t fully understand the weight of the law. They don’t see their sin as really that bad. They don’t understand that every single seemingly microscopic sin was fuel for the arm that pounded the nails into the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. They don’t understand the full ramifications of the sermon on the mount. They don’t truly see their lust as adultery. They refuse to see their anger as murder. They don’t see their parking ticket as damning. They don’t see their A+ as justification for Pharisaical self righteousness and people pleasing or their F as slothful laziness. Until a person comes to grips with the full weight of their motives and sin, they will never understand the magnificence of the grace of God.
The argument can be reduced to a proper understanding of love. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian gets is exactly right when he says “It is forgiveness that motivates and generates love. It is love that begets love. The law cannot beget love. Nowhere, and I challenge anybody out there to find a place in the bible that actually says the law, in and of itself, has the power to produce love. Preachers and parents make a huge mistake when they assume that simply telling people what to do will change their heart and make them want to do it. Nowhere does the bible say that!” Only the gospel can change the desires of our heart and give us the motivation to strive toward obedience. Pointing out our complete inability to adhere to the imperatives of the New Testament does not imply that the imperatives lack importance or should be ignored – all Christians should be encouraged to good works – but let’s not make the mistake of believing that simply telling someone what to do instills the power for them to do it. Even worse, don’t insinuate that failure to meet the demands reduces ones favor in God’s eyes. The law shows us our sin and gives us a guide to strive after. The gospel is the news of forgiveness that instills both the means to strive and a heart of repentance. I had this backwards for 34 years and it nearly made me walk away from the faith altogether.
There is a dialogue in the third novella of Bo Giertz’s “The Hammer of God” that has been very helpful to me. It’s between young Pastor Torvik who resides in Odesjo, Sweden and old Pastor Bengtsson from Ravelunda, Sweden. Pastor Torvik experiences an intense awakening to his sinful nature through a dream and thus he begins to make amends with those in his congregation whom he has wronged. This realization of sin results in legalistic preaching that is void of the gospel. His church sees a moral revival take place, but soon after everything begins to fall apart. In the midst of trying to discover what went wrong, Torvik receives a visit from Pastor Bengtsson. Pastor Bengtsson questions Torvik on the current condition of his congregation. Torvik honestly replies that things are not going well at all. Pastor Bengtsson’s response is invaluable.
“Let me teach you what you ought to have known long before you stepped into the pulpit. When an individual has been called through the power of the word – in other words, the very thing that has been happening in this congregation of yours – that person is first enlightened by the law. He understands that there is something called sin that he must be careful to avoid. He becomes obedient, you see. That is the first awakening. Thus far it has perhaps come here and there in Odesjo by now. But then comes the second awakening by the law, when one sees the miserable condition of one’s heart. I am going to preach about that tonight. Then one understands that, with all one’s best deeds, one is and remains black as a chimney sweep. Then the danger is really serious. A person will the say, either, ‘If my condition is so terrible, I may as well wallow in the dirt,’ and go away and sin again. Or he will say, ‘I am after all not as black as Karlsson or Lundstrom and their card playing cronies, since I do not sin intentionally, and surely the Lord must make some distinctions on the last day,’ and he goes away and becomes a self righteous Pharisee, and all is lost. Or his eyes are turned from his own miserable condition and he catches sight of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for such black rascals as himself. And he hears that it is faith that makes righteous, and not works. That is the enlightenment through the gospel. Therefore everything here in Odesjo depends on whether you can rightly preach the gospel and guide souls to the redeemer.
Looking back, I am thankful for God’s protection from apostasy as well as his grace along my path. I’m eternally thankful that I didn’t pursue evil just because because I was
clever foolish enough to convince myself of false hope in hell’s corporate ladder. God has always sustained me through both tumultuous and simplistic times. It was never a mystical reading of the tea leaves type journey, but simply a remembrance of scripture when I needed it most. I am ever grateful for the upbringing that my parents gave me and even though we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on all things theological, the biblical foundation they gave me was strong enough to persevere against the rocky seas of life. At age 35 I can certainly relate with Pastor Torvik as he is representative of how much of my life was spent. The counsel that Pastor Bengtsson gave him also pulled at my heart. I had experienced both of the negative paths that my awakening to the law had yielded. I was internally miserable and defeated by sin as I secretly wallowed in the dirt while externally playing the part of the Pharisee as I tried to obey my way into temporal favor as I attempted to secure my standing before a righteous God. The motivation was all wrong. I didn’t try to obey out of love for Christ, but out of fear of the law and a perverse desire for approval. I am eternally grateful that through word and sacrament, God has brought me to the place, through his Son, that I can freely confess…
Most merciful God, I confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean. I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Forgive me, renew me, and lead me, so that I may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of your Holy Name. Amen.
Praise be to God!