A myHT Fortress

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Re-runs. It is summer, and that is the majority of prime-time television. Episodes of programs that aired earlier this year – or even in previous years – are the staple of summer TV.

So what is the problem with re-runs? You already know what will happen. They are predictable. The outcome will not change. Hannah Montana’s zany antics with Lily will turn out fine and her identity will remain hidden. Drake and Josh will get over their anger and frustration, and everything will turn out fine in their home. The Brady Bunch will get through their problem and Mom and Dad will restore peace within the 30-minute episode. And every time you view a given episode, it will conclude the same way. It does not change.

Our Old Adams are a lot like re-runs. Daily, we fall into many of the same temptations and often, we fall back into the same sins. We can almost look like re-runs in the choices we make (again and again) as we give in to the devil, the world, and our sinful selves.

The difference is, however, that our loving Savior does not grow tired of the re-run. You and I may not be able to stand one more half hour of a certain episode. (Although, thanks to my “tween” son there are some Zac and Cody’s that I can soon quote verbatim!) Okay, and I can remember various Gilligan’s Island or Brady Bunch plots that I must have seen a hundred times. Still, most times we can bore pretty easily.

Yet Jesus does not grow bored with us. He knows us and knows the sit-com re-run patterns into which we fall. He knew it before He gave His life on the cross, and still chose to save us! Our loving Lord reached out that we may not be stuck in our sin, locked into the bad that we would choose.

Instead, He has redeemed us, lost and condemned persons, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Yes, we are still helpless to pull ourselves out of the re-runs of sin, but the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.

Does that mean we just go on carelessly re-running our sins, since He re-runs His Gospel and forgiveness? Of course not! We abide in forgiveness, striving to live in faith toward God and in love toward neighbor. But for the many times we fall back into the re-runs of sin, we do not despair.

The Lord does not want you stuck in bad re-runs. So He makes you new. The New Creature from Baptism is given by God, emerging daily from the drowning of Old Adam. Our Redeemer raises you to new life, rescuing you from the eternal stain of re-run sin. “We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, quoted in the Small Catechism, Baptism, Section 4.)

As you scan the summer TV Guides, and see nothing but re-runs, pause and give thanks to God. Praise our Lord who has rescued you from your re-runs of sin, and restores you as His cleansed child! “Behold, I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5 NKJV.) Amen.

Unfulfilled Dreams?

“Paul Hamm won't be going to the Beijing Olympics, after all,” reported Fox News on Monday. Hamm suffered a broken hand on May 22 at the national championships, and despite surgery his recovery will not be swift enough to compete. In his effort to accelerate recovery, Hamm also hurt his rotator cuff.

Newscasters speculate that this withdrawal will likely end Paul Hamm’s gymnastic career. This is quite a blow, both to Paul and his twin brother, Morgan (a fellow Olympic team mate), as well as the U.S. gymnastics team. It seems as if they – and Paul in particular – have some unfulfilled dreams.

Paul Hamm has worked hard for years. Before and after completing his degree at Ohio State, he has trained and prepared himself to receive Olympic medals. Yet now he himself will not enter the Beijing arena.

Moses seemed to have some unfulfilled dreams too. He worked hard for 40 years, wandering in the wilderness with the children of Israel. Under God’s direction, he had prepared a whole nation to receive the gift of the Promised Land. Yet he himself would not enter it.

But wait! Moses’ dreams were not unfulfilled! Yes, he dreamed of entering the Promised Land. Yes, he was prevented from entering Canaan. However, the Lord took him directly to the true Promised Land, bypassing the earthly shadow that the rest of the nation would enter with Joshua. His dreams were not unfulfilled – they were fully realized, and more!

This week, whether he realized it or not, Paul Hamm was given a gift. He will not have the gift of competing in Beijing. Nevertheless, there is a gift in the injured hand. Throughout his recovery, Paul will be shown his complete and utter dependence on the mercy of God. The Lord will display to him the greater gifts: the loving forgiveness and grace of Christ – undeserved, unearned, given freely.

We all can get caught up in thinking we deserve something because of the effort and time we have invested. There are few people who invest more than Olympians. Perhaps that is what makes Paul Hamm such a prime example of our inability to count on our own strength, knowledge, and perseverance. He did everything possible to realize his dream, but now he cannot attain it.

Jesus, however, is our great Champion. He has accomplished the victory of salvation and given that “gold medal” to us without any merit or worthiness in us. Like Paul Hamm, Jesus’ hands are scarred. Unlike Paul Hamm, Jesus’ wounds impact every one of us. Far more than one’s self, a brother, or a team, Christ’s injuries impact the world! His scars are comforting, eternal marks of love poured out for us. Those wounds are wondrous trophies for the King whose crown was not Olympic laurels, but twisted thorns.

Now, our Savior gives you Himself, as water and blood flow from His wounds. The injuries Jesus suffered not only fulfill your dreams, they exceed them! Life’s plans may change, and the Lord may gift you with suffering and injuries, but you will always have Holy Gifts coming from His hands that were wounded—for you!

This post was published early this morning on http://higherthings.org.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Buttons with Flair

Kristi and I have just discovered "Pieces of Flair" on Facebook. Lots of fun, looking for virtual buttons to show your various interests and quirks. Above, you can see a current picture of mine.

My lovely wife found CFW Walther, but no Wilhelm Loehe. (Maybe I'll just make one...in fact, there could be a whole collection of Lutheran theologians!)

I found various Disney, Tea, Star Wars, and ecclesiastical buttons. It was fun creating the one of the Pastor iPod. I think I labeled him "iPod Priest" for the directory.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Preach You the Word

Preach you the Word and plant it home
To men who like or like it not,
The Word that shall endure and stand
When flow'rs and men shall be forgot.

Preach you the Word and plant it home
And never faint; the Harvest Lord
Who gave the sower seed to sow
Will watch and tend His planted Word.

LSB 586
Text by the sainted Rev. Dr. Martin H. Franzmann

Saturday, July 19, 2008

No Idols Before Me?

American Idol is in Louisville this weekend. Although we view the crazy auditions in winter, they are actually filming now.

We actually know someone who is auditioning: a teen who attended St. John's for her 8th grade year. Emmy is quite talented, so she would be a "real" audition, not something like Renaldo!

We used to be among those who (This year will be Season 8.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

I have been honored by an invitation: I am one of 24 pastors who will blog on 24 topics at Four and Twenty Blackbirds. The Rev. Dr. Rick Stuckwisch has gotten the ball rolling on this, and it looks like it will be quite fun, informative, and edifying!

Other pastors on board include several from my "heroes" list: Pastors Peter Bender, Rick Stuckwisch, Will Weedon, and Dr. Steven Hein. My good friend and former parishioner, Pastor Jacob Sutton, as well as other friends and colleagues are also included.

Be sure to add Four and Twenty Blackbirds to your blogroll!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Anakin and Job Wordled

Pastor Cwirla just blogged about Wordle and compared one of his sermons with a "sermon" by Rick "Purpose Driven" Warren. (That's a hoot!)

So here is the homily I preached on Job 1 at Amen in Saint Louis. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Food Network Got It Wrong

Well, we watched the latest episode of The Next Food Network Star tonight, on TiVo. I was SO disappointed. Kelsey Nixon had been my pick for some time. She is young and inexperienced compared to some of the others, but is very cheery, knows her food, and works well on camera. I was so upset that Adam stayed and she left. She remained cheerful and gracious, saying he deserved to stay. But she remains far superior to him. I am now sure it will come down to one of the OTHER two remaining contestants!

Do You Have Issues -- (Etc.)?

Do you have Issues? I mean Issues, Etc. -- the radio show that is thoroughly Lutheran, or as they say, "Christ-Centered Cross-Focused Talk Radio."

Issues went on "Spring Break" this year, but are now relocated on Pirate Christian Radio. The show can be found in its entirety on IssuesEtc.org, and is available as an iTunes subscription.

I've subscribed via iTunes. Have you? Don't miss out on talk radio for the thinking Christian.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Daydreams of Newlyweds at the Grand Floridian

...And 11 years ago today, Kristi and I were united in Holy Matrimony. :-)

It was a huge wedding. Most people who go through such a large wedding advise others to elope. Not us! We had a blast! It was a beautiful day, with much joy, even in all the numerous details. We loved every minute of it!

After the great service at Trinity Lutheran in Centralia, with Pastor Martin Hufford officiating, we had a fabulous reception, down the road at St. Mary's! (Their gym was larger and had air conditioning!) Great food, great music, great friends & family having fun and dancing!

The next day we went to Divine Service with our family, and then opened gifts at Kristi's folks. Then Sweet Amy took us to Saint Louis, where I had booked a night at the Cheshire Inn. She came the next morning as our "limo service," and took us to the airport for our trip: Walt Disney World honeymoon, complete with the "Grand Plan."

OK, so we paid out the nose. But we were pampered beyond belief that week! Fine meals. Being whisked to the front of lines. We felt like royalty!

I have the number of the room we stayed in that week. It was WDW's 25th anniversary that year, so our 25th wedding anniversary will be WDW's 50th. We plan on going back and getting that room! :-)

Friday, July 11, 2008

11 Years of A Whole New World

Eleven years ago tonight -- it was on a Friday that year, too -- we went to church. Then we had a nice pasta dinner with family and friends. The evening concluded with Jon Vollrath, Shawn Ethridge, Brad Aumann, and company joining me in serenading Kristi. If you haven't guessed, it was the night of our wedding rehearsal.

The serenade was especially fitting: Disney love songs. Among the top hits that night were "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from The Lion King, "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, "Kiss the Girl" from The L
ittle Mermaid, and "Something There" from Beauty and the Beast. What fun! (We ended up making that a tradition in our group of friends, serenading Shawn's and Jon's future brides.)

Happy anniversary of the rehearsal, to my favorite Disney Princess!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Anniversaries of God's Gifts

For whatever reason, when I realized this morning that it was the 9th of July, I thought, "There is something significant about today...what is it?" I knew I should remember, but it slipped from me.

Pastor George Borghardt wrote that today is his daughter Sophia's 6th birthday, which is a miracle in itself. Check it out. Happy Birthday, Sophia!

Then it hit me. It is an anniversary for me too! Thirteen years ago today I was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry. Time to pause and thank God for all of His gifts these 13 years, and look ahead to the blessings to come.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Amen: Saint Louis Travelogue -- Day 4

“All good things must come to an end,” the expression goes. Yet it is not entirely true.

The best thing, that your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born, suffered, rose, and lives for you, can never end! “Tetelestai!” -- “It is finished!” -- “Amen!” Pastor Borghardt reminded us on Tuesday. The saving work of Jesus stands completed and cannot be undone!

The week in Saint Louis (and the week in Scranton) is complete. The catechesis of those particular youth and adults by those particular catechists, in that particular place, is finished. Yet our ongoing catechesis is not. We simply have walked down from that mountaintop and rejoined our families and friends in what they call “real life.”

Many in our Higher Things “community” will gather next week for Amen in Irvine, California. For them, it is nowhere near finished. But even for the Poconos and Saint Louis crowds, Christ would remind us that our catechesis is ongoing. Our learning never stops. Until we fall asleep in Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s daily work to convert us from our unbelief continues.

What a joy and privilege to gather around your own pastor for the next twelve months, receiving the gifts Christ freely gives, until you join hundreds of others at Sola! How amazingly cool to add your “Amen” to the Church’s song and prayers, responding to our Savior’s Holy Word and Blessed Sacrament! How comforting is the privilege to utter your “Amen” when you remember your Baptism, and when you confess to your pastor that Christ may bless you with Holy Absolution!

Not all good things must come to an end. The things that are truly good are these very Gifts of God that we call the Means of Grace. And these will endure. We have His promise! “The Word of our God [both proclaimed and enfleshed] stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8 NKJV.) No ending here! Our dear Lord just gives those Good Things to you in different places, at the hands and mouths of different pastors!

“Woof. Woof.” For those who were not in attendance, look for Pastor Buetow’s sermon to be posted as a Higher Homily on HigherThings.org. His translation will be provided.


Spend a few minuets with Bach

This is making its rounds on some blogs, most recently on Pastor Weedon's. Amazing Bach! Watch this organist's feet dance across the pedals, and his fingers go 100 m.p.h.!

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Gift of Suffering: A "Higher Homily" on Job 1

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5 ESV

“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21 ESV

Anakin Skywalker had a problem. Okay, so he had quite a few problems. But one thing that truly plagued him was a fear of suffering, death and separation. There had been no father in his life. At age nine he left his mother behind, in slavery, as he began a new life. When he returned, she had been captured and tortured, and it was too late; she died before his eyes. He was later tormented by dreams of his wife and unborn child dying – all the while being deceived and tempted by a prince of lies to curse the Light Side of the Force. And after he has lost everything, he goes into a rage and destroys the things around him as he screams in utter agony.

Job had a problem. Okay, so he had quite a few problems. He had one calamity after another, that would plunge most anyone into a terrible depression. The agony of losing all your possessions, having all your children die, and being subjected to sickness and sores, all at the same time – this would drive most people to a nervous breakdown. No one understood how Job could be steadfast in faith, receiving this as a gift from God. Even his wife urged him to “curse God and die!” Yet, he simply reflects on the goodness of God, and how the Lord even works through the most horrible events to bless and help and grow us. He responds: The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

The difference between the two, of course, (other than the fact that Anakin is fictional) is Christ. Anakin did not know Christ. He had faith in a power that could be manipulated and twisted into his own image. He believed that he could learn to have power over death, and in the midst of his own suffering, selfishly tried to regain control so that all things could serve his warped idea of what was good.

Job, on the other hand, had faith in the Christ to come. He was given to believe that the Lord would save him, would use all of these sufferings and hardships to work good in his life, and in the end would raise Job up from the dead to be with Him.

We can sit here, all puffed up, and say, “Of course Job has faith! We know Jesus is risen too. We can withstand the attacks of the devil.”

However, when actually faced with trauma and suffering – especially to that degree – most of us would be crushed. When the old evil foe prevails, we often slip into feeling sorry for ourselves, and begin to be masochists, taking pride that no one else can feel as bad as we do.

Anakin was crushed by his traumas and suffering. He fell into a terrible life of serving evil and causing others to suffer. Misery loves company. “If I have to feel this bad, then I’m bringing you down with me.”

We are more like Anakin than we care to admit. Old Adam – miserable. Our sinful flesh – inconsolable. Cries of “What did I do to deserve this?” and “Why is God picking on me?” surface to conscious thoughts. And we have our minds made up that not even timely articles written by our own Reverend Borghardt, the “Disaster Pastor” are going to be heard.

What is wrong with this picture? Everything! When Job had his “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” he did not pack up and move to Australia. He did not even curse God; he blessed the Lord: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."

Indeed, the Lord gives! When it comes down to it, even suffering is a gift. And boy! Is that ever hard to admit! Saint Paul reminds us: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Our dear Lord blesses you with suffering! How often do you stop and think of it that way? He gives suffering as a gift, so that He can give the gift of hope. And not just hope as in, “I hope my family can afford to go to Disney World!” or “I hope that there’s a cute guy or girl to meet at Higher Things!” No.

This hope is far more than a wish. It is not just a daydream, or something you would like someday.

This is the sure and certain hope that comes through Christ Jesus, who gives the sure and certain hope of life and salvation! This is the hope that boasts with King David: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:7.) This is the hope of the hymnist: “Christ be my Leader…Darkness is daylight when Jesus is there.” “Christ be my Teacher…Doubt cannot daunt me; in Jesus I stand” “Christ be my Savior…Death cannot hold me, for He is the Life. Nor darkness, nor doubting, nor sin and its stain can touch my salvation: with Jesus I reign.”

Cursing God and dying is rejecting everything that He gives. But thanks be to God, you are not giving up and cursing Him. You don’t even need to wait twenty-some years to have your children save you from your unbelief.

“The LORD of hosts is with us.” And “the Holy Spirit has called [you] by the Gospel, enlightened [you] with His Gifts, sanctified and kept [you] in the faith.”

In faith, you receive even the gifts of suffering, trusting that Jesus is providing the light, removing the doubt, and giving you life. So instead of cursing, you speak the word He gives you to say: “Amen!”

Amen! The Gift of suffering is received. So be it! Yes, yes, it shall be so.

Amen! The Gift of endurance remains. So be it! Yes, yes, it shall be so.

Amen! The Gift of character is given. So be it! Yes, yes, it shall be so.

Amen! The Gift of hope stands firm. So be it! Yes, yes, it shall be so.

The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Amen!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Amen: Saint Louis Travelogue – Day 3

Giving and Receiving the Gifts:

A Pastor’s Day at AMEN

Today I had a high privilege and honor: preaching for Matins at a Higher Things conference! I have to admit: preaching for a Higher Things conference gives more pressure than a typical Sunday. There are great preachers of Christ’s Gospel here, and youth whom they have catechized well. A “Higher” standard is expected. Because of that, I scrapped my first homily about one-third of the way through writing it. And boy! Am I glad I did.

As I was preparing this morning, my good friend and former parishioner, Pastor Jacob Sutton, peeked at the first line of my homily. He cracked a smile as his eyes fell on the opening: “Anakin Skywalker had a problem.”

I have to say, I was a little nervous about the illustration and its length in the sermon. But it was well received. The Lord can even use Star Wars to teach the gift and blessing of suffering, serving His Word!

As thrilling as it was, I have to say the Gift of the Holy Eucharist was the highlight today. The Divine Service – THE greatest experience of receiving Christ’s Gifts – the greatest moment to say, “Amen!” This evening was the pinnacle of AMEN 2008, as the hundreds of youth and chaperones boarded buses and traveled several miles to Concordia Seminary’s Chapel of St. Timothy & St. Titus. There we filled the nave, transepts, and choir loft. There the Lord generously poured out His Gifts. There we gladly sang and spoke our “Amens.”

The catechesis is always top notch at HT. The fun with friends is great too. But the worship is absolutely amazing! “Sing Alleluia! Cry aloud, ‘Alleluia! Amen.’”

Amen: Saint Louis Travelogue – Day 2

Highlights? Well, to begin with, yesterday had a highlight that I forgot to mention at 1:00 a.m. when I blogged. I ran into my third grade teacher. Thirty years ago she was probably one of the early influences that planted the seed for me to desire to pursue the ministry.

The highlight for today? Pastor Borghardt’s plenary catechetical sessions were fabulous! The “vote for the best T-shirt” contest has been fun. Presenting my “breakaway” catechetical session was great. The prayer offices (Matins, Vespers, and Evening Prayer) have been thrilling! And how chills-down-your-spine exciting when your prayers really do rise before Him as incense! The sweet aroma of prayer greeted worshipers as they entered the church.

But the highlight for today happened after Evening Prayer. Pastor Rick Stuckwisch asked me to remain and act as an usher for Individual Confession & Absolution. Three pastors vested and sat next to kneelers. Youth and adults were welcomed to stay following the liturgy if they desired this treasure. I would estimate that around twenty people received this Holy Gift tonight. A number of others did last night.

After the last penitent had been ushered to another station, I took my place at a kneeler. I cannot express the incredible release of burden and the blessed peace that comes from this “Third Sacrament,” as the Confessions call it! Gift received. Amen!

Sure I preach and teach this with some regularity. I urge others to ask for the opportunity for such confession. But what a great thing to avail myself of the Gift that I urge for others. The highlight for today? I confessed my sin. I received Holy Absolution. Gift received. Amen!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Amen: Saint Louis Travelogue -- Day 1

Over 800 youth, pastors, and adult chaperones blended their voices in singing Luther’s great hymn, A Mighty Fortress, in St. Francis Xavier College Church on the campus of Saint Louis University. The soaring gothic architecture, beautiful stained glass, statues of our Lord, and of course Higher Things’ processional crucifix were a feast for the eyes, while the organ, trumpet, and voices carried the Word into our ears. Thus began our four days of worship, work, and play at Amen, the 2008 HT conference.

As I was caught up in the moment, I looked throughout the church, taking it all in. My eyes fell on Pastor George Borghardt, who would be preaching; and it struck me. He was grinning! I could already hear his thoughts: “Gift Received! Amen!” Certainly the most important Gift is Christ – born, dead, and resurrected for you – “Gift Received! Amen!” The gift of singing the Gospel of the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation” in a Jesuit nave and chancel is joyous too. “Gift Received! Amen!” The gift of such skilled music from instruments, directors, choir, and attendees was thrilling! “Gift Received! Amen!” The gift of skilled preaching of the pure Gospel is precious. “Gift Received! Amen!”

Watching Pastor Borghardt was almost as enjoyable as hearing his fine sermon (which will be published soon – keep watching for that Higher Homily.) In that moment, there was a “visual” of our reason for gathering for Higher Things conferences. The Word is given. We respond with a joyful “Amen!” of prayer and praise. Tonight and tomorrow have times for individual confession and Holy Absolution, with a humble, “Gift Received! Amen!” On Thursday we shall receive the Lord’s holy and precious Body and Blood. And again, “Gift Received! Amen!”

Indeed! Grin with Pastor Borghardt! There is much joy in the Gospel that Jesus’ “Amen” has brought you forgiveness, peace, and mercy. And now He continues to gift you with faith and its response: “Amen!”