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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What's in a Funeral?

We don't really like to think about it, but have you planned your funeral yet?  Planning your own funeral is a great exercise in humility as it reminds us that we are but mere mortals and that from the dust we came and to the dust we shall return.  It is also a great exercise in love, as no matter the circumstances around your passing your family will be grieving.  If you are able to hand them your planned out funeral that will take a great load off their plate as they deal with their grief.  Lastly, it is a great exercise in witness, as your funeral is your last opportunity you have to witness to your faith.  To know that you have enough faith in the face of death to be able to plan your own funeral speaks volumes, and what you speak can have a great impact on those who are listening.

If you decide to plan your funeral, contact your pastor on how you should proceed.  I am sure he would love to walk you through the process and help guide you to appropriate Scripture and hymns for the occasion.  Please be sure to heed his advice, as he is the one ultimately responsible for guarding the deposit of faith entrusted to your congregation and in charge of its worship life.  It is his job to ensure that everything done faithfully confesses Christ, because Christ is the true focal point of our faith, our hope, and therefore a funeral service.  While it is nice to talk about memories, if they are not connected to or grounded in the confession of faith then they are ultimately empty words that give no hope or comfort.

I've sat through many non-Lutheran funerals that were simply awkward and gave no comfort because they did not understand the centrality of Christ and the Gospel message.  There were no words of promise spoken, no words to give true peace and comfort.  Instead, the deceased was the focal point of the funeral and you'd walk away believing that their salvation, if mentioned, was completely dependent upon them being a "good person".  We know that this is not the case, and when we only look at our works we are left in despair.  Instead, we can turn to Christ and share with people the confidence and certainty we have in Him.  Through our baptisms, we were united with Him in His death and resurrection and received the Holy Spirit as the sign and seal of our faith.  Through the Lord's supper we received His body and blood as it fed and nourished our faith.  God's grace is poured out in the sacraments so no matter how strong a person's faith is we can have confidence in His promise.  Because He died and rose, so shall we.  Death is but a sleep as we await the resurrection.  The resurrection, too, is often vacant in funerals focused on the person and not on Christ, but there is no greater source of comfort than the resurrection.

This promise is made clear in the Lutheran liturgy for a funeral.  As you prepare your funeral, familiarize yourself with this liturgy.  Let you pastor explain it to you so that you can see the beauty of it all.  And then, add your own mark through the readings and hymns so that people hear of this Jesus, the one who died and rose again so that we may have life.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Death, our Enemy

I hate death.  As a pastor, you're surrounded by it.  This past week, my own grandmother died.  On top of that, I have a funeral in just a few hours, and I have a member in critical condition who doctors didn't have much hope for.  I just found out today that the granddaughter of another member is on her death bed.  Death, I hate it.  When it isn't staring us in the face, it still makes its presence known: through sickness and disease, through broken bones and concussions, through broken relationships and hatred, through heartache and loneliness.  Death covers us all, from the moment we are conceived to the moment it finally takes us when our body gives out.

Thankfully, death does not have the last word.  Though our bodies wear out like a garment, in the moment of our death our souls are whisked away.  To where exactly I do not know, and how it happens I cannot say.  What I do know, without a doubt, is that however and wherever, they are with Christ.  My grandmother is with Christ.  My church member is with Christ.  The granddaughter will be with Christ soon.  And if the heart fails my other member, then he will also be with Christ.  Death can only harass and harm us so much, but Christ can do much more!

For those who believed in Him have moved from death to life, and our lives are hidden in Him.  Christ, who conquered death when He rose from the grave, will never die again!  In Christ, death has become a mere portal, a door that we are brought through from this life to be with Christ.  Even more, in Christ death is but a sleep, a rest from our labors as we have cast off this body of flesh.  We will no more toil and labor when we are with Christ in death; we will no longer be harassed by the effects of sin.  When we are hidden in Christ, we will be out of death's reach forever.

And then, one day, as surely as the morning dawns, Christ will return in glorious victory.  All those who have gone before us in the faith will rise again, their bodies transformed into glorious bodies in which there is no weakness of flesh!  All those we love who have died in Christ will be there.  Those who are alive at His coming, will be caught up with Him and their bodies, too, will be transformed.  Then, we will see Him face to face, with our own eyes!  On that day our salvation will be made complete, as Christ banishes death forever!

Death, I hate it.  But I know that it does not speak the last word.  It is Christ, who is the Word, that has the final say.  O death, where is your sting?  Where is your victory?  For I in Christ we are more than conquerors, and even death cannot separate us from Him who loves us.  Amen.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell Committed Suicide - so is he in hell?

“I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. However, this ought not be taught to the common people lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the
popular custom be strictly adhered to according to which the corpse is not carried over the threshold, etc.Such persons do not die by free choice or by law, but our Lord God will dispatch them as he executes a person through a robber. Magistrates should treat them quite strictly, although it is not plain that their souls are damned. However, they are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.” 
- Martin Luther

Some months ago, we did an episode of 200 Proof Gospel on Suicide, give it a listen.  

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Bunch of Do Do

Now that I have your attention with that title, let me tell you what I am talking about.

I woke up at about 7am to get ready for church, looking out the window I noticed that we are having quite an ice storm, but I figured that since Jesus was going to be at church, as the pastor, I should get to church, but first, I need to hit the snooze button for an extra 7 minutes of much-needed sleep since I never sleep well on Saturday nights.

The phone rang and woke me from my brief slumber, it was my head elder. He said that all the churches in the area were closing due to the weather. He asked me if we should follow suit? I gathered my thoughts and said it may be better to cancel church today than do a bunch of funerals this week for those who had driven into ditches. I felt some sort of sinful relief, rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour.

I woke up at 8am and turned on the radio. As I channel surfed, I had the opportunity to listen to all sorts of preachers and all I can say about them is they were a bunch of do do.

You may be thinking that is harsh and you also may be thinking that my spelling is one “o” off, but you only caught one of the meanings. As I listened to preachers including the "pope of the protestants", Billy Graham, all I heard was how Christians need to do this or do that or do some other thing in order to be pleasing to God. I heard about how I had to be more giving of myself, how I needed to have a love for justice and how I need to appropriate God’s forgiveness with my decisions and public professions. What a bunch of do do.

Do do, appeals to us for we like to insert ourselves into our salvation and when we do, we frolic in our do do. It is man’s nature to love do do, for we are totally turned in on ourselves and when we are turned in on ourselves, we find that faith is not a gift, but something we do, do.

The theology of the cross, tells us that we are sinners in all that we are, and in all that we do. This theology tells us that we have nothing in and of ourselves that is appealing or meritorious before God. We confess in this that we need to be salvaged from our sinfulness, we need to be raised from the death of our sins to eternal life. We also find that we dead men cannot raise ourselves from the dead, but we need a Savior to raise us.

With this comes a theology of done done. Jesus has done our salvation for us. Jesus has done for us the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Jesus alone has conquered death and sin as we could not do that for ourselves.

When our faith is looking in on ourselves, we hear do this and do that, we hear sermons of do do. Do love your neighbor, do give your time and money, do give your heart to Jesus do do do. And when we are told to do, we are directed not outward toward Jesus, but inward to our own sinful hearts. But what comes out of the heart of man? Nothing but sin, Matthew 15:19 "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

When we are told “do this” or “do that,” we will never have peace, for this sort of do do is about what we do, but when we hear done, done for you and for your salvation, then we find rest for we find our salvation is not up to us, but already done and fulfilled in Jesus Christ from the cross and through the resurrection.

Next time you listen to Christian radio, ask yourself, is this a bunch of do do or is this done in Christ?

If it is do do, turn it off for nothing is more harmful to the soul than this sort of, well, as Martin Luther would gently put it, well… he wouldn’t be gentle, you supply the expletive.

- Rev. Craig Donofrio

This is something that I wrote for Higher Things about 10 years ago.  It is no longer to be found in their archives so I thought that I would share it here

Find out more about The Donofrio's Mission work in Eurasia at www.craigandpaula.org
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

You Are What You Eat

It's nothing new for the Christian world to produce big media entertainment, but does that mean we should flock to anything that is branded "Christian?"  Jesus warns us that there would come to us wolves in sheep's clothing, those claiming to support Christ and His message but in reality are dangerous and looking to devour our faith.

Recently there has been much controversy around the movie, "The Shack." Any criticism of the movie by theologians is dismissed as just being confrontational and divisive.  It's a Christian movie, and it really pulls at our heart strings, so what could be bad about it?  What's even more, how dare you tell me something that makes me feel good is wrong?

That last question is striking, and should make any Christian's ears perk up. The truth about Christian entertainment, from War Room to The Shack, is that they have no desire to present a faithful, biblical witness of the faith.  Instead, they present a faith that will sell.  Why do we uncritically allow media to enter our brains through our eyes and ears, especially media that passes as "Christian?"  At least you know ice cream is bad for you.  The "Gluten Free" or "Reduced Fat" labels don't actually mean it's good for you.

So, what is wrong with the Shack, and why should we avoid it?  First, don't allow yourself to be fooled.  Any  movie that markets itself as "Christian" is trying to sell you something and makes a claim about the faith. Whether you are willing to admit it or not, it forms and shapes your thoughts concerning the faith, and therefore your theology.  Second, the theology of the Shack is chalk full of ancient heresies that are a full frontal attacks on Christ and Christianity.

No, I'm not even talking about God the Father appearing as a woman. There is danger in mutilating the image of God that He has revealed, but that's not the most dangerous part. The most dangerous parts are the parts that we don't even recognize are influencing us, and in the Shack the subtle theology which seeks to shape our minds is huge.

Did you know that the author of The Shack rejects the biblical witness that Christ suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins?  The vicarious atonement is something that not only Young rejects, it's something he finds repulsive.  "Who originated the Cross? . . . If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner. Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense. And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one."

So is Young trying to sell you something in The Shack?  Absolutely. Yes, the cross is present, but for Young it is the ultimate form of justice, not redemption. For Young, Jesus' willing sacrifice is an assault on human violence, not on sin, death and Satan.  Young even states in the book that God has nothing to with punishing sin, only to cure it.  The forgiveness that Young presents is about overcoming human violence and oppression, not about being redeemed through the blood of the Lamb.

Yet salvation through sacrifice is the very heart of the Scriptures, the very reason for Jesus' incarnation.  He was the Passover Lamb sacrificed once for all.  He is the one whose blood flowed from the altar of the cross so that we are redeemed and forgiven. To embrace the theology of Young and The Shack, which seeks to overcome violence through justice, is to unjustly commit violence against the Gospel of Christ.

Throw in there the little bit of other heresies like subordinationism, which asserts that Jesus is not equal to God the Father in majesty and glory, and also ironically the rejection of the economic Trinity, which presents the hierarchical working of the Father sending Jesus to do His will and the Father and the Son sending and directing the Spirit, along with the heresy of patripassionism, which claims that the Father suffered in the Passion and crucifixion of Christ, and you've got yourself one dangerous cocktail.

The defense that it is "only fiction" doesn't add up, since Young is very much trying to sell you a Christianity of his own making, a Christianity littered with heresies and other false teachings. Young himself criticized anyone who would criticize his book in his book, by saying that people who adhere to the doctrinal standards set forth in Scripture try to limit God to the paper of pages. In doing so, He criticizes God Himself, and where He has promised us He would be.

Ask yourself, do you really want to let the thoughts and ideas of someone who criticizes God for not only how He reveals Himself (not only that He reveals Himself through Scripture, but also that He reveals Himself as the Father) but also the very message of His mission (That Christ came to die as the sacrifice for sin) to be teaching you the Christian faith?  After all, you are what you eat.

Maybe we should be a little more careful about what we put into ourselves, and stop letting the excuse of "it's fiction" or "it's entertainment" teach us false theology. Just because it is marketed as "Christian" doesn't mean it is.  If Young isn't a wolf in sheep's clothing, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Confessions of a Pastor: "Why God?"

I've now been a pastor for almost eight months, and recently the floodgates have opened. It was almost like God commanded his heavenly angels to hold back the four winds for a time, and then when I had been sealed he let the winds blow. I'm not talking about the administrative job of being a pastor, or the worship planning, or even the voters meetings. I am talking about the work of being sent as one who is called to bear the brokenness of the people given to him by the Lord. It's much easier to face a volatile voters meeting or the stress of planning and executing worship twice a week. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. I know that I have been called by God and I know I am right where He wants me to be. I know that it is not I who bears the brokenness and pain of the people, but it is He who bears and lifts me up.

Even so, over the past few months I have often been finding myself asking the question, "Why, God?" more than I ever have. With all my theological training, I figured that would be a question I would ask less after my ordination than before it.  Even so, I guess the saying rings true, the more you know, the more you realize you don't know. When my members come to me with prayer requests, or seeking advice or aid, my heart breaks more and more. Having my theological training, I know enough now to not make excuses for God. I know enough to know that God does not need to be defended; that His unrevealed will does not need to be explained. In fact, I know that it is sinful to try and look into the mind of God and speak of things that we cannot understand. So when tragedy hits, I more often finding myself only left with asking the question, "Why, God?" which then can only turn to "Lord, have mercy" and finally, "Not my will, but yours be done."

As a pastor, I also know enough to know that I am not alone in this. I know enough to know that I bear the brokenness to ease the burden of the people God has entrusted to my care, and I know that I do not bear this brokenness alone, but for the people I bring it before the One who bears the brokenness of us all, the Lamb who was slain, the one who from the cross said, "Why, God?" when he asked, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  I also know enough to know the answer to that question. God the Father forsook the Son on the cross so that Jesus could stand in our place and bear our burdens. God the Father forsook Jesus on the cross so that Jesus could take our brokenness into Himself and redeem and transform it, and Jesus willingly obeyed the will of the Father so that we could be reconciled to our Lord and our God, and walk in the newness of life.

In this life we are still left in our brokenness, but in Christ our brokenness is transformed and used by the Spirit to enable us to receive grace and mercy from Christ, and to enable us to be broken for others. Those who are broken know and understand their humility before God, and they are able to empathize with others who are broken and serve them to bring them before to the One who bears the brokenness for us. I thank our heavenly Father for the opportunity to bear the brokenness of my people, and for the humility to not try and explain away His actions, but to simply ask, "Why God?" followed by a "Lord, have mercy," allow it to be answered with a simple, "Your Will be Done," because I know that one day that question will cease, for the Lord's always shows His people mercy and His will is to bring us safely to the completion of our salvation on the Day of the Lord's Return.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Christmas Sermon - Luke 2

Caesar Augustus called a tax census. Everyone had to go to their home towns to register. Mary and Joseph made the difficult ninety mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Mary was great with child, Bethlehem was packed with people and there was no vacancy.  So, Mary had to deliver her Child alongside the animals, wrapped the newborn in strips of cloth, and put him down to sleep in an animal's feed box.

At that very moment, the fields of Bethlehem were lit with the glory of God. Angels from heaven appeared to announce the birth. They proclaimed the good news of great joy and praised God who had brought peace to the earth in the form of this tiny infant who is Savior, Christ, and Lord.

The shepherds who heard the angels left their flocks in the fields and went running to Bethlehem to see this baby in a manger.  They worshiped Him and became the first evangelists, telling others about Him.

Mary continued to ponder everything in her heart - The shepherds returned to their work, glorifying God.

The story retold year after year in the Christmas carols and pageants and displays. Some of them even give us the theology, if we take the time to look and listen:

“God rest you, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day To save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray - O tidings of comfort and joy.”

While the story of the birth of Jesus may be a familiar one, those tidings of comfort and joy are not necessarily at the heart of what the majority of people celebrate at Christmas. 

So we do well to gather in this holy place to revisit the true meaning of Christmas as we gather again to hear the story of our Savior. 

We celebrate the message that the angels brought to those shepherds who were tending to their flocks that night when our salvation came to us, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

Such good news it is that the gift of the Christ child is not just for some, but for all people. 

He has not just come for those who act holy, He is not just for the wealthy nor is He just for the poor, but He has come for all people.

For most people, Christmas is about gifts. Christmas is about gift giving, not about giving toys, jewelry, bikes, cars, kitchen appliances and such but about the greatest gift of all, eternal life. 

Who would have thought that these two people that didn’t make a reservation for the natal care suite, would bring forth the gift of the salvation of the world in a stable and lay Him to rest in a feeding box? Yet this babe lying in this box is God Himself who has come to reconcile the world to Himself. This is the greatest gift of all.

Here, lying in the manger, is God's unconditional love for you, His will to save, His desire for you to be His own.

Before you knew to ask for a Savior, God sent One.
Before you knew to ask for a Christ, He gave you One.
Before you knew to ask for a Lord, He came and made Himself your Lord, a Child conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.

Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths, is God's gift to you. It is a gift that will outlast all the others.

This little Child in the manger will give to you when you need most to be given to: when you are oppressed with guilt, when you are pressed down by your past, when you are at a loss for who you are and why you exist, when you fear for your life, in the hour of your death.

Sometimes, it is so difficult for us to be given to. We are so proud, so afraid of being humbled, so resistant to receiving.

We don't often want to be given to, we want to get for ourselves.  But the baby in the manger pulls the plug on all that kind of talk.

God came when no one asked for Him. He was born where there was no room for Him. Before He was invited, He came in the most humble of ways.

This little One, whose birth we remember this day, is a Savior born to you, to save you from your sins, to deliver you from your death, to redeem you from the condemnation of the  Law and the wrath of God.

Our rebellion and sin earned us hell, yet God brings down heaven. We deserve fire and brimstone, yet God sends a baby.

Do not be afraid, says the angel. Look on this child's face, and see the face of God come down to save you.

This Child grew up. He opened the eyes of the blind man. He opened the ears of the deaf. He stilled the storm and raised the dead. He preached the kingdom of God having come in Him. He was nailed to a cross. See the lengths to which God will go to rescue us! He divests Himself of His glory. He removes His royal robes and exchanges them for diapers.

He hides His power and His majesty under the weakness of the infant in the manger, the man on the cross. 

So rejoice, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

In Jesus’ name...    Amen

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Craig can also be heard at www.godwhisperers.com
Follow our mission work. www.craigandpaula.org

Friday, December 9, 2016


It breaks my heart how often we violate this commandment in the name of piety. 

The Eighth Commandment.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean?--Answer. We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

How hard it is to always think, speak well and put the best construction on everything. I fall short on this so often and yet Christ has spoken the best construction on me and all redeemed sinners. He has spoken, declaring me and all the redeemed to be righteous for His sake and this is none of my own doing. He has furthermore clothed me in His robes of righteousness through the waters of Holy Baptism (Gal 3). When we insist on thinking ill of others, especially fellow believers, we do not believe our God's word which has spoken us to be forgiven, redeemed, justified and sanctified. 

One of my favorite verses from my favorite hymn - Thy Strong Word 
Thy strong word bespeaks us righteous;
Bright with thine own holiness,
Glorious now, we press toward glory,
And our lives our hopes confess:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia without end!

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Craig can also be heard at www.godwhisperers.com
Follow our mission work. www.craigandpaula.org

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made

There are those Bible verses that are well known by a vast majority of Christians, but if pressed on chapter and verse (or even book or testament) it is from they could hardly tell you.  Today during my daily devotions (I use "Treasury of Daily Prayer" published by CPH.  If you are looking for a way to get into God's Word every day, I highly suggest it.) I came across one such verse, "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  For the record, it is Psalm 118:24.  Growing up in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, this is one of those no brainier responses where we automatically, almost despite our own volition, fill in the second half of the verse whenever someone around us speaks the first half.  It wasn't until my devotions this morning that I really realized the fullness of what this verse speaks.  Context is everything!

In summary, Psalm 118 is a "general statement of thanksgiving for all the kindness God showers daily on all men, both good and evil." (From Luther's Commentary on Psalm 118).  The kindness, however, culminates in Christ, even within the psalm itself.  This was my big "epiphany" this morning as I read this verse in context.  The psalm starts out with a hearty, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!"  (Another well known, stand alone verse.)  The psalmist well establishes the people of God in this phrase by putting it on their lips and repeating it three times, "His steadfast love endures forever."  Once we are rooted in His love, the psalmist continues on to say no only can we take refuge in the Lord, but in the Lord we find victory!  He even goes as far as to say that it is ONLY in the Lord that we find victory.

Even when we seem all but overtaken, our victory is still in the Lord.  For, "The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation."  (Another, another great stand alone verse we all know.  Perhaps this speaks to just how rich this psalm is...even more so when you put these verses back where they belong.)  Then the psalmist breaks out into this song of salvation that comes from the Lord, climaxing in the claim, "I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord."  In the Lord, we have even overcome death itself!  God may punish us, or give us over to ourselves in sin, but as His children He does not give us over to death.  From this claim the psalmist begins to ask God that to give Him righteousness that he may give thanks, and that righteousness is nothing other than salvation.

This is where we get to our verse from the beginning, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  After asking for this righteousness, this salvation, the psalmist gets right to the heart of the matter:

    "The stone that the builders rejected
          has become the cornerstone.
     This is the LORD’s doing;
          it is marvelous in our eyes.
     This is the day that the LORD has made;
          let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Our salvation is established in the stone that the builders rejected, the cornerstone of Christ.  This is the Lord's doing, this was His plan and purpose, that Christ as the stone that religious and political leaders rejected would be the rock, the cornerstone of our salvation.  This is a marvelous thing!  God used our own sinfulness and the devil's trickery to overcome our sin and bind the devil!  This is the day that God has established our salvation, let us rejoice and be glad in it!  Each day we live and breath is a day that God has made, a day that God has saved, a day that God comes to us in victory!  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

The psalmist still isn't done, however.  He continues, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  We bless you from the house of the Lord!  The Lord is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us.  Bind the festival sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!"  The psalm ends the same way it begins, with praise and thanksgiving and, "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!"

Remember this today.  Remember this each day.  This is the day that God has covered you with his unending love!  This is the day that God has established you in His salvation forever!  This is the day that Christ has given you victory over sin, death, and the devil!  "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

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Craig can also be heard at www.godwhisperers.com

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election 2016

Perhaps my brothers who write for this blog no longer struggle with this, as they have endured quite a few elections as pastors.  However, this is a new one for me.  The day after the election, I now find myself praying a bit more often than usual for my sermon that I will preach on Sunday.  I didn't give it much thought before the election, but now that the results are in and people are faced with the reality of who will be their next president it is weighing heavily on my mind.

I have been asking God for guidance on how to preach to a congregation, some of whom are elated and some of whom are terrified.  How do you preach to a people who have been shaped by  experiences that have lead to differing political stances?  How do you preach to people who have honestly faced or witnessed racism and sexism and hate while at the same time preaching to people who have honestly been falsely accused of these same things?  People supported their candidate because they believed them to be the best answer to their fears.

Many people feel strongly on opposing positions because of what they have experienced.  They support who they do for good and true reasons, as a result of our broken and fallen world.  The only cure for a broken world is Christ Jesus, so the only thing to preach is Him crucified, risen, and ascended to one day return again.  May we turn to Christ alone for our comfort and consultation.  May we turn to Christ alone for our refuge and safe-haven.  May we not become proud and puffed up in our politics nor fall into despair, but may we look to Christ as the One who is above all.  May God use me as His mouth peace to preach to those blinded by pride or fear so that they may see Jesus.  Amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Episode 10 - The Suicide Show

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Luther on Double Predestination

This means, "I care for you, depend upon me, await my bidding, and let me take care of you."  This what St. Peter taught, "Cast all thy care upon him, for he careth for you." (I Peter 5:7).  And David taught, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee."  (Ps. 55:23).

To Barbara Lisskirchen, April 30, 1531

(A sister of Jerome and Peter Weller, Barbara Weller married George Lisskirchen, of Freiberg, in Saxony, in 1525.  The doctrine of predestination troubled her, and she allowed the question whether she was herself one of the elect to torment her.  In counseling her, Luther referred to his own experience with the problem.)

Grace and peace in Christ,

Dear and virtuous Lady:

Your dear brother Jerome Weller has informed me that you are sorely troubled about eternal election.  I am very sorry to hear this.  May Christ our Lord deliver you from this temptation.  Amen.

I know all about this affliction.  I was myself brought to the brink of eternal death by it.  In addition to my prayer on your behalf, I should gladly counsel and comfort you, but it is difficult to discuss such matters in writing.  Nevertheless, if God will grant me the necessary grace, I shall do what I can.  I shall show you how God helped me out of this trouble and by what means I now protect myself against it every day.

First, you must firmly fix in your mind the conviction that such thoughts as yours are assuredly the suggestions and fiery darts (Eph. 6:16) of the wretched devil.  The Scriptures declare in Prov. ch. 7, "He who searches out the lofty things of majesty will be cast down."  (Prov. 25:27)  Now, such thoughts as yours are a vain searching into the majesty of God and a prying into his secret providence.  Jesus, the son of Sirach, declares in the third chapter: "Search not out things that are above thy strength. 

The things that have been commanded thee, think thereupon."  (Ecclus. 3:21, 22)  It is of no profit to you to gape at that which you are not commanded.  David also complained in Ps. 131 that he did not fare well when he inquired into matters that were too high for him. (Ps. 131:1).   Accordingly, it is certain that these notions of yours come, not from God, but from the devil, who torments us with them to make us hate God and despair.  God has strictly forbidden this in the First Commandment.  He desires that we love, trust, and praise him by whom we live.

Secondly, when such thoughts assail you, you should learn to ask yourself, "If you please, in which Commandment is it written that I should think about and deal with this matter?"  When it appears that there is no such Commandment, learn to say: "Be gone, wretched devil!  You are trying to make me worry about myself.  But God declares everywhere that I should let him care for me.  He says, "I am thy God." (Ex. 20:2). 

Thirdly, if these thoughts nevertheless continue (for the devil is reluctant to give up), you too must refuse to give up.  You must always turn your mind away from them and say: "Don't you hear, devil?  I will have nothing to do with such thoughts.  Moreover, God has forbidden me to.  Be gone!  I must now think of God's Commandments.  Meanwhile, I shall let him care for me.  If you are so clever in these matters, go up to heaven and dispute with God himself; he can give you an adequate answer."  In this way, you must always put these thoughts away from you and turn your attention to God's Commandments.

Fourthly, the highest of all God's commands is this, that we hold up before our eyes the image of his dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Every day he should be our excellent mirror wherein we behold how much God loves us and how well, in his infinite goodness, he has cared for us in that he gave his dear Son for us.

In this way, I say, and in no other, does one learn how to deal properly with the question of predestination.  It will be manifest that you believe in Christ.  If you believe, then you are called.  And if you are called, then you are most certainly predestinated.  Do not let this mirror and throne of grace be torn away from before your eyes.  If such thoughts still come and bite like fiery serpents, pay no attention to the thoughts or serpents.  Turn away from this notion and contemplate the brazen serpent, that is, Christ given for us.  Then, God willing, you will feel better.

But, as I have said, it requires a struggle to shun such thoughts.  If they enter your mind, cast them out again, just as you would immediately spit out any filth that fell into your mouth.  God has helped me to do this in my own case.  It is his urgent command that we keep before us the image of his Son, in whom he has abundantly revealed himself to be our God (as the First Commandment teaches) who helps and cares for us.

Therefore, he will not suffer us to help or take care of ourselves.  That would be to deny God, and to deny the First Commandment and Christ as well.

The wretched devil, who is the enemy of God and Christ, tries by such thoughts (which are contrary to the First Commandment) to tear us away from Christ and God and to make us think about ourselves and our own cares.  If we do this, we take upon ourselves the function of God, which is to care for us and be our God.  In paradise the devil desired to make Adam equal with God so that Adam might be his own god and care for himself, thus robbing God of his divine work of caring for him. The result was the terrible Fall of Adam.

For the present this is advice enough.  I have also written to your brother Jerome Weller (This letter is not extant) that he warn and admonish you with all diligence until you learn to put away such thoughts and let the devil, from whom they come, plumb their depth.  He knows very well what happened to him before in a similar situation: he fell from heaven into the abyss of hell.  In short, what we are no commanded should not disturb or trouble us.  The devil, and not God, is the instigator of such perplexity.

May our dear Lord Jesus Christ show you his hands and his side (John 20:27) and gladden your heart with his love, and may you behold and hear only him until you find your joy in him  Amen.

The last day of April, 1531     Martin Luther

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Summit: Hinduism

In my last post I discussed how many people view all religions as different paths up the same mountain.  If you missed that post you catch up here.  If you read it, you might be left wondering what exactly those other religions believe and how it relates to us.  As a representative of Christ, it is good to have at least a basic understanding of those other accounts and know how to engage someone who believes in them.  So lets get down to it and start with our first world religion: Hinduism.

Hinduism is a fascinating and complex religion with growing interest.  The respect Hindus have for nature attracts attention in our society that is goring more environmentally conscious.  The spirituality of Hinduism also draws people seeking divinity within.  The freedom of Hinduism appeals to those who desire to chose beliefs that are fitting for them.  For these and many more reasons, Hinduism has been gaining a following in the United States.

That being said, Hinduism is hard to define.  There is no comprehensive orthodoxy in Hinduism.  It is truly a broad sweeping term for varying traditional practices and beliefs that developed out of an ancient fertility religion.  The best test for Hindu orthodoxy is the authority given to the Vedas.  The Vedas give Hinduism its mythology and are the source of the basic Hindu worldview.  As  Hinduism developed, however, another collection of writings was appended to the Vedas called the Upanishads.  The Upanishads are the last and greatest philosophical development in Hinduism and form Hinduism as we know it in the modern sense.

The Upanishads primarily concern themselves with the concept of Brahman.  Brahman is the supreme, infinite, impersonal Reality which stands behind everything.  It's true identity of everything that exists; Pure Being, Pure Consciousness, Pure Bliss.  They also are concerned with the true identity of man.  Our true identity is not in external things, but is found in our atman, our "inner self."  The dilemma then becomes how the atman relates to Brahman and the Brahman to the atman.  The final conclusion of the Upanishads is that the atman and Brahman were truly one in the same.  We are Brahman, and Brahman is us.  The metaphor goes that the atman is a wave on Brahman's ocean.

This realization is the aim of Hinduism.  To awaken to the ultimate reality that we are all one; there there is no true thing called "you" and no true thing called "me," but there is only Brahman.  Even the gods of Hinduism are not above or outside Brahman, but come from it in the same way that we all do.  When we come to this understanding, Hindus assert, then we arrive at salvation.  For until that time we are stuck in the wheel of Samsara, that is, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.  The wave of our atman is, in essence frozen and unable to return back into the depths of Brahman.  This is because the wave of our atman is brought into existence through the power of maya, or deception.  This deception produces in us advidya, or ignorance, which leads us to believe that we are individuals and separate from one another.  As long as we live in this ignorance we are trapped by selfish desire and this produces suffering.  The aim of Hinduism is to overcome this ignorance through the practice of different yogas, or spiritual disciplines, to obtain moksha, or the liberation of the atman from the wheel of Samsara so that it may return to Brahman.

Perhaps it is easy to see how Christianity stands into contrast from Hinduism.  You may be surprised, however, to find out that many Hindus have no qualms with Christianity.  In fact, there are many Hindus who even claim that Jesus is god incarnate.  What they mean by this is quite different, and in fact serves as the starting point of how Christians can respond to Hindus.

Who is God?  For a Hindu, there are a variety of gods.  Many worship several, while some focus on just some.  Others have condensed the plethora of gods by saying they are all manifestations of a handful of of supreme gods.  Regardless, all Hindu gods are still part of this thing we call "creation."  As said earlier, Hindu Gods are not above or outside of Brahman, and are even one with us.  This stands in stark contrast to what we call God.  For God is not part of creation.  There is God, and there is all else.  He is entirely other and separate from us.  He brought everything there is into existence.

Perhaps you can already see the problems of Hindus claiming that Christ is an incarnation of god.  When we speak of God, we are not even speaking of the same person(s).  However, the trouble gets more sticky when you start to look at what is meant by "incarnation."  For a Hindu, there are many incarnations, or avatars, that the gods take.  Incarnation here, however, would not be the taking on of human flesh but only the appearance of it.  Further, the gods appear in their avatar form to help humans on their path of enlightenment so that their atman can escape this illusion and return to the Brahman.

For the Christian, not only is creation real, but it is good.  Christ did not come in the flesh to help us escape it, but to establish us in it.  If He came to help us escape then would not have needed to come into the flesh at all.  That is why the Hindu meaning of incarnation is different, and contradictory, to the Christian.  The fact that Christ did actually come into the flesh puts us at odds with Hinduism and deepens our discussions with them.

After we establish who God is and that Christ, bring God, came into the flesh, we can move to the "for us" question, as in, "what does this mean for us?"  Hinduism answers the "for us" question by saying that all we need to do is overcome this illusion and we will be saved.  Once our atman escapes this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and returns to Brahman we will no longer suffer and be in peace.  As Christians, we are not looking forward to Christ coming back to take us out of Creation (If you think the point of Christianity is to die and go to "heaven," I hate to break it to you, but you have been more influenced by Hinduism than the Bible...but that's another post) but to vindicate and restore Creation and to establish us in it forever.  Also, salvation for the Christian does not lay in escaping suffering, but is brought about through suffering.  Specifically the sufferings of Christ on a cross (which would be impossible for a Hindu avatar to do).  Our need as Christians first and foremost to be reconciled through God by the forgives of sins.  Once that is established as the center of our theology, only then we can address the problem of suffering and about Christ ending all suffering when He returns.

This post is far from comprehensive, but from it I hope you at least gained some knowledge of, and appreciation for, Hinduism and saw how the two are incompatable and aren't different paths to the same "summit."  I also hope you gained some talking points for if you ever have a chance to talk to a Hindu about their faith and yours.  If you have any questions, I'd love to discuss!  Peace be with you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


It’s March 22, 2016, today.  I was up late last night working on our missionary newsletter, so I rolled out of bed a little later than usual.  I wiped the sleep from my eyes and looked at my email to find a slew of emails from Missionaries in the region, “is everyone okay?”  “We have an Alliance Missionary” in Brussels, has anyone heard from him?”  “Has anyone heard from the Bishop of the church there?”

I immediately turned on the radio and started scouring the net to try to find out the latest.  There the pundits are blaming President Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Belgians, and, of course, ISIS, who is taking credit for a coordinated bombing attack on the West.

I am soon to deploy to this region for the next five to seventeen years, I thought, “is this wise?”   “Am I putting my sweet Paula and myself in harms way?”  Then I remembered something that I said as I was teaching a Bible Class the other day, “the opposite of terror or fear, is faith.”

Faith always has an object and the object of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace who on Good Friday, swallowed up all fear as He took into Himself the death that we deserve.  He took the sins that we have committed onto and into Himself and exchanged it for His perfect, holy, righteous life which He credited to our bankrupt accounts.

As an aside, when you read the Bible, remember that faith always has an object, try replacing the word faith with Jesus and see how the text reads, it usually makes things pretty interesting.

So, we prepare to head off to Eurasia, with the backing of many saints who are upholding us in prayer.  We prepare to go and to proclaim the Gospel to over a billion people in over fifty countries, most of which were once devoutly Christian, but no more.  We go with no more and no less Divine protection than we have had in the states.

Let’s face it; life is unsure, it is scary at times, things rarely work ou the way that we expect, but with Christ, there is peace and confidence.  We also know that when the Lord requires us, we will go, not a moment before or after.

We pray that Jesus will return soon and put an end to the madness that sin brought into the world, but until then, we endure.

We also know that thousands and thousands of Muslims in our region of Eurasia are hearing the Gospel, being baptized and are rejoicing in the mercies of Christ Jesus!

So in the end, we have an eternal perspective, knowing that “He who is in you, is greater than He that is in the world.”  - 1John 4:4

As we draw near to the cross of Christ on this Good Friday, let us keep in mind that Christ has descended into our death so that He might raise us eternally in His life.  As He took the punishment for the sins of the world on the cross, with His last breath, He inhaled into Himself the death of our sin and exhaled His life for the World.

This is the message that which has defeated and is defeating those who would try to strike terror into our hearts.  May their invented, angry gods be met with the true God of mercy and peace.

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