200 Proof TuneIn Radio

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Well Done Gospel



“In Jesus, God has put up a "Gone Fishing" sign on the religion shop. He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it - to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed - no nothing. . . . The entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ - even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it's crazy. And yes, it's wild, and outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn't sell worth beans. But it is good news - the only permanently good news there is - and therefore I find it absolutely captivating."
- Robert Ferrar Capon



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Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Glorious Downward Spiral of Grace



We usually associate downward spiral with something negative, a downward spiral into addiction, illness, death.  Yet this is the trajectory of grace, a downward trajectory.

Why downward? Because Christ descended into our fallen mortal existence.  Through the fall of mankind (and yes, we participated and participate in it daily), we lost that fellowship that we had in the perfect love and companionship with God.  We no longer walk with Him in the garden, but we have been cast out, cast down into a world of pain, suffering and death.

Yet in the aftermath of the fall, God made a promise that from Eve would come one who would crush the head of the serpent.  Not just the head of satan, but He also would destroy sin and the consequences of sin, our last enemy, death.  So at the right time, in the fullness of time, Jesus, the Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity took on the flesh of man as the Son of Adam (and Eve) through the Virgin Mary and descended into our existence.  Into our sinful, fallen lives.

There, limiting His own Divinity, God in Christ Jesus, lived perfection in our presence and in our stead.  Here, He descended into our world and our lives.  Through the crucifixion, our Hero, our God allowed Himself to be lowered into our graves, into the death of our sins.  Yet even as He was lowered for us, He also ascended for us as He conquered death, and not for Himself, but for you and for me.

We are not lifted up, but Christ comes down to man.  This is the direction of Grace and this is the direction of God's gifts, downward.  Downward to The Cross, downward to the grave, downward into our sin.

So also we recognize that in true Christian Worship, we are not directed to lift ourselves up to heaven, but instead, through the work of the Holy Spirit, God comes down to man.

God reaches down to man in His Word, in His words of forgiveness and mercy, through absolution, in His Holy Supper, in the Waters of Holy Baptism, down to sinful man as man could never in a billion lifetimes even begin to ascend to the perfection of God.

Martin Luther says in his Heidelberg Disputation, "It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ."  He lifts us up, our works, efforts and merits are nothing more than us holding our own filth in His face. When we think that we have something to offer God, we are saying that we can help Him to save us.

The Direction of your worship reflects the direction of your salvation.  Always God reaching down to sinners, who on bent knees acknowledge their wretchedness.

In those low places, where there are the lowly, the fallen, the wretched, there Christ enters our existence and extends His mercy through His Word, His Sacraments and His Bride, the church.

Our sacrifices avail us nothing, but Christ's atonement has won us everything.



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Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Gift Given, Gift Received"


“Receive it as gift.”  I hear Dr. Norman Nagel speak it into my mind’s ear (if there is such a thing). 

This is the essence of the Theology of the Cross, “Receive it as gift.”  Forgiveness, mercy, salvation, sanctification… “receive it as gift.” 

St. Paul speaks this way in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)   The gifts - grace and faith, pure gift. 


Gifts are not earned, we call that “pay” but gifts run the way of grace, which is God’s unmerited favor for sinners.  The gift given is Christ Jesus Himself, who is the gift and the gift giver.  He is the one who gave us His righteousness and who takes away our sins, as gift. 

If one insists that he or she must “give one’s heart to Jesus,” then they are not receiving salvation as gift, but as barter.  “If I give my heart to Jesus and turn away from my sin, then I will have salvation.” 
Where is the gift in that?  There is no gift in that as we are somehow either bartering for salvation or trying to earn salvation.  Instead, we who are dead in our sins and trespasses have the Great Physician visit our rotten, corrupted souls and give life to them.  He regenerates the dead and brings life where there was only death, and this He does as a free and amazing gift.  There are no works required to have this gift, it is all free, it is gift. 

Sadly enough, like all gifts, this one too can be rejected, it can remain unopened and it can be thrown away.  Yet Christ in His long suffering way continues to give His gift of life freely, without reservation, without any quid pro quo, no exchanges, no bartering, it is all gift.  When we see that salvation comes to us as a gift, we see that it does not originate with us, but with God. 

Now when we look to Scripture, we start to see Christ’s gifts all over the place -  
In Holy Baptism, here we find the Word of God attached to the baptismal waters, as God works salvation in sinners, washing away our sin, laying us into Christ’s grave and raising us to eternal life.   We find that Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper where He joins Himself to the bread and wine through His Word and is there with His meal of mercy for sinners.  We find Him in the voice of the pastor who proclaims God’s Word to us, speaking Biblical absolution into our ear holes.  All gift, all Christ, none of our works. 

When we start to see God’s gifts more and more, we find them in even more unlikely places.  Sometimes we find God’s gifts through adversity, which creates maturity.  There are times when God will allow us to suffer in order that we might receive the gift of being purged of any notions of our own worth and or virtue before the perfection of God.  There are times when God will also rescue us from our bad decisions.

Like children who think that hot fudge sundaes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, would be awesome, we want those things that are appealing to us.  We tell God what we want, but God being a Good Father, will not leave us to our own devices.  We rage and bellow because that job, car, house, spouse, boy or girlfriend, and so forth that we wanted doesn’t become ours.  We blame God for keeping us from happiness, only to find out sometime later how God protected us from our stupid desires. 
We find that those things that we don’t have were a “good miss.” 

For all of the things in life, things received as blessing and things perceived as a curse, we can certainly “receive it as gift.” for us!

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Rest for Your Soul

“The conscience, our own anxiety, and all slaves of law bid us go the way of obedience to the very end in order to find peace with God.  But the way of obedience has no end.  It lies endlessly before you, bringing continually severer demands and constantly growing indebtedness…  But now Christ is the end of the law; the road ends at his feet, and here his righteousness is offered to everyone who believes.  It is to that place, to Jesus only, that God has wanted to drive you with all your unrest and anguish of soul.”

Bo Giertz - Hammer of God

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

My SCREAMING Brain

Sometimes it’s dangerous for me to be alone in a quiet environment.  Maybe that’s why I am always whistling or singing some hymn, Sinatra, Mel Torme, Louis Prima, Dean Martin... because it distracts my conscience from the stupid guilt. 

Maybe I’m unique, but I don’t think so.  I have what I call “A Screaming Brain.”   When it is quiet and I am not distracted with radio, music, a book, TV, Facebook, blogging etc., my brain starts to revisit the stupid sins of my past.  I think about the people that I have hurt, intentionally or not, the guy’s head that I stepped on playing rugby, the stupid things that have come out of my mouth, so many sinful and shameful things that visit me in the quiet hours.  So many of these things from my youth that if I saw a 16 year old kid do today, I would laugh and say, “well, what do you expect from a 16 year old?”  Yet, for some reason, when it applies to 16 year old me, I feel so embarrassed.

Martin Luther spoke of his “Screaming Brain” in this way…
“When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it?  Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made a satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”     -  Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel



Often times, I am reminded that that Screaming Brain is simply one third of the “unholy trinity” of the world, my sinful self and the devil at work trying to drive me inward, into my sinful heart, into despair and shame instead of allowing me to focus on Jesus Christ and His finished work FOR ME!  It tries to drag me from the absolved life of a baptized child of God and is nothing less than the devil and my old Adam trying to make me doubt that when Jesus said, “it is finished,” that it really IS FINISHED!  MY SINS ARE FORGIVEN!  Sins past, present, future, all assigned to Christ who bore all of my sins from the cross and gives me (and you) all of His perfect righteousness. 

If you have a “Screaming Brain” of your own, I have the same good news as Luther had for you.  You are redeemed in Christ, He has paid for your sins and the sins of the whole world.  For those who are baptized, you have been baptized into Christ and clothed with His righteousness (Gal.3). 


For those of you who don’t have a screaming brain, I am somewhat envious of you, but also somewhat worried for you, but that’s a whole other blog post.  



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Friday, April 10, 2015

Death and Resurrection

The whole of the Christian Faith is caught up in these two things, death and resurrection.  



From June 2013 at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Pasadena, Ca.


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Christ's Grace Or Libertinism?

You cannot out sin God’s grace! 

This is one of the most liberating statements in Christendom, but also perceived by many as the most dangerous.  It isn’t bone-crushing law that makes the church angry, it is the completely free Gospel that will make the faithful round up the pitchforks and torches. 

The problem is that the law that they hear isn’t bone-crushing enough and isn't “FOR THEM.”  When the law is proclaimed in all of its severity, it is often perceived as the law for “those people.” 
“Those homosexuals are an abomination.” 
“Those drug addicts and alcoholics are evil to the core.” 
“Those rioters in Ferguson are the dirty, violent, mindless villains of our generation.” 

One of the reasons that most people in the church are not completely thrilled with this announcement of the dangerous, radical, 200 Proof, no holds barred Gospel -  is that they don’t understand how utterly rotten and needful of it they are.  When we come to grips, even a little with our utter sinfulness and incapacity to do even the least good work without Christ doing it in our stead and through us, we will never lay hold of the amazing sweetness of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. 

Through the perfect life, atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection of Jesus, the sins of the world were answered for and consumed in our Savior.  The sins of the whole world, from Adam to the last man standing, all consumed.  This is the radicality of the Gospel, that every sin, ever, is forgiven… for sinners.  But what of those who have conned themselves into believing that they are no longer sinners?  They have neutered the law enough in their hearing that they think that they are actually doing it.  

The “for you-ness” of the Gospel cannot exist unless there are sinners that need God’s grace, for you, for them, for all.  The truth “Of  You-ness” of the law turns sinners upside down and empties them of their false notions of their goodness.  God empties us of ourselves, our sinful selves, the law destroys, it kills and IT KILLS YOU! The Peccator (sinner) in you is being destroyed and yet, it keeps popping up over and over again.  The sinner will not be done away with finally until our bodies stop breathing on this earth.  

To go even further, the gift of Law and Gospel comes in the waters of Holy Baptism and shoves the old Adam even further under the death of the water.  Our God is not in the death business, but the life business.  He does not leave death alone without a resurrection, so He raises us to a new life, one lived as a justified saint.   The Word of God and some tap water is an amazing thing when our God is at work. 

Back to the idea of not being able to out sin God’s grace.  This statement horrifies the sinner who justifies him/herself, because it is heard as a license to sin (but mostly for "those people" to sin). If you can’t out sin God’s grace, then you’re saying that people can do whatever they please.  This is libertine license in their minds, and it is this way because they haven’t been emptied of themselves, of their false notions of their own goodness.   To one who hears it like this, it sounds like it is okay to coddle and pamper our pet sins and God is just hunky-dory with it.   

To the one who confesses his / her sin and confesses that there is nothing good in or about anyone aside from Christ, the saying that we cannot out sin God’s grace is nothing less than a proclamation of the superlative nature of God’s infinite, amazing, forgiveness of sins that we have in Christ Jesus. 

The self-righteous says, YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!  It tells those people that
they don’t have to change!   The broken sinner simply bows their head lower in reverence to their God and says, AMEN! Thanks be to God for His more than infinite mercy for our infinite sin.

You cannot out sin God’s grace, do you hear this statement as Libertine license or as Holy Absolution?

Thanks be to God that He blesses us and redeems us, even in the midst of our sin. 

St. Paul says it this way…
            “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
            What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”
 - Romans 5:18 - 6:4 ESV

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Because


A break for a little levity



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Friday, April 3, 2015

Congratulations, We’re All Spiritual AND Religious




Religion - Defined: the belief in a god or in a group of gods: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group 

People say, “I’m Spiritual, but not Religious.”  YOU CAN’T BE ONE WITHOUT THE OTHER!  This is ridiculous, to say, “I am spiritual” is a religious statement in and of itself.  It means that you believe in a god, gods, spirits or some other supernatural force(s) beyond ourselves.  Congratulations, you’re spiritual and religious.  The only people who may have a true claim to being non-religious are atheists, but then again, atheism is a belief that is religious in that you have set yourself up to be god – at least in your own world. 
 EVERYONE is religious.  God made us into ritualistic, liturgical beings.  We ALL have an innate need for some sort of a liturgical life.  If it isn’t in church, it is something else that we look to for our rituals.

Take a look at when the MLB playoffs come around.  Players and fans alike start doing weird things.  They stop shaving, they pull their hats inside out to watch games, they wear their underwear backward (on purpose).   

Look at the military, if you want to see some high liturgy, go visit the grave of the Unknown Soldier, or attend a burial with military honors. 
Those people are no nonsense and it is utterly moving to the core. 

The Israelites of old had their worship rituals, so did all of the pagans with their“gods.”  The church likewise has traditions and rituals, even those who claim to be free flowing and non liturgical.  Consider that there is an order in the way that things are done.  The band plays for 45 minutes +/- until the preacher feels that it is enough, then he gives a sermon, then they take up an offering, during which, they have announcements, the band plays some more, altar call,
the band plays some more… 

But here is the nub of it, even though we are a religious people, Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords has come to set us free from our religiosity.  Religiosity is different from religion. Religiosity is defined as “an inappropriate devotion to the rituals and traditions of religion.”

The Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day were dedicated to their religiosity.  What happened (as Jesus points out several times) was that they had become so caught up in the rules of their man made rituals that they forgot why they even did things.  The catch all was basically that the angry god will be more angry with us if we don’t do things right.
 This is the problem with religiosity, the object of our faith becomes ME!  No longer is it about our God, but it is about how I am measuring up.  Even in my own church body, we run into this on both sides of the aisle.  The hyper traditional crowd gets caught up in making sure that your hands are in the right position and you’re facing the right direction in the Lord’s Supper – OR YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!  “On the night our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed, he put on a chasuble, faced liturgical east with his back to the disciples.  Then he picked up the bread using only these fingers and as He raised the bread over His head said, “this is my body which is given for you.”  As He said this, He gave a slight nod to St. Matthew who rang a bell….”

Many of the things that I just mentioned above have a good reason for existing and I do not mean to diminish the proper use of any of them, but I am simply pointing out that when the trappings become the main thing, the thing that is diminished in it is the “Who” of our faith – Christ Jesus.

Conversely, the knee jerk reaction to this error is an error in the other direction where we show disdain for all church practice and make it all about ME in worship that is emotionally driven.

The road has a ditch on each side and it is easy to fall off on both sides.  The key is religion in an attempt to keep religiosity at bay.


What happens in Christian worship is confession and absolution from the beginning to the end.  We confess who we are – Sinners.  We confess who Christ Jesus is – The loving God who died and rose from the dead, exchanging our sin for His righteousness.  This is the rhythm of Christian worship, confession and absolution from the hymns, confession and absolution in the service, to the readings, to the sermon, to the Creed (for us men and for our salvation…), to the Lord’s Supper, to the benediction.

The Christian religion is all about sinners in the hands of a merciful God.  Religiosity is about, “how am I appeasing the angry god?”

The true religion is the end of religiosity.   Twitter: @Craig_Donofrio







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