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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.