Higher Things: Here I Stand 2017

If you’ve never been to Higher Things Conference, what’s it like?

What’s taught? (starts at ~28 min)

What’s worship like?

What about fun?

Axe Throwing (yes, axe throwing), blacksmithing, football, basketball, bow and arrow tag, exotic animal show, and a bunch, bunch, bunch, bunch of other stuff!

Meet Cuddles!

Hymnody, Ramblings, Theology

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People (LSB 347)

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says our God. “Speak to Jerusalem’s heart, and cry out to her that her warfare is over, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she receives from YHWH’s hand according to a double portion for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2)

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Personal Ramblings, Ramblings, Theology

Sanctification, sanctification, sin, simul, SD V & VI, etc.

Over the past week or so there has been some quite lively debate on the Lutheran interweb. While I didn’t put my paddle in the water, nor is this an attempt to do so, I was quite moved and actually disheartened by most of the rhetoric that I saw. What moved me the most was the fact that I have many friends and acquaintances that are on the varying sides of the issue.

Several weeks ago my friend, Jon, wrote a blog post outlining what I’m sure most of us experience when we undertake the theological task, namely, we try and beat people with our theology, with our theological acumen, with our skill as an arguer, or what-have-you. We cease to engage theology for what it really is, that is, what God speaks concerning Himself and His redeeming, justifying action in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. We make theology into our own tool to beat our neighbor, our theology becomes about us.

When we see the rhetoric in politics and our culture, the pervasive tool is demonizing. We demonize our opponents. We label them. We fit them in a box. We build that box, write that label, and place our neighbor in it, whether he actually fits there or not. When this labeling is done, it is so very easy to dismiss our neighbor. We don’t have to listen to them, engage their argument, or even really think about our own position in relation to theirs. We are disingenuous. We label, dismiss, “rebut”, and move on. We then claim victory, and how stupid, uninformed, or irrational our opponent has been, whether they’re actually an opponent or not.

This culture, this type of rhetoric and argumentation has entered our theological rhetoric. This is not good, though, in some sense, unavoidable. Why? Because theology is inherently reactionary. Before the days of Facebook, blogs, text messages, and email, reactions took a long time to come to light. They were thought out. They had to be. Now our reactions are faster than ever. If you have FIOS internet, even faster! We’re passionate about our positions. Who wouldn’t be? But in the blazing speed of our era we must still think, reflect, and diagnose with care lest we fall off the horse on the other side.

Surely there is a desire to follow Luther’s thesis: “A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is,” i.e., to call a spade a spade. This is not license to be a jerk. Nor should we be so quick to add such men to our “cause” since what Luther says is not doctrine, nor is what Chemnitz says, nor Gerhard, Walther, or any other theologian we can think of. Doctrine is confessed in the Confessions. The former are the Doctors of the Church and we are thankful for they’re instruction, but they do not supersede the Confessions or Scripture; they do not trump them. They can help us understand what is confessed in the Confessions, but doctrine is truly and only confessed in the Confessions, which themselves are only the exposition of Scripture.

What can we do? I do all the same things I’m talking about. In some sense, I’m doing it now, but I’m willing to engage and ask the question, “Do you really fit in that box that I’ve put you in?” (Well, most of the time I do….maybe….on a really good day.) What we need to do is repent. We need to repent of our own pride, our wanting to win the argument, our flexing our own theological muscle. Christ has already won. Christ has redeemed you, me, and, yes, even our “opponents”.

When it came to the whole “[s/S]anctification” debacle online, there was lots of the above going on. I was even doing it in my own mind as I was reading. We need to remember that our opponents are Christians, our own brothers and sisters for whom Christ died, whom Christ has baptized, with whom we are united in His body and blood, with whom we are united in the Confession of faith, and even united in a Synod.

The issue isn’t as cut and dry as we like to think it is. Which is why in a lot of ways our argumentation—mine included—is very unfruitful, unhelpful, unevangelical, and, in many ways, absolutely ridiculous. How can you claim to have a straight flush when you only have 2 cards? How well does a wagon wheel work with only one or two spokes? The whole discussion of “[s/S]anctification]” revolves around many different articles of faith, i.e., around the varying ways that Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions speak.

If you see someone who wants to talk about “[s/S]anctification,” how helpful is it to claim that they are a legalist, wanting to save/justify themselves? Could it be true? Maybe. But to a priori label them as such, is not helpful. Likewise, if you see someone who is wary of talking about “[s/S]anctification]” out of fear of producing pharisees, running things in the way of the Law, or making the Law the final word of God, is it helpful to say they are an “antinomian?” What does that accomplish? Here are only two factions! When the various sides only argue one point out of many, it is indeed difficult to have a discussion.

Definitions and distinctions are important, but just because you talk about one facet doesn’t mean you’ve got the whole thing: you may grab the tail, but lose the salamander. The whole “[s/S]anctification]” debate revolves around: the distinction between Sanctification (Christ is ours) and sanctification (works that follow justification, flowing from faith not the Law); maintaining the simul (not only the peccator but also the justus, cf. Rom. 7–8); the proper distinction between Law and Gospel (SD V); the Third Use of the Law (SD VI); original sin (before and after baptism); whence good works flow (AC VI); that we are justified gratis propter Christum (AC IV); and I’m sure I’m missing a few others.

When we engage in our theological discussions, we ought to remember that theology revolves properly around confessing “man the sinner, and the God who justifies” (homo peccator, Deus iustificans). It’s easy to understand what error our opponents are attempting to protect against, and instead of demonizing and dismissing the concern we, explaining everything in the kindest way and bearing with one another in love, should bring our concerns.

Theology is not about who wins and loses. It is about confessing Christ and Him crucified for sinners. It’s about proclaiming the Gospel, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Theology is about confessing what God speaks and what God does for you, in you, and through you. We receive Theology in the Word of Holy Scripture. We receive it in the Lutheran Confessions. Theology is not the best, pithiest, or wittiest status update or comment you can come up with. Theology is a gift given to us by Christ Himself. Let us not abuse it for our own power grab, our own prideful wants, nor use it as the club to beat our neighbor with.

In spite of all our selfish endeavors Christ’s still speaks His Word. It still does what it is meant to do. His Word does not return void, but His proper Word, His theology, given to His Church to proclaim, forgives sinners—you and I included!



Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is not any variation or shadow of change. (James 1:17)

In the name of Jesus. Amen. Gifts. ‘Tis the season, after all. We deserve to go out and get that special something. After all, we’ve earned it. We’ve worked hard, and we deserve the Christmas bonus. We work hard, and then, when we don’t get what we think we deserve, we complain. After all, we have been pretty good this year. Have we been naughty or nice?  We justify ourselves, and the gifts we think we deserve, we demand.

Or maybe, we despair. No good gifts for me. I don’t deserve it. We become a cynic, a pessimist, a doubter of God’s grace and mercy. He surely wouldn’t give me that. Why does the Lord give me this? What have I done? Or we doubt and think that no gift will come our way. God may care for them, or for even the lilies of the field, but not for me.

And so there we are: either proud, arrogant, and justifying ourselves, or we simply doubt and despair, resting in unbelief. But yet, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is not any variation or shadow of change.”  Your heavenly Father still gives you every good and perfect gift because of Jesus. His forgiveness. His life. His righteousness. But, more than that, it truly is EVERY gift.

He who is Light from Light came down from the Father’s inapproachable light. He came down for our salvation. The true Light came down and shone in the midst of darkness. Jesus shone in the midst of the darkness of our sin.  He who is light bore the darkness of our sin, and so He shone in the darkest place for you.  Christ’s light was snuffed out in death on the cross. But that final darkness could not hold back the eternal Light, the Light from Light, the Light who came down from the Father of lights, and so His light shines forth now and eternally—victorious over the dark tomb, and the deep darkness of death.  Because of Christ there is no shadow or change in the Father towards you.  He won’t change His Calvary-set mind: it’s been set eternally.  And because of Christ’s death and resurrection EVERY gift is yours.  Every gift for life.  Your earthly life.  Your eternal life hidden now in God, but truly yours in Baptism.  Your heavenly life hereafter.  All of it assured, promised, and given because of Christ. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Delay not, delay not, O sinner, draw near.
The waters of life are now flowing for thee;
No price is demanded, the Savior is here;
Redemption is purchased, salvation is free.


The Spirit of Judgment and Fire

 When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, then the LORD will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. (Is. 4:4-5 NKJV)


It that great day of the Lord.  All things of man are passing away.  The Lord is bringing his judgment to bear upon the earth.  He alone is exalted in that day.  He alone the sole actor.  He alone the only God.


Everything that has beauty, everything that man deems lofty shall be brought down.  "The day of the Lord of hosts Shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up – and it shall be brought low" (Is. 2:12 NKJV).  Logan, UT is surrounded by majestic mountains and valleys which are absolutely beautiful.  Those who have lived in the area boast of their beauty, but even these shall not remain.  Whatever we deem lofty, shall be brought down.


The ships of the sea will be removed.  All our proud and tall building shall be gone.  Your nice car.  Your nice house.  All fancy computer gadgets will be taken away.  All things we hold dear in this life shall be consumed in that day of the Lord.


This judgment reaches us as well.  We look to those things more than the Lord.  We would worry more about our house than the Lord in that day.  It is a terrifying thought to look at all we own, all we plan, all we want to do and it to be taken away.  "I’ve just got to get such and such done…"  "I don’t want to die before…"


"The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down" (Is. 2:11 NKJV).  "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”;  whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”  But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:13-16).  Moreover, we shall gain the opposite of our desires:


"Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench;

Instead of a sash, a rope;

Instead of well-set hair, baldness;

Instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth;

And branding instead of beauty" (Is. 3:24 NKJV)


If such judgments are rendered, who shall stand?  You will.  And I will too.  We all will because we’ve been washed and clothed with Christ in baptism.  We shall dwell in the glory of GOd in that day.  There is no reason to fear that judgment.  All our haughtiness, all our desires for the things of this world, all vain hopes are taken from our midst.  They are taken away "by the Spirit of judgment and by the Spirit of burning" (Is. 4:4).  Such a spirit of judgment came once before on the world: at the flood.  And this spirit of judgment came upon you in the waters of baptism, which St. Peter says is what the flood is all about.


Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  The later is that "spirit of burning."  This is not an all consuming and destructive fire, but a purifying fire which saves our souls.  The fiery coal from heaven purifies Isaiah.  The purifying fire of the font, supper, and keys take away your blood-guilt and give you instead forgiveness life and salvation.  Yes we desire many other things besides the one thing needful (Jesus Christ), but we need not fear.  The Lord will save you anyway.  "Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.  If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Cor. 3:12-15).


It may not be joyful to see the Lord’s judgment come down against all lofty things of this world, but it is a joy to know that in this judgment he comes to save.  This judgment brings us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.  The Spirit of judgment and fire came to you already in baptism and continues to come in the Supper.  We are in Christ and he in us.  THe judgment can’t harm us.


The judgment of the Spirit

Bestows a wat’ry grave,

Yet the burning of the SPirit

Doth purify and save!


This Joyous Eastertide

Easter is a time without compare in the entire church year. Christmas for sure is also a very important festival, maybe even Pentecost with confirmation; but these do not even come close to Easter. The somberness of Good Friday is gone, and the reason for Jesus’ coming is now seen – all in his bursting from the tomb on the first day of the week. And from that time forth the church has been celebrating Easter.

It hasn’t been celebrated in all this same pomp and exuberance since the Early Church. At that time, every Sunday was a little Easter. The Resurrection on Sunday morning motivated the Christians to meet on that day rather than Saturday (the Sabbath of their Jewish roots). Eventually, celebrations on the anniversary of Easter itself sprang up – turning Easter into a big Sunday!

This was filled with a lot of controversy as the Church decided how to implement this wonderful festival into its life and practice. An important emphasis then was Baptism. This revolved around the celebration of the Holy Triduum (the three days Christ was in the tomb). The newly converted would all be baptized on Holy Saturday, the eve of Jesus’ Resurrection. This emphasizes the tie between being baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection with the celebration of the resurrection itself. This is still practiced by some Christians today where they baptize, or at least attempt to, all the new adult members, and the practice is echoed in this ancient Easter hymn:

Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
You have opened paradise,
And Your saints in You shall rise.

The final word of that stanza gives us another practice which we still hold today – the Alleluia. Alleluia is returned on Easter with full exuberance and joy. Our church even retains the ancient Easter greeting: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” All this is done to continually confess the Resurrection of Jesus and the joy with which this event fills our hearts.

The entire season of Easter (Eastertide) is a tide of joy. It is overflowing with the joy knowing that death is dead, the Accuser is silenced, and the grave is opened for Christ and even for us. This is a joy which flows from the tide of water which washed us at the Holy Font. For we were baptized so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Rom. 6).

This joy doesn’t stop with just baptism which washed us in the tide of water flowing from his pierced side, but it continues in the other tide – the blood. It is a cup of gladness that we take. We eat and drink the body and blood of not a dead Christ Jesus, but of a resurrected and living Jesus. The life and salvation from Easter morn is given to us in this blessed meal.

Alleluias, water, body and blood all telling us the same thing: Christ is risen! The Resurrection fills our hearts with joy, and our faith clings to it. There is just Easter joy, and no more fear of sin, death, and the devil. As Luther puts it:

See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us.

(Hymns stanzas are LSB 633 & 458)


Happy Litany Day!

By the mystery of Thy holy incarnation; By Thy holy nativity; By Thy baptism, fasting, and temptation; By Thine agony and bloody sweat; By Thy cross and Passion; By Thy precious death and burial; By Thy glorious resurrection and ascension; And by the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter: Help us, good Lord.

Such is our Lenten prayer. Such is the summary of what Christ came to do. Yet this is not some down-in-the-dumps or depressing sort of list. This is not something that should cause us to wail, or bemoan these most holy and blessed deeds. This prayer is not something that is just prayed in Lent, but it is the constant prayer of the Church: an Easter prayer, an Advent prayer, a Christmas prayer, but most assuredly it is a Lenten prayer.

It is not a sad Lenten prayer, but a joyous one! Because the reason these works and actions of Christ can help us is simply because he did them for you! Not only you, but the whole world. Everything Christ did Christmas to Pentecost and everything in between and afterward was all for you.

Today we commemorate St. Patrick; it is not simply about green beverages, rivers, leprechauns, and four-leaf clovers, but it is about this Litany prayer. It is about St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland, by preaching this litany prayer. He preached all these deeds of Jesus done for the people of Ireland. He preached a baptism that gave to them all this, even eternal life.

St. Patrick still preaches to us today. His voice is still clearly heard:

I bind this day to me forever,
By pow’r of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
His Baptism in the Jordan River,
His cross of death for my salvation.
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heav’nly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today. (LSB 604:2).

This preaching to us removes all the snakes from our life. Such baptism removes the reign of that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan. Such baptism removes the snakes of sin, their sting, their guilt; such baptism removes death and its sting. The message of St. Patrick reminds us that the cross on our foreheads is not just the cross of Christ, but the whole life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

This is a Lenten message as well. St. Patrick and the Litany all tell us the same thing: “Rejoice! Christ did all these things for you.” What joy, especially in Lent. Thus we can rejoice with St. Patrick, the Litany in this “rejoice week.” Singing out with ever more joy:

Then, for all that wrought my pardon,
For Thy sorrows deep and sore,
For Thine anguish in the Garden,
I will thank Thee evermore,
Thank Thee for Thy groaning, sighing,
For Thy bleeding and Thy dying,
For that last triumphant cry,
And shall praise Thee, Lord, on high. (LSB 420:7).