How to Make Law Preaching Specific and Varied

keep-calm-preach-law-and-gospelWow, that title almost puts me to sleep.  Hopefully someone actually clicks on such a sleepy title.

Christian preachers should do two things in every sermon.  They should seek to convict their hearers of sin.  Secondly, they should proclaim Jesus’ work as the only answer for such sin.  The first task Lutherans usually call “preaching the Law.”  The latter we call “preaching the Gospel.”

Both tasks are of great importance.  For if the Law is not preached, the Gospel will be disregarded by the hearers who are left to think they do not really need Jesus all that much.  And if only Law is preached, the people will leave in despair instead of joy, which is not God’s intention for His Word.

I believe that the preaching of the Law must be specific and varied.  What do I mean by that?  Well first, our task is not simply to tell our people that they are sinful, although we do that as well.  But our task is to expose specific sins, particularly sins that our hearers are not already aware of in their own lives.  And that means that we must not only speak, for instance, about greed generally but show how greed manifests its ugly head in everyday life.  We might mention how as workers we are almost never content with our wages.  Or we could mention how owners can gather all the profits of a company to themselves while leaving their workers impoverished and think of themselves not as sinners but good capitalists.  We must be specific because sin occurs in specificity.

But besides being specific, the Law should also be varied.  If someone preaches every week about husbands looking at internet pornography, the congregation might rightly begin to wonder why this topic comes up so frequently in their Pastor’s sermons.  No, every corner of life should be explored.

But how does one on a weekly basis make sure their Law preaching is both specific and varied?  Well I think it is quite simple.  Martin Luther writes that in preparing to confess sins one should “Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments.” (Small Catechism)  In other words, especially if specific sins to confess do not pop right to mind, let one or more of the Commandments search through one or more of your vocations.  So a Christian might ask, “How have I kept the Third Commandment as a father?  Have I made sure my family is in worship?  How has I kept the four commandment as a citizen of the United States in regard to that president I can not stand? Have I obeyed as I must?”

The same is true for preaching.  Law preaching becomes specific and varied when the preacher considers his hearer’s place in life according to the Ten Commandments.  I would suggest specifically that he let the Table of Duties and the Ten Commandments meet and see what Law is crafted.

One could even literally write down the various vocations mentioned in the Table of Duties (Pastor, master, wife, children, etc) on one stack of cards and the Ten Commandments on another stack of cards.  Then he could then at random pick one card from each pile and come up with a Law application.  This week I will mention how children ought to live sexually pure lives.  Then next week I will talk about the pastor’s responsibility to guard people reputations through not revealing sins confessed to them, and so on.

In this way, the examples are just as specific as real life and yet the preacher does not get stuck constantly riding one hobby horse or another.  And all of this leads to the end that all sins might be exposed, repented of, and find their end in Jesus.  To Him be the Glory.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on April 16th, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , , ,  • No Comments

The Prayers Are Too Long

praying_priest_440I wish I could say that the title for this post originated in the head of some unbeliever who happened to be in church on Good Friday when we prayed the Bidding Prayer.  I wish I could say it was my eight year son who hates to sit still who thought it.  But it was me, the Pastor leading the prayers at the front of the Church.

For those that do not know, the Bidding Prayer is a prayer that strings together something close to a dozen collects or prayers.  And not only are there that many of them, in this particular prayer, we stop to mention who we are going to pray for each time before we actually pray. 

But if I am truthful, I have uttered the title of this post in my heart more times than I can count during my life and not just during the Bidding Prayer.  Sometimes, the Prayer of the Church prayed ever Sunday seems a little too long.  I am tempted to skip a petition or two just to speed things along.  Other times it is during an prayer spoken by someone else as they pour our their concerns to God.

But here is what I know.  The prayers are not too long.  That is not the problem.  I am the problem.  Every time I think the prayers are too long, I am forgetting several important truths:

1.  God has given us his ear.  Yes, the almighty God has bent over and is listening to each of those prayers offered.  We have a chance to speak to the Creator and Redeemer of all things, and I, the pastor, think we should cut it short.  I prove I do not treasure this gift as I should.

2.  There is much in need of prayer.  The truth is that if we had a collect for everything just in dire need of prayer in our immediate context, the collects would never end.  There are so many things and people that need the help of God.  And yet, I think I should cut out a petition here or there.  Let’s see.  Who doesn’t need our prayer this week?  Our president who makes critical choices each day?  Parents who are struggling to raise their children in the fear of God amidst a world that is warring against such conviction?  The Christians who are being asked to choose their faith or their life?  When I want shorter prayers, I prove I have forgotten how much is broken in the world.

3.  Prayer is effective.  I have never understood why God orders His world according to the prayers of His weak and sinful people, but the Scriptures are clear that He does.  He hears prayers that ascend to Him and He acts upon them.  Prayers offered in faith matter to His Kingdom and to the world.  I suppose the real truth is that I want shorter prayers because I often doubt that prayers do much of anything. Therefore, I think they are not worth a few extra moments.

4.  Patience and self-control are fruits of the Spirit.   Getting antsy with the things of God is of the flesh.  Desiring to move on to other things that are more exciting or pleasurable is a sour grape brought forth by the old self.  Instead of limiting the prayers, I ought  to add another petition for me, that I might have the patience and self-control to pray with my whole self as long as is needed.

Oh no doubt, the Lord warns that prayers babbled on at length for show are not something He desires.  But that is not what I am talking about.  And quite frankly, I am not sure in our attention-deficit society that is much of a temptation for most.  But to weary of prayer quickly? That is quite common.  It is not just me who struggles with that.

The prayers are not too long.  I am too weak.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on April 4th, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , ,  • 2 Comments

I Do Not Answer Calls from “Unknown Caller”…Even From God.

unknownOn my cell and now my home phone, I have Caller ID.  Most of the time when I get a call that I can not identify (specifically as someone I know or generally as a local number that might be a member), I do not answer it.  I like to know who is calling before I answer.  I like to know exactly who I am talking to when I put my ear to the phone’s speaker.

It is sort of the same way with God.  There are lots of ways God could speak to us.  He could speak through a small still voice.  He could speak through things that seem to be too perfect to be coincidences.  He could use our feelings to guide us in the way that He would have us go.  He could speak in all sorts of ways.

When I got a Call to serve another church as pastor and had to make a decision, someone suggested that God was trying to say something to me when I received a “to-go” container at a eating place even without asking.  Others told me that God would just give me peace about one decision or another.  Some I am sure would have expected on such a  Kingdom-related decision I might get a little whisper from God.

But I have to admit, I do not answer “Unknown Caller” calls, even from God.  I do not assume that just because God could be speaking to me that He is speaking to me.  Only when I know it is Him do I listen.  And how do I know?  Well the only Caller ID I trust when it comes to God is when it says 1-800-Word-and-Sacraments.  Then I know it will be Him for sure and that I should listen.  Only in the Scriptures and the Sacraments do I have God’s promise to speak.

All of other numbers could be prank calls made by the evil one, seeking to deceive me rather than lead me.  All of those other calls could actually be me calling myself to tell me what I want to hear.  All of those others calls could be anything.

I would have loved a definitive answer from above.  But I did not get one.  Or if I did, I guess I did not answer that call.  I only could base that decision on what I knew from the Word.  And so I did make my decision that way.  I do not answer calls from unknown callers.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on March 24th, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , , ,  • No Comments

“Only God Can Judge Me”

mwIn a recent conversation, a courageous interviewer decided to ask Flloyd Mayweather about his history of domestic abuse.  After Floyd dodged the first few questions like an expert fighter, the interviewer went for the direct jab, “The website Deadspin detailed seven physical assaults on five women that resulted in arrest or citation, are we supposed to believe all the women are lying including the incidents when there were witnesses like your own kids?”  Floyd responded, “Everybody actually, everybody is entitled to their own opinion. When it is all said and done, only God can judge me.” It is the kind of thing that rightly makes one want to jump out of their seat and deliver a knock-out punch to the champ.  How can he claim that he should not face any earthly justice for what he has done.

And yet, this is a very common idea in our culture.  Most believe that everyone’s life should be free of any scrutiny by anyone else.  “Only God can Judge me” is a common thought usually ushered in by others who try to coax the Son of God into their corner by saying, “Did not Jesus say, ‘Judge not?’”  It is one of the few things that those way on the left  of the political spectrum and those way on the right seem to agree on.  They both think that respect for privacy means lack of judgment from others.

In one sense it is of course true that only God can judge us in the end.  He is the only one who by His nature defines what is holy and what is evil.  But let us not forget that God does His judging in three ways already now upon the earth.  Yes, on the last day, each person will stand directly before God and be judged.  But until then each person is judged in three ways.  First, each person is judged as to right and wrong by their parents who have been given this responsibility in the estate of the family. (Proverbs 13:24b He who loves him [his son] is diligent to discipline him.) Secondly, each person is judged by the state which has been given by God to punish evil and reward good upon the earth. (1 Peter 2:13–14  Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.)  And lastly, each person is judged by their pastor who has been given spiritual oversight over them (Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.)

Yes,  only God can judge you.  But He does so through parents, rulers, and pastors.  And this He does not because He loves to punish but because He desires that all would turn from sin and live.  His discipline is for our eternal good.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 21st, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , , , ,  • No Comments

Love Jesus-ly

lovedifJust today on St. Valentine’s Day, one of my Facebook friends shared this image put out by the United Church of Christ on Facebook.  There are certain church bodies who when they make public appeals are consciously counter-cultural.  They know their message may ruffle feathers or at the least will not be swallowed easily.  And then there are churches like the UCC who in making public appeals make sure their appeals are consciously crafted for the culture.  I am certain that this ad on Facebook if tested against a random sample of people would poll quite well.  People would love it.

But what surprised me is that this ad revealed their hand so plainly.  The question must be asked, “Love differently than who or than what?”  And the answer they intend is quite clear if you know the way the UCC perceives itself.  “Love differently” than those conservative Christians you might hear calling people to repentance over their sinful lifestyles.  After all, their church body’s motto insists, “God is still speaking.”  And have no doubt, they mean that God is speaking apart from the Scriptures, revealing things that clearly contradict the way He spoke in the past in the Bible.   Don’t close your mind.  God may now approve of things that the Scriptures quite clearly speak against.  This is what the UCC asserts.

And this assertion rests upon one Satan’s most popular modern deceptions.  Here it is.  Jesus loves everyone.  You, his child, should love everyone.  That means you should accept whatever people want to do.  Love is tolerance and acceptance.  This deception is spoken often in our day and like Satan’s best deceptions throughout time it is so accepted because it sounds true.

And yet is built on a falsehood. If we are to learn of love from the Bible and from Jesus, we must reject the idea that essence of love is tolerance and acceptance in the sense that a word of rebuke or a call to repentance has no place.  For throughout the Scriptures God is constantly calling those He loves away from their sin and to himself for forgiveness.  Just as a parent would call his child out of the busy road because they love their child, so also God calls those He loves away from evil and unto life with Him through his Son Jesus.

If you “love differently” as the UCC suggests, you end up “loving differently” than Jesus himself.  For His prime message throughout His earthly ministry was, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  It is a message of law that reveals evil and a message of good news that offers life.  Did Jesus love everyone?  Absolutely.  Should we?  Certainly.  But how did Jesus love?  He called sinners away from sin and to Himself.  Child of God, don’t love differently than Him.  Love Jesus-ly.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 14th, 2015 under Theology and Practice • 2 Comments

How a Christian Makes Big Decisions in Life

decisionEvery Christian is at various times in their life placed into a situation where a major decision has to be made.   A job offer comes.  The home down the street finally comes up for sale.  A young man stands in the jewelry shop and wonders if he should actually buy the ring.  It could be a hundred other situations.  But each time, it is a decision that seems to come wrapped up in loads of stress.

How does one make that decision?  Well, many Christians and Christian leaders suggest this approach:  Pray and God will tell you what to do.  He will give you a sense of peace.  He will speak through small signs in your life.  Perhaps He will speak audibly to you.

This sounds very spiritual and many people operate in this way each day.  The only problem is that we have no biblical promise I am aware of that God will lead us in such ways.  Also, it is surely way too easy to convince yourself that some feeling or coincidence must be from God when it may really just be a feeling or coincidence you have conjured up yourself.

It seems to me another approach is far more scriptural.  Let me explain it here.

First, examine the options and ask, “Are all choices God pleasing?”  Is there anything in any option that would go against the ways that Christ has called us as his children to live within.  Here we are not trying to seek the hidden will of God about the decision, but simply working with what God has revealed in the Scriptures.  Do both options honor God, allow for worship of Him, honor authority, etc?  If so, move on to the next part.  If one option would involve lack of integrity, reveal obvious greed or lead one into obvious temptation, then choose the other.

Second, consider each option in light of the various vocations (roles, callings) God has given you.  Ask how each option would affect your work, your family relationships, your church relationships?   Try here not to prioritize one vocation over another.  All are important.  If one decision would negatively or positively effect one vocation or another, take that into account.  Try to reason which option makes it easiest to faithfully carry out ALL of the vocations God has given to you.

Third, seek counsel.  Talk with people who may be able to help you consider various aspects of the decision.  Seek spiritual counsel from your pastor and your Christian brothers and sisters.  Seek professional counsel in various fields related to the decision.  Seek out practical counsel from those you trust and respect as wise individuals in general.

Fourth, pray, make a decision, and know that God goes with you.  So long as both decisions are godly ones, you need not fear that somehow God is sitting up in heaven thinking that you made the wrong decision and will punish you for it.  Instead know that whichever choice you made, God goes with you and before you.  You know already what God requires of you regardless of the decision: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

God has not promised to give us specific guidance for every decision.  In most cases, He likely does not even have a preference which decision is made if both options can be made without trespassing any of His ways.   He is much more concerned with how we live each day in the places He has put us.  He knows that people can served in nearly all situations, jobs, and locations.

So, consider what God has revealed rather than seeking out some sign that may or may not be from His hand.  Make a decision and know that the Lord is with you.  That is how a Christian makes a big decision in life.


Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 9th, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , , , , , ,  • 2 Comments

Looking for a less bloody Jesus? Me neither.

notsobloodyTo the left is an ad that just popped up in my Facebook feed.  If you look beneath the image, you find these words, “You’re looking for a change for Good Friday this year – focused on the cross, but not so bloody.  Here’s an faithful option.”

A faithful option that rids Good Friday of the blood of Jesus?  That does not exist.  Anyone looking for a less bloody Jesus is looking for a Jesus that needs not bleed for them and their sins. 

Should it surprise me then that when I clicked and looked at the service they are offering, that it makes no mention of sin but only prays for those who suffer.

This service takes the prime event of salvation and turns it into nothing more than a way to think about others who suffer, as if Jesus bled solely to give us a picture of what suffering looks like.  This we do not need.  Suffering is all around us.  Salvation is what we need.  And that is why we need to talk about blood on Good Friday.  “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22)

In general, we have to get over our modern hang ups with blood.  I know in our culture blood is connected much more in literature and even science with death than life.  We often think of blood as that stuff that carries disease but in reality blood is first and foremost that that carries everything necessary for life.   In the scriptures, blood and life go together.  Jesus’ blood and our life go together.

“The life of the flesh is in the blood” says the book of Leviticus.  The presence of blood in the tabernacle and temple was the assurance that the forgiveness of God was delivered there to the people of God.  And Jesus says of us who live in the last days, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Looking for a less bloody Jesus?  Me neither.  “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9) “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13) “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  (Revelation 1:5-6)

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 5th, 2015 under Theology and Practice • No Comments

The Consolation of Superbowl Commercials?

dadIt is always good when the Superbowl is not much of a game because then I do not have to feel terrible about actually looking forward to various companies trying to shill their products to me. Well, this year, the game was good. And yet I still sat there and watched most every commercial.

And on the whole it seemed like the ads this year where focused on some good themes. Dads who play with their kids were lauded, girls were told to to not allow their gender to stifle their confidence, and several juggernaut corporations suggested the world would be better with a few kind words here and there.

I guess I should be happy that Katy kept her clothes on, the commercials sought to be positive, and a good game broke out in the midst of all the other entertainment. But my overall thought was this. How sad that we need Dove, Coca-cola, and McDonalds to preach to us about goodness and happiness.

What a big hole we have in society when the thought of saying something nice must be paired with an order of fries, the thought of not being jerks to one another must be sent on waves of Coca-cola via the internet, and the model for fatherhood now comes from the holy trinity of Dove, Nissan, and Toyota.

It seems to me that the way our part of the world has been hollowed out over the last decades is finally being noticed. People are recognizing the need for dads, for morality, and for true joy. But the canyon that exists in our society today cannot be filled up with Coca-cola and Fries. It cannot be cleaned up with all the Dove soap in the world.

Many secularists are trying to to find a way to fix what is broken without returning to the things they left behind when they ran from God. But it will not work. Indeed, our souls will be restless until they find their rest in Jesus.

May we in the church best honest about the cavernous holes that exist in our modern culture and may we place Jesus into each one not only through blogs and sermons but in every interaction we are blessed to have. There is indeed a need for dads, for girls to have confidence in who God has made, and for kinds words to warm the cold parts of our world. But only Jesus and his gifts are able to truly fix what is wrong. Let us turn to Him.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 2nd, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , , ,  • No Comments

Three Ways to Keep Amillennials in the Church

aminI have noticed that my Facebook feed that there is great concern over how to keep amillennials in the Church.  My own district in the LC-MS has identified this as the prime concern upon the minds of the clergy and laypeople.  Let me offer three ways to keep amillennials in the Church.

1)  Keep them away from false teachers.

Amillennials are really only likely to leave the church if they become enamored with false teachers like Lahaye and Scofield who embrace false eschatologies.   Such false teachers encourage people to use such questionable interpretative methods such as: 

  • Using the unclear passages in the Scriptures to lampoon the clear passage in Scripture. Deny the clear words of Jesus through speculation into the imagery of Revelation.
  • Choosing the interpretation most likely to sell books .and movies.  Amillennialism does not lend itself to a sequel.  It is a one and done deal by definition.
  • Focusing on current events more than the events of the past such as the death of Jesus on the cross.  Put the New York Times in one column and the funny parts of Ezekiel in another and have fun.

Such terrible interpretive methods can lead people to embrace all sorts of false beliefs such as:

  • I don’t need the church. Jesus and I are fine.  I am too busy reading the news looking for the fulfillment of ancient prophecies to come to the gathering.
  • I think meditating on the basics of the faith is boring.  I would rather try to develop my own formula for end time dating
  • John Hagee is my homeboy.

Such beliefs lead Amillennials away from the Church.

2)  Don’t outsource their instruction in the faith.  Parents must teach their children.

Amillennials believe correctly about the end times.  However, that can lead parents and pastor alike to think they are prepared to be thrown out into the ever-changing  waves of Christian writings, movies, and music.  They can believe that since they understand that Jesus will return once and all things will be made new, they will also be able to swim through all of the stuff sold in the Christian book store. 

However, trends have a way of pulling people under quickly.  Soon even Amillennials are weighed down by all the things floating around out in those waters.  They can be tricked into thinking the faith is about hipster pastors, heart-tugging plots, and a killer 5 word chorus repeated over and over again.

Parents must keep their Amillennial kids grounded in the scriptures daily.  They must make use of aids like the catechism in order to guard their children against much of what is sold in your local Christian bookstore.  They should fill their minds with the awesome stories of the Scriptures and their ear with songs that calm the conscience with truth about Jesus.  They must take them weekly where Jesus is in water, words, bread and wine.

Amillennials left to their own devices will usually end up alone.  Someone will find the right temptation to keep them away from Jesus.  And that is the definition of alone.

2)  Call them away from sin and to Jesus in his Church

If Amillennials are constantly called to repentance and faith in Jesus, they will remain in church.  Amillennials understand that Jesus’ imminent return means that they are always to be ready for his return.  If reminded of their failure to keep God’s holy law and understand that Jesus comes to them in His Church with his grace and mercy, there will remain.  They will not leave because they will understand that to be without Jesus is to be left in sin and woefully unprepared for Jesus’ return.

Failure to do this might leave Amillennials trusting in their own holiness.  This might lead them to believe that they should sit at home posting psuedo-Christian memes on their Facebook feed manifesting their superior holiness and understanding into the scriptures.  It might also lead them to stay away their congregations in order to not be dragged down by those who are not as good or wise as them.  Such trust in one’s own piety can only lead people away from Jesus and his church.

————————–   ————————–   ————————–  

I hope these thoughts will help people consider how to keep Amillennials in the church.  Keep them daily aware of their need for Jesus and they will stay in the Church.

What?  People are worried not about keeping Amillennials in the church?  It is Millennials?  Well, shoot. Thankfully, the same rules apply.   Jesus is the way to keep anyone in the Church that will remain.  Things that will certainly not keep Millennials in the true Church include:

  • Removing five overused phrases in the church
  • Changing you worship to be more exciting
  • Making your sanctuary more traditional
  • Getting a younger, cooler pastor
  • Leadership training 
  • Taking kids to a stellar youth conference once a year
  • Being comtemporary, relevant, authentic, non-judgmental, or whatever.

We preach Jesus to sinners.  Those who have ears will remain.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on November 15th, 2014 under Humor, Theology and PracticeTags: , , , , ,  • 1 Comment

God’s invisible creations…more than angels

viWe confess in the Nicene Creed that God created all things, visible and invisible.  But sadly when someone asks what we mean by God’s invisible creations, we usually have little to say.  We speak quickly of angels, trying not to say more than we really know.  After that, we go silent.

But I would argue that we actually have much more to say about the invisible creations of God.  For God did not just create a bunch of things apparent to any functioning eye but also ordered those things perfectly as well. 

And so he created not only the visible stars in the sky but also the invisible forces that hold them all place in the sky so concretely that a child can look up and behold the same constellations night after night.  He created the gravity that would push his creatures firmly against the dry land.    He created the unseen components of the air that would give life to plants and animals alike.

But even with these thing discussed, there is still more to say about God’s invisible creations.  And what is left to discuss is perhaps even less visible than forces present in nature or the air which floats around us at all times.

We all know that God created Adam and Eve.  Their descendants we readily perceive all around us.  They are the crown of visible creation.  But what we do not often note is the invisible orders God created to be active within humanity’s daily interactions.  While some of these orders would not be revealed right away in Genesis 1-2, all of them would be evident soon enough.  Orders like placing man and wife together in marriage.  Orders like placing pastor and people together in the church.  Orders like rulers and citizens placed together in nations.

And orders are by nature ordered.  It is not just that God created marriage but he ordered it so that it would be composed of husbands loving wives and wives respected husbands.  It is not just that God created the church but he ordered it so that it would be comprised of pastors serving their people and people being persuaded by their pastors.  It is not just that God created government but he ordered it so that it would be made up if of rules benefiting their people by rewarding good and punishing evil and citizens obeying their rulers.

These things are all part of the "Very good" that God declared about his creation.  It was not just that his visible creation was perfect but the invisible ways he crafted for that creation to function as well.   It is also all of this that was destroyed when sin came in swinging to demolish all God had created.  Not only did all flesh begin to die but the orders meant to be a blessing became a burden because of sinful desires which reject such order.

Thanks be to Jesus that he has come to make all things, visible and invisible, new through his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming again.  For this creation, all of it, is groaning and in need of restoration.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.


Posted by Philip Hoppe on September 8th, 2014 under Marriage and Family, Theology and PracticeTags: , , , , , ,  • 1 Comment