Reflections on a visit to Germany for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

 

500 Reformation Choir on recent trip to Germany

Dear 500 Year Old Lutherans,
 
It is hard to imagine that a trip to Germany on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation would be anything but an edifying spiritual pilgrimage. What could be better than listening to 24 male voices singing hymns of praise to God next to the grave of Martin Luther? What could be better than hearing their wives joining them in a robust version of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God?"
 
You are probably waiting for me to say it was the most gratifying experience of a lifetime. It wasn’t. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable and very much appreciated. But let me explain. What Martin Luther stood for, what Martin Luther confessed, was a Christ that had done something for him and all humanity that no one could possibly understand or appreciate without the aid of the Holy Spirit. He was not a saint. He did not want to be idolized. He just wanted all men to be freed from the chains of doubt and the fear of God’s judgment. He found Christ’s gift of a free and undeserved forgiveness in the Holy Scriptures. He faced death many times throughout his life. He did so with a faith that was mixed with fear. He knew he possessed eternal life in Christ, but his flesh was weak and trembled in the face of death. A Christian faith conquering fear; that was Luther.
 
That is why the real Luther had a hard time shining through the exhibits and pictures and commercialism that drove this jubilee. There were two places of note where I saw a glimpse. The first was in the city of Wolfenbüttel. Our family group entered the cathedral not knowing what we would find. We passed through the church, descended the steps into the crypt below where the bodies of the dukes and duchesses lay in state. Suddenly the pastor of the cathedral appeared and offered to tell us about the artwork of the cathedral. He was using the Reformation celebration as an excuse to tell us about the Christian faith and the hope of the resurrection that comes to us through Christ. It burned in his heart. That is what the Reformation was all about: Burning hearts for the true and pure Gospel.
 
The second time was when the choir group stopped at a little chapel in a village called Gruna. We thought that we would only be using the chapel for our own service, but when we arrived, the church was full of people from the village. They played a prelude for us, opened their mouths in awe as the pastors sang, and greeted us after service with warm affection and food. They only had one worship service a year in that church. Their chapel had been flooded twice in recent years. Six feet up the walls were still peeling paint. It was the old East Germany. I felt like were meeting people coming out of prison. The privilege of speaking the Gospel to them was humbling. That was what Luther felt when he discovered the Gospel. It humbled him. Humble gratitude from knowing and trusting God’s free and undeserved mercy and grace compelled him to defy the threats, bans and incrimination of emperors, popes, kings, nobles and their mighty armies.
 
We must ask ourselves: How are we going to celebrate the Reformation? It is great to have exhibits and pictures. It is wonderful to have choirs singing the incredible works of Lutheran hymn writers and composers. But the greater and lasting legacy of the Lutheran Reformation is our own burning faith in the pure Gospel of our Lord and Savior, humbly received, and with faith mixed with fear, boldly confessed to a dying and forsaken world that God wills to save.
 
Your 500 Year Old Pastor
 
(Listen now to the 500 Reformation Choir sing "A Mighty Fortress is our God!" on FaceBook.


Dear Soldiers of the Cross

 

Pastor John W. Fiene
Dear Soldiers of the Cross:
 
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.”                 Ezekiel 3:17.
 
This is what your watchman says: “Arise and prepare for battle, for your enemies are at the gate.” From the beginning, from the time of the fall, there has been a demonic war between God and that fallen angel. If we don’t understand how that Fallen One operates, we will lose the war. The consequence of a loss and the reward of a victory are both eternal. Please hear what your watchman has to say about it:
 
There are two fronts to the war. The first front is within our civil realm – within society. Side one on the battlefield is morality and virtue. Side two is immorality and vice. Side two always has the advantage. Man is corrupt by nature and because of that fallen nature is always under pressure to morally devolve. Immorality is like gravity: It is easy to fall down to it, but it is always much harder to rise out of it. To be moral and virtuous requires a lifetime of commitment and sacrifice, love for one’s neighbor, and an altruistic spirit in service to the greater well-being of society.
 
In this battle the Fallen One has the tactical advantage. When the moral and virtuous enter into battle, the Fallen One fires the arrows of their own moral imperfections and thus he condemns all moralists as hypocrites. As a result few people have the courage to stand their ground and fight for moral truth. This is how society develops into a “silent majority.” Silent majorities always yield the high ground to the immoral, which gives them the right to do all the talking and shouting. The immoral also stake a claim to morally superiority by claiming that they are trying to set society free from moral condemnation. Thus the battlefield is yielded to the immoral. One modern example, as one wise pastor observed, “The first wave of feminism made war on husbands. The second was on men in general. Now the third is on children, because it condemns all distinctions between the identities of male and female.” Even the US military, once immune from social fads and trends, is now yielding to LGBT pressures. The only thing that can prevent the collapse of morality is a catastrophe, most often war or famine or disease. The immoral are weak. They live only for themselves and their own pleasures. Catastrophe destroys them, but it also destroys peace and prosperity along with it, which makes the Fallen One happy. So either way he wins.
 
On the other side of the battlefield stands the Christian Church. Only the Christian faith has a weapon that can bring about a Satanic defeat. The Fallen One’s weapons are moral perfection (the Law), with which he can condemn all men, and the fear of punishment for imperfection (sin). Since fear and love are mutually exclusive, in using the fear of judgment, the Fallen One destroys all love for God. How then does the Christian Church win the battle? In Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” we sing, “One little word can fell him.” That word is “Jesus.” Jesus brings divine forgiveness. Jesus covers us with His own perfection. No one is permitted to condemn or stand in judgment wherever Jesus has removed condemnation and judgment. So if “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin,” then Satanic condemnations cannot harm us, even though the Fallen One and the world might rail against us.
Now you can see how faith works: It turns our hearts to love God for His mercy in Christ, and in loving God we find the power to serve – albeit imperfectly – but to rise against the “gravity” to a holy life that God calls us to live. And that imperfect but holy life is the only weapon our society has against the gravitational forces of immorality and vice.
 
So the watchman is calling upon you to take up your swords and come to the battlefield. Let there be no delinquency in worship. Let there be no apathy. No silence. No lukewarm hearts. Let there be virtue and strength, leadership and sacrifice. We must passionately resolve to fight the battle, not with the weapon of our own perfection, but with grace and mercy and forgiveness – not just for others, but also for ourselves, believing that it is ours despite being the imperfect and sinful people that we are. To win this battle we must step courageously and confidently into our world and take the heat and hatred that comes with speaking the truth. If we don’t speak moral and virtuous truth (condemning ourselves in the process), the world won’t believe us when we speak the truth of God’s infinite grace. Grace and grace alone wins the battle and brings eternal victory.
 
So the watchman says, dear people of Advent, “Arise and prepare for battle, for your enemies are at the gate.”
 
Pastor Fiene


Our Lenten Challenge: To Spit Out the Seeds

Pastor John W. Fiene
Since Lent has arrived it seems appropriate for me to make a confession: When I was about 12 years old I was hired as a baby sitter. The kids liked me because I played with them and read them books. Before leaving the parents told me that I could eat anything in the refrigerator (which was cool because my parents would not have given me the same privilege). There was a half-watermelon in that refrigerator. I would have sliced off a piece and tried to eat it had it not been for the fact that I had to deal with all those seeds, so in my infinite wisdom I dug out the center of the watermelon, made a plug and gently placed it back into the hole so that the watermelon looked untouched. For some strange reason I was never asked to babysit again, but I do remember how sweet that core was when I ate it. To put your mind at ease, I felt very bad about eating that core, but I can assure you, the core is always the best part.
 
Our midweek Lenten worship this year is about the best part of our Christian watermelon—the core. In this case, however, we don’t have to feel guilty about consuming it. The core of Christianity are the “solas” of the Christian faith: Christ alone. Scripture alone. Grace alone. Faith alone. The Word alone. God’s glory alone.  Always Alone = without seeds.
 
Consider how we use that word “core” today. Core values. Core muscles. Core arguments. Core curriculum. Cores of cities, magnets, computers and nuclear plants. By definition, a core is the foundation, the part of a thing that does not change, the part of the whole that is pure and without seeds. Seeds are our entertainments, our possessions, the things we do for ourselves. Seeds are human thoughts, human actions, human accomplishments. Honestly, even God spits them out because they have no worth to Him. But He wants us to spit them out as well, if and when they get mixed into our spiritual food.
 
The core is seedless and it is pure. It is Christ alone as our Savior. It is Holy Spirit alone speaking pure truth in Holy Scripture. It is forgiveness, pardon, heaven, undeserved gifts of God given through Grace alone. It is faith receiving all that God has to give because it trusts in God ‘s Grace alone without any merit or worthiness on our part. It is through the power of the Word alone we receive sacramental cleansing. And it is to God alone that we give our thanks and praise for all these "alones."
 
What then is our Lenten challenge? To spit out the seeds and stick to the core!
Pastor Fiene
 


There is a culture war underway

 
Pastor John W. FieneIt is hard to reflect upon the life of our Christian Church when the world is in such commotion. There is a culture war underway, and like in the days of the Civil War, where slavery divided a nation and one had to choose one side or the other, where intractable opinions, hatred and violence turned brother against brother, such is the condition of the world today. Yet I do not think that things were much different five hundred years ago. Five hundred years ago in the land of Germany a man named Martin Luther walked up to the door of his ruler’s church and plaquered 95 statements. He wanted to right a wrong in the Christian Church. The wrong was an abuse of God’s Word. Albrecht of Brandenburg, Cardinal and Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, acting in league with Pope Leo X of Rome, was wrangling to increase his family’s wealth and power. Like a bribe to a judge to reduce a criminal’s sentence, Albrecht wanted to sell time out of purgatory to living souls on behalf of deceased souls. Luther’s hammer drove a nail into his plans.
God’s grace and mercy cannot be purchased, Luther said. Yes, it came at a price. But the price was his own Son. Just as a criminal’s pardon cannot be purchased, God’s forgiveness cannot be purchased. None can pay the price of salvation. We are all lost and without hope. There is no purgatory, only heaven and hell, and the prison doors of hell are one-way doors. The great joy of the Christian is that out of his great mercy and kindness, God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, as John’s Gospel says – the world is condemned already – but to save the world. And this, the Apostle Pauls says, comes to us as a gift of God, not by works. It cannot be bought, purchased, earned, deserved. It is without a price because it is priceless. It can only be given as a gift.
 
What, then, is the reason for Christians wanting to do good? What is the great motivator of Christians to love and forgive and show patience and kindness, even, if necessary, to our enemies? Works are the fruit of faith, Luther said. We are moved to do them out of gratitude and love for a gracious God. The Holy Spirit; the gift of a knowledge of God through the Gospel; the gift of a heart that can love God and neighbor; the gift of the food of heaven, the body and blood of the Son of God under bread and wine; the gift of forgiveness; the gift of eternal life.
 
Everything is a gift. Free. Apart from anything we can do. All because of Christ, moved by His one-sided love for us and not our deeds or love-ability. This, dear Lutherans, is what defines us both as Christians and as Lutherans. Many today regard the name “Lutheran” to be an insignificant denominational label. Every farmer has his plow and his seed. The word “Christian” tells us who the farmer is. He or she is one who belongs to Christ by faith.
 
The word “Lutheran” tells us about the plow - the beliefs that turn the soil of men’s heart to repentance, preparing them for the seed of the free and unmerited gifts of God. Luther was a man of courage and conviction. Lutherans are but Christians who proudly and courageously follow the farmer’s plow with the pure seed of the Gospel.
 
Your pastor,
 
Pastor Fiene


Merry Christmas, Saints of Advent

Dear Saints of Advent: Shepherds stood in awe as the angels praised God. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men.” Often omitted are the words, “on whom His favor rests.” The favor of God is His grace. How privileged we are to be recipients of God’s undeserved kindness! Those poor people in Syria¬—death everywhere, bombs falling from the sky upon both the good and the evil, people starving, children writhing in pain from poisonous gas. What would we feel like if we lived there and peacekeepers, somehow and by some miracle, broke through and brought an end to the conflict? “The war is over!” we would shout. That would be nothing by comparison to what happened on that starry night. The birth of Christ meant that God had broken into our world. Everyday and everywhere, people are dying, starving for hope, spiritually weak;  unable to defeat the diabolical forces of evil. And there He was, the Redeemer, who came to bring peace. Wrapped in a manager, lying in a stall for animals, He brought true and lasting peace to a dying and war-torn world. The promised Savior of the world had scaled the walls, broken down all barriers. And he brought with Him eternal peace. That is why I am so grateful to be among you as your shepherd. Just as the shepherds were privileged to be present at the manger that Bethlehem night, so also I have been privileged to be with you at the manger of today, at the baptismal font, where men, women and children are born again to be children of God. Just as the angels experienced joy at the appearance of the Son of God, my joy rises each and every Sunday as our Savior appears in the Lord’s Supper, giving to us His body and blood. Thank you, Advent for all that you have been throughout this past year; for your faithfulness, support, prayers and gracious love. Thank you for being Christ to me and for accepting Christ through me. So along with my dear wife, Solveig, and all the Fiene family, I pray that you will have a most blessed Christmas. May God’s joy enter your minds and hearts as you praise God for the appearance of Christ, and as His favor descends upon you. In His Name,
Pastor Fiene


Being Present with God

Pastor John W. Fiene “Presence” is a word worthy of reflection, especially in the Christian Church. Technology has covertly taken its place. I was present with my grandson on his birthday – when he was in Illinois and I was in Indiana. I was present with a pastor friend in Florida. We talked to each other, but I was here and he was there. In both cases, there was something missing. I can’t give my grandson a kiss or hold him. I can’t see the smiling face of my pastor-friend. The third dimension is gone and so is the magnetism that comes through a real presence. When a Christian worships, a Christian enters the presence of God. As the Son of God is eternally in the presence of His Father (“And the Word was with God and the Word was God.”), we are privileged to enter the presence of God through the Son as these words are spoken: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the presence of the Son of God, God literally speaks to us in His Word, in the liturgy, in the three-dimensional face-to-face with Christ as He talks to us in preaching, as He comes physically in His sacramental body and blood. Among us He is present both as the priest and as the sacrificial lamb.
But people often feel that when it comes to a relationship with God, “presence” is neither necessary nor important. Church worship has taken on a type of “cell phone” mentality – the idea being that we can take God with us wherever we go. We just dial him up in our minds – a little prayer here, and a little thought about God there, and this is the same thing as “presence.” Not so.
 
A king gives a feast. He invites many to come. Some of them make excuses. “I just got married.” “I bought a cow.” Not only does the king respond by extending the invitation to the “unworthy” out on the highways and byways to fill his banquet hall, but he rejects those who were invited but played hookie with his gracious invitation. They were too important. Their needs trumped the honor of the king. Little did they realize that they would never enter his presence again. It is hard for me to beat the drum for the attention of the minds and souls of my beloved flock, but I must ask each of us – myself included – are we letting the world covertly, subtly, change our way of thinking about our relationship with God? First Article of the Creed: “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, all my members…my reason and senses…clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home…He richly and daily gives me all that I need to support this body and life.” But when it comes to returning and giving thanks, as only one of the ten lepers did, bowing before Jesus, worshipping with such profound thankfulness – well, isn’t it good enough to give him a “thanks-call” on the way to the game, or the store, or wherever and whatever is more important than entering the presence of God?
Even more so, the Second Article: “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. Purchased and won me from all sin, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.” Imagine what it was like to be a slave during the 1800’s in the United States and what it meant to be purchased and set free. We have been purchased from sin, death and the eternity of hell by Jesus our Lord. What is the appropriate worship response? An hour or two each month? One Sunday out of three? When those words of invocation are spoken, Christ comes truly and really, and He waits for you and me, inviting and calling, not perfect and sinless people, but broken sinners into His presence. His presence brings us into the third dimension of the Kingdom of God. As we learned in our Bible Study on Sunday morning, when we are in Christ’s presence, we are being remade in our inner persons – like a broken mirror being put together to reflect the image of the one standing before it. Christ’s “magnetism” draws out our Old Adam, kills him, takes away his power, and restores and refreshes us with a forgiven and cleansed person through His own life-giving Spirit. Worship for the Christian, therefore, is not optional. Don’t let the world tell you differently and don’t let your Old Adam think that cell-phoning God once in a while will do the job. Think “presence.” And if and when you have a birthday party celebration – and no one comes – think about what God feels when you don’t. He loves you. Honor Him and “come into His presence with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.” Your drum-beating pastor, Pastor Fiene


Holy Week: How Christians Show & Tell

I am the Way Truth and Life Religious PowerPoint

Holy Week:
How Christians Show & Tell

Dear “Kindergarteners:"

 

For many years now I have written to the Indianapolis Star’s editors with the plea for them to place a feature on their front page that would tell the story of Christians and their worship of God throughout Holy Week. Whatever mention they make of Palm Sunday or Maundy Thursday or Good Friday (if there is any mention at all) will be buried on a back page. We are fortunate to get an additional picture. When it comes to Easter, what we usually get is a picture of the Pope on his balcony in Rome. Not exactly our home nor how we have chosen to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

 

Only Christians can make these sacred days into something special. What is so special? Just that Jesus was and is the Son of God, the Word of God who created the entire universe. Just that this Second Person of the Godhead became flesh and gave his flesh over into death to destroy the power of death. This past Sunday in my sermon I spoke about the privilege of being a citizen in the Kingdom of God, a citizenship given to us in Holy Baptism. It is our privilege to worship God and to eat at His “wedding banquet,” the feast of salvation. And this is not just a feast of earthly things. It is a heavenly feast. It is a feasting upon the immortal flesh of the Son of God. It is a feast that drinks the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. This is how we tell the story of Easter and make the Gospel known to the world. We celebrate. We worship. We confess.

 

So I am exhorting, urging, ever compelling your Christian hearts to tell the world about the true meaning of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday is a Feast of forgiveness. Good Friday is a visual feasting upon the death of Christ. Easter is the heavenly feast. He is risen from the dead! Hallelujah.

 

So place this story and picture upon the front page of your hearts:

We are celebrating the hope of everlasting life, of divine pardon, of the future restoration of our flesh in a glorified paradise of eternity.

Do you think a newspaper could ever properly and accurately portray such a story? Maybe this is the reason for why the Star never really tried. Christians are the only ones who can truly tell the story. Like they said to us when we were in kindergarten: This week is the time for “Show and Tell.”
 
1621
In the Name of the Crucified and Risen Lord,
 
Pastor John Fiene
 
Feel free to join us at Advent for our "Show and Tell" during our Holy Week services.
  • Maundy Thursday 7 pm
  • Good Friday 7 pm
  • Easter 8 & 10:45 am