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Luther's Rose

St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church

A Discipleship Center

Celebrating Our 125th Anniversary 1892-2017

Pastor’s Blog

Death of Richard Duff

Richard Duff, 76, beloved husband of Barbara (active member of the Adult Choir), father of Matthew, and grandfather, died early this morning at home. A U.S. Navy veteran, Richard suffered with congestive heart failure and COPD. He had been released from a recent hospitalization on July 16.

Funeral arrangements are pending with Coastal Cremations. Richard’s funeral will be held at St. Matthew’s with burial in the Memorial Garden.

Rest eternal grant Richard, O Lord, and let Light perpetual shine upon him. Amen.

You Cain’t Get Thar From Here!

When I was a vicar (seminary intern) back in 1978, the congregation was a divided house. Just under two-thirds of the congregation strongly supported the pastor, who had earned his doctorate in New Testament at Tübingen under a famous German scholar. The other third were mostly farm folk who wanted a “good ol’ boy” pastor who looked and sounded like them.


A simplistic explanation from an outsider would have wrongly supposed it was the “townies” versus the farmers. In fact, the pastor had support from a broad coalition of state university people, osteopathic medical school people, “townies,” and some in agribusiness.


The parish’s congregationalist polity meant they had voters’ meetings every month, and these were always contentious. If the almost 2/3s group wanted something, the about 1/3 group opposed it. It didn’t matter what the subject was. It didn’t matter what was good for the congregation or its ministry to the area. If “they” were for it, then “we” were against it. God’s will was rarely considered.


My primary focus as vicar was to lead the campus ministry from the Lutheran Student House, which had six girls living upstairs and three guys down in the basement. The kitchen, the large living room where we had nightly worship (Compline) at 10 p.m., and the vicar’s bedroom were on the first floor. We had a lot of fun at the LSH with shared Sunday night meals and a larger group of kids from the dorms showing up for nightly worship.


In the parish I preached once a month, taught remedial Confirmation for two 9th grade boys, taught 5th and 6th graders in the midweek afterschool program on Wednesdays, made lots of home visits, and did whatever the pastor asked me to do. My least favorite was attending those contentious monthly voters’ meetings!


One cold midwinter evening, somebody in the 2/3s group moved to buy a new folding table. Of course, somebody in the 1/3 group stood to oppose it, and so it went. The vote passed just about 2/3s to 1/3. Finally, one dear saint from the small charismatic prayer group, who prayed and encouraged the pastor constantly, stood up and said: “I know one group wanted that table, so the other group had to oppose it on principle. But what I want to know is, ‘Do we really need that table?’” Long silence, and then people from both groups started laughing. It was a nice moment, and then, of course, they went back to doing what they always did.


I have thought of that scene a lot lately watching professional wrestling between the Rs and the Ds in Washington. Our president doesn’t have 2/3s support even of his own party, but he was constitutionally elected as were all those folks in Congress. Sometimes they are all just like those groups in my vicarage congregation. Most of Congress are so addicted to fighting and getting reelected and to money from big interest groups they don’t remember why they are there. The entire healthcare system in our country is broken, and it needs to be fixed. Everyone should be able to agree that a government consisting of people addicted to fighting, getting elected, and taking money from a lot of big donors couldn’t possibly run a healthcare system.


In East Texas when something is not doable, they say, “You cain’t get thar from here.”


As our congregation continues to pray, plan, and work on a vision for the future, I hope that we will keep our eyes on the Servant Lord Jesus Christ who gives His life in limitless humble service for the salvation of the world. That’s how we practice our Baptism daily. We empty ourselves of the words “me, mine, and my” in order to follow Jesus in praying and enacting, “Thy will be done, dear Father!”


We aren’t like the professional wrestlers in Washington, Raleigh, or even local government. With the Holy Spirit’s help in the Word and Sacraments, we can get there from here! If you find yourself using a lot of “me, mine, and my,” that’s your old Adam or Eve talking. Return to your Baptism daily, dear ones, it’s not about you…or about me either. It’s still about Jesus who points always to His Father’s good and gracious will!

Hallelujah! A New Choir Director!

Your Church Council, the Personnel Committee, Music Director Bill Glisson, and I are thrilled to report the hiring of Jan (Vick) Betts as our new Adult Choir Director by unanimous consent. Two members of the Adult Choir were on the selection committee. Several of our choir members sang under Jan’s direction in another congregation.

Jan has a music education degree and taught in Wilson, Oxford, and Wilmington schools. She also has a long history as an Adult Choir Director in churches and previously worked for many years with Bill Glisson in another congregation.

Jan will be official on August 1 and will have her first adult choir rehearsal on Wednesday, August 9, at 7 p.m. She is hitting the ground running with the 125th Anniversary Hymn Fest on September 15 at 7 p.m. (with Pr. Michael Costello, organist and music director at Grace Lutheran in River Forest IL) and festival Eucharist on September 17 at 11 a.m.

Jan is married to Keith, a well-known banker. Their youngest child Jordan plays High A baseball in the Boston Red Sox organization.

Please give Jan a warm welcome to St. Matthew’s when you meet her!


The Arrogance of Social Engineers

My brother


Meet someone you think of as really arrogant, and you will find they are really quite insecure behind that bluster. My brother, the brilliant journalist who kicked a crystal meth habit by becoming an alcoholic, could be an amazing pain in the posterior with his air of intellectual superiority. He was a falling down drunk, who knew he was in bondage to his illness and could not free himself. He threw away wives, girlfriends, and children like some people throw away old clothes and other household clutter. He was a very sick man, a survivor of the so-called Summer of Love, and dead at 46 in 1992.


Some of these arrogant folk with that huge hole in the soul are not necessarily bad people, but sometimes they become like the human cogs in the Nazi machine that Hannah Arendt described with the term, “the banality of evil.” They punch the clock in the media, the academy, the entertainment industy, and, of course, in abortion mills, but, in their minds, they are changing the world for the better.


One of those guys, an affable fellow, chafed at the notion of comparing pro-abortion folk with Nazis. After all, the Nazis forced their various “enemies” into death camps. How could “choice” have anything in common with that? Well, human embryos with their own unique DNA are the ones without choice. And those doing the choosing are like the Nazi guards meeting the trains and deciding “immediate death” or “live a while longer.”  Those doing the killing are like the Nazis who administered the Zyklon B gas and listened to the screams of the dying. Those cleaning the abortion mills after the fact are like those sent in to haul off the Nazi dead. What about those selling tissue and body parts for research or new product development? They are the demonic offspring of Josef Mengele, M.D.


But in the minds of those smiling people in the abortion industry and their rich defenders, they are promoting “women’s health.” That’s as clear an Orwellian distortion of language as one can find. And they expect to continue to have taxpayers fund their Nazi machine to the tune of half a billion a year.


But, then, those in so-called gender studies have them beat with their refusal to accept that there is a male sex and a female sex and very rarely a problem with sexual development in the womb that can be ameliorated with genetic testing, hormones, and surgical correction within days of birth. Instead we have the pseudo-scientific nonsense from politicians, academicians, and entertainers that leads to this bright idea that taxpayers should pay for the surgical correction of confused adults in the military.


Let’s not forget the arrogance of billionaire techies who have the money and the power to scare the hell out of politicians addicted to suckling at the proverbial teats of such big donors. One such social engineer has decided he will “punish the evildoers,” namely, those who have the audacity to assert that basic biology still requires one male and one female to produce human offspring and that every child needs a male father and a female mother. But, like my brother the alcoholic, those addicted to sex and money and power will arrogantly try to “social engineer” the world. They are going to die and are on a trajectory that suggests there could never be any room at all for God at the center of their lives. Lord, have mercy!


In a hundred years or so, they will appear as arrogantly self-destructive as the Marxist-Leninists that made hell on earth in Russia for 70 years, China for 60 years, and North Korea about that long, too. As for Christian parents preparing to send their kids off to college at their parents’ expense, caveat emptor!

Mamas (and Daddys), don’t let your babies grow up to be heretics and other such social engineers of their ilk.

That They May Be One?

Today is the day of St. James the Elder, brother of John the Beloved Disciple, and son of Zebedee. It’s a special day for our family, because it is the birthday of our daughter.


You will doubtless remember that James and John’s mother (call her Mama Zebedee) wanted Jesus to place her boys at His right and left hand when He came into, what she supposed would be, His earthly kingdom (Matthew 20:21). Because the Lord from His lonely cross gave the care of His mother Mary to John the Beloved Disciple (John 19:26-27), it is not a difficult assumption to make that James and John were his cousins. It’s also not a difficult assumption, on the basis of John 19, to clarify that Mary had no other biological children to care for her in her old age, and that the “brothers and sisters of the Lord” were either Joseph’s children by a previous marriage or even other relatives. But I digress.


Ecumenists everywhere assume that manifesting the oneness for which the Lord Jesus prays in John 17 is our work and our task. This subtly (or maybe not so subtly) places the onus on us. Now we have a problem, precisely because (as “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry” the seminal document from the World Council of Churches in 1982 pointed out) we Christians don’t agree on the most basic aspects of the Christian faith. How do we practice and understand Baptism? How do we practice and understand the Lord’s Supper? How do we practice and understand Ministry?


Pietism, the feeling-oriented faith of both liberals and conservatives, can be summarized by “What Would Jesus Do?” Of course, liberals, conservatives, and everyone else don’t agree on what Jesus would do! Join that reality to the ecumenists’ assumption that it’s up to us to manifest Christian unity, and you end up not with Christian unity but unified groups of liberals, conservatives, and everyone else.


Because we have earthly loyalties to the people we love or even like, this leads many of us to “feel” our way into compromises of our faith in the Triune God and our relationship with His Church. On the one hand, we know we are making a compromise, but, on the other, we tell ourselves it’s for a good reason or cause. For instance in 1999, I made an impassioned speech on the floor of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Denver to approve a closer relationship with the Episcopal Church. The motion passed by a tiny margin and caused hundreds of congregations to leave the ELCA on account of the Episcopal Church’s ecclesiology (and liberal beliefs and practices). What was my motivation for that speech in support of what turned out to be catastrophic for the ELCA? Both of my sisters were Episcopalians!


A slight majority of voting members at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Orlando voted to allow congregations to approve the calling of homosexual pastors in committed relationships. There was no basis in the Bible, the Lutheran Confessions, or church tradition for making that decision. But 130 ELCA theologians wrote in support of it and hundreds of pastors and lay people supported the decision that, again, turned out to be catastrophic for the ELCA, because they had family or friends who were (or they were themselves) homosexuals. They “felt” their way to that decision and said they were doing what Jesus would do (although nowhere in Scripture is their any evidence that Jesus approved of homosexual behavior or countenanced committed homosexual relationships).


Martin Luther didn’t set out to create a Lutheran Church or even a generic Protestant Church. Luther was a reformer who argued always from Scripture and Church tradition. He never approved of “ecumenical relationships” on the basis of feelings, and he certainly never approved of communing with those who did not believe, teach, and confess that Christ is truly present in the Host and the Cup. In fact, Luther absolutely was opposed to Christian unity on the basis of feelings. At the heart of Luther’s theology is always the Crucified Jesus. We receive the Crucified and Risen Jesus in the Host and Cup at the Lord’s Table, and, in so doing, we receive the forgiveness of sins, the Triune God’s eternal life, and salvation itself by actually receiving our Savior Jesus.


Martin Luther would never have approved of a single one of the ELCA’s full partnership agreements with the various dying liberal protestant denominations. He would have had grave difficulties with the Joint Declaration on Justification that Lutherans and Roman Catholics hammered out a few years ago. Wanting to “feel” our way toward closer relationships under the guise of doing what Jesus would do places us in the center and not our Lord. The old Adam or Eve (the old sinner in us) loves to get religious and still be in charge. In this 500th anniversary year of the Lutheran Reformation (not the Protestant Reformation!), Luther would remind us that Christ Crucified is always the center – not us!


The Holy Spirit already keeps Christians united to Jesus through Word and Sacraments.  We cannot believe in our Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him by our own reason or efforts. So…why do we still think it’s up to us to create Christian unity? Because the old Adam or Eve (the old sinner in us) is never more difficult to put to death in the waters of Holy Baptism than when he or she gets religious! Mama Zebedee felt she knew what was best for her boys. I would bet she reconsidered when she saw the Lord hanging on His lonely cross!

It’s who and Whose we are!

Because the Father has given His Son Jesus all authority…therefore, in obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, we Christians are here to make disciples of all ethnic groups by baptizing them with water in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then, having made disciples by Baptism, we are to teach them to observe all that He has commanded. And He has promised to be with us to the close of the age (Matthew 28:16-20).

Because the Holy Spirit has called us out of the world to assemble with the Lord Jesus present in His Word and Sacraments (that’s what “ekklesia” means when it defines the Church), we are constantly praying for those who are unbaptized and unchurched, and we are persistently inviting them to assemble with us for worship and for study of God’s Word.

The Word and Sacraments are simply how God’s Son Jesus continues to be present in His Church by the Holy Spirit. The Word is primarily Jesus’ promise that He offers sinners forgiveness, life, and salvation through His saving death but His Word also includes the call to repentance. Holy Baptism is being joined to the Savior Jesus, crucified and raised. Holy Communion is being joined to the Savior Jesus, who has promised “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These are not metaphors. These are not symbolic language. These are His promises palpably experienced in matter…as in “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and Truth” (Jn 1:14).

The Gnostic heresy that troubled the early Church did not believe Jesus was truly God and truly human. The Gnostics, like Agent Smith in the Matrix movies, despised matter. Spirit was good. Matter was bad. They did not believe God could take on human flesh or die. So, the Gnostic heresy was about “gnosis” (secret knowledge) provided by a spiritual Redeemer, knowledge that would get you out of all that stinky matter. A lot of Christians are semi-Gnostics.

Because the only Bible the early Church had was the Hebrew Bible (or the Greek translation known as the Septuagint), all of the Church’s early preaching and teaching was from what Christians call the Old Testament. There, in the Lord’s Book, matter is good. The Lord God made it and called His creation “very good” (“tov meod” in Hebrew, Genesis 1). The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24). God so loved the world He gave His only Son to be the Suffering Servant who would carry our sorrows and heal our wounds (Isaiah 52-53). Jesus is the Passover Lamb (Exodus 14), whose blood is spread over the doorposts of our lives in Holy Baptism, so that the Angel of Death will pass over us at our last breath. We look forward to the resurrection of the body and a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21 looks back to Isaiah 25 and Ezekiel 37).

Worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4) does not mean that somehow the Triune God has gone gnostic after all. Christian identity is defined by the washing with water of Holy Baptism in Acts 2. Christian worship is, again in Acts 2, defined by the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the Breaking of Bread (the Lord’s Supper) and the prayers (the ordered prayers passed down from Judaism).

Why, then, is so much that purports to be Christian actually gnostic? Why do large churches all around the world denigrate baptism, denigrate the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, denigrate the Lord’s Supper, and ignore the ordered prayers (liturgy) that the early Church most certainly practiced. This is what St. Luke tells us in Acts 2. Why is it that so many churches use a marketing plan based upon what people want instead of our Lord’s very clear “whoever would save his life will lose it” and “not my will but Thine be done, Father?” Why do more churches follow Charles Finney than Peter and the apostles in Acts 2?

If you haven’t been baptized, or your child hasn’t been baptized, or your grandchild hasn’t been baptized into the Lord Jesus’ saving death and resurrection, why are you ignoring the Lord’s clear command in Matthew 28? Listen to the Word of the Lord!

If the worship you attend doesn’t include the apostles’ teaching and fellowship as summarized by the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds; if your worship rarely or never includes the Lord’s Supper with the promise that Christ is indeed truly present in the bread and wine to forgive sins; and if your worship simply ignores the ordered prayers passed down from generation to generation from Judaism to the early Church to today, then…why are you ignoring Acts 2?

The Gnostics were heretics (from the Greek word “heresis” meaning to choose wrongly), because they got the story wrong. And a whole lot of people calling themselves Christians are still getting the story wrong when they look more like Gnostics than like the early Church.

Listen to the Word of the Lord. Pray to do His good and gracious will and not your own!

(Recommended reading for serious Christians: “Change of Heart” by Thomas Oden.


Danke schoen, ya’ll!

Cathy A and Dusty P have signed up to provide the special flower arrangements for the 125th Anniversary Weekend on September 16-17.



Identity politics have always been with us from the rebellion of our first parents. Before the rebellion, there was Creator and creature, the man and woman created for each other as male and female, both created in God’s image to serve God by serving one another. After the rebellion there was creature against Creator, creature against creature blaming the other, then one son who murdered the other, and then it all went to complete hell in a handbasket.


In my small town adolescence, there were athletes and musicians, country club kids and those from across the tracks, future farmers and future homemakers, brains and thugs, kickers and wannabe hippies, hot rod guys and the girls who liked them, kids with jobs and those who would spend the rest of their lives running for cheerleader as if life itself depended on being popular. And there were those whose whole lives would be a quest to prove they were somebody because high school was so painful.


I spent the first forty years of my life trying to figure out who I was going to be when I grew up. Musician? No. Lawyer? No. Politician? No. Professor? No. Great American novelist? No. Pastor? Yes.  The calling that encompassed all the nascent gifts that had been given. Bishop? Maybe? Perhaps? No!!!


The web of relationships into which I was born and those I chose included son, brother, grandson, cousin, uncle, friend, neighbor, citizen, student, scout, boyfriend, fiance, husband, father, colleague, supervisor, etc.  All of these made certain demands and gave shape to my days and years. All of these were places where God called me to serve my neighbors. But as deaths came and addresses changed and responsibilities grew, I began to understand all these roles and relationships were and would be penultimate. The grass withers. The flower fades. The Word of the Lord endures forever.


There is only one identity which endures, the one identity graciously given by the enduring Word of God…child of God, baptized into the death and resurrection of God’s beloved Son Jesus!   All other identities will pass away. All!


When the nonsensical claims of the surrounding culture suggest there is no such thing as maleness or femaleness but rather a plethora of “genders” arrived at by definition of the autonomous self, we Christians shake our heads sadly at the confusion promoted by pseudo-science and a world spiraling downwards into the dustbin of eternity. Politicians, academicians, and entertainers  promote a sterile, nihilistic, ugly, utilitarian vision… a breathing, moving, urinating, defecating, copulating, aborting imitation of stalinist architecture. They are doomed by the very trajectory of their tired cacaphonous existence. The grass withers. The flower fades. The Word of the Lord endures forever.


There is a still more perfect way. The daily loss of the rebellious autonomous self, the drowning of the old Adam or Eve in baptismal waters. The daily renunciation of the devil, his works, all his ways.


Who am I? I am baptized with water in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Spirit. I am baptized into Christ. And that changes all my relationships and all my roles! This is the only story that endures forever. The grass withers. The flower fades. The Word of the Lord endures forever.

Wedding v. Marriage

Just before the wedding begins, Arthur tells Susan he can’t marry her (“Arthur” 1981).

Many years ago, in a prominent church, the bride walked into the chancel just before her wedding was to begin. The organist stopped playing. She announced: “There will be no wedding today. Last night the groom slept with my maid of honor. If you brought presents, you may  take them home. I will return the rest as soon as possible.”


Despite her obvious heartbreak, the not-to-be-bride that day was courageous. How many other brides and grooms looking back have wished they had been as courageous as she? Far better to call the wedding off before vows are broken and a failed marriage and subsequent pain are suffered needlessly!


It’s not about the wedding. It’s about the marriage! A man and a woman who love God and have prayed for a godly mate discover they share a common culture in which the Triune God is the center. They have been prepared for the day of their wedding at which they make vows of lifelong faithfulness, because their parents have modeled for them what it is to be godly men and women and godly spouses.


Yes, it is wonderful to have family and friends around you as you promise before God and in the presence of the assembly to be faithful until death parts you. Yes, it is exciting to dream about a life together in which you are able to be fruitful and multiply as you become one flesh. Yes, a big party like the wedding feast at Cana is great fun and infinitely memorable. But it’s about the life together, growing old together, shaping the future together as you raise children to be godly men and women.


Too many people, young and (sadly) old, cohabit today because they say they fear failure. But how many more fear making vows of lifelong commitment to another? How many know how to be sexually intimate repeatedly but simply are incapable of spiritual and emotional intimacy?


Yes, there is forgiveness for those who have failed. Yet many seek to place a cheap grace bandaid over a gaping infected wound. As Augustine famously observed: our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. Thousands of dollars in psychotherapy and thousands of dollars on a destination wedding won’t fill the God-shaped hole in the soul that prevents a woman and a man from making and keeping a lifelong vow of faithfulness to one another before God and a congregation.


Be wise. Be care-full. And, if you must, be courageous enough to call it off before the heartbreak is greater. If you have prepared for years to be a godly spouse, you will be able to find a godly mate with God’s help…in church, of course.


Sign up for St. Matt’s VBS Today!!!

The fun begins on Sunday, June 25, from 5:45-8 p.m. nightly and continues through the Children’s Program and Ice Cream Social on Friday, June 30, at 5:45 p.m.

To sign up your child or yourself for the adult class or yourself as a volunteer (middle school, high school, and adults), please use the link below. Thanks for caring about your child’s or your own growth in Christian faith and life!