Pastor's Corner

May 2024

April showers bring May flowers. The flowers are blooming, and the trees are budding. God loves us deeply and made all things in that love.

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.


Unfortunately, sin has entered the lives of mankind and this creation. It has brought problems and doesn’t take long to see that we and our beautiful world are tainted and broken. No matter how much we try or the good intentions we have, we, on our own, cannot fix it. We want to but are unable to.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

30 This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.'

31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."

32 And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.

33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit

descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'

34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."


Jesus The Christ has done what we never could do. He has redeemed us. He has conquered sin, death and the devil. And now through Him, we have great hope. A hope that will not fail or disappoint.


The New Heaven and the New Earth – Revelation 21:1-6

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

6 And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

Praise be unto God, that Christ has saved us and we will have a place that is perfect in every way. God bless you today and always.

Pastor Quick



April 2024

He is Risen,

He is Risen indeed!

There are no more wondrous words we can say. In those words, we hear our sins are forgiven “ALL of them” and we will be raised from the dead and have a glorified body that can never sin again.

A New Heaven and a New Earth

Revelation 21:1-6

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!"  Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."  6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children."

Eden Restored

Revelation 22:1-5

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Our faith, given to us freely, but costing Christ everything, is done for the very moment that awaits us, Eternal life in Paradise. This is our Easter, This is our Christmas, This is Christ our Savior!

God bless you today and always.

Pastor Quick




February 2024

Trust in God Above All Things.

Mark 9:14-29

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out[d] and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer. 

I believe; help my unbelief! This is us, we the great paradox. We have faith in God, and we have our lack in faith, all at the same time. As Paul says, we are saint and sinner. There are things in each one of us that would be called strong in the Faith and some things that we lack terribly. Trusting in God above all things is a daily struggle. As Jesus says, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer”. This is most certainly true. When we find ourselves in times of lack or things that drive us away from trusting, we turn to the saving Word of God.

Isaiah 40:28–29

28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.29He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.

This also is to be done together, not on our own. In this, we walk as one and the strength of God is shown. One day you may be the one who provides the strong faith, and, on another day, it is you who are lifted up in times of need. Always done in faith and prayer. God has planed all our days, Psalm 139, and he will fulfill all that we need. The emphasis on “ALL”. God bless you this Lenten season as we trust in God above all things together.


Pastor Quick



January 2024

Wise Men Still Seek Him.

We are walking into the new year with all its glitz and celebration. The world is finished with Christmas and is in full swing and loading up for Valentine’s Day. We, the church, sometimes fall in line with the world. We celebrated Christmas day and now we are done. The Christmas “Christ Mass” season is twelve days and on the last we celebrate Epiphany. It is often missed and not celebrated. On this day the Wisemen followed the star in the sky to Bethlehem.

The Visit of the Wise Men

1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

They have read the Holy Scriptures and believe. They came from afar to worship the promised King. My prayer for this Epiphany and new year is that we also continue to come to the Lord’s house of worship and encourage others also to do the same.

Hebrews 10:19-25

19Therefore, brothers,c since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Let us be wise in the Lord God our Father, faithful in Christ’s love and walk in the grace of the Holy Spirit all the days of our life. God bless you this Christmas season and all the seasons that His loving grace gives us.

Blessed New Year!

Pastor Quick



December 2023


Christmas decorations are being put up, gifts are being bought and radio stations are playing Christmas music. You must admit, it is a most wonderful time of the year. I won’t lie, I love it. You all are expecting me to write about the babe in Bethlehem, the star, and angels. You are not wrong at all. You also are saying to yourself, I feel a “But” coming on. You are not wrong about that either. So here we go.

Isaiah 9:6-7

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.


I love decorating the house and church….”BUT”… we should ask ourselves these two questions. What are we doing? And, Why are we doing it? The lights, garland, the yard decorations and the power outage I just caused in my neighborhood. What and Why? Am I doing this for recognition, best lights and yard decoration award. Did any of this tell what the reason is for all this glitz and glamor? The world has damaged the real reason for the season, Jesus. The babe in Bethlehem, the shepherds, the wise men, the star, the angels, all of this was to bring salvation to a dying world that is in desperate need for a Savior. Even though the world has damaged the real reason for the season, there is still hope. The season is still being celebrated. With that in mind, maybe, just maybe, we can be shrewd and innocent and decorate with everything we got! Bring on the power outage and have the neighborhood talking about the yard with the Star and angels singing with shepherds and a manger with a Savior. Or maybe something simple, a Silent night, a Holy night, a little star above a simple manger with the virgin Mary and Joseph and the Messiah. However you want to decorate, do it with understanding and always point to the reason for the season, Jesus.

The Birth of Jesus the Christ – Luke 2:1-7

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.


Merry Christmas

Pastor Quick



November 2023


Fall has made itself known here in Iowa. The leaves are turning, and the colors are spectacular. Along with that we feel the first signs of winter as the northern cold reaches our fair city. All of this God put in place.

Genesis 1:11-19

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.


The Church also has its seasons. We are walking into the last weeks of the church year. We are about to celebrate All Saints Day. On this day we remember the faithful departed. The Saints that have finished their time here on earth and now rest from all their labors. I can’t help but feel a little jealous. I try to imagine what the new Heaven and Earth will be like. Holy Scripture gives us something to hold onto.

The New Heaven and the New Earth

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.


I look forward with great anticipation to that wondrous day when we will all be called home, but before that day let us celebrate the day we have together now with one another. All Saints Day isn’t just about the faithful who have been called home. It is about All Saints, that means you and me. The ones who stand on this earth now. If I have learned anything about the ones who have been called home, it is that I need to treasure the ones around me now. I want to tell you all how much I love you and appreciate you. I can only encourage you all to do the same. Take time to gather, reach out to one another. Go and have a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Doughnuts are good, LOL, not to mention pies, scones, hot dogs... O’ the list goes on. Find time, make time, make up reasons to gather… Isn’t today “take a group selfie with your favorite coffee cup day” if not, I declare it. I tried to start “take a group selfie of Chicago Cubs fans in St Louis,” but I was the only one who showed up, but did that stop me… NO, lol.

Psalm 188:24

24 This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.


Rejoice and be glad, now that’s a day I can get behind.

God bless you today and always.

Pastor Quick.


October 2023


Wow, what can I say, this has been a whirlwind of a month, month and a half? It’s hard to put into perspective. Holy Cross and the Lutheran Home sent out a Call to me and we are, lol. As a Pastor there is no greater thing but to be Called to a place by the hand of God to do His will.

Romans 10:14-17: How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?” And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Gail and I are in awe of the outpouring of love and welcome to this blessed church. From the moment of receiving the Call, the sweat of packing, the BLAZING speed of selling our house in St. Louis, the driving back and forth to Davenport to find a house, then buying a house, moving and all that come with it, you all have been there by prayer and support that comes from the heart of God. There is no doubt that this is God’s will. He has brought us together to be His people, His love, His gift to one another. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

We had quite the adventure, as many of you know. Laugh with us, I know I have. What can I say, I didn’t seek a Call. I was happy and content where I was serving the Lord. Taking a Call and moving was the farthest thing from my mind. Then blessed Holy Cross decided, “How about that guy?” I believe, with all my heart, that the Lord has a sense of humor. Please, I hope you understand, I know I’m supposed to be here. What makes me laugh is the world would look upon this and say, what are you dong? You must be crazy to leave what you had. Well, I can’t say I’m right in my mind, so they might have that right, but God does the most marvelous things. God sees things differently. He sees his children, that means all of us, and puts together the most beautiful things in a way that the world could never understand. I cannot wait to see what the Lord has in store for us today and all the tomorrows.

I will work hard to make sure I learn all your names; it is one of my failings in life. I have moved so much; I’ve stopped counting after 38. Gail says it’s because I shave a little too close on my head, and again that might be true. You all are very near and dear to my heart all ready. So, let’s buckle up, this is most definitely going to be a glorious ride, lol.

God bless you today and always.

Pastor Quick




June 2023

Watching the News


You may already know that I don’t watch the news. But I know what’s going on. These days, you can’t help but know what’s going on. Even if you try to avoid knowing what's going on but – on vacation, I try to avoid knowing what's going on, but – you walk past a screen and see the story and the crawl, it pops up on your own screen, you’re talking to somebody, and it just happens.


Many of you have had conversations with me about things, and I talk about a lot of things to you, and I actually like to talk about what’s going on, and there’s a lot going on, and sometimes I talk to you about what's going on from the pulpit. But if I’m going to sit in front of the TV in the evening, I’m going to want to relax and be entertained, and the news is neither of those things.


You can get news 24/7 from any number of sources featuring any number and degree of viewpoint, and some people do that, and if you want to do that – I think a lot of people are angry, sad, and worried a lot of the time. I’m one of those people, but I’m trying to limit those things, especially getting worried, sad, and angry at things that I can’t do anything about, and they don’t involve me.


There’s a lot of money in 24/7 news, most of it from advertising. The more viewers you have, the more you can charge for a commercial spot on your network. But just because the profit motive – and I’m in favor of the profit motive – tries to get you to watch more news, and the ubiquitous, never-ending talking heads who tell you what to think about the news…but I don’t have to.


Whenever I think or talk like that, I am reminded of the Epistle we read every Thanksgiving, from Philippians 4: 4-9, where Paul tells us to rejoice, to not worry about things, and to pray to God,


Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


We think all the time because that’s how we are built. On Sunday morning, you are going to be thinking about something. I want that something to be God. The rest of the week,


Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.


Who tells us to be upset about what’s going on in Ukraine, or Haiti, or in California, and who tells us to be scared about weather that seems to have become much more dangerous than it used to be. I’m not going to tell you what to watch or listen to. If I did that, you might tell me what to watch or listen to, and that would be a disaster! I know what’s going on. But I don’t watch the news.


In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson





May 2023

Our Concordias

You may or may not be aware that over the course of our history, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod have established a number of institutions of higher education, including two Seminaries. Concordia Seminary is located in St. Louis, MO, and Concordia Theological Seminary – from which I graduated – is in Ft. Wayne, IN. St. Catherine in Edmonton, AB is a sister seminary.

The seminaries educate men to be Pastors and women to be Deaconesses. In addition to our two Seminaries, we started several colleges. Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, IL – from which I graduated – and Evangelical Lutheran Teachers Seminary in Seward, NE were started to educate teachers for our very large and widespread system of parochial (mostly K-8) schools.

My school is now Concordia University Chicago, and “Seward” has become Concordia University Nebraska, and there are now Concordia Universities in places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Texas. Those schools make up the Concordia University System (CUS). In recent years, schools in Winfield, KS, Bronxville, NY, Portland, OR, and Selma, AL have closed.

Our seminaries are in good shape, except that we need more men who are open to becoming Pastors. When I graduated seminary in 1985, there were over 100 graduates in my class, and about 200 more from St. Louis. This year, both seminaries graduated a total of eightysomething men. Over 50 congregations who applied for a graduate did not get one because there were not enough.

The Concordia colleges that have become Universities not so much. The Teachers Colleges shifted from exclusively training teachers to becoming full-service institutions, and now they offer a wide variety of degree programs. The idea was that Lutherans who did not want to become teachers could go to a Lutheran college, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and maybe it was.

Selma closed because it had about 160 students, and you could count the number of church work students on one hand. Portland and Bronxville had been plagued by bad theology for years, and a lot of us think it was not a bad thing that they closed. With fewer LCMS congregations on the east and west coasts, and more airplanes in the sky…Concordia Chicago is a short drive from O’Hare.

When I arrived at CTCRF in 1977, the Theology Department was a train wreck. I did not send my first child there. We sent her to CUW (Wisconsin). By the time the next two were ready to go to college, Chicago had fixed that problem, and today it is probably our strongest Concordia. Concordia Texas wants to go out on their own, and Wisconsin is dealing with a “woke” outbreak..

We live in a turbulent world, and the turbulence always creeps into the Church. These are difficult times, and difficult times for our Concordia University System. Our Concordias will certainly be an item discussed at the LCMS Convention this summer. When your children are ready for college, give Our Concordias a look, and keep them in your prayers and your charitable giving.

In Christian Service,

Pastor Anderson

April 2023

Different Nursing Homes


It’s hard for most of us to imagine before nursing homes, a time when there were none. That was the time when family took care of family, and elderly who were no longer capable of living alone were taken in by family. That often resulted in three and sometimes four generations living under one roof. Overall, that worked, but there were sometimes tensions among family members.


At least that was the norm in the Christian West. Not all cultures are the same, and for many cultures it was typical to view the elderly as people who were no longer givers, but takers, a drain on society’s resources, and they are treated accordingly. That view is gaining traction in this country. An increasing number of people here advocate for various forms of euthanasia of elderly.


The Christians have a long history of caring for people who need help, including the elderly. In Under the Influence, Dr. Alvin Schmidt traces houses for the care of the aged to Emperor Justinian (483-565), and says that during his reign, “churches were operating homes for the aged called gerontocomia (geras = aged + comeo = take care of).” We know of no such homes before that.


During Medieval times, the Church – often through monasteries – took care of education, medical care, food for the hungry, and care of the elderly when needed. The fading of the monastery after the Reformation left a gap for all those – and more – Works of Mercy. Then, “in the 1800’s in the US, women's and church groups began to establish special homes for the elderly persons” (WIK).


Church groups built and ran nursing homes out of a sense of compassion for elderly who had nowhere else to go, including the Lutheran Home for the Aged – East, with facilities in Vinton and on 53rd in Davenport. As time went on, more and more families got away from taking in elderly family members, and the nursing home became the norm; the go-to choice when the time came.


From those Christian beginnings, ownership of nursing homes has shifted to more homes being run by private ownership, and compassion has increasingly been forced to compete with the profit motive. Not all nursing homes are the same, and now we’re seeing a rise in what I call “Corporate Nursing Home,” where private organizations run more than one, and sometimes many, homes.


I have been regularly going into nursing homes, mostly to visit people, for over 40 years. I see things, and I hear things, and I smell things, and not all nursing homes are the same. The one my mother-in-law went into – she got poor care and didn’t last long. My wife’s aunt is currently living in one that gives very good care. These days, I am in nursing homes around Grand Mound a lot.


When my mother got out of rehab in 2016, she did not go to the nursing home. She went home, because she wanted to die at home, and she did. Last August, when Iowa City could do no more for my sister, she went home and died there. But sometimes that doesn’t work out. The aunt should be in the nursing home, and really has no choice. Not all nursing homes are the same.


In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson


March 2023

The Exception Clause


I first met Jesus’ “exception clause” in the early 80’s, while a student at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN. Matthew records His use of it twice, during the Sermon on the Mount (5:32) and as part of a response (19:9) to the question put forth by some Pharisees, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” Both times Jesus says that divorce is not allowed “except for…


Except for what? I thought it an important question, so important that I wrote my Masters’ Thesis on just that; The Exception Clause. I read a lot and thought a lot in the process of producing seventy-something pages in 1985, and as is often the case, I have continued to study that same subject. I’m probably the most knowledgeable person on The Exception Clause you’ll ever meet!


The Greek word is “πορνεία,” and English and American versions translate it into words like “unfaithful, unchastity, fornication,” and mostly “sexual immorality,” which is probably the best. Jesus says that He forbids divorce “except for πορνεία,” which means anything other than a one man – one woman relationship, in which case there sort of has to be a divorce, as a mater of course.


If a woman is married to a pedophile, she can’t stay married to him, especially if she has children. If the husband wants to bring other women into the his marriage, you have to divorce him. If two men are “married” to each other, or two women are “married” to each other, the biblical thing to do is to get a divorce. If you are married to a homosexual, then divorce may be the only option.

And animals. If you are married to – oh, you were not aware that people are getting “married” to animals? Do a search on “marry pet.” Why would you do that? Because they want to be married, but not to a human. It’s the same reason why people would rather have pets than children. Animals never become teenagers, they never tell you they hate you, and they always come when called.


From a July 31, 2019 article in The Guardian, an English woman named Elizabeth Hoad “married” her dog, Logan, a Golden Retriever because “after four failed engagements, 220 dates and a range of unsatisfactory experiences in the search for love – men concealing wives, men her age pursuing younger women – she had given up on the male of her species.” The dog was much less trouble.


The dog has been “a constant” in her life, and she says “He’s saved me and I’ve saved him. I was broken before I got him.” A New York woman says of her husband the poodle cross, “He’s always there for me. He listens, and he loves me no matter what. What more could a woman want?” A man? Could you want a good man and raise a family together? But I do hear what you’re saying.


I think it’s harder than it ever has been for our young women to find a “good man” and for our young men to find a “good woman,” but it can be done. The first thing is; don’t settle. Don’t marry somebody just to be married. The second thing is – hard to believe we will be married for 45 years in August. The second thing is neither one of us believe in divorce. Except for πορνεία.


In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson


February 2023

The Season of Lent

The first Festival Day celebrated by the first Christians was the Resurrection of Jesus. We call it a “Moveable Feast” because the date changes every year. Christmas, on the other hand, is a “Fixed Feast.” We always celebrate the Birth of Jesus on December 25, the only date Christians in the West – like us – have ever used. Christmas didn’t start to be a big deal until the Fourth Century.


Those Christians in the Apostolic Church (to 100 A.D.) saw each Sunday as a “mini celebration” of the Resurrection. It’s harder to grasp that understanding when you go to church on a different day from Sunday. At first Easter Sunday was known as “Pascha.” Later, we started to call it Easter, because of the Old English word “Eastrun,” their word for the fourth month on the calendar.


It’s okay that the word “Eastrun” was the name of a god. Now the word “Easter” means what it now means. The people who want to get rid of B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini – Year of Our Lord) should take a lesson from us as to what is important – or not. As time moved on, we added the other days of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.


Beginning on Ash Wednesday, The Season of Lent developed as a time of preparation for the observance of Holy Week, ending with the celebration of Easter Sunday. Lent lasts for forty days, the amount of time Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted. Since He fasted then, people will often fast during Lent, or at least give something up remind be reminded of the suffering of Jesus.

I know what you just did. You did the maths and calculated that Lent lasts for longer than forty days. You have to take the Sundays out. Even during The Lenten Season Sunday is celebratory, observing the day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead! That’s why we could do Trivia, which is a lot of fun, even during Lent, because it’s on a Sunday. You should come to Trivia.


Many Lutheran churches, including ours, have a service on Wednesday evenings during The Season. Ours being at 7:00 and last no more than forty-five minutes. We do Vespers from LSB, and we’re going to try Evening Prayer and see how it goes. There are hymns and prayers, and the homilies (my word for a shorter sermon) will be from the Epistle lesson from the previous Sunday.


Often the Pastors of our Clinton Circuit exchange pulpits for the Midweek Services. This year, because of several circumstances, we will not be doing that. Maybe next year. We have in the past, but we currently don’t do a Saturday Easter Vigil. On Easter Sunday, Divine Sunrise Service is at 6:30, followed by a breakfast, then the Egg Hunt, then the Divine Service repeats at 9:00.


God bless you and yours during this most holy time of the year.

In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson


January 2023

Mary the Virgin


I have noted before that Matthew, in the first chapter of his Gospel, manages to tell us in about five different ways that Mary and Joseph did not have sex before marriage. That was the norm for that time and place. Sex was limited to one man, one woman, in the context of marriage. That’s not to say that it never happened otherwise. It did. But that was the exception to the rule.


That was the cultural norm I was born into in 1956. Especially among Christians, sex was to be confined to marriage, and marriage was one man, one woman. So, I find myself thinking about the Virgin Birth of Jesus, and I’ll probably talk about that during the Christmas Season, and I almost feel like I have to explain the concept; the idea that people wait until marriage to have sex.


I mentioned that to a group of Pastors earlier in the month, and they agreed. One of them traced it back to the TV show Friends. I said those single people in Seinfeld – before Friends – seemed to be either sexually active or trying to be. We stopped watching that show, and never did watch the other one, but my children did. And Sex in the City and – it’s sort of the norm for most shows.


Don’t get me wrong. I have never thought Hollywood was at all Christian – it seems to be a tough place for Christians to dwell – and those writers are probably just writing like they live, and they are living the way The Culture lives. The new norm for The Culture is to not wait for marriage. In fact, depending on who you listen to and who they’re talking about – a lot has changed.


You’ve heard it said before that there’s a reason why God gives us the Ten Commandments. They are The Law, and they tell us what to do and what not to do. But they are not ten randomly made-up rules, made up by God with no purpose or function in mind. They are given to us by God to tell us how to live the life He intended for humans to live, “that it may be well with you.”


That phrase is included in the Fourth Commandment, and indeed life will be better – all other things equal – for children who obey their parents than for those who don’t. Luther and others have pointed out that the child who doesn’t obey his parents is often the adult who does not obey the laws of the land. Things like adultery, murder, stealing, and perjury also ought to be avoided.


So should sex outside of marriage. No matter The Culture, that’s still the norm in the Church, the one given to us by God, and like the others, for our own good. There’s nothing like one man, one woman, committed to one another and bringing children into this world, children that they will raise together. That’s the way God made us, and that’s always been the best way for us.


In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson


December 2022

Like Everybody Else


On Sunday mornings, from the first part of September, we have been looking at the governance of Old Testament Israel. Israel was a Theocracy – God was their King. Many Muslim nations today would be considered theocracies: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and many countries in northern Africa. We are not. We are a Democratic Republic, and Freedom or Religion is guaranteed in our Constitution.


In preparing for Adult Bible Class, it struck me how much the government established by God for Israel then looks a lot like our government now. The lands held by twelve individual “tribes” look a lot like our fifty states. Each of those tribes took care of themselves, and representatives from them took care of the nation’s business. Rule was from bottom up – the people ruled the people.


The land was divided up so that everybody started off with land, and you could live off the land and support yourself. Provision was made to take care of the poor and people who were without family. If there was a war to be fought, men volunteered to fight in the war, and if they didn’t want to, they didn’t have to. They lived as free people, which was rare in the Ancient World.


There was no King in Israel except God, but in times of crisis – they occurred regularly – God would appoint a “judge,” who did not wear a robe, but a sword. Judges were military leaders whose authority was great, but after the crises subsided – God helped them out – that judge no longer ruled. When they wanted Gideon’s son to take over after him, Gideon stopped them.

After about four hundred years of that, in about 1,000 B.C. (Before Christ), Israel demanded a King. Samuel the Prophet told them God was their King, and why wasn’t that good enough for them? They wanted a King, they said – wait for it – because everybody else had a King. That’s it? That’s it, and Samuel told them why you really don’t want a King, and God is your King.


If you get a King, he will conscript your sons to fight his wars. He will force others to work his land, to the detriment of theirs, and to make armaments for his army. He will take your daughters to be domestic help in the palace, and your sons to work the fields. He will heavily tax your crops, and your flocks, and in summary “you will be his slaves” (1 Sam. 8:17b.). You still want a king?


Yes, we do, because everybody else has a king.


You know how a child bugs a parent, and bugs you, and bugs you, and you finally just say, “okay, have your King, but “in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (v. 18). What happened next? Every last thing Samuel warned them would happen if they got a king, happened when they got a king.


You may have noticed that we are not like everybody else. Just because everybody else is jumping into the lake – or off the cliff – doesn’t mean that we are going to take that leap with them.



In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson


November 2022

About Christian Liberty


On October 31, while The Culture is pre-occupied with its new favorite holiday, The Lutherans observe Reformation Day. But their observance does not translate into having a church service during the week, so we do it on Reformation Sunday. The Lutherans chose that date because it’s the day when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.


That date in 1517 has always been seen as the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation because it was. From there it was just one thing after another, and the more Luther said, the more trouble he seemed to get into until he was excommunicated in January of 1521. Probably the straw that broke that camel’s back were what are known as the Three Treatises, three writings compiled in 1520.


In A Letter to the Christian Nobility of Germany, Luther spoke of three “walls” that had been set up separating the Pope in Rome from the laity in Germany, and they needed to be torn down. In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther argued that the Christian Church had come to being held in bondage by the Pope much as Judah had been held captive in Babylon in the 6th Century B.C.


In the third writing The Freedom of a Christian, he embraces the paradox he expresses in the most well-known two sentences in it, "A Christian man is the most free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian man is most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone," and what does he mean by that? He means – like Jesus and Paul talk about – that we are free from sin, death, and Hell.


He had been criticized for that first sentence. His opponents asked if that were the case, if the Christian knows himself to be free from the possibility of hell, and sure of the certainty of heaven, what would there be to keep him from sinning? It’s amazing what questions several hundreds of years of adding more burdens and increasing threats to the lives of Christians will bring.


Luther cuts through all the red tape of indulgences, man-made laws, and the like that had made Christianity into drudgery by asking “what do you want to do?” I’ll ask you the same thing; what do you want to do? What kinds of thoughts do you want to think? What kinds of words do you want to come out of your mouth? Do you want to despise the Word, or gladly hear and learn it?


Not everybody wants to think, talk, and act like a Christian, but Christians do. It’s because God has given us his Holy Spirit, a new spirit to dwell in us alongside of, and always battling against the old sinful flesh. It’s those two things at cross purposes that makes the Christian life sometimes complicated. Paul laments that he does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he should.


Slavery to sin is much less complicated. Just obey what Satan, the World, and the flesh tell you to do without any care for God or your fellow man, and people do that all the time. But we are free people, not bound to obey that Unholy Trinity, but free to serve God and man in whatever our various vocations. When we fail, forgiveness abounds, and there is no freedom like that freedom.


In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson



October 2022

The Fool Says

The Old Testament mentions Atheism twice. Psalm 10:14, “In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek Him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’” Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, and there is none that does good,” and that’s it. The Old Testament doesn’t talk about Atheism because it was rare.


To be sure, there were plenty of false gods around during the entire Old Testament period, and we hear talk of them in the time of Jesus, and it was always a problem. But they did have gods, and many people worshipped the Triune God. A Theist is a person who believes in One God. A Polytheist believes in multiple gods. An Agnostic is a person who doesn’t claim to know.


An Atheist doesn’t believe in the existence of God, and for most of human history Atheism has been extremely rare. Theologically, God has put the knowledge of things like right and wrong, heaven and hell, and The Divine into the heart of every person. We are naturally religious beings. Logically, to think all this got here by means other than being created – that’s crazy!


How else could all this have happened? What, there was an explosion, and when the dust settled… So, the Christians invented Modern Science and Inductive Reasoning to go along with Deductive Reasoning, and that has been a good thing. Modern Science has been a good thing for the West, and the rest benefit from it as well. But Science has been sort of hijacked as of late.


There were stirrings of Atheism in the West before Charles Darwin, but what came to be known as the Theory of Evolution opened the flood gates. For the first time, you could explain the existence of all this without invoking God. It’s not a very good explanation, and Evolution is really bad science. The Big Bang Theory show is funny, but the Scientific Theory is laughable.


The problem of human suffering is old. In his suffering, we find Job and his friends pondering his suffering and offering various reasons for Job’s plight. When God finally speaks, he reminds Job to stay in his lane; that he is a man and God is God. Did you notice that when the Psalms talk about the Atheist, they use words like “corrupt, arrogant,” and “they don’t do good deeds.”


To call God “Father” is to use a figure of speech – the Bible uses them constantly – known as an “Anthropomorphism,” to give a human characteristic to God, who is God. It’s helpful to think of God as a loving Father, but if He’s loving, then why does He allow suffering? Rejecting God the Father because of suffering caused on one another by and to sinful man does not make sense.


For a child to be experiencing suffering and blame it on his father is not unusual – it happens all the time. Would that suffering child then conclude that because the father doesn’t prevent any suffering – therefore that father does not exist? But that seems to be a very common reasoning – it isn’t really reasonable – to turn Christians into Atheists, and then he has them.


The word “fool” in the Bible has nothing to do with intelligence, and everything to do with spiritual depravity. The “wise” believe, and the “fool” doesn’t. It’s about believing in the Triune God as revealed in Jesus and going to heaven. It’s not a small thing and Satan is working hard, and he works hard on the Christians, and he seems to be having a lot more success than he used to.


Steve Jobs was raised Lutheran in Wisconsin, and he talked about how one day he took a LIFE magazine to Sunday School. There was a photo of starving children on the cover. Jobs asked his Sunday School Teacher how a good God could allow that kind of suffering, and then, he says, he never went back. Steve Jobs ended up a Buddhist, and how’s that working out for eternity?


Modern man – like Steve Jobs – have made a lot of advances since the beginning of the Christians Modern Scientific Movement. Using the brains God gave us and the fruits of His Creation, we His Highest Creation, have done remarkable things! But maybe we get – like my mother used to say – too big for our britches. Stay in your lane, be still, and know that God is God.


And we are not.


In Christian Service,

Pastor Anderson

September 2022

The Common Cup


It’s been well over two years since we began hearing rumblings of a new virus. We were finishing up our Hawaii vacation, and The Covid hit there right after we left. For a while, the world and our country got a little bit crazy, but not so much in Iowa. The Governor made us shut down for five weeks, and we did, and the first Sunday back we had 29 in church, and we changed some things.


We stopped collecting the Offering, and started putting the plates in the narthex, like they did in the Temple in Old Testament times, like the Church did until – I think – the Americans put in pews and started passing the plate. We went to continuous Communion – I think the “tables” were also an American thing – the norm for most Christians today and for most of the Church’s History.


And we stopped offering the Common Cup at Communion, and that’s the one that really doesn’t make much sense. Don’t get me wrong. I was in the meeting where we decided to do that, and I went along with the idea pretty easily. Perceptions were important back in those days. We did it to alleviate the spread of The Virus, but viruses and bacteria don’t spread with our Common Cup.


A Chemist I know tells me that there is sufficient alcohol in wine to kill germs. Acting with the metal cup makes the wine even more antiseptic. It’s why we use metal for the cup and not ceramic or some other substance, which does not have the same effect. It’s why neither I nor the Internet – that I can find – can cite one single time when disease has been spread via the Common Cup.


The Common Cup has been with us since the beginning. It’s what Jesus used at the first Lord’s Supper, and what the Church has continued to use from the earliest days.


Then came the Temperance Movement. They looked at the dark side of alcohol and wanted to eliminate all alcoholic drink in this country, and some churches began to teach that all alcohol is sinful.


In 1865, an American Methodist Minister from England invented grape juice. Can you guess the man’s last name only? Rather than ferment the grape juice, making alcohol to preserve it, Thomas Bramwell Welch pasteurized the juice to preserve it. He invented grape juice because, he said, he did not believe in drinking and did not want to have drink alcohol at church, and he didn’t.


Grape juice is all well and good, but it doesn’t kill germs, and enter the individual cups. Wine kills those germs, but who wants to drink grape juice after people who might be sick? Sidebar: I was at a Cardinals game with some Lutherans at Coors Field several years ago. Somebody at an inside seat ordered a beer, and from the aisle on in, every Lutheran took a sip of that beer!


I know what you’re thinking! But we use wine, not grape juice, so we don’t need the individual cups, so why do we have them? It’s what we do; we see that some church has something we don’t have, and why can’t we have that? One professor compared us to somebody walking around on trash day, spotting something that somebody has thrown out, and taking it home as a great find!


We will begin offering the Common Cup again on Sunday, September 18.


In Christian Service,


Pastor Anderson




August 2022



We started out with a pup tent and a couple of sleeping bags, expanded the tent and added sleeping bags as we gained children, had a used pop-up camper for a few seasons, now its mostly motels. When camping, we thought about danger from storms and lightning and animals when we were camping. Never did we imagine that somebody would do what somebody did a little north of here.


One of the books I’m reading says that in 1980, almost 90% of murders in our country were solved. Murder used to be committed by somebody you knew, somebody who had some motive to want you dead. Then murders started becoming more random, people being killed by strangers they never met, and for what reason? What happened at Maquoketa Caves State Park has become common.


We call them “mass shootings,” and before last week’s killings of two parents and one of their children, it was a school in Texas, and a Chicago suburb, and a Milwaukee suburb, and every time the response is predictable. People who don’t like Christians will tell us that our prayers are not enough. Others will use the word “enough,” and call for laws to prevent such things in the future.


Murder is already against the law in this country, and people who are going to kill other people will get that done one way or another. It’s probably easiest with a gun, but in the UK they have strict gun control. Murder still happens; the young men who beat the old man to death with a baseball bat, knives, a man pushing his new wife off a cliff. And Chicago has strict gun laws.


The Waukesha Christmas Massacre was committed with a car, in the 19th Century the infamous Benders used their bare hands to kill strangers who were boarding with them overnight, and the greatest mass murder in the history of our country was pulled off using airplanes bound for the west coast and filled with jet fuel. Mass murder has always been there, but it’s getting worse.


Mental illness is a thing, and third-person shooter video games desensitize children to killing people. Theologically, the concept of right and wrong has been diluted, mostly by clergy people who pooh-pooh it. The value of human life has been degraded by fifty years of abortion. People have also been taught that there is no hell, so there are no eternal consequences for murder.


Theologically, when I hear people call for the government to prevent mass murders in the future, what they are asking for is for the government to put a stop to the effects of Original Sin. Does that mean that there’s nothing the government can do? Governments can make laws, and murder is already illegal in this country, but no government can prevent murder from ever happening.

Enough? Fed up with strangers killing people they have never met for no apparent reason? Who isn’t? Not only can I as an individual not do much about it, governments can and do make laws, and people constantly break those laws. I’ve actually been fed up for a long time about the tens of millions of children who have broken no laws, but have nonetheless been routinely murdered.


I don’t expect most Americans to understand that since Adam and Eve we live in a fallen world, and the Law written in the hearts of all people acts as a “curb” to sin, to keep it in check, to limit is, but it does not completely prevent it. God doesn’t like murder either, and one day He will end this all and create a new and better heaven and a new and better earth where we will dwell forever.


When will that happen? Because He is God, because it’s His Creation, when God says “enough.”

Until then, I’m going to keep praying, and prayer is a powerful thing!


In Christian Service,

Pastor Anderson


July 2022

Never Christian

We fired DirecTV. We lived with three channels off the antenna until Sara started working in the 90’s, and then we got the dish. It was $20/month, and it was really the only money we spent on entertainment. We had a good run, we saw a lot of good TV, but they were raising it to $150/month and starting to censor channels, so it was time to leave. I never thought DirecTV was Christian.


The first time I heard about the Rural Purge was a couple of months ago. Through the 1960’s, a lot of TV programming had a rural setting: Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show, and the like. Hollywood axed all those shows – along with their basic morality – and replaced them with programs set in the city with questionable morality. I never thought Hollywood was Christian.


A while back, the Hallmark Channel was going to do a program with a gay couple. Their viewers protested, and Hallmark axed the show, but others protested louder, and that’s that. An LCMS Pastor in Indiana wrote an article for the Federalist. He who rhetorically asked what did we expect from them or any other network. The Hallmark Channel, he pointed out, has never been Christian.


Disney has never been Christian. Walt Disney was a confessing Christian. He died Presbyterian and received a Christian burial. But before he died, he created the Disney brand, including cartoons, theme parks, and movies; things that our family have very much enjoyed over the years. They have always followed The Culture, the culture is changing, and there goes Disney as well.


What do you do about it? Back when there were only three channels, if you saw something you didn’t like on TV, you called them up, a real person answered the phone, that person listened, and maybe even did something about it. DirecTV doesn’t care what I think about anything, and the lack of actual contact information for stations, networks, and programs tell me they don’t either.


There’s a lot of bad programming out there, and we avoid that. There’s a lot of good programming out there, and we are entertained by it. As far as things suitable for children – and probably for adults like me – IMDB has a section Parents Guide that we have used to dodge a lot of bullets. The Christians are making an effort to produce shows and books that are good and watchable.


It goes without saying that parents need to be aware of what their children are watching, and there’s nothing new there. But it’s harder these days than it was in those days, much harder. And in those days, you felt like you had more help from the culture than now, when The Culture fights against what parents are trying to teach their children. There’s a reason why it’s called “Culture Wars.”


In war, the alternative to fighting is to not fight, and in war, what happens then?


You lose.



In Christian Service,

Pastor Anderson


June 2022

Farewell to Holy Cross

As you may have heard, back in March I received a divine call to serve the tri-point parish of Our Savior Bottineau, St. Paul Rugby, and Immanuel Willow Creek in North Dakota. After several weeks of deliberation, including many heartfelt conversations with members of Holy Cross and trusted friends and colleagues, as well as a beautiful visit to North Dakota in March, I accepted the call. On Sunday, June 12, I plan to lead my last service at Holy Cross. In the weeks following, we expect to prepare for our move to North Dakota and visit family in Indiana and Michigan before the transition is complete. My installation in North Dakota is planned for Saturday, July 23.

I am very excited to be heading to North Dakota. The area is beautiful, the schools are good, the communities are small and quiet, and most of all, the congregations are faithful and eager to hear the Word of God. I expect the transition to tri-point ministry to be less of a challenge to me than it might be to many others, since I am already accustomed to dividing my time and energy between Holy Cross and the Davenport Lutheran Home. That is not to say I expect it will be easy. It will be hard work serving such far-flung communities. The winters are harsh. Many of the businesses we are accustomed to will be nowhere to be found. But I believe the change will be good for me and my family, and I am of the conviction that this is what God would have me do.

Unfortunately, however, going there means leaving here. Once I made the public announcement that I had accepted the call, the reality set in that we are leaving our community here at Holy Cross, the Lutheran Home, Trinity Lutheran School, and all the friends we’ve made in Davenport and throughout the Quad Cities. I’m afraid that for the past several weeks my excitement at going to North Dakota has been outweighed by my sadness at leaving Holy Cross.

When I arrived here in August of 2011, I was fresh out of seminary. I still had so much to learn (and if I’m honest with myself, I still have much to learn). I remember one of the saints at Holy Cross of blessed memory telling me that she couldn’t see how a man so young could possibly provide pastoral care for this congregation. I made many mistakes, and sometimes I caused unnecessary offense. But the congregation was very patient with me, very understanding of my failures, and very gracious and respectful to me in the discharge of my office. You have helped me to grow into the pastor that you know today, and no matter what happens to us and our family in the years to come, Holy Cross will always be the first congregation of my ministry, the congregation where I learned to be a pastor, and the congregation where our children were baptized and started learning to go to church. Holy Cross has played an irreplaceable role in the life of my family, a role that will have eternal implications for us.

We are sad to be leaving Holy Cross, but a number of considerations make us feel better about it. One, I am so pleased that Pastor Steven Anderson is able to serve as Vacancy Pastor upon my departure. He served in that role faithfully before my arrival and was fondly remembered by the congregation, and he will serve in that role faithfully again. Second, I am confident that the same Lord of the Church who called me to North Dakota will also call a new pastor to Holy Cross in His good time, a man who will lead this congregation under the Word of God, teaching and preaching the Word in its truth and purity and administering the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution. I believe that Holy Cross will flourish under new leadership from a faithful pastor. Finally, I know that we will continue to be members together of the Holy Christian Church, and we will be eternally together in the kingdom of heaven, rejoicing in the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Thank you all for your patience, your friendship, and your love in Christ Jesus. I assure you of my love for you in Him. As this season in our lives draws to a close, may the Lord Jesus keep us steadfast in His Word and faith, and finally bring us to Himself in His kingdom. Amen.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf


May 2022

Lessons from the Ministry of Jeremiah

I recently had the opportunity to get into the prophecy of Jeremiah again. As so often happens, though I have read Jeremiah many times before, a number of passages struck me as if I were reading them for the first time. Some passages, however, have really seared themselves into my consciousness over the years. These passages in particular impact me as a pastor, but they impact you as well, as the recipient of pastoral care. The two major themes from Jeremiah that I wish to highlight this month are the false peace proclaimed by the faithless prophets, and the encouragement to Jeremiah to stand up to opposition among those to whom he preaches.

We all want peace. That’s part of the appeal of the Gospel: Jesus gives us peace—and not as the world gives (John 14:27). He gives us the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). This peace comes to us through the remission of our sins and our consequent reconciliation with Him, with His Father, and with His Church.

There is, however, a false peace that feels good for a while but ultimately proves to have been an illusion. This is the peace peddled by the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day. Due to the repeated, intentional sins of the previous kings of Judah, especially Manasseh, and their people, the inevitable decree of the LORD was the defeat and destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by their enemies, followed by seventy years of exile in Babylon. This was not a welcome message, to say the least. Many false prophets arose to assure the people of Judah that such a fate would never befall them. Their message is summed up in the following striking expression: “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).

What is the “wound” of God’s people? Their sin. For their wound to be healed is for their sin to be forgiven, and thus for them to be at peace with God. The false prophets are assuring the people of Judah that their sin is forgiven and they are at peace with God—no disaster will befall them. But the people have not repented of their sin. Thus they are not actually at peace with God. To preach forgiveness without repentance is to heal the wound of God’s people lightly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. That is why Jesus sent His disciples not only to forgive sins, but also to retain them (John 20:23), i.e., to withhold forgiveness. As Luther sums it up in the Small Catechism, pastors are called to “retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent.” The goal of retaining sins and warning of wrath and judgment is to awaken sinners to their plight and bring about repentance and faith in the Gospel of forgiveness. Only thus is the underlying wound fully healed. The false prophets have put a band-aid over a festering sore. A true preacher of righteousness lances the sore and drains the noxious fluids (a painful process!), and only when true healing sets in does he cover up the wound and proclaim peace.

This means that the preacher will inevitably encounter opposition as he confronts God’s people with their sin. This is an intimidating prospect for anyone, especially a young man like Jeremiah. Thus, God fortifies him for the task: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth.’ … Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 1:7–8). God supplements this encouragement with a striking image: “Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land” (Jeremiah 1:17–18). This encouragement uses a carrot and stick approach: The stick is God’s warning to Jeremiah that He will “dismay” him if he fails to speak the painful truth to God’s people. The carrot is that God will be with Jeremiah to strengthen him for the task, making him “bronze walls.”

New Testament pastors have similar warnings and encouragements. We are told that “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). We will be called to account for the souls over which we are keeping watch (Hebrews 13:17). But we also have the promise that Jesus will be with us even when those who hear us are hostile: “Have no fear of them” (Matthew 10:26). Furthermore, New Testament pastors share in the love of Jesus for His people. In fact, all of us Christians love our enemies, as Jesus commands, even those who persecute us. It is this love, more than anything else, that leads us to faithfulness in refusing to preach, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, and to preach the true peace that comes only through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

What lesson can non-pastors draw from this? Support your pastor in his ministry of true peace through forgiveness and reconciliation with God! If your pastor has to share something with you that is uncomfortable for you to hear, give thanks to God that you have a faithful shepherd. If your pastor encounters unjust opposition to his ministry, stick up for and support him. If your pastor is tempted to preach false peace in order to avoid conflict, admonish him with the Word of God.

Most of all, let us all give thanks that through Jesus Christ we do have true, lasting, eternal peace with God. Jesus has not healed our wound lightly, but has cleansed it with His own blood and has led us to repentance and faith. May the Lord Jesus keep us in His true peace now and unto life everlasting.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf



April 2022

The Easter Vigil

This year at Holy Cross, we are trying something different. Well, it’s different from what we’ve done since I’ve been here, though it was done some twenty years ago. I’m talking about the Easter Vigil.

What is the Easter Vigil?

In ancient Christianity, the “vigil” was a common practice. It involved the congregation gathering at sundown and worshiping by lamplight until dawn. There would be constant singing of psalms, reading of Scriptures, and offering of prayers. In the New Testament, a vigil was held that involved the Lord’s Supper and extensive preaching by St. Paul (Acts 20:7–11). St. Paul was likely referring to the practice of the vigil when he mentioned “sleepless nights” (2 Corinthians 11:27), a word that would later be used as the standard term for the Christian all-night service. A vigil could be held at any time throughout the year, but the definitive vigil came to be the service held on the night of Holy Saturday leading into Easter Sunday.

The early Easter Vigil involved four chief components: the celebration of light, the reading of extensive Scripture lessons, the baptism of new Christians, and the festal keeping of the Lord’s Supper. The celebration of light was simply an expansion of a daily practice among early churches of singing a special hymn at the lighting of the household lamp upon sundown. The hymn (the most ancient still in use) is the “Phos Hilaron,” or “Joyous Light,” which you can find in our own Lutheran Service Book on page 244. At the Easter Vigil, a new fire would be lit by flint, and the faithful in attendance would light their lamps from it, then use it to light all the lamps in their homes after the service. Imagine if all of your household light had come from the last Easter service you had celebrated at church!

The second component was the reading of extensive Scripture lessons from the Old Testament, traditionally twelve. These lessons dramatically set the stage for the celebration of the great act of the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus.

The third component was the baptism of catechumens, i.e., those who had been instructed in the Christian faith over the previous year and were ready to be received into the household of God.

As more and more of the surrounding society became Christianized, and infant baptism came to be the rule, fewer and fewer baptisms were held at the Easter Vigil. Now it is mostly a commemoration of Baptism itself.

The fourth component was the Lord’s Supper, held with special joy and festivity and concluding just before dawn.

The Easter Vigil has been maintained in the Eastern Orthodox Church as a nighttime service, though it is not typically held all night long. In the Christian West, however, through the Middle Ages the Easter Vigil crept earlier and earlier on Saturday until it became a morning service on the day before Easter. In the early Lutheran Church, the unique music for the Easter Vigil (but not the superstitious practices that had been in use during the music in the Roman Catholic Church) was used on the evening of Holy Saturday or early in the morning of Easter Sunday (the first Lutheran “Sunrise Service”). The Easter Vigil fell out of use in the Lutheran Church during the period of the Thirty Years’ War, and has only begun to be restored in the twentieth century.

I myself am uncomfortable with some of the elements that have been reintroduced in the modern Easter Vigil of the Lutheran Church, since they were consciously rejected and discontinued by the first generation of Lutherans. But the idea of the Easter Vigil itself has always much appealed to me, and with some small adjustments, I am excited to try using it at Holy Cross again this year. Our plan is to begin the service at 7, like our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. The service will be long, mostly because of the readings and the elaborate liturgy (I plan to preach only a brief sermon, similar to what I have done at our Christmas Eve service of lessons and carols). Sundown that Saturday should be about 7:45, so a good amount of the service will take place when it is dark outside, particularly our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. What a beautiful way to begin our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

Please join us this Holy Saturday on April 16 at 7 PM as we rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord according to the ancient pattern of the Easter Vigil!

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

March 2022

The Lenten Disciplines: Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting

Every Ash Wednesday, we read from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 6, which is a selection from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus warns against hypocritical fasting. The reason this Gospel Lesson is read at Ash Wednesday is that, historically, the season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, was kept as a time of special, rigorous fasting, and the church leadership wanted to be sure that such fasting was done in the right Christian spirit.

But fasting is only a part of the special Lenten discipline, and Jesus’ section on fasting is only a part of His larger discourse on Christian disciplines. Before speaking about fasting, Jesus speaks in Matthew 6 about almsgiving and prayer. Let’s consider each of these three disciplines in light of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, all under the guidance of Jesus’ introductory statement: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). As we consider these disciplines, note how Jesus uses the same phrasing for each topic: “When you ___,” don’t do it “like the hypocrites,” because the reward they’re looking for is to be admired by men, but the reward you should be looking for is to please God.

Almsgiving. In Matthew 6:2–4, Jesus warns, “When you give to the needy [KJV: when thou doest thine alms], sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Almsgiving means giving to the poor. It comes from the Greek word for “mercy.” Almsgiving is distinct from the regular church offering. Our offerings go to support the ministry of the Word in our midst and involves things like providing for our pastor and maintaining our building. Almsgiving is support for those in need. The historical standard was to give ten percent of your income each for your offering and for alms. My own recommendation is that you maintain your own household “alms fund,” so that when opportunities to give arise, you will have funds at the ready and won’t have to scramble to find something to give. That way, you can truly give without your left hand knowing what your right hand is doing. The idea is for your almsgiving to be completely selfless, so that the only benefit you derive from it is the commendation of your heavenly Father.

Prayer. In Matthew 6:5–6, Jesus warns, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Prayer should be a regular part of the daily Christian life, but during Lent, we have the opportunity to focus on starting new habits or deepening the ones we already have. I encourage that you maintain a written list of people you’re praying for, and update it as their conditions develop. Set aside a special time every day for such prayer. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Consider simply reading the names before God and concluding, “Lord, have mercy.” The Holy Spirit will prompt you to add more if that is what God desires of you.

Fasting. In Matthew 6:16–18, Jesus warns, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

In many historic Christian churches, fasting means abstaining from certain kinds of foods, particularly meat or desserts. But in antiquity, including during Jesus’ earthly life, fasting meant forgoing all food altogether. I would encourage you this Lent, if your health allows, that you set a day each week to skip a meal. I myself do pretty well not eating breakfast, so it works to delay eating until a simple supper late in the day. Whatever you do, don’t tell people that you’re doing it, unless you’re looking for advice or support. Your goal is to train your body to do without earthly goods and recognize the importance of the spiritual goods that God gives in His Word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, quoting Deut. 8:3).

Note finally that each of these disciplines are things that Jesus expects us Christians to be doing. He says not, “If you give alms, pray, or fast,” but “When you give alms, pray, and fast.” Let’s take advantage of this Lenten season to practice these forms of divinely approved righteousness, so that we will be better able to perform them in the right Christian spirit all year round.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

February 2022

What Do We Mean By “Vocation”?

Have you heard much about “vocation” in the Lutheran Church? I myself haven’t spoken much about “vocation” in my sermons or Bible classes, partly because I’m just not inclined to adopt ways of speaking that have only recently come into vogue. Talk of “vocation” did not really become common in the Lutheran Church until about 20 years ago, when Gene Edward Veith popularized the ideas of Swedish theologian Gustaf Wingren, who was in turn attempting to resurrect a theme that he saw in Luther’s writings. The term may be relatively new among us, but it certainly conveys some valuable ideas that are worth reflecting upon.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin for “calling.” We all have a calling. In fact, we all have many callings. But before we delve into our various callings, we need to make some distinctions.

When we’re talking about vocation, we can distinguish, first, the general call of all Christians to faith in Jesus Christ; second, the special call of pastors and church workers to labor in the Word of God; and third, the various callings that pertain to everyone, whether believers or unbelievers. St. Paul mentions the first two kinds of vocation in the opening of his Epistle to the Romans: he refers to himself as a “called Apostle” (Romans 1:1), i.e., someone who has the unique spiritual calling to preach the Gospel with authority, and he refers to the Roman believers as “called saints” (Romans 1:7), i.e., those who are called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to faith in Jesus Christ. The third kind of “calling” or “vocation,” as in the various callings that all people possess, is what we usually mean when we talk about “vocation” in the Lutheran Church.

You have as many vocations as you have neighbors to serve, beginning with the home. Has God blessed you with children? You have the vocation of father or mother. Are your parents still living? You have the vocation of child. Has God blessed you with a spouse? You have the vocation of husband or wife. Do you have siblings? You have the vocation of brother or sister. 

This applies outside the home as well. Do you own a business? You have the vocation of employer. Are you working for someone else? You have the vocation of employee, and employers and employees together share the vocation of serving your community through the goods and services your business provides. Are you retired? You have the vocation of exercising responsible stewardship over the time and money entrusted to you for the benefit of your community. Students and teachers, citizens and government officials, congregation members and their pastors—all have their vocations relative to one another.

Why call these relationships “vocations” rather than “rolls” or “jobs”? Because a calling implies a caller. Who has called us to these vocations? God has! That’s why Martin Luther calls these vocations “masks of God,” by which he means that God works through these vocations to provide for all of our needs of body and soul.

Think about your own needs that God meets day after day. Your food is provided by a vast array of farmers, truckers, and grocery store owners and employees. Your clothing comes from fiber producers and processors, factory workers, truckers, and department store owner and employees. Your shelter is maintained by miners who tap into energy resources and repairmen who keep your building and furnace in good working order. Healthcare workers help to protect your body from the effects of illness and injury. Government officials maintain a peaceful society for you to live in, schoolteachers prepare the next generation of vocation-holders, and your pastor and congregational officers maintain the ministry of the Word for your eternal benefit.

When you’ve seen how God uses the vocations of others to care for you, you can start to see more clearly how He uses your vocations to care for others. This applies no matter how seemingly lowly in the world’s eyes your vocations might be. Garbage collectors, for instance, may not be seen by the world as holding the loftiest social position, but they engage in holy, essential work that is well pleasing in God’s sight and extremely beneficial for their neighbors. And we’re all getting to see how impactful the vocation of trucker is!

Whatever your various vocations, if you are fulfilling them faithfully, know that God is using you to bless others. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf



January 2022

2022—Time for a Fresh Start?

I’ve always liked the feeling of a new year. It seems like an opportunity to reset. Projects that I’ve left unfinished during the holiday season are beckoning. Records begin anew, without the mess of the previous twelve months. In some ways, life becomes a clean slate.

In other ways, however, I recognize that the turn of a new year is artificial. God did not institute the month of January. It’s not built into creation. In fact, when God established the calendar for His people Israel, he had them start their new year in the spring, with months based on moon phases, not the progress of the sun. Our new year is a human invention, and it doesn’t really have any power to give us a genuinely fresh start.

That’s especially true when we consider the things that most fill us with regret from the past year—our sins. The transition from 2021 to 2022 has no power to wipe clean the slate of our conscience. We’re still the same sinners on January 1 as we were on December 31.

Thankfully, we don’t have to wait for a new year—and wait in vain—to get a clean slate. Through faith in Jesus Christ, God wipes our slate clean every day.

Our clean slate begins with the once for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to pay for the sin of the world. St. Paul tells us that God has “forgiven you all trespasses, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances against us which stood in opposition to us; and this He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). The illustration St. Paul uses here is striking: There is in the sight of God a “record” of our transgressions, akin to a check register detailing all of our debts, which we cannot possibly repay. But God has taken a pen and ink and blotted out that record so that it becomes illegible. Nor has He done this arbitrarily, “just because.” He has specifically “nailed it to the cross,” that is, it is through Jesus’ innocent death on the cross that our debts, our sins, were atoned for. Jesus has paid what we owe, and so we have a clean slate.

This clean slate has been won for the whole world, but we do not receive it as our own until God gives it to us. St. Paul explains in

the same passage how this happens: You have “been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you who were dead in your trespasses … God made alive together with Him” (Colossians 2:12–13). When Jesus had died for the sin of the world, God raised Him from the dead, fresh and clean and new. By baptism, God unites us to Jesus, so that we die and rise with Him, fresh and clean and new as He is. This takes place “through faith in the powerful working of God.” When we believe the Gospel, we have by faith everything that baptism gives us, which is everything that Jesus won for us on the cross.

When do we believe the Gospel? Every day!

That means that every day we receive anew the forgiveness of our sins. Every day we are raised with Jesus from the death of sin. Every day our slate is wiped clean. Every day we get a fresh start.

Has your slate been marred by sin? Is your conscience overwhelmed with the sense of failure and impurity? No need to wait for the new year to get a fresh start! God invites and empowers you right now to repent, to turn from sin, to believe the Gospel, and to have your slate wiped clean at this moment and at every moment.

I still look forward to the “fresh start” of 2022. But what a joy to know that in Christ, in those things where it really matters, I get a truly fresh start every day. May this truth bring you joy and peace in the new year and throughout your life, until God gives the whole world a new start at the coming of His Son Jesus on the Last Day—the First Day of the new heavens and the new earth!

God's Blessings to All!

Pastor Neuendorf

December 2021

The Sign of Immanuel

As the Christmas season approaches, one of the Old Testament passages we most often hear is that which is cited by St. Matthew in his Gospel: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). As St. Matthew himself explains, the name Immanuel means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This is a straightforward prophecy of the world-changing event that we celebrate every Christmas: the birth of Jesus, who is quite literally God with us, from the womb of the virgin Mary.

Attentive students of Holy Scripture, however, will find that the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 is rather less straightforward than it seems when the verse is treated in isolation. Immediately after the familiar words, we have this cryptic statement: “He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Isaiah 7:15). What?! What is Isaiah talking about?

The strangeness of the Immanuel prophecy has led to all sorts of strange ways of explaining it, particularly by scholars of the Bible who do not themselves believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Some think the name “Immanuel” means not that the child is God with us, but that the child is a sign that God is with us. Some imagine that the “virgin” is not a young woman who has never known a man (Luke 1:34), but a young woman who has just married (perhaps Isaiah’s own wife?) and will conceive in the natural way. Some suppose that the child spoken of would be born soon after Isaiah delivered his prophecy, and that it had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus some seven centuries later.

What do we make of all this? Certainly there is more to the Immanuel prophecy than first appears. But when we study the prophecy as a whole seriously and in the fear of God, we end up at the same place we began, but with deepened understanding and appreciation: Jesus is God with us, born of the virgin Mary on Christmas Day, as foretold centuries beforehand by the prophet Isaiah.

Let’s set the stage for the Immanuel prophecy. Two kings to the north of Judah, King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel, have joined forces against the southern kingdom of Judah. Their goal is to besiege and overcome the city of Jerusalem, kill the descendants of David, and replace the Davidic dynasty with a puppet king of their own choosing. King Ahaz of Judah learns about this and panics. He makes a secret decision to send messengers to the King of Assyria bearing lavish gifts stripped from the Jerusalem temple, in hopes that the mighty Assyrian empire will come to his aid and deliver him from Syria and Israel.

In the midst of all this, Isaiah comes to King Ahaz and reminds him that he is descended from David and has the promise of God that the line of David will never die out until a descendant of David reigns on the throne of Judah forever. Ahaz, though, refuses to believe this. He has already turned away from the God of his father David and embraced heathen worship, and he would rather rely upon a visible human empire than upon the invisible LORD his God.

The LORD makes one last attempt to reach the heart of Ahaz and win him back to faith in the living God. He sends Isaiah to make a proposal to Ahaz: Choose a sign, any sign, no matter how miraculous, by which the LORD can give you the assurance that what He has promised will come to pass, the attack from Syria and Israel will fail, and the house of David will remain secure. But Ahaz refuses. His trust is in Assyria, not in his God.

It is to this unbelief that Isaiah responds with the Immanuel prophecy: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted” (Isaiah 7:13–16). The prophecy goes on at some length, and I would encourage you to read it for yourself. The gist of it is that in the time it would take for a boy to be conceived, born, and reach the age of discretion, the threat that Ahaz fears so much from Syria and Israel will have been neutralized, but in a terrible way: through the very Assyrians on whom Ahaz has relied in place of the LORD his God. The Assyrians will lay waste to Syria, and in the decades after that will actually destroy the kingdom of Israel. They will even devastate the land of Judah itself, and Judah will never again regain its former prosperity. In fact, by the time Jesus is born and reaches the age of discretion, He will have to eat the food of poverty (curds and honey), because Judah will have been devastated by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, the Greeks, and the Romans—all as a direct consequence of King Ahaz’s unbelief.

There is so much more to this prophecy. If you would like to learn more, I invite you to join us for our Adult Bible Class this month, where we will delve into the major prophecies of Isaiah. For now, rejoice that God was pleased to predict the miraculous birth of Jesus so long before it actually took place. In the midst of His judgment against unbelieving Ahaz, He gave a promise to the believing people of Judah, that God would be with them in His Son Jesus, to deliver them not only from earthly empires, but even from sin and death. May this bring you much joy and peace this Christmas season!

God's Blessing to All This Christmas Season!

Pastor Neuendorf

November 2021

A Hymn for All Saints

As we prepare to observe All Saints’ Day, remembering before God our loved ones who have departed this life and are now with the Lord, I wish to share with you a hymn that was once very meaningful for our predecessors in the Lutheran faith. You can find an abridged version of the hymn in our current hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book, No. 679. What I am providing for you here is a more complete version, with a special addition.

The original hymn, “Oh, How Blest Are Ye,” was written in 1635 by Simon Dach, a tutor and professor who was well acquainted with grief. It is sung from the perspective of those left behind on earth by those who have preceded them to glory through bodily death. Originally the hymn was only six stanzas. In the century following, multiple hymnwriters added answering stanzas from the perspective of the departed, resulting in a dialogue between the saints on earth and the saints in heaven. What I am sharing with you is the dialogue as supplemented by Jacob Baumgarten, who lived 1688–1722. There is also a later set of responses written by a man named Paul Pfeffer in 1737, which was included in our own Missouri Synod’s German hymnal in the nineteenth century, though I do not have a translation available for it.

If you would like to hear the music that goes with this text, I invite you to visit I hope this hymn will prove a blessing to you as we prepare for All Saints’ Day.


1 Oh, how blest are ye whose toils are ended,

Who through death have unto God ascended!

Ye have arisen

From the cares which keep us still in prison.

Yes, dear friends, our joys are still increasing,

And our songs of praise are never ceasing,

All is preparing

For the time when ye too shall be sharing.

2 We are still as in a dungeon living,

Still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving!

Our undertakings

Are but toils and troubles and heartbreakings.

Ah, beloved friends! Be not complaining;

Wish not joy while yet on earth remaining;

Be still confiding

In your Father’s love and tender guiding.

3 Ye meanwhile are in your chambers sleeping,

Quiet, and set free from all our weeping;

No cross or sadness

There can hinder your untroubled gladness.

In your conflicts we were once engaging,

Long with sin and Satan warfare waging;

All your distresses

Once were ours, to weary and oppress us.

4 Christ has wiped away your tears forever;

Ye have that for which we still endeavor;

To you are chanted

Songs that ne’er to mortal ears were granted.

Yet in patience run the race before you;

Long for heav’n, where Love is watching o’er you;

Sow now in weeping,

Soon the fruit of joy ye shall be reaping.

5 Ah, who would, then, not depart with gladness

To inherit heav’n for earthly sadness?

Who here would languish

Longer in bewailing and in anguish?

Here ’tis good with Jesus to be living,

Yet yourselves be unto patience giving:

All your endeavors

Christ doth here reward with glorious favors.

6 Come, O Christ, and loose the chains that bind us;

Lead us forth and cast this world behind us.

With Thee, th’ Anointed,

Finds the soul its joy and rest appointed.

Ah, beloved souls! your palms victorious,

Golden harps, and thrones of triumph glorious,

All are awaiting—

Follow on with courage unabating.

Both Together

7 Let us join to praise His name forever,

To us both of ev’ry good the Giver;

His life undying

We shall each obtain, on Him relying.

8 Praise Him, men on earth and saints in heaven!

To the Lamb be praise and glory given—

Praise never ending,

Glory through eternity extending!


God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

October 2021

The Reformation: A Blessing to the Whole Christian Church on Earth

I sometimes think about what the world might have been like if the United States had never been founded. There had been successful republics before, such as Ancient Rome (until Caesar Augustus), the Netherlands, Switzerland, and some small city-states, but none on a scale anything like what our Founding Fathers crafted at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Our successful experiment in ordered liberty through representative government, with no need for a hereditary monarchy, proved extremely influential. Even countries that did not adopt our republican form of government nevertheless shifted toward greater liberty and stronger representation for their people. By its very existence, the United States has brought the blessings of liberty to many throughout the world.

I believe something similar has happened through the Lutheran Reformation. Martin Luther, because he was excommunicated early on, failed to bring change directly to the Roman Catholic Church. He had no immediate impact on the Eastern Orthodox Church at all. Luther himself was directly responsible only for the founding and early development of the Lutheran Church. But the movement he started soon spread to other regions of Europe, resulting in the founding of many Protestant churches. The impact of Luther’s Reformation can be felt among Anglicans and Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed, Baptists and Methodists, and the whole host of Protestant denominations that, in one form or another, strive to draw their teaching and practice from Holy Scripture rather than from the Pope or an authoritative hierarchy.

Nor is Luther’s impact limited to Protestantism. As a result of the Reformation, even the Roman Catholic Church has had to reevaluate its teachings and practices. Thanks to Luther’s efforts, there are many Catholics today who have a much greater knowledge of Holy Scripture than they would otherwise have had. Though the Roman Catholic Church still teaches much that is contrary to Holy Scripture, they have experienced much beneficial change as a result of the Reformation.

The Reformation has even impacted the Eastern Orthodox Church for the better. By being faced with the claims of the Lutheran Church, together with those of other Protestants, the Orthodox have themselves experienced a renaissance of biblical study and a renewed focus on the primacy of Jesus. They haven’t become Lutheran, or anything like it, to be sure, but they have benefited from their interactions with our churches.

In short, the Reformation has brought Jesus Christ and the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to the fore throughout the whole Christian Church on earth.

What would the world be like if there had been no Reformation? I can hardly imagine it. The Pope’s authority and control would be unchallenged in the West. The Scriptures would lie largely unstudied by most. Superstition and works righteousness would reign supreme throughout western Christendom. The grace of God in Jesus Christ would be heavily obscured by the doctrines and traditions of men. Those who awoke to the grave errors of Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy would have nowhere else to turn. The Holy Spirit would still have found a way to nurture living, saving faith within His Church, but by and large, God’s people would still be in bondage.

What blessedness we enjoy, therefore, as a result of the Reformation! Not only we Lutherans, but every Christian in the world can find some significant ways that he has been blessed through what took place surrounding the events of October 31, 1517. May we live in daily gratitude for what God has accomplished for us through the Reformation.

God's Blessings to All!

Pastor Neuendorf


September 2021

Our Obligation to Our Society

Toward the end of August, I got to attend a conference at our sister congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church, on the topic, “Caring for Souls in an Age of Sexual Confusion.” The main speaker was Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, perhaps best known for his book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. (By the way, because Dr. Anderson publicly affirms that men cannot become women and women cannot become men, he is persona non grata among the elites of our society, and his books have been removed from Amazon. Thankfully they can still be purchased at Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and some other merchants.) I found Dr. Anderson’s presentation to be very engaging and informative. He knows his topic well and can communicate it clearly.

Of all the themes that Dr. Anderson touched on, what most impressed me, and what I wish to share with you this month, is the insufficiency of religious liberty in dealing with the problem of gender confusion.

Religious liberty is critically important. We need space to come to our own conclusions on matters of faith, so that we worship not by compulsion but according to our conscience. For instance, as the pastor of a Lutheran congregation, I appreciate the fact that none of you are here because our government tells you that you have to be. You’re here because you believe the Lutheran Confessions to be a true exposition of Holy Scripture, and you want to be fed with faithful, biblical teaching. We would lose such voluntary participation if we established a Lutheran theocracy in the United States.

Furthermore, religious liberty as guaranteed by the first amendment of the United States Constitution is a last line of defense for our churches as the society around us degenerates. Our society may have embraced abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism, but at least within the sanctuaries of our churches we can still speak the truth of God’s Word on these matters without fear of government reprisal (for now). Religious liberty preserves our ability to protect ourselves and our children from the most pernicious influences of the world.

But is that all we care about? Do we really want to turn inward and protect ourselves and our children alone while the rest of our country crumbles around us? Heaven forbid! Just this past month we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus expects us to treat everyone around us as our neighbors, deserving of our help. Just because our neighbors believe differently than we do doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to their sufferings.

The fact is that gender confusion causes great suffering to our neighbors.

For instance, marriage exists to guarantee that children will grow up knowing who their father is and benefiting from his provision, protection, and masculine influence. It also guarantees that a mother will have the support of her children’s father in discharging the office of motherhood. When the protective guarantees of marriage are eroded, whether through no-fault divorce or through the redefinition of marriage to dissociate it from motherhood, fatherhood, and childhood, children and their mothers suffer. We Christians have an obligation not only to preserve our own marriages voluntarily under the auspices of religious liberty, but also to champion the institution of marriage in the public square. Non-Christian mothers and children deserve better than a Church that is content to watch them suffer through the destruction of marriage.

Furthermore, the transgender ideology, which holds that children can choose to become a gender not supported by their underlying biology, can lead to extreme forms of harm to those children. Such children are exposed to a medical industry that makes a handsome profit from administering puberty-blocking drugs to them and mutilating them with body-altering surgery, inflicting irreversible damage upon them in the process. Non-Christian children deserve better than a Church that is willing to watch this unfold, all the while saying, “At least it’s not our children.”

There is far more to say about this, and I intend to learn a great deal more about the issues we covered at this conference. But for now, what I would like us all to think about is our basic mentality. Are we called to shield our own Christian communities from the world around us? Or are we called to be salt and light, a blessing to the world around us? Can we labor in the public square for a law and a culture that upholds marriage, supports mothers, and protects children? Religious liberty is a great blessing, but Jesus has called us to more than just that. May we heed that call and serve our whole community in faithfulness and love!

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf


August 2021

Our Response to Persecution

We are blessed to live in a country whose founding principles include strong opposition to religious persecution by governing authorities. This is a natural consequence of the circumstances surrounding our founding. While many colonists settled these shores for economic reasons, many others made their way to the New World specifically to escape religious persecution in Europe. Their experience with persecution by governing authorities in the countries they left behind led them to establish a nation that explicitly protected religious liberty for all its citizens. This effort culminated in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Though the word “persecution” does not appear in this amendment, the idea is clearly present. Persecution can take the form of “prohibiting the free exercise” of one’s religion; of “abridging the freedom of speech,” e.g., speech promoting the teachings of one’s faith; “or of the press,” e.g., churchly publications; “or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” e.g., for public worship according to the dictates of their conscience. The First Amendment certainly protects political speech, publication, and assembly, but it just as surely and intentionally protects religious speech, publication, and assembly. In short, the First Amendment is the crystallization of our founding generation’s opposition to religious persecution of every description.

This founding commitment had implications that are still felt today. Our country’s opposition to religious persecution meant that those who sailed across the Atlantic to establish the Missouri Synod could find here a safe haven from the religious persecution they experienced at the hands of the secular authorities in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. Our dedication to religious liberty put pressure on other advanced countries to enshrine the same principles in their own constitutions. The religious liberty and safety from religious persecution enjoyed by so much of the world today is directly attributable to the founding of the United States, under the gracious providence of Almighty God.

But persecution still exists in our world. Islamic countries continue to relegate Christians to the status of second-class citizens, and if Muslims in such countries convert to Christianity, they are threatened with death. Totalitarian communist regimes such as those in Red China and Cuba threaten Christian dissenters (and those of other religions) with torment and death. Many less developed countries lack the ability or the will to protect their religious minorities, including Christians, from mob persecution.

Alarming as that may be, even in more advanced nations the specter of religious persecution is arising anew. One especially egregious example is Finland, where two prominent citizens, the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a Finnish member of Parliament, are facing criminal charges for aligning themselves with the teaching of Holy Scripture that homosexuality is a sinful deviation from God’s intention for marriage between man and wife. In fact, this situation has grown so serious that the leaders of the Lutheran church bodies making up the International Lutheran Council (ILC), including our own Missouri Synod, recently released a signed statement protesting this action and warning against the global consequences if such religious persecution by governing authorities is allowed to continue.

Nor are we immune in the United States. Our First Amendment only protects us as far as it is respected by those in authority, and as the experience of Barronelle Stutzman and Jack Phillips proves, even our Supreme Court is no longer willing to protect the religious liberty of American citizens who do not wish to participate in speech that promotes homosexuality. The Equality Act, which still has the potential to become law, would further expose Christians to religious persecution by our governing authorities.

How do we respond to this? First, pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are experiencing persecution throughout the world. Pray that they would be delivered, and that as long as it pleases God for them to endure persecution, they would remain firm and steadfast to the end. Second, pray for ourselves, who have not yet experienced persecution, that it would not descend upon us and that we would be in solidarity with those who are persecuted. Finally, if persecution does come to us, let us follow the example of the Apostles, who underwent persecution “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41)

God's Blessings.!

Pastor Neuendorf


July 2021

Christian Patriotism?

This year, the Fourth of July falls on a Sunday. That’s exciting for me, because I’ve always loved Independence Day, and I’m looking forward to gathering with my brothers and sisters in Christ on the day that we commemorate the founding of our wonderful nation. I’m a patriotic guy, and it’s been clear to me from my earliest days at Holy Cross that ours is a patriotic congregation!

But do you ever wonder about just how patriotic we should be? I’m not talking about those who try to turn us against our own country by pointing out its flaws—some real, some imagined. In terms of earthly life, we have no reason to be ashamed of our country, and every reason to be proud to be Americans. No, I’m talking about the tension between our two citizenships. We are citizens of the United States of America, but we’re also citizens of heaven. Can the two go together?

St. Paul tells us, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). These divine sayings tell us where our first loyalties are and ever shall be. We are first and foremost citizens of heaven, and that does not change whether we are American citizens, British subjects, primitive tribesmen, or anything else, as long as we believe in Jesus and are thus members of His Church, His kingdom. In the event of a conflict between our earthly citizenship and our heavenly citizenship, our heavenly citizenship must take first place no matter what, even unto death.

But does that mean we have no earthly citizenship? Does that mean we cannot love our county and be Christian patriots?

Certainly not!

Since Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, while we are still in the world, that means we have one foot in this life and one foot in the life to come. We do still live on this earth, and we do still have earthly relationships that we prize. We still have earthly responsibilities, earthly commitments, and earthly loyalties. In fact, Jesus’ statement that His kingdom is not of this world frees us to regard ourselves as citizens of earthly kingdoms insofar as we ourselves are still earthly.

I am an American citizen. I was born into this country. It is my country, and nothing can change that. It’s the country God gave me, and it’s the county to which I am given by God. It is good and right that, as a Christian, I should prove myself loyally devoted to the country in which God has granted me to live and thrive and worship Him in spirit and in truth.

This Fourth of July, let’s give thanks with a good conscience for the beautiful, just, and free country that God has given us. Let’s pray for our country’s wellbeing and commit to laboring for its founding ideals to flourish. And let’s do this knowing that our prayers for our earthly country are heard because we are first and foremost members of our heavenly country: the kingdom of God, prepared for us from before the foundation of the world.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf


June 2021

Does Baptism Really Save?

We Lutherans are one of the few Protestant church bodies that believe that Baptism actually saves, that is, in the words of Luther in his Small Catechism, “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” We get this idea from many passages of Holy Scripture, in particular Mark 16:16, which Luther cites in support of his claim just made above: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” In Titus 3:5, St. Paul writes, “According to His mercy He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” At the conclusion of his Pentecost sermon, St. Peter urges his hearers, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). And shortly thereafter he adds, “Save yourselves [literally: ‘be saved’] from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). How is Peter’s audience saved from their crooked generation? By being baptized in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of their sins. Finally, it is St. Peter again who wrote the chief passage demonstrating that Baptism saves: “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).

I think it’s fair to say, therefore, that our Lutheran position that Baptism saves is thoroughly biblical. Why, then, is that position so often denied? I once heard an entire half-hour sermon preached on 1 Pet. 3:21, “Baptism now saves you,” explaining why Peter doesn’t actually mean that Baptism saves you! Needless to say, the sermon was not preached by a Lutheran pastor. But it was preached by a believer in Jesus Christ who is committed to the authority of Holy Scripture. Why would he preach such a message? The answer is that he had many other passages in mind that ascribed salvation to something else, for instance, “One is justified [i.e., saved] by faith” (Rom. 3:28). “A man is not justified [i.e., saved] by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16). “‘What must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe [i.e., have faith] in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household’” (Acts 16:31). “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). The Scriptures are clear: We are saved by faith. The preacher I heard denying that Baptism saves was trying to uphold the clear biblical truth that faith is what saves us.

So who’s right? The preacher I heard, or Lutherans? Well, as I’m sure you know, we Lutherans also teach that faith saves us. In fact, we’re famous for what we call the “three solas”: We are saved by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), as testified by Holy Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). How does Baptism fit into that? Are we saved by faith, or by Baptism? Or by grace? Or by Jesus? What is it that actually saves us?

Consider a drowning man. A rescuer comes and throws a life preserver to him. He grabs hold of it and the rescuer draws him to safety. What saved him? The rescuer? The life preserver? His own act of grabbing hold of the life preserver? All of them did! Each element saved him in a different respect.

With our salvation in Christ, you could say that God Himself saves us. You could say that God’s grace saves us, because that is the favorable disposition in God by which He resolved to accomplish our salvation. You could say that God’s Word saves us, because it is through the preaching of God’s Word that His salvation comes to us. You could also say that our own faith saves us, since it is by faith that we believe God’s saving Word. God is the rescuer. His Word is the life preserver. Our faith is what grabs hold of the life preserver. Each saves us in a different respect, but ultimate responsibility for our salvation lies with God alone.

Where does Baptism fit into this? Baptism saves only because God’s Word is joined to it. As Luther says in the Small Catechism, “Without the Word of God the water is simple water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism.” Indeed, it is not the water in Baptism that saves us at all, “but the Word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such Word of God in the water.” So Baptism saves because it is the Word of God bound up with water. It saves in the same way as the Gospel itself saves, because when you boil it down, it actually is the Gospel, the promise of forgiveness and salvation for Jesus’ sake.

Martin Luther once said that if God told us we could receive the forgiveness of sins by picking up a straw, it would be so, not because the act of picking up the straw would be such a splendid, meritorious work, but because of the promise of God bound up with the straw. In Baptism, God’s promise of salvation is bound up with water, applied to us according to Christ’s command and institution.

So yes, Baptism saves us, which is to say that God saves us through His gift of Baptism. We are saved by faith in the Gospel promise that God makes to us in Baptism. Thanks and praise to God for the salvation He gives us through Baptism by His grace in Jesus Christ, received by faith alone!

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf


May 2021

How Is the Holy Spirit Poured Out upon Us?

This month, we will celebrate Pentecost, when we remember the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the disciples. For several weeks, our Gospel Lessons will be preparing us for Jesus’ visible departure at His Ascension and His subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit from heaven. What does it mean, though, for the Holy Spirit to be poured out? Is He still poured out upon the Church today? Has He been poured out upon you?

The Holy Spirit is God Almighty. He is one God with the Father and the Son. As God, He is everywhere present and fills all things. There are, however, different degrees to which He is manifested in different times and places.

The Holy Spirit is and always has been present in the heart of every believer in Christ, both those who once believed in Christ yet to come, and those who now believe in Christ who has come. King David pleads with God, “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). This of course assumes that David, as a believer in the promised Messiah, already had the Holy Spirit. When we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit as well. In fact, the only way we even can believe in the first place is for the Holy Spirit to come to us in God’s Word and bring forth faith in our hearts: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel” (Small Catechism, Third Article of the Creed). Since faith believes the promise of God, and God promises us forgiveness of sins and new birth unto life everlasting through Holy Baptism, Baptism is a means through which the Holy Spirit is given to every believer: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Since you are baptized and believe God’s baptismal promise to you, you have the Holy Spirit. St. Paul is speaking about you when he says, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15–16).

That does not mean, however, that you have every gift that God could possibly give you through His Spirit. You have the gift of faith and salvation, but you may not have the gift of prophecy or

speaking in tongues. You have the gift of forgiveness and life everlasting, but you may have plenty of room to grow in righteousness and in the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). In fact, even your faith itself has room to grow! “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

This is why Jesus commands us to keep praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you…. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:9, 13). Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot ask God for anything. It is therefore those who already have the Spirit who ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit—and in response, God increases the gift of the Holy Spirit within us! “To everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matt. 25:30). This is also what St. James means when he writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts … must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:5–7). We do not doubt when we pray to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit and for His wisdom that comes down from above.

Usually, these increased gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as wisdom and growth in faith, are normal parts of the Christian life: we increase in holiness and righteousness, and we subdue our sinful flesh more and more. This is what we usually call “sanctification.” But there are also extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit reserved for special times and places in salvation history, such as inspiration to write Holy Scripture: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). “We speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (1 Cor. 2:13). There can also be gifts of healing and other miracles, such as speaking in tongues, i.e., real-world foreign languages that we have not learned in the natural manner. (It is worth noting here that the “speaking in tongues” that takes place in some Pentecostal communities, using unknown “languages” understood by no one but special interpreters, is not the same thing as the “speaking in tongues” recorded in Holy Scripture.) Do not be distressed if you have not received extraordinary gifts such as these! Such gifts are helpful for building up the Church when God gives them, but they are not necessary for us for our salvation.

This Pentecost, and through our Christian walk, let’s make it a daily practice to pray to our heavenly Father for the increased gifts of His Holy Spirit. To us who already have the Holy Spirit, even more of the Spirit will be given!

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

April 2021

Christ is Risen- This Changes Everything!

For as long as I can remember, I've believed that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning.  Every year we'd exchange the Easter greeting: "Christ is risen!" "He has risen indeed!"  (Or the way I first learned it, "Christ is risen" "Truly He is risen!")  As I've grown and learned more about the Christian faith, and about our basis  for believing in the resurrection of Jesus, my conviction has only deepened that the central fact of the Christian faith is indeed true: Christ is risen from the dead!

Sometimes, however, the truths in which we most confidently believe can become truths that we take for granted.  For instance, I believe that the earth reliably completes one rotation every day and that the sun will therefore rise every day in the east and set every day in the west, but it is very seldom that I think about and appreciate this truth, a truth on which all bodily human life depends.  Similarly, I believe that Jesus Christ was dead in His body and is now alive again in His body, but I have to confess that it is rather seldom that I really think about and appreciate this truth on which all the blessed life to come depends.

One way to stop taking these fundamental truths for granted is to imagine what it would be like if they were no longer true.  Imagine what it would be like if they were no longer true.  Imagine that the earth started drifting away from the sun.  The sun would get smaller and smaller in the sky, until finally it would vanish among the countless multitude of stars.  The earth would grow unbearably, uninhabitably cold.  Plants would stop growing.  Animal life would perish.  Ultimately, without the sun, we would all perish, leaving behind a barren planet, formless and empty.

Are you appreciating the sun a little more now?

Now imagine that there had been no resurrection of Jesus.  Image that He had been buried and then remained there in His tomb, going the way of all flesh.  Jesus would be truly gone from us, forever.  There would be no forgiveness of sins.  There would be no hope of entry into paradise with Him upon our departure from this bodily life.  There would be no hope of the resurrection of our mortal bodies on the last day.  There would be no hope of a reunion in the life to come with those we love who have departed this life in the faith.  We would simply be born, live, die, and then go on to whatever gloomy spiritual fate God's just judgement might have in store for us.  As St. Paul writes, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then also those who have fallen asleep [i.e., died in the body] have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:17-19).

Are you appreciating the resurrection of Jesus a little more now?

Of course, we don't need to worry about what life would be like without the sun, because we know we can rely on the structure of the cosmos that God has put in place for our benefit (God even promises it in His Word!  See Gen 8:22; Jer 31:31-35; & 33:20-21)  Nor do we need to worry about what life would be like wlthout the resurrection of Jesus, because we know we can rely on God's testimony through His prophets and apostles that He has raised Jesus from the dead for our benefit.  "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead," writes St. Paul in jubilant triumph, "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20)  Paul can write this as one who saw the resurrected Jesus with his own eyes.  As for us, the resurrected Jesus says, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).  We have believed because God speaks to us in His written Word and, by His Spirit, convinces us of the truth of the testimony concerning His Son.  "These (things) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name (John20:31).

Christ has been raised from the dead!  Your sins are forgiven!  You likewise will rise with Him in glory!  All who by faith in Him are righteous will inherit with Him the new heavens and the new earth!  All of this is true because the resurrection of Jesus is true.


Pastor Neuendorf



March 2021

Christian Ethics and Participation in Evil

Last month, I wrote that all of the presently available coronavirus vaccines involve some degree of participation in the grave sin of abortion, since they all make use in some way or another of cell lines derived from aborted children. I suggested that it would be more morally defensible to receive only those vaccines that use such cell lines in their testing, not in their development. Since then, I’ve done more reading and reflecting on the issue, and I’d like to share some additional thoughts.

We know instinctively as human beings that there could hardly be a worse conceivable crime than killing and destroying a child. We also know as Christians instructed by the written Law of God that He strictly forbids killing, which of course includes abortion. We therefore will not choose to kill our own children through abortion. But to what extent can we cooperate with others in their sin of abortion without becoming guilty of that sin ourselves? For example, if you had a friend who intended to have her child aborted but needed a ride to the abortionist’s office to commit the crime, would you provide the needed transportation? If a friend of yours needed to pay an abortionist’s fee to kill her child, would you give her the money needed for the procedure?

These questions are fairly straightforward, because they involve your active, direct, voluntary, and intentional contribution of the means necessary to bring about the abortion, strictly for the purpose of the abortion itself. You may tell yourself that you’re doing it in order to show that you’re a good friend, or to spare a loved one additional pain beyond that associated with the abortion itself and the surrounding circumstances, but those would all be ancillary motives. The chief and most direct purpose of your contribution of a ride or cash is to procure the abortion and to kill and destroy an innocent child.

But what about when your participation in abortion becomes more remote? For example, we all pay taxes. Some of those tax dollars are used to pay for abortions. Does that make us complicit in those abortions? Here our contribution is not active, but passive; not direct, but indirect; not voluntary, but under compulsion; not intentional, but contrary to our own intent (unless, of course, we intentionally vote for those who promote public funding of abortion). Furthermore, we pay our taxes not for the purpose of providing abortions, but for the purpose of avoiding fines and jail time, and for the purpose of maintaining a functional society. God even commands that we pay our taxes: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed…” (Rom. 13:7). Through our taxes, we are participants in abortion, but we are remote participants. Our participation is so remote, in fact, that we would sin more by not paying taxes than we do by paying taxes that are subsequently used, in part, for evil purposes.

In fact, by participating in our economy at all, we become remote participants in virtually endless evils. By purchasing cheap Chinese goods, we benefit from the evils of the Chinese Communist Party. By dealing with Google, Amazon, Facebook, YouTube, and all the rest of “Big Tech,” we participate in the evils they promote. By paying to consume content from our entertainment providers, we participate in the indoctrination that they engage in to remake our views on marriage and human nature contrary to plain reason and the Word of God. We cannot entirely escape participation in evil, but we can keep our participation remote.

What is the alternative to remote participation in evil? If we wished to have no participation in society’s evil, we would have to leave society altogether. That is not the will of God, and it is certainly not what the first Christians did. They remained in their wicked society and sought to transform it. Ultimately, they did transform their society in some fundamental ways from which we still benefit. The evils of their remote participation in society’s wickedness were outweighed by the benefits of their direct participation in society’s betterment.

Let us strive for the betterment of our society: for just laws, for the maintenance of righteousness, and for the hindrance and punishment of wickedness. When our society begins requiring us to participate directly in evil, such as expressing approval of same-sex marriage and transgenderism or actively celebrating and supporting abortion, then we will have to take our stand and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from Jesus. But in our present situation, let’s use our votes and our wallets to the extent we are able to combat evil and participate in the common good.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf



February 2021

A Pastor’s Perspective on the COVID-19 Vaccine

Since we first entered the coronavirus pandemic early last year, we have been told consistently that an effective vaccine and the establishment of “herd immunity” is what will ultimately get us out of it. Now, several vaccines have been developed and are in the process of being deployed or approved. I am aware that some of our members have questions about this vaccine and whether they should get it if it becomes available to them. Please allow me to share my own perspective on the matter.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine ethical? Back in the 1960s, two children who were killed by abortion had their cells harvested and propagated as “cell lines.” Tragically, for many years, pharmaceutical companies have used these cell lines to develop vaccines. Though these children were killed for other reasons, and not for the sake of vaccine development, we Christians do not want to benefit from medical advances made as a result of the killing of children. Thankfully, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed under President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed.” The Trump administration, as the most pro-life administration in American history, prioritized ethically developed vaccines for funding. Some vaccines that are still awaiting approval did use cell lines from aborted children in their development. These include the vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Once those vaccines become available, I would discourage any Christian from receiving them. But the vaccines that are currently available, those from Pfizer and Moderna, were developed without using these cell lines. At some stages, the cell lines were unfortunately used for testing of the developed vaccine, but the vaccines themselves were developed and produced ethically. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has offered a statement on this matter, but the statement simply leaves everything up to the individual conscience. I will tell you as your pastor that I believe you can receive the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna without ethical concerns.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

January 2021


Love Is Forever

In medieval Christianity, there were seven standard virtues. They were made up of the four chief, or “cardinal,” virtues of heathen classical antiquity: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. These four virtues were possible for all humanity to attain even without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Lutheran theology has always recognized this, distinguishing these sorts of virtues as “civic righteousness,” i.e., that sort of righteousness that is possible for unregenerate man and that leads to earthly blessedness, but does not lead to eternal life. To these four cardinal virtues were added the three “theological” virtues, which had to be given by the Holy Spirit: faith, hope, and love. These “theological” virtues were drawn from 1 Cor. 13:13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Of course, faith, hope, and love can exist without the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to be a Christian to have faith in someone you trust. You don’t have to be a Christian to hope for better days ahead. And you certainly don’t have to be a Christian to love other people. But to practice these virtues as St. Paul urges, we most certainly do need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Faith, speaking generally, is trust that something is true despite appearances to the contrary. Usually that trust is based upon the “trustworthiness” of some responsible party. So, for instance, I have faith that our military will protect us from foreign threats. I do not see those threats, nor do I see the preparations that our military is making to protect us from them, but I rely upon the character and ability of those who are responsible for protecting us. When it comes to saving, Christian faith, what we believe is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We believe that He is risen from the dead, and that He forgives our sins. In short, we believe what we confess in our Creeds. We believe all this without seeing it. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The basis of our belief is the trustworthiness of God. We believe what our trustworthy God promises us in His trustworthy Word.

Hope is very similar to faith—in fact, the word “hope” is included in the definition of “faith” given in Hebrews 11:1. Hope, like faith, involves confidence in the truth of something that is not currently seen. “Now hope that is seen is not hope,” St. Paul says. “For who hopes for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:25). Hope is a confident expectation of some future condition of blessedness. An unbeliever can certainly have hope that the year 2021 will be better than the year 2020, and he has plenty of good reason for such hope. We Christians, however, have a much more dramatic hope. We hope for entry into Paradise upon bodily death, we hope for the resurrection of our bodies on the last day, we hope for Jesus to judge the living and the dead in perfect justice and mercy, and we hope for the new heavens and the new earth, where righteousness dwells. Like faith, our hope is based upon the trustworthiness of the God who has promised us these things.

The foundation of our Christian life is faith in the promises of God, which gives rise to hope. But “faith,” says St. Paul, is “working through love” (Gal. 5:6). This sort of love is somewhat different from the love that is natural to man. Think about your own experience of love. Has it ever been hard to love? Usually you can’t help yourself! You love your parents, your siblings, your family members, and your friends, and that’s not a love you really have to work at. It comes naturally. Maybe at some point you fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, and maybe that results in marriage. You have very little control over “falling in love”—it just sort of sweeps you off your feet! And then of course your children are probably the easiest to love. You can’t help but love your children more than your own life!

But we do notice that this sort of natural love has its limits. Sometimes parents mistreat their children to such a degree that love no longer comes naturally. Sometimes our family members have characteristics that make it a challenge to love them, and sometimes our friends do things that turn us against them and make it hard to keep loving them. Often we fall right back out of love as easily as we fell in love to begin with, which might be a large part of why we have so much divorce these days. Sometimes even love for our children fails. All of this is because natural love works by loving the lovable. Once the object of our love becomes unlovable to us, we stop loving.

Christian love is different. Christian love is like God’s love for us. God does not wait for us to become lovable. He loves us first and then makes us lovable. When our hearts are filled with God’s love, we love everyone, even our enemies, no matter how unlovable they may be. Through faith, God helps the unlovable to become lovable to us.

And the more love sees, the more it grows. Faith and hope will recede, in a sense, as what we believe and hope for becomes seen. When we have all of God’s promises fulfilled to us by sight, we’ll still trust Him, but we won’t have to trust Him despite appearances to the contrary. But love? Love will only deepen and grow and God’s promises find their fulfillment. That’s why St. Paul lists love as the greatest of the virtues. It reflects the character of our God who is love, it lasts forever, and as faith gives way to sight, love only loves more.

God grant that this year we grow in our love for Him above all things and for our neighbors as ourselves!

God's Richest Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

December 2020

A Winter of Darkness and the Light of Christ

Have you heard reference this year to a “dark winter”? The pandemic has been with us since March, and while the summer proved rather mild for most of us, with the onset of colder weather the coronavirus is flourishing, hospitals are filling, tensions are rising, and hopes are dwindling. Talk of a “dark winter” assumes that the worst is yet to come.

And yet there are reasons for hope. Highly effective vaccines are right around the corner, with plans for deployment at the Lutheran Home in a matter of weeks. Some of our most vulnerable populations have already been exposed to, and recovered from, the coronavirus. Our authorities are recognizing that school closures do far more harm than good, and mitigation measures should hopefully be more targeted and effective with minimal damage to our economy and society. We’ve learned a lot about the virus and can treat it much more effectively than before. Far from a “dark winter,” I am filled with hope as I look toward the months ahead.

This way of looking at things sums up the Advent season for me. I think it’s a wonderful thing that, in the providence of Almighty God, Advent and Christmas fall within the natural winter season. The Christians who originally celebrated the birth of Christ on December 25 did not experience winters like ours, with months of subfreezing temperatures and heavy snowfall. But as Christmas spread to northern Europe, and with it the preparatory season of Advent, this celebration came to be associated with that time of year when we hole up in our cozy homes, waiting hopefully for the thaw to come. Apart from our members who spend their winters in Florida, we here in Iowa celebrate Advent and Christmas during the “dark winter,” when we are forced to wait patiently for milder days ahead.

Consider one of our classic Lutheran Christmas hymns, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (LSB 359). This hymn plays on the winter imagery of Advent and Christmas, the first stanza concluding that Jesus came “Amid the cold of winter, When half-spent was the night.” When the powers of darkness loomed over a desperate world, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman” (Gal. 4:4). The light of Christ breaks into our winter of darkness, a foretaste of our ultimate deliverance, when we will emerge from the dark winter of this world into the bright daylight of eternal life in the kingdom of God.

I am hopeful that God will work through those whom He has called into positions of authority and service to bring us relief from our present “dark winter” brought about by the threat of the coronavirus. But I have no guarantee of that. Nothing is guaranteed in this life, apart from sin and death. We should never count our earthly chickens before they’re hatched. What a joy, therefore, to have perfect certainty that the one ultimate promise of our redemption in Christ is never in question. No matter what befalls us in this life, no matter what temporary earthly victories the devil might rack up for himself, no matter how dark our winter, the light of Christ shines brightly, promising deliverance and peace, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

May your celebration of Advent and Christmas this year be tinged with divine confidence, joy, peace, and hope as we remember the coming of Christ in the flesh to redeem us, and look forward to His coming in glory to receive us into His everlasting kingdom.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

  January 2021  

November 2020

On Voting as a Christian

Many of you are likely disappointed to see the title of this month’s Pastor’s Corner. After all, it seems that wherever we turn, we hear about nothing but the election. Do we really want to hear about it from our pastor, too? And shouldn’t our church take a neutral stand on politics? Isn’t that required of us as a non-profit organization, and shouldn’t we be concerned about preaching the Word of God rather than mundane questions about who should be placed into positions of power in our republic?

I myself have decided not to preach about the election. If I attend Divine Service, I do so not to focus on worldly matters that clamor for my attention throughout much of the rest of the week, but to offer worship and praise to my God in Christ, and to receive with thanksgiving the blessings He gives through His holy Word and blessed Sacraments, all in the company and encouragement of my household of faith, my brothers and sisters in the Lord Christ Jesus. I try not to offer to my congregation in my own preaching what I would not appreciate myself if I were on the receiving end of that preaching.

I will, of course, include the election in this weekend’s prayers. St. Paul urges “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1–2). I will pray that God guide our voters to make wise choices, for the protection of life (especially that of the unborn, which continues to be under daily threat through the national scourge of legal abortion) and liberty (especially for us and our fellow Christians, whose right to worship and live our lives according to our consciences is threatened by proposed legislation that would force us to acknowledge and participate in same-sex marriage and transgenderism). That is the extent of my planned injection of “politics” into our public worship.

But I can’t shake the sense of responsibility to share with you, in this forum at least, a little bit more of my own views on our responsibility as voters whose first loyalty is to our God in Christ, a loyalty recognized and protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I have my own convictions that I can certainly regard as political rather than religious. I voted early in person myself, and as I cast my votes for all contested offices, I took into consideration such factors as economics, the promotion of peace in our foreign policy, the effects of protracted coronavirus lockdowns on the wellbeing of our citizens, border security, and other matters that, while not hermetically sealed off from my faith, are nevertheless matters of genuine political debate even among Christians. But two matters, at least, are not up for debate for us Christians: the protection of unborn human life, and the protection of the Christian conscience as the sexual revolution continues its path of devastation through our society.

The fact of the matter is that the two chief candidates for the highest office in the land have fallen on different sides of these two core issues for Christians. One supports allowing states to place extensive restrictions on abortion, even outlawing it entirely (God grant it!), while the other is committed to nationally protecting a woman’s right to secure the violent death of her child in the womb at whatever stage of pregnancy (good Lord, deliver us!). One supports the legal protection of the individual conscience when it comes to refusing participation in the celebration and promotion of same-sex marriage and transgenderism, while the other supports legislation called the “Equality Act,” which would further erode our ability as Christians to follow our conscience, not only in the way we worship, but also in the way we live our lives and conduct ourselves in society. Most of you already know which major candidate falls on which side of these issues. If you are unsure about this, please get in touch with me.

There is much, much more that could be said about both major candidates. There is much to be said about the personal character of each. There is much to be said about the impact of each candidate’s policies on the general wellbeing of our citizens and those around the world. But their positions on these two core issues for us Christians leaves no room for debate. Please, if you have not already cast your vote, as you prepare to do so on Election Day, vote not only according to your political inclinations, your relationships and affiliations, and your personality preferences, but according to your conscience, knowing that we are answerable to God for how our decisions at the ballot box impact His people, together with the littlest, most vulnerable among us. God grant us wisdom and courage as we participate in the governance of the republic that He has entrusted to our care.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

October 2020

I Appreciate You

The coronavirus pandemic has been rough on everyone. The virus itself has taken many lives and afflicted many others with serious illness. Our efforts to combat its spread have themselves taken a toll on our economy and our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Patients have been suffering, healthcare workers have been suffering, nursing home residents and staff have been suffering, businesses have been suffering, employees have been suffering, the elderly have been suffering, teachers, students, and staff have been suffering.  Nearly everyone has been suffering to one degree or another.

My primary perspective, of course, is from the Church. I can say that our congregations have been suffering in unique ways. This is due to a number of factors. It is in the nature of Christians to gather together for worship, as our Lord commands us, so we have a lot at stake as we make decisions about how to respond to the coronavirus. Congregations are made up of church members, individual people with a wide range of convictions on our coronavirus response, all of whom have a significant role in church governance and decision making. Pastors and their people have been forced into very unfamiliar circumstances as they adapt to new ways of providing worship opportunities, both online and in person. And as our economy suffers and attendance at in-person services has dropped, most congregations are experiencing a dramatic reduction in giving.

As a result of all these pressures, many congregations are experiencing unprecedented levels of conflict, both between people and pastor and between people and people. Many pastors find themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place: regardless of the pastor’s own convictions, if he’s too cautious, he has members who accuse him of faithlessness to Christ, and if he’s too bold, he has members who accuse him of folly and of devaluing human life. Many of the struggles faced by congregations are easily blamed on the pastor. I have spoken with many, many colleagues who are experiencing exactly this, to one degree or another.

That is why I am so grateful to you, my congregation of Holy Cross.I know there are a wide range of opinions among our members on the coronavirus. I know the safety measures we have taken at Holy Cross are a pain, and are too much for some and not enough for others. I know that you are all facing your own unique strains and pressures as a result of the coronavirus. And yet, through all that, you have consistently treated me and your fellow church members with nothing but graciousness, understanding, and respect—that is to say, with love.When we first had to suspend on-site worship services, you responded with kindness, even as you continued to affirm that in-person gathering for worship is essential for Christians.


When we transitioned to online worship services, you responded by coming out of the woodwork to encourage Ellen, Vivian, and me, and to express your gratitude.


When we started a P.O. Box for mailing offerings, you responded with an outpouring of generosity that put us well ahead of our budget even as the country was reeling from lockdowns.


When we held remote meetings, you responded by adapting to the new technology and continuing to carry out the necessary business of our congregation.


When we reopened, you responded by adjusting patiently to the safety measures we put in place. Now our attendance is approaching what it was before the pandemic began!


When we transitioned to live streaming our services, you responded with kindness and understanding as I learned the ropes of a new system.


In short, through everything we’ve been dealing with, you, the congregation that our Lord has entrusted to my care, have impressed upon me that we are family in Christ, bearing with one another in love. I am deeply grateful to you all for your love and support, which has made what could have been a time of unparalleled trouble and distress into a time of joy and peace. I thank my God for you all, and I am confident that as the pandemic continues, and hopefully soon comes to a close, He will continue to lead us to grow in our love for one another through the faith He has granted us in the forgiveness of our sins in Jesus’ name.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

September 2020

o Whom Do We Pray?

I’ve been asked this question more than once: “Do we pray only to the Father, or is it okay to pray to Jesus?” I’ve also been asked if it’s okay to pray to the Holy Spirit. The short answer is, “Yes, it’s okay to pray to the Father, and to the Son (i.e., Jesus), and to the Holy Spirit.” But this answer deserves more of an explanation.

The standard model for Christian prayer is the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–15; Luke 11:1–13). When Jesus instructs His disciples (and us) in how to pray, He directs His prayer to God the Father. He invites us to direct our prayer to His Father together with Him, “so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you” (John 15:16). Praying “in Jesus’ name” doesn’t just mean that we conclude our prayer with the formula, “In Jesus’ name.” It means that we are joined to Jesus by faith, and in that faith, united to Christ, we have access to God the Father: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith…. You are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26, 28b). The chief gift for which we pray is the Holy Spirit: “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13). This same Spirit also animates our prayer, stirring us up to ask the Father by faith: “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

We see this model of prayer in practice throughout the New Testament. The disciples pray thus in Acts 4:24–30. They address God, i.e., the Father, and ask Him to perform for them signs and wonders “through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus” (v. 30). And what happens after they offer this prayer to the Father in the name of Jesus, i.e., through faith in Him? “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 31). They prayed to the Father through the Son for the Holy Spirit, and their prayer was granted. Consider also the prayer of praise offered by St. Paul at the opening of his Epistle to the Ephesians. There he blesses “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), referring to Jesus as He “in whom you also, when you heard the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). Paul addresses God the Father through God the Son for the Holy Spirit—and we might add in each case also “from” the Holy Spirit, since it is the Spirit who wrought the faith by which every Christian prays.

Observe this also in the structure of our “collects,” the prayers we pray right before the Scripture readings in our church services. A collect is typically addressed to the Father, with the conclusion, “through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” The typical structure of Christian prayer is to the Father, through the Son, for (and from) the Holy Spirit.

But remember that the Father is one God with the Son and the Spirit, and since Jesus is the same person as the Son of God, the Father is one God with Jesus: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (twice! John 14:10 & 11), and “the Father is in Me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38). If you pray to God the Father, you are praying to that God who is one God with the Son and the Holy Spirit. So prayer to God the Father is prayer to Jesus and prayer to the Holy Spirit!

That means you may also, in good conscience, direct prayer to the Son and to the Spirit, as long as you have faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, your Savior from sin and death. Faithful people directed many prayers to Jesus during His earthly ministry, and their prayer was graciously received. After His ascension, St. Stephen prayed directly to Jesus in his final moments: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). St. Paul pleaded with Jesus for the removal of the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8), receiving a direct answer from Jesus Himself. Though most of our churchly prayers are directly to the Father through the Son for/from the Holy Spirit, we also have prayers in our liturgy directed to the Son (Jesus) and to the Holy Spirit. You may in good conscience pray directly to Jesus, who is one God with the Father, and directly to the Holy Spirit, who is one God with the Father and the Son.

What I personally recommend is that your regular, formal prayers be directed to the Father through faith in His Son, and that your chief prayer be for the Holy Spirit, i.e., for the forgiveness of sins, for growth in faith, for healing, for the coming of the kingdom of God, and for all the gifts the Spirit gives. But as you are moved, cry out also to the Son of God, something like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Be in constant conversation with Jesus, and take a moment here and there to say “Thank you” to the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you and assures you of your salvation. Know all along that your faithful prayers are all directed to the one, true, living God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

August 2020

Why Haven’t I Been Preaching Against Racism?

Ever since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police over two months ago, race has been a topic of pressing concern, not least within the Church. While there has been opportunity for potentially helpful reflection on the challenges facing our black communities and how best to address them, I have honestly been deeply concerned as I have watched the progress of the controversy and tried to find my own place within it. Many voices have been raised demanding that our churches publicly condemn racism and align themselves with a new movement called “antiracism.” Please allow me to share with you my own view on how this has been developing, and how we should respond.

The teaching of antiracism, as I understand it, is that America was founded as a racist society, with racist institutions designed to keep white people in power over black people. Not only slavery, but all of American law and culture, including the institution of policing, is oppressive by design. In fact, this extends not only to America, but to European civilization generally, including the Christian Church. The nuclear family, i.e., father and mother raising their children as man and wife, is a racist construct (hence the alliance of Black Lives Matter with the LGBTQ movement). Even the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth, which can be arrived at through a process of human reason, is part of this racist system of oppression. If you are white, you are a participant in and beneficiary of this racist system, whether you want to be or not. The only appropriate response is to undergo a lifelong process of self-examination and repentance for complicity in systemic racism (called “checking your privilege”) and become fully supportive of Black Lives Matter. Many individuals and organizations have therefore issued statements acknowledging the existence of “systemic racism” and pledging their support of Black Lives Matter.

Pressure to do the same has come to our own church body. For instance, a petition entitled “A Call for Racial Justice Reform in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” with over 5,000 signers so far, accuses our church body of having what it calls “systemic issues” with race. As evidence for this, it is pointed out that, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, the LCMS is the third-least racially diverse church body in the country. That, according to the tenets of antiracism, makes us racist (no other explanations for our demographic composition are permitted). The petition therefore asks us to “confess that our thoughts, words, and deeds have created, deepened, and sustained the lasting wounds of racial prejudice, inequality, and injustice.” We are to “dismantle the systems of racism within our congregations, communities, and church body.”

Do these words ring true to you? Have you seen evidence that our church is built on “systems of racism” that need to be dismantled? What might these systems be? Look at our own congregation. We are, without a doubt, predominantly white, though we deeply love our black members and guests, as we love all of our church family. Does that make us racist? According to the tenets of antiracism, yes, it does. But according to an older, more reasonable definition of racism, I do not believe that our congregation or our church body are racist in the least.

What is this older, more reasonable definition of racism? I would define it as hatred toward one’s neighbors based on their race, or a spirit of superiority based on one’s own race. So one could cite the biblical sins of hatred and pride, and simply say that racism is hatred and pride motivated by racial differences.

It is undeniable that racial hatred and pride were a serious problem earlier in our country’s history, leading to many unjust deaths and untold human suffering, particularly among our black populations. I’ll admit that I’ve been shocked and dismayed as I’ve learned more about this history in recent months. But that makes it all the more remarkable how far we’ve come as a society since the mid-twentieth century. The United States is now one of the least racist societies on earth—at least according to the commonsense definition of racism. According to the new dogmas of antiracism, however, racism is in our blood. It’s here to stay, and there’s no getting rid of it as long as our societal institutions continue. Racism is the sole explanation for the demographic composition of our church body, and the only way to deal with it is to root out all of our traditional institutions and remake our society—and our church—on antiracist principles.

I am not willing to do that. I do not believe that I am a racist in any meaningful sense. I do not believe that our church is racist. I do not believe that you are racist. I believe that a far greater threat than any imagined “systemic racism” in our country and in our church is the antiracism movement itself, which seeks the destruction and replacement of our institutions. (Note: This is not to deny that much of what is identified as “systemic racism” is an actual problem that needs to be addressed. We need police reform, and there are many steps we could take to aid our black neighbors. But that doesn’t mean that racism is the problem.)

So I will preach against real threats. I will preach against the destruction of marriage and family in our society. I will preach against the killing of children through abortion. I will preach against the sins that are known to me to infect the hearts of our own people. But until I am shown otherwise, I have no reason to believe that racism is among them. When I see evidence that racism has the potential to tempt or affect those under my care, then I will preach against it.

Keep loving your neighbor of every race and tribe. Keep seeking true justice and wellbeing for others wherever God has given you influence. Keep struggling against sin. And keep looking forward to the heavenly city, where Jesus will grant us perfect and eternal peace, unity, and love.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf


July 2020

Can American Christians Be Patriotic? Yes!

It’s tricky to be patriotic these days. We’ve been seeing a lot lately about racism as “America’s original sin.” Our national symbols, such as the American flag and the National Anthem, are being associated with racism. Key figures in our national history have been subjected to intense scrutiny regarding their views on race, and now even our Founding Fathers are coming under fire. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, for instance, both owned slaves, and American slavery has always been closely bound up with race. George Washington didn’t free his slaves until his death, and Thomas Jefferson never freed his slaves at all. How can we continue to look up to men who were so hypocritical as to express the principle that “all men are created equal,” while at the same time literally owning human beings who were born into bondage?

The more I learn, though, about America’s founding and the history of black slavery in our country, the more convinced I become that we still have much to be patriotic about, particularly as Christians.

American slavery, as horrendous as it was, did not begin as a racist institution. People of all races were being enslaved all over the world at the time that our country was being colonized. Newly available land in the seventeenth century opened up a large labor market, and that market was filled with a combination of white indentured servants from Europe and black slaves from Africa. These black slaves had been kidnapped by neighboring tribes—their fellow Africans—and sold to Europeans. As time went on, indentured servitude faded out of existence, and the labor requirements of the American colonies, particularly those in the south, were filled almost exclusively by black slaves. All of this took place before the formative ideas of the American Revolution came into being.

By the late eighteenth century, the American elites had adopted a new philosophy based on natural rights. They believed that every human being possesses the same innate right to life, liberty, and personal property, or what Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence euphemistically called “the pursuit of happiness.” They also believed that the sole purpose of government is to protect these rights. The U.S. Constitution was intended to create just such a government, as we see reflected in the Bill of Rights. God gives us our rights; government protects those rights.

Unfortunately for the Founding Fathers, when they came to embrace this philosophy, they found themselves in a society in which black slavery was an entrenched reality. They knew that the institution of slavery as they had inherited it contradicted their conviction that every human being innately possesses the God-given right to liberty. At the same time, they feared that if all slaves were freed at once, a devastating race war would ensue—and that fear was not unjustified. Thomas Jefferson famously expressed their quandary with this striking illustration: “We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” Furthermore, the Founding Fathers knew that if they condemned slavery as it predominated in the southern states, they would not be able to unite against Great Britain. Their solution was to tolerate slavery for the time being, in hopes that it would die out naturally over time.

As it happens, slavery did die out in the north. In the south, however, it only grew stronger, and in some ways much worse. In an effort to justify black slavery while also holding to the principle that “all men are created equal,” southern theorists developed the ideology of racism: they considered black slaves something less than human. Unfortunately, this sinful ideology outlived slavery itself. We still live with many of its harmful consequences today.

Does this mean that America is inherently racist? Hardly. Our Founding Fathers did the best they could under the circumstances, and the republic they founded ultimately provided the best possible environment for black Americans to attain recognition of the inherent God-given dignity that they share with their white neighbors. Far from enshrining slavery, our founding documents and institutions laid the groundwork for its eventual extirpation on our shores. Racism is not inherent in our founding, but alien to it.

We Christians therefore have every reason to be patriotic and continue to celebrate our nation’s founding. We thrive under a form of government that protects our right to serve God according to our conscience, which for us is bound to the Word of God. We can fully embrace our country’s founding philosophy, recognizing that because we are all created in the image of God, we are all “created equal,” whatever our ancestry, whatever our culture, and whatever our physical appearance. This Fourth of July, I plan to salute the American Flag in good conscience, not because I approve of everything in our nation’s history, but because I wholeheartedly embrace the founding principles that gave us the best possible chance to make that history better. I thank God for the United States of America.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

June 2020

Christ Our Rock


It’s amazing to me how drastically things can change in such a short time. A week ago, COVID-19 was on everyone’s mind. Now our focus is entirely on protesting (without social distancing) and defending our communities against lawless rioting. My own emotions have swayed wildly in different directions. I have gone from sober reflection on the sacrifices made by our soldiers to protect our country, to anxiety over how best to deal with the threat posed by the coronavirus, to shock over the public murder of George Floyd, to sadness over the intensifying lockdown at the Lutheran Home necessitated by the reopening of our surrounding community, to fear and anger over the violence and disorder afflicting our country and even our own city. By the time you read this I’ll probably be preoccupied with something else.

In the midst of all this, we still have the charge from God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Does that seem a little strange to you? Does it seem odd that, as the world is seemingly burning down around us, our primary message remains repentance, forgiveness, and eternal salvation through the atoning death of the Son of God? Why do our sermons focus not on the coronavirus, or on racism, or on riots, but on Jesus?

As this week clearly demonstrates, we live in a volatile world. What seems primary one moment can be rendered obsolete the next. Before we even have the chance to process what has happened, we’re being asked to make a statement about something entirely unrelated. Life in this world is like a storm at sea. Without Jesus, we are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). What do we need in such a situation? We need something firm and unchanging and reliable, where we can rest and get our bearings. We need a rock. We need Jesus.

The Psalms often speak of God as our Rock. False gods are also referred to as “rocks,” because their worshipers rely upon them for safety and stability in the midst of life’s perilous changes. But those false gods are not reliable rocks. They give way and prove to be deceptive sources of security. The living God, on the other hand, is truly our Rock. We can rely upon Him. We can cling to Him with confidence. In fact, we can be so sure of Him that we can even build upon Him, finding permanent residence in Him.

Jesus takes this language and applies it to Himself. “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matt. 7:24–25). What is the structure that we build on Christ our Rock, or rather, that He builds through us? It’s the Church. When St. Peter made the good confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus replied, “On this rock,” that is, on Peter’s confession, “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:16, 18). We, the Christian Church, are built upon our reliable, trustworthy, steady, unchanging Rock, “Jesus Christ … the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

Reliance upon Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation means that, no matter how dramatically and unpredictably things change around us on a daily basis, we always have refuge, peace, and shelter from the storm. There are times when we can and should address what is going on around us. There are also times when wisdom dictates that we hold our tongues and allow storms to pass, or at least get our bearings so that we can speak clearly and decisively when the time comes. But whatever the circumstances, whatever the crisis of the day, reliance upon Jesus is our only hope for stability. His Gospel is eternally relevant. With His help, we’ll continue to proclaim that Gospel daily, under every circumstance, until He comes to deliver us into His kingdom forever.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Nuendorf

May 2020

Faith, Fear, and Folly: How Do We Christians Respond to Danger?

I’ve heard a lot lately about how we Christian are being ruled by fear in our responseto the coronavirus. As the deadly
virus spreads, we continue to suspend divinely commanded in-person gatherings for worship.But if we really believe that
God will protect us, should we be afraid of the virus?  If we really believe that when we die we will be with Jesus that day in Paradise, should we fear deadly illness? Should we not live byfaith, and not by fear?

As I mull over the word “fear,” a flurry of biblical images floods my mind. I think of the dreadful voice of God in the Garden, and how it terrified the wounded conscience of Adam. I think of the flood that overwhelmed the world in the days of Noah, a manifestation of the wrath of God if ever there was one. I think of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt, the judgment of God upon His own people in the wilderness, the judgment of God upon the wicked peoples of Canaan. I think about the imagery often used in the psalms comparing the arrival of God in His righteous fury to a terrible thunderstorm. When is the last time you heard a crash of thunder seemingly right overyour head? It’s terrifying! It is only natural that we should be afraid of such things. Fear and respect go hand in hand.

What do you call it when you’re not afraid of the things through which God manifests His wrath? Folly. “The fool hath said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). The “fool” here isn’t just expressing an atheistic worldview. He’s expressing the folly of fearlessness in the face of God’s wrath. He imagines that God will never punish his iniquity. “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart: ‘There is no fear of God before my eyes’” (Ps. 36:1). “All his thoughts are, ‘There is no God…. God has forgotten, He has hidden His face, He will never see it’” (Ps.10:4, 11). What is the root of the wicked man’s folly? His unbelief. He doesn’t believe that God will actually punish his transgression. He doesn’t take seriously the threat of God’s wrath.

We need to distinguish faith from folly. If I am not afraid of the coronavirus, why not? Is it because I haven’t experienced it for myself, and it remains a distant and unlikely possibility that it will actually harm me? Many of those who have died in panic and isolation due to the coronavirus probably thought the same thing early on. Is it because I believe that God will protect me from it no matter what? You’d better have a pretty strong direct revelation to conduct yourself on that basis. Is it because I believe that death cannot separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Well, that’s true, but then why do I take so many other reasonable precautions throughout my life, like locking my doors, wearing seatbelts, and not walking through bad neighborhoods? The fact is that fear is a constant element in our lives, and the one thing it does more than anything else is keep us back from folly.

There are, to be sure, times when faith must overwhelm fear. The two classic examples are both from the Book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are willing to face the fiery furnace rather than worship the golden statue (Daniel 3). Daniel is willing to face the lions’ den rather than refrain from the worship of his God (Daniel 6). In both cases, the faithful are faced with two different fears: the fear of God and the fear of man. In both cases they fear God rather than men, which is another way of saying they have faith. In both cases God delivers them by faith, but even if their bodies had not been delivered, even if they had perished in flames or at the hand of the lions, they would still have remained faithful.

So where does that put us? We need to obey the command of God and fear Him more than we fear men.  Is the
coronavirus from God or from men? It is clearly from God, and we must approach it with a healthy fear. We need to take it seriously and not toy with it. We need to reflect on what it could do to us, and more importantly, what it could do to our neighbors through us if we do not take proper precautions. God has commanded us to gather for worship, but He has also placed us now into circumstances in which such gathering endangers our communities. Until we can gather safely, we will worship God in our homes according as He has enabled us, and we will pray for a swift end to the crisis so that we can gather as the household of God once again. In a very real way, you have nothing to fear from the coronavirus. “Perfect love casts out fear,” that is, the fear that “has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). The virus cannot harm you apart from what your heavenly Father has ordained for your good, and if it does harm you under His providence, you are still promised eternal life through faith in the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. But let’s take it seriously as a manifestation of God’s power and might, His righteousness and His wrath. God deliver us from folly, and keep us in godly fear, faith, and love.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

April 2020

An Empty Easter?

While the coronavirus was certainly all over the news when I wrote my last Pastor’s Corner, I think it’s fair to say that none of us had any inkling of how different life would be for us a month later. I’m sure that each of you is struggling in your own way, but of course the side of the struggle that has loomed largest for me is the effect that the current pandemic, and the necessary steps being taken to mitigate it, has had on our churches. Among other things, it’s been forcing me to wrestle theologically with the meaning of the churchly gathering itself. Why do we gather as Christians? How strictly does God command it? What are we really missing by not being together on the Lord’s Day? These questions become even more urgent as we approach the high point of the Church Year: Easter Sunday, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord. In all likelihood, we’ll have to join in this celebration without the bodily gathering of ourselves together in our lovely church building.

As I’ve pondered all this, a few points have risen to the surface. First, we have good and godly reasons for not gathering as Christians right now. Second, we still miss our gatherings, and our Christian lives are not as they should be until our gatherings can resume. Third, even if we cannot gather for a time, we still have by faith, if not by sight, the fullness of God’s blessings to us in Christ Jesus.

We have good and godly reasons for not gathering as Christians right now. These extraordinary circumstances are very different from the sorts of reasons that generally keep nominal Christians from going to church. Usually, such Christians avoid church because they don’t realize that church is important and divinely commanded, and they have earthly priorities that are higher than gathering in Jesus’ name. But that’s not what’s going on now. What we’re facing is a situation in which, if we gather for church, we stand a very high risk of furthering the transmission of an illness that has the potential to kill many in our community and overwhelm our healthcare system, thus harming many others who are not directly affected by the illness. It is not out of selfishness, laziness, or fear that we are staying apart, but out of love for one another and for our community. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, but that love of God is manifested in our love for our neighbor as ourselves, which is also divinely commanded (Matthew 22:37–39). Much as Jesus healed on the Sabbath and took for granted that the most scrupulous keepers of the Sabbath would not hesitate to rescue a beast of burden on that day (take a look at Matthew 12:1–14), we omit the divinely commanded gathering of ourselves together in order to protect our neighbors from harm—most of whom do not yet believe in Jesus. If we indeed have to stay home for Easter this year, think of all the things you love about that day, and reflect on how you willingly sacrifice all those things you love for the sake of your vulnerable neighbors, in obedience to His command of love. Stay home with a good conscience.

Nevertheless, we still miss our gatherings, and we dare not cease to long for our gatherings to resume. It’s true that we can be Christians even when we can’t gather (more on that in my next point), but our gatherings remain one of the very most important things we can do on this earth. God commands us to gather (Hebrews 10:25). Jesus promises to be with us when we gather (Matthew 18:20). We encourage one another when we gather (Romans 1:11–12). We receive our Lord’s holy body and precious blood when we gather. We’re missing out on a lot! However necessary it may be for us not to gather right now, we do well to remember that this is not as it should be. This is not God’s intention for the Christian life. If we have to spend Easter apart, we’re not going to celebrate that fact or pretend it doesn’t matter. It does matter, deeply, and we long for our gatherings to resume.

Finally, despite all I just said, it remains true that we still have by faith, if not by sight, the fullness of God’s blessings to us in Christ Jesus. Our gatherings nourish our faith. Some things we do in our gatherings are actually what create our faith (the Word of God; Holy Baptism). Our gatherings are the natural outgrowth of our faith. But they are not our faith. Our faith is the Spirit-wrought conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through His death and resurrection our sins are forgiven and we are freely promised everlasting life in His name. That remains no matter what happens to our gatherings. If you have to spend Easter in social isolation this year, take extra time to meditate on the glorious resurrection of Jesus. Remember that He rose again for your justification (Romans 4:25). Pray to God in thanksgiving for those blessed truths. The faith that is strengthened by such meditation and prayer is the core of your Christian life.

If we had to choose between genuine saving faith on the one hand, and the churchly gathering on the other hand, we’d choose faith every time. Faith is what makes us children of God. It is better to believe without being in church than to be in church without believing. But won’t it be nice when we can have both again? God grant it swiftly for Jesus’ sake! And God have mercy on all who are affected by this pandemic. May His mercy and love uphold, comfort, and save them. A blessed Easter to you all, wherever we are! Amen.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

March 2020

Perplexing Passages: Uzzah and the Ark

During the Lenten season, we reflect on our own sin, and on the just judgment of our holy God. We usually like to think about God’s unconditional love, which is how He predominantly wishes to be known—after all, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). But Lent is a helpful reminder that our loving God is also strict, and He intends to destroy our sin once and for all and bring us into a state of perfect holiness like His own. 

It is fitting, therefore, that we should take the opportunity to reflect on a perplexing example of God’s strictness toward one of His beloved children, Uzzah. Early in the ministry of the prophet Samuel, the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines as a judgment against the laxness of Eli and the wickedness of his sons. After God had afflicted the Philistines because of their possession of the ark, they sent it away on an oxcart, and it ended up in the house of Abinadab in Kiriath-jearim (1 Sam. 4:1–7:2). Twenty years later, when King David had decisively defeated the Philistines, he brought the ark to his new capital in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). The transfer was difficult, however. Rather than transport the ark as God had commanded, with Levitical priests carrying it by its poles (Ex. 25:14–15; Num. 7:9), David had the ark transported by oxcart, guarded by Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, in whose house the ark had been kept until then. During the trip, one of the oxen stumbled, and the ark was in danger of toppling. Uzzah tried to stop the mishap by reaching out and grabbing the ark. Any of us would likely have done the same. Here’s where the perplexity comes in: “And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Sam. 6:7).

Why would God kill someone who was acting with such good intentions? Uzzah just wanted to honor God by protecting the Ark of the Covenant! Even David himself was perplexed by this, as you can read in the verses following. What was going on?

We need to understand a couple of things about sin in order to help ease the perplexity of this passage. First, sin is not always intentional. Second, sin can bring with it earthly consequences, even though the eternal consequences have been taken away from us by the death of Jesus.

We think of sin as being intentional. Our consciences don’t generally bother us so much over things we didn’t mean to do, which we might call “mistakes” rather than “sins.” But in God’s sight, even our mistakes are sins worthy of punishment. David himself calls these mistakes “hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12), asking God to cleanse him from them. They are distinguished from “presumptuous sins” (Ps. 19:13), which “have dominion” over those who intentionally indulge in them. Uzzah may not have been committing a “presumptuous sin” by reaching out to save the ark. He had good intentions. But by doing something, however well intentioned, that God had forbidden, he committed a “hidden fault,” an unintentional sin that resulted in punishment. Most of our “hidden faults” don’t result in dramatic, immediate consequences, but in this case God wanted to uphold the holiness of His name. This is also why we treat the elements of Holy Communion with such care. If we fail to treat them as holy, we may suffer consequences like those experienced by the Corinthians, who because of their mishandling of Jesus’ body and blood were visited by illness and even death (1 Cor. 11:30).

Furthermore, earthly punishments do not always imply eternal damnation. Uzzah suffered the earthly consequence of bodily death for his unintentional sin, but that doesn’t mean he’s now suffering the eternal consequence of the damnation of his soul. I expect to meet Uzzah in heaven. So also we often suffer earthly consequences for our sins, even though the eternal guilt of our sins has been atoned for by Jesus’ death on our behalf. Our sins (such as drug abuse, cruel and alienating behavior, or laziness, just to name a few) may lead to the very natural earthly consequences of illness, poverty, conflict, social isolation, and even death. But that doesn’t mean we will suffer the spiritual consequence of eternal damnation. Our hidden faults are forgiven through faith in Jesus, and even our presumptuous sins are forgiven if we repent of them and return to Jesus in faith.

As perplexed as David was by the death of the mostly innocent Uzzah, he did eventually come around. He had the ark carried the rest of the way to Jerusalem the way God had commanded, with Levites carrying the ark by its poles (2 Sam. 6:12–15), and the result was abundant blessing for all involved. Let us all treat the holy things of God as holy, seeking His cleansing from hidden faults and His help against presumptuous sins, not only this Lenten season but throughout our earthly pilgrimage.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendo

February 2020

Perplexing Passages of Scripture: A Mediator of One?

A few months ago, I mentioned in church that there was one verse that has been widely recognized as the most difficult in the New Testament. I didn’t tell what it was, though! So here it is: “Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one” (Gal. 3:20).

On first glance, this may not look all that difficult. We know that God is one. One of the most critical verses in the Old Testament, which formed part of ancient Israel’s basic “creed,” asserts the oneness of God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). Most ancient peoples were polytheists, worshiping many gods, but Israel was unique in asserting that there is only one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who revealed Himself through Moses. We Christians, too, worship only one God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who, though three distinct Persons, are nevertheless one and the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. St. Paul is clear: “God is one.”

The other part of Paul’s statement doesn’t seem all that difficult either: “A mediator is not of one.” The ESV translates, “An intermediary implies more than one,” which is a clearer way of saying the same thing. And it’s true, isn’t it? If I tell you that I need a mediator, or an intermediary, or a go-between, what will you immediately conclude? That I need someone to mediate between me and someone else! There are two or more parties to an agreement or a conflict. If I’m all on my own, i.e., if I’m the only party involved, I don’t need a mediator. But if I have a disagreement of some kind, or if I have difficulty communicating, and if there are multiple parties involved, I do indeed need a mediator, someone who can help two different parties come to mutual understanding. “An intermediary implies more than one.” “A mediator is not of one.”

So both points are clear enough: There’s only one God, and no one has to mediate when there’s only one party. But how do those two points fit together? And how do they fit into the wider context of Paul’s argument in Galatians? That’s what has led to literally hundreds of different interpretations of this one verse, the most difficult in all the New Testament. Martin Luther offered his own interpretation in his great Galatians commentary—and I find it entirely unconvincing! (Nothing against Luther, of course.)

But I have my own interpretation, one that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I’m hoping that someday I’ll stumble across some church father or recent commentator who comes to the same conclusion I have, so I know I’m not crazy. But for now I’ll ask you to indulge me as I share my own interpretation of this difficult verse…

In Paul’s argument, a mediator was required at the giving of the Law. God did not speak directly to the people of Israel. He spoke to Moses, who spoke to the people on God’s behalf. Likewise, when the people made their requests known to God, they didn’t do so directly, but through Moses. So God was one party, the people were another, and they needed a mediator to mediate between them.

But 430 years earlier, when God had given His promise to Abraham and his Seed (which is Christ), the promise that in Abraham’s Seed all the gentiles would be blessed, there was no mediator. There were not multiple parties to the promise. Why was there no mediator needed for this promise, the preaching of the Gospel to the Patriarchs? Paul’s answer is that “God is one.” What that must mean is that there is only one party to the promise of the Gospel. It is God who makes the promise, and it is God who receives the promise. One God, one party to the promise—no need for a mediator! And in fact the Seed of Abraham to whom the promise had been given would turn out to be God in the flesh, one God with the Father.

That is why, as Paul says shortly after our difficult verse, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27), which makes us “Abraham’s Seed, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). Through our union with Christ by faith, the promise made to Him comes also to us! So “there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). We need Jesus to mediate God’s promise to us, but Jesus doesn’t need anyone to mediate the promise to Him, because He is one God with the Father.

Again, I don’t know for sure if this is really what Paul means. The fact that I can’t find anyone else who’s come to the same conclusion makes me seriously doubt that mine is the right answer. But it is an answer, and if you’re reading your Bible closely enough to be perplexed by a verse like this, I hope this can be of help to you in making sense of it all! God grant us a right understanding of His Word, and God assure us of His promise of salvation through faith in Christ.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

January 2020

The Joy of Stars

I’m taking a break this month from our series on Perplexing Passages of the Bible to indulge in some musings about one of my favorite subjects: the stars. When better to reflect on one of the most beautiful features of God’s creation than at the time of Epiphany, when we remember how He used one of those stars to bring heathen astrologers to worship the one true God, the Christ Child!

I’ve always loved stars. There’s nothing like being outside on a clear night, gazing up into the heavens, and seeing for ourselves the myriad pinpricks of light dotting the night sky: some dimmer, some brighter; some shining steadily, some twinkling playfully; some seemingly solitary, some a part of a larger, grand constellation—all testifying to the majesty of the God who made them. The beauty of the stars in the night sky is part, I think, of why I love Christmas so much. The lights on the Christmas tree and the candles dotting the congregation during the Christmas Eve service impact my soul in much the same way as the stars do. In fact, legend has it that the Christmas tree was designed by Martin Luther to show his children what the stars had looked like to him when viewed through the evergreen boughs outside. (Martin Luther would have used real candles, clipped to the branches—a fire hazard if ever there was one! You can still see the real candles burning beside Bing Crosby as he sings “White Christmas” at the piano in the movie Holiday Inn.)

Sometimes, though, the love of stars can get out of hand. Ancient heathen peoples worshiped the stars as gods. They believed that the stars determined their destinies. The first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, reminded the Jews that after their fathers had turned away from the worship of the true God to the worship of an idol made with their own hands, the golden calf, “God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven” (Acts 7:42), i.e., the stars. And as St. Paul warns the Romans, God has great wrath stored up for those who “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 1:25).

The stars, obviously, are not there for us to worship, or to control our destinies. So why did God give them to us? They “declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1) and fill us with wonder at His majesty. Furthermore, Moses tells us that God created the stars on the fourth day “for signs and for seasons” (Gen. 1:14). Sometimes God used the stars as signs for those on earth to warn them that something terrible was about to happen. An especially conspicuous sign heralded the impending destruction of Jerusalem: a comet resembling a sword appeared in the sky over the city and was visible for a full year. And of course at the time of Jesus’ birth a star appeared in the night sky in such a way that the wise men could accurately interpret it as announcing the birth of the King of the Jews. The star served to designate the “season,” or the appointed time, of God’s birth in the flesh. And on the Last Day, as the stars fall from the sky, that will be the sign to us that this world is drawing to a close, and the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth is drawing nigh.

As for us, the stars are still there, night after night, to remind us that our God is a God of splendor and might, and beauty and majesty. If you get a chance this Epiphany season, and if there’s not too much “light pollution,” step outside one night and look up at the sky. Remember that the stars you see up there are the same stars that first filled Adam and Eve with wonder at the creation that God had entrusted to them. Give thanks to God for using these beautiful creatures of His to announce the birth of the Christ Child, who has saved us His people from our sins. And give thanks to God especially for His Son Jesus, the “bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16).

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

December 2019

Perplexing Passages: The Number of the Beast (Rev. 13:18)

What do you feel when you encounter the number 666? Most of us associate the number with evil: it’s the devil’s number. If it shows up on a receipt (“I just paid $6.66 for my meal!”), it might make us a little nervous. If it appears in our phone number, we might try to get the number changed. 666 is a number to avoid. But where does it come from?

he number 666 appears in Revelation 13:18: “Let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” The beast is the one who demands worship for himself, and has people put to death if they won’t worship his image (a statue or painting of himself). Many people through history have identified this beast with a human figure known as antichrist, who is supposed to arise in the Last Days as the devil incarnate and rule a global satanic empire. The number 666 itself might be a mockery of the Holy Trinity. Seven is the number of completeness, so the Trinity might be represented by 777, but the devil always falls short in his mockery of God, so his number is one less seven, a threefold incompleteness, 666.

There is, however, a simpler explanation for the number 666.

In the ancient world, it was common in sophisticated writings for the author to engage in “numerical composition.” This might involve repeating a particular word a significant number of times, or incorporating a certain number of syllables into a given text. It also involved “gematria,” or the adding up of the numerical value of the letters that make up a word. Each letter in Hebrew and in Greek had an associated numerical value, so that, for instance, when you add up the value of the letters that make up the Hebrew name “John,” you get 129. The 129th word (in Greek) from the beginning of John 21 is “the,” in the phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is John the Evangelist’s “numerical signature”: He’s using gematria and numerical composition to signal to the attentive reader (and ancient readers would have known to look for clues like this) that he, John, is the disciple whom Jesus loved.

We see likely gematria in Revelation 13 as well. “The number of a man” would have signaled to an ancient reader that he was being given the numerical value of someone’s name. Whose name added up to 666? As it turns out, the Hebrew way of writing the name “Nero Caesar” added up to just that. The man who is the beast, demanding worship for his own image, is Nero, the first of the Roman Emperors to put Christians to death just because of their faith in Christ. And at the time that John was writing down his revelation, the Roman emperors who succeeded Nero were putting Christians to death because they refused to worship the image of the emperor by offering incense before it.

Furthermore, in some early manuscripts of Revelation, the number given is not 666, but 616. Remarkably, 616 is the numerical value of Nero’s name in Latin! It seems that ancient scribes recognized that the point of the number 666 was not to show incompleteness, or to scare people, but to signify a particular person, an enemy of the Church of Christ. That person was Nero.

So when you encounter the number 666, there’s no need to be scared or superstitious. It’s just “the number of a man,” a hidden way of saying “Nero Caesar.” And when you realize that, the meaning of much of Revelation is opened up for you in a remarkable way!


God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

November 2019

Perplexing Passages: Baptism for the Dead?

Perhaps one of the strangest passages in Holy Scripture appears in 1 Corinthians 15:29, in which St. Paul, arguing passionately for the truth of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, makes reference to a practice prevalent among the Corinthian Christians: “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” This perplexing passage has given rise to all manner of different interpretations.

Some say that the Corinthians were baptized not “on behalf of” the dead, but literally “upon” the dead, i.e., upon the graves of departed Christians, to express the truth that those departed Christians will one day rise from the dead. There is, however, no evidence for such a practice, and it is not a very natural reading of Paul’s text. Others say that the passage should be interpreted somehow metaphorically as not actually referring to baptism, but this is a stretch. And the list goes on…

The most common interpretation, however, is that the Corinthians were practicing baptism by proxy, or “vicarious baptism.” Presumably they feared for the salvation of their loved ones who had died without baptism, so they underwent an additional baptism “on behalf of” the dead. Various heretical groups of the following centuries used this interpretation to invent their own practice of proxy baptism, and today the Mormons still practice it. That’s why Mormons are so into genealogy: they want to find as many people as possible to baptize by proxy so they can be saved.

While “baptism by proxy” might be a natural reading of Paul’s text, it stretches credulity to imagine that Paul would have let such a practice persist in one of his congregations without giving it a thorough rebuke. “Proxy baptism” suggests a superstitious, magical view of baptism that denies the role of faith in salvation. No one can have faith on someone else’s behalf. Each of us must believe the Gospel for himself. “Proxy baptism” is a denial of this truth. Furthermore, there is no other evidence that such a practice ever existed until the heretical groups that invented it on the basis of their misreading of this very passage.

So what’s actually going on? If Paul isn’t talking about “proxy baptism,” what else could he possibly mean by “being baptized on behalf of the dead”? First, I have to admit that I don’t know. Nobody knows for sure! This is a legitimate mystery of scriptural interpretation. I will say, though, that I recently came across a compelling possible interpretation.

In his book Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, which I recently immensely enjoyed reading, legendary New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias makes reference to a German scholarly article (written by a certain Maria Raeder in 1955, if you’re curious) that, in his judgment, makes a convincing case for a particular interpretation. As Jeremias explains, Paul’s phrase should not be translated “on behalf of” the dead, but “for the sake of” the dead. In other words, people in Corinth were being baptized for the express purpose of joining their departed loved ones in the resurrection on the Last Day. “Take, for instance, a case in which a young woman belonging to the Church, and engaged to be married, died, and whose heathen bridegroom had himself baptized ‘for her sake’—that is, in order to be reunited with her in the resurrection” (pp. 36–37). This is a natural reading of Paul’s text and it fits well with his argument in favor of a general resurrection. Not everyone is convinced by it, by any means, and I don’t know for sure that Jeremias and Raeder are correct, but it is at least one possibility of making sense of a perplexing passage.

What do you really need to know about 1 Corinthians 15:29? First, know that St. Paul is not teaching, and does not approve of, baptism by proxy, whether this text applies to that practice or not. Second, know that Paul’s theology of baptism takes for granted the truth that we will be raised from the dead on the Last Day. Finally, however the verse should actually be interpreted, take comfort in the knowledge that through your own baptism, in which you were promised eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, you will be raised from the dead not to be condemned, but to inherit the kingdom of your Father. The perplexity of this passage remains, but God’s mercy in Christ, expressed through Holy Baptism, is assured!

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

October 2019

Perplexing Passages: “A Time, Times, and Half a Time”

There’s a lot to be confused about when reading the book of Revelation. St. John’s sometimes bizarre vision is full of symbolism that takes a great deal of historical knowledge to interpret correctly. While some images are rather straightforward (the beast with seven heads and ten horns is the city of Rome, which was famous for its seven hills and had been ruled over by ten emperors at the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem), much of John’s vision remains shrouded in mystery for most readers (including me!).

But one strange reference in Revelation need not perplex us as much as it might seem. When John, in Revelation 12, has his celestial vision of the dragon (the devil) terrorizing the woman and her Child (Jesus), he writes that the woman escaped into the wilderness and was nourished “for a time, times, and half a time” (Revelation 12:14). While at first glance this may appear incomprehensible, upon further study the expression yields a straightforward meaning: “a time, times, and half a time” is three and a half days, or half a week.

(a time = 1) + (times = 2) + (half a time = ½) = 3 ½

What is really fascinating about this length of time is that it is exactly the same as several cryptic numbers that show up in Revelation 11. The Gentiles will trample Jerusalem for forty-two months (11:2). God's two witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days (11:3). When the two witnesses are killed, they will lie dead for three and a half days before being resurrected (11:9, 11). In apocalyptic prophecy, it is common for a day to stand in for a year. If the three and a half days are understood as three and a half years, and if each year is made up of twelve months of thirty days each (a common way of reckoning months in the ancient world), then the three and a half years add up to forty-two months (12 + 12 + 12 + 6 = 42) for a total of 1,260 days (42 x 30 = 1,260). In other words, whether we’re talking about forty-two months, 1,260 days, three and a half days, or “a time, times, and half a time,” it’s all the same amount of time: three and a half years, or half of seven years.

Furthermore, John’s use of this period of time didn’t come out of nowhere. It derives from a much earlier apocalyptic prophecy, that of Daniel. There Daniel describes the tenth ruler of the Roman Empire, prophesying that the people of God “shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25) before his kingdom yields to the reign of Christ, and that “the shattering of the power of the holy people” will come to an end after “a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7). Both Daniel and John seem to have witnessed the same events in symbolical terms.

There are a number of ways that this period of time, half a week or half of seven years, can be applied to salvation history. What seems most likely to me is that the amount of time being half of seven is significant in itself. Seven is God’s number. Half of seven is the devil’s mockery of God’s number. Everything that Daniel and John say will happen within the three and a half years is part of the devil’s dominion, during which he terrorizes the people of God. I believe that from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70, we have been in the time of tribulation, the devil doing his worst against the Church of Christ until Jesus’ return to judgment on the Last Day. But however the expression is applied, my hope is that as you read Revelation and Daniel in your own devotions, you won’t just have to skip over those strange expressions, leaving them unexplained. They mean something! When you see “a time, times, and half a time,” you’ll remember that the expression stands for half a week, the time during which we wait expectantly for the final victory of Jesus Christ.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

September 2019

Puzzling Passages of the Bible: Sacrificing to Zeus and Hermes?

For the last few months, I’ve covered several topics under the theme of “Basic Christianity.” This month I’m switching gears a bit and moving into a different series. I’m calling it, “Puzzling Passages of the Bible.” If you’re anything like me, pretty much every time you read the Bible you come upon puzzling passages, things that make you scratch your head and go, “Huh?” Many of these passages will remain a mystery to us until we enter into the blessed life to come. Fortunately, though, a lot of them prove to be a lot less puzzling after further study.

Our first “puzzling passage” is a strange event that took place in the Galatian city of Lystra. Galatia was a Roman province that sat pretty much in the middle of Asia Minor, in modern-day Turkey. It was there that St. Paul conducted most of his first missionary journey, recounted in Acts 13–14. The Galatian congregations that he founded on that journey, including Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, were also the recipients of what I believe to have been St. Paul’s first epistle: the epistle to the Galatians. What concerns us now is something that happened to Paul and his colleague Barnabas while they were preaching the Gospel among the Gentiles in Lystra.

According to Acts 14:8–18, after Paul and Barnabas had been preaching for some time in Lystra, they encountered a beggar who had been born crippled. Paul miraculously healed the man, but the response of the people was not what you might have expected. Instead of glorifying Jesus and becoming Christians, the people concluded that Paul must be the Greek god Hermes, and Barnabas must be Zeus, his superior. The local priest of Zeus even brought oxen to sacrifice to them! The puzzling thing about this passage is: why on earth would there have been such a response to Paul’s miracle? Why conclude that these men must be Zeus and Hermes specifically?

The answer comes from ancient Greek mythology. According to the Roman poet Ovid, who recorded many Greek myths in his work Metamorphoses, there was once a city in Phrygia (near the territory of Lystra) which Zeus and Hermes visited, disguised as weary human travelers. As king of the gods, one of Zeus’s chief concerns was to make sure that people practiced hospitality, welcoming travelers and providing for their needs. He was testing this city to see if the people would offer him and Hermes hospitality, but house after house refused them. Finally they came to the humble dwelling of an impoverished couple name Baucis and Philemon (Paul’s epistle to Philemon is written to a man who had the same name and lived in the same region). This couple welcomed the travelers and entertained them generously, but simply, with whatever rustic fare they possessed. When Zeus performed a miracle, the couple realized that they were entertaining gods unawares, and begged for mercy, even trying to sacrifice their household goose to Zeus. The gods refused the sacrifice, though, and having destroyed the rest of the city, turned the humble cottage into an ornate temple to Zeus, richly blessing the couple that had hosted them.

Given this background, our passage becomes less puzzling. The people of Lystra had just encountered two weary travelers, whom they generously entertained. The travelers then performed a miracle. The natural response was to conclude that these travelers must be the same as those encountered by Baucis and Philemon! And just like the couple in the story, the people of Lystra tried to offer sacrifice to the travelers whom they supposed to be Zeus and Hermes. Paul protested and tried to preach the Gospel of the living God, but “even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them” (Acts 14:18). The people were scared that if they didn’t honor Paul and Barnabas (or Hermes and Zeus) with the proper sacrifices, their city might be destroyed by the gods!

Hopefully this background helps to make this passage a little less puzzling as you read through your Bible. In the coming months I hope to offer some help with further puzzling passages!

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

August 2019

Evangelism in a Post-Christian Culture

At the end of July, I had the opportunity to attend a continuing education course at Trinity Lutheran Church on the Gospel of John, taught by one of my seminary professors from Fort Wayne, Dr. William Weinrich. The whole course was excellent, but one thing in particular seems worthy of my sharing with you: According to a 2019 Barna poll, the Quad Cities was ranked fifteenth out of the hundred top “post-Christian” cities in America (I have verified that this is in fact the case). What does post-Christian mean?

It means that there is no commitment to those fundamental truths about God, His Law, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ that our society used to take for granted. We live in a culture that is worse off than that addressed by St. John the Evangelist. The Jews of John’s day had to be convinced that Jesus was the Christ. The Gentiles had to be convinced that the God of Israel is the one true God who made heaven and earth. Our culture has to be convinced that there is a God, that there is truth, that there is good and evil, and that there is such a thing as sin. This is truly unprecedented. To take one especially egregious example, as Dr. Weinrich pointed out, never before in the history of mankind has there been a culture that assented to the idea that a man can marry a man. We live in a culture that is so fallen from all reason, from all connection to God’s created reality, that we have drag queens reading storybooks to our children at the public library. Evangelism in a post-Christian culture seems like a virtually impossible task. The usual means of introducing people to Jesus simply will not work. How can you convince someone to flee the coming wrath when that person has accepted the tenets of a culture so divorced from all reality?

Dr. Weinrich’s answer, apart from simply suggesting that we’ll have to learn how to evangelize in this context through bitter experience, is to live the form of evangelism practiced by the first Christians: be the people whom God has called us to be in Christ. The world around us celebrates pride in the most shameful imaginable sins; we refuse to participate, and we live dutifully in our callings as men and women. The world around us treats unwanted children and elderly as waste to be unceremoniously disposed of; we treat them as precious gifts of God, made in His image and worthy of our compassion and care. The world around us treats chastity as a quaint remnant of a bygone era of puritanical repression; we hold the marriage bed in honor, fleeing from all forms of fornication. The world around us treats religion as something optional, a cultural pastime that can still be satisfying for some people, but is obligatory for none; we treat our life together in Christ as a necessity on which our lives depend, and we would rather sacrifice everything, we would rather die, than cease to gather with the body of Christ for worship and praise. We need to live the life of Christ in such a way that the world cannot help but notice. We need to stick out like a sore thumb.

The consequence of such a life is that the world will hate us. They’ll label us as hateful, as bigots, as racists, as whatever other insult du jour they might come up with. But they’ll notice us, and they’ll know we’re different. And when our neighbors see that we love them with unfeigned love, that we never look down on them or talk ill of them, that we put our money (and our lives!) where our mouth is, when they are compelled to ask us for a reason for the hope that is in us (“Why do you insist on living so differently? So strangely?”), that is fertile ground for the Gospel to take root and for the Holy Spirit to bring forth life from the midst of death.

Related to this take on evangelism in the midst of a post-Christian culture is an evangelism tool developed by our own Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, called “Every One His Witness.” This is a method of evangelism that emphasizes the forming of sincere, lasting relationships and invitation to where Christ is found. The core of “Every One His Witness” is a six-hour workshop, designed for twelve participants, that provides guidance in engaging in Christ-focused conversation with our unchurched and dechurched friends and neighbors. I would like to host this workshop at Holy Cross. If you would like to participate, you may sign up on the sheet on Vivian’s office door, and I will be in contact with you to determine the best possible date, probably a Saturday in September.

But whether you participate or not, remember that you can be the best possible witness for Christ simply by living as you are called, living noticeably differently from the world around you, being constant in fervent prayer for your neighbors and your community, and being always prepared to tell other why you live so differently: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

July 2019

Basic Christianity: God Alone Is Good

In our series on Basic Christianity so far, we’ve covered some of the chief ways in which we are most likely to misunderstand the Law of God. We’ve been reminded that even though our sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus, we should nevertheless try not to sin (though sin remains an inevitable part of our lives until bodily death). We’ve been reminded that Jesus should always be the most important thing in our lives; that God’s name is to be kept holy and treated with respect even in our day-to-day conversation; that the marital act is for marriage alone; that we should not speak ill of one another behind each other’s backs. These are all good things to remember, and we constantly have to work on putting them into practice. But they are all part of God’s Law, i.e., what God has commanded us to do. If we always put our sole focus on God’s Law, we risk losing sight of what alone has the power to save us everlastingly: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that through His sacrificial death on our behalf, we have the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. That’s basic Christianity at its most basic.

One of the most insidious ways we can lose sight of the Gospel is by imagining that we ourselves have kept the Law. That’s what I’ve encountered when trying to get people to come to church. There are many reasons for people not to come to church, but the main reason has always been, “I’m a good person.” If I am a good person, then church is just something extra, an optional social gathering. But if I am a wicked person, “a poor, miserable sinner,” and if the gathering of believers in church is where Jesus has especially promised to be present to forgive the sins of those who trust in Him, then I need church desperately. So there’s a lot hanging on whether or not I am, in fact, “a good person.” And it is basic Christianity that, in God’s judgment, you’re not.

How do we know this? We know it by comparing ourselves to the perfect and holy standard of God’s Law. If we peer inward and find in our hearts that there are sinful desires that run contrary to God’s commands, then we ourselves are sinners. One serious problem we face is that we don’t naturally consider to be sin that which God calls sin. So, for example, if I am holding a grudge against my neighbor, and it feels good and satisfying to hold that grudge, I am unlikely to take to heart the command of God to forgive my neighbor from the heart and to love my neighbor as myself. It won’t feel like sin to me, and I can still imagine that I’m “a good person.” But when that grudge is held up against the standard of God’s Law, it is shown to be sinful, and I am shown to be not, in fact, “a good person.”

And if our own experience has failed to prove to us that we are not “good people,” we have the clear testimony of God’s Word. The classic example is the list of Old Testament quotations in Romans 3:10–18 (I’d encourage you to check out those verses for yourself), which is summarized in the well-known verse 23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But there is another, less-used example worthy of our consideration. When the rich young man addresses Jesus as “good Teacher,” Jesus corrects him: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Of course, we know that Jesus is good, because Jesus is God. But the rich young man didn’t know that. He thought that Jesus was “a good person,” the same way we today think of ourselves as “good people.” And Jesus disabuses him of that notion. Our goodness before God does not come from doing good things or trying our best, i.e., by keeping the Law (because we can’t!). Our goodness before God has to come from somewhere else. In fact, it has to come from Him.

And our goodness before God is not just produced by Him. It is not as if God takes bad people and makes them good so that they can go to heaven. Our goodness before God is actually God’s own goodness.

How can that be? As we just said, Jesus is God. And because Jesus is God, He is good with God’s own goodness. But Jesus has suffered as a criminal and died a sinner’s death. So the goodness of God that is His is given to us as our own. God counts His own goodness to us when we believe and trust in Jesus. As St. Paul says, “To the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies [i.e., forgives] the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). We are not “good people” in and of ourselves, because of the things we do or the way we live. We are “good people” because God counts His own goodness to us for Jesus’ sake.

Now of course the faith that God counts to us as righteousness is a powerful, mighty thing. It brings forth in us a new life, so that we actually can do good things and become genuinely “good people.” But we are good people who recognize ourselves as sinners in need of God’s mercy. And our goodness in God’s sight is and remains His own goodness, the goodness of Jesus that is ours by faith alone.

God alone is good. We are good only with His goodness, through faith in Jesus. That’s basic Christianity.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

June 2019

Basic Christianity:

Speak Well of Your Neighbor

“If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” I’ll always remember the rabbit Thumper saying those words in the movie Bambi. They were taught to him by his father and enforced by his mother. In the movie, the words applied to the greens that Thumper didn’t want to eat, but they apply even better to our relationships with other people. If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.

How often do we put that into practice? I had a miserable time throughout grade school because we children were so mean to each other. It almost seemed if we only said something when we had not nice things to say. My classmates constantly made fun of me, and when someone even more awkward and out of place than I entered our class, I joined in making fun of him (God forgive me). The only way we knew how to build ourselves up in our little community was by tearing each other down in the presence of others. It got somewhat better in high school, but something more insidious became part of the picture: instead of making fun of each other directly, we would do it behind others’ backs.

And that’s how it’s been in every community I’ve ever been a part of since. Whether college, seminary, workplaces, or any of the churches with which I’ve been connected, any time you gather a group of people together, there is no lack of speaking ill of others behind their backs. I’ve done it too, to my shame.

Brethren, these things ought not to be so. We ought to speak well of one another whenever we have opportunity, and avoid speaking ill of others whenever possible. That’s part of basic Christianity.

Remember what we say about this in the Catechism? “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” That’s Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” I consider these some of the loveliest words in the Catechism. Far from stirring up others’ sentiments against our neighbor, we should defend him and speak well of him!

This is a thoroughly biblical principle. St. Paul often encourages us to build one another up with our speech, particularly in Ephesians: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you have been sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:29–31). And St. James warns strongly and extensively against the misuse of the tongue to harm the neighbor: “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness…. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:6, 9–10). James says further, “Do not speak evil against one another, brethren” (James 4:11).

This is much easier said than done. It’s easy to dismiss harmful speech against my neighbor as just “venting,” as “getting it off my chest.” True, there are sometimes legitimate reasons for speaking honestly about another person’s failings. Maybe that person has caused you extreme stress and you really do need to commiserate with others in private. Maybe you need to warn others against someone else’s sinful behavior. Maybe you need to seek the counsel of wiser brethren in dealing with a problematic individual. But if that becomes necessary, it should be done prayerfully, with a good conscience, and in a spirit of charity and genuine helpfulness toward the person of whom we’re speaking. Taking pleasure in speaking ill of another person just to tear him down in the sight of others is far, far from the Spirit of Christ.

I honestly believe this is the hardest of the commandments to keep, harder even than the Sixth. And someone who struggles with issues of chastity under the Sixth Commandment seems to me less far from the Kingdom of Heaven than someone who claims to love Jesus but constantly delights in tearing down his neighbor. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or even better, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Speak well of your neighbor. That’s basic Christianity.

God's Blessings,

Pastor Neuendorf

May 2019

Basic Christianity: Live Chastely

When I was growing up, my parents were very careful about what my brothers and I saw on television and in movies, what we heard on the radio, and what we read in books. They didn’t want us picking up bad language, or emulating bad attitudes, or being traumatized (or desensitized!) by graphic depictions of gore and extreme violence. But of all the things from which my parents sought to guard us, the biggest of them all was what I will euphemistically term “the marital act.”

You know what I’m talking about.

That’s why I always used to think that Christians generally knew that “the marital act” was, well, marital! The way I saw it, non-Christians tended to treat it more casually, as a source of passing pleasure rather than of awesome responsibility. Non-Christians would indulge in the act with multiple partners before marriage. Christians, on the other hand, would always strive to live chastely, delaying the marital act until after they had made their public marriage vows before God and man. If they messed up, they would repent and strive to live chastely from that point on. I totally took it for granted that that’s the way things were.

How completely, desperately, lamentably wrong I was.

Since becoming a pastor, I’ve learned that the vast majority of those in our day and age who term themselves “Christian” do not live chastely. It is almost standard practice for young Christians to live promiscuously during their high school and college years. Once they “get serious” about a potential spouse, they leap immediately into the marital act and put off marriage itself until years later. They move in together and establish joint households and have children, and then, at long last, they get married. And unfortunately, when a couple doesn’t live chastely before marriage, their marriage is far more likely to end in an early divorce, leaving the children as casualties.

So was I naïve to think that Christians would, or should, live differently than the rest of the world when it comes to chastity? I may have been mistaken about the way most Christians do live these days, but I wasn’t wrong about how we Christians should live. God expects us to live chastely (1 Thess. 4:3–5; Col. 3:5). He threatens to punish unchastity (1 Cor. 6:9–10, 18; 10:8; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 13:4), and He forbids us from tolerating it in the Christian congregation (1 Cor. 5:1–5, 11, 13; Eph. 5:3). That means no indulgence in the marital act before you’re married, even if you’re engaged. It means no looking at things you find on the internet that God has forbidden. It means not intentionally entertaining lustful thoughts and fantasies, and certainly never acting them out. We Christians are called by God to lead chaste and decent lives in word and deed—and thought! It’s difficult, and, especially when it comes to our thoughts, it may seem impossible (but it’s not, at least with practice). But the response to the difficulty is not to throw in the towel and decide to live like the rest of the sinful world and rely on Jesus to forgive us (He won’t forgive us if we refuse to repent). The response is to repent and pray to God for the strength to live as He has called us to live.

I’ve been told more than once that I shouldn’t talk about these things at Holy Cross because we’re an older congregation that doesn’t struggle with the sin of fornication. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth. We are affected by unchastity just like everyone else. And even if you who are reading this have been living chastely, how confidently can you rebuke your children and grandchildren when they live unchastely? How confidently can you make clear to them that their behavior excludes them from the kingdom of God, and that you expect them to change their ways and start living chastely again? How confidently can you support your pastor in the difficult duty of calling the unchaste to repentance, exercising Christian discipline until they repent? The Christian Church has work to do. Our congregation has work to do. I as your pastor have work to do in helping us to live chastely. That’s not some kind of pipe dream, an unrealistic puritan utopia. It’s basic Christianity.

In all earnestness, I ask you to take a moment right now, before you put down this article, to ask our heavenly Father to help all of us to live chastely, to forgive us where we have failed, and to help His Church once again to live as He has called us to live. Pray for Him to help you look kindly on your fellow Christians who have been living unchastely, not in judgment but in compassion and in readiness to forgive. Give thanks to God for covering our shame with the blessedness of His own righteousness, won for us by the death of His perfectly chaste Son on our behalf. And resolve, if you haven’t already, to live chastely and to encourage others to do so as well.

Live chastely! That’s basic Christianity.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

April 2019

Don’t Say, “Oh my God!”


Well, I said this would be a series on basic Christianity, and you can’t get much more basic than this: don’t say, “Oh my God!”

I was raised with a very strict application of the Second Command: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.” My brothers and I were forbidden from using any variation of God’s name for anything but worship or the serious discussion of the things of God. I vividly remember watching the movie Crocodile Dundee with my family. It’s a good movie, though there are some ungodly things in it. During one scene in particular, the reporter watches in awe as Mick Dundee hypnotizes a wild beast and compels it to let them drive past in their vehicle. The reporter’s response is to use the name of Jesus Christ, the name that is above every name, but she’s not using it to sing His praises or to worship Him. For her, it’s a thoughtless expression of amazement that has nothing to do with the Lord who saves His people from their sins, the Anointed of God. To their credit, my parents paused the movie and spoke to my brothers and me very seriously about why we should never use Jesus’ name as an expletive or a curse word. They would do that any time we encountered God’s name being taken in vain in movies or television. And of course never in my house growing up would you hear God’s name being used for anything other than prayer, praise, and the devout contemplation of the great works of God.

That’s why it has surprised me so much as an adult to hear so many lifelong Christians routinely using the expression, “Oh my God,” or any of its many variations. Nor is it limited to older Christians: our youth have enshrined the phrase in their texting dialect: “OMG!” Dear brethren in the Lord, this ought not to be so. God’s name ought to be held in awe among us.

Of course, the Second Commandment means more than not using God’s name as an expletive. As those who by Holy Baptism bear the name of our triune God, we take His name in vain by teaching false doctrine or leading ungodly lives. But as deeply as we might think about more spiritual ways of taking God’s name in vain, we ought never to lose sight of the simplest and most basic principle: in our speech, we should utter the name of God only when it means what it’s supposed to mean, not as a thoughtless expletive. As Luther explains it in the Small Catechism, “We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”

Think about the times in your daily life when you use the words “God,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Lord,” and the like. When you use those words, are you actively praying? Are you intentionally praising God? Are you speaking seriously of the God who created you, who redeemed you by the shedding of His blood, who made you His own through Holy Baptism? Or are you cursing, or swearing, or just saying it as thoughtless filler when your mouth doesn’t know what else to say? Remember: “The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

If you are in the habit of taking God’s name in vain, make the decision right now to change the way you speak. When you’re tempted to use God’s name as an expletive, take a step back and think about better ways of speaking. Approach God’s name as you would God Himself: with humility, fear, reverence, and love.

Don’t say, “Oh my God.” That’s basic Christianity!

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Exodus 20:7

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

March 2019

Basic Christianity: Jesus Comes First!

What’s the most important thing to you? You might get a lot of different answers to that question, depending on whom you ask. Some might say, “Success,” others, “Happiness.” Most, I think, would say, “Family.” That’s a good answer, as far as ranking our earthly blessings goes. Our families are far more important than our entertainment, our possessions, our careers, our hobbies, or just about anything else. In fact, most of the earthy blessings we enjoy exist for the sake of caring for and enjoying our families.

Some people, though, recognize that there are greater goods than their own families. Some have experienced failure, disappointment, and even betrayal among their family members. Some have had their families tragically taken from them. Some have found that the relationships they have with others who genuinely love them are more meaningful than the relationships they have with family members. Some might even be willing to give up their families and relationships for the sake of a greater good, such as the survival and wellbeing of their country.

But I hope that if someone asks you that question, he’ll get an entirely different answer. What is the most important thing to you? Every one of us should be ready with the answer: “God.” To be more specific, “Our triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Or, to focus our answer even more on that one point through which God wishes us to know and love Him, “Jesus.” Jesus is far and away the most important thing to us in the world.

That seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it is much easier to say than to practice. So many things clamor for our attention and our loyalty. Consider some of the things that I have personally witnessed drawing people away from Jesus: Wealth. Sexual immorality. Grudges. Sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Band competitions. Sports events. Resentment. Family.

Before you respond in judgment toward those who allow such things to come between them and Jesus, consider your own life. Is Jesus really the most important thing to you? If you had to choose between Jesus and your children, how readily would you give up your children for Jesus’ sake? Are you tempted to compromise on what you know Jesus actually teaches for the sake of maintaining peace with your loved ones? After all, Jesus Himself said, “Whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).

I remember talking with a man while I was in college. I told him I wanted to marry a Lutheran girl. He couldn’t understand why I would care whether my wife was Lutheran or not, or even Christian. Why does it matter, he asked, what your wife believes, as long as you love each other? And his response is not at all unusual. For most people, Jesus has to take a back seat to the relationships that really matter. But for Christians, Jesus always comes first. We can say with St. Paul the Apostle, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Of course, by ourselves we are incapable of putting Jesus ahead of everything else. But as Jesus says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Even the impossible task of loving Jesus more than anything else becomes possible for us when the Holy Spirit converts us by the power of the Gospel and grants us the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, so that we fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.

Again, it may seem obvious, but it’s not as easy as it sounds: We Christians are called to love Jesus more than anything else in the world. Jesus comes first.

That’s basic Christianity!

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

February 2019

Basic Christianity

I’ve been thinking for a while that it might be helpful to go “back to basics” in our newsletter articles. That’s because, over my time as a pastor so far, I’ve encountered many Christians who are simply unfamiliar with the basics of our faith. My hope is that our church members will be even better equipped to respond when these kinds of misunderstandings come up.

Note that I’m not talking about “basic Lutheranism.” My plan is not to cover teachings unique to the Lutheran Church. I’m intentionally calling this “basic Christianity” because I hope to address topics that should be familiar to everyone who claims affiliation with the followers of Jesus Christ, whether Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, non-denominational, or anything else. I am of course passionate about what distinguishes us as Lutherans, but I’m also passionate about the Christian faith in general, and I would like to take some time to address issues on which all Christians should be able to agree.

That said, the things I plan to cover as “basic Christianity” are actually not agreed upon by all modern Christian denominations. That is because many denominations today (not just Lutheran ones!) have forsaken their own roots and accommodated themselves to our corrupt, declining society. For example, it is basic Christianity to believe, teach, and confess that God Himself instituted marriage as the lifelong union of man and wife for the procreation of children. There are individual, modernizing denominations that deny that scriptural truth, but it remains basic Christianity, because it is the historic teaching of the whole Christian Church on earth, and it continues to be the teaching of all churches (not just Lutheran ones!) that still accept the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

So where shall we start? How about this: It is basic Christianity to assert that we shouldn’t sin.

This seems obvious, doesn’t it? Of course we shouldn’t sin! But there are many who misapply the Christian teaching of the forgiveness of sins, as if God doesn’t mind our sins too much, or as if we can sin as long as we don’t hurt anyone and God will forgive us. But that’s not how forgiveness works, and it’s not the teaching of Holy Scripture. God forgives those who repent of their sins and turn to Jesus in faith—a faith that is always active in love (Galatians 5:6). And love is opposed to sin.

What does the Bible have to say about what our attitude toward sin should be? “From now on, sin no more” (John 8:11). “Let not sin reign in your mortal body” (Romans 6:12). “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cloak for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). “Everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (1 John 5:18). The Bible is crystal clear: Christians are not supposed to sin.

Of course, we all still do sin. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). That is because we remain weak, sinful flesh until our deaths, or our resurrection on the Last Day. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18). But the sin that we still commit should grieve us. We should want to do good, and we should not want to sin. “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). When we contemplate the sin that still afflicts us, we should say with St. Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ. But until the time of our deliverance from sin, we should strive with all our might against the sin that we find within us. That means praying to God for strength to resist—and avoid—temptation, and trusting that when we do sin, “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Try not to sin! That’s basic Christianity.


God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

January 2019

Physical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?

I mentioned last month that, aside from the eye-witness testimony of the Gospels and Epistles, there is also physical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. What might that be? We do still have the tomb in which Jesus was laid and from which He rose. You can find it today in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is in the same building complex as the site of the crucifixion, which is found in a staircase leading up to the top of Mount Calvary (Golgotha), where St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, led a successful archaeological expedition in AD 326 to recover the cross of Jesus. Though there are other locations that have been suggested as possible sites for the crucifixion and resurrection, there is no serious reason to doubt the authenticity of the traditional sites.

We may have the authentic site of the resurrection of Jesus, the empty tomb, but that is far from actual evidence that He rose from the dead. After all, St. Matthew’s Gospel records that the enemies of Jesus spread the rumor that His body had been stolen by the Apostles to support the fraudulent claim that He had risen from the dead. The empty tomb in itself is not evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. But we do have something that actually is: the Shroud of Turin.

If you haven’t heard of the Shroud of Turin, I encourage you to do a quick Google search and glance at the images that pop up. The Shroud of Turin was brought to the Italian city of Turin in the fourteenth century by a crusader who claimed to have found it in Jerusalem. It is a large burial shroud with a ghostly image of a bearded, crucified man imprinted upon it, with actual human bloodstains consistent with the descriptions of the crucifixion found in the Gospels. Already in the Middle Ages there were claims that the Shroud was fraudulent, but no one has ever successfully demonstrated how the fraud was produced. I first learned about the Shroud of Turin when I was in elementary school. Back then there was still much that was unknown about the Shroud. Most of the available literature on it was more like tabloids than anything else, highly sensationalized and short on reliable facts. But now there are a number of things we can say confidently about the Shroud, so much so that it is my belief that the Shroud of Turin is actually the authentic burial shroud of Jesus.

The cloth of the Shroud itself is of a weave and material consistent with first-century Palestine, not medieval Europe. The bloodstains match those found on the supposed head-cloth of Jesus, the Sudarium of Oviedo (whether they are authentic or not, both the Shroud and the Sudarium had to have been made by being wrapped around the same dead and bloody body). The wounds are consistent with our modern understanding of what the crucifixion of Jesus was actually like, not Medieval misconceptions about it. The scourge wounds are inflicted by ancient Roman whips, not Medieval. Most tellingly, the nail wounds in the hands are found on the wrists, not the palms. Medieval depictions of the crucifixion unanimously depict Jesus with nails through His palms, and it is only recently that we have realized the nails would have had to pass through His wrists instead. An image like the one on the Shroud of Turin could have been designed by a modern fraudster, but if it had been a Medieval hoax it would have looked much more like what a Medieval audience would have expected.

And then there is the ghostly image itself. How was it produced? There have been all sorts of theories over the centuries. Until recent systematic testing, it was easy to believe that the image was simply painted on. We now know, however, that the image is produced by an actual darkening of the linen fibers. There is no paint or any other external material involved. There had to be some sort of heating event to darken the fibers, and the heat had to emanate from the body wrapped in the Shroud: the closer the fibers to the body, the darker their color. Could it be that when Jesus was resurrected, some sort of heat was produced in that moment by His glorified body, leaving the image on the Shroud?

John Calvin dismissed the Shroud as a fraud, because both the Shroud and the Sudarium are mentioned in John’s Gospel, but no mention is made of a ghostly image. But why would the Apostles have inspected the Shroud for such an image before packing it away? There are water stains on the Shroud consistent with folding and storage in a first-century Palestinian jar, and it was stored for centuries before becoming the celebrated relic that it is today. The Apostles were not necessarily concerned with gathering relics and would likely not have placed much value on the Shroud and the Sudarium themselves. After all, they didn’t need burial cloths and empty tombs. They had their own eye-witness testimony.

Ultimately, it is the testimony of the Apostles that convinces us not only that Jesus rose from the dead, but also that His resurrection was accomplished for our justification (our forgiveness and consequent salvation). But since we know that the resurrection happened, it should not come to us as a surprise that the Apostolic testimony is consistent with the material evidence we have at our disposal. In a way, that’s how we can approach all Christian apologetics. We believe not because of clever arguments based on natural reason, but because of the Holy Spirit working through the proclamation of God’s Word. But because God’s Word is true, it is also consistent with sound reason applied to the available evidence.

I hope this series on apologetics has been beneficial for you. May the Holy Spirit keep you steadfast in the faith of our Living God, who has really wrought marvelous things among us, and has yet more marvelous things in store for those who trust in Him through the testimony of His Prophets and Apostles.

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

December 2018

Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, Part I

As we’ve considered the reasonableness of the Christian faith, we’ve spent time with three chief arguments for the existence of God: the cosmological argument (why is there something rather than nothing?), the teleological argument (why is that something so finely tuned for our existence?), and the moral argument (why is that something meaningful?). But so far, all of these arguments only bring us to a generic conception of God. They tell us some things about His nature and character (He is almighty, eternal, omniscient, and righteous, among other things), but they don’t tell us much about what He has actually done in the world or how He feels about us. One can accept the conclusions of all of these arguments and yet not know a thing about the Christian faith.

With the resurrection of Jesus, however, all of that changes. In the resurrection, we see that God was pleased to be intimately involved in our human lives, that He cares about our whole persons, body and soul, that He does not count our transgressions against us, and, most critically, that Jesus of Nazareth, born of the virgin Mary, is the Christ, the Son of the living God. The resurrection of Jesus is the fundamental fact of the Christian faith, so much so that St. Paul could say, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…. If in Christ we have hope for this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).

So how do we know that Jesus rose from the dead? Is there an argument for that? Is there real evidence? Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who, through the proclamation of the Gospel, convinces us in our heart of hearts that Jesus has been raised and that we will live in Him. But that’s not the only reason we believe the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. The devil and his minions believe that fact too, and the Holy Spirit certainly hasn’t wrought faith in their hearts!

As it turns out, there is good evidence that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. That evidence comes from the Scriptures, considered as human documents rather than as the inspired Word of God, and also from some fascinating material remains.

We Christians are accustomed to accepting whatever the Bible says just because the Bible says it, and we know the Bible to be the Word of God. But even those who do not believe the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God are still forced to wrestle with the biblical books as human documents. And as human documents, the Gospels and the epistles of St. Paul are strong witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels all record the resurrection from different perspectives. They include different details, some of them seemingly contradictory (though on careful study there are ways to harmonize the accounts). If the evangelists had made up the resurrection, why wouldn’t they “get their story straight” and come up with a consistent narrative shared by all four of them? Instead, what we get turns out looking an awful lot like eyewitness testimony from different witnesses. The Gospels as history are powerful witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

Even stronger, though, from a historical perspective, is the epistles of St. Paul, particularly 1 Corinthians 15. Skeptics have questioned the identity of the evangelists and of the author of most of St. Paul’s epistles, but all serious scholars are agreed that 1 Corinthians was actually written by Paul of Tarsus, who experienced a conversion on the road to Damascus. In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul gives his own eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. He also records that over 500 eyewitnesses are still alive, i.e., still available to corroborate his own claims and bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus. I would encourage you to pick up and read 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 and see for yourself!

What about material evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? That will have to wait for next month. For now, rejoice that the Holy Spirit has called you to faith in Jesus, and that He has left abundant testimony that your Savior truly has risen from the dead!

He is Risen.

He is Risen, Indeed!

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

November 2018

The Good Guys Always Win (In the End)

What makes a good story? The answer is simple: you need a conflict between good and evil, in which the good guys win, at least in the end. This understanding of what makes a good story seems innate in us. We naturally find such stories satisfying, and we try to interpret real life in terms of such a storytelling pattern.

This hints at something that is common to us all, Christian and non-Christian, believer and unbeliever alike. We all have a moral compass, a conscience, a sense of good and evil. And we all know innately that good needs to win out in the end. We are frustrated and dissatisfied by injustice. We often have difficultly telling just what the good side is, but we virtually always want the good side to come out on top, and if we’re knowingly working on the side of evil, we tend to be ashamed and miserable, even if outwardly we gloat. The human race knows by nature the difference between good and evil, and the need for good to triumph.

And actually, this is one of the most effective arguments for the existence of God. We have heard in past months about the cosmological (why is there something rather than nothing?) and teleological (why does that something allow for our existence?) arguments, which appeal strongly to the intellect. The moral argument appeals strongly both to the intellect and to the heart. It runs something like this: atheism predicts a world in which there is neither good nor evil, but only matter and energy meaninglessly interacting. Theism, including Christianity, predicts a world in which the goodness of God lends a certain goodness to the world He has made, and in which evil will be overcome. We all know by experience that we live in the latter world, and not the former.


What about the fact that we often see evil triumph, at least in the short term? What is critical to the moral argument for the existence of God is not whether good wins every time, but the fact that we want good to win every time. We recognize that there is such a thing as good and such a thing as evil, which cannot be explained simply in terms of physics and biochemistry. Physics and biochemistry provide the sphere of activity within which the drama of the conflict between good and evil is played out. Good and evil transcend mere physical reality.

Critical to note is what happens when the transcendent basis of morality is denied, and that denial carried to its logical conclusion. Ethicists who ground morality in evolutionary biology alone, with no transcendent basis, are not shy about arguing for euthanasia and infanticide. The denial of transcendent morality leads to the denial of our very humanity, and most atheists find such a position abhorrent. But those same moral atheists struggle to find an alternative basis for their morality. They are pretty much forced to take morality for granted, with no mechanism for explaining it.

It is also important to note what the moral argument is not. It is not the claim that in order to be moral one must believe in God. There are many moral atheists, and there are many immoral theists. The moral argument is an argument not for morality, but from morality. We can and must take basic human morality for granted. It is this very morality innate in most atheists that proves that there is a transcendent basis for their morality. In other words, the morality of most atheists proves that they were created by a moral God in His moral image. Despite their sinful human nature, they are, in a fundamental sense, still good, the fallen pinnacle of God’s good creation. To use the language of St. Paul, “they show that the work of the Law written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15).

We all know that good and evil exist, and we all want good to win. But “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Fortunately, we know that our good God will win in the end!


*Actually, atheism predicts no world at all, but we’ll grant them the existence of the world this time!

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuehdorf

October 2018

The Hand of the Designer

Last month I wrote about the “cosmological argument” for the existence of God, which asks the question to which God is the obvious answer: Why is there something rather than nothing? This argument is compelling, but it leads to another that has proven even more difficult for serious atheists to contend with: Why does the something that exists include beings like us? This is what we call the “teleological argument.”

The word “teleological” comes from the Greek word “telos,” meaning “goal” or “purpose.” We naturally recognize that everything has a telos. Everything has a meaning. Everything is there for a reason. But why should this be so? If we take for granted that there is something rather than nothing (without using God to explain it), then why isn’t that something mere disordered chaos? Why should there be any meaning at all in a universe that just popped into existence from nothing, for no reason?

The meaning and purpose inherent in reality requires that there be Someone to give that meaning and purpose. This is so fundamentally true that, in the nineteenth century, when atheism was sweeping the elite classes of Europe, those who took seriously the thought of a universe without God, that is, a meaningless universe, were overwhelmingly driven to despair and the contemplation of suicide. If there’s no God, and therefore no meaning to any of this, then what’s the use? Better just to get the absurd joke that is existence over with. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries this has taken an even more diabolical turn, as mass shooters conclude from the meaninglessness of an atheistic universe that not only they, but all of us, are really better off dead.

But this can be explained in more concrete, definite terms, without recourse to the destructive tendencies that atheism can have in our society when pushed to its logical limits. Consider one of the most remarkable things about reality as we know it: We live in a material universe that can accommodate life. And I don’t just mean human life, or intelligent life. Any life at all, at whatever degree of complexity, requires just the right mix of natural laws to make even the most minimal complexity possible.

In our great quest to make sense of the world around us using the scientific method, we have boiled down the laws governing the material universe to four: the force of gravity, the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. If you were to tweak any one of these forces in the slightest, the whole universe would cease to work. Reality would be nothing but a disordered mass of formless matter and energy. But the fundamental forces as we actually have allow complexity, and therefore life, to exist. We live in a “goldilocks universe”: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. And the chances of the universe being just right are slimmer than your chances of picking just the right atom out of all the atoms in the universe. In other words, the order inherent in the universe—the order that makes life, and therefore us, possible—simply cannot have arisen by chance. Someone designed the universe this way, for the purpose of populating it with life, and ultimately with intelligent human life. That someone we call God.

Last month I mentioned the atheist public intellectual Christopher Hitchens, who spent his last years debating Christian apologists (together with Jews, Muslims, and anyone else who was willing to champion the existence of God). Though publicly dismissive of all the standard Christian arguments, in private he revealed that of all the arguments for the existence of God, he and other prominent atheists have the hardest time dealing with this one: the teleological argument, the “fine tuning” apparent in the universe. It didn’t convince him to believe in God, but he did find it non-trivial, and the most difficult for him to dismiss.

Thankfully, we don’t have to tie ourselves in knots trying to figure out how there can be a grand design without a Grand Designer. We’ve known the Grand Designer all along! The teleological argument for the existence of God doesn’t tell us who He is, or how He feels about us (other than that we are worthy of His attention—after all, He tailor-made the universe for us!), but “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaim His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). They do indeed. Let us follow suit!

God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

September 2018

Something from Nothing?

Why are we here? Why does the world around us exist? Why is there anything at all?

In other words, why is there something rather than nothing?

It’s easy to suppose that we’re here “just because,” and that we’ve always existed in pretty much our current form. After all, we are status quo creatures: we naturally live as if life will continue in the future as it has in the past, and we have difficulty imagining a past that is radically different from our present. But all it takes is a little bit of thought to realize that there’s much more to the picture than this: what we are now is the effect of a series of causes in the past. And that’s true of the entire universe around us.

Everything that you are experiencing right now is an effect of something else, what we call a cause. If in turn we trace those prior causes to their source, we ultimately come to the beginning of the universe. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the universe—time and space itself, together with all matter and energy—did indeed have a beginning. From this beginning has issued a long stream of effects causing additional effects and so on until the present as we experience it now. Barring miraculous interventions, there is nothing that we experience today that does not issue from the stream of causes and effects traceable to the beginning of the universe.

That leaves us with a problem, though. Everything that exists depends upon a prior cause, but it all had to start with something that did not depend upon a prior cause. Something had to get the ball rolling, so to speak, and that something could not in turn have been caused by something else. Logical necessity compels us to assume an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, something that is not a part of our present reality, not a part of space and time, not composed of matter and energy—something that exists outside and independent of the natural universe.

Furthermore, this something had to have some capacity to make a decision—the decision to bring everything into existence from nothing. To be capable of making such a decision, this something had to be personal. This personal being, existing eternally beyond the constraints of time and space, matter and energy, is what we call God.

Notice that I have not appealed to Holy Scripture, or to faith. I have not asked you to suspend disbelief and suppose that such an eternal, personal being exists. All I have done so far is argue rationally from premises that are readily accessible to us all, requiring no special revelation from above. This is why St. Paul can say that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and godhead, have been clearly perceived from the creation of the world in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). The existence of God is not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of fact.

Christian apologists call this the “cosmological argument” for the existence of God. In debates with atheists, the apologists tend to lead with this argument. I’ve watched a number of debates with the late Christopher Hitchens, who was known for his passionate opposition to the very idea of God. In many of those debates, Christopher Hitchens claims that there are other, better explanations for the existence of the universe without recourse to an “uncaused cause,” i.e., God. The remarkable thing, though, is that, try as I might, I cannot find a single instance in which Christopher Hitchens actually offers such an alternative explanation. I don’t believe there is one. Simply put, to be an atheist is to believe that something, viz., the universe, sprung into being from nothing, purely spontaneously. This is incoherent, unintelligible, unbelievable, and unnecessary. There must have been, by logical necessity, an uncaused cause of all that exists, and that uncaused cause is what we call God.

I must emphasize again that it does not take faith to believe that God exists. Most people through history have believed this, and for good reasons, but without having saving faith. Faith in the Christian sense means a steadfast reliance specifically on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, revealed to us in Holy Scripture. But before we come to arguments for the divinity of Jesus, we’ll take a few months to consider further arguments for the existence of God.


In the beginning. . .GOD


Pastor Neuendorf

August 2018

Christian Apologetics:

Why Should We Care?

Do you know what I mean when I use the word “apologetics”? It may not be a word that we use all the time in our everyday conversations, but it has great significance for you, whether you know it or not. Apologetics is the discipline of defending the Christian faith—your Christian faith. I don’t mean “defending” in the sense of deploying armed soldiers to protect Christians from bodily harm. I mean defending the truth of Christian claims against those who deny them.

For example, atheists often argue that we Christians have as much basis for our belief in the Holy Trinity as one might have for an invisible Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Who’s to say that the creator of heaven and earth is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, on the one hand, or the FSM, on the other? They’re both invisible. Both have to be accepted by faith, not reason. (By the way, there is an actual Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose adherents, called Pastafarians, enjoy official recognition in some countries. They exist simply to make the point that Christianity has no more legitimate a claim to truth then they do.) If the FSM is invisible, his existence cannot be disproved any more than the existence of the God of Christianity. So what’s the difference?

Christian apologetics proceeds from the conviction that there actually is a difference between faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ versus faith in an invisible flying spaghetti monster. There are compelling philosophical reasons for believing in the existence of an eternal, omnipotent creator, and there is compelling evidence for believing that Jesus Christ is in fact God in the flesh. Christian faith doesn’t mean believing in the absence of evidence. It means taking God at His Word and trusting Him personally. And the God who demands our trust has given us ample reason to trust Him.

Jesus was critical of the Jews of His day for demanding a sign. St. Mark the Evangelist records, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven to test Him. And He sighed deeply in His spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation’” (Mark 8:11–12). This seems to indicate that Jesus expected His followers to trust Him blindly, without any reason for doing so. Consider also Jesus’ appearance to Thomas: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29). Jesus implies that Thomas should have believed in His resurrection without physical evidence.

But consider how St. Matthew adds to St. Mark’s account of the Pharisees’ demand of a sign: “He answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’” (Matthew 12:39 – 40). What is the “sign of Jonah”? It’s the resurrection of Jesus on the third day! The resurrection is the sign, a reason to believe that Jesus is who He said He was. And consider what was happening when Jesus chided Thomas for needing to see to believe: Jesus was actually appearing before him in the flesh, inviting him to touch His wounds! And we believe on the basis of the Apostles’ testimony to what they saw with their own eyes. We have reasons for believing.

I would like to take the next few months to address various approaches to apologetics. We will start with some general arguments for the existence of God, then zero in on actual evidence for the resurrection and divinity of Jesus. Through it all, we should remember that it is the Holy Spirit who calls us to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, since our faith is real, it has made a real impact on the world, and there is great value in considering the signs that God has actually given us, signs that He expects us to use in defending our faith against attack. You have good reasons for being a Christian!


Pastor Neuendorf

July 2018

What Makes Your Pastor Happy?

Something that my classmates and I repeatedly heard in seminary was that when we got out to the parish, one of the most important keys to success was to “love our people.” That’s good advice, as long as it is always understood that real love means laboring for the eternal wellbeing of the beloved, not just doing what they want at the moment. I can honestly say that I love the people entrusted to my care (that’s you). I want what Jesus says is best for you. And because I love you, you are capable of making me very happy.

I love it when you are happy. I rejoice along with you, as long as you are happy for godly reasons. But your present happiness is not the main thing that makes me happy.

I love it when you respect me as your pastor. It makes me feel good personally, but far more than that, it shows me that you have respect for the Christ who sent me as your pastor. But your respect for me is not the main thing that makes me happy.

I love it when you support me. It lifts me up and encourages me when you do things that show you have my best interests at heart. It’s good for my family, too! But your support is not the main thing that makes me happy.

So what is the main thing you can do that makes me happy?

The main thing you can do to make me happy is show me your hunger and thirst for the Word of God.

That hunger and thirst may reveal itself when you ask me to be present with you at a surgery or medical procedure. It may reveal itself when you come to me for private counsel because something of eternal significance is truly weighing on you. It reveals itself when you lovingly criticize me because you are worried that I am not teaching quite as Jesus would have me teach. It reveals itself when you bare to me your anxieties and misgivings as you confront the reality of sin and death around you. It reveals itself when you are willing to be honest with me about your weaknesses, your failures, and your desperate needs of soul and spirit—and about my own weaknesses and failures, too.

Why does that make me happy? It’s not because you are weak or sinful or needy, and it’s certainly not because you are experiencing anxiety and distress. It’s because those needs reveal to me very clearly that for you, the Word of God is real. What I do as a pastor really matters. The Christian faith is not just a bedtime story we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better for a while. It’s a confrontation with sin and death that has real, everlasting consequences. It is our eternal salvation in Christ Jesus, and He has given me a role in securing that salvation for you.

If you want to make me really happy, bring me your problems. Ask of me what Jesus has promised to give you through your pastor: the living Word of God. Join me in seeking from God what only He can give. Be honest about your doubts and misgivings and anxieties so that together we can confront them in Jesus’ name.

A lot of things about you make me happy. But chief among them is when you show me that you are a sincere child of God who draws your life from Jesus Christ and Him alone. And in that sense, I sincerely hope I make you happy too.


Pastor Neuendorf


June 2018

We Have This Treasure in Jars of Clay

St. Paul had a twin problem with his fledgling congregation in Corinth: his people thought too much of themselves, and at the same time too little of themselves. How can this be? They thought too much of themselves because they valued their own talents and accomplishments as if the Corinthians themselves had produced them. On the other hand, they thought too little of themselves because they viewed their talents and accomplishments as merely human and not divine. To deal with this twin misconception, St. Paul used the illustration of “treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

My Uncle Don serves as a pastor in Michigan and was an early inspiration to me in my own path to the Office of the Holy Ministry. For a birthday many years ago, he gave me an earthenware pot originating in ancient Israel at about the time of Jesus. The fact is that this pot is not very impressive. Someone probably made it just as an ephemeral container for unremarkable materials, never dreaming that it would find its way into the home of an Iowa pastor thousands of years later. I can readily imagine that this was just the sort of “jar of clay” that St. Paul had in mind as he wrote to the Corinthians. It is unimpressive, unnoticeable, unremarkable.

What better place, therefore, to store one’s most valuable possessions? No thief would think to look in such a humble pot for gold, silver, and precious stones. The pot would have a humble appearance, but would contain within itself an unimaginably great treasure.

That is what the Corinthian Christians were—and what we are. Outwardly we are merely human. We are weak, we are ailing, we are dying. We continue to be beset by sin. Anything that we regard as coming from ourselves must be deemed worthless, of utterly no value in obtaining everlasting life, yea, worthy only of destruction. We are jars of clay. Inwardly, however, we contain a vast treasure of unimaginably great worth: we contain God Himself, who “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Far from being worthless, we are precious, not because of what comes from us, but because of what God has given us: His own self.

Think about that as you walk among your friends and acquaintances. All they see is a jar of clay. They see what comes from you. They see your humble outward appearance, suggestive only of the merely human life that they have in common with you. But hidden from their sight is a glorious light that, if they could only behold it, would stun them into holy fear and mystical awe in your presence. This light, this treasure of surpassing worth, is truly within you by faith in Jesus Christ.

And every now and then, those around you may get a peek into what you, the humble jar of clay, contain within yourself. The God who shines within you in the face of Jesus Christ continually renews you according to His divine image, making you more and more like Him. Your works of love and your faithfulness to your God in Christ reveal ever so slightly the vastness of the treasure you contain. Those who catch a glimpse of that treasure are given the opportunity to become themselves vessels of God’s glory, jars of clay that contain the divine treasure.

May we never think too much of ourselves, boasting in our own talents and accomplishments as coming from ourselves. By the same token, may we never think too little of ourselves, forgetting that, though we are but jars of clay, we bear within us the Light that enlightens all men.


Pastor Neuendorf

May 2018

Is Doctrine Worth Dying For?

We can imagine many things that we would die for. Men willingly die for their country serving in our armed forces. We would die for our spouses and for our children. As Christians, we know that we would willingly die for our Lord Jesus Christ. But would we die for doctrine?

Most people think of Christian doctrine as more of a nuisance than anything else. It’s that pesky stuff that keeps the various Christian denominations from being united in one visible church. When it comes to a church body like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, our insistence on pure doctrine means that we can’t even share Communion together with close family members who have joined themselves to congregations that teach different doctrines than ours. Most people would gladly dispense with doctrine and get about the important business of serving God and loving our neighbors.

Given that prevailing attitude, it may seem crazy even to ask if we would die for doctrine. Most people won’t tolerate unpleasant dinner table conversation about doctrine, much less contemplate dying for it!

It may be surprising to learn, therefore, that many faithful Christians through the ages actually have died for doctrine, sometimes in surprisingly horrible ways. You could say that the early Christian martyrs died for the doctrine that Jesus is the only God, and that the Roman Emperor is merely a mortal man and not a divinity comparable to the Holy Trinity. Still, it’s easy to see how those early martyrdoms were suffered directly for Jesus’ sake, not just for some teaching. Perhaps a clearer example of someone dying for doctrine is John Huss, a precursor to the Lutheran Reformation.

In 1415, close to a hundred years before Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses, John Huss was burned at the stake at the Roman Catholic Council of Constance. Huss had been summoned to the council with the promise of safe conduct back home following the proceedings, but instead he was condemned and executed by being burned alive. He had every opportunity to save his own life simply by denying a few doctrines, but he refused and willingly suffered a terrible death rather than compromise on doctrine.

What was the doctrine that John Huss was willing to die for? One of the main doctrines was his teaching on the nature of the Church. Huss taught that the Church is, properly speaking, the communion of saints, that is, the fellowship of all of those holy people, living and dead, who are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church condemned this doctrine because they taught that the Church includes wicked people (such as many of those men through history who have held the office of Pope even while leading openly ungodly lives), and that to be in the Church requires not belief in Jesus, but submission to the Pope. John Huss refused to accept the Roman Catholic doctrine, and so he willingly endured the flames and commended himself into the hands of God.

Our own Augsburg Confession teaches the same thing about the Church as John Huss did, and the Lutherans who signed their names to the Augsburg Confession were willing to die for that doctrine. Are you? Would you allow yourself to be burned alive rather than deny the doctrine that the Church is the communion of saints? Would you be willing to do for the other doctrines contained in the Book of Concord? I hope so, because our doctrine is not something dreamed up by men to engender needless controversies, but the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. To deny Christ’s doctrine is to deny Christ Himself. We love Christ’s doctrine because we love Him. May God give us the strength to confess His true doctrine no matter what—even to die for it if need be. After all, like John Huss before us, even if we die for Christ’s doctrine, we will live eternally with Him. The doctrine of Jesus Christ really is worth dying for!

I was overwhelmed with astonishment, I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man (John Huss), who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.

Martin Luther


God's Blessings!

Pastor Neuendorf

April 2018

Real Peace

I don’t know about you, but I place a premium on peace. I don’t like stressful situations, and I dread conflict. I would gladly sacrifice a great deal of my own needs and desires in order to maintain peace with those around me. Not everyone is like this, of course. There are those who seem to thrive on conflict—they like to throw their weight around to get what they want, and they aren’t at all scared of stepping on other people’s toes. But most of us, I think, would rather go along to get along. We prize peace.

As it happens, peace is a significant blessing mentioned repeatedly in Holy Scripture. At the birth of Jesus, the angels proclaimed “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). When Jesus had risen from the dead, He pronounced peace upon His disciples (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 21, 26). St. Paul preaches the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). And that doesn’t begin to exhaust the scriptural witness to the blessings of peace. Clearly peace is a good thing that we Christians should always pursue!

But that’s not all there is to say about peace. We must understand that there are different kinds of peace, some good, some bad. Genuine peace with God is always something to be desired, but the delusive peace that comes from deception is a great evil. The Scriptures warn of the dangers of such false peace. Jeremiah, speaking for God, says of the false prophets of his day, “They have healed the wound of My people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11). The people of Judah had angered God through their ongoing impenitence, and the false prophets curried favor with the people by telling them that God was not offended by their sins. In other words, they said, “Peace,” even though wrath was being stored up. This is a dangerous delusion that robs sinners of the opportunity for repentance and leads ultimately to condemnation.

There is also danger in prizing peace with other people too highly. We should always lead “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). But sometimes peace with others is not possible. We may find ourselves in situations in which we have to stand up to others in order to protect and defend the neighbors entrusted to our care. Or we may be required to offend others in order to remain faithful to our God in Christ. The Word of God causes scandal wherever it is purely preached, and surely our Lord came not to bring peace, but a sword (10:34), setting the faithful against the unfaithful in every household. Peace forged with others at the cost of unfaithfulness to God’s Word is false peace, and it ends in anything but peace.

These two kinds of false peace are closely related. Often we peddle false peace with God in order to maintain false peace with our neighbors. Believe me, I have been tempted, and continue to be tempted, to seek peace with other people by proclaiming peace with God lightly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. I am thinking right now of specific instances in which I agonized over my duty to tell an impenitent sinner the truth about his relationship with God, or to confess what God has given me to confess even when it is sure to result in conflict. To my shame, I am also thinking right now of times when I gave in and told someone what he wanted to hear rather than what God commanded me to preach. God forgive me, and God make up for my faithlessness and bring His elect to repentance despite my failure to preach His Word aright.

The dangers of false peace are clear enough, but where does genuine peace come from? Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). Real peace comes from Jesus. Not from the fictitious Jesus manufactured by sinful hearts, but from the real, flesh and blood Jesus, who walked among the disciples, who taught in the synagogues and in the countryside, whose bold preaching of God’s unadulterated Word led to His own brutal execution. Real peace comes from the real Jesus who rose from the dead, who blessed His people with peace in the forgiveness of their sins. The world gives peace through deception, by papering over differences and healing wounds lightly. Jesus gives peace by confronting the reality of our sin head on, suffering for it, dying for it, and calling sinners to repentance. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that comes from knowing that God is reconciled to us in Christ Jesus through His death on our behalf, the peace that comes from being certain that even if the world rages against us, God is still for us, and at the last He will bring us into His kingdom, where real peace will reign eternally. God grant us this peace, real peace, in His Son Jesus Christ.


Pastor Neuendorf

March 2018

Free to Grow

There is a certain tension inherent in the Christian faith. On the one hand, Christianity is all about peace and rest in Christ. On the other hand, Christianity is all about painful growth and struggle and strife with the devil, the world, and our flesh. Both ideas are repeatedly affirmed in the Scriptures. Jesus promises us rest (Matthew 11:28). God promises us a Sabbath rest from our labors (Hebrews 4:10).  St. Paul affirms over and over that we are saved by grace through faith, not by our own works (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8). And yet Jesus is constantly exhorting His people to do good, and St. Paul also urges us to strive (1 Corinthians 9:24) and to fight against the flesh (Galatians 5:16–17).

So which is it? Should we Christians be relaxed, restful, always abounding in joy and peace? Or should we be anxious, stressed out, always lamenting our failures and trying to do better?

We can begin to relax this tension by putting things in their proper place, maintaining the proper relationship between peace and struggle. Yes, we are to struggle daily against sin. Yes, we should be dissatisfied with where we are in our spiritual growth. But the improvement for which we strive always takes place within the loving context of a familial relationship. God is our Father, and His unconditional love for us is assured.

I grew up with very kind and loving parents. They provided my brothers and me with a household in which we knew that we would always have the help we needed, and nothing we ever did, no matter how inexcusably bad, would compromise their love for us. My parents were also strict. They expected us to obey them, and when we didn’t, there were consequences. As we grew older and took on more responsibilities, our parents would always badger us about them. I doubt I would ever have gotten into college if my parents hadn’t pushed me to fill out applications and get them in the mail. But all the pushing and badgering and disciplining that my parents did served to keep us growing, and it all took place within a context of enduring love and support. That meant that I felt real pressure from my parents, and it was pressure I needed in order to improve as a human being, but it was pressure that had no power to upset the settled peace that I had dwelling with my parents in our household.

It’s no accident that Holy Scripture uses the metaphor of fatherhood and sonship, family and household, in describing our relationship with God in Christ. God is by nature the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has eternally begotten His only Son. But by His grace He has adopted us into His household, so that we are now His children, too. With our sonship in the household of God comes the pressure to obey and grow and become the sorts of people who will make our Father proud, but always within the context of a loving relationship that nothing can destroy.

It is important to remember that this relationship is constituted by faith. Without a living faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that is active in love and that shows itself in a fruitful commitment to God’s Word, we simply are not God’s children. We are outside His household and under His wrath. A faith that views God as an indulgent, permissive father who doesn’t care how we live is no faith at all. But with faith, we are adopted into God’s household, and nothing will snatch us out of His hands. With faith, our sins remain to a degree, but they have no power to condemn us in God’s presence. Yes, God pushes us to overcome our sins. He disciplines us and chastens us and badgers us with His Law until we grow into responsible members of His kingdom. But this process of growth and increase in holiness always takes place within the loving context of the household of God, where we are not slaves, but children, and His love for us is unconditional and unlimited.

So yes, we struggle and strive and grow. We will continue to do so throughout our earthly lives. But we don’t do so the way an employee might strive to win the approval of his employer, as if that approval could be lost. We struggle as children who want to please our Father, but who know that even in our weakness, He loves us and cares for us with an unconquerable love in Christ. The knowledge of God as our Father gives us freedom to grow.


Pastor Neuendorf

February 2018

Are We Fundamentalists?

Last month, I sought to answer the question whether we Missouri Synod Lutherans should consider ourselves Evangelicals. The answer is, on the one hand, “No.” American Evangelicalism is a distinct movement within Protestant Christianity that includes some elements with which we cannot agree. We must recognize, however, that we have much in common with Evangelicals, and the things for which the world hates Evangelicals are things for which the world hates us, too.

A related question has to do with fundamentalists. We hear about fundamentalists in the news nearly as much as we hear about Evangelicals. So who are they? And are we among them? There are a number of ways to go about answering that question.

Most strictly speaking, fundamentalists are those early 20th-century Protestants who upheld the traditional faith against the incursions of modernism and liberalism. They did so by identifying and embracing five “fundamentals”: 1. The authority of Scripture; 2. The literal truth of Scripture’s miraculous accounts; 3. The virgin birth of Christ; 4. The bodily resurrection of Christ; and 5. The substitutionary atonement (i.e., Jesus paid for our sins by suffering on the cross in our place). These fundamentals are by no means an exhaustive list of what Christians are obligated to believe, but they do serve to draw a sharp distinction between traditional Christians and those modernizing, liberal Christians who, for example, deny that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, deny that the miracles recorded in Holy Scripture actually took place, deny that Jesus was born of a virgin, deny that Jesus rose bodily (not just spiritually!) from the dead, and deny that God punished Jesus for our sins by His death on the cross. If fundamentalists are simply those who accept these fundamentals, then we must include ourselves among them.

When we hear the term “fundamentalists” in the news, however, the term is usually not being used in the strict sense of those who embrace the five fundamentals. It usually means something more like traditional believers, whether Christian, Muslim, or otherwise, who are so extreme in their faith that they hold to the strictest interpretation of their religion. So, for example, most American Muslims take a modernizing, liberal approach to their faith, dismissing the Koran’s commands to kill infidels. Islamic terrorists, on the other hand, are fundamentalists because they take literally and seriously the traditional teachings of their faith, including the duty to kill Christians and Jews. Similarly, many modern Baptists have embraced a modernizing, liberal version of Christianity. Fundamentalist Baptists, on the other hand, practice a strictly literal form of the historic Baptist faith.

Even according to this broader definition, we would qualify as fundamentalists. We practice a strict, traditional form of Lutheranism that our forefathers would be comfortable practicing as well (though, to be honest, some practices have crept in among us that would make our forefathers uncomfortable, but such practices are not embraced by all of us). We still take the Bible seriously, and we still believe all the teachings of the Book of Concord, written nearly five hundred years ago. In fact I wouldn’t reject the label “fundamentalist Lutheran”!

True, we have serious differences from many fundamentalist Christians. We disagree on teachings such as the nature of the Sacraments and the role of the human will in conversion—serious matters indeed. But the world doesn’t hate fundamentalist Baptists because they deny infant baptism. The world hates fundamentalist Baptists because they still teach what the Bible teaches about, for example, homosexuality, fornication, the role of women, and the lordship of Jesus Christ. In that sense it is our duty to stand alongside these dear Christians and bear the hatred of the world together with them. We ought not to try to score points with the world by pointing out that we’re not technically fundamentalists (though by most definitions we actually are).


Pastor Neuendor

January 2018

Are We Evangelicals?

We tend to hear a lot these days about Evangelicals. They are the dominant form of American Christianity.  They’re a political force to be reckoned with. They support this candidate or policy and oppose that one. Obviously Evangelicals are important. But who are they? And do we count as Evangelicals?

The word “Evangelical” comes from the Greek word for Gospel: “ev” means “good,” and “angel” means news, so an “Evangelical” is someone who is in some way characterized by the Good News, the glad tidings of great joy concerning Jesus Christ—the Gospel. In this sense the term “evangelical” (small “e”) was first applied to Luther and his adherents. In fact, to this day the Lutheran Church in Germany is simply called the “Evangelical Church.” That is why our Missouri Synod congregations, including our own Holy Cross, tend to be called “So-and-so Evangelical Lutheran Church.” We preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are characterized by the Good News that He, through His suffering, death, and resurrection, has accomplished the salvation of the world and gives us the forgiveness of sins, which we receive by faith alone. In that sense we would certainly be considered “evangelicals.”

But what about the uppercase “E”? As a movement, American Evangelicalism is distinct from the broader category of evangelicalism in which we would be included. American Evangelicalism can trace its roots to America’s First Great Awakening, the revival that took place in the 1730’s among Reformed Protestants. It can also be traced to John Wesley, founder of Methodism, who underwent an adult conversion experience: while hearing a reading of Luther’s Preface to Romans, in which Luther praises the living and active nature of truly saving faith, Wesley felt himself “strangely warmed,” and for the first time sensed himself to be assuredly saved, by faith alone.

These early roots of American Evangelicalism have led to the current defining characteristics of the movement: 1. A conversion experience; 2. Assurance of salvation; 3. Commitment to the Bible; and 4. Missionary fervor. Ideally, we evangelical Lutherans share points 2, 3, and 4. We are assured of our salvation: through the proclamation of the Gospel, we can be assured that our sins really are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, and that we will go to heaven when we die and inherit the Kingdom of God at the second coming of Jesus. We are committed to the Bible: everything we teach must be drawn from Scripture alone, which we regard as the pure Word of God and as our sole authority for teaching and practice. We possess missionary fervor: because we know that forgiveness and salvation come by faith alone, and that faith comes by hearing, we want our neighbors, both near and far, to hear the Gospel and become heirs with us of the grace of life.

Point 1, however, is where we part company with American Evangelicals. There are many of us evangelical Lutherans who came to faith as adults and can remember a specific conversion experience, but most of us came to faith as infants, being born again of water and the Spirit through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. I myself, for instance, have never had a conversion experience. For as long as I can remember, I have trusted in Jesus Christ for my salvation. Certainly my faith ebbs and flows. I have my dark days, and I have those times when I especially feel the activity of the Spirit of God within me. But I, and probably most of you, have never experienced conversion. This would be regarded by most of our Evangelical brethren as a serious deficiency, and some might even question our salvation due to the lack of conversion experience.

There are other, less tangible differences between evangelical Lutherans and American Evangelicals. We Lutherans tend to be old-fashioned, favoring the ancient forms of worship inherited from our fathers, while Evangelicals tend to adopt more recent trends and revivalistic methods, viewing modern trance-inducing worship music as essential in allowing the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts of worshipers. We hold firmly to our old confessional commitments (in our case, the Book of Concord), while Evangelicals tend to eschew such labels and often congregate in “non-denominational” churches. We are committed to the role of the blessed Sacraments in creating and sustaining faith, while Evangelicals tend not to believe in baptismal regeneration or the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. And there are a host of other differences.

But when you hear about Evangelicals in the news, particularly as a political force, it’s worth knowing that you fit pretty well into that category. As a rule, Evangelicals are opposed to abortion, same-sex marriage, and other forms of state-supported immorality. We are too. No evangelical Lutheran can in good conscience support a political candidate who promotes abortion or same-sex marriage. In the ways that matter to the media, we are little different from Evangelicals. While recognizing the things that divide us, we can count many Evangelicals as our brethren in the faith, who fight the good fight alongside us. God grant us faithfulness in confessing what distinguishes us from American Evangelicals, and brotherly love in laboring alongside them in His kingdom.


Pastor Neuendorf

December 2017

Prayers for the Dead?

I have to admit that, before becoming a pastor, I didn’t think a whole lot about the question of prayers for the dead. It seemed to me to be enough simply to trust in the mercy of God and know that He always does what He knows best. But when I started officiating over Christian funerals, and sometimes even over the funerals of those whose faith was, at best, in doubt, as I stood before the body lying in the casket, whether at the visitation or during an open-casket funeral at the funeral home, I felt compelled in my conscience to offer a brief prayer to God, prayer that He would have mercy upon this pour soul and, in His grace for the sake of Christ, receive the spirit of the departed into His kingdom. This has led me to investigate a bit more the Lutheran testimony to prayers for the dead. I have drawn three conclusions that I wish to share with you. First, it is not an ungodly thing to pray for the dead if such prayer is understood rightly. Second, the propriety of prayer for the dead hinges upon our uncertainty regarding the state of the deceased. Third, the value of prayer for the dead hinges upon our certainty regarding the mercy of God in Christ.

It is not a sin to pray for the dead, as long as we do not believe that thereby we can bring about eternal salvation for those who in this life did not believe in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures do not speak of prayers for the dead, either for or against. This led Martin Luther to preach in a sermon on the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19–31), “We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin. Yet, on the other hand …, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead.” In the same vein, Philipp Melanchthon writes in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession that the Lutheran churches “do not prohibit” prayers for the dead (Ap. XXIV.94). God has left us free to pray or not to pray for the dead as our conscience directs.

We may pray for the dead because we are uncertain regarding the present state and final sentence of the deceased. We cannot peer into the hearts of the dead to see if they really believed in Jesus Christ. Only God knows that for certain. Those who professed faith in Christ may have been hypocrites, and those who did not profess faith in Christ may have come to repentance in their final moments. We don’t know, and that means we don’t know for absolutely certain whether our loved ones are in heaven or hell (though we can be joyfully confident regarding the salvation of those who professed faith in Christ and proved their faith with a godly life!). Praying for the dead, therefore, is similar to praying for a loved one who has just been involved in a disaster but whose fate is as yet unknown to us. If I know that a loved one is in a burning building, I will not hesitate to pray for him, even if it is entirely possible that he has already succumbed to the flames. As long as I am uncertain, I will continue to pray that God would deliver my loved one.

Going ever further, Luther, in the same sermon cited above, reminds us that “God has not permitted us to know how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed as to how He deals with them…. For we are ever certain from the Gospel that many have been raised from the dead who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence.” We are not certain of anyone’s final sentence until the Last Day. Thus, because of our uncertainty, we may pray for the dead.

Finally, we may pray for the dead because we are certain of God’s mercy. Allow me to quote Luther’s sermon once more: “Now since it is uncertain and no one knows whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that Thou wouldst be gracious. And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to Him for anything He would hear us. Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust Him” (emphasis mine). As uncertain as we might be concerning specific matters that remain unrevealed to us, we must always be certain that God is merciful for the sake of His Son and that He has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear us. God will not spurn the prayers of His faithful who long for the wellbeing of the deceased whom they love as themselves, according to His command.

If you would like to speak more with me concerning the propriety of prayer for your loved ones who have departed this life, please feel free to see me about it. It could be a source of comfort to have something we can still do for our loved ones, not just for their bodies, but also for their souls. But whether we pray for them or not, our hope remains in Him who alone is the resurrection and the life, even Jesus Christ our Lord.


Pastor Neuendorf

November 2017

Can the Scriptures Really Be Understood?

One of the battle-cries of the Reformation is “sola Scriptura,” i.e., “by Scripture alone.” It is by Scripture alone that the truths of the Christian faith are demonstrated and confirmed. It is not the church hierarchy, the Pope, church councils, or vague traditions that determine what we believe, but the very Word of God, written by the Prophets and Apostles.

But have you ever tried to read the Bible? I mean really read it, cover to cover, with full understanding of what it says? If you have, you know that the Bible is often difficult to understand. In fact, there are many passages of Holy Scripture whose meaning remains entirely hidden from even the most careful and well-trained biblical scholars. How then can we claim to rely on “Scripture alone” as our sole source of Christian teaching?

The expression “sola Scriptura” can have no meaning if the Scriptures are obscure and impossible to understand, because if the Scriptures cannot be understood on their own, that means that there has to be an authoritative interpreter of Holy Scripture. The Pope, for example, does not claim to teach anything by his own authority. He teaches what the Scriptures teach, but only the Scriptures as interpreted by him. If I object to the Pope’s interpretation, I cannot appeal directly to the Scriptures, because they cannot be understood unless they are interpreted by the Pope. So the view that the Scriptures are unclear leads directly to the practical supplanting of the Scriptures with some other authority.

“Sola Scriptura,” therefore, depends upon the Scriptures being understandable, or clear. And yet we find that often they are not. What’s going on here?

When we say that the Scriptures are “clear,” we do not mean that anyone can pick up a Bible translation and on one cursory reading immediately see the whole meaning of every passage without difficulty. Only after years of careful study will the meaning of many passages dawn on the attentive reader. Furthermore, the meaning is often obscured until the text is studied in its original language, whether Greek (for the New Testament) or Hebrew (for most of the Old Testament). Even for someone trained in the original languages who dedicates his life to the study of Scripture, many passages remain obscure.

What makes the Scriptures “clear,” however, is not the accessibility of every passage to every student. What makes them “clear” is the fact that the body of doctrine, the sum and substance of what the Christian Church believes, teaches, and confesses, is and must ever be drawn exclusively from passages that are clear, whose plain meaning can be demonstrated to all who approach the text in honesty and reverence. The divinity of Christ, the trinity of Persons in the Godhead, the exclusive role of grace (from God’s side) and faith (from man’s side) in obtaining the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God—these and all true Christian teachings can be confidently established on the basis of passages whose meaning is clear.

That means that what you believe as a confessional Lutheran, instructed from Luther’s Catechism, is not something made up by man. It’s not a collection of clever ideas or cute sayings. What you believe is what God has taught His Church through the Prophets and Apostles, whose writings have come down to us in the present day. The confidence that flows from this conviction is a precious gift that we have inherited from the Reformation. May we ever flee from the doctrines of men and cling only to what God has taught us by Scripture alone—sola Scriptura!


The Word of the Lord Remains Forever


Pastor Neuendorff

October 2017

The Ninety-Five Theses Are Not Lutheran!

October 31, 1517, is widely recognized as the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. That is because it was on that date that Martin Luther publicly disseminated his famous Ninety-Five Theses. This is not a new celebration. For centuries the Lutheran Church has recognized this day, and in previous generations the Feast of the Reformation was celebrated with three days of services: Vespers (the evening service) on October 30, and Mass (Holy Communion in the morning) and Vespers on October 31 and November 1. Even within Luther’s own lifetime October 31 was celebrated as the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. It might surprise us to realize, therefore, that the Ninety-Five Theses aren’t Lutheran!

What do I mean by that? I mean that, though they were written by Martin Luther himself, and though they judged current church practice based on the standard of Holy Scripture, and though they set in motion the series of events that would culminate in the excommunication of Luther and the establishment of the Lutheran Church as separate from the Roman Catholic Church, nevertheless, when we explore their contents, we find that the Ninety-Five Theses do not reflect Lutheran doctrine. They were written by a Roman Catholic monk who still believed most everything taught by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, though Luther used Scripture in his critique, he also used the laws of the Roman Catholic Church herself. He acknowledged the authority of the Pope, the existence of Purgatory, and even the propriety of selling indulgences! He just wanted to rein in the hyperbolic and misleading preaching of the indulgence salesmen, returning to the authentic Roman Catholic teaching on indulgences. It was only later that he would reject the whole concept of indulgences entirely.

It is true that the Ninety-Five Theses involve a biting critique of the church of Luther’s day. Consider Theses 65 – 66: “[65] The treasures of the Gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth. [66] The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.” But overall the Ninety-Five Theses certainly don’t read like a clarion call to cast off the shackles of papal dominion and embrace the freedom of the Gospel. In fact, in some ways they are the opposite of what we might expect. We tend to think of Luther as helping us to see that salvation is easier to come by than it was under the papacy, and we tend to think of the corrupt Roman Catholic Church as keeping salvation under lock and key, inaccessible to all but the most wealthy. But what Luther actually does in the Ninety-Five Theses is show that salvation is harder to come by than the indulgence salesmen would have their audiences believe! Salvation cannot be bought. It must be obtained through heartfelt repentance, cross, and trial. The Theses end, “[94] Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their head, through penalties, death, and hell; [95] and thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace.”

If you’d like to read the Ninety-Five Theses for yourself, you can find an accessible modern translation at A more classic translation, followed by Luther’s original Latin, can be found at, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. If you do undertake to read them, you’ll find that they are quite difficult. They are written for experts in the Latin theology of Luther’s day, and they assume a certain familiarity with what is now arcane theological terminology. But if you’re willing to give it a go, they’re certainly worth your time and effort. Just remember that Luther himself looked back on the Ninety-Five Theses as reflecting the thoughts of a Roman Catholic monk, not those of the Reformer of the Church. Their significance is not in their content, but in their effect: they brought Luther into direct conflict with the papacy, and they paved the way for his development as the Reformer, and especially for his later discovery of the Reformation principle of salvation by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone as taught by Scripture alone.


Pastor Neu

September 2017

Reformation Day: Why Halloween?

As we’ve learned over the last couple of months, Martin Luther was motivated by his roles as Doctor of Sacred Scripture and as parish pastor to protest the sale of indulgences. We also know that he ultimately nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Church of All Saints in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517—which happens to be Halloween! Why did Luther choose that particular date to begin his public critique of indulgences?

As we know, Halloween is short of “All Hallows’ Eve.” The “Hallows” are the saints. The word “hallow” is etymologically related to the word “holy,” and we still use it in the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be Thy name,” i.e., may God’s name be kept holy among us. All Hallows’ Eve is the eve of All Saints’ Day, much as Christmas Eve is the eve of Christmas Day. We still celebrate All Saints’ Day on November 1, so we celebrate Halloween on October 31 because it falls on the evening before All Saints’ Day.

Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses, therefore, had more to do with All Saints’ Day than it did with our modern conception of Halloween. Luther did not have costumes, party games, or trick-or-treating in mind. He was thinking of something that would happen on All Saints’ Day: the Church of All Saints would open with one of the greatest displays of relics in the world.

Relics were the remains of the saints. For example, one might display a saint’s knuckle bone, or a vial of a martyr’s blood. These relics could be venerated to earn an indulgence, i.e., time off one’s sentence in purgatory. Luther’s prince and protector, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, possessed one of the worlds’ greatest collections of relics, and every year, on All Saints’ Day, he put his relics on display in the Church of All Saints, the court church or castle church (Schloßkirche) in Wittenberg. Visitors would flock to his church to venerate the relics displayed therein, earning thousands of years off their time in purgatory. In fact, Frederick the Wise forbade indulgences from being sold in his territory, not because he objected to indulgences themselves, but because he didn’t want other indulgences competing with the indulgences gained from his own relics collection!

When Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses, he was protesting not only the sale of indulgences, but the whole system of indulgences itself. He was protesting what was going on in a church in his own town! That’s why he chose Halloween.

Next month, for our October newsletter, we’ll learn about the contents of the Ninety-Five Theses. What was this document whose posting we celebrate at this upcoming five-hundredth anniversary? The answer may surprise you…


Pastor Neuendorf

August 2017

Luther the Pastor:

Starting the Reformation

It was chiefly as a Doctor of Sacred Scripture that Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation. He believed himself to have received a call from God, ratified through the authorities at the University of Wittenberg, to be a “teacher of the Church.” Universities in those days were ecclesiastical institutions, and a call to teach at a university meant the conferral of a general teaching authority.

Furthermore, as mentioned last month, Luther taught at a university that had embraced a new way of learning, which emphasized original languages and primary texts. Luther worked and taught within a generation that for the first time had access to the full riches of Holy Scripture.

Nevertheless, it was not as a university professor, but as a parish pastor that Luther was driven to perform the first public act of the Reformation. As a part of his experience at the Augustinian monastery, Luther was ordained to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. As a priest it was his responsibility to say mass (i.e., preside over Holy Communion) and to preach. Part of administering the Lord’s Supper was hearing the confessions of those who wished to commune at the next mass. Father Luther would meet privately with those who came to confess their sins, and when they demonstrated the sincerity of their repentance and their desire to turn away from sin, he absolved them, as Lutheran pastors still do today.

But in 1517, something new was happening. Instead of coming to Father Luther and confessing their sins, some of the parishioners presented a certificate for which they had paid a pretty penny in the neighboring town. The certificate entitled the bearer to one absolution by a priest of his choice, with no need for repentance, as well as one further absolution upon his deathbed, also without the requirement of repentance. If one could only pay enough money, one could be forgiven all sins, skip all time in purgatory, and go straight to heaven—all without even having the slightest sensation of guilt for the sins one had committed!

These certificates, of course, were called indulgences, and they got Father Luther riled up. He refused the honor them, and he set about composing ninety-five statements that amounted to one long protest of the sale of indulgences. We call these the Ninety-Five Theses, and they were intended to be debated among Luther’s colleagues in a formal disputation. It is true that the Theses were academic in nature, and it is true that they were intended for the learned throughout Europe, not the parishioners under Luther’s care. But what motivated Luther to compose and defend them was his pastoral concern for the souls whom Christ had entrusted to him.

Luther’s chief fear was that by putting their trust in indulgences, and by being led away from repentance as a real turning away from sin and a heartfelt trust in the forgiveness won by the death of Jesus, his parishioners faced the threat of eternal damnation. He could not sit idly by and watch that happen in his own parish and throughout Christendom, so he set about the work of calling the whole Church to return to the pure teachings of Christ and the Apostles.

We have learned why Luther composed the Ninety-Five Theses. Next month we will learn why he chose October 31, 1517, to post them publicly on the door of the Church of All Saints in Wittenberg.


Pastor Neuendorf

July 2017

Origins of the Reformation

As our celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation draws nigh, it is worth our while to reflect on where the Reformation came from. On October 31, 2017, we will remember that precisely five hundred years before, Dr. Martin Luther, Doctor of Sacred Scripture at the University of Wittenberg, nailed (“pinned,” “tacked,” or “posted” might be a better word) the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church. In this and coming months, we will consider who this “Dr. Luther” was and where he came from; what led him to write and pose his theses; why he chose that particular date and that particular place for their posting; and how this event catapulted him to the forefront of the Reformation.

Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 (nine years before Columbus discovered the New World!), the son of a miner, Hans Luther, in Eisleben, Saxony, a northern territory in Germany. He grew up in the nearby town of Mansfeld and received the standard education for his day, becoming fluent in Latin and well trained in music, both performance and composition. His father paid for him to attend law school, in the hopes that he could serve the family business in legal disputes. On a trip from school, though, Luther was caught in a terrible lightning storm. Fearing for his life, and uncertain of his eternal destiny should he perish, Luther vowed to become a monk should he survive. Survive he did and, much to the chagrin of his father, he left law school and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt.

To be a monk meant to take the threefold vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience: poverty, meaning that Luther sold all he had and led a communal life with his fellow monks; chastity, meaning that Luther promised never to marry and therefore never to engage in marital relations with anyone; and obedience, meaning that Luther submitted himself to the authority of his superior, in this case Fr. Johann von Staupitz—a godly man who led Luther along the way to his discovery of the Gospel. Luther was faced with a crisis, however. He had understood monks to be the holiest of the holy, men who actually lived the way Jesus commanded. Their merits were supposed to be sufficient to save both themselves and the common people who relied upon them. But what Luther found was that when he became a monk, he did not become holy. His manifold disciplines did nothing to ease his conscience. He could not hope to save himself, much less the people around him. Luther therefore conceived a dread of damnation and a hatred of God, who had created him to be a sinner and threatened divine punishments that Luther could not escape.

Thankfully, Luther’s superior came to the rescue. He urged Luther to despair of himself and trust in Christ alone. Furthermore, he found tasks to keep Luther busy, and hopefully distracted from his spiritual struggles. He sent Luther to Rome on official business, and he arranged for Luther to be educated in the Scriptures, culminating in Luther’s reception of the degree of Doctor of Sacred Scripture. Luther lectured on the Scriptures at the University of Wittenberg, an up-and-coming institution that embraced a new way of learning, focusing on original languages and primary texts. It was largely through this study that Luther gained the knowledge that compelled and empowered him to launch the Reformation.

Luther’s concerns were not merely academic, however. It was chiefly through his role as a pastor that he was confronted with the issues that led to the posting of the ninety-five theses. It is to this that we will turn next month.


Pastor Neuendorf

June 217

Understanding the Priesthood of All Believers

We recently celebrated Ascension Day, when we remember Jesus’ ascension “far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And some he gave as … pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). Jesus gives us pastors! But why? What about what we call the “priesthood of all believers”? If we’re all priests, why do we need pastors? After all, many modern Lutherans might point out that Luther rediscovered the scriptural teaching that it is not pastors alone but all Christians who serve as priests before God. This is based on 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” There is no denying that the priesthood of all believers is a scriptural teaching.

There are, however, some widespread misconceptions about just what it means that we, as the people of God, together constitute a “royal priesthood.” I remember traveling with my wife in Virginia some years before becoming a pastor. One Sunday morning, we attended a service at a Missouri Synod congregation—which isn’t always as safe a thing to do as you might think! Among a number of things that made me uncomfortable about the service was a note in the bulletin explaining the use of lay readers in proclaimingthe Scripture Lessons: they had laity proclaiming the Scriptures to show that they believed in the priesthood of all believers. In this understanding, for us to be a “royal priesthood” means that we are in effect all pastors. Those who are actually called and ordained exercise those functions that uniquely pertain to the pastoral office, such as proclaiming the Scriptures in the readings, preaching the Word of God in the sermon, and administering the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar, but the laity are just as qualified, and just as called, to do the same things. Preaching, teaching, and administering the Sacraments are viewed as part of “proclaiming the excellencies” of God.

But this is not what St. Peter teaches, and it is not what Luther taught when he rediscovered St. Peter’s teaching. Luther understood the Office of the Ministry, with all its functions (publicly reading the Scriptures, publicly preaching the Word, and publicly administering the Sacraments), as belonging to the congregation as common property. Every Christian has the right and the duty to proclaim the Word in whatever walk of life in which God has placed him. Fathers are to proclaim the Word to their households. Mothers are to proclaim the Word to their children. Teachers are to proclaim the Word to their students. Children are to proclaim the Word to one another. And pastors are to proclaim the Word to their congregations.

Luther’s explanation was that if something belongs to everyone, no one has the right to exercise it without the express authorization of the whole group. That’s our understanding of the call to the pastoral office: we all have the duty to proclaim the Word, so none of us ought to exercise that duty publicly without the consent of the whole congregation. It’s like a public park: the park belongs to everyone, so I dare not pitch a tent and live there without the permission of the whole community. So also the Office of the Ministry belongs to everyone, and we dare not exercise it unless everyone has agreed to entrust us with that responsibility, and unless God has made it expressly clear that He has called us to that task in that place.

Following Luther, C.F.W. Walther expressly taught that the priesthood of all believers is distinct from the pastoral office. We are all priests, to be sure, but we are not all pastors. We all proclaim God’s excellencies according to our stations in life, but it is pastors who have been entrusted with the public proclamation that takes place in the corporate worship of the Church.

The priesthood of all believers is a doctrine that has seen much abuse in recent years, but that ought not to stop us from deriving from it the encouragement that St. Peter, and the Holy Spirit speaking through him, intended for us. Let us proclaim the Word boldly to those among whom God has placed us: our children, our spouses, our friends and neighbors, and especially our enemies, whom we are called to love and serve. And let us offer spiritual sacrifices to God, sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise, good works and acts of mercy and love—which is what priests do! Meanwhile we thank God for those whom He has placed among us, those “called and ordained servants of the Word,” who act “in the stead and by the command” of Christ and are given to us as gifts by our triumphantly ascended Lord.


Pastor Neuendorf

May 2017

After 115 Years, What Makes Us Different?

This year the congregation of Holy Cross observes the hundred and fifteenth year since her founding in 1902. Much has changed in our congregation since then. No longer do we gather in a preaching station or a storefront to worship in the German language. The location of our church building has moved from Belle Avenue to Locust Street. Even our “new” church building has seen several significant expansions. Surely if the founding members of the “Evangelisch-Lutherische Kreuzgemeinde zu Ost-Davenport” could join us on a Sunday morning, they would be astonished at how different things are!

But they would also notice some significant similarities. Even though we now worship in English, the founding members of Holy Cross would still be able to follow along with our services, which adhere to the same outline they’ve had for over a millennium. Even though we gather in a “new” building, our sanctuary retains the churchly architectural cues that indicate, “The place where you are standing is holy ground.” Even though we sing in a new language, and many of our hymns are recent compositions, we still sing many of the old Lutheran hymns that were so dear to our forebears, using the same tunes and extolling the same Christ. And most importantly, we still teach the same things that we taught the day we were founded.

This continuity with our own past is more remarkable than it might at first seem. There are plenty of churches that are significantly older than ours who have nevertheless changed beyond all recognition. Some choose to worship in buildings that are intentionally indistinguishable from secular venues. Others use exclusively novel forms of worship that would be totally alien to the Christians of generations past. Still others have changed their teachings so dramatically that one wonders whether the name “Christian” still applies.

What makes us different? In a word, nothing. Nothing, that is, except the free, unmerited grace of God.

No people has ever been so blessed as the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation. And yet God said of His chosen people, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8). God chose Israel by His grace alone, and it was only by His grace that a remnant was preserved even as the rest of the people perished in their folly and unbelief. This pattern holds true in the New Testament as well. St. Paul writes that “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy” (Titus 3:5).

If our congregation has been kept faithful to the inheritance bequeathed to us, it is only because God has been gracious and merciful to us. It is not because we are inherently any better than those who have given in to the harmful changes in the culture around us. It is not because we are stronger, smarter, or in any other way more fit for institutional survival. Our faithfulness is an unmerited, undeserved gift, and we would do well to heed the warning of St. Paul: “Let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

As we celebrate a hundred and fifteen years of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in East Davenport, may the congregation of Holy Cross continue in faithfulness toward the God who has proved to be faithful to us.  Here’s hoping that in another hundred and fifteen years our spiritual descendant will still be about their Father’s business at Holy Cross!


Pastor Neuendorf

April 2017

Desperation? Or Boldness?

When you think about the state of our congregation, do you feel desperate? I have to admit that I sometimes do. The fact is that I have a tendency to view people as doing our congregation a favor by joining us for worship. I naturally see the people around us as those who could potentially benefit our congregation by becoming members and taking an active role in our life together. And that means that I automatically approach others from a position of weakness, a weakness that can come off as desperation. Some of our more recent members may have seen this in my approach to them.

Nobody finds desperation attractive. When you’ve developed romantic attraction to someone, was it because that person was so desperate for your attention? Or was it because you were drawn to something about that person, something that was good and true independent of you? We are attracted not to desperation, but to confidence, or what the Scriptures call boldness.

When you read of the early Christians, you don’t get the impression of weakness or desperation. The disciples weren’t trying to sell their religion, and they didn’t view people as doing them a favor by uniting themselves to the Christian Church. As St. Luke records of the first Christian congregation in Jerusalem, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

What gave them boldness? The Holy Spirit! Before the Spirit was poured out upon the Church, the Apostles and the rest of the disciples were anything but bold. They locked themselves up for fear of Jesus’ enemies! Even after they witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to cower. But once the Spirit had been poured out at Pentecost, the same St. Peter who had fearfully denied his Lord three times got up with all boldness to confess his Lord to thousands, and the same St. Peter who had fled the sufferings of his Savior rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). The Apostles were not desperate, they were not weak, and they did not try to sell their proclamation. They were confident, they were bold, and they preached as those who knew that they had what their hearers needed. The results of their preaching they left to Him who “added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

I am trying, with God’s help, to reclaim this spirit of boldness. When I share the good news that we proclaim at Holy Cross, it ought not to be as a product that I hope a client will buy. It ought to be as the source of my own life and salvation, which I fervently desire for others to have as well—not for my benefit, but for theirs! Boldness, not desperation, is what God promises us and expects of us.

And interestingly enough, the more confident we are in Christ, and the less desperate we are toward those around us, the more people will want to join us. If you were moving to a new town, would you want to join a congregation that was desperately seeking new members and begging you to join them? Or would you want to join a congregation that was confident in Christ, knowing that they have all they need in Him, freely welcoming you into their fullness? In Christ we truly do have all things. We don’t proclaim Christ out of desperation for new members. We proclaim Christ because that’s who we are. It is not that we need more people, though from an earthly perspective we certainly do. It’s that others need what we already have!

Please pray for me, that I would be diligent in sharing the proclamation of our salvation in Christ as God gives opportunity, and especially that I would grow in boldness and confidence in the Lord of the Church. We are who we are: the body of Christ, assured of our forgiveness and eternal life in His name. May as many as God has appointed to eternal life believe (Acts 13:48), and may our congregation be not a product to be sold, but a haven for the afflicted and a refuge for the weary. God grant us boldness in Christ!


Pastor Neuendorf

March 2017

Our Lenten Theme:  The Lord’s Supper, Our “Salutary Gift”

This year, I am using a set of resources from Concordia Publishing House to prepare our Lenten midweek services. The theme of those resources is “The Lord’s Supper: The Salutary Gift.” That expression, “salutary gift,” comes from one of the post-Communion collects that we pray after receiving the Lord’s Supper: “We give thanks … that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” 

So where did this prayer come from, and what does “salutary” even mean?

The post-Communion collect from which we derive the expression “salutary gift” was written by Martin Luther. In the 1520s, a number of reformers were moving to introduce the use of the vernacular (i.e., the common language, the language of the people—in this case, German) into public worship, particularly the mass (what the weekly Communion service was called among the Reformers in those days). This was an unfortunate opportunity for zealous reformers with questionable theology to introduce their unique ideas into common use. There was also a risk that liturgical chaos might result, with each church using its own order of service. Imagine what it would be like if you never knew what a church service would be like from one congregation to the next!

In an effort to address these concerns, Luther prepared his own “German Mass” in 1526. His hope was that the order of service he prepared would be theologically sound and could help to stem the tide of multifarious practices throughout Germany. He introduced a metrical German version of the Sanctus (found in the Lutheran Service Book at No. 960, “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old”), provided the tune for the Kyrie that we still use today in Setting Three, and provided tones for chanting the Scripture lessons and the various parts of the liturgy (we still use Luther’s tone for chanting the Words of Institution). Among the many contributions that Luther made in his German Mass, one that has proved to be of enduring value is his post-Communion collect:

We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

So what does Luther mean when he calls the Lord’s Supper a “salutary gift”? The word that Luther uses is “heilsame,” which we might recognize as related to our English word “wholesome.” The translation “salutary” comes from Latin, in which the word “salus” means “health.” A good English approximation of Luther’s meaning might be “healthy,” not in the sense that I am in good health, but in the sense that a wholesome meal is healthy, promoting good health.

What sort of good health does the Lord’s Supper promote? Luther explains that immediately after: the Lord’s Supper strengthens us in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. In other words, the whole of our Christian faith, both God’s promises that we believe and His commands that we keep, finds its source and its strength is the sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. The offer of forgiveness in Christ strengthens our faith, and it is our faith that gives rise to selfless works of love done for the neighbor. A salutary gift indeed!

This Lenten season, and throughout your Christian walk, may you find strength in the salutary gift of the Lord’s Supper!


Pastor Neuendorf

February 2017

Faith Seeking Understanding

Medieval theologians wondered: does a theologian start with reason and work his way to faith? Or does he take the teachings of the faith for granted and then seek to understand those teachings retroactively? The Christian Church has taken the position that faith seeks understanding, not the other way round. Faith can save without understanding, but understanding can never save without faith. In fact, understanding doesn’t save us at all!

I’m a curious person. I like to understand things. I like to probe mysteries until I come up against the limits of what is possible for the human mind to grasp, and through academic discipline, I’ve become far less inclined to take anyone else’s word for anything than I once was. I try to believe only what can be firmly established by the soundest methods. Does that describe you? Certainly there are plenty of people who are willing to accept life (including the Christian faith) as it is and don’t need everything explained to them. But I’ll bet there are many under my care who share my curiosity, and who, like me, are interested in exploring the foundations of what they believe.

How does that jibe with the nature of Christian faith? Aren’t we simply to accept what God teaches us in His Word without questioning Him? Isn’t that what faith is? After all, Jesus extolled the faith of those who believe without seeing (John 20:29), and St. Peter wrote of us Christians, “Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him” (1 Peter 1:8). Shouldn’t we just believe the teachings of Christianity without needing any demonstration that they are true?

In a way, yes, we should believe without seeing, without (and sometimes perhaps even contrary to) evidence. But faith like this is impossible for us. We simply cannot believe something without it being demonstrated to us. That is why saving faith has to be wrought in us by God Himself. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Our reason can never produce faith. St. Paul warns that “the wisdom of the world” cannot save us, but “since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). If we find our faith slipping, we are not to bolster it by rational arguments. We are rather to seek strengthening of faith from Him who alone works saving faith in us: “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Does that mean that Christianity is an anti-rational religion? Certainly not. If what we believe is true (and it is!), we will find it confirmed through the right use of reason. The historical facts of the Christian religion can be convincingly demonstrated through the study of the Scriptures as historical documents, without reference to their divine inspiration. Even someone who does not believe the Scriptures to be the Word of God could reasonably conclude through the study of the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul as merely human documents that a man named Jesus was seen alive by many after his public death.

Nor does human reason at its best support a materialist worldview, i.e., the idea that physical objects, interrelated by clear-cut chains of cause and effect, are all that exist. A recent book on the significance of quantum physics for our vision of reality includes the following provocative statement: “Since ancient times, philosophers have come up with esoteric speculations on the nature of physical reality. But before quantum mechanics, one had the logical option of rejecting such theorizing and holding to a straightforward, commonsense worldview [St. Paul’s “wisdom of the world”?]. Today, quantum experiments deny a commonsense physical reality. It is no longer a logical option.” Yes, as it turns out, those no-nonsense militant atheists, who take for granted that all that exists is what we can see, are in fact naïve! The current state of scientific inquiry does not support such a worldview.

But as we consider such things, we always do so as those who are already, by a miracle of God in our own hearts, convinced of the truth of the Christian faith. The faith that God supplies is sufficient. It is sufficient for the infant at the baptismal font, for the Alzheimer’s patient in the memory care unit, and for the good neighbor who is too preoccupied with loving those whom God has commanded him to love to be bothered with unnecessary questions about the nature of existence. But for those who do probe those difficult questions, our divinely wrought faith frees us to explore the mysteries of God’s creation without fear. Whether or not we ever obtain understanding, may God keep us in His faith unto life everlasting!

Pastor Neuendorf

January 2017

Resolution and Failure—Or Success

New Year’s Day is mostly a joyous time. I love the treats, the late-night celebration, the promise of a clean slate, the novelty of writing out the new date for the first time (I just saved this file with the date 2017!), and most everything else that goes with it. But believe it or not, I also find New Year’s Day to be rather discouraging, not because of the swift march of time or anything like that, but because of the whole principle of New Year’s Resolutions.

The fact is, I make resolutions all the time. When I’m driving alone on a long trip, I have plenty of time to ruminate on my own habits, both professional and personal, earthly and spiritual, and to come up with great ideas for how I could do things better. I get all fired up, but then as soon as normal life starts up again, all those great ideas go out the window and I settle back into my old routine.

It’s much the same on New Year’s Day. I look into the new year and think about how it could be different from the last. How could I do things better? How could I improve my lifestyle, my routines, and my habits? How can I live more fully the life that God has given me? I come up with all kinds of ideas, but always in the back of my mind is the memory of New Years past, and the plethora of resolutions that I didn’t end up keeping.

I wonder if you share my experience. From my perspective, looking out over my congregation, I see people who have it together. You are all responsible, dedicated people who make the most of the blessings that God has entrusted to you. But do some of you share my anxiety for the New Year? Do some of you share my discouragement at how difficult it can be to make meaningful changes in your lifestyles? If so, you’re not alone.

Actually, this is largely what the Christian life can be for many of us. We watch as faithful Christians, whether the heroes of the faith in times past or our own admirable contemporaries, go from strength to strength, living triumphant on the promises of God. We, meanwhile, continue to languish in the old bondage under sin. We struggle to pray as we ought, to meditate as we ought, and to live as we ought. We, like St. Paul before us, cry out, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18b–19, 24).

To this seemingly hopeless situation, St. Paul speaks a Word of comfort: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! … There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:25a; 8:1). This comfort is twofold: first, God does not hold our failures against us; second, God strengthens us to make real change.

Whatever the failures of past New Year’s Resolutions may do, let them have no power over your conscience. Jesus Christ has delivered you from such condemnation! When God looks upon you, He does so not to castigate you for failing to live up to your own ideals, or even His perfect ideals for you, but to give to you as a gift the successes and victories of His own Son. Admit your failures and receive with thanksgiving the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is yours by faith in Him.

Furthermore, no matter how often we have failed in the past, God never wants us to despair of His strength in the future. In our Christian walk, we continue to be beset by the contagion of sin, but God does lead us by His Spirit so that, insofar as we are new creations in His Son, we can obtain the victory over sin. As Luther teaches in the meaning of the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “we pray … that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome, and obtain the victory.” Never give up striving for righteousness, straining for the victory, even as you rely entirely on God’s mercy to you in Christ.

May this New Year be a time of repentance, renewal, and hope in the Lord Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Pastor Neuendorf

December 2016

Christmas: A Pagan Holiday?

You may have heard that Christmas, though we regard it as a celebration of Christ’s birth, nevertheless has roots in a pagan holiday. There are even Christians who believe it to be immoral to celebrate Christmas because of its alleged pagan connection. But what about us? When we celebrate December 25 with trees and tinsel, with gifts and goodies, with music and feasting, are we joining ourselves to paganism?

It is helpful to consider how the date December 25 really came to be the time for the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is often alleged that the early Church felt the need to replace a pagan festival of the winter solstice with something more appropriate to Christians. The truth, though, is rather the reverse. As it turns out, the early Church chose the date December 25 to correspond to another important date: March 25, the Annunciation, when we remember the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would become the mother of our Lord. The date March 25 came about because of an ancient belief that prophets died on the same calendar date as their conception or birth. The death of Jesus was calculated to have taken place on March 25 (in actual fact, His death probably took place in early April). Working on the assumption

that Jesus was conceived the moment Gabriel proclaimed the Word of God to Mary, His conception would have been on the same calendar date as His death. And if Mary’s pregnancy lasted exactly nine months, His birth would have been December 25. Hence the traditional date of Christmas!

What about the connection to the winter solstice? As it turns out, the ancient Romans did not originally celebrate the solstice. It was not until the reign of the third-century emperor Aurelian that the festival of Sol Invictus (“The Unconquered Sun”) was imposed to compete with the Christian feast of Christmas.

What is more, one of the most likely candidates for the star that led the wise men to believe that a king had been born in Judea would have appeared around December 25. The traditional date of Christmas may be less arbitrary than we have been led to believe. It may be that Jesus actually was born on Christmas day!

When it comes down to it, though, whether Christmas replaced pagan holidays or whether pagan holidays tried to replace Christmas, and whether Christ was really born on December 25 or not, what matters is how we celebrate the holiday. It is with a good conscience that we rejoice at this time in the birth of our Savior, however much the naysayers may protest. Be of good cheer and rejoice this year with all the Christian Church in Jesus’ birth!

Pastor Neuendorf

November 2016

Observing All Saints’ Day with Blessing

On the first Sunday of November, we typically observe All Saints’ Day, which falls officially on November 1 (hence the term for October 31 “Halloween,” i.e., “All Hallows’ Eve” or “All Saints’ Eve”). As a church holiday, All Saints’ Day has rather superstitious roots. It was intended as a day to lump together all of those saints who could no longer fit on the calendar of the Church Year, not unlike our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The term “saints” was understood as referring to all those who had made it straight to heaven and, not being bound in purgatory, were able to work miracles for those on earth who prayed to them. By celebrating all the saints at once, it was hoped that the faithful could obtain the saints’ favor and assistance even without calling upon them individually by name.

By Luther’s day, there was an added superstition surrounding All Saints’ Day. Luther’s patron, Frederick the Wise of Saxony, held the largest collection of relics (body parts and mementos of the saints) in the world, and anyone who venerated, or payed their respects to, every relic in Frederick’s collection on All Saints’ Day would receive a generous indulgence, i.e., time off their sufferings in purgatory. This was why Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the eve of All Saints’ Day: he was calling into question the whole system of indulgences embodied in the collection of relics housed within the very church where he posted them.

Why, then, do we in the Lutheran Church continue to observe a holiday that involves so much superstition? The answer is that we have reinterpreted the significance of the holiday. No longer do we view it as a “catch all” for saints not listed on our calendar. Nor do we regard it as a special observance of those who are not in purgatory—we don’t believe in purgatory, because it has no foundation in Scripture. Nor do we take it as a time to earn indulgences by venerating the relics of the saints. No, we observe all saints by remembering the biblical use of the term “saint” as referring to everyone, living and dead, who by faith in Jesus Christ is holy (the word “saint” most simply means “holy”).

When we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we do so with the joyous understanding that we are still members of the Communion of Saints, the Holy Christian Church. When we receive the Lord’s Supper on this day, we are entering into fellowship with all the saints who feast on Christ by faith, including those who have departed this life. All Saints’ Day for us is a time to reflect on the heavenly reality that all Christians who have departed this life in the faith are now in paradise with their Savior, and that we are destined to join them if we continue in that faith.

God grant us all a blessed observance of All Saints’ Day, wiping away ever tear from our eyes, not through the deception of vain superstitions, but through the pure consolation of His sure Word. Amen.

Pastor Neuendorf

October 2016

Some Principles of Christian Outreach

Our Outreach Committee has recently begun planning in earnest for activities geared toward getting the message of our congregation out into the community in which God has placed us. I am very pleased about these efforts, and I pray God that they may bear much fruit in keeping with His good and gracious will. One of those efforts which you will be hearing a lot about in the coming weeks is the Neighborhood Giveaway. I am particularly enthusiastic about this effort because I believe it embodies some of the chief principles of Christian outreach: it is local, it is not self-interested, and it is unconditional.

Christian outreach is local. Of course, every congregation is called to be involved in foreign mission work as much as they are able. Every one of us owes our Christian faith—and thus our portion in eternal life—to some congregation’s foreign mission work, beginning with that of the church in Antioch, which sent St. Paul to Asia Minor and Europe. But every congregation is also called to minister to the needs of those among whom God has placed them. St. Paul urges the Galatian congregations to “do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). But that “especially” does not negate the “all men.” Service to the poor, both within and without the Christian congregation, is perhaps the single most basic and oft-admonished good work that characterizes our faith as truly living and active, and not a dead faith of mere words. I praise God that we are seizing opportunities to be of service to those who are right here among us and in need of a helping hand.

Christian outreach is not self-interested. We do not preach the Gospel and provide for bodily needs that our congregation may grow, that we may prosper, or that our budget may increase. We preach the Gospel and provide for bodily needs because God commands it and our neighbors need it. The giveaway that we are planning is not a fundraiser with the object of making money off customers, nor is it a recruitment tool through which we hope to expand our membership. It is an opportunity for service. Our object is to benefit others, not ourselves. And here is an interesting paradox: if we engage in outreach with the purpose of getting people into our congregation, our outreach will be less effective because those we reach will be able to tell that we are expecting something from them and they are being “sold to.” But if we engage in outreach with the purpose of benefiting the bodies and, yes, the souls of our neighbors, they will be able to tell that we have only their best interests at heart, and they will therefore be more likely to want to explore the possibility of membership at our congregation! Remember, the giveaway we are planning is not bait intended to lure people in. It is service from beginning to end. Only when it is and remains pure service will it also be effective outreach.

Christian outreach is unconditional. Our giveaway will benefit any who come to us for help. We will not ask whether they are Christians. We will not require attendance at a certain number of church services. We will not require that they hear a message first. We will simply be generous to them. To be sure, we will provide them with materials that make clear who we are and why we do what we do. They will know that our generosity stems from the new life that we have been given in Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us. But as Christ loved and served us before we could possibly love and serve Him, so we will love and serve our neighbors whether they reciprocate or not. This is love—no strings attached!

May God prosper our efforts as He pleases, for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ! Amen.

Pastor Neuendorf

September 2016

How Do We Know God?

Saving faith is much more than believing that God exists. Saving faith means trusting in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Sacrifice for the sin of the world, whose blood reconciles you to God through the forgiveness of sins. But such saving faith is impossible without believing that God exists in the first place.

How do we know that God exists? There are a number of proofs that can demonstrate God’s existence logically. One is the argument from causality. Everything is caused by something else in one way or another. I was caused by my parents, who were caused by their parents, and so on down the line. But eventually that chain of causes has to stop somewhere. It can’t just keep extending farther and farther back into an ever more remote past. There has to be something that has caused everything else, something that itself has no cause—an uncaused cause. That uncaused cause is what we call God.

Of course, just knowing that God caused everything doesn’t tell us much about Him. There are other helpful arguments that can get us a little farther. One is the argument from design. If you were to find a watch on the seashore, would it be more logical to imagine that the functioning timepiece was assembled spontaneously by the motion of the waves sweeping debris together, or that some intelligent person designed and built that watch? There are magnificent designs throughout the universe. In fact, theoretical physicists tell us that the very fabric of the universe itself is an astonishingly intricate and precise design by some intelligence. That intelligence, the force behind such structures as the eye, the cell, and even reality itself, is what we call God.

We can also know a lot about God’s character. Every one of us has a conscience, which testifies to us about what’s right and what’s wrong. We all know that we are answerable to someone for our actions. We are all burdened with a sense of guilt where we have erred, and we are all desperate to show ourselves to be in the right. That sense of goodness we can trace back to God, who gave us our consciences and wrote His law in our hearts. The righteous and good source of all righteousness and goodness, the architect of the conscience, is what we call God.

And yet, as we lie dying in our beds, the thought that God is the Uncaused Cause, the Intelligent Designer, the Author of the Law, is but cold comfort. It may be easy to convince our intellects of God’s existence, but our hearts take rather more work. What comforts us in times of trial is not clever arguments, but an actual, direct, and personal knowledge of God.

How do we know God directly and personally? Through His Word and through prayer. When we hear and learn God’s Word, we are entering into an encounter with the Living God. We hear His voice and know who is speaking. When we come to Him in prayer, we call upon Him who made us and the world in which we live, who has a claim upon us as our Maker and Redeemer. We come to know God as we know a friend or a family member, as someone real whose existence we can take for granted.

It is therefore important that we take the time now, when we have the chance, to get to know God. Read His Scriptures regularly. Gather every week, if possible, with your fellow saints to hear God’s Word in the public assembly of the congregation. Pray at least every morning and every evening. Through your regular encounter with the Living God, when it comes time to pass through the valley of the shadow of death, you will do so not with an intellectual concept, but with a familiar Friend.

In Christ's Love,

Pastor Neuendorf

July 2016

Closed Communion: How Do We Practice It When We Travel?

We all know that as a congregation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Holy Cross follows the historical and biblical practice of closed Communion. I administer the Lord’s Supper only to those who are publicly united with us in our confession of faith and who repent of their sins. This leads, of course, to some awkward moments, and it can be difficult to explain our practice to other faithful Christians who are unable to commune at our altar, but Jesus never promised us that faithfulness to Him would be easy!

But what about when we ourselves are in attendance at other congregations? Closed Communion works both ways. Not only do we administer the Lord’s Supper only to those who are in public agreement with our confession of faith, but we also do not approach the altars of churches outside our fellowship. To do so would be to engage in a false expression of unity when in fact disunity prevails, and to unite ourselves with false doctrine. If I, for example, commune in a congregation of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), that means that I am expressing my own agreement with the false teachings of their church, such as women’s ordination, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage.

What does that mean for us in practice? It means a couple of things. First of all, and most obviously, when we are traveling, or when we are visiting the churches of our friends and family members who are not within our fellowship, we are not to approach the altar for the Lord’s Supper. This doesn’t have to be done offensively. There’s no need to make a scene. We just remain quietly in the pews throughout the distribution of Holy Communion, and if we are in a church where the Supper is distributed directly to the pews, we simply pass the bread and wine along without partaking. If someone has questions about your decision to decline to receive the Lord’s Supper with them, offer to talk about it after the service. You can even refer them to me. Feel free to share my contact information with anyone who asks you about your practice of closed Communion.

Our practice of closed Communion also means that we will show courtesy to other congregations and pastors within our fellowship. When you are visiting a Missouri Synod congregation, make sure that the pastor knows who you are well before the service begins. Take a moment to introduce yourself, and make sure you include the following information: that you are a member in good standing of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa, a congregation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Only approach the altar if the pastor invites you to do so. If for some reason you are unable to speak to the pastor beforehand, for the sake of his conscience do not approach the altar that morning. Ideally, however, you can approach the altar with his knowledge and permission. What a beautiful expression of unity within our fellowship for faithful members of sister congregations to be able publicly to commune together!

If you cannot commune for any reason, remember that you can still benefit from reflecting upon what it is that is given at a Christian altar, and why. Remember that Jesus’ body and blood were offered up on the cross as a sacrifice for your sins, and that there are distributed to us for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. Such an exercise of faith is possible whether we commune or not, and leads to great blessedness.

Closed Communion is difficult to practice, both as a pastor and as a layman. But by following those brief guidelines, we can make it easier for everyone concerned, while also maintaining faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. As always, let us continue to pray for the visible unity of all Christendom in the true confession of the faith on every point, so that we may all commune together. And let us take heart in the knowledge that in the life to come, all error will fall away and we will all be in perfect unity.

In His love,

Pastor Neuendorf

June 2016

Should Forgiveness Be Conditional?

We in the Lutheran Church delight in the free forgiveness of sins. You might even say that our emphasis on the free forgiveness of sins is what, more than anything else, actually makes us Lutherans. In fact, the chief reason that we continually gather as a congregation, week after week, is to hear and receive that forgiveness, which, because it eternally unites us with our God in Christ, is more precious to us than life itself.

But whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are reminded that God expects us, too, to forgive as He has forgiven us: “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Does this mean that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiveness? Could we rightly say, “If we forgive others, then God will forgive us”? Surely not. God’s forgiveness does not come to us as a consequence of our forgiveness toward others. Jesus makes this clear in His parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23–35): the king forgave the servant’s debt first, before the servant could do anything good or bad to his fellow servants. So also God starts by forgiving us who are unworthy of forgiveness. In the parable, it was only after the forgiven servant imprisoned his fellow servant for failure to pay off a much smaller debt that the king rescinded his forgiveness. The lesson for us, as the parable concludes, is, “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). Rather than say that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiveness, we should rather say that God’s withdrawal of forgiveness is conditional upon our withdrawal of forgiveness from others. God forgives freely, without any merit or worthiness in us, but He holds our sins against us if we afterwards reject His mercy and impenitently treat others with cruelty as a result of our unbelief.

There is something else at play here, too: repentance. When the king in the parable first summons the servant to settle accounts, he doesn’t start by forgiving the debt. He starts by threatening the servant with slavery. Only after the threat of punishment does the servant prostrate himself before the king in repentance, and only after the servant repents does the king freely forgive him. So also God does not forgive those who do not repent, and His forgiveness comes only to those who, having been terror-struck by the punishments threatened in the law, beg God for forgiveness and throw themselves upon His mercy in Christ. Repentance is not a good work by which we merit God’s forgiveness. It is rather the means, the tool, by which we receive the forgiveness that Christ has won for the entire world—and it is a tool that must be wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, since no one can repent of his own power.

When others sin against us, we ought to do good to them, as God does good to the righteous and the unrighteous alike, rewarding good for evil, and we ought to be ready in our hearts to forgive them, as God is ready to forgive the entire world. But we need not worry that we are failing in our Christian duty when we withhold forgiveness from those who will not repent for the wrong they have done us. We do not hold grudges, and we do not allow anger and bitterness to consume us, but neither do we act as if no sin has been committed, no wrong perpetrated. The erasure of wrongs comes only when forgiveness has been granted through repentance.

This becomes especially clear when we consider the duty of pastors to forgive sins in Jesus’ name. Jesus did not simply command His disciples to forgive sins indiscriminately. Rather He said, “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). As Luther explains in the Catechism, pastors are to “retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent,” and “exclude manifest and impenitent sinners from the Christian congregation.”

That is why Missouri Synod pastors used to add the following words to the absolution at the beginning of the Sunday service: “I … announce the grace of God unto all of you who do heartily repent of your sins, believe in Jesus Christ, and sincerely and earnestly intend by the help of God the Holy Ghost henceforth to amend your sinful lives, and in the stead…” These words were translated from the German services inherited from the earliest Lutherans. They have since been omitted so as to reinforce the truth that God’s forgiveness is unconditional, but in an age when the only sin is “judging” others (i.e., acknowledging that sinful behavior is, well, sinful), it might be well to add them again. Forgiveness does not come to those who will not repent, since impenitence is simply a manifestation of unbelief. Nor do I as your pastor have the authority to forgive your sins if you intend to continue in a sinful life.

So in an ethical sense, God’s forgiveness truly is unconditional: He does not require good works as a condition of forgiveness. In an instrumental sense, however, God’s forgiveness comes to us through means, viz., through faith in His Son, which always expresses itself through repentance and through works of love toward the neighbor. God grant us repentance and faith by His Spirit, that we may forever rejoice in the free gift of forgiveness for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ!


Pastor Neuendorf



May 2016

The Filioque (What?!)

Last month, I shared with you some of the background of the thesis I’ve been working on for the STM degree at our Fort Wayne seminary. This month, I’d like to give you a glimpse into some of the interesting conclusions I’ve drawn as a result of my research. As it turns out, the filioque is a very important doctrine of the Lutheran Church, even if most of us have never heard of it (and believe it or not, most present-day Lutheran theologians and pastors have given very little thought to it!).

To sum up, the filioque is the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son together. That is to say, from all eternity the Holy Spirit has His origin from both the Father and the Son, and not from the Father alone. In John 15:26, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.” The word “proceeds” here doesn’t just mean that the Spirit comes from the Father into the world. It actually means that the Spirit originates in the Father. Another way that theologians will speak about this is to say that the Spirit is “breathed” by the Father (one meaning of the word “spirit” is “breath”). As human breath originates in the man who breathes, so the Holy Spirit originates in the Father who breathes Him forth. But the Father who breathes forth the Spirit is one God with His Son. This means that it is the Father and the Son together who as one God breathe forth the Spirit, eternally bringing Him into being.

It is important to keep this in mind when we think about the filioque. When all we say is that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son,” as we confess in the Nicene Creed, it’s easy to get the idea that the Father and the Son are to be seen as two different sources, as if each breathes on His own and their breath meets in a confluence that is the Holy Spirit. This, however, is not the teaching of the Lutheran Church. Rather, it is because “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as from the Father. He proceeds from them, not as from two distinct sources, but as from one God.

This is why the Scriptures can call the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of the Father” (Matt. 10:20), the “Spirit of His Son” (Gal. 4:6), and also the “Spirit of God” (Rom. 8:14). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of both the Father and the Son because He is the Spirit of God. These, by the way, are only representative verses. There are many more that could be referenced in each category!  It is also why the Scriptures speak of the Father sending the Son (John 20:21), and of the Father and the Son both sending the Spirit (John 14:26; John 15:26), but never of the Spirit sending the Son, and never of anyone sending the Father. What gives one divine person the authority to send another divine person? How can one person within the Godhead have authority over another? It’s not that the Father is greater in honor than the Son and the Spirit, or that the Father and the Son are greater in honor than the Spirit. No, they are all of equal honor and majesty, being all one God. What gives the Father authority to send the Son, and what gives the Father and the Son authority to send the Spirit, is their manner of origin, the ways in which they eternally come into being. The Father originates from no one, so He is under the authority of no one. The Son originates from the Father alone, so He is under the authority of the Father alone. The Spirit originates from the Father and the Son, so He is under the authority of the Father and the Son.


Finally, this relationship of origin and authority is why Jesus names the persons of the Trinity the way He does, commanding His Apostles to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Why did He not say, “In the name of the Son and of the Spirit and of the Father,” or some other order? Because there is a specific order within the Trinity, an order that is not due to honor or majesty or power or might, and can only therefore be due to origin. The Father originates from no one, so He is first; the Son originates from the Father alone, so He comes second; the Spirit originates from the Father and the Son, so He comes third. And yet together they are one God, sharing the one divine name.

It may be tempting to ask why any of this matters. What does it have to do with us? Well, the early Lutherans thought it mattered, and they were unwilling to compromise with the Greek Orthodox Church on this teaching. They thought it mattered because without distinguishing the persons of the Trinity in terms of origin, we would be forced to distinguish them in some other way, which would threaten their perfect equality within the Godhead. They thought it mattered because to deny that the Father shares with the Son the breathing forth of the Spirit is to suggest that the Father can do things without the Son, which threatens Jesus’ teaching that “I and the Father are one.” They thought it mattered simply because they found it to be taught in Holy Scripture, and whatever the Scriptures teach is important for us to learn. And they thought it mattered because it concerns the nature of God.

This last point is worthy of our special consideration. What could possibly be more important to us than our God? What could possibly matter more to us than the God who created, redeemed, and sanctified us? Contemplation of divine mysteries such as this may be difficult, but there is great blessing in recognizing that such contemplation soars far above the things of this world. Paradoxically, by having absolutely nothing to do with the frivolities of this earthly life, contemplation of the Holy Trinity is the most relevant thing imaginable to every one of us.

Never tire of studying God as He has revealed Himself to you in His Word. Never weary of contemplating His divine essence, nor of adoring the three Persons who desire above all else your salvation from sin and death and your eternal communion with God. After all, once we enter into the blessed life to come, the contemplation of God will still be an inexhaustible font of joy and gladness. Reflecting on the mystery of the Holy Trinity is to taste of heaven.

In Christ's Love,

Pastor Neuendorf

April 2016

A Theological Oddity

For the past five years, I’ve been working off and on to complete my thesis, required for the STM (Master of Sacred Theology) degree at our Fort Wayne seminary. You may remember that Holy Cross graciously allowed me to delay my ordination and installation back in 2011 so that I could complete my thesis first. Unfortunately, I only got it about half done. Since then, I’ve worked on it as I’ve been able—which hasn’t been much. Now it’s due mid-April if I am to graduate from the STM program, so with the end of Holy Week I’ve been trying to play catch-up. I thought it might be worthwhile to give my congregation a brief glimpse into what I’ve been writing about.

When I started my thesis, I was working on one theologian’s approach to the teaching on the Holy Spirit in general. That was largely because I was fortunate enough to be in possession of that theologian’s chief writings on the Spirit in the original Latin. Since then, however, I’ve found that there’s a wide range of sixteenth and seventeenth-century sources available as scans from German libraries. That has allowed me to broaden the sources I’ve consulted and narrow my doctrinal focus to one question regarding the Holy Spirit: the filioque.

If you’ve never heard of the filioque before, that’s quite understandable (though I’d be very impressed if you have!). It’s a Latin word that comes from our version of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit … who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Those words “and the Son” (filioque in Latin) were not originally a part of the creed. They were added by Latin-speakers in the sixth century in order to safeguard the divinity of Jesus, since there were those at that time who claimed that since the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, the Son must be less than fully God. If the Spirit proceeds from the Son, that is, if He eternally derives His existence from the Son, then the Son must be fully God.

The Greek Church, however, took offense at the addition of the filioque. Over the course of several centuries, a serious controversy developed over whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or from the Father alone. The controversy finally led to the ongoing split between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Since the Lutheran Church comes from the Roman Catholic Church, we have inherited the filioque from them.

When I first left the Orthodox Church to become a Lutheran, my biggest difficulty was saying the filioque in the Creed. It bothered my conscience so much that for a while I just didn’t say it. But eventually I came to the conclusion that when Lutherans say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, we’re not talking about His eternal procession, but about His being sent in time. That soothed my conscience until well into seminary.

One day, however, as I discussed this with my vicarage supervisor, he urged me to reread our dogmatics textbook on this question. I did, and what I found stunned me: the Lutheran Church has always believed, taught, and confessed that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, deriving His divine essence from both. I had to study that further.

Next month I plan to give you a further glimpse into some of the conclusions I’ve drawn as I’ve researched the filioque in the Lutheran tradition.

In Christ's Love,

Pastor Neuendo

March 2016

Contending for the Faith

The Lutheran Church has always confessed that saving faith in Jesus Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes to us only by the grace of God. In fact, all three persons of the Godhead are cited in the Scriptures as having the initiative in our salvation. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him" (Matthew 11:27). "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Our salvation, and thus our faith in Christ, is entirely in God's hands. 

But does that mean that we ought to sit back and let God do His work of salvation without being involved at all? Well, when it comes to our own salvation, we ought not to "resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51), but as St. Paul tells us, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12–13). God's work toward us, and our God-wrought response to His work, go hand in hand. He is responsible for it, but He doesn't save us without actually engaging our own wills. 

That informs how we relate to others as well. We are not to remain inactive and expect God to convert people out of nowhere. Rather, St. Peter tells us to "be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). That "defense" of which St. Peter speaks is what we call "apologetics," which really just means arguing for what we believe, or contending for the faith. 

Apologetics doesn't create faith. Rather it tears down intellectual barriers to the proclamation of the Gospel. For example, someone who believes that life evolved from nothing over billions of years would be unable to believe what the Scriptures say about the creation of the world (a creation that Jesus affirms; Matthew 19:4), and would therefore also have a difficult time believing what the Scriptures say about Jesus and our forgiveness through faith in Him. By engaging in the apologetic task of poking holes in the theory of evolution, and showing how the scriptural account can be reconciled with nature as we observe it, we serve as God's instruments in paving the way to a blessed hearing of the Gospel. And by presenting the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, we can remove those intellectual arguments by which the devil keeps his subjects bound in unbelief. 

In fact, the very idea that we can argue for the resurrection of Jesus based on actual evidence gets at the heart of a major gulf that separates Christianity from some other religions. For instance, in Islam, adherents are expected to believe that Muhammad received private revelations from the angel Gabriel, though there were no other witnesses. And in Mormonism, adherents are expected to take it on blind faith that Joseph Smith used supernatural spectacles to translate text written in a language recorded nowhere else in the world on golden tablets that were then taken into heaven with no one else ever seeing them. In contrast to these made up religions, in Christianity we have a Savior who "appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time" (1 Corinthians 15:6), and we receive the testimony, not of one man, but of the whole company of the disciples. 

Again, you can't argue someone to faith in Christ. But God uses your bold confession to wrest control of hearts from Satan and make straight the path before His Son. And when it comes time for our final battle against the flesh in our departure from this life, we can set aside intellectual arguments and rest in the Spirit's proclamation of the Word in our hearts, as He "bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16). Only that blessed argument of the Spirit of God will finally bring us eternally into His presence. In the meantime, God grant us boldness in proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light!


Pastor Neuendorf

February 2016

The Prayer of a Christian Wife

Last month I shared the prayer of a husband from a prayer book published early in the twentieth century by Concordia Publishing House. Now I would like to share with you that prayer’s counterpart, the prayer of a wife. For all its beauty, this prayer might appear offensive to those formed by today’s heathen society, which acknowledges none of the distinctions that God has built into the relationship between men and women, husbands and wives. A Christian, however, who is formed by the Word of God and who loves the Law of the Lord according to the inward man, will recognize in this prayer a true godly spirit of submission to God’s will and peace in His promises:

O BENIGNANT GOD and faithful Father, since Thou in grace hast   called me to domestic duties in holy wedlock, a state in which I can also serve and please Thee, O my God—give grace unto me, Thy servant, that I may constantly keep Thy fear before mine eyes, also love and trust in Thee, my Creator and Redeemer, above all things; but in second place fear, honor, and love my husband, not coveting any other. Do Thou grant that according to Thy decree my will be subject to that of my husband, yielding to him with all readiness, and that my heart be ever graced with that mild, peaceful spirit and those manifold virtues shown by the holy women of ancient days, who placed their hope in God and were subject to their husbands. Grant to me, Thine handmaid, a chaste and proper walk in fear and humility, so that I may, with kind and modest words and in a gentle spirit of piety, prevent or allay any wrath or ill humor of my husband, ever treating him with gentleness and forbearance. May I rear my children and domestics in a mild spirit to the praise and glory of Thy holy name, and may they readily follow my guidance to what is noble and good. Grant, furthermore, that I may be a true helpmeet to my husband, being careful and not wasteful with the substance Thou hast graciously given us. Also grant that I work and exert myself, that I "have to give to him that needeth," and may extend my hand in charity to the poor. Preserve us from dishonest laborers and evil-minded domestics, who would diminish or waste our property. Also bestow grace, I pray Thee, for a patient bearing of my cross, so that I do not grow timid and dismayed at prospects of a trial, inasmuch as by trials and adversities our faith is proved. O Lord God, into Thine almighty hand I commit myself, my dear husband, all my children and domestics; preserve us, I pray Thee, from sin, shame, and all ills, through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

The first assumption in this prayer that might shock modern heathen sensibilities is that the wife is to show her husband fear, honor, and love, “in second place” after the fear, love, and trust reserved for God alone. Shocking as this may be to our unbelieving friends and neighbors, this is a scriptural way of speaking. St. Peter holds up the example of Sarah, who “obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Peter 3:6), and St. Paul writes that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). As Christ is to the husband, so is the husband to his wife! How can this be? Are Sts. Peter and Paul, and the wife in this prayer, advocating idolatry? No more so than when God commands children in the Fourth Commandment to honor their parents. All honor belongs to God alone, but because God has placed our parents and rulers in authority over us, we honor God by honoring them, for they rule in God’s stead and by His command. Likewise God has placed husbands in authority over their wives, and wives by honoring their husbands show honor to God. Blessed is the wife who can pray with the wife in this prayer: “Give grace unto me, Thy servant, that I may … in second place fear, honor, and love my husband.”

Another shocking element in this prayer is the wife’s request that God would help her to “prevent or allay any wrath or ill humor of my husband, ever treating him with gentleness and forbearance.” Is it really the wife’s responsibility to keep her husband from getting angry? Our heathen society teaches us that if a husband is wrathful and unpleasant, his wife should leave him for the sake of her own happiness. But we Christians are called to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21) and to bear all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Yes, even if it appears unreasonable, a Christian wife will do what she can to keep from angering her husband, even as husbands are called to be gentle toward their wives: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). God will surely hold to terrible account husbands who are abusive toward their wives in word or deed, but Christian wives will not unnecessarily egg on their husbands and tempt them to wrath.

It is good to remember, however, that though man and wife stand in a relationship of authority and submission as long as their earthly marriage endures, nevertheless before God they stand on equal footing. As St. Paul writes, “There is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Thus the wife in this prayer asks, as did the husband in the prayer that I shared last month, for patience under the cross. Man and wife alike are called to bear their crosses, and both are called to remain faithful to God and to one another even in the midst of the fiery trial. Both are sustained on the Word of God, and both will inherit the crown of everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ. As St. Peter writes to Christian husbands about their wives, “they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).

God grant that we all live as we are called, according to His holy Word, purging out the old leaven of this world’s rebellion and rejoicing in the vocations in which He has placed us, looking forward with joy to our final calling in the life to come.


Pastor Neuendorf

January 2016

Christian Prayers: The Godly Husband

I recently came across an old Lutheran prayer book, published by Concordia Publishing House in the 1920s. I was struck by the beauty and godly spirit of the prayers contained in this tiny volume, so much so that I would like to share some of these prayers with my congregation.

First, though, a word about the use of prayer books like this. Some prayers are intended to be memorized and prayed word for word.

These would include the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s morning and evening prayers, and the blessing before and after a meal. There are, however, much longer and more in-depth prayers intended to give us a feel for how to pray rather than to serve word for word as our own prayers. My recommendation would be to start by praying these prayers as you read them. After praying through them a few times, as the ideas and phrases sink in, you will begin to feel comfortable praying them from your heart, adapting the words and ideas to your own circumstances.

The first prayer that I will share is intended for husbands:

ALMIGHTY, Beneficent God, Thou hast Thyself instituted holy wedlock, and hast, by means of the first miracle of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, honored and distinguished it as a state pleasing to Thee, in which also many sainted fathers and prophets lived a godly life, well-pleasing to Thee. And since by Thy guidance I have entered holy matrimony, and Thou hast ordained me to be the head of a household and dost take especial delight in the following of three things: that brethren dwell together in unity, that neighbors love one another, and that husband and wife serve each other in love, I now pray Thee, from the inmost of my heart grant that I, in Christian love, harmony, and consideration live with my wife as the weaker vessel, that I accord to her the honor due her as co-heir to the grace of life eternal, that

I incline her, together with our children and domestics to a knowledge of Thee and Thine honor, doing all this in chastity and propriety. To this end do Thou bestow grace, that the members of my household follow my guidance when I direct them to what is good and godly. Prevent the evil one from introducing discord and contention, and if, through weakness of the flesh, the spirit of discord get the upper hand, grant that harmony be speedily restored. Graciously grant that I may never covet a strange spouse or woman, nor look upon her to lust after her. If it is Thy divine will, keep sickness from me and my family. And grant to me, Thine humble servant, that I be diligent in my calling, eat my bread in the sweat of my brow, and do not grow disheartened over stress of work, for Thou hast so ordained it. And bestow Thy blessing upon my substance, that it may increase without damage or loss to others. Favor me with pious servants and faithful laborers. Preserve from harm my house and my home and all Thou hast given me. Also help me patiently to bear my cross, and after this life gather us and all Christians in Thy kingdom above. Amen.

Note some of the themes found in this prayer. A godly husband asks God for a harmonious household, free of discord and strife. He prays that God would grant him chastity and decency, that the marriage bed may be kept pure. He prays for the gift of leadership, that he may serve faithfully and well as the head of his wife and of his household. He prays for the eternal salvation of all those under His care. Finally, he prays for the temporal blessings of the health and prosperity of his household, and for patience should it be God’s will to withhold those blessings for a time. We husbands would do well to incorporate these themes into our own prayers.

Next month I will share a prayer for wives. God bless the households of Holy Cross, keeping us steadfast in his Word and faith unto our end!


Pastor Neuendorf

December 2015

Church Attendance and the Christian Life

Part IV: The Holy Sacraments

So far we have learned how God requires church attendance according to the Third Commandment; how Jesus founded not an individual reading plan but a Church, that is, a community of believers who actually gather together; and how every Christian is placed under the care of a pastor who will be answerable for his soul at the Final Judgment. This month, we’ll end our series on Church Attendance and the Christian Life with a look at something you can get in church and nowhere else: the holy sacraments.

The single most important thing to every Christian in this life is the Word of God, for it is God’s Word alone that shall endure forever (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25), even as the rest of the world gives way, and it is in God’s Word that we find eternal life through the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus’ sake. God’s Word is communicated to us chiefly through writing, that is, through the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, and through faithful preaching, which takes the message of the Scriptures and applies it directly to us. The Scriptures we can read by ourselves, and preaching we can hear on the radio or online. But the Word of God is also communicated to us through the visible means of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

One thing about Baptism and Communion is that we cannot administer them to ourselves. To be baptized, we require someone else to pour water over us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And to commune in the body and blood of Jesus, we require a pastor to consecrate bread and wine using the words left to us in Jesus’ last will and testament, the Words of Institution (“Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread…”). Through Holy Baptism we are reborn of water and the Spirit and thus receive the forgiveness of sins. Through Holy Communion we receive the forgiveness of sins and with it life and salvation. These are undeniably important things in the life of a Christian, and one who willfully neglects these sacraments is no Christian at all. And to receive these sacraments, we need to gather where they are administered: with our Christian brethren in church!

Of course, some of our members are physically unable to join us in church. In such cases I bring Holy Communion to them at their own residences. But far from suggesting that church attendance is unnecessary, this only goes to show how critically important are the things that we can only receive when we gather with fellow Christians. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that those under my care can regularly receive the sacraments that Christ has instituted. In the vast majority of cases, that means the public preaching and administration of the sacraments that takes place in our regular gatherings, that is, in church.

If you have strayed from the gathering of saints at Holy Cross; if you have particular hang-ups that keep you from our weekly assemblies; if you have simply fallen out of the habit of getting up on Sunday mornings (or coming on Saturday evenings!) to worship the God who loved you, redeemed you, and sanctified you for eternal life—please consider this your wakeup call. When I call to encourage you to join us in church, please pick up the phone, reply to your messages, and do what you can to get back into a pattern of regular church attendance. Don’t worry about how our faithful members will respond when they see you again after a long absence. If their excitement at seeing you fills you with embarrassment and self-consciousness, don’t let that get in the way of your reception of God’s blessings in Christ. If you’re expecting them to show more excitement than they do, don’t let your hurt feelings keep you from receiving the precious gifts that Christ has prepared for you. What a tragedy for someone to be condemned on the Last Day because he didn’t like the attitude of a fellow Christian one Sunday morning and so renounced the Word of God! It may take some time to adjust to getting back into church, but the rewards are of such surpassing worth that we would die for them a thousand times. Surely we can come to church once a week. I hope to see many of our straying sheep back among us in the weeks to come. I am praying steadfastly for that very thing, and I ask all of our faithful members to pray for the same. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Yours in Jesus Christ our Lord,

Pastor Neuendorf

November 2015

Church Attendance and the Christian Life
Part III: The Necessity of Pastoral Care

For the last two months, we've been learning about how very necessary church attendance is for the Christian life. We've learned that God commands church attendance in the Third Commandment, and that not coming to church is a sin for which repentance is required. We've learned that Jesus instituted His Church as a household of brothers and sisters in Christ, who gather together to hear and learn His Word, and to encourage and be encouraged by one another. This month, we'll learn about another necessary component of church attendance: pastoral care.

Do you have a pastor? Of course, if you're a member of Holy Cross, I am your pastor. But have you seen me lately? Have you been spiritually fed by the Word of God that He has entrusted me to preach for your benefit? Have you received from me the blessed Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood in Holy Communion? If not, you might well wonder if you really have a pastor at all.

Having a pastor is not optional for Christians. St. Paul writes that our ascended Lord gave "pastors and teachers" as gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8, 11), that is, to His Church. What does it say about our devotion to our Lord if we despise the gift that He has given us and never come to see and hear our pastor? St. Paul also said to the pastors of the congregation in Ephesus, "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" (Acts 20:28). If we are not under the regular care of a man whom God has made an overseer over us, can we really say that we are a part of "the Church of God"? Furthermore, the same Apostle wrote to the Thessalonians, commanding them "to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Staying home rather than taking the time and trouble to hear your pastor's sermon and participate in the service he is leading is the opposite of respecting and highly esteeming him whom God has placed over you in the Lord.

There's something else at play, too, when it comes to the necessity of the pastoral office for Christians, something that I as a pastor find very sobering and humbling. The Scriptures resoundingly proclaim that pastors are responsible for their people, so much so that they will have to give an account for the souls under their charge. St. James write, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). God warns the Prophet Ezekiel, "If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give an account" (Hebrews 13:17). If you are a Christian, that means that of necessity there is a man whom God has made responsible for your soul. Can you identify such a man in your own life? If not, you are most assuredly not a Christian. If you are a member of Holy Cross and are reading this newsletter right now, your soul has been entrusted to my care, and I will have to give an account before the judgment seat of Christ if you should perish in your sins. If I fail to warn you against your sins, and if I fail to admonish you to repent and believe the Gospel, then God will hold me responsible for your damnation. I believe, though, that I have thus far faithfully discharged my office, and can say with St. Paul, "I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27). I nevertheless pray that all those among us who have drifted away may come finally to repentance and inherit eternal life.

As you can see, having a pastor responsible for your spiritual care is a necessary part of being a Christian. Who would you say is responsible for your soul? Can you identify the man who will have to answer for your soul at the final judgment? If not, you are outside the Church of God, without the hope of salvation. But praise God, you have been given a pastor, and you need only come to him to receive the free forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake. For those who stubbornly stay away from church, there is only stern judgment and no forgiveness, but for those who return, there is nothing but grace, mercy, forgiveness, and rejoicing in heaven and in the Church of God.

Next month, we'll conclude our series on church attendance and the Christian life by considering something you can get at church and nowhere else: the Holy Sacraments.
Yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Pastor Neuendorf