Sunday, February 28, 2010

Congrats, Team Canada

I began playing hockey at the age of 4 and continued to play until I was almost 30.  I'd still play today if I wasn't so out of shape.  I love the game.  There is nothing like it.  But, one thing I learned very early on about hockey is that the team that plays the best on any given day doesn't always win.  I suppose that's true in most sports, but there seems to be an added element to it with hockey.  I've watched the Red Wings completely demolish their opponents only to lose on many occasions.  That's hockey.  And, I saw a little bit of that play out today in the gold medal game between the Americans and Canadians.

The Canadians came into this tournament with the best team on paper - by far.  But, they weren't the best team in the tournament.  The Americans were.  And, even today, as the two teams battled for the big prize, the Americans were better.  But, they lost.  That's hockey.

I don't say that as a bitter fan whose team lost the game.  And, I certainly don't want to belittle the Canadian squad.  They played well.  For spurts during the game, they were better.  They were opportunistic, capitalizing on a couple of American mishaps to get out to a 2-0 lead.  But, the Americans took it to them for the majority of the game, and I was very impressed with that.  They have no reason to hang their heads.  They outplayed a team much better on paper.  They looked a lot hungrier and seemed to want it much more.  But, they lost.  That's hockey.   

I was really quite stunned at how the Canadians played the third period.  After coming out flying for the first five minutes, hitting the post on a couple of occasions, they fell back and played "not to lose" for the remainder of the period.  While I was thrilled to see this as an American fan, I was disappointed to see it as a hockey fan in general.  When you have the most talented team in the world and you're playing for the gold medal in front of your home fans with a lead, you go for the kill.  I'm not saying that you completely open things up.  Play smart.  Be responsible.  But, don't resort to the boring, trap-style, defensive game of the old, boring Florida Panthers.  It's just depressing to see a bunch of all-stars playing like they're from Germany - dumping the puck, sending one man in, and falling back to wait at their blue line.  I would have thought they would have learned their lesson against the Slovakians, but they didn't.  They made the same mistake, only this time it cost them.  It should have cost them a lot earlier than it did.  They were fortunate that the Americans were not able to tie things up until 24 seconds left.  What was Babcock and company thinking, anyway?  Just stupid.

But, they survived and lived to play for overtime, where the Canadians were definitely the better team.  Of course, this had a lot to do with the ridiculously stupid format of playing 4-on-4 for 20 minutes.  When you have the more talented team, you're going to have a much bigger edge in this format than in 5-on-5.  And, that showed in this game.  The Americans hung for as long as they could.  But, they were outmatched in this format and unable to muster much pressure at all.  4-on-4 is fine for a 5-minute overtime, as in the NHL.  It's even okay, though not preferable, for 10-minute overtimes in the earlier rounds of International tournaments like this one.  But, when you're playing for the gold medal?  Stupid.  Let the dang teams play.  In the NHL, when you reach the playoffs, the 4-on-4 and shootout formats are dropped, which is as it should be.  If you're better than the other team, then prove it by beating them while both teams are at full strength.  Play until someone scores and wins.  I detest this 4-on-4 and shootout nonsense in International play.  I have ever since they adopted it.

None of this is to say that the Americans would have won had they played real hockey in overtime, just that the game would have been decided by playing REAL hockey, with both teams at full strength.  And, anyone who knows hockey knew that the Canadians would have the edge going into overtime with this stupid format.  Hey, why not just play 3-on-3?  I'm sure some knucklehead in a suit who had to have his dad tie his hockey skates until he was a Bantam has already thought of that.  I swear, as much as I love the game, I'll stop watching it if they ever do that.  In fact, if they ever start playing 4-on-4 in playoff overtimes in the NHL, that will be it for me, too.  The NHL Competition Committee was actually just one vote away from changing the overtime playoff rules just last year.  The new rule would have resulted in the teams playing a 20-minute, 5-on-5 period to begin overtime, but then going to 4-on-4 if additional periods were needed to decide the game.  I'm glad it got voted down, but it wouldn't surprise me to see it get passed sometime in the near future.  And, if and when it does, as I said, I'll be done as a fan of the NHL.  There is nothing in all of sports that compares with the excitement of overtime hockey - stop messing with it in a silly attempt to "improve the game."

But, enough of that.  I don't want to sound like a sore loser, after all - oops, probably too late for that, huh? :)  Seriously, I am happy for the Canadians.  I'm glad Crosby scored the winner.  He is one of the best players in the game today and a lot of fun to watch.  And, I've always been a fan of Iginla, who paid the price to make the play and give "Sid the Kid" the opportunity to beat Miller for the win.  It was great to see the joy on Stevie Y's face, and, indeed, on the faces of all the Canadian fans, who love the great game of hockey and live and die with their team.  I'm happy for them all.  Heck, with my great love of hockey, I've always thought of myself as a Canadian at heart. :)  Of course, I would have much preferred for the Americans to beat them, since the only thing better than seeing the Canadians win is to see them lose to us. :)  And the Americans played well enough to beat them today.  But, it wasn't meant to be.  Oh well.  That's hockey - although not exactly REAL hockey, but, again, I digress! :)  What can I say?  I'm a purist.  Changing the rules for overtime to "add excitement" to the game is a bit like removing the altar to make room for the "praise band."  Far from adding excitement, it takes away from the purity of the game - on both counts, if you get my drift. :)

Oh, by the way:  Congrats, Team Canada! :)        

Saturday, February 27, 2010

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! - One More, Fellas!

So, it has happened.  It has played out as I hoped.  The Americans and Canadians will meet in the Gold Medal game tomorrow afternoon, a re-match of their earlier meeting in the prelims.  I have been very impressed with the play of our boys.  They played a great, smart, and responsible game against the Swiss in the quarterfinals, carrying the play throughout the game and allowing very few chances against them.  Miller was stellar in net again, turning aside the few opportunities the Swiss mustered, and the team skated itself to an impressive 2-0 shutout victory.  Then they met the Finns in the semifinals yesterday.  I really thought this was going to be a big test for the Americans, but it turned out to be, much to the surprise of just about everyone who follows hockey, a big blowout.  The game was over less than ten minutes into the first period, which saw our boys put up a six-spot and secure their place in the final.  What impressed me the most about that game, even more than the shocking 6 goal outburst in the first, was how the boys played the rest of the game.  They didn't score again, but they didn't sit back and let the Finns come at them, either.  They played solidly, continuing to carry the game and make smart decisions with the puck.  Miller was great again, turning away every puck that came his way.  The one goal which was allowed by the Americans came against backup goalie, Tim Thomas, who entered the game midway through the third, which was a smart move made by the coaching staff, giving Miller some rest and getting Thomas some playing time.  The goal was hardly Thomas' fault, as the shot deflected off his own defenseman to find its way into the net.  I'm really hopeful that the Americans will continue to play their game tomorrow against the Canadians.  If they do, they have a good chance of bringing home the gold. 

As for the Canadians, their road to the finals was much easier than I thought it would be.  They made easy work of the Germans in the qualifying round, besting them 8-2 (which was really no surprise).  But, their 7-3 victory over the Russians in the quarters shocked the hockey world, I think.  Not that beating the Russians was necessarily shocking, but to beat them in such a decisive fashion, was unexpected even among Canadians, if they're being honest.  Much like the Americans' victory over the Finns in the semis, this game was pretty much over in the first period.  Last night's semifinal game against Slovakia seemed like an easy skate to the final for the Canadians as well, until about 5 minutes left in the game.  They went into the third period with a commanding 3-0 lead, but the Slovaks managed to get a couple by Luongo, which gave them a huge energy-boost and made for an exciting finish.  They really took it to the Canadians for the last five minutes and had several opportunities to tie the game and send it into overtime, the greatest of which came with about ten seconds left when Pavel Demitra missed a wide open net, ringing the puck off of the crossbar.  I think the Canadians were guilty of sitting back in the third, which allowed the Slovaks to make the surge they did.  It was one of the most exciting finishes to a hockey game I've seen in a while.  And I could hear the collective sigh of relief from the whole nation of Canada from here in Michigan.  They were very fortunate to escape with a regulation victory last night, and they know it. 

So, it is set.  Team USA vs. Team Canada for all the marbles.  I can't wait to watch and see what happens.  Either team is capable of blowing out the other, especially if either goalie lays an egg.  I really hope that doesn't happen (well, I wouldn't mind it so much if the Americans did the blowing out), and I doubt that it will.  I'm looking for a well played game that will come down to whichever team is able to avoid crucial mistakes and to capitalize on the opportunities they're given.  If Miller continues his stellar play, I really like the Americans' chances.  We need to play our game, using our speed and physical play to create chances and convert them into goals.  If we can whether the storm of the first ten minutes of the game (since I'm sure the Canadians will come out flying) and keep it close, we'll have a chance.  Of course, who knows, maybe we'll come out and put up six goals in the first period again.  What?  It could happen.  And that would be super sweet, not to mention good for my blood pressure. :)  Whatever the case, I'm just happy that the two best teams, at least in this tournament, are playing for the gold.  They both deserve to be there and, win or lose, both teams (and their fans) should be proud of their performance in these Olympics.  Can't wait for the game! 

Special Mission Offering

Throughout Lent, our congregation is taking up a collection for a special mission offering to be sent to The Siberian Lutheran Mission Society.  We ordered "special offering banks" to be distributed to everyone in the congregation, so that they could fill them throughout Lent and bring them back on Easter.  When these "banks" arrived, I was a little shocked by how small they were.  I guess I should have paid more attention to the dimensions given (2" x 3").  But, they claim that each "bank" can hold up to $25 in change (I'm guessing they mean if you fill it with only quarters).  Anyway, we'll see how it goes.  I've made it known that people are most definitely allowed to put "folding money" (or personal checks) in the cans, too. :)  I really hope we raise a decent amount to send to this very important mission society.  Our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Christ in Russia need not only our prayerful, but also our financial, support.  I am pleased that we will be contributing to the cause of spreading the pure Gospel through them and, as I said, I hope we are able to raise a decent amount.  We'll see. 

Here's a pic of the "offering banks" we're using:

Authentic Mexican Dinner & Movie Night

Last night, our SALT (Evangelism) Committee hosted an Authentic Mexican Dinner, which was followed by Peace Movie Night.  The dinner was out-of-this-world DELICIOUS!  Special thanks to Miguel for putting together the menu and doing most of the cooking, and to Carolyn, Darren, Andrea, and Larry for all their help, which ranged from purchasing some of the ingredients, setting everything up, assisting Miguel with the cooking, serving those who attended, and doing the most thankless job of all - cleaning up.  Thanks also to the members of our Youth Group who were there to assist with serving and clean-up, and to Vern and Mary for lending a very helpful hand in the clean-up activities as well.  The event was a huge success, and I say that without having the first clue whether or not we raised more money than we spent in holding the event.  I hope we did, since this was put together to be a fundraiser for SALT, but even if we didn't, it was a success in that it afforded many of our members, and a few guests, the opportunity to enjoy some wonderful fellowship around the delicious meal provided.  I'm quite certain that a good time was had by all who attended.  And, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people there, given the weather which made for nasty road conditions and surely kept some people away.  Here are some pics of the event (taken by my iphone, so please bear with the poor quality of some):

   Miguel serving up his beans and rice (Andrea and Darren helping in the background)

Carolyn (SALT Chairperson and Mastermind of the event)

Lining up to get the goods!

"I told you we have a set menu, Pastor.  There are no steak fajitas!"

Dorothy is happily awaiting her Mexican meal

Topping the tacos and tostadas

My wife saying a silent prayer that there will be Mexican food in heaven (my son, Aaron, wondering what's wrong with his mother) - :)

Enjoying the Feast!

Preggers Meggers and Chris responding to the question, "How much do you love your pastor?"  'Nuff said! :)  

A happy pastor and wife!

After the dinner, 12 of us stayed for Peace Movie Night and watched the movie, "Surrogates," starring Bruce Willis.  One of the reasons I chose this movie was the review I read here at Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.  After watching the movie, which I thought was decent, I think that review stretches things a bit regarding the "Christian elements" in the film.  Toward the end of the review, we read:
Remarkably, the movie manages to incorporate all these disparate themes--sin, crucifixion, atonement, Satan, false prophets, death, resurrection—without beating the viewer over the head with the obvious Christian message underlying those elements. One has to pay careful attention to catch the symbolism of events and archetypal characters.
Maybe I didn't pay careful attention enough, but I didn't see an "obvious Christian message" portrayed in the film, and I think whoever wrote the review gives this film's makers far too much credit and is guilty of forcing the Christian elements he/she sees into the film.  I mean, I can understand the points being made; I just think they're stretched and forced.  But, it was a decent and entertaining flick.  And, I was actually quite pleased that the content was as mild as advertised.  You never know these days what you're going to get in a PG-13 rated film.  Most of them would have been rated R when I was growing up.  But, this one was actually rated well.  Very little in the way of sexual inuendo, no "F-bombs" were dropped, and the violence wasn't overly done.  With the exception of the one scene in which Bruce Willis' character makes a crass statement to a lawyer about male genitalia, which the movie could have definitely done without (why do they have to get that one scene in there, anyway?!), it was as mild as PG-13 movies come these days.

I do think there is some truth to this part of the review:
The movie seems to be saying that, in this day of computer networking (e.g. Facebook and Twitter), people are interfacing through virtual identities and not in person. In virtual reality, everyone is perfect; no one is old or fat or ugly or handicapped. The beauty of variation is sacrificed for the beauty of uniformity. This dependency has made people afraid of imperfection and real social interaction. All judgments are made on the superficial basis of appearance.
While "social networking" can be a blessing, it can also be a curse (much like anything else in this dead and dying world), and I believe it is having a profound effect on our youth, the results of which we may not fully realize for a while.  We have created a superficial world in which a great many (not just youth) spend the majority of their time, and this simply has to play a role in how they view, and live out their lives, in the real world.  Only time will tell how severely this impacts our society as a whole, but there are surely indicators that it has already had some pretty significant impact.

Anyway, I was glad for the time spent with my brothers and sisters in Christ last night, both during dinner and watching and discussing the movie.  It was a really good time.  And, I concur with those who suggested that Miguel cook for us every Friday night, even though, for some odd reason, he didn't think that was such a keen idea. :)

Here's a pic of "Surrogates" playing on our big screen (I am really digging our new set up - the big screen and excellent sound system really does provide for as close to a genuine movie theater experience as one could have - thanks again to Larry and to our gracious donors for making this a reality!):

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olbermann "Savagely" Butchers the Bible

Here is a video which captures the remarkably ignorant and blatantly biased way in which the homosexual agenda is being advanced by the leftist media today. If Keith Olbermann was really serious about understanding the Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality, he certainly would not turn to the sick, twisted, and downright perverted mind of Dan Savage. A while back, I made the mistake of visiting his blog, "Savage Love," after hearing him speak on some talk show on TV. I should have known better, but I was intrigued to learn how he, a proud homosexual, would argue his case, since he came off as a sober, rational individual during that interview. Within seconds of glancing through his blog, it became vividly obvious that he was not the sober, rational individual he was playing on TV, but a sick, twisted individual who revels in trying to shock unsuspecting visitors with his filth and perversion (which is why I haven't included a link to his blog - you should just steer clear of it - it's THAT bad). And, this is the dude Olbermann turns to when he wants to get the skinny on the Bible's views regarding homosexuality? Yeah, that's journalism!

But, it's not just goofballs like Olbermann. You see the same approach taken on Oprah, The View, and many other popular media outlets. The Bible is butchered by people who have no clue what it means or how to interpret it. The Bible is a closed book to these people. Savage calls those of us who argue on the basis of the Bible that homosexuality is wrong "Cafeteria Biblical Literalists." Oh, the irony! He, and all those like him, are the real "Cafeteria Biblical Literalists," for they pluck this or that passage from the Bible and argue that since we don't kill women who aren't virgins when they get married, or stone adulterers to death, we should just "drop the anti-gay, murderous crap from the Bible, too." This is what you get when you listen to people who have absolutely no understanding of the Bible.

But, don't underestimate the powerful influence these moronic media types are having on our society, my friends. They are winning the day, to be sure. Even those who claim to be Christians are seduced into their sick way of thinking, not knowing the Bible themselves. The day has already arrived when it is considered the height of ignorance in our society to adhere to the exclusive claims of Christianity, or to view homosexuality as being an abomination in God's sight, or to argue that Evolution is a myth and incompatible with Christianity, etc. The day when Christians will be persecuted beyond having to be put up with simply being written off as superstitious and ignorant cannot be that far off.

I should add that it doesn't help the cause of Christianity when someone like "Miss Beverly Hills - USA" is not able to articulate her position against homosexuality beyond saying, "It's in the Bible," while at the same time partying with Paris Hilton and visiting the plastic surgeon for "bodily improvements." Nor does it help the cause to have all those maniacs out there posing as Christian leaders (the false teachers of the so-called "Religious Right"), when, in reality, they have not the first clue what true Christianity is all about. The problem with the leftist media is that it views Christianity through the lenses of the radicals who claim to represent Christianity, but do not even come close to doing so. As Mollie Hemingway noted at the recent BJS Conference, the media really has no clue what true Christianity is. But, that's no excuse. If they were truly interested in learning about true Christianity, they'd find themselves some true Christians to interview. Instead, we'll have to continue putting up with imbeciles like Keith Olbermann, who turns to the likes of Dan Savage for commentary; or with the "spiritual goddess of America," Oprah Winfrey, who has proven time and time again that she has absolutely no clue.

Kyrie, eleison!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, February 22, 2010

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

It wasn't The Miracle on Ice, but Team USA's victory over Canada last night was still pretty special.  No one has been talking about the Americans as medal contenders in this Olympic tournament.  Indeed, entering the tournament, one would have thought that the only teams competing were Canada, Russia, Sweden, and Finland.  My, how things have changed!  With Team USA's defeat of Canada's "dream team," and Sweden's victory over Finland, last night, Team USA has earned the #1 seed going into the playoff round.  They get a bye, automatically advancing to the quarterfinals, and will play the winner of Switzerland vs. Belarus on Wednesday.  Barring a monumental letdown in that game (which is not out of the realm of possibility, of course - after all, this is hockey and anything can happen), this means that they will have two opportunities to play for a medal.  If they get past their match-up with either Switzerland or Belarus, they will most likely play Finland or the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.  A victory in that game will put them in the Gold Medal game; a loss will put them in the Bronze Medal game.  So, things are looking pretty promising for the Americans, who, as I said above, were not really considered to do much in the tournament.

Meanwhile, the two favorites going in, Canada and Russia, will meet in the quarterfinals, unless Germany can pull of a real miracle and defeat Canada, which is highly unlikely.  This means that one of them will not be advancing to play for a medal.  Canada's sub-par performance against Switzerland a few days ago (having to pull out a victory in a shoot-out) and their loss to the Americans last night have already left their nation, which takes more pride in hockey than in all other sports combined, in a state of disarray and depression.  Imagine if they are not able to get past the Russians and contend for a medal!  That would be a devastating blow indeed, especially given the fact that they're on their home turf in Vancouver.  For many Canadians, the only thing that really matters is the hockey tournament.  Even if Canada were to win more medals than all other countries in the games (which they won't), the success of Vancouver 2010 depends on their hockey team winning the Gold.  Even now, with Team Canada having left themselves with a steep hill to climb, nothing less than a gold medal for their hockey team will do.  That probably doesn't make a lot of sense to those of you who don't know much about hockey, but for those of you who do, you know exactly what I'm talking about here.

As for the Americans, they have already over-achieved and raised eyebrows with their 3-0 record in the prelims, and especially with their emotional victory over the Canadians last night.  Unlike the teams from Canada, Russia, Sweden, and Finland, the American roster is not chock-full of NHL superstars.  They are a young team, built more on character than talent, more on hard work than flashy, dazzling skill.  Plus, they have a hot goalie in MSU alum Ryan Miller, which is a necessary ingredient for success in any hockey tournament.  Whether or not their character, hard work, and hot goalie can carry them to the Gold remains to be seen, but with their victory over powerhouse Canada, they have proven that they have a shot.  It will be most interesting to see how things play out.  For now, it is just nice to be able to revel in this unlikely, but most satisfying, victory over Canada's dream team.  And to beat them on their home ice makes it all the more sweet.  And to have Brian Rafalski (from our own Red Wings) score two goals and assist on another, right in front of his coach, Mike Babcock (head coach of the Red Wings and of Team Canada), just added even more to the sweetness!

Of course, it must also be said that the possibility exists that Team USA's victory over Canada could prove to be the best thing that could have happened to Canada, in an "Awakening the Sleeping Giant" sort of way.  It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Canada, now angry and more motivated than ever, advance and play for the Gold.  Who knows, maybe just maybe, we'll see a re-match of USA vs. Canada in the final.  That would be extra-special.  I'm sure Canada would love a chance to avenge this loss, even as the Americans would revel in the opportunity to prove that it wasn't a fluke.  So, I'm hoping to see it play out that way, although I know that the Russians, Swedes, and Fins have something to say about that.  We'll just have to wait and see.  Until then, let's join in chanting together:  U-S-A!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!

And to my friends from Canada, especially Pr. Bakker, I suggest that you take solace in the fact that you still have Curling! :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Remembering the Saints with Issues, Etc.

Below is an ad for Issues, Etc., which promotes one of the best features of this most excellent, Christ-centered, Cross-focused radio program: The segments they do on Feasts and Festivals celebrated by the Church. While I'm not able to listen to every segment on IE, rarely do I miss listening to these segments, even if that doesn't happen for days or weeks after they're aired (but, that's okay, because they love their On Demand listeners, and I'm glad they do!).
"Our churches teach that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to our calling" (AC XXI).

"The Lutheran reformers understood that there was great benefit in remembering the saints whom God has given to His Church. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (Article 21) gives three reasons for such honor. First, we thank God for giving faithful servants to His Church. Second, through such remembrance our faith is strengthened as we see the mercy that God extended to His saints of old. Third, these saints are examples by which we may imitate both their faith and their holy living according to our calling in life" (LSB, p. xii).

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).

HT: Pr. Weedon

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday

I couldn't be more pleased with our congregation's observance of Ash Wednesday yesterday.  We entered into the holy and penitential season of Lent in a most blessed way, assembling in the Lord's House in silence for self-examination and preparatory prayer.  No prelude; no ringing of the bells - silence and prayer.  The silence was broken by the Ash Wednesday Address:

P:  Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, on this day the Church begins a holy season of prayerful and penitential reflection.  Our attention is especially directed to the holy sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

From ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on His Word and draws from it life and hope.

Let us pray that our dear Father in heaven, for the sake of His beloved Son and in the power of His Holy Spirit, might richly bless this Lententide for us so that we may come to Easter with glad hearts and keep the feast in sincerity and truth.
Then followed the Litany, wherein we implored our Lord to have mercy on us, deliver us, help us, and to hear our prayers for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

After the Litany, the faithful were welcomed to the altar for the Imposition of Ashes.  Ashes were traced on their foreheads in the sign of the cross as they were exhorted to "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," a most fitting way to begin this holy season of prayerful and penitential reflection.

Then we did something we had never done before, but will most definitely do again.  We observed the rite of Corporate Confession and Absolution, which includes a lengthy confessional address delivered by the pastor regarding the Holy Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood, reminding the faithful of the true nature of this Most Holy Sacrament and of their need to examine themselves before receiving it.  After hearing the address, the congregation joined in confessing their sins and then were asked by the pastor, "Do you believe that the forgiveness I speak is not my forgiveness but God's?"  Upon declaring, "Yes," the pastor responded, "Let it be done for you as you believe," and invited the penitents to the altar to be absolved individually.

As I said, we had never done this before, at least not since I've been the pastor here.  But what joy it was to place my hand upon the head of every penitent, address them by name, and say, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen."  Several members commented how much they appreciated this after the Service.  I can understand their appreciation - it is a tremendous blessing to be addressed by name and have your sins forgiven individually.  While not exactly the same thing, this is akin to the great joy one receives by going to individual (private) confession and absolution, a gift I hope we are able to restore more and more as the years go by.  Plus, at the risk of sounding like an emotional sap, I have to say that this experience (yeah, I know, "experience" is probably not the best way to describe this - deal with it) touched me deeply as a pastor, and it was difficult for me not to become overwhelmed with emotion.  I love the people I serve and to be able to forgive them in this manner, which is quite different from the "general" pronouncement of forgiveness usually done, was very special.

After Corporate Confession and Absolution, we prayed the rest of the liturgy in the usual fashion, receiving the Lord's Divine Gifts delivered through His Holy Word and Sacraments.  We are meditating upon the Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah (52:13-53:12) during our Midweek Divine Services throughout Lent, and we began last night by focusing on the question, "Who has believed what they heard from us?  And to whom as the arm of the LORD been revealed?" (53:1)  This series is based, in large part, on the excellent resource written by Rev. Christopher Mitchell, titled, "Our Suffering Savior" (CPH, 2003).  I pray that it will be a blessing to us throughout our Lenten journey and am confident that it will be.  This text from Isaiah is the most detailed and graphic depiction of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, with Psalm 22 running a close second, of course.

As I said, I couldn't be more pleased with how we entered the holy season of Lent yesterday.  This was the best Ash Wednesday Service I have ever participated in.  I know that sounds goofy.  How can any Service be better than another, since our Lord always shows up to Gift us with forgiveness, life, and salvation through the blessed means of grace?  But, you mean what I know. :)
Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.  Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect for Ash Wednesday)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The 2nd Annual BJS Conference

This past Friday and Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the 2nd Annual Brothers of John the Steadfast conference.  What an absolute joy and blessing this was.  The hospitality shown to us by the good folks at Bethany Lutheran in Naperville, IL was simply first class.  They made us feel right at home and fed us very well, just as they had done last year.  A huge thanks to all involved.

This year's conference saw a 20% increase in attendees and the principles of the "church growth movement" were not even invoked.  Amazing! :)

The theme of the conference was "The Fired and the Staff," which is a play on words in reference to Pr. Klemet Preus' book, "The Fire and the Staff" (one of the absolute best books written to date on the importance of keeping our Lutheran doctrine and practice together), and referred to the three keynote speakers (Rev. Todd Wilken, who was "fired" by KFUO, and Rev. Klemet Preus and Mrs. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, both of whom are "staff" bloggers for BJS).

"The Fired and the Staff" (Rev. Wilken, Mollie Hemingway, Rev. Preus)

 New BJS T-shirts (you can get yours at the BJS site soon)

The conference began with a Welcome Reception, which was followed by the first keynote speaker, Rev. Klemet Preus.  Pr. Preus taught us that the only question which confronts the LCMS today is whether or not Christianity is a religion about what we do or what we get.  He showed how the way in which we answer that question will affect how we define unity, how we worship, and how we view the Office of the Holy Ministry.  If Christianity is a religion about what we do, then our unity will be based in our actions, our worship will be self-centered, focusing on what we're doing for Jesus, and the Office of the Holy Ministry will be tasked primarily with equipping people to do they're part for Jesus and His Church.  If, however, Christianity is a religion about what we get, our unity will be based in what we receive from the Lord, our worship will be Divine Service, focused on Christ and the Gifts He delivers through Word and Sacraments, and the Office of the Holy Ministry will be tasked solely with dispensing the Gifts Jesus gives.  Pr. Preus argued in favor of the latter view, not surprisingly, and did so in a most convincing way.

After Pr. Preus' fine presentation, we were treated to a wonderful dinner, featuring delicious Chicago-style pizza and yummy black-and-white ice cream dessert (the black-and-white playing off another theme of the conference:  "Yes, Doctrine is Black and White").  After dinner, we gathered for Vespers (only, it wasn't really Vespers, but Evening Prayer - just sayin').  This was a beautiful Service, featuring the very talented musical exploits of Cantor Phillip Magness and the Bethany choir and musicians.  The sermon was preached by fellow Michigander, Rev. Tony Sikora (Hope, Dewitt), who did an awesome job of pointing us to the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It was one of the best sermons I have heard in a long time.

After Vespers, er, Evening Prayer, it was off to the "No Pietists Allowed" Parties.  I joined several brothers at the Bull and Bear to talk theology over cigars.  It was a real treat to converse with Pastors Rossow, Henrickson, and Fisk, and laymen Ross and Dennis, who were sitting in my section.  After enjoying cigars over theology, a group of us headed over to Quigley's Pub, where I met up with Larry and Andrea, members of our parish who attended the conference with me.  We enjoyed a few pints and some more good conversation and just as things were breaking up and we were getting ready to call it a night, my buddy Scott Diekmann called me on my cell and said he was heading over to join us.  So, Larry, Andrea, and I decided to stick around for a bit.  Little did we know that Scott would take the "long way" (yeah, the pilot who spends his life navigating got lost - go figure!).  But, he finally did make it and we had an excellent time visiting and talking more theology with him.  We actually ended up closing the bar down, which was not in my plan, and something I can't even remember doing it's been so long, but it was well worth it, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The next morning, the conference began with a "Manly Breakfast," but due to my only getting four hours of sleep, I arrived a little late and didn't get to enjoy much of it.  Oh well, I had a couple good donuts in my hotel room before I headed over.

Next on the agenda was Mollie Hemingway's presentation.  I really enjoyed listening to Mollie tell us about her life as a journalist, and the challenges she faces in being a faithful, confessional Lutheran, while remaining objective in her non-religious reporting.  Mollie burst on the scene for many of us when she wrote an article for the WSJ about the cancellation of Issues, Etc.  She shared that experience, and many others she has had, and it was very interesting to listen to her.  She did a fabulous job.

After Mollie was the last, but certainly not least, of the presenters, Rev. Todd Wilken.  I always thoroughly enjoy listening to Pr. Wilken speak.  He does an outstanding job hosting "Issues, Etc.", but he is even better, if that's possible, in person.  He spoke about "The Myth of LCMS Exceptionalism" and correctly, I believe, diagnosed the root of what ails our synod today.  The idea held by many in our synod, including our current synodical leadership, that, since we're the LCMS, we can really do no wrong, has led to confessional complacency and a crass institutionalism which has veered far astray of the path the founders of our synod plotted for us.  I highly recommend that everyone listen to Pr. Wilken's presentation.  You can do so by going here.  You can also listen to the other presentations, which I recommend as well, and the Services held during the conference (you have to go here to listen to Pr. Preus' presentation, where you can also read the text of his presentation as well).

After Pr. Wilken's most excellent presentation, it was time for lunch.  I had to skip this to head back to the hotel to pack up and check out, since I was a bit rushed in the morning and didn't have time (I blame it all on Scott!:).  But, I made it back in time to grab a quick sandwich and to talk for a few minutes with Pr. Wilken about Pres. Kieschnick's book.

The ladies met with BJS Associate Director Suzanne Zobel during lunch and talked about the newly formed partner group of BJS, the Sisters of Katie Luther.  I'm really excited about the formation of this group and look forward to seeing it grow in the future.   

The conference then closed with Divine Service, which was wonderful.  We were blessed by Cantor Magness and the musical talents of other Bethany members once again, and Southern Illinois District President Rev. Herb Mueller (hopefully the next 1st Vice President of our synod) preached the Gospel to us.  It was wonderful not only to have him in attendance with us, but to hear him preach (I hope he doesn't get in trouble for hanging out with us :).  So, we were fed on the Word and the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ to conclude the conference - no better way to do so in my book.  One of the joys of attending conferences like this for me is to be able to just sit in the pew and receive.  I love serving as a pastor, but I always cherish those times when I can just attend Church.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the conference and am already looking forward to next year.  For more on the conference, including more pics, head over to the BJS site.  You can also read another review of the conference by heading over to Stand Firm.            

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pretty Funny

Last week, during our Thursday morning Bible Study, I made mention of an email Yvonne, a member of our class, had sent me and promised to post it on my blog.  I forgot to do so until now, so here it is:
Sisters Mary Catherine, Maria Theresa, Katherine Marie, Rose Frances, and Mary Kathleen left the Convent on a trip to St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and were sight-seeing on a Tuesday in July. It was hot and humid in town and their traditional garb was making them so uncomfortable, they decided to stop in at Patty McGuire's Pub for a cold soft drink.

Patty had recently added special legs to his barstools, which were the talk of the fashionable eastside neighborhood. All 5 Nuns sat up at the bar and were enjoying their Cokes when Monsignor Riley and Father McGinty entered the bar through the front door

They, too, came for a cold drink when they were shocked and almost fainted at what they saw.


This Really Says It All

First of all, let me make something clear up front.  I did not go looking for what follows.  It was brought to my attention by a person posting comments in a thread over at the BJS site, who happens to belong to the congregation in question.  I just don't want to be accused of spending my time searching the net for congregations I can pick on or something.  I don't have time for such an endeavor and, besides, it would leave me in a constant state of depression anyway.  But, I can't help but comment on this, since I really believe it provides a good example of the different, non-Lutheran theology of worship being followed by many in our synod who offer a variety of "worship experiences."

The following appears on the website of Bethlehem Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Lakewood, Colorado:
Worship with Us 
Worship is the most important thing we do together at Bethlehem. This is where we praise and worship God, hear about His design in our lives, and receive forgiveness.
I'm glad the folks at Bethlehem consider worship the most important thing they do together.  But, look at how they describe worship.  It is decidedly backwards, isn't it?  They put receiving forgiveness AFTER they praise and worship God and hear about His design in their lives.  This is not consistent with our Lutheran theology of worship.  We believe, teach, and confess that our praise and thankfulness in worship comes in RESPONSE to the gifts with which our Lord serves us.  The movement in our theology of worship is from God to us and then us back to Him.  He speaks, we listen.  He gives, we receive.  Then, and only then, can we offer our praise and worship in return, speaking back to Him what He has spoken to us in His Word.

Besides that, what does it mean to "hear about His design in our lives"?  This is the way that Americanized "evangelicals" speak.  This is the theology of the Rick Warrens and Joel Osteens out there, who believe worship is the time to hear about the plan God has for our earthly lives.  Can you say, "Purpose-Driven Life" or "Live Your Best Life Now"?

This short statement from Bethlehem Lutheran really says it all.  It reveals the problem with the "contemporary worship" being advocated by so many in our synod.  It is NOT just a different "form" or "style" that puts our Lutheran doctrine into practice; it is a different theology based on doctrines foreign to Lutheranism.

Consider how many "contemporary worship" services begin.  Usually, there is a medley of "praise songs" offered at the beginning, meant to get the worshipers "warmed up."  Praise and worship happens first, before God acts at all.  There is a reason for this.  It is because the methobapticostals and Americanized "evangelicals" DON'T BELIEVE OUR LORD IS PRESENT.  He's up there in heaven, seated on His throne.  So, they go out of their way to reach Him up there with their praise.  The louder and more emotionally palatable, the better.  The more they "feel" the praise, the more "genuine" it is.  It's all about "feelings" for them, since the only way they can "know" whether or not the Lord has forgiven them and is pleased with them is if they "feel" that in their hearts.  That's the only way He is present with them - in their hearts.  He doesn't make an actual appearance in their midst.  He can't.  He's in heaven on His throne.

Our Lutheran theology of worship is completely different.  It is based on the reality that our Lord IS PRESENT among us.  He comes into our midst TO SERVE US with His gifts.  We enter His Holy House knowing how unworthy we are to do so, falling to our knees to confess our sins and plead for His mercy.  He lifts us up with His Word of Absolution, assuring us that we need not fear, for He loves us and has forgiven us.  Then, we sing praises to Him in response to what He has done for us, always being mindful that we continue to abide in His Holy Presence.  Worship for us is a Holy Encounter with our Holy Lord in which we receive His Holy Gifts and praise Him by singing Holy Hymns which flow from His Holy Word.  In other words, worship for us is Holy and reverent! 

Advocates of "contemporary worship" among us can argue till their blue in the face that they're not abandoning our Lutheran theology, but they're just plain wrong.  They are.  They're following the theology of worship of those who advertise their worship like this:
Have you gotten away from the traditional church? Are you interested in a more relaxed worship opportunity? Do you work on Sunday morning? Are you interested in worshipping with high energy, contemporary music? Are you more comfortable in blue jeans than dress clothes? If you answered yes to any of these questions you might find it meaningful to attend Trinity Church's Casual Saturday evening service; "A Gathering of Joy." Trinity United Church of Christ will have a contemporary worship service each Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The relaxed atmosphere of this worship service will emphasize joy rather than guilt and the message will emphasize hope rather than reprimand. Most weeks there is a drama that offers the message in a fresh entertaining format.  A praise band will lead the singing. 
I found this when I googled "contemporary worship," looking for an image to include in this post.  While it comes from a United Church of Christ congregation, it could easily appear on the website of many LCMS congregations today.  In fact, I'd be willing to bet that one could spend a little time searching LCMS websites and find statements very similar to this one on many of them.  And all I have to say to that is:  I rest my case, your honor.      

Is the World Really So Different Today?

An oft-quoted public statement made by President Kieschnick (PK) on numerous occasions is, "This is not your grandfather's church."  He has taken a lot of criticism over this from many, myself included, who happen to like "our grandfather's church."   Indeed, taking a look at what PK and his administration have introduced in our synod over the last 8-plus years, that criticism is valid, since they have done their best to ensure that we are "not our grandfather's church."  But, PK thinks he has been misunderstood.  So, in an attempt to set the record straight regarding this controversial statement, PK writes in his book:
When reflecting upon the vast changes that have occurred in the world and in our own country in the past 125 years, I've also contemplated the changes that have occurred in the church during that period of time.  On occasion, I've observed that in many ways the church of today is different from my grandfather's church.  Let me unpack and explain that a bit (p. 91). 
PK spends the next few pages unpacking what he means by identifying several sociological and cultural changes which have occurred since his grandfather's day:  changing demographics, rise of atheism and antagonism toward Christianity, drug problems, living together, divorce, technological advances, abortion, homosexuality, small businesses giving way to large corporations, urban decline, etc.  He is right, of course.  The world has changed around us.  His grandfather did live in a different day and age, where many of the societal issues we face today were seemingly absent.  I serve older people in my parish who have witnessed how very much the world has changed in their lifetimes and readily testify about the same.  Indeed, I have witnessed myself in my own lifetime how much the world has changed around us.

But, what does any of this have to do with the need for the Church to change?  Has the world really changed so much since PK's grandfather's day that the Church must now be forced to change with it?  That seems a little naive.  I mean, there have been massive changes experienced in this world throughout history which have not caused the Church to change who she is, what she does, or how she does what she does.  In fact, one of the principles upon which the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church has always stood is to withstand the temptation to change with the ever-changing world.  The Church has never followed the philosophy that she must adapt herself to the culture in which she finds herself, and has certainly never adopted the principle that the culture should instruct the Church.

Now, before anyone accuses me of being overly dense, of course I would acknowledge that the Church has undergone changes throughout her history, and that many of those changes were made for the purpose of reaching out to the changing world with the unchanging Gospel of Christ.  Putting the Bible, the liturgy, and hymnody into the vernacular comes to mind.  But, in making these, and other changes, the Church has always been careful not to sacrifice purity for pragmatics, reverence for relevance, or steadfastness for popularity.  In other words, the Church has undergone some changes in her history without really changing at all.

It wasn't until McGavran, Wagner, Arn, Schaller, and company came along and introduced the Satanic Church Growth Movement that the idea that the Church must change who she is, what she does, and how she does what she does was introduced in the middle of the last century.  The sort of change advocated by the CGM is not limited to finding ways to reach out to the changing culture with the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Rather, the CGM calls for a complete overhaul of the Church, one in which the very nature of the Church is changed.

The CGM turns the Church into a business and makes no apologies for doing so, since it follows the false belief that God demands success, measured by numerical growth, in His Word.  According to the CGM, the Church, following a business model, must learn to treat unbelievers as potential customers and develop an aggressive marketing strategy to reach them with the product it has to offer - the Gospel.  In developing this marketing strategy, the Church must ascertain, through demographics studies, surveys, etc., what it is that their potential customers are looking for and figure out a way to re-package their product (the Gospel) in a way that would interest and entice them into purchasing it (join the church).  Like any business, the Church, following the principles of the CGM, must set goals and do whatever it takes to accomplish them, always measuring its success, or lack of success, by how many new customers it has gained.  Anyone who argues that the CGM is not all about numbers simply hasn't read the classic texts responsible for introducing the movement.

But, anyone who has read those classic texts and studied the movement can easily identify it coming through in PK's writing.  This should be no surprise to anyone, since he has publicly endorsed these CGM principles and has allowed them to shape the way he has led our synod as president.  We have heard more about numbers, goals, statistics, vision, etc. during PK's time as president than we did in our synod during the whole century and a half before he took office.  The Ablaze!(tm) counter that continues to plague our synodical website serves as proof positive that the CGM is alive and well in our synod under PK's leadership.  It is obvious that the sort of changing PK believes is needed among us is more in line with the change advocated by the CGM than by the changing the Church has always done in proclaiming the unchanging Gospel of Christ to the changing culture around her.

The danger with PK's book is that this will not be obvious to Grandma Schmidt when she reads it.  There is a reason the CGM took off like wildfire here in America.  It's because it sounds so good, so reasonable, so necessary to unsuspecting ears.  Who doesn't want the Church to reach more and more people with the Gospel, after all?  Doing "whatever it takes" seems like a laudable strategy, since the end result is said to be eternal salvation for more and more people.  The CGM has been so "successful" precisely because it makes sense to our sinful human reason.  It is how WE would do things if the Church was OURS!

So it is that when PK responds to a list of challenges and opportunities he sees facing the 21st century church, he will be interpreted as making a whole lot of sense to many:
The answer [to the seven challenges/opportunities he lists] is to use every means available, without compromising or apologizing for who we are or what we believe, clearly communicating the Good News of God's love in Jesus Christ, who alone is the way to eternal salvation.  Our task and privilege is telling "the old, old story of Jesus and His love" in ways that address the deepest spiritual needs of people whose life experience differs greatly from our own and most certainly from that of our parents and grandparents.  It means being faithful in the process of putting "new wine" into "new wineskins" (Luke 5:38 NIV) (p. 95 - emphases mine).
Sounds good, doesn't it?  Not really.  It actually sounds exactly like what one reads in the classic CGM texts.  Using "every means available" is just another way of saying "whatever it takes," and "ways that address the deepest spiritual needs of people" is just another way of saying "meeting people's 'felt needs'" (which PK does just come right out and say on a couple of occasions in his book), and pitting the "life experiences" of others against our own, as if they differ so greatly from ours, is classic CGM stuff.  Indeed, as I read through this section, I was waiting for the obligatory reference to 1 Cor. 9:20-23 (". . . I became all things to all people . . .").  And, sure enough, PK did not disappoint.  Immediately following this paragraph, there it was.  And, following that text from 1 Cor. 9 was this:
The culture in which the church exists today more than ever requires listening to and discerning the hopes, dreams, cries, and pains of the people in our communities.  We need to translate what Scripture tells us about God's grace into the everyday language of people for whom Scriptural concepts are not part of everyday conversation.  In many cases, this means venturing into unknown and unfamiliar territory.  It includes the necessity of exercising careful, sensitive, discernment of the deeply felt but often camouflaged spiritual needs of people who may not even be aware that those needs exist (pp. 96-96 - emphases mine).  
Here, again, the principles of the CGM come screaming through.  First, notice the urgency with which PK speaks - "today more than ever" - as if the culture in which we live is so vastly different from any culture ever before in history that the Church needs to take drastic action.  This is something the CGM has been repeating for over 50 years.  Yeah, that's right, back in the 1950s and 1960s, CGM advocates were saying the same exact thing as PK is saying here, that their culture at that time was so different from any before it that the Church had to take drastic action.  And, what is the drastic action the Church must take?  Translating her message into the language of the unchurched (unbelievers).  But, how does the Church do this?  By "venturing into unknown and unfamiliar territory."  All of this is code for "the Church must CHANGE NOW or DIE!"

In PK's estimation, we must "not be afraid to take appropriate risks for the sake of the Gospel - risks that today are quite different from what [his grandfather] faced in his lifetime."  For him, the end justifies the means, which is, again, a classic CGM principle.  Our zeal for reaching the lost for Jesus should trump everything else, even if that means forsaking the purity of our doctrine.  Indeed, PK has made it vividly clear many times that he believes that we do not have time for "incessant, internal purification" while people are dying without Jesus out there, which further proves him to be a disciple of the CGM, since another fundamental principle of the movement is that the Church must be solely outward, not inward, focused.

PK goes on to write:
Indeed, in many respects, the church of our grandfathers is quite different from that of our grandchildren because the world in which our grandfathers lived is markedly different from the world in which our grandchildren live.  In many ways the church of the 21st century is a challenged church, seeking to discover how best to respond to the changes going on all around it and even inside it and how to seize the opportunities accompanying such changes.  We are living in this time of transition from the church of our parents and grandparents to the church of our children and grandchildren.  In so doing, we must never forget this truth:  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) (pp. 97-98).  
One wonders how Jesus Christ can be the same yesterday, today, and forever, while His Church, of which He is the Head, must necessarily change as the world changes.  Ponder on that for a bit and I'm sure you will see the flaw in the principle espoused by the CGM, expressed in PK's thinking here.

If PK's goal in this section of his book was to put to rest the criticism he has received for saying so often that "this is not your grandfather's church," he has failed miserably.  What he has done is shown that he either doesn't understand why many of us have criticized him for saying this or that he simply doesn't care.  Whatever the case, he is just plain wrong.  The world is not so different today than it was in the days of our grandfathers or their grandfathers or even in the days when our Lord walked the earth in our Flesh.  It is just as sinful as it has always been.  It is just as opposed to the Gospel of our Lord as it has always been.  The nature of the this dead and dying world has not changed one iota.  And it stands in need of a Savior just as much, and no more, than it always has.

It probably sounds like I'm contradicting myself, since I noted above that the world has changed and here I say that the world is not so different.  That's not a contradiction.  Both assertions are true at the same time.  We have seen many changes in society over the years.  The world has always consisted of different societies and cultures which are changing all the time.  We have witnessed different worldviews during different historical eras dominate the scene in different places.  And, no one would argue that technological advances have not changed the way the world thinks, moves, and communicates.  But, none of these changes has significantly changed the world in relation to its opposition to the Gospel and need of a Savior.

Just look at the history revealed to us by God in His Word.  The world was so bad, so evil in the days of Noah that God destroyed all living things, save the 8 people and animals on the Ark, with a flood.  When the Israelites took up residence in the Promised Land, having to conquer their way in, they dwelt in a society wholly opposed to their religion and God, Yahweh - a society that was pagan through and through.  And, if people think things are so bad today in American society, they need to study a little history and read up on how things were in the Roman Empire (or, take a look at the ancient Egyptian culture, or fast forward and get acquainted with life in the Middle Ages).  The point is that it is the height of naivete to think our world is so vastly different from the world of yesteryear.  The world has always been evil.  We 21st century Americans are not the first culture in history to experience an increase in societal immorality or a growing antagonism toward the Gospel and the Christian Church.      

It is a dire mistake for the Church to think that she must change with the culture or die.  Such thinking shows a lack of faith in the Lord of the Church, who promises that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Church (cf. Matt. 16:18).  It is not given to the Church to decide how best to reach out to people with the Gospel.  The Lord has established the only means by which that can be accomplished, via His Holy Word purely preached and His Holy Sacraments administered, according to His institution.  The Church is tasked not with finding new and creative ways to "win the lost," but with faithfully delivering her Lord's means of grace.

Furthermore, the sort of changing advocated by the CGM and suggested by PK is very clearly anti-Scriptural.  Where, oh where, in God's Word do we EVER see Him advocating for His people to change with the culture?  Where, oh where, in God's Word do we EVER hear Him telling His people to repackage His message in a way that will appeal to the pagans surrounding them?  On the contrary, we hear Him time and time again commanding His people to stand firm and remain steadfast in His Word - to RESIST the temptation to compromise with the world!

The Israelites made the same mistake those following the CGM today make.  They allowed the pagan culture around them to influence and inform them, so that they ended up with a compromising, defiled, impure "religion."  Did God compliment them for their willingness to take risks and adapt to their surrounding culture?  Um, no.  He sent prophets telling them to repent and return to Him.  He was none too happy about their willingness to compromise and adapt to the pagan culture.  None too happy at all!

Fast forward to the days when our Lord walked the earth.  What was His message to His disciples (and to us)?  Was it to do whatever it takes to win people for Him?  Was it to take risks and be willing to compromise with the culture?  Not at  all.  In fact, He tell us to abide in Him, even though doing so will make us enemies with the world.  The world will hate us, He says, because the world hates Him.

Of course, the response to this will be that Jesus did take risks and did reach out in new ways to the societal outcasts around Him.  He ate with tax collectors and related to prostitutes, after all.  Sure, but did He ever compromise His message?  Did He ever advocate adapting to the culture or allowing the culture to inform and influence His Church?  Did He ever repackage His teaching to make it more appealing to the masses?  Absolutely not!  When His teaching became too difficult for people to take, they left Him.  And His response was not to go running after them to try to get them to stay.  It was, rather, to look at those who remained and ask, "What about you?  Do you want to leave me, too?"

Do not buy into the lie that our world is so different today that it is necessary for the Church to change, my friends.  Do not allow the urgency with which people like PK speak to bewitch you.  Instead, abide in the Word or your Lord, Jesus Christ.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so is His Church.  Yes, there have been, and will continue to be, changes noticed in this world.  But, Jesus and His Church remain the same.  The Gospel must never be repackaged or reinvented for the purpose of making it more appealing to the dead and dying world.  It must remain pure and undefiled, free from worldly principles and concepts, for it is only through that pure and undefiled Gospel that sinners receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation they need.  Oh, and as for numbers, God is not at all interested.  He is into faithfulness.  Always has been; always will be.  That's why He speaks so frequently in His Word about the faithful "remnant."  He is pleased not by us finding new and creative ways to make His Church more inviting to unbelievers, but by us remaining steadfast in His Word.  For He knows what PK and other CGM advocates don't know, namely that His Church is NOT for unbelievers, but for believers.  If unbelievers will become believers it will not be because we have made Church more appealing to them, but because they have been slain by God's Law, preached in its full severity, and made alive by the Holy Gospel, preached in its full sweetness.  Oh, and one last thing:  Let us always remember that when we are gathered together around our Lord's Holy Word and Sacraments for Divine Service, we are in a Holy House of Prayer, not a concert hall or house of entertainment - a concept that is most definitely lost on PK and other CGM advocates.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Party

A group of us gathered together last night for a Super Bowl Party.  Thanks to Chris and Megan for opening up their home to us.  It was a lot of fun.  And, while the Saints ended up winning by two TDs, it was a good game, still in question in the waning moments.  I really thought the Colts would score, get the ball back, and have a chance to tie the game.  But, it wasn't meant to be.  I guess the text I received from both my uncle and my dad before the game was prophetic after all:

"Colts on the ground, Colts on the ground!
Looking like a fool, 'cause the Saints put 'em down!"

Here are some pics of our party, beginning with the best pic of all (the "out of this world" brats yours truly made - while Chris and Megan will probably never admit it, these were the best brats they have EVER eaten!:).  Don't know why a couple of the pics look so cloudy; it may be that the lens on my digital cam was fogged up or something - weird. 









Okay, so maybe this pic is even better than the pic of the brats:
Kylie Rose enjoying her first Super Bowl Party!  

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Special thanks to my wife . . .

for giving me the crud she was down with last week.  Ugh!  This stomach flu, or whatever it is, is no fun at all!  Hopefully, I'm through the worst of it - last night's many trips to the porcelain "god" is something I don't want to repeat.  I placed an order for a "healing cloth" here, though, so once that arrives, I should be all better. :)  Seriously, I feel a lot better this afternoon than I did yesterday and this morning, so maybe I won't have to wait for the "healing cloth" after all (but, at least I'll have it available for a future ailment). :)   

More Thoughts on President Kieschnick's Book

In the midst of this BJS post, Pr. Todd Wilken asked me a series of questions regarding my take on Pres. Kieschnick's book. Here are his questions and my responses:

I’m curious. Having read the book, what would you say is its overall purpose?

I would say that his overall purpose is to appeal to those in the middle within our synod by convincing them that our synod has the potential to be the "giant" it was meant to be, if only we would realize a) how united we are on the "essential" doctrines of the Church, b) that our differences and infighting cause us to slumber and make us an embarrassment, c) that the church of our grandfathers has changed because the world around us has changed, d) that "creative thinking" and "cultural sensitivity" need to drive our ministry and mission, and e) that we need to abide by our "covenants of love" (doctrinal resolutions passed in Convention), agreeing to disagree on issues that could potentially hold us back from proclaiming the Gospel to the lost.

In short, PK doesn't really give us anything new in his book. His overall purpose is to get more and more people to buy into what he has been selling all along, namely that "this is not your grandfather's church," and "we do not have time for incessant, internal purification when so many out there are being lost."

Is this President Kieschnick “vision” for the LCMS? If so, what is it?

Yes, I think it is fair to say that this book does present PK's vision for the LCMS. He speaks of "vision" often, and even includes a whole chapter on this topic. Not surprisingly, PK's vision is shaped by non-Lutheran church and leadership "consultants." If you've ever read books written by John Maxwell, you can understand PK's vision. Within the chapter on vision, PK includes a lengthy quote from Greg Morris of Leadership Development, which basically observes that tradition is okay, but traditionalism is deadly. It is obvious why PK includes this quote. He believes that many of us who defend the traditions of our fathers in matters of doctrine and practice are guilty of becoming Pharisaical, falling into the pit of traditionalism. In his "vision," we must be flexible enough to allow our traditions to embrace new ways of putting our doctrine into practice, ways that involve creative thinking and cultural sensitivity, ways that put the "felt needs" of those around us in this "non-churched" culture ahead of our desire to hang on too tightly to our traditions.

Anyone who has studied the Church Growth Movement can easily see just how influenced by it PK has been. He simply cannot avoid using CGM vocabulary and argumentation in his writing, precisely because he is a product and proponent of the same.

Does he address the deepening division, distrust, numerical decline and financial shortfalls during his eight years in office?

He does address all these things, but not in relation to his service in office. In fact, what came screaming through to me as I read the book was PK's belief that, under his leadership, our synod has been addressing, and will continue to address, these problems. I think it is safe to say that PK is proud of what he believes he has accomplished during his time as our president, and that we would be wise to retain him as our president, so that he can continue to lead us in the right direction. He is very careful to avoid any blame for the problems we face in our synod. He includes a plethora of quotations, charts, and stats which give the reader the impression that our problems pre-date his service, and that he, as president, has fervently been about the business of re-unifying us, rebuilding trust, and addressing the numerical and financial shortfalls (which have been felt throughout Christendom). If we would but jump on his coattails and follow his vision, he will lead us to the Promised Land.

Does he address the obvious split in the LCMS between those who hold a quia and quatenus subscription to the Confessions?

Not at all. How can PK address this split when he himself obviously holds a quatenus subscription, while thinking that he holds a quia subscription? You're getting way too theological, Todd. This stuff is way over Jerry's head.

Our Lutheran Confessions are decidedly absent in PK's book. The only quotations from our Confessions in the book occur in Appendix A, which is Rev Samuel Nafzger's "An Introduction to The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod." PK mentions our Confessions, but never quotes from them, at least not that I can recall. Instead, he fills his book with statements he has made, references to our Constitution and Bylaws, and quotations of many doctrinal resolutions and CTCR statements, along with lengthy quotations from others.

Here is a quote from PK I found interesting and revealing:
In sum, the strength of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is directly connected to its biblical foundation. While sincerely endeavoring to preach and teach the truths of Holy Scripture, informed by the Lutheran Confessions, our Synod is simultaneously engaged in intentional mission work in many parts of the world" (p. 33).
What I find interesting is the phrase, "informed by the Lutheran Confessions." I'm probably being a little too nit-picky, but this is just plain weak, and seems like our Confessions were thrown in just to pay them lip service. Indeed, lip service is all that our Confessions get throughout the book. Our Confessions are just not all that important to the president. He says he swears by them and that his doctrine is shaped by them, but he all but ignores them. Reading PK feels more like reading a Fundamentalist than a confessional Lutheran.

Does he address the failure of doctrinal oversight and discipline in virtually every corner of the synod?

No, this never comes up in his book. The only part of the book that comes close to this is the section in which he discusses the "Yankee Stadium" event with Benke (pp. 138-149). He goes out of his way to defend his actions as Benke's "ecclesiastical supervisor." Interesting reading, but nothing we haven't already heard.

In sum, the crux of PK's book really centers around chapter five, titled "The Giant Encounters Other Giants - The Witness of Our Church In a Post-Church Culture - In the World But Not of the World," the same chapter at the end of which PK discusses "Yankee Stadium." The heart of the matter for PK is that we must realize that we live in a "post-church" culture and adapt accordingly. The book can really be summed up with the following paragraph:
"In this process, many LCMS congregations are thinking, planning, staffing, and budgeting creatively, no longer assuming that patterns of the past will work in the present or future. Holistic ministry and mission efforts with a view toward identifying and responding to the needs of unchurched people in the community surrounding the church are emerging in congregations whose leaders understand the post-church culture" (p. 132)
PK is convinced that we simply cannot "do Church" the way we used to. We live in a "post-church" culture and need to change with that culture. Those pastors and congregations who have realized this truth are implementing the kinds of changes that will bring successful interaction with their surrounding culture. They are the "trail-blazers" we need to follow if we are going to remain relevant voices for Christ in this world. They have learned to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace people with the Gospel in new ways, and we should all follow suit.

I disagree wholeheartedly with the president's sentiments. It is precisely because we do live in a "post-church" culture that we need, now more than ever, to be THE CHURCH, not a social club, appealing to the wants and desires of the unchurched, while sprinkling in a little Jesus here and there. Now more than ever, as people are searching and longing for something substantive, we need to be especially attentive to our doctrine and practice, making sure that it is pure and undefiled by the culture that surrounds us. PK would have us sell out, or at least, compromise to meet the needs of those around us. To do so would result (already is resulting) in "a church for people who don't like church," which is no church at all, where a repackaged "gospel," which is no Gospel at all, reigns.

My $.02, anyway, fwiw.