Monday, January 31, 2011

Congrats, Fr. Petersen!

Yesterday, Fr. David Petersen celebrated the 15th anniversary of his ordination and 10th anniversary as pastor at Redeemer Lutheran in Ft. Wayne.  Over at his blog, Fr. Weedon stated:  "Pr. Petersen has been and continues to be a huge blessing to so many people - may the Lord of the Church continue to have much joyous use of him in the years to come!"  I echo his sentiment and his prayer.  Fr. Petersen is a gift to Christ's Church, to those he serves as pastor, and to his brothers in the Office.  He is an outstanding preacher.  I think I've learned more about preaching from reading, and listening to, his sermons than I ever did at seminary; that's not a knock against my profs at all, just a testimony to how much more I've learned about preaching from Fr. Petersen's preaching (and the preaching of others - Frs. Beane and Weedon come to mind).  He is an excellent theologian and serious Lutheran, who doesn't take himself too seriously and is as down to earth as they come.  He is a wonderful counselor, who is willing to spend time listening to brothers (like me) and sharing his thoughts and advice with them, which is always anchored to Christ and His Cross, but practical and honest at the same time.  And, he is one who, while possessing all of these gifts, would confess, "I am the chief of sinners."  Yeah, I kinda like him. :)

Some pics of the occasion (for commentary on what you see in these pics, you can read the thoughts of Fr. Curtis and Fr. Beane):


I'm still laughing at this one, which is now my favorite Benny Hinn parody video: 

My favorite used to be this one:

Al and Me - and the wives

Saturday, my cheap $30 printer broke - third one in five years.  I now have a nice "all-in-one" printer/copier/scanner/fax, which is wireless, to boot, and I am loving it.  Finally, I can join the 21st century and scan pics and documents . . . what fun! 

Here are a few pics I scanned of my buddy, Al, who was called home by our Lord last month, moi, and our wives, on the day Al and I graduated together from Concordia, Ann Arbor:

"Real Worship" by Fr. Hollywood

Below is the excellent blog post by Fr. Larry Beane (a.k.a. Father Hollywood) I referred to yesterday during Bible Study.  You should also go to the post itself and read the comments (especially those of Fr. Beane, which are pure gold).  Pr. Wilken chose this post as his IE Blog of the Week on Friday (great choice!), which you can listen to here

Real Worship

By Larry Beane

I believe one of the reasons we have "worship wars" among American Christians is that it has been a long time since we have had physical warfare on our own soil.  9-11 was close, but even that was dominated not by the theology of the cross of Christ, but rather by a sense of the national therapy of Oprah. 

Consider this poignant picture above of the ruins of a bombed-out church in Germany, where amid all the chances and changes of this life, the one thing that people could hold onto is the liturgy of the Church, the Mass, the real physical communion with the real physical Lord.

Notice what you don't see: entertainment.  There is no gyrating chanteuse working the microphone like a Vegas performer, a spotlight shining on a grimacing drummer, a perfectly-coifed guitarist wearing the latest fashions, or a trendy prancing made-up motivational speaker with gelled-up hair and a plastic smile emoting in overly-dramatic hushed intonations.

Instead, we see a celebrant, deacon, subdeacon, and two servers, all reverently and historically vested, each stationed in his proper order, proclaiming by their very placement that no matter how unpredictable and desperate things may get in this war-torn existence, Jesus is here, week in and week out, in the midst of our pain and uncertainty.  And the Church is here, century in and century out, bearing the Good News by proclaiming Christ crucified, the eternal Word of the cross.  And even amid the rubble and missing walls and blown-out windows, the old stone edifice of the church building, even in its humiliated state, carries a reverent gravitas of which the latest and greatest multi-million-dollar "worship centers" are bereft.

And at the center of it all is the chancel.  There is no stage, big screens, lasers, or sound system paraphernalia, but rather a simple but elegant book containing the liturgy and the Word of God, dignified candles flickering with the soft glow of the flames reminiscent of the Day of Pentecost and silently confessing the Son as "light of light, very God of very God."  And of course, the Holy of Holies is the stone altar, anchored like the rock of St. Peter's confession amid the gravel of a desperate world, the marble slab upon which one finds the Cornerstone, the Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist, the mystery of the Lord's Presence for the forgiveness of sins given by means of the simple creatures of bread and wine.

By contrast, "contemporary worship" is a sad and spiritually impoverished display of vulgar bourgeois suburban kitsch, a puerile frivolity that is more at home in a sterile strip mall or a vacuous night club than in the gritty real world inhabited by real people who suffer real pain and who need a real saving encounter with the real God.

That is why we need real worship.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fr. Peters Hits Another One Outta the Park!

Fr. Peters reveals why he is not in favor of evangelism.  Sounds crazy, right?  Hear him out. 

In the concluding paragraph, he states: 
The truth is I do not have the foggiest idea how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ apart from the Word and Sacraments in which Christ has hidden Himself and revealed Himself.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What do you think?

The following video was shot during a worship service at Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan (LCMS):  

I include this here because I think this is a perfect example of the sort of contemporary worship "style" so many Lutherans are doing their best to achieve and emulate.  This particular example has it all:  The praise band with its lead singers, the back-up choir, the big screens, the un-vested pastor introducing the act and saying a few words after the performance, the applause of the audience, and, of course, a praise song that fits very well into the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) genre.  And, it's all done extremely well.  At least, I think so.  I ain't the most musical person, but having witnessed many attempts at contemporary worship over the years, I gotta give props to this group at Faith, Troy for doing it well.

My question to the four or five readers of this blog is:  Does this "style" of contemporary worship jive with our Lutheran theology of worship?  Why, or why not? 

Obviously, I have my own answer and many reasons to support my answer, but I'm genuinely interested in hearing how others answer this question and hearing the reasons they give for their answer, especially in light of the fact that I will be attending the Theological Conference on Worship in Jenison, MI this coming Saturday, the first of three such conferences scheduled in our District in the coming weeks.

So, what do you think?   

Epiphany 3 Sermon - Abortion Is Evil

What follows is the sermon I preached yesterday.  I rarely preach "topical" sermons, but I was inspired by all the news surrounding the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and decided to pitch the sermon I had prepared and write a new sermon focused on the evil of abortion.  The traditional readings from the historic lectionary were kept in tact, mostly because it was too late to turn yesterday into a "Life Sunday" Service with more appropriate texts (I may do that next year, since if there was ever a good reason to stray from the lectionary, doing so to address this important topic would be it).  The beginning of the sermon and a few thoughts throughout were borrowed from an excellent sermon written by one of my favorite preachers, Fr. David Petersen of Redeemer, Ft. Wayne. 

23 January Anno + Domini 2011
“Abortion Is Evil”
Matt. 8:1-13 (2 Kings 5:1-15a; Rom. 1:8-17)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

All decent Americans are against child abuse.  A couple of years ago there was a story in the news about a toddler whose step-father had burned a vulgar word into the child's back with a cigarette, dot by painful dot.  That was evil.  It was wrong.  No one in their right mind would say otherwise.  No one in their right mind would say that it was merely unfortunate, or that it was simply a poor choice made by the step-father.  NO!  It was demonic, disgusting, despicable!  Of that we must be quite dogmatic.  There are no excuses for such wicked behavior.  It doesn’t matter if the child was bad or the step-father suffered from psychological trauma.  It was evil and wrong.  Period!
We should be no less clear about the violent murder of babies that, as of yesterday, has been legalized by our own government for thirty-eight years, and is carried out with cold, Nazi-like efficiency in clinics and hospitals. The mothers receive anesthesia and are made as comfortable as possible.  But, there is no mercy for the babies.  None!  And it is far more painful and traumatic than cigarette burns.  It is evil.  It is wrong.  It is disgusting and disturbing.  There are no excuses for such wicked behavior.  It is evil and wrong.  Period!  
To stamp that “Period!” on abortion being evil and wrong may sound incredibly intolerant and even radical to ears that have long listened to the lies put forth by those who describe themselves as pro-choice.  So be it.  The devil is not chased away by philosophy, but by dogma, by calling things what they are, by the Truth.  Abortion is murder.  Murder is evil.  That’s the truth that no amount of cleverly-devised lies will ever be able to overcome. 
And you’re all well familiar with many of those cleverly-devised lies, for you have listened to the debate which should never have begun raging on now for two years shy of a Biblical generation.  You have heard that the baby in a mother’s womb is not yet a human being, but just a collection of cells, an embryo, a fetus, and so forth.  That’s a bald-faced lie that science itself refutes.  What is inside a mother’s womb is a unique human being with unique DNA which begins the moment the cells begin to multiply at conception.  And once this lie is revealed as the lie it is, all the other popular lies immediately fall by the wayside, the most popular of the bunch being that a woman should have the right to make decisions about her own body, as if the baby in her womb is a part of the woman’s body.  False.  That baby has its own body.  The mother hosts the baby and feeds the baby, but the mother and the baby are two entirely distinct human beings. 
And when the lies don’t convince us, we’re bombarded with supposed ethical dilemmas put forth by those advocating for the right to murder babies.  “What about in cases of incest and rape?” they ask.  “Abortion should be made available to the victims.”  No, it shouldn’t.  Our mothers were right, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”  Murdering a baby is murdering a baby, regardless of the circumstances of a baby’s conception.  “What about when the amniocentesis reveals that the baby will be born retarded or deformed in some way?”  Again, murder is murder.  If a mother is too psychologically traumatized to care for a baby who was conceived through the heinous acts of incest or rape, or a baby who is born retarded or deformed, she has options – she can put the child up for adoption, allow family members to care for the child, or even abandon the child and let the state determine how to care for the child.  But, abortion is never an acceptable option. 
Ah, but then there is this one:  “What about when the life of the mother is threatened if she goes forth with the childbirth?”  Even Christians have contended that in such an unfortunate scenario, abortion is an acceptable option, which is something I have never really understood.  What gives us the right to play God and determine who lives and dies?  If a woman and her two-year-old child were both drowning at sea and only one of them could be saved, who among us would defend the mother’s decision to save herself and let her child drown?  Don’t get me wrong.  I do realize what a difficult situation it would be for a mother to be told that she may not survive childbirth, and certainly there are a host of other issues to be taken into consideration in such a heart-breaking scenario.  But, still, abortion, even in this very tough situation, is wrong.    
But, dear friends, we need not get too bogged down in all these exceptional ethical dilemmas.  They are put before us as mere smokescreens, as red herrings to divert our attention away from the real issue at hand.  The truth is that there are more than a million abortions performed in our country annually and less than 5% of those abortions fall into the category of these supposed ethical dilemmas.  Besides, were we to agree that abortion should remain legal for cases of incest and rape, birth defects, and when the mother’s life is threatened, it would not deter those who vigorously defend the right to murder babies in the false name of choice one iota. 
Some of you may be wondering whether it’s appropriate to preach about this from the pulpit.  Not only is it appropriate, but it is absolutely necessary.  We are obligated to speak out against this evil, first as citizens of this country and second as Christians who obey God rather than men.  Do not let anyone convince you that this is merely a religious or political issue.  This is primarily a moral issue and a civil rights issue.  When we read the stories of those pastors and priests in Germany who preached against the holocaust being carried out under Hitler’s reign, does the thought of whether or not that was appropriate even attempt to enter our minds?  We must preach against this evil; to fail to do so would be inappropriate and quite sinful. 
I began this sermon with the example of the child who was abused by his step-father.  Everyone agrees that such is evil and wrong.  The holocaust under Hitler I just mentioned, where more than six million Jews were put to death – everyone agrees that such is evil and wrong.  Only a very depraved mind would think otherwise.  The slaughter of the innocent male children of Bethlehem under Herod – everyone agrees that such is evil and wrong.  But, then we come to the greatest, most heinous holocaust of all – the slaughtering of over 53 million babies right here in America, the self-professed home of the brave and land of the free, where we boldly claim:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – and not everyone agrees.  Somehow, murdering over 53 million of our citizens, depriving them of the very things we claim they possess by right from the endowment of their Creator – Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness – is amazingly open for debate.  It is not.  There is no debating this.  There couldn’t be anything more crystal clear than the most certain truth that abortion is evil. 
But, we are all culpable, my friends, every single one of us.  For you have heard it said that abortion is wrong, but I tell you that anyone who has not prayed fervently that this evil be stopped, and anyone who has not spoken out against this evil at every opportunity to do so, and anyone who does not support the efforts of those who are fighting against this evil, and anyone who does not exercise their rights as a citizen of this country to petition their elected servants on a regular basis to stop this evil insanity, is guilty of abortion in their hearts.  Repent!  We have been far too silent and far less active in the fight that demands our continual presence on this particular battlefield.  We have hidden behind the false notion that it’s none of our business.  We have tried to make ourselves feel better by convincing ourselves that because we don’t support abortion, we do not share in the guilt of allowing it to continue among us, or by telling ourselves that there’s simply nothing we can do to stop it.  And so, we continue on with our lives, ignoring the great evil being committed among us, often forgetting, or pretending, that it’s happening, losing ourselves in our own little worlds where we never miss our favorite TV shows or the chance to socialize with our friends or to surf the internet, and so forth, but have no time or desire to join the fight against abortion. 
In the Introit this morning, we prayed:  “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!”  Do we?  Do we hate evil?  Repent!  It is not enough to be against abortion; we have an obligation to stand against abortion however we possibly can, to oppose this not just in our hearts, but with our voices and actions however and wherever we are able, within the restraints of the law of the land and the Law of our God. 
Repent, dear friends, but also take heart, for the same Jesus who healed the leper and the servant of the Centurion in the Holy Gospel today is here among you to heal you.  Let us not forget that He lived and died for all people, even the abortionist and those who lobby and fight tooth and nail to keep this evil legal in our country.  He died for all those women who have chosen, for one reason or another, to abort their babies, and for all those men, who have supported that choice, for whatever reason.  He died for all the babies who have had their lives snuffed out before ever seeing the light of day in this dark and dreary world.  And, He died for you who have not done enough to oppose this evil.  The solution for all of our ills, social and otherwise, is the satisfaction of Justice in the cross of Jesus where He took the sins of all people upon Himself.  In Him, and only in Him, there is forgiveness.
Come, then, dear brothers and sisters, and be cleansed in the Blood of the Lamb.  Have the white baptismal gowns you received when the leprosy of your sin was washed away - just as Naaman’s leprosy was cleansed in the Jordan - cleansed anew in the Blood that was shed on the cross for you.  Come in repentance and faith to the holy altar, confessing with the faithful Centurion that you are not worthy to have your Lord come under your roof, but that at His Word, you will be healed.  For His Word is clear:  This is My Body and Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Come, receive this Holy Sacrament, this Medicine of Immortality, and be strengthened and preserved in the faith, that you might leave here renewed and ready to be His servants in this dead and dying world, standing and fighting on the side of life.  For the same Lord Jesus who Feeds you with Himself here sanctified all human life by entering the womb of His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order to redeem humanity and open the door to everlasting life to all who believe.  For Jesus is the Lord of Life, the One through Whom all things were made, the One who knows every single human being before He even begins to form them in the womb.  He knew you before He knitted you together in your mother’s womb.  He is most definitely Pro-Life, and so must we be, too.   

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

President Obama's Statement on the 38th Anninversary of Roe v. Wade

President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to support abortion in the following statement released earlier today:
Today marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protects women's health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.
I am committed to protecting this constitutional right. I also remain committed to policies, initiatives, and programs that help prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.
And on this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.
If my wife is really getting on my nerves and causing me great inconvenience, and I decide to kill her and eliminate that inconvenience, I'm thinking that the "fundamental principle" referenced by the President would most definitely be violated.  Yes, I'm sure the government would move quickly to intrude on this "private family matter."

How does legalized abortion ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams?  When did we give our sons the right to murder babies?  I must have missed that.   

Rep. James Lankford's Great Speech in Support of LIFE

"Say what you want, split hairs all you want, we know that's a baby."

"May God have mercy on our nation, and may we awaken one day to the horror of what abortion policies have done to our nation. We would rather protect our fundraising, our leadership, and our convenience, than protect the unborn child. This is not a difficult choice. It is a clear choice, and we should choose life."

Amen, brother! Preach it!

Beautiful Baptismal Certificates

A few weeks back, I contacted Pr. Bryan Wolfmueller for information regarding the beautiful baptismal certificates I saw him advertising here.  He responded quickly, and carefully laid out the details of the ordering process.  A few days later, electronic versions of customized baptismal certificates for our congregation arrived in my inbox.  Along with the certificates, I received a helpful FAQ document explaining the purpose of these certificates and providing helpful hints and instructions on how to make the most of them.

I couldn't be more pleased with these certificates.  First, they are absolutely beautiful!  The artwork and Scripture passages which appear on them serve to teach the marvelous treasure which belongs to all who have received the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit in the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Second, these customized certificates now belong to our congregation.  Having paid the one-time fee of $35, we own the rights to these certificates and can print as many as we like and use them however we see fit - forever.  No more periodic ordering of baptismal certificates for us!  Third, the ease of using these certificates is a treasure in itself.  You simply fill in the appropriate info on your master pdfs and you're ready to go.  They are designed to print on 11x17 paper, but if your printer does not have that capability, you can save the master pdfs to a flash drive, CD, etc., take them to a local copy shop, fill in the appropriate info, and make your copies.  Lastly, the beauty and high quality of these certificates make for wonderful and treasured keepsakes.  They look absolutely gorgeous framed and hanging on a wall.  And because we own the rights to our certificates, we do not have to limit our use to future Baptisms, but can offer to print certificates for those who have received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism in the past, which they can hang as a beautiful reminder of the eternal blessings they have as beloved children of God.

I highly recommend these certificates and encourage everyone to follow the link above to give them a look and consider ordering.  I am very thankful to Pr. Wolfmueller and his partner in this endeavor, Jason Hanson (the clever combination of their names results in "Wolfson Creative"), for providing the beloved gift of these wonderful certificates to the Church.

Go now and check them out.  You won't be disappointed.  They are awesome!

In Christ,
Rev. Thomas C. Messer
Peace Lutheran Church
Alma, MI 

Friday, January 21, 2011

President Harrison Receives an Honorary . . .

Manly Doctor of Divinity degree from The God Whisperers.  According to Prs. Cwirla and Donofrio, Pres. Harrison will soon receive a confirmation email from them regarding the degree and he promises to give it the due attention it deserves. :)

Seriously, this is a fascinating interview with our President, which you can listen to here.  Much to chew on, but especially munch-worthy are President Harrison's words regarding the local congregation's role in her surrounding community.  This is an area I struggle with greatly, and I'm guessing that I'm not alone.  I readily admit that neither I nor the parish I serve have been as active in our community as we should.  We have ventured out there at times, but not with any regularity and consistency.  It's challenging.  We are a small parish, which makes it difficult to mobilize the troops.  We live in a small community, where not a lot happens and where most of the needs we might lend a hand in addressing already have more hands involved than necessary.  But, challenges aside, I know there are opportunities out there for us to share Christ through acts of mercy in our community, and we need to get serious about identifying them. 

As I said, much to chew on . . .    

My Latest Newspaper Article

What follows is the latest article I wrote for our local newspaper, which will be published on the morrow:

“Christian preaching should always offend the devil”

Greetings in the Name of our Crucified and Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

A few months back, I heard the host of my favorite Christian radio program make an observation about preaching that I had never really considered before then, but have not stopped pondering since.  The observation made by Rev. Todd Wilken, who hosts “Issues, Etc.” (, was that much of what passes itself off as Christian preaching today is not the least bit offensive to the devil.  He made this observation during his concluding remarks about the sermon of a popular preacher he was reviewing on the show.  He asked listeners if there was anything about the sermon they had just heard preached that would offend the devil.  There wasn’t.  No call to repentance, no mention of the cross and the forgiveness, life, and salvation won by Jesus.  In fact, Jesus was only mentioned a couple of times in passing during the thirty minute sermon, which was nothing more than a self-help, pep talk. 

This observation is as profound as it is simple.  Christian preaching should always offend the devil.  If the devil is not the least bit offended by the sermon, the preacher has failed to do what he is called to do.  But, this obviously begs the question:  What is it that offends the devil? 

Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at what doesn’t offend the devil.  The devil is not the least bit offended by motivational messages, which focus on moving Christians to believe in themselves and to tap into the supposed champion-like power they have within.  The devil is not the least bit offended when he hears Christian preachers exhort their hearers to follow this or that 7-step program, in order to deepen their relationship with God and increase their chances of receiving His blessings.  The devil is not the least bit offended by “how to” sermons (or, sermon series), no matter how cleverly they’re advertised or how appealing they may sound to the masses.  The devil could not care less if the preacher spends his time telling you how to be a better husband, wife, parent, child, or how to better manage your finances, or how to spice up your sex life (yeah, sadly, that happens), or how to find your purpose, so that you can “become a better you” and “live your best life now.” 

Not only is the devil not offended by such preaching, but he thrives on it.  His most earnest desire is for Christians to focus on themselves, for he knows that, if Christians are focused on themselves, they will not be focused on Christ.  Thus, when the devil hears preaching exhorting Christians to work harder at being better at this, that, or the other thing in their lives, he can sit back and relax, for his job is being done for him.  This is exactly what he wants.  He wants Christians to believe in themselves and to turn their attention away from their Savior.  He wants Christians to view Jesus as a mere example to follow, or as a life coach, someone who does nothing more than guide them toward earthly health, wealth, and prosperity, as if this is the goal of the Christian life.  When preaching is directed toward that end, the devil will gladly sit in the front pew and listen with great delight. 

What offends the devil is the truth being preached.  He detests it when he hears the Law being preached in its full severity, reminding hearers that they are sinners who need to repent.  He hates it when the Christian preacher refuses to pander to the “felt needs” of his hearers and will not stroke their egos, scratch their itching ears, and tell them what they want to hear.  He abhors preaching that leaves Christians helpless and hopeless and leads them to cry out in desperation, “Lord, have mercy on me, a poor, miserable sinner!”  When the devil hears such preaching, he screams in despair and cowers in fear, for he knows what’s coming next, namely the pure, sweet message of the Holy Gospel. 

There is nothing more offensive to the devil than Christian preaching which is Christ-centered and Cross-focused.  He can’t stand it when sinners are directed to the cross, where Jesus shed His blood and died to pay the full price for all of their sins.  He can’t stand it because it was at the cross where he was utterly defeated by Jesus, and because he knows that it was at the cross where Jesus won forgiveness, life, and salvation for the world, and because he further knows that it is through the preaching of the pure Gospel that repentant sinners receive that forgiveness, life, and salvation won by Jesus. 

Oh yes, nothing offends the devil more than the preaching of the pure, sweet message of the Holy Gospel.  But, the Gospel is robbed of its sweetness and rather meaningless if it is not first preceded by the preaching of the Law in all its severity, leading sinners to repent and turn to the Lord for mercy.  Thus, Christian preaching which offends the devil is Law and Gospel preaching, which leads hearers away from themselves and toward their Savior, Jesus, who did everything necessary for their salvation, crying out from the cross, “It is finished!”

Self-help and how to messages have no place in the Christian Church.  Those sorts of messages are the same kinds of messages one will hear in every other religion man has created in this sinful world, for every world religion, save Christianity, is a religion focused on works and man’s efforts to achieve his own salvation.  That is why they do not offend the devil. 

What does offend the devil is when preachers in the Christian Church follow after St. Paul, who said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2; see also 1 Cor. 1:18-25).  And so, I concur wholeheartedly with Pastor Wilken:  Christian preaching should always offend the devil, and preaching Christ and Him crucified to sinners in need of a Savior does the trick!     

In Christ,   
Rev. Thomas C. Messer, Pastor
Peace Lutheran Church ~ Alma, MI

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Was Jeff Thinking?

So, I got home from Samantha's basketball game tonight (they lost to a great Freeland team, 64-43, but kept it close until the last few minutes - they were only down by 9 with 3:00 left - Freeland has a girl who could probably start on most Varsity boys' teams; she was lots of fun to watch) and listened to a few of the segments which aired on Issues, Etc. today, including the Blog of the Week segment.  And, what do I hear?  Jeff Schwarz singing some praise song about Jesus being a cool dude to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You"!  What in the world was he thinking?  Pr. Wilken was right when he said, "Jeff, don't ever do that again." :)

You can go here to click on, and listen to, the Blog of the Week segment, and here to see the blog posting which prompted Jeff to his moment of insanity, but I just have to include the video and lyrics below, as well.  This may very well be the worst praise song ever:

Jesus is a cool dude,
40 days with no food,
He died on the cross but that's O.K.
He's got love on his face,
Full of grace!
He's kickin' that devil all over the place!
Singin', We will, we will
Praise him WOO, praise him WOO (2x)
Say it with me:  Jesus wept!  

Friday with Fisk

Five things about this Friday's most excellent video:
  1. An appetizing preview of Symposia week in Fort Wayne (so wish I was able to go; maybe I'll at least head down for the day on Monday for the Free Conference at Redeemer, where Fr. Petersen serves)
  2. Great commentary on the excellent mission work being done by Pr. James May and Lutherans in Africa, as opposed to what is being done officially by LCMS World Mission (I share Pr. Fisk's laments about what is being reported in "Harvest News")
  3. An excellent summation of the distinction between heaven (where the spirits of believers go upon death) and the eternal kingdom (new heavens and new earth) to come when Christ returns in glory on the Last Day (when we will be resurrected to dwell bodily in that kingdom forever) - a distinction that needs to be emphasized again and again - heaven is NOT our final destination, as many wrongly believe
  4. Love the "Praise the Lord and Send Me the Money" song, which describes much of what passes itself off as Christianity here in America, but is NOT true Christianity
  5. Pr. Fisk's funky hair is back (he was doing so well in that area lately, too!)

Installation of PASTOR Harrison

Last Sunday (Jan. 9), LCMS President Rev. Matthew C. Harrison was installed as Assistant Pastor at Village Lutheran Church in Ladue, MO.  This marks the first time in several generations that the LCMS President has been called to serve a congregation as pastor.  Pr. Paul McCain, who was among the clergy participating in the Installation Service, shared some thoughts here about the occasion, including something Pr. Harrison said to him after the Service:  "The closer the Synod president is to bedpans, the better."  I concur with Pr. McCain that there is a lot of wisdom in that statement, and I believe our synod is very blessed to have a leader such as Pastor Harrison at the helm. 

Theology and Practice Cannot Be Separated

Here is an encouraging post by LCMS First Vice President, Rev. Herbert C. Mueller, Jr., regarding the "Koinonia Project," which will soon be commenced in our synod, the goal of which will be to meet around the Word of God and our Lutheran Confessions to settle the divisions which exist among us.  The "Koinonia Project" was introduced by LCMS President Rev. Matthew Harrison in his essay, "It's Time," a while back, wherein he posited that we should follow the approach of our Lutheran forefathers which led to the Formula of Concord, namely to establish the controverted issues among us, determine, based on the clear Word of God and our Confessions, what we confess and what we reject regarding those issues, and agree to live together accordingly.  After years of being told how blissfully united our synod was, and that our divisions were not doctrinal, but merely practical, then President-elect Harrison's essay was (and remains) a breath of fresh air to all who know better.

What is especially encouraging about 1VP Mueller's post is this sentence:
Some would say the differences are usually only matters of practice, yet theology and practice cannot be separated. 
What stands at the core of all our synodical divisions is the argument over whether or not theology (doctrine) and practice can be separated.  It has always amazed me to hear Lutherans arguing that they can be separated.  I remember a synodical official telling me that he disagreed with the notion that doctrine and practice are two sides of the same coin.  "There is more than one way to skin a cat," he said.  My wife can attest to this, as she was standing beside me when he said this to me.  He went on to talk about how wonderful he thought it was that Lutherans were "finally breaking free from their old shackles" and "using all means and methods at their disposal to win the lost for Jesus."  He cited several examples of growing congregations in our district, crediting their growth to the willingness of their pastors and people to think and act "outside of the Lutheran box."  He was very adamant in expressing his belief that doctrine and practice can be separated.  Indeed, it was his earnest contention that they must be separated.

Or, there was the time when I was at seminary and my Field Work supervisor warned me not to allow the seminary to brainwash me into believing that doctrine and practice cannot be separated.  "You'll learn great theology at the seminary," he said, "but you need to be open to a variety of ways of putting that theology into practice when you get into the parish.  Doctrine and practice are not the same thing, regardless of what your seminary profs teach you!"  Within this same conversation, he told me something that I'll never forget, that he believed that Joyce Meyer was an example Lutherans would be wise to emulate.  He must have noted the shock (and disgust) on my face, since he went on to say, "I know that sounds crazy, and I'm certainly not saying that her theology is always correct, but I think we could learn a great deal from her, and from many others, in how to get the message out that our people desperately need to hear."  He capped the conversation off by saying, "We Lutherans must not let our theology bog us down, but we need to remain open to new ways and new methods of getting the unchanging message of the Gospel out there."

I include these examples merely to highlight the fact that the idea that doctrine and practice can be separated (indeed, should be separated for the sake of reaching the lost) is definitely held by many among us today.  I could also point to the book, "Waking the Sleeping Giant," by former LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick, which was released last year and is basically a manifesto for the endorsement and promotion of this idea.

But, the idea is false.  1VP Mueller is correct.  Theology (doctrine) and practice cannot be separated.  As 1VP Mueller goes on to note, "A pastor’s teaching will be reflected in his practice and a pastor’s practice is his theology in action."  This should be self-evident.  This is not rocket science; it's not even rock science.  Practice IS theology (doctrine) in action.  That's just an objective fact and is not open for debate.  Lutherans cannot practice like Methobapticostals or "Americanized" Evangelicals and maintain their Lutheran theology, since, well, they're putting a different theology into action, and it is that different theology that informs and teaches the people they serve.  Lutheran practice is Lutheran theology in action.  Baptist practice is Baptist theology in action.  Methodist practice is Methodist theology in action.  And so forth.

Imagine the surprise you would experience if you attended a Baptist congregation for worship and you saw and heard Lutheran theology being practiced.  I'm betting that you are having a hard time picturing such a thing.  There's a reason for that.  Baptists are not going to put Lutheran theology into practice.  You're not going to hear a Baptist pastor say, "Upon this your confession . . . I forgive you all your sins . . ."; you're not going to hear a Baptist pastor preach a Christ-centered, Cross-focused, Law and Gospel sermon; you're not going to hear that Christ is Really Present in His Holy Word and Sacraments to Gift you with forgiveness, life, and salvation through these blessed means of grace.  What you're going to witness in a Baptist church is Baptist theology put into practice.  And, I would contend that the same would hold true in all of the Protestant denominations - you just don't see Protestants putting Lutheran theology into practice; they're content with putting their own theology into practice, as well they should be.  In making that claim, I am not saying that it has never happened that Protestants put Lutheran theology into practice, but that, if it has happened, it is so rare that it is hard to even imagine.  Not so the other way around, which gives one furiously to think.

Anyway, it is encouraging to hear our synodical leaders stating objectively that theology (doctrine) and practice cannot be separated.  However, given the fact that not everyone among us is convinced that this is objectively true, as amazing as that it is, it may be that this will have to be the first controverted issue to be addressed in the "Koinonia Project."  We can hardly expect to gain much traction in settling other controverted issues if we are not operating from the same understanding that theology (doctrine) and practice are inseparable.  Thus, Article I of the "Koinonia Project" should probably be titled, "The Relationship of Doctrine and Practice."  As sad as it is that we would have to waste time on this, I don't see a way around it.  How can we possibly address other controverted issues if we don't first address this one?

Funny, but Revealing, Video

Fr. Hollywood posted this video over at Gottesdienst Online earlier today: 

First, I have to admit, I laughed pretty hard as I watched this absurdity unfold before my eyes.  An elderly choir singing rap and pop songs in the attempt to be hip and cool is just funny stuff!

But, after I stopped laughing, I began thinking (I know, scary, right?).  What I began thinking about is how this video reveals a truth regarding the genesis of "contemporary worship" among Lutherans, which many advocates of the same often refuse to admit, namely that it wasn't the youth who were clamoring for new and improved, hip and relevant, worship back in the day when Lutherans began flirting with this stuff.  It was the adults.  The adults, not the youth, advocated that we needed to change the way we worship to make it more appealing for our youth.  But, really, at the end of the day, what the adults really wanted was to make worship more appealing to themselves.  That is not to say that there weren't some well-intentioned adults back then who really did believe that changing the way we worship would have a positive impact on our youth.  I'm sure there were many who honestly believed as much.  But, at the same time, if those adults are honest, they would have to admit that this was just as much, if not more, about them than it was about the youth.

The inconvenient truth is that the genesis of "contemporary worship" among Lutherans really had nothing to do with the youth, even though many tried (and still do try) to make that case.  Instead, it had everything to do with many Lutherans buying into the principles of the Satanic Church Growth Movement (CGM).  And, yes, I said Satanic.  When a movement is begun which suggests that the Church must change who she is and what she does; that she must follow a worldly business model, treating the Gospel as a product to be creatively marketed to appeal to consumers (i.e. unchurched, or, really, unbelievers), and that such creative marketing must be based on what those consumers want and desire, this is the work of the old evil foe.

Already, we see Lutherans becoming enamored with the CGM in the 1960s and 1970s, but it really wasn't until the late 70s and early 80s that it gained a foothold among Lutherans.  Within our own LCMS, Church Growth Seminars were all the rage during that time frame.  In fact, reviewing the minutes from Church Council meetings and Voters' Assemblies at the congregation where I serve, it is amazing to see how often these sorts of seminars are mentioned in the pastor's reports during that period.  Of course, the goal among Lutherans back then was to Lutheranize the principles of the CGM, sifting out what was good from among what was bad about those principles.  But, this was (and still is) an exercise in futility.  The idea that the Church must make changes based on the wants and desires of unbelievers simply cannot be Lutheranized.  Can it?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Issues, Etc. Interview - The Feast of Weeks

Had the honor of being interviewed on Issues, Etc. yesterday regarding the last of the articles on the Old Testament Feasts I wrote for Higher Things Magazine - The Feast of Weeks. I listened to it today and realized that I made the mistake of referring to Pentecost as Passover a couple of times. Oops. That's okay; I meant what I knew! :)  You can listen below:

Greek Tuesday

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Awesome Video

Man, does this bring back memories.  I wonder how many hours I wasted playing Tecmo Bowl back in the day?  It was all the rage when I was in high school.  We used to have Tecmo Bowl tournaments and play till our fingers hurt.  I've tried to describe how far video games have come to my son, who plays the latest version of Madden, but I don't think he'll ever truly get it.

Oh, and the run by Marshawn Lynch - Wow!  One of the greatest ever, especially in the playoffs!

The Gospel Is Not Enough

This video would be much mo' funny if there wasn't so much truth to it:

May 21, 2011

What, you thought the end of the world was slated for December 21, 2012? Nope! It will be May 21, 2011. Well, not exactly. On that day, the Rapture will take place. Then, for 153 days, God's Judgment will fall upon those "left behind" here on the earth. Then, after those 153 days, the universe will be destroyed with fire . . .

Here, watch this video. It will explain it all very clearly to you. I mean, all this stuff is right there in the Bible, which even tells us the exact numbers of those who will be saved and those who will be "desecrated." I can't believe I have missed all this in all my years of studying Holy Scripture. It's all so clear to me now. To think, all this time I was hung up on our Lord's statement about no one knowing the day or the hour. Silly me. Thanks for setting me straight, Prophet Camping. I know you've made predictions before this one that haven't panned out, but you really seem to have your facts straight this time.

You can read the story associated with the video here.

HT:  Fr. Alms

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New Issues, Etc. Promotional Video

Michigan District Theological Conferences on Worship

A few weeks from now, the Michigan District will host the first of the three Theological Conferences on Worship they have scheduled.  You can watch a video invitation by District President Maier, and see the locations, dates, speakers, and schedule for these conferences here

These conferences are offshoots of the synodical conference held in January of last year to fulfill a resolution passed by our synod in convention in 2007.  I think it's a good idea for our District to have Theological Conferences on Worship, since, as Pres. Maier notes in his invitation, "there are still points of contention in how we worship."  This is most certainly true!  In the Michigan District, the largest in the LCMS, one can find just about anything that can be imagined in the worship services of her congregations, from setting up a bedroom set in the chancel to preach a Lenten sermon series on sex to High Mass, with all the smells and bells associated with it.  In the vast majority of congregations within the District that are large enough to have multiple Services each Sunday, members are offered different "types" of Services, from which they can choose, based on what they like best, to attend (e.g. Traditional Worship at 8:30 a.m., Contemporary Worship at 11:00 a.m. - some also have what they call "Blended Worship," which is supposedly a mixture of Traditional and Contemporary within the same Service).  The sad reality is that LCMS Lutherans have no idea what they're going to walk into on a Sunday morning if they are visiting one of our District's congregations and have not done a little research ahead of time.  So, yeah, having Theological Conferences on Worship in our District is a very good idea. 

However, I don't give these particular conferences much of a chance to actually address the contention about which Pres. Maier speaks.  Not when they are being organized with the idea of having us move toward A theology of worship, since that implies that we Lutherans are in search of establishing a theology of worship and do not already have one.  The synodical conference held last January was built upon the same theme:  Toward A Theology of Worship.  I wrote about that in a blog post back then, which you can read here.  After listening to all the presentations made at that conference, and speaking with several pastors and laymen who were in attendance, I think it is safe to conclude that not much was accomplished.  And I don't anticipate much being accomplished at these conferences in our District, either.  Call me a "party pooper," if you will, but when the goal is to move toward A theology of worship, as if we don't already have one, not much good can possibly be accomplished.  We should, rather, be convening to study and discuss the theology of worship we Lutherans already have, and then analyze what is being done in the realm of worship based on that theology.  That might be very productive.  As it is, the real goal of the synodical conference, and of these conferences in our District, was/is, seems to me, to develop A NEW theology of worship which accommodates a variety of theologies of worship.

But, I will go.  And I will listen and contribute.  I hope I am wrong.  Maybe some good will come of these conferences.  We'll see . . .   

Something Smells Rotten

Below is a video promo of an upcoming "sermon" series at North Point Church in Springfield, MO.

Whoopee Cushion Life Teaser from North Point Church on Vimeo

Titles for the "sermons" in this "Whoopee Cushion Life" series:

"He Who Smelt It, Dealt It"

"Pull My Finger"

"Silent But Deadly"

"Blame It on the Guy in the Elevator"

Jesus Wept!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday with Fisk . . . and Then Some

Bonus Time:

The Confession

Last night, I finished reading my first novel on my new Pandigital Novel that Lisa got me for Christmas.  Wasn't sure if I was going to like this new toy, since I love holding a book in my hands.  But, I have to say that it's growing on me.  I love being able to hold it in one hand and breeze through page after page.  I also love the fact that I can lay down and set it on its stand and read hands-free.  Plus, it has wifi, so I can check email and surf the net while lying on the couch - pretty cool.

"The Confession:  A Novel," written by John Grisham, was a good read.  It's about a Lutheran pastor, who has a lifelong criminal stumble into his office and confess to a murder he committed nine years ago, just days before the scheduled execution of the man the authorities wrongly convicted.  Lots of twists and turns along the way, as the pastor races with the guilty man to Texas in the hope of having him tell the truth before the authorities kill the wrong man.

All the elements one would expect from a Grisham novel:  Crime, suspense, justice, corruption, revenge, reconciliation, politics, courtroom drama, and a boat-load of colorful characters.  I could easily see this book being made into a feature film.  In fact, as I was reading it, I was picturing which actors would fit which roles as it played out on the big screen.

The only drawback:  The Lutheran pastor is not all that Lutheran, as is made evident throughout the book whenever Grisham reveals his theology.  But, that doesn't prevent it from being a good and entertaining read.   

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Little Late, but . . .

here are a couple pics of our sanctuary decorated for Christmas, as well as for the Feast Days celebrated during Christmastide:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Couldn't Agree More . . .

with Fr. Hollywood's endorsement and promotion of Gottesdienst

If you do not subscribe, you simply do not know what you are missing.  This is the one periodical I receive that I can honestly say that I read from cover to cover each time it arrives. 

You should seriously consider subscribing today! 

The Most Memorable Moment of 2010

There were lots of memorable moments for me in 2010. My nephew, Max, was born, which is a tremendous blessing from our Lord and nothing less than a miracle. My daughter, Sarah, graduated with honors from Alma High School. My Spartans went 11-1 and won a Big Ten Championship (we won't talk about the Bowl Game against Alabama - that was just plain ugly!). We had three births within our congregation: Kylie, Mabel, and Abigail. The congregation I serve threw me a wonderful and surprising 5-Year Anniversary Party. My best friend and "brother from another mother," Al, was called home by our Lord. And I'm sure if I thought long enough about it, I could mention a great many other things.

But, of all the memorable moments in 2010, the most memorable for me would have to be what happened on the afternoon of July 13. Lisa and I were sitting in front of our computers, as were a great many others around our country and around the world, waiting eagerly for the election of the LCMS President to take place. And when the screen with the results popped up, showing that Rev. Matthew Harrison had won, the feeling was overwhelming - a mixture of surprise, joy, elation, and relief all bundled together. Instant tears. And listening to our new President-elect's beautiful and humble address was something I shall never forget.

This doesn't mean that I would rank the election of President Harrison higher in importance than the things I mentioned above, or any number of other things that happened in my life in the year now gone. It just means that it was one of those rare "Do you remember where you were when . . .?" occasions; one of those very surreal moments that we experience from time to time in this vale of tears.

And for those who would accuse me, and others, of placing too much importance on this, or of elevating President Harrison to some Savior-like pedestal, you might very well have a point. But, it doesn't change the way I (we) felt that day. And, having now lived for a quarter under the leadership of President Harrison and his team, I couldn't be more pleased, and I look forward to what that leadership will mean for our beloved synod in the future.

Anyway, a little trip down memory lane:

Baptism is Groovy

Of all the blessings we Lutherans could count regarding 2010, surely the weekly podcasts of the ever-energetic and unashamedly Lutheran Pr. Fisk rank right up there. I know I am one of thousands who looks forward to Greek Tuesday (even though he follows the "other" lectionary - ahem!) and Ask Da Pastor Friday. Thanks, Pr. Fisk, for taking the time to put these exceptionally educational and entertaining videos together. Keep 'em coming! We want our WE TV!

Epiphany Greetings from President Harrison

Blessed Epiphany and New Year from President Harrison from VimeoLCMS on Vimeo.

Baptized into Christ, Part 2

Yesterday, when I finally was able to get my hands on Sarah's camera to upload the pics of the Baptisms, I ran into a snag.  Every time I tried to upload the pics, it kept getting snagged on the first pic and wouldn't proceed with the uploading, or so I thought.  After a few attempts, I disconnected the camera and started playing with it, when I noticed that there was a funky icon associated with the first pic.  It finally dawned on me that this was not a pic, but a video.  Duh!  I had no clue that Samantha had used Sarah's camera to video tape the Baptisms.  That was why it was taking so long to upload the pics.  So, I connected the camera back to my laptop and started uploading again.  After a while, the video and all the pics were all on my computer.  Then, I had the idea that I would upload the video to youtube, something that I had never done before.  So, I created a youtube account and started uploading it.  Wow!  It took 10 hours for the upload to be completed.  But, it finally went through.  Here is the result:

Baptized into Christ

This past Sunday, I had the joy, privilege, and honor of baptizing my sister, Brandy, her husband, Mike, and their child, my nephew, Maximus.  The Baptisms took place Sunday afternoon, after Divine Service and Bible Study.  They had indicated their desire to be baptized and to start going to Church, which was music to my ears, and an answer to the many prayers I have uttered for them.  I recommended that we take care of getting them baptized while they were here visiting this past weekend.  After all, why delay having them receive the washing of regeneration?

They attended the Divine Service with us Sunday morning, along with my dad and my cousin, Devon.  Always a blessing to have family together in the Lord's House.  Coincidentally (or, maybe not), the sermon had much to do with the eternal benefits of being Baptized into Christ, since we were observing the Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.  After the Divine Service, Brandy and I spoke about them getting baptized after Bible Study, but I wasn't sure if they would return or not.  And when Bible Study concluded and they hadn't shown up, I thought maybe they had decided to wait.  But, as I was on my way home, they were on their way back to our church.  I actually passed them on the way, turned around, and headed back.  Sarah had texted me to let me know they were coming, but, like a dummy, I hadn't checked my phone.  Anyway, what joy that our Lord brought them to the font, washed them clean, and welcomed them into His Divine Family!

They have been Baptized into Christ.  And, I presented them with several resources to aid them in their New Life together - a copy of The Lutheran Study Bible, Luther's Small Catechism, The Lutheran Book of Prayer, God Chose You, to go with the copy of Lutheranism 101 I had given to them a while back.  I also pointed them to a congregation in their area where I know they will be well catechized, and will hear the Holy Gospel preached in its purity and have the Holy Sacraments administered according to Christ's institution.  I pray fervently that they will faithfully attend this congregation and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom they have now been joined through the Holy Sacrament of Baptism.

A few pics:

Brandy and Mike asked Sarah and me to be Max's godparents, to which we were thrilled to agree!