Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pr. Weedon on "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones"

Tomorrow morning, we'll be singing "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones" as the Entrance Hymn during our Festival of All Saints Day.  Click here to read what Pr. Weedon has to say about this wonderful hymn - great stuff! 

A visit from Cinderella and Kangaroo

Tonight, we had our very first trick-or-treaters EVER visit our home.  Living out in the country with a grand total of six homes on our unpaved road doesn't make for a high level of Halloween activity.  So, it was nice to have Ms. Hannah (Cinderella) and Ms. Rebekah (Kangaroo), children of a faithful couple in our congregation, pay us a visit.  Good thing we had some candy on hand - Pshew! :)

"Fifteen Minutes That Changed the Word"

Click here to read this fine article about the Reformation written by Rev. Paul McCain.

Germs in the Chalice?

Pr. Petersen posted an article over on Cyberstones today which is worth the read, especially given the panic surrounding the swine flu.  Bottom line:  There is no reason to fear partaking of the Lord's Blood via the chalice, unless, of course, you do not believe it is the very Blood of the Lord you are receiving (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27ff.).  

Ceremonies DO teach!

I received an email yesterday from an anonymous person who challenged the assertion I made in an earlier post that "ceremonies teach; practice informs."  Part of that email read:
The problem with you guys who continually bash contemporary worship forms is that you wrongly place your prefferred [sic] style of worship on a pedistal [sic] instead of the Word of God.  It is not ceremonies or practices which teach, but the Word.  You would think that Lutherans would know that!!!! . . . It does not matter HOW we worship, so long as we know WHO we're worshipping [sic]!!!  Jesus could not give a care less whether we use contemporary praise worship styles or old-fashion liturgys [sic].  He is not up there in heaven keeping a list to make sure that we get all of the proper liturgy elements in during our worship!!!  Maybe you guys should spend more time teaching people about Jesus than protecting your beliefs about worship styles and such things!  Maybe you should read the bible a little more so that you could realize the truth that it doesn't matter how we worship as long as we present the same Gospel to the Christ-followers who come!!!  We TEACH by THAT GOSPEL not by our ceremonies and practices!!!
I was recently similarly challenged in an online forum and much of the response I include below is based on my response to that earlier challenge: 

Ceremonies do teach.  Practice does inform.  That's why we Lutherans confess:  "For ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ" (AC XXIV:3).  That ceremonies and practices teach is a fact that can be illustrated with a plethora of examples.  The idea that the same teaching will be conveyed if we use the same texts but different ceremonies is simply wrong.  I think what you are trying to say is that the Word alone creates, and sustains, faith.  On that we would agree.  But, that such is true does not mean that ceremonies are neutral.  How the Service is conducted plays a vital role in the deliverance of the saving Word.  The ceremonies we employ are interpretive of that saving Word.  What we believe about that Word is revealed by how we deliver that Word.  That does not mean that we must follow some specific list of liturgical elements in order for that Word to be effective, as if we have to find the "magic formula" to allow the Word to do its work.  It just means that the ceremonies with which we surround and deliver that Word speak volumes about what we believe about that Word.  

Methobapticosals do not worship like we do, because they do not believe what we believe.  The ceremonies with which they surround and deliver the Word differ greatly from our ceremonies for that reason.  They use different words and actions to deliver that Word.  Those words and actions are interpretive of the Word and do teach the people, whether you want to believe it or not, what is to be believed about that Word.  Their ceremonies teach; their practice informs.

What I have been arguing, and will continue to argue, is that Lutherans who employ methobapticostal ceremonies (practices), or Americanized Evangelical or Emergent, "styles of worship" are teaching people to believe something contrary to what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess about the Word.  This doesn't mean that they're going to Hell because they refuse to follow the correct list of liturgical elements.  It just means that they're not being faithful to what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess, and the people they serve are most definitely being taught to believe contrary to what we Lutherans believe.

Furthermore, none of us "guys" who defend the historic liturgy do so because we desire to put the liturgy on a pedestal above the Word, but rather because we recognize that the historic liturgy and its ceremonies best confess what we believe about the Word, and provide a time-tested, Christ-centered, Cross-focused vehicle by which that Word is delivered to the faithful.  The historic liturgy and its ceremonies are centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, dripping with His Holy and Precious Blood which atoned for the sin of the world.  To contend that we must distinguish the Word from the historic liturgy is to misunderstand what the historic liturgy is, for what is it if not the very Word of God?

In addition, none of us "guys" who defend the historic liturgy contend that every "i" must be dotted and every "t" must be crossed in the exact same manner in the Divine Service.  This is a false charge which is unfortunately, and all too often, hurled against us, and has no basis in reality.  There is great freedom within our ceremonies.  But, that freedom is not limitless.  The Lutheran definition of adiaphora is neither "indifferent matters" nor "anything goes."  When we replace our ceremonies with the ceremonies of those who do not believe, teach, and confess as we do, we have gone beyond the limits our freedom in ceremonies allows us to go. 

Ceremonies do teach; practice does inform.  It doesn't matter whether you believe this or not; it is most certainly true.  And, because it is true, Jesus does care HOW we worship.  He wants our focus on Him, not on ourselves, for He comes into our midst during the Divine Service to serve us with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Holy Word and Sacraments.  Ceremonies and practices that teach people to focus on anything other than the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world are simply not in line with the confession of the faith and theology of worship of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, to which we Lutherans adhere.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

For enemies and persecutors

Our Lord's commands to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who persecute us are in violent opposition to the will of our sinful nature.  We do not want to love our enemies.  Why should we?  They don't love us.  We do not want to do good to those who hate us.  We want to hate them back.  We want them to get what's coming to them, and if we can participate in  making that happen, all the better.  And, pray for those who persecute us?  No way!  We'd much rather curse them and pray for their demise.  The way of the cross is unnatural and painful.  Crucifying the flesh and its desires is torturous.

But, thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do," He prays from the cross.  Suspended on beams of hatred, He loves His enemies, does good to those who hate Him, and prays for His persecutors and executioners.

And now, through the power of the Gospel, those who are brought to faith in the One who loved His enemies unto death are given a New Man, a regenerated spirit, who, in contradiction to the Old Adam, longs to love enemies, do good to haters, and pray for persecutors.  Filled with His love, Christ's disciples are amazingly able to overcome their natural instincts and love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, and pray for their persecutors.  Not perfectly, mind you - not this side of heaven.  For the Old Adam remains in us and vigorously battles the New Man for control of our will.  What we long to do, we often fail to do.  What we long not to do, we often do.  We struggle.  We are conflicted within.  But, that is good, for that inner struggle is indicative of the fact that we have been reborn from above and have saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Thus, our baptismal lives in Christ Jesus are lived out by daily contrition and repentance, that the Old Adam should daily be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that the New Man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  The result - the amazing result - of this daily baptismal pattern to our lives is that sinners like us, forgiven on account of Christ's perfect life and death in our place, filled by His grace and clothed in His holiness and righteousness, can, and do, pray:
Almighty, everlasting God, through Your only Son, our blessed Lord, You commanded us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who persecute us.  Therefore, we earnestly implore You that by Your gracious working our enemies may be led to true repentance, may have the same love toward us as we have toward them, and may be of one accord and of one mind and heart with us and with Your whole Church; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Lutheran Service Book - Pastoral Care Companion, pp. 532-533)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Peace Movie Night

We began having Movie Nights at our congregation a few years ago and I have always enjoyed them.  We haven't been able to have them the last couple of months because the projector we were using was borrowed and we no longer have it at the church.  So, one of our dear members, who happens to be the Librarian at Alma College, offered to host Movie Night in the Smith Room of the library.  And, as an added bonus, she volunteered to contact some of the religion/church history profs and extend the invitation to have their students join us, since we were going to be watching "Luther."  She also arranged to have pizza and pop available for everyone. 

What a treat this was!  The Smith Room was very comfortable and the audio/visual equipment was superb - what an ideal place to watch a movie.  And the pizza, which was made on campus, was some of the best pizza I've had in a long time.  And, to top it off, we had a full house, thanks be to God.  I was pleasantly surprised to see as many members from our congregation as were there (and some others wanted to be there, but had to cancel at the last minute), but even more surprised to see more than twenty students join us.  That was pretty cool.  I think their profs offered them extra credit to attend (and report?), but still, they didn't have to come.

After the movie, I led a discussion that lasted a little less than a half hour.  Some good questions were asked and it provided me the opportunity to touch on a few keys regarding the Reformation.  It was a lot of fun and, hopefully, informative for our members and the students.

This was the fourth or fifth time I have watched "Luther."  Overall, I really like the movie, and think that it does a good job of portraying the history from Luther's early struggles as an Augustinian monk to the reading of the Augsburg Confession in 1530.  A little dramatic license here and there, but pretty accurate and well done.

Thanks, Carol, for all your hard work in planning this and pulling it off.  It is much appreciated and couldn't have been any more enjoyable!    

Christ Is Present in the Holy Eucharist

I was watching The Journey Home last night on EWTN (Roman Catholic channel).  This is a show where the host, Marcus Grodi, interviews guests who have recently converted ("returned home") to the Roman Catholic Church.  I have watched this show many times over the years, because I find it interesting to hear the reasons the guests give for making their journey to the Roman Catholic Church.

Last night's guest was a former United Methodist Church pastor.  As I listened to him tell his story, it was easy to discern the main reason for his conversion to Rome, namely that he was drawn by the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  There were other reasons, to be sure, but this was the clincher for him.  He had come to learn, through his study of Church History, that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church has always believed, taught, and confessed that Jesus was really present in His true Body and Blood when the faithful gathered in His Name.  This changed everything for him.  His practice as a Methodist pastor seemed empty now.  The worship he led was directed toward an absent Jesus, who was "up there" in heaven, and his preaching was focused on leading people to live godly lives that they might be good enough to meet Jesus when they die.  Having been given this new revelation that Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist, he could no longer, in good conscience, serve as a Methodist pastor, so he resigned his call, began catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, and eventually joined that fellowship.

One of the frustrating things about this interview, and all the interviews I have watched on this show over the years, is that the impression was given that Roman Catholics are the only ones who believe Jesus is present in the Mass (Divine Service).  Eastern Orthodox are sometimes acknowledged as believing this, too, but they are said not to have the "fullness" of the Eucharist, since they're not fully part of Holy Mother Church.  What about Lutherans?  We are lumped together with all other Protestants on this show.  To be fair, every once in a while, Grodi and his guests will acknowledge that we Lutherans have "some sense" of Christ's Real Presence, but we are never given full credit for what we believe, teach, and confess.

The way we Lutherans are falsely caricatured on the show used to anger me, but no more, since I think I understand why we are not taken seriously about our beliefs, especially in relation to our belief concerning Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist.  This came to me a little over a year ago when I watched the show and two former Lutheran pastors were Grodi's guests.  Both former Lutheran pastors expressed our Lutheran belief in Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist very well.  They made it vividly clear that Lutherans believe Jesus is present with His true Body and Blood in the Holy Meal.  They even corrected Grodi a couple of times during the interview, since he was trying to interject the idea that Lutherans don't really believe in the same Real Presence as Rome.  The reason both former Lutheran pastors left Lutheranism and went "home" to Rome was not because Rome had the Real Presence and Lutherans didn't, but rather because, in their estimation and experience, Rome took the Real Presence seriously and Lutherans didn't.  They had become dissatisfied with the flippancy they witnessed among many Lutherans surrounding the Holy Meal.  They pointed to the use of plastic, disposal, individual cups during the Distribution and how those cups were thrown in the trash after the Service, and to the growing trend within their Lutheran denominations toward contemporary worship formats which, in their estimation, contradicted what Lutherans claim to believe, teach, and confess.

I have to admit that I listened to these two former Lutherans with a sympathetic ear, as I share the frustrations they communicated during the interview.  The truth is that one could walk into a great many Lutheran congregations today and have no idea that they believe Jesus is Really Present.  Why should Lutherans be taken seriously about their belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist when their practice doesn't match that belief?  Why do many Lutherans, including many of the leaders in our own Missouri Synod, believe that we can worship like those who do not believe in Christ's Real Presence, but still somehow maintain the substance of our confession?  I can totally understand the frustration these two former Lutheran pastors felt.  Not only is it frustrating to witness Lutherans practicing contrary to what they believe, but, as they also shared, it is frustrating to be mocked and ridiculed by these new-age Lutherans when we stand fast upon our beliefs and put into practice what we believe.  False accusations of being "closet Roman Catholics" or "ultra-confessionals" or "purists" are hurled our direction because we are adamant about our belief that Lutherans should celebrate the Mass (Divine Service) as though we actually believed Jesus was Present, rather than like those who don't.

With that said, my sympathy for these two former Lutherans ends at the point of their leaving Lutheranism for Rome.  That is no solution to the frustrations they experienced.  I have never understood how Lutherans could abandon their confession of the faith in order to join Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.  I understand their frustrations, but I will never be able to understand their willingness to give up some of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, the chief of which being the doctrine of justification, in order to ease those frustrations.  Of course, those who have left would argue that they haven't abandoned their confession, but have rather learned the fullness of their confession in these historic fellowships.  Sorry, I don't buy it.  Not even for a moment.  The doctrinal differences between Lutherans and Rome (and the East) are essential and vast.  But, that's not what I want to focus upon here.

What I want to highlight is the fact that we Lutherans do believe, teach, and confess, with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of all time, that Christ IS PRESENT in the Holy Eucharist, and how that belief must inform and shape our practice in worship.  At the end of the day, this is really the crux of the silly, ongoing debate among Lutherans regarding worship practices.  If we believe that Christ is Present among us, we will practice accordingly.

This is what our Lutheran forefathers were getting at when they confessed:
Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass.  The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence.  Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, except that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns.  These have been added to teach the people.  For ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ (AC XXIV:1-3).
Our Lutheran forefathers were being accused by Rome of abolishing the Mass and doing a new thing.  Their response was clear.  They had not abolished the Mass, but continued to celebrate it with the highest reverence.  They retained the usual ceremonies.  The only thing they added were German hymns for the purpose of further teaching the people what they believed, taught, and confessed about Christ, even as their retention of the usual ceremonies taught the same.  They go on to point out some of the abuses within the Mass that they had corrected, for the sake of the Gospel.  But, they are adamant in their defense that they have not changed the theology of worship, which is centered on the Real Presence of Christ among them during the Mass.

After Rome responded to the Augsburg Confession with their Confutation, our Lutheran forefathers again made their confession clear:
At the outset, we must again make this preliminary statement:  we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it.  Masses are celebrated among us every Lord's Day and on the other festivals.  The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved.  And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other such things (AP XXIV:1).
Again, they are clear.  Rome's accusations against them are false.  They go on to explain very clearly that the only changes they've made to the Mass are for the sake of more clearly teaching people about Christ and His Presence among them in the Mass, including the use of the vernacular.  They admit that they have discontinued some things, like "private Masses," and that they have corrected some abuses, like consecrating bread and wine for the sole purpose of adoration, rather than for the purpose of distribution, per our Lord's clear institution.  There is much more discussed in this article, but the main point that comes through loud and clear is that Lutherans continued to confess the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass and that their celebration of the Mass, including the ceremonies they employed, most definitely matched this belief.

Can the same be said today by those Lutherans who take their cue from Protestants who do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ and turn the Divine Service into an entertaining "worship experience"?  Is the Mass (Divine Service) being celebrated "with the highest reverence" when the altar is eliminated or moved to the side to make room for the "praise band"?  Are Lutherans "religiously defending and keeping the Mass" when they employ "contemporary praise songs" which focus on an absent Jesus, at best, or a generic god, at worst?

It is no wonder that we Lutherans are not taken very seriously when it comes to our confession that Christ is Present in the Holy Eucharist.  How can we be taken seriously when many among us do not act like they believe this?

I really believe, as I said above, that this is the crux of the debate among Lutherans.  It is not about "style" or "taste"; it is not about holding on to the past merely for tradition's sake.  It is about what we believe and, specifically, what we believe about Christ in relation to the Divine Service.  Is He Present or not?  If He is, then our practice should confess as much.  It is not enough to confess on paper that we believe He is Present; our practice better confess the same.  For our Lutheran forefathers are most certainly correct:  Our ceremonies teach; our practice informs.  People learn every bit as much about our doctrines from our practices as they do from our words.  In fact, I think it is safe to say that if our practice does not jive with our words, practice will win out.  We can say "Real Presence, Real Presence, Real Presence" till the cows come home, but if we practice like we don't believe Jesus is Really Present, people won't believe it.   

We do not need to return "home" to Rome or flee to the East.  We need only to practice what we believe, teach, and confess.  If we did that, then those dissatisfied Protestants who are brought to the realization that Christ Is Present in the Holy Eucharist might actually consider taking the journey home to confessional Lutheranism, where the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is truly confessed.    

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Issues, Etc. Blog of the Week

Thanks to Pr. Todd Wilken for making my blog his choice for "IE Blog of the week" for the second straight week.  You can click on the link below to get to, and listen to, the segment.

2 Seconds Away . . .

What's that saying about a picture and a thousand words?
Sparty gave undefeated and 6th-ranked Iowa all they could handle last night.  What a game!  When the Spartans executed that hook-and-ladder play on 3rd-and-a-mile, I thought this might be our night.  But, as excited as I was to see them score the go ahead TD, I was a little nervous that they left too much time on the clock.  As it turns out, they left exactly 2 seconds too much time, as Iowa, faced with a 4th-and-goal, scored the winning TD as time ran out.  But, again, what a game.  There is no shame in this loss.  The boys fought till the end and almost pulled it out.  Plus, that other team from our state got clobbered by Penn State, so that lessens the pain a lot. :) 

What a Beautiful Sermon!

No, I'm not talking about the sermon I preached today, but the hymn, "Salvation Unto Us Has Come," which was the Hymn of the Day this morning.  As we were singing this beautiful hymn, the thought occurred to me, "Why do I need to preach?  This hymn is a beautiful sermon in and of itself, and I could hardly improve upon it."  Everything you need to know about our salvation in Christ is found within the text of this beauty.  Law and Gospel, sin and grace, faith and works, conversion, Baptism, Christ's active and passive obedience, the Holy Trinity - all covered!  Click here and check it out.  It would be most beneficial for the Christian to memorize the sermon preached by this hymn.     

A Beautiful Reformation Festival!

What a blessing it was to gather in the Lord's House with the faithful this morning for our observance of the Festival of Reformation Day.  The Service was absolutely beautiful.  Huge thanks to Mary, our wonderful organist, and to the members of our choir for blessing us with their talents and enhancing the beauty of the Festival.  Here's an outline of the Service:

Processional Hymn:  "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" (LSB 655)
Confession & Absolution
Entrance Hymn:  "The Holy Word of God Endures Forever" (new Starke hymn written to the glory of God at the publication of The Lutheran Study Bible; choir sang stanza 1, congregation 2-4)
Kyrie:  "Kyrie! God, Father" (LSB 942 - sung by choir)
Gloria:  "All Glory Be to God Alone" (LSB 948)
Salutation and Collect of the Day
First Reading:  Revelation 14:6-7
Anthem:  "To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray" (LSB 768)
Epistle:  Romans 3:19-28
Triple Alleluia
Holy Gospel:  John 8:31-36
Creed:  "We All Believe in One True God" (LSB 953)
Hymn of the Day:  "Salvation Unto Us Has Come" (LSB 555 - choir sang stanzas 3, 6, 9)
Prayer of the Church
Preface and Proper Preface
Lord's Prayer
Words of Institution
Sanctus:  "Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old" (LSB 960 - sung by choir)
Pax Domini
Agnus Dei:  "Lamb of God, Pure and Holy" (LSB 434)
Distribution Hymns:  "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing" (LSB 633); "I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table" (LSB 618); "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice" (LSB 556)
Post-Communion Hymn:  "O Lord, We Praise Thee" (LSB 617)
Thanksgiving and Post-Communion Collect
Salutation and Benedicamus
Recessional Hymn:  "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (LSB 656)

From beginning to end, absolutely gorgeous - the Lord is Good! 

Now, if I could just get my voice back . . . :)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

C. P. Krauth on the Festival of the Reformation

"When the Festival of the Reformation shall come and shall wake no throb of joy in [the Church's] bosom, her life will have fled.  For if the Reformation lives through her, she also lives by it.  It has to her the mysterious relation of Christ to David; if it is her offspring, it is also her root.  If she watched the ark of the Lord, the ark of the Lord protected and blessed her, and when it passes from her keeping, her glory will have departed.  Let her speak to her children then, and tell them the meaning of the day.  In the pulpit, and the school, and the circle of the home, let these great memories of men of God, of their self-sacrifice, of their overcoming faith, and of their glorious work, be the theme of thought, and of word, and of thanksgiving.  The Festival of the Reformation is at once a day of Christmas and of Easter and of Pentecost, in our Church Year; a day of birth, a day of resurrection, a day of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.  Let its return renew that life, and make our Church press on with fresh vigor in the steps of her risen Lord, as one begotten again, and born from the dead, by the quickening power of the Spirit of her God.  Let every day be a Festival of the Reformation, and every year a Jubilee." -- Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Confessional Reformation and Its Theology (St. Louis:  CPH, 2007), p. 4

Pr. Peters on Finding the Lutheran Church

Please take a moment to head over to Pr. Larry Peter's blog and read his latest post, which is most excellent.  In fact, while you're there, take a gander at some of his past posts.  His blog has quickly become one of my favorites.  I just added his blog, Pastoral Meanderings, to my blog list.  Actually, I thought I had done that a while back, but I guess not.  Anyway, it's there now, and it is definitely worth checking often.   

Friday, October 23, 2009

Issues, Etc. New Promotional Video

Great stuff on Psalm 33

Psalm 33 contains the famous verse, "Sing to [the LORD] a new song" (vs. 3).  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people use this verse in defense of employing contemporary, praise songs in worship.  Read what Pr. Chris Esget has to say about this Psalm to learn why this is not so. 

Luther on Freedom and Love in Liturgical Matters

Rev. Dr. Holger Sonntag, a friend and classmate of mine, provided a link on the Steadfast site to a study he did a couple of years ago titled, "Luther on Freedom and Love in Liturgical Matters as a Challenge for Today."  Go, check it out; it is worth the read.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

TOWARD A Theology of Worship

This afternoon, I received President Kieschnick's monthly letter to all LCMS pastors via email.  There is much to discuss in his letter, but the thing that caught my eye most was this section:
Model theological conference on worship

The 2007 Synod convention resolved "that the Commission on Worship and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations organize a model theological conference ... in order to 'build greater understanding of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology'" (2007 Resolution 2-01). Such a conference is now set for Jan. 11-13 at Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Mo. It will meet around the theme, "Toward a Theology of Worship."

Rev. David Johnson and Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, the executives of the two commissions organizing the conference, say that since the subject is worship, "we thought it necessary to hold it in a church rather than a hotel. Concordia has both a beautiful, traditional sanctuary with pipe organ, conducive to a traditional worship, and a separate [worship] center, accommodating to either 'traditional' or 'contemporary' worship, with projection screens and ample space for musicians."

The conference is being funded by a generous grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, and we thank them for it.
So, let me get this straight:  The Synod in Convention resolved to have the COW and the CTCR organize a model theological conference on worship, in order to build greater understanding of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology, and the fulfillment of this resolution is to meet around the theme, "Toward a Theology of Worship"? 

This stuff just writes itself.  Newsflash to the COW and CTCR:


Our Synod did not resolve to have you call a conference to move us toward a theology of worship, but to build greater understanding of the theology of worship we already believe, teach, and confess.  You can learn about that theology of worship by reading Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  They're pretty clear on this subject.  Of course, you'll have to put all those books written by "evangelicals" and "emergents" down if you are going to come to a proper understanding of our Lutheran theology of worship.  Stop listening to non-Lutheran "consultants" and "experts" and start listening to our Lord and to our Lutheran forefathers who listened to our Lord.  We do not need to work toward a theology of worship; we already have one!   

Now, I will be accused of not giving things a chance, of being uncharitable, and stubbornly pessimistic.  I readily admit beforehand that I am guilty of those accusations.  I do not give this theological conference in January any chance of building a greater understanding of our Lutheran theology of worship.  The deck is already stacked against that happening, since, well, those attending will be working toward a theology of worship, not our theology of worship.  And, they're making it clear what kind of a theology of worship they're going to be working toward, namely a theology of worship that is "accommodating."  Concordia Kirkwood is the perfect host site for this, since it is well equipped to provide an atmosphere for this "accommodating" theology of worship to be developed.  After all, they have themselves there a beautiful sanctuary which is "conducive to a traditional worship" and also "a separate [worship] center, accommodating to either 'traditional' or 'contemporary' worship, with projection screens and ample space for the praise band musicians."

So, there you go.  There's the theology of worship those who gather in January will be working toward, one which allows for two completely different theologies of worship to meld together into a new "accommodating" theology of worship.  I guess OUR theology of worship simply doesn't cut it anymore.  We need A NEW theology of worship.  We need a theology of worship that is broad enough to allow Lutherans to worship like Lutherans and like methobapticostals and like anyone else they might want to mimic.  Never mind the fact that we Lutherans confess that "we do not abolish the Mass (Divine Service), but celebrate it with the highest reverence and religiously keep and defend it, observing the usual public ceremonies, and retaining the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other such things" (cf. AC XXIV; AP XXIV).  That's so 16th century!  We need to get with the times.  We live in an age of "blessed diversity," after all.  If we don't change our ways, we'll die.  There are people dying without Jesus out there and we had better make our worship more palatable to their "tastes," more appealing to their wants and desires, or they will never get themselves saved.  We need to adopt the theology of worship of Concordia, Kirkwood, the conference host:
Concordia Lutheran Church is a congregation that values the heritage of Christian worship received through the centuries without sacrificing the joy of our particular 21st century time and place in worship form and song. We are neither traditional nor contemporary. Instead, we use the words "celebrative and imaginative" to mark our worship life.
This is the "have your cake and eat it, too" theology of worship sweeping across our Synod today.  If you throw in a few old-timey, liturgical elements here and there, and maybe a few actual hymns, you get to do whatever else you want and still call yourselves Lutheran.  Well, isn't that special?  Lutherans have historically referred to their theology of worship as "reverent and holy," since they have historically believed (and true Lutherans still do believe) that our Holy Lord is present among us in the Divine Service.  That's still okay with this new "accommodating" theology of worship, so long as it allows for others to describe their worship as "celebrative and imaginative" or "fresh and exciting" or "powerful and dynamic" or "fun and uplifting" or "relevant and intoxicating."

Call me crazy, but this Lutheran happens to think that Lutherans should adhere to the theology of worship revealed in Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  I am all for a theological conference that would seek to build a greater understanding of that theology of worship.  Actually, we need such conferences, since we have obviously forgotten that we already have a theology of worship and seem to think we need to develop one.  Kyrie, eleison!

To Baptize or Not To Baptize

In my post about the Liturgical Conference in Kewanee last week, I alluded to the fact that we had a very interesting discussion during our round-table on Tuesday afternoon.  The discussion centered around Holy Baptism, concentrating on when and to whom the Sacrament should be administered.  Obviously, we were all in agreement that the Sacrament should be administered to infants of faithful parents as soon as possible.  The sooner the little pagan is drowned and brought to new life in Christ, the better.  But, what about when the pastor is asked to baptize a child whose parents have no desire to bring that child up in the Christian faith?

This piqued my interest, because I have faced this situation several times in my ministry.  I have received many phone calls from people who ask me if I can baptize their child/children.  Before answering, I always ask some basic questions, like:  "Are you a Christian?"  The usual answer is, "Yes."  So, I ask, "Where do you go to church?"  The usual answer is, "Nowhere."  Warding off the temptation to respond, "Well, how can you be a Christian if you don't go to church?" I ask, "Why do you want your child baptized?"  There is usually a bit of silence on the line as the caller tries to formulate an answer.  When they finally do speak up, the answer is along the lines of wanting the child to go to heaven and thinking that Baptism is of some import in making that happen.  Whatever they say, I then follow up with a very brief explanation of what we believe about the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and how important it is for the baptized child to be raised in the Christian faith, which includes faithful attendance in church, etc.  Most of the time, the caller hangs up about this time.  For those who do remain on the line after my little catechetical speech, I offer the invitation to come in and chat with me about it.  Almost always, I get, "That's okay.  Thanks."  In fact, there have only been two occasions when the caller took me up on my offer and came in and met with me.  Both times, they were mothers of young children.  I have no idea why one of the mothers came in to chat with me.  The meeting lasted all but five minutes, as she opened the conversation by stating, pretty emphatically, "My husband and I are not going to attend church here or anywhere else.  We don't believe in church, we just want our daughter baptized."  This happened nearly four years ago, but I can still see the anger on the woman's face as she spoke to me.  Needless to say, I didn't baptize her daughter.  The other mother met with me, promised she was going to start coming to church, and even began adult confirmation classes with me.  I baptized her daughter, but was informed by the mother a few weeks later that she did not want to continue classes and would not be coming back to church anytime soon.  She had too much going on her in life, she said, and didn't have time for church.  That was nearly three years ago.  I haven't seen her, or her child, since.   

Then there have also been times when members of our congregation, people I love dearly, have asked me if I would baptize the children of their loved ones (grandchildren, nieces and nephews, etc.).  I so want to say, "Yes," to these saints.  But, can I?  Should I?  I mean, the reason they're coming to me is because the parents of the children they want to see baptized don't go to church and show no desire to go.  Thus, I would be baptizing these children and sending them back to their unfaithful parents.  Is this the right thing to do?

I was surprised to hear a couple brothers, during our round-table discussion, making the case that we should baptize such children.  I was beginning to think I may have erred in the past by not being as quick to baptize as they seemed to be.  Surely, my desire is to err on the side of the Gospel.  I want to baptize such children, but have always felt that I shouldn't, since there was virtually no chance in these situations for the child to be raised in the Christian faith.  But then, Pr. Richard Stuckwisch chimed in and set my mind at ease, for he advanced the position I had been taking in this matter, and did so in a far more articulate and comprehensive manner than I had ever done.

He put forth the example of David ordering Joab to place Uriah (Bathsheba's husband) on the front lines of the battle, where the hardest fighting was, so that he would be killed (cf. 2 Sam. 11, spec. vss. 14ff.).  This, he argued, was like baptizing a child of unfaithful parents, since we would be sending that child out to face the enemy alone.  Satan and his minions would certainly come after that child with all their might and the child would be defenseless to ward them off.  How could we justify putting the child in such a predicament?  To baptize a child who will not be strengthened and preserved by our Lord's means of grace, and who will not be taught to pray, is to place that child before the ravenous lion, who seeks to devour that child, and say, "Fend for yourself."

Of course, leaving the child unbaptized does not bring any more comfort.  But, at least we're not making the child an enemy of Satan and the target of his vicious attacks.  Better to allow the child to remain under Satan's radar, rather than to place the child front and center as a newly redeemed member of the Church Militant without the weapons to fight the good fight of the faith. 

This sounds wrong, doesn't it?  I mean, by not baptizing the child, we're leaving the child in the devil's kingdom.  How can that be right?  Shouldn't we baptize these children and let the Lord fight on their behalf?  That sounds better.  Except that the Lord has revealed to us how and where He fights on our behalf, namely from the font, pulpit, and altar, where He delivers to us the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, which He won in full for us on the cross.  Holy Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe.  But, the faith given at Baptism must be nourished by the preached Word from the pulpit, the taught Word in catechesis, and the visible Word from the altar.  Our Lord does not end what has become known as the "Great Commission" (cf. Matt. 28:18-20) after His exhortation to baptize, but continues, "and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded."  His call to "make disciples" includes Baptism, catechesis, and the ongoing reception of His Word and His Body and Blood in His Holy Church, where He promises "to be with us always."    

Hence, the argument to just baptize the child and leave things to the Lord falls short.  Where ongoing catechesis and reception of Word and Sacrament are not going to happen, we are putting the child on the front lines, withdrawing the troops, and leaving the child to fight against Satan all alone.  Sometimes, the loving answer to the question, "Will you baptize this child?" is, sadly, "No."   

With all that said, faithful pastoral discretion must be employed in all these cases.  There may be times when baptizing the children of unfaithful parents is warranted.  If, for instance, the unfaithful parents of a child will agree to allow grandma and grandpa to bring the child to church on a regular basis, then bring the little sinner to the font, for sure.  But, if there is no chance of the child being brought to the Lord on a regular basis, let us not give the devil a reason to devour the child, but pray fervently that the Lord will bring the child into His kingdom in His way and in His time.  

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Speaking of Michigan State . . .

Don't look now, but Sparty has put three wins together and plays undefeated Iowa next Saturday for first place in the Big Ten. Earlier today, they defeated Northwestern, 24-14, and WR Blair White (pictured to the left) had a career day, catching 12 balls for 186 yards and two touchdowns. I really like the way the boys are playing right now, and am thrilled at how they have bounced back after dropping three straight earlier in the season. Now they have put themselves in a position to control their own destiny in the Big Ten. Who would've thunk it a month ago? Well, me, but who else? :)  Go Green! Go White!

It finally arrived!

My daughter, Sarah, has been anxiously checking the mail every day for the past week, hoping to receive a response from Michigan State University concerning her application.  The big envelope finally arrived today.  The fact that the envelope was big was good news, and Sarah was already cheering at the sight (if they decline your application, they send a little envelope, I guess).  Her cheering was not in vain, as the first words of the letter within that big envelope were, "Congratulations, and welcome."

I'm so proud of Sarah.  She has worked very hard to maintain a near perfect GPA (3.975), even while taking the most difficult curriculum her high school has to offer (this semester, her schedule includes AP Calculus, AP Government, and Physics).  And, she has been involved in many extra-curricular activities as well (she's earned 4 Varsity letters in sports thus far, and has been involved in Student Government since her Freshman year).  Her goal, as of now, is to become a teacher, and I think she would serve wonderfully in that vocation.  She's been accepted to every school to which she has applied so far, and has a bright future ahead of her.  I don't know if she'll go to State.  That will depend, in large part, on finances and scholarships.  But, it's a thrill to know that she has been accepted and has the option.   

So, congrats Sarah!  Your dad is very proud of you.  Stay focused and finish strong - seven more months, kiddo!  I know you will.

Issues, Etc. Blog of the Week

Rev. Todd Wilken chose my blog for "IE Blog of the Week" yesterday, based on my post, "It's not about religion; it's about relationships."  Pretty cool.  Thanks, Pr. Wilken.

You can listen to the segment here:


Friday, October 16, 2009

All of our TLSB's arrived today!

We received our final shipment of TLSB's (The Lutheran Study Bible) today!  All the editions are now here and will be delivered to those who ordered them on Sunday.  I am already absolutely loving my Sangria Genuine Leather edition (with imprint).  I have enjoyed using the regular, hardback edition these last few weeks, but I am psyched to have this leather edition now in my hands.  This is the Bible I will use daily for a very long time. 

For any who have not yet ordered this gem, you really should consider doing so before the prices go up after October 31.  Follow the link above and place your order today.  You won't be disappointed!

Liturgical Seminar in Kewanee

The Liturgical Seminar I attended in Kewanee, IL was most excellent.  It was hosted by Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt at St. Paul's Lutheran Church.  Here's a pic of St. Paul's beautiful sanctuary:

The conference theme was "Not a Matter of Indifferent Things" (i.e. the Divine Liturgy of the Church is not a matter of indifferent things, as many Lutherans falsely claim today).  The conference began with Holy Mass at 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning, which was absolutely beautiful.  I cherish those times when I am able to sit in the pew, participate in the divine liturgy, and receive the Lord's blessed Gifts, but even more so when I am in the midst of so many brothers who love the reverence of the liturgy in the Lord's House as much as I do and for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration.  It is simply heavenly.  And, Pr. Eckardt, who served as Celebrant and Preacher, delivered Jesus to us from pulpit and altar in a most faithful and edifying way. 

After Holy Mass, the first session of the conference took place.  The format was a panel discussion.  Pr. Eckardt served as questioner and moderator to the panel, which consisted of Pr. Heath Curtis, Pr. Richard Stuckwisch, and Pr. David Petersen.  I really like this format.  Those on the panel are given the opportunity to answer the questions asked of them and then it is opened up to the floor for discussion.  It offers the opportunity for a lively exchange of thoughts and ideas to take place, which is something that is woefully missing at those conferences where the format consists of a speaker reading a paper to the attendees. 

All three of the esteemed panelists offered valuable insights concerning the topic at hand, as did many in attendance, including the likes of Pr. William Weedon, Pr. Ben Ball, and Pr. Mark Braden. 

After the first session, we prayed the Office of Sext at Noon and then enjoyed a fantastic lunch.  The afternoon session brought more insights from the panel and the floor.  One of the things I appreciated most was the consensus among the panelists and really everyone in attendance that those of us who love the divine liturgy and seek to practice it reverently share a common confession of the faith, even though there may be slight variations in the way we conduct the Service.  In other words, the differences among us are not really differences, but fall in the realm of true adiaphora (those things neither commanded nor forbidden in God's Word).  There is a false charge hurled against us far too often, especially in the blogosphere, that we are legalistic about the divine liturgy and contend that if everyone does not do things exactly as we do, they are not being faithful.  This is simply untrue, and really rather absurd.  That we love to discuss the divine liturgy and contend for what we believe to be the best practices does not mean that we fail to recognize that there can be legitimate differences among us.  What is most important is not that we dot every "i" and cross every "t" in exactly the same manner, but that we share a common confession of the faith and the same theology of worship, which recognizes that we are in the Lord's House, not ours, where reverence, formality, and awe are in order, not flippancy, informality, and fun, and where we come as beggars to receive the Gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation we so desperately need from the gracious hand of our Lord, who is really, truly, and most certainly present among us when we gather in His Name around His Holy Word and Sacraments.

After the afternoon session was concluded, we prayed the Office of None.  Then, unfortunately, several brothers had to head back home, but those of us who remained met back at St. Paul's for dinner, which consisted of the tasty leftovers from the Oktoberfest the day before (brats and beer - is there a better combo?).  While the whole conference was wonderful, this may have been the highlight for me, not because of the brats and beer, but because I was blessed to sit with Pr. Stuckwisch and talk at length with him.  Wow!  What a faithful man of God.  Just love him!

Then, after dinner, Pr. Eckardt and his lovely wife invited us into their home and we talked theology for the remainder of the evening over "Lutheran" beverages, and with Eric Clapton playing in the background.  I'm thinking it doesn't get much better than that. :)  It was a ton of fun to sit and converse with these faithful brothers.  Here's a few pics:


Tuesday began with Holy Mass at 9:00 a.m.  Another beautiful Service.  Then, we met in a round-table format for more edifying discussion.  We broke for the Office of Sext at Noon and then headed to the local Mexican restaurant for lunch.  We gathered back at the church for more round-table discussion, which was very interesting, indeed (more on this in a future post), and then ended the conference with the Office of None at 3:15 p.m. 

It was, as I said, a most excellent conference.  It afforded me not only with a much needed opportunity for a little getaway, but, more importantly, with the blessing and privilege of joining in the mutual consolation and conversation of the brethren.  I'll flesh out a few of the things that were discussed in more detail in future posts. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"It's not about Religion; It's about Relationships"

I was talking to my dad last week and he told me about a promo he had seen for a new church in Toledo, OH.  The church was "Cedar Creek Church" and the promo included a lady who said, "At Cedar Creek, it's not about religion; it's about relationships."  This reminded me of the time I heard Rick Warren, one of America's most famous "pastors" and author of the "Purpose-Driven" series of books, describe the church he serves (Saddleback in CA) as "a church for people who don't like church."

Here is a pic of what things look like in places that aren't about religion, but relationships; in places for people who don't like church to gather (pic is from "worship" at Cedar Creek):

It is simply insane that anyone claiming to be part of Christ's Church would market themselves in this manner.  "You'll love it here.  Come join us.  You won't even realize you're in church.  It's not about religion here; it's about relationships."  And yet, at the same time, there is something refreshingly honest about their marketing techniques.  They tell you up front that they're different, that they're not into the whole religion thing.  Sure, they're still being deceptive in that they think they're still a part of Christ's Church, but at least they're honest about who they really are and what they do.  They readily admit that they don't like church.  They readily admit that they're not about religion.  They readily admit that they're open to anything and everything.  They readily admit that they believe "worship" should be lively, fun, and entertaining.  In other words, they're not hiding anything here.  They put their cards on the table and say, "This is what our version of non-religious, all-inclusive, people-centered, relationship-focused 'Christianity' looks like.  Like it?  Good.  Come and join us."

And, the people come.  Oh, how they come!  They flock to these non-church, non-religion "churches."  Why wouldn't they?  They don't like church.  They have no interest in religion.  But, they do like to be entertained.  They enjoy being motivated.  They're all for talking about a Jesus who is accepting of anything and everything.  That kind of Jesus is okay with them.   They're just looking for a social club anyway, a place to have a little fun and establish some relationships.  "Finally," they say, "this 'church' gets me.  They know what I want.  They meet my 'felt needs.'  This place is cool.  I get my 'spiritual' fix on my terms, with no strings attached.  No guilt.  No shame.  Just me.  Just as I am.  I don't have to change a bit.  I can show up for the show once a week, get my fill, and nothing is expected from me in return.  This is great!"

The problem, of course, is that it's all a sham.  It's not Christ's Church.  It's not about the real Jesus, who is revealed in Holy Scripture.  The real Jesus is a bit different from the "rock-n-roll" version put forth in these non-religious, non-church "churches."  The real Jesus makes some pretty outrageous statements, like, "Deny yourself.  Pick up your cross and follow Me.  Abide in My word.  Do not think that I have come to bring peace, but a sword.  Beware of false prophets.  My kingdom is not of this world.  You will be persecuted for My sake," and so on.  He's not very popular, to be sure.  But, then, He didn't come to be popular, but Savior.  He didn't come to entertain or be entertained, but to live and die to save sinners, and to rise from the tomb and ascend into heaven to serve as Mediator between His Father and us.

If you're not into the real Jesus, there are plenty of non-religious, non-church "churches" out there for you today.  Heck, you can even find many today which masquerade as "Lutheran."  You'll have fun in these places.  You'll be entertained.  You'll feel right at home.  You'll even establish relationships with others who like to have fun and be entertained as you do.

But, if you're interested in eternal salvation, well, you'll just have to get over your dislike of the Church established by the One who lived the perfect life you can't live and died on the cross to pay the full price for all of your sins.  His Church is meant to be a sanctuary from this dead and dying world, not a mirror image of it.  His Church is not a concert hall or arena where people are invited to come and be entertained, but a place of refuge where sinners are invited to lay their sins upon Him and receive forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Holy Word and Sacraments.  And, guess what:  In Christ's Church, you receive something so much better than earthly relationships - you are welcomed into an intimate fellowship (communion) with the Triune God of the universe and all His children FOREVER!

So, no thanks Cedar Creek.  I'll stick to my Christian religion, which is lived out in Christ's Holy Church where I am welcomed into eternal relationships.  I'll get my fun and entertainment elsewhere.    

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My plans for tonight . . .

include a nice, long, soaking in this:

I'm currently staying at the AmericInn in Kewanee, IL.  I headed down here after the luncheon this past Sunday for a liturgical conference held at St. Paul's Lutheran here in town (more on the conference later). 

I arrived in Kewanee around 8:30 p.m. Sunday evening.  I checked into the hotel, lugged my things up to the room, and planned on laying in bed and watching the Sunday Night Football game.  When I walked into the room, I noticed a half-full bottle of wine on the dresser, dirty towels on the floor, and both trash cans full of garbage.  So, I'm thinking they hadn't cleaned the room.  But, dummy me, I saw that the bed was made and thought maybe they had cleaned, but just hadn't done a very good job.  Not being one who is all that comfortable complaining in situations like this (I leave that to my wife, Lisa, who is much better at dealing with things like this), I unpacked my bags, picked up the room a bit, changed into some comfy clothes, sat down and turned on the TV.  I sat there watching the game for about 20 minutes and then I got the urge to lay down.  But, as I pulled back the covers on the bed, the thought occurred to me, "What if they haven't cleaned this room and these sheets are dirty?"  That thought gave me a case of the "willies," so I sat back in the chair and hemmed and hawed for a bit on whether or not I should call down to the front desk. 

Eventually, I made the call and the lady checked on things and, sure enough, they hadn't cleaned the room I was in.  So, she told me that they would give me a new, clean room and that I should head on down to the front desk to get the new room's keys.  Of course, this meant that I had to put my real clothes back on, pack everything up I had just unpacked and lug it over to the next room.  Ugh!  But, it actually turned out to be a blessing, for when I showed up at the front desk, the lady told me that all they had available was a "Business Executive Suite" and that they would upgrade me at no extra charge.  So, I have stayed the last couple of nights in this very nice suite, which includes a kitchenette (fridge and microwave), huge bathroom, walk-in closet, large-screen TV, comfy recliner, huge desk, king size bed, and the hot tub/sauna pictured above.  Pretty cool!

The moral of this story is that when you walk into a room that hasn't been cleaned, don't be an idiot and unpack everything and settle in, but go right back to the front desk and let them know.  Oh, the lessons we have to learn in this life . . . :)  

Pastor Appreciation Day

This past Sunday, I was privileged and blessed to have the wonderful congregation I serve show me their appreciation by providing a wonderful luncheon in my honor after Bible Study.  In addition to the fabulous spread of delicious food and desserts, my wife and I received numerous cards and gifts from so many.  As we have been in the past, we were again simply blown away by the love and generosity shown to us.  It is no overstatement to say that I have to be one of the most blessed pastors in the world to be serving among such a wonderful, generous, and faithful group of God's children.  I thank God daily for the opportunity to serve His Church in this place and, even though serving in His Kingdom can sometimes be painful and perplexing, the blessings I experience here far outweigh the struggles and suffering.

And here's why I say that:  It's not because of the love shown toward my family and me and it's not because of the generous gifts given to us.  Those things are wonderful, to be sure, and more appreciated than words could possibly describe.  But, there's much more to it than that.  There is here in this place a genuine love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and a sincere hunger for the Gifts He delivers through His Holy Word and Sacraments.

I heard a brother pastor say recently that he discourages the congregation he serves from celebrating Pastor Appreciation Day.  I understand where he's coming from.  He doesn't want the people he serves to be focused on him.  It is not him whom they should appreciate, but the One in whose stead and by whose command he serves them.  This is most certainly true. 

At the same time, however, there is nothing wrong with God's children showing their pastor appreciation for doing that which he is called and ordained to do among them.  In doing so, what they're really doing is showing their appreciation for Jesus.  No, I'm not claiming that the pastor is Jesus - far from it, believe me!  But, he is Jesus' representative in that place; an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd.  And, when the pastor serves in the stead and by the command of His Lord Jesus Christ, he is not only bringing Jesus to the people, but "being" Jesus to them.  This is especially true in the Divine Service, when the pastor stands in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) and speaks in the first person singular to God's children:  "I forgive you all your sins . . . This is My Body, My Blood," etc., because Jesus is actually speaking through him.

All of this is to say that I am quite confident that the love and generosity I am blessed to receive from those I serve is motivated by the sincere love these beloved have for their Lord and Savior.  It is pure joy to be serving among such faithful people and I am thankful to have the opportunity.  I love them every bit as much as they love me, and both their love for me and my love for them is rooted in our mutual love for the One who humbled Himself unto death - even death on a cross!  

Blogging on Back Burner

The last couple of weeks have been a blur for me.  I can't recall any other stretch of time since being called and ordained to serve Christ's Church as a pastor when I've been so busy.  What's worse, the kind of busy I've been brings me no pleasure whatsoever, as I've been dealing with matters that both frustrate and sadden me.  There are some things about being a pastor that are just plain difficult and tedious.  But, then, our Lord never said being a pastor - or being a Christian, for that matter - would be easy. 

Anyway, my attention being focused elsewhere, coupled by the fact that we were without internet at home for a couple days last week, has prevented me from blogging, as a few of you have noticed. :)  But, stay tuned . . . :)  

Monday, October 5, 2009

A strong set of delegates

Yesterday, our circuit (group of area congregations assigned to act together by the District) held its Circuit Forum to elect a pastoral and lay delegate to represent us at the upcoming LCMS Synodical Convention in July, 2010, which will be held in Houston, TX.  This is an extremely important part of the political process in our synod.  It is no overstatement to say that elections and resolutions which will take place at the Synodical Convention are already decided at this level of the process.  Thus, I was hoping and praying that we would elect delegates who would serve the cause of confessional Lutheranism on our behalf, and I am absolutely thrilled by the choices we made.   

We elected Rev. David Reed, who serves as pastor of Grace Lutheran in Auburn, MI, as our pastoral delegate.  Pr. Reed received a majority on the first ballot, which shows the strong support and trust he deservedly has among us.  He will represent us very well, and I could not be more pleased that we are sending him. 

After the election for the pastoral delegate was completed, we held the election for lay delegate.  Among the nominees was a member of our congregation, Larry Elliott.  Larry is a very faithful young man, who has been a genuine blessing to our congregation.  He currently serves as chairman of our board of elders and it is a true joy to work with him.  I was really pulling for Larry to win the election, but I have to admit that I was not very optimistic about his chances, simply because our congregation is one of the smallest in the circuit and because Larry had no previous experience serving in the political process of District or Synod.  But, after the first ballot, he was still in the running.  Two of the five nominees were eliminated and we voted again.  I whispered to Larry, "You got a shot, buddy."  After the second ballot, lo and behold, Larry was still in.  Another nominee was eliminated and there were two nominees going into the third and final ballot.  I whispered to Larry again, "You really got a shot at this, buddy."  And, wonder of wonders, Larry was elected!  I was so excited for him, and very thankful that the brothers in our circuit gave him the nod.  Larry will do a fabulous job serving us and, coupled with Pr. Reed, we are sending a very strong set of delegates, who will serve the cause of confessional Lutheranism very well, to Houston next summer. 

In addition, Larry's election is historic for our congregation, as we have never in our history had either a pastoral or lay delegate from our congregation represent our circuit at our Synodical Convention.  Needless to say, we are very excited not only for Larry, but also for our small, but faithful, congregation.  All thanks and praise be to God alone!      

Saturday, October 3, 2009

MSU 26, that other team 20

MSU dominated that "maize-and-blue" team today.  Almost twice as many yards and had the ball for almost twice as long.  They even overcame the refs, as is always necessary when facing that other team (seriously, how many personal fouls can you call against a team in one game? - and the last couple were simply outrageous!).  And yet, even though they completely dominated, like in so many games of recent years, they didn't put 'em away when they had the chance.  Watching that other team march down the field to tie the game brought back the "here we go again" feeling.  That's an eerie feeling for those of us who bleed green.  It's definitely not good for the blood pressure.  So, memories of dominating that other team only to blow it at the end were dancing around in my head and stomach until Forcier threw that interception in OT.  Huh?  Wait a minute, here.  Maybe we're not going to blow this one!  All we need is a field goal!  Then, we lose nine yards on first down.  Uh oh.  Please don't tell me we're going to blow this one.  Come on, boys.  Just gain a few yards and give Stenson a chance to kick the game-winning field goal.  A ten yard completion on the next play.  There you go!  Good job!  Now just run it to the middle of the field and give Stenson a shot.  Don't fumble!  The snap - it's a hand-off to Capers.  Good, hang on to the ball.  Get it in position for the kick.  What?  Wait a minute here.  He broke a tackle.  There's daylight in front of him.  Go, baby, go!  TOUCHDOWN!!!  THE SPARTANS WIN!!!  Going nuts, but waiting to see if they threw a flag on the play.  Not in full celebration mode yet.  You never know when you're playing that other team.  No flag?  Okay, now it's party time!  SPARTANS 26, that other team 20!  It's over.  Bragging rights for a whole 'nother year!  This is awesome!  Come on, sing it with me:

On the banks of the Red Cedar,
There's a school that's known to all;
Its specialty is winning,
And those Spartans play good ball;
Spartan teams are never beaten,
All through the game they'll fight;
Fight for the only colors:
Green and White.

Go right through for MSU,
Watch the points keep growing,
Spartan teams are bound to win,
They're fighting with a vim!
Rah! Rah! Rah!
See their team is weakening,
We're going to win this game,
Fight! Fight! Rah! Team, Fight!
Victory for MSU!