Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Please Keep in Your Prayers . . .

all the men who will receive vicarage assignments and calls from congregations to serve as pastors, and all the women who will receive deaconess internships or placements, during the Placement Services being held at our seminaries tonight and tomorrow night.  These men and women have sacrificed a lot to get to this point of hearing the Lord of the Harvest answer their plea, "Send me," by placing them into the congregations (or, mission fields) where He bids them serve.  Having gone through this myself just five years ago, I still remember the feelings of both anxiety and excitement waging war within me and tying my stomach all up in knots.  I'm betting there's a lot of that going on inside many of the candidates to be placed this year as well - and, not just inside the candidates themselves, but, in many cases, their spouses and children, too.  It is a scary, most humbling experience to give yourself over to the will of the Lord in this manner, not knowing where you'll be called to serve or what the conditions will be when you get there.  And yet, that's just what these men and women have done, solely by God's grace, of course.  Anyway, keep them in your prayers.

Also, be even more diligent in your prayers for the many men who will not be receiving calls these next two evenings, simply because there is a shortage of calling congregations.  These men are trained, able, and willing to serve, but will have to wait until something opens up somewhere before they can be placed.  I know a little bit about this, too, since I was contacted a week before Call Night and told that there was a shortage of calls that year and that, since I was on a delayed vicarage, they were asking those of us in that situation to not report for Call Night, but to stay put until they could place us.  Long story short, I was, thankfully, called on the Saturday before Call Night and told that they did have a call for me after all, and to come on down.  But, that week was very trying on me and on my family, as we did not know what the future held for us.  I can only imagine how trying it would have been on us had we had to suffer for longer than that week, as many of these dear brothers and their families will have to do.  My heart goes out to them big time!  Please, please, please keep them in your prayers!

You can tune in and watch the Placement Services streaming online (I'm actually watching the Vicarage Placement and Deaconess Internship Service at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne which started a few minutes ago right now; the Candidate Call Service will be held in Ft. Wayne tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m.; Concordia, St. Louis has its Call Service tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST).  Simply go to the seminary websites linked below:

Here is a video explaining the Placement situation at CTS-Ft. Wayne this year:


I'm sure most people have figured this out by now, but when you see a comment for a post which has weird characters in the name, a short note (e.g. "I do like ur article!"), and a nameless link with a series of underlined dots (.............), just ignore it, as it will send you to an Asian (Chinese?) site, which displays half-naked women inviting you to chat, etc. I've noticed this appearing on several Christian blogs, including my own, with more frequency of late. Obviously, some people have nothing better to do with their time and must think this is funny or something. Anyway, as I said, most people are on to this, but some may not be, hence the heads-up. I will delete these posts as soon as I see them, but they may appear for a while at times, since I am often away from my blog for extended periods of time.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Imagine There's No Global Warming

Call me crazy, superstitious, backwards, ignorant, or whatever else you will - I believe in the Triune God who reveals Himself to us in the Bible.  I believe that He created the heavens and the earth.  I even believe that He did so in six, literal days, as revealed in Genesis.  I further believe that He has always been, and remains, firmly in control of the universe.  I believe Him when He tells us that the earth will be here until the Last Day, when Christ returns in great glory for the final judgment, and to usher in the new heavens and new earth - the new creation which will take the place of the old, and which will be the eternal dwelling place of all the saints and holy angels with their Creator and Lord.

As I said, call me crazy, etc., but that's what I believe.  And, because I believe that, I'm not all that concerned with "Mother Earth" and "her environment."  The "religion" of "environmentalism" is a religion that adheres to several tenets that are in stark contradiction to the Christian religion.  Its popular "preachers" (the Al Gores, Oprah Winfreys, Bill Mahrs, etc.) proclaim a message that puts sinful human beings in the place of God, making it their responsibility to care for, sustain, and even save our planet.  The "prophets" of this "religion" are the scientists who work from the pre-conceived notion that there is no God and that Darwin's theory of evolution is a fact.  They provide data, based on these pre-conceived notions, which become the "sacred writings" from which these "preachers" proclaim their message to the world.

Last week, the "high feast day" of this "religion" was observed.  That is, of course, "Earth Day."  This was the fortieth anniversary of this "sacred festival," and the whole world joined in the celebration ("Earth Day" was begun in 1970 here in the U.S., but went international in 1990).  Actually, though, this "high feast day" is not all that celebratory in nature.  It's really a day of fear-mongering and guilt-laden reminders to the human race about its responsibility to quit killing its "mother" and to become active in the cause of healing, and saving, her.  "Love Your Mother - Earth"; "Save the Planet"; "Show You Care - Hug a Tree"; "Go Green - Stop Global Warming"; "Be Responsible:  Recycle and Restore!"; and so forth, are the "sermons" preached on this "high feast day."  And the message comes through loudly and clearly:  If we don't take action, we'll soon have no place to live!

The "religion" of "environmentalism" flows from godlessness.  It is crassly narcissistic.  To think that we human beings are both the cause and the cure for the supposed peril of our planet is the height of narcissism and leaves absolutely no room for the God who created all things.  Not only that, but "environmentalism" lacks the consistency to sustain it as a viable "religion" worth the time for anyone to take very seriously, even though many actually do.  While the core message is always there, namely that we human beings must work together to save our planet, the threat and suggested action required to eliminate the threat is always changing.

When I was a young chap, the threat was over-population.  If we didn't do something about that, by the time the 21st century rolled around, our planet would be so overrun that it couldn't possibly survive our existence.  That, of course, proved to be a myth of epic proportions.  Then there was the insistence that we were destroying our forests and would soon run out of trees, which would, of course, mean our certain extinction, since we can't breathe without trees.  Then we were destroying the Ozone layer because of our pollution.  Remember that?  When I was a teenager, this was a HUGE deal.  We were melting the Ozone layer away and, if we kept that up, we would all soon fry.  Enter the Greenhouse Effect, which is still promoted as something to fear and resolve, and has supposedly led to the "greatest peril our planet has ever faced" (according to the Official Earth Day 2010 Campaign), namely "Global Warming" (a.k.a. "Climate Change").  A few months back, in what has become known as "Climate-Gate," it was revealed that many scientists were "cooking the books," so to speak, in order to sell "Global Warming" to the world.  But, that hasn't stopped the advancement of the promotion of this latest threat in the least.  It's everywhere.  It's constantly in the news; it's entrenched in our politics; it's supported and promoted by Hollywood, and so forth.  To speak out against it, even if you are a reputable scientist who has the data to back up your opposition, is to be cast aside as an ignorant baffoon, not worth listening to (kinda like when you speak out against the theory of evolution).  Never mind the fact that it has been proven that our planet has gone through cyclical periods of both cooling and warming throughout history, Global Warming is something new that is solely caused by us and must be solely solved by us.  It's the latest threat which is sure to keep the "religion" of "environmentalism" thriving in the years to come (which has a lot to do with the amount of money to be made in its promotion and acceptance - just sayin').

Sadly, many Christians have been bewitched into believing that they can adhere to Christianity and "environmentalism" at one and the same time.  But, this is quite impossible, since they are wholly incompatible.  Either you believe in the Triune God who created all things, continues to sustain all things, and promises to sustain all things until the Last Day, or you don't.  And, while the "religion" of "environmentalism" will happily allow for you to believe in whatever "god" you choose to believe in, it requires that you believe that your "god" is not in control.  In other words, you are free to be "Christian," so long as you don't actually believe that the Christian God is in control of our universe, since, well, that would most definitely contradict the basic tenets of "environmentalism."

None of this means that we Christians shouldn't be good stewards of God's creation.  But, our motivation for doing so must never be rooted in the vain, ridiculous idea that we are somehow participating in the saving of our planet.  We try not to pollute or litter not because we believe our doing so will result in our planet's destruction, but rather because it makes God's creation ugly.  We don't recycle because we believe that we are going to run out of natural resources, but because it is a more efficient use of those resources.  We don't plant trees because we believe it is necessary for our survival, but because our God has given us the ability to do so and it is good for us to replenish the resources we use.  And so on.

The point is that we should care for God's creation as we are able.  He commands us to do no less.  But, we do so always recognizing that He is in control of all things and never out of fear that our existence depends upon us.  We are not alone.  We are not in control.  We are neither destroying our planet nor would we have the capacity to save it if we were.  We have no need to fear Global Warming or any future threat imagined and promoted by the "preachers" of "environmentalism."  God is able to handle things just fine without us.  We will be here until the Last Day when Christ returns.  God promises so, and He has shown time and time again that He is always faithful to His promises.

As I said, call me crazy, etc., but that's what I believe.  I'll keep singing that old classic Christian children's song, "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands," even while the "religion" of "environmentalism" changes the lyrics to, "We've Got the Whole World In Our Hands."  

With all that said, here's a video for your enjoyment, which I stumbled upon visiting Pr. Randy Asburry's blog:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

This is Classic!

Originally, I had a video embedded in this post, but found out that it was loading automatically in Internet Explorer (wasn't doing so in Firefox). Anyway, after spending a little time trying to fix the html code so that it wouldn't autoplay, but having no success, I decided to remove the video and just provide the link, which is here.  If you haven't watched this video yet, check it out - it's pretty cool! :)

HT: Scott Diekmann

Friday, April 23, 2010

Walther's Voice Still Relevant Today

It has become a Friday morning custom for me to read a portion from the most excellent book, "At Home in the House of My Fathers", by LCMS Presidential Nominee Rev. Matthew Harrison.  This morning, I read "On Pure Doctrine for the Salvation of Souls," which was the opening sermon preached by C.F.W. Walther before the first official meeting of the Synodical Conference, held in Milwaukee July 10-16, 1872 (pp. 193-201).

Wow!  Would that Walther's voice was heard loudly and clearly in our synod today, for surely it is as relevant now as ever.  He preaches in this sermon on the importance of clinging to, and persisting in, pure doctrine if the chief object of the Synodical Conference is truly going to be the salvation of souls.  The text he preaches upon is 1 Timothy 4:16.  He makes it vividly clear that the salvation of souls is absolutely dependent upon pure doctrine.  If pure doctrine is forsaken, so is the salvation of souls.  The mission of Christ's Church is accomplished through pure doctrine.  Mission and doctrine go hand in hand; you can't have one without the other.  In fact, for Walther, pure doctrine is the essential and vital key to mission.

I dare say that, were Walther alive today, he would be labeled by many in our midst as an "ultra-conservative purist."  He would be accused of not having a proper love for the lost, for he would not be willing to do "whatever it takes" to reach them, if doing "whatever it takes" called for the forsaking of pure doctrine in any way, shape, or form.  The mantra of many in our synod today is in agreement with the words spoken by our own synodical president, Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, at his installation in 2001 (and repeated several times since):
People, this is not a game.  Our incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of the souls of men and women for whom Christ died must stop!
For Pres. Kieschnick and company, the commitment and desire to adhere to, and maintain, pure doctrine is seen as a stumbling block to the mission of saving lost souls.  Indeed, I have had numerous conversations with LCMS pastors and laypeople over the years, who have made it very clear that they believe that we Lutherans need to quit worrying so much about keeping our doctrine pure and start worrying more about reaching out to the lost in whatever ways necessary.  So it is that, today, there are a plethora of Lutheran pastors and congregations whose zeal for reaching the lost has come at the expense of maintaining pure doctrine.

Remarkably, even though it can be clearly seen that these pastors and congregations have forsaken pure doctrine, they believe that their actions and practices are defensible since they have created a new definition of pure doctrine, which involves nothing more than an adherence to a basic set of fundamental or essential doctrines.  They have no doubt been influenced in this regard, too, by leaders like Pres. Kieschnick, who repeatedly maintains that our synod is blissfully united in the essentials, providing, time and time again, detailed lists of what he deems to be the essential doctrines in which, in his estimation, we are united in agreement.  He almost always follows this up with statements about how our unity on these essentials is the envy of many other denominations.  Clearly, for him, and for all like him, agreement in essentials is enough, and to wrangle over specifics, or to strive for purity in specifics, is not only unnecessary, but detrimental to reaching lost souls for Jesus.

Not so with Walther.  Not even close.  Listen to him.  Here is a portion of the most excellent sermon he preached - a sermon that still needs to be preached and heard in our midst today (it's a lengthy quote, I know, but you would be most edified to take the time to read it):
As you know, my brethren, it is a common saying in our time that the continual urging of the doctrine is a most pernicious tendency, only hindering, yea, destroying the kingdom of God.  People say, "Instead of disputing so much about the doctrine, you ought rather to think of taking care of the souls and of leading them to Christ."  But all who speak this way certainly do not know what they say and what they do.  As it would be folly to chide the tiller of the ground for his diligence to obtain good seed, and to demand that he should be eager only to obtain good fruit, so it would be folly to chide those that take heed unto the doctrine above all things, and to demand of them that they should rather endeavor only to save souls.  For as the tiller of the ground must be eager to obtain good seed above all things, if he wishes to reap good fruit, so must the Church care for sound doctrine above all things, if she wishes to save souls.

For if we wish to save men, we must make them poor sinners first.  But this can be done only by the pure doctrine of the Law.  Then we must lead them to the true faith in Christ, and preserve, establish, strengthen them in that doctrine.  But this can be done only by the pure doctrine of the Gospel.  And finally we must induce them also to thank God with a truly Christian life for their salvation, which His free grace has granted them, and to make their calling and election sure by the same.  But this can be done only by the pure doctrine of sanctification.

However, many say, "We acknowledge indeed that for these reasons, it is certainly necessary to cling firmly to those great general truths upon which the salvation of souls depends.  But should not liberty be granted to everyone in reference to all other doctrines?  What can the result of controversy about subordinate doctrines be, but that the body of Christ is torn and the work of the salvation of souls hindered?"  But also all those that speak this way certainly do not know what they say and what they do.  For the holy apostle does not say in our text, "Keep a close watch on the chief doctrines," but "Keep a close watch on the doctrine," that is, unto everything that is taught in the Word of God.  "For," he adds, "by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."  For god has not revealed only this and that doctrine but His whole Word for the salvation of men.  "Thy testimonies," says David, "are very sure" [Psalm 93:5 KJV], not only this or that testimony.  Therefore also the great apostle of the Gentiles testifies:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for ever good work" [2 Timothy 3:16-17]; and in another passage he declares that only therefore he is "pure from the blood of men," because "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable" and "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" [Acts 20:27].  And finally, Christ Himself says, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" [Matthew 4:4].  Behold, in every word of God, therefore, life is enclosed as in a germ, namely, temporal as well as eternal life.  The Word of God is an immensely rich storeroom, filled with manifold inviting meats for mankind, living without God and without hope.  When his hour comes, God invites one man by this meat and the other man by that one.  Who are we, then, to dare to despise the riches of God's goodness and to sacrifice even a single one of His saving words?

Finally, add to this the following:  As every doctrine of the Word of God is a heavenly seed of regeneration for everlasting life, so on the contrary, every human doctrine is, in matters of salvation, a hellish seed of satanic birth to everlasting death.  Alas!  Many a soul has been led by a single false doctrine forever into a wrong way to eternity, by a single false consolation forever to a false hope of salvation, by a single false threatening, warning, and reproof forever to a false fear and to perfect despair, and thus, finally, to the loss of souls and salvation!

Oh, how important it is, therefore, my brethren, that we make the salvation of souls above all things the chief object of our joint labor in the kingdom of Christ!  Then it will be impossible but that we "keep a close watch on the doctrine," and we will thus be kept from ever violating our faithfulness toward the Word of God.  Whatever doctrine we may be called upon to conceal. or at least to suffer to be contradicted, or to yield, we then shall always declare:  Shall we take away from the man who is dead in sin even a single means that God has given him which might resuscitate him from death?  Shall we take away from the man who grieves at his sins even a single consolation that God has granted him which might comfort him?  Shall we take away from the man who is ill of sin even a single medicine that God has afforded him which might restore him to health?  Shall we take away from the man who struggles for his salvation with sin, the world, and Satan even a single weapon that God has tendered him, with which he might defend himself and gain the victory?  Shall we take away from the man who errs, groping about in the darkness of this world, even a single star that God has lit for him, which might be his guiding star to the blessed goal?  In short, shall we "take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs" [Matthew 15:26]?  No.  No, we then shall exclaim, as we value our salvation and that of our fellow redeemed, that we will faithfully keep the Word, this good thing which is committed unto us, to the last iota, so help us God! 
Scary how it almost seems as though Walther is addressing our synod today in 2010, isn't it?  Actually, he is, and we would do well to listen to him!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Baby Mabel Pics

Here are some pics taken during my visit to the hospital this afternoon to see and hold Mabel Diane and to congratulate Larry, Annie, Ben, and family, on their beautiful new addition:

Issues, Etc. Interview

I had the honor of being interviewed by Pr. Todd Wilken yesterday on Issues, Etc. about the first in a series of four articles I've been asked to write for Higher Things magazine.  The series is titled "Feasting with Our Lord" and will take a look at some of the Old Testament Feasts and how they find they're fulfillment in Christ.  This first article was focused on the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

I have a ton of respect for the Weedons, Cwirlas, Wolfmeullers, Petersens, and many other frequent IE guests, who do such a fabulous and faithful job contending for the faith within the unscripted (for the most part) and "off the cuff" format of the show, which, by the way, makes it the excellent show it is, for it always rings genuine and true.  I wonder if they play the "I should have said that; I wish I would have said that differently" game, like I was playing after I hung up with Jeff.  Anyway, after listening to the playback this morning, the interview didn't turn out nearly as bad as I thought it had gone, which is a testament to Pr. Wilken's unique ability to make his guests feel at ease and lead them along at their pace and according to their responses.  I still have that feeling of wishing I would have said this or that differently, but, all in all, it went well, and I was honored to be on.  You can listen to the segment below:

Baby Mabel Has Arrived!

I promised to post a message here as soon as I heard anything, so here it is:

Larry left a message on my cell this morning - Mabel was born at 5:56 a.m., 7 lbs. 4 oz., 20 in., both baby and mommy doing well (daddy sounded okay, too).

Heavenly Father, receive our heartfelt thanks for this child, a gift of Your grace and love for us in Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  Send Your holy angels to shield her from all dangers of body and soul.  Preserve her according to Your good pleasure until that day when she is brought to the waters of Holy Baptism to receive the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the same Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.  

CONGRATS Larry and Annie (and Ben)!

Update - Larry just sent me this first pic of Mabel:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Helpful Illustration

A brother, Pr. Matthew Uttenreither, posted links to the following videos on another forum with the introductory note, Here are two youtube videos that shows the divide that exists [within the LCMS].  I've posted the video from LakePointe on this blog before, but the contrast really becomes clear when posted next to the video from Grace Lutheran in Tulsa.  Notice the stark differences at work here.  Listen to the pastors.  Where is their focus?  What is the congregation they serve all about?  Listen to those interviewed as well.  Where is their focus?  What is the congregation they attend all about?  And then, after watching these, ask yourself:  How can these two congregations exists side by side in the same synod?  And then, after asking yourself that question, ask yourself this one:  Why is it that the congregation that doesn't identify itself as Lutheran in its name (let alone in its doctrine and practice) is the one that has been put before our synod by President Kieschnick and others as "a perfect example" to follow?

LakePointe Family Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Grace Lutheran Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Pastor Weedon said!

On his blog this morning, Pr. Weedon posted the following:
The notion that everything in the Divine Service should be utterly clear, transparent, and understandable to the unbelieving and uncatechized person who happens upon it, is absolutely and totally destructive of the faith itself. Illumination comes THROUGH the Spirit's use of the Word; not TO it.  What part of "and the darkness did not comprehend it" is incomprehensible to these liturgical innovators???
Exactly!  The impetus to pitch the hymnals and remove all "obstacles" (you know, "obstacles" like vestments, candles, pulpits, altars, hymns, Creeds, sermons, Law and Gospel, sin and grace, reverence, etc.) in order to make "church" more appealing to unbelievers comes straight from the pit of hell.  The old evil foe delights greatly when people set out to make church a place for people who don't like church.  Nothing pleases him more than to see Christians consulting unbelievers to see what they want and desire in a church, collecting the data, and then designing their "worship experience" around it.  Were Wormwood to write and inform Uncle Screwtape that he had convinced his "patient" to let unbelievers set the agenda for what is done in the "patient's" church, I dare say Uncle Screwtape would be most heartily pleased with Wormwood's efforts.

I've said it before and I'll say it again (and again and again) - the Divine Service is FOR THE CHURCHED (believers), not FOR THE UNCHURCHED (unbelievers).  It consists of a language that must be learned, for that language is a heavenly language recognized only by those with Spirit-wrought faith.  The Divine Service is the gathering of the faithful children of God around His Holy Word and Sacraments to receive the Divine Gifts He graciously and lovingly desires to distribute to them.  In response, the faithful pray, praise, and give thanks to God, speaking back to Him the Words He has given them to speak.  One must be catechized to understand what is truly going on the Divine Service.  If an unbeliever walks in off the street, what is happening in the Divine Service will be foreign to him.  If it's not; if it's all too familiar, then something is woefully wrong.

None of this means that we don't do our very best to make visitors feel welcome or take measures to help them at least try to follow along during the Service (a detailed bulletin with page numbers goes a long way toward that).  We should also make sure to identify visitors and greet them after the Service, etc.  But, to design the Service around them - to change the language and remove all perceived "obstacles" so that they feel right at home - is destructive of the faith itself, as Pr. Weedon notes, but it also fails to benefit the visiting unchurched, unbelieving person as well, for it passes the faith off as something it is not and deceives them into believing that the church is no different from the world, and so on.

Besides all this, there is the whole Lutheran thing at play here.  Lutherans do not "do church" like others.  They can't, since their confession of the faith and theology of worship, which flows out of that confession, differs from the confession of the faith others make (or, go out of their way not to make).  Thus, it should go without saying, but sadly needs to be said these days, that the following slogan should never, ever - no, not EVER! - be uttered by a Lutheran:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just for Meggers . . .

Actually, I should include Annie . . . so, just for Meggers and Annie, both of whom are waiting for the next time I will be absent on a Sunday so that they can get their "liturgical dance" on.  Or, is it "praise dance" these days?  Whatever.  I just thought this would be a helpful resource for them as they conspire plan their performance praise offering via the medium of dance.  They'll have to figure out how to turn this solo into a duet on their own - this is all the help I am willing to provide. :) 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hockey Tutorial

I mentioned to a friend earlier that I was looking forward to watching the Red Wings playoff game this afternoon (which I'm doing now), and she said, "I've never been into hockey.  I just don't understand the game."  Well, here ya go - all the explanation you need is contained in this clip from "Slapshot":

The Greatest 80s Rock Ballad

(If 80s rock ballads aren't your thing, you can simply ignore this)

The problem with choosing the greatest 80s rock ballad is that there were so many great ones from which to choose.  For that reason, it is perfectly acceptable to put together a plethora of top ten lists which differ vastly in content.  What is NOT acceptable, however, is to leave Tesla's "Love Song" off of any top ten list, since, well, it is THE Greatest 80s Rock Ballad.  If you don't want to put it on top, in its rightful position, fine, but you are not allowed to compile a top ten list without it.  Nope.  Unacceptable, indeed! :)

(Note:  Even without the extended guitar intro, it's still the greatest!)

Misericordias Domini - Easter 3

The Good Shepherd Cares for His Sheep
(Old Testament: Ezekiel 34:11-16; Epistle: 1 Peter 2:21-25; Holy Gospel: John 10:11-16)
Our Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–16). He is not like the hireling, who cares nothing for the sheep and only for himself, who flees when he sees the wolf coming. Rather, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks out His scattered sheep to deliver them (Ezek. 34:11–16). He gathers them and feeds them in rich pasture. He binds up the broken and strengthens the sick. He lays down His life for wandering and wayward sheep. On the cross, Christ bore in His body the attacks of the predators of sin and death and the devil for you that you might be saved. He now lives to restore your soul in the still waters of baptism, to lead you in the paths of righteousness by the voice of His Gospel, to prepare the table of His holy supper before you, that you may dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23). “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

Collect of the Day
O God, through the humiliation of Your Son You raised up the fallen world.  Grant to Your faithful people, rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Hymn of the Day:  LSB 709 "The King of Love My Shepherd Is"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

So Sad

I received an email yesterday from a reader who is concerned about the fact that her congregation is sending their youth to the LCMS National Youth Gathering which will take place in New Orleans this July.  She was worried about the impact this would have on the youth.  She explained that the congregation to which she belongs is a traditional/liturgical congregation and she is afraid of having the youth exposed to the kind of contemporary worship which will be on display at the Gathering.  She also informed me that her pastor was just as concerned as she was, but that he, being only in his first year of service there, didn't want to cause waves by suggesting that the congregation break their tradition of sending their youth to the Gathering.  I know exactly how he feels and don't blame him a bit.  I also know how this woman feels.  She is right to be concerned.

That's so sad, isn't it?  That we have to worry about sending our youth to our own synod's National Youth Gathering, I mean.  It's not only sad; it's a downright shame.

Why the worry? some might ask.  Well, because for the last couple of decades, those who plan our Gatherings have gone out of their way to mimic the youth conferences held by Americanized "evangelicals."  I know.  I've been to those conferences.  I'm not proud of it, but back in the nineties, I led the youth of the LCMS congregation I belonged to at the time to two "Acquire the Fire" conferences.  Anyone who wants to argue that our synod's Gatherings have not become increasingly more like those conferences is gravely mistaken.  They have.  And, that's the danger and reason for worry.  Those conferences are put on by those whose theology is vastly different from our Lutheran theology.  The whole point of those conferences is to play on the kids' emotions in the hope that they will be so moved through the power of the "worship" and "testimonials" and "dramas," and so forth, that they will make a decision to accept Jesus as their Savior (or, for those who have already "made the decision," to "rededicate their lives" to Him).  And, as someone who has experienced this live and in person, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that these conferences had a profound impact on my emotions.  Heck, by the end of the first "Acquire the Fire" conference I attended, I was ready to rush the stage and "give my life to Jesus."

But, it's all superficial and shallow.  It doesn't last.  It didn't have a profound impact on any of our youth.  How could it?  It's just a show.  It's rock-n-roll, dude.  You "get down with Jesus" for a couple of days, are moved by the beat of the music and the heart-rending testimonials, and pumped up by the speakers who egg you on to "really let it all out and worship the Lord"!  But then, all of a sudden, it's over.  And so is the emotion.  That feeling you experience - that so-called "spiritual high" you think you had - dissipates as fast as the drummer had smacked his drums during your favorite "praise song."  Think of going to see your favorite rock band (or whatever other musical genre suits your fancy) in concert - that "high" you experience (and, no, I'm not talking about that kind of "high") lasts about until you get to your car in the parking lot (okay, if it was a really good concert, maybe till you get home).  Then, it's gone - it quickly fizzles away.  Emotions and feelings are fickle that way, you know. 

For the life of me, I cannot fathom why it is that those who plan our synod's Gatherings do not understand this.  They have an awesome opportunity to impact our youth with the Gospel, but instead seek ways to play on their emotions, just as the "evangelicals" do.  They have a chance to present substance, but are content with providing a superficial experience.  What's worse, they do not see the dangers of subjecting our youth to the false doctrines so prevalent in many of the rock-n-roll ditties performed by the bands they acquire to entertain lead the kids in "worship."  It is as if they are ashamed of being Lutheran and want to give the youth something more exciting and adventurous.

Hopefully, the youth from this woman's congregation won't be as impacted by this as she fears.  Hopefully, they'll just chalk it up to the "fun-fest" it is, and nothing more.  Hopefully, once that "spiritual high" wears off, they'll just forget about the "experience" and return unfazed to the true Lutheran theology of worship followed in their home parish.  But, again, it's so sad that we have to hope that our own synod's National Youth Gathering doesn't have an impact on our youth.

Thank God we have an alternative available in our synod today in Higher Things.  Both the woman who emailed me and her pastor are hopeful that they'll be able to send their youth there in the years to come.  I told her that she would be very pleased if that panned out.  Having been to three Higher Things conferences myself, I cannot recommend them highly enough.  The good folks at Higher Things are not ashamed of being Lutheran and do not, in any way, shape, or form, attempt to cloak their Lutheranism in some other guise.  In fact, their motto for the youth is, "Dare to be Lutheran!"  Imagine that!  A Lutheran youth conference for Lutheran youth that actually practices Lutheranism.  A novel concept, that.

Anyway, if you are still wondering why all the fuss, here are a couple of videos to watch.  The first one is a clip from the 2007 LCMS National Youth Gathering, where the youth are being led to sing, "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord," which is a popular "praise song" that has no business being sung by Lutherans (I apologize to all of you who like this song, but, well, it's the truth - the theology carried along by the lyrics is just simply awful, and most definitely not in line with Lutheranism).  The second video is the promo for this year's "Acquire the Fire" Conferences, just to give you an idea of where those who plan our synod's Gatherings get their ideas (I know several LCMS pastors and leaders who have attended these just for that purpose - oh, and by the way, "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord" has been sung at many "Acquire the Fire" conferences - just sayin'). Notice the crass decision theology which comes through loud and clear in this video. Do we really want to mimic this? Really?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Can We Talk?

It is fascinating to listen to those who oppose the plan put forth by LCMS Presidential Nominee Rev. Matthew Harrison in his essay, "It's Time."  They want to set parameters in place that would ensure that no one engaging in the sort of "Formula of Concord-like" theological dialogue Rev. Harrison proposes would be made to feel any less Lutheran than anyone else.  In other words, they want the dialogue to begin around the assumption that everyone gathering together to talk is Lutheran in doctrine and practice.

But, that kind of defeats the point, doesn't it?  I mean, if that assumption was true, there would be no reason to talk.  Duh!  Besides, it is that assumption which has ruled the day in the various theological convocations held during the current LCMS President's time in office, and it hasn't gotten us one iota closer to working out the differences and divisions which infect our synod.  There can be no true dialogue if the assumption which undergirds such is that everyone engaging in the dialogue is equally Lutheran in doctrine and practice.  That is not theological dialogue; that is post-modernism.

No, the sort of theological dialogue we desperately need in our synod must be honest and direct.  No assumptions; no prerequisite to "agree to disagree"; no parameters set to deter anyone from speaking openly and honestly as they defend their position(s) on the basis of Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.

The fear some have regarding this sort of honest and direct theological dialogue is almost certainly due to the fact that it has been so long since we have done things this way that they have no idea what it even means anymore.  We have grown so accustomed to being agreeably disagreeable and have for so long forsaken any semblance of the kind of church discipline that would result from properly exercised ecclesiastical oversight of doctrine and practice that we are like "fish out of water" when it comes to honest and direct theological dialogue.  I mean, God forbid that we declare anything done within our synod out of bounds.  The best we can do is to "evangelically encourage" our brothers and sisters who have abandoned our confession of the faith to think about what they're doing and how what they're doing affects the rest of us.  But, to call them to repentance and demand that they cease and desist if they want to remain in our fellowship, well that's just mean and out of bounds in today's LCMS.  That's too much like "browbeating" or "enforcement" or "coercion," and that would be just plain awful in the sight of many.

And, that's exactly our problem today.  We have been taught to think that it's unnecessarily mean to point out error and to demand faithfulness to our Confessions.  It's even considered by many to be a violation of the 8th Commandment to ever call into question the faithfulness of anyone's publicly revealed doctrine and practice.  It doesn't matter how wacky that publicly revealed doctrine and practice is, either.  If you say, "That is NOT Lutheran," you will be met with the hostility of many and be labeled a trouble-maker.

How far we have fallen from our Lutheran forebears!  When controverted and divisive issues arose among them, they were not afraid to put those issues on the table, analyze them against Scripture and our Confessions, and come to a conclusion about them.  And, having come to their conclusions, they were not afraid to demand that anyone wishing to call themselves Lutheran must comply.  They believed that purity of doctrine and practice was non-negotiable, and that errors against the same could not be permitted.  Call it "browbeating," "enforcement," or "coercion" if you will, but they believed that to be a Lutheran one must believe, teach, and confess what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.  I know, shocking, isn't it?

So it is that I'm not the least bit sympathetic toward those who fear the sort of honest and direct theological dialogue proposed by Rev. Harrison.  It's the Lutheran way.  Put the controverted and divisive issues on the table and discuss them on the basis of Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  Let each side make their arguments as passionately as they please.  Let them mince no words and actually accuse the other side of being wrong, according to their interpretation of Scripture and Confessions.  If each side is convinced of its position, it should not fear entering the dialogue, but rather should embrace the opportunity to defend its position and argue for its acceptance by the other side.

This doesn't mean that things have to be nasty at all.  "Speaking the truth in love" should most definitely be the order of the day.  But, "speaking the truth in love" has never meant "compromising the truth out of love," as many imagine it to mean.  "Speaking the truth in love" presupposes that there is a truth to be spoken, which also means that anything in contradiction to that truth is falsehood.  That's what we need to wrap our minds around if we will ever enter into the sort of honest and direct theological discourse we so desperately need.  On the controverted and divisive issues among us, there is truth and there is falsehood.  Let us engage one another honestly and directly to determine the truth, based on Scripture and our Confessions, with a willingness to repent if it be shown that we ourselves are in error.

How can any true Lutheran fear this process?  The only reason I can muster as to why some would fear it is that they're nervous about having their doctrine and practice scrutinized, and the only reason they would be nervous about that is because they're not as sure as they'd like to be about whether or not their doctrine and practice jives with what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.  They're perfectly content with everyone doing whatever is pleasing in their own eyes and allowing the divisions within our synod to remain.  Some of them even laud this as "blessed diversity," which is in gross contradiction to the Lutheran forebears from whom they claim to descend; those who would declare honestly and directly:
It is not only necessary that the pure, wholesome doctrine be rightly presented for the preservation of pure doctrine and for thorough, permanent, godly unity in the Church, but it is also necessary that the opponents who teach otherwise be reproved (1 Timothy 3; [2 Timothy 3:16;] Titus 1:9).  Faithful shepherds, as Luther says, should do both things:  (a) feed or nourish the lambs and (b) resist the wolves.  Then the sheep may flee from strange voices (John 10:5-12) and may separate the precious from the worthless (Jeremiah 5:19).  (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Summary, Rule, and Norm, 14).     

Monday, April 12, 2010

Coming Soon: Sarah Palin Network (SNL)

Tina Fey does this so very well:

Classical Christian Worship

Having forgone my usual Sunday afternoon nap to watch the Masters, I fell asleep around 8 p.m. last night and awoke shortly after 3 a.m. this morning.  I used the serenity of our sleepy house to do a little writing and to listen to some of the excellent "Issues, Etc." Holy Week segments I wasn't able to listen to during that busy week.  Below is an awesome segment on "Classical Christian Worship" with guest, Pr. Scot Kinnaman, which I highly recommend to all.  This, friends, is a wonderful explanation and exploration of the theology of worship believed, taught, and confessed by true Lutherans.  Enjoy!


Congratulations, Lefty!

This year's Masters was one of the best in recent memory.  So many story lines to follow.  Tiger got most of the press coverage, as usual, returning to golf after his five month layoff due to his sex scandal.  Say what you will about the dude, the bottom line is that he can flat out play the game.  I can't think of another professional golfer who could be away from the game for nearly half a year and be in contention (he finished tied for fourth at -11) immediately upon his return, and that at a major championship.  If we could just get the guy to quit taking the Lord's Name in vain after hitting a bad shot, it would be far more enjoyable to watch him display the gifts given him by the Lord in whom he doesn't believe.  I sent him a message suggesting that instead of yelling out, "G-D" or "J-C," he think about yelling, "Oh, Buddha!"  I haven't heard back from him as of yet; I'll keep you posted if I do.

Then there was Freddy (Couples, that is, for those of you who erroneously believe golf is a game not worth following).  Man, I was rooting for him the whole way.  The "old" guy (he's 50) still has plenty of game, and is still as fun to watch as he was in his prime.  He had a legitimate shot at winning this thing this year, but, alas, it wasn't meant to be.  Still, Freddy's quiet demeanor and laid back approach to the game is a privilege to witness.  He encapsulates the best of what this great game is all about.  A true class act on and off the course; a true ambassador for the game if ever there was one.  Freddy ended up finishing in 6th place at -9.

And what about the final round charge of A.K. (that's Anthony Kim)!  Wow!  Talk about a young player who is fun to watch, especially when he gets hot like today.  Last year, Kim set a Masters record with eleven birdies in one round; this year he went low on the final day, heating up on the back nine to turn in an impressive 7-under for the round and posting the score to beat early at -12.  It turned out to be too little, too late, but you gotta give the kid props for making the surge he did.  At 25-years-old, Kim will be around for a while and will surely have many more opportunities to don the coveted green jacket.

We could also talk about the guys from across the pond who made this year's Masters exciting - Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.  While Poulter fell out of contention on Saturday, Westwood, who has been so close to winning a major the last four starts, battled till the end.  He ended up coming in at a distant second, three shots back, when it was all said and done, but he was right in there putting pressure on the leader, Phil Mickelson, on the 17th green, sinking a birdie putt which forced Mickelson to convert a lengthy par putt to maintain a two-stroke lead heading to the 18th tee.  If Lefty misses that putt, it's anyone's game.

But, for all the other story lines that made this year's Masters one for the ages, the best of all was the story of Lefty, who prevailed to earn his third green jacket at Augusta.  The backdrop to his story makes his victory all the more sweet.  His wife, Amy, has been struggling with breast cancer for over a year now, and it has been a very difficult battle that is long from over.  Add to that the fact that Mickelson's mother, Mary, was also diagnosed with cancer a while back.  Lefty and his family have been through so much this past year.  He has taken a lot of time off from the game to be with his wife and mother these past several months and, coming into the Masters, his game was pretty much in shambles.  No one, including myself, gave him much of a chance to contend, let alone win.  I mean, it was a possibility, to be sure, but the odds were not good.  But, he proved us all wrong and put together a week at the Masters that will surely be talked about for generations to come.

His approach shot at the par-5 13th was one of the most remarkable golf shots ever.  In the pine straw, with a couple of trees in front of him, the smart play was to punch the ball out and lay up.  But, that's just not how Lefty plays the game.  Never has been, and probably never will be.  Lefty has always gone for it, and often has paid the price for doing so.  But, when he goes for it and converts, as he did today, it is pure joy to witness.  He knocked that ball from the pine straw, through the trees, barely carrying the creek guarding the green, to within ten feet for an eagle opportunity.  As he was swinging, I was thinking, "Oh no, Lefty, don't do it!"  But, he did it, and the result was nothing short of amazing.  He ended up missing the eagle putt, which probably would have put things away at that point, but converted the birdie and kept the momentum going, which would lead him to his third Masters Championship.

What a truly "feel-good" story!  I couldn't be happier for Lefty and family.  Lefty is a class act, on and off the course, and always has been.  He is not one who basks in the spotlight, but has always come off humble and appreciative of the gifts he's been given.  I've always been a fan, but even more so now.  Walking off the 18th green, after sinking a birdie putt he didn't need to win, he immediately headed to Amy and embraced her, with tears running down his cheeks (it was at that time that I think I got something stuck in my eyes as they began to water for some reason, too).  An emotional victory.  A tremendous victory.  A victory for the ages.  Congratulations, Lefty!  Well deserved and well earned!

And some people think that golf is boring . . . sheesh! :)  

Here's video of that remarkable shot at #13:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A good quote . . .

from St. John Chrysostom (a.k.a. "Golden Mouth") provided by Pr. McCain here (very appropriate for "Low," er, "Back-to-Normal Sunday"). 

Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2)

"Quasimodo geniti infantes . . ." ("Like newborn infants . . . , Alleluia, long for the pure spiritual milk [of the Word.]  Alleluia."  

Today is historically known as "Quasimodo Geniti" Sunday in the Church.  It has also become known as "Low Sunday," since, well, the attendance on this Second Sunday of Easter is almost always quite lower than it was on Easter Sunday.  This certainly held true in our parish today, although rather than it being a "Low Sunday," it was more like a "Normal Sunday."  I'd bet that is probably the case in many parishes, namely that "Low Sunday" is really better described as "Back-to-Normal Sunday."  I propose that we just go ahead and re-name this day, "Back-to-Normal Sunday."

Still, it is always a bit of a let-down to see the pews back to their normal half-packed status after seeing them packed the week before, but such is life in the church today.  And, the Holy Gospel for the day could not be more appropriate, for it is the account of Jesus' appearance to the disciples in the locked room, first on the evening of the day of Resurrection and again on the eighth day (the next Sunday).  Thomas is not with the disciples on Easter evening, and thus misses out on the blessing Jesus bestows upon them.  That's what happens when we skip Church, folks.  We miss out on Jesus and the blessings He desires to bestow upon us through the Divine Gifts He delivers via His Holy Word and Sacraments.  Thomas, missing out, finds it hard to believe.  His faith, not having been strengthened by being in Jesus' Presence, is weak.  In fact, he says that he will never believe unless he sees and touches Jesus for himself.

Thankfully, our Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He shows up again on the next Lord's Day for Divine Service with His disciples.  This time, Thomas is there and receives the blessings of the Lord's Gifts and is strengthened and preserved in the faith to confess:  "My Lord and My God!"

The same Crucified and Risen Lord continues to show up each and every Lord's Day in the midst of His disciples to forgive them, renew them, feed them, strengthen and preserve them, and bless them with His peace.  In fact, what we see in the Holy Gospel for this day, besides the importance of being in the Divine Service, is the way in which our Lord would fulfill His promise to be with us always, for here we witness our Lord calling and ordaining His chosen men to the apostolic Word and Sacrament Ministry, i.e., the Office of the Holy Ministry.  He breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld."  It is through these men, and all their successors, who serve in the stead and by the command of Christ, that the forgiveness won by Jesus is distributed to repentant sinners through the preaching of the pure Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, according to Christ's institution.

So, get thee to Church, my friends.  There, in His Holy House, our Lord Jesus is truly Present FOR YOU!  Present with His very Body and Blood, not only for you to see and touch, but to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.  Don't miss out!

The Processional Hymn this morning:  
LSB 490 "Jesus Lives!  The Victory's Won" (st. 1)
Jesus lives! The vict'ry's won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death's reign is done!
From the grave will Christ recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence;
This shall be my confidence.

 Different title, but same tune here:

Collect of the Day:  Almighty God, grant that we who have celebrated the Lord's resurrection may by Your grace confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Old Testament Reading:  Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Epistle:  1 John 5:4-10
The Holy Gospel:  John 20:19-31

The Hymn of the Day:
LSB 470 "O Sons and Daughters of the King"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I'm Loving . . .

our new internet service!  Wow, what a difference!  Living "out in the sticks," our options for internet service are limited.  During our first year and a half here, we had to suffer through using dial-up.  Ugh!  The fact that we had high-speed cable internet service previous to moving here made it all the more unbearable.  But, then we were introduced to a DSL wireless provider that was offering service to our area, so we made the switch to that.  It was a major improvement, to be sure, but it has been anything but high-speed these past three-plus years.  Sometimes it seemed no faster than dial-up speeds; other times it seemed much faster; but, at no time, has it ever been high-speed.  To watch a 3-minute Youtube video would take around 10 minutes, and forget about watching anything streaming.  But, worse than the slowness of the supposed "high-speed" we were supposed to be getting was the frequent outages.  For the past six months, it was common for the service to be down multiple times daily (ten minutes here, an hour or two there, and so on) - very frustrating.  I spent countless hours on the phone with tech support, but to no avail.  The low speeds and outages continued. 

Finally, a couple of weeks ago I did some shopping around to see if there were any other providers in our area.  Long story short, there was a provider that was broadcasting off of the tower that I can see from my back yard, and could give me "direct line of sight" service at high speed.  They assured me that I would see a huge difference with their service.  They were right.  They came out yesterday and installed the service and it is like night and day from what I had.  Simply awesome!  I actually watched some of the Masters golf tournament streaming online yesterday without any pauses for buffering.  I also watched an episode of The Office from nbc.com, which was simply impossible before.  And, as for youtube videos - no waiting at all anymore!  Imagine that - you click play and watch the video (instead of pausing it to give it ten minutes to load).  Very cool!  The best thing of all is that this new service is actually $5/month cheaper than what I have been paying (although I did have to break down and pay an install fee). 

I'm loving our new service.  It's good to be back in the 21st century again! 

"It's Time" - Audio

The blogosphere has been abuzz ever since the official notice of nominations for the LCMS Praesidium was released earlier this week. Some are expressing their fear of what a Matthew Harrison presidency would involve. They speculate about "purges" and "cleaning house," as if Harrison would immediately begin some sort of grand inquisition upon taking the office, ousting any and all pastors and congregations that don't live up to his "narrow view" of Lutheranism. It really is beyond silly to read what some have written along these lines. It is equally silly to hear some posit that the plan Harrison sets fort in "It's Time" would bring a halt to missions in our synod, as if we would be so focused on having the theological dialogue he proposes that we couldn't be doing anything else.  And then there are those who link Harrison to what they believe to be the "radical right" in our synod, full of "meanies," who want the heads of anyone and everyone who do not practice Lutheranism exactly as they do.  Also quite silly.

The sober truth is that, of the two leading candidates for the LCMS presidency, only Harrison has an actual plan to address the divisions evident among us in our synod.  His plan is quite Lutheran in nature, calling for us to use the formula which led to our Formula of Concord, putting those divisive issues among us on the table to analyze them against Scripture and our Confessions.  His plan does not call for immediate expulsion from our synod of anyone.  His plan does not even come close to resembling the sort of "witch hunt" some irrationally fear.  His plan calls for us to do what we should be doing - engaging in honest, deliberate theological dialogue to work toward resolution of those issues which divide us.  

What is Kieschnick's plan?  Having witnessed nine years of him occupying the office of President, and having read his recently released book, "Waking the Sleeping Giant," wherein he shares his vision for our synod's future, I believe his plan can be summed up with the image below:

Now, some would argue that Kieschnick has illustrated that he does understand that there are divisive issues among us, and that he does realize the necessity to address them.  After all, he has stated publicly several times, and has written publicly in his book, that there are some controverted issues among us which need further exploration and work towards consensus.  But, what is his plan to accomplish that?  It seems, at least to me, that his plan is limited to precisely what his opponent claims will not work, namely to garner a mindset within our synod through the implementation of restructuring changes and convention resolutions (or, "covenants of love," as they are advertised by some) to lovingly agree to disagree on the matters that divide us.  This has surely been the mindset produced by the various theological convocations which have been held under Kieschnick's watch.  The dialogue which has occurred during those convocations has yet to result in any decisive conclusions about anything.  If anything, the purpose has been more to recognize and foster what Kieschnick and others view as "blessed diversity" among us than to actually resolve our differences.  

The differences between Harrison and Kieschnick are stark and vast.  What it really boils down to in the end, though, is whether or not we want to follow the "agree to disagree" mentality Kieschnick favors or the deliberate dialogue to engage our disagreements and work toward agreement based on Scripture and our Confessions favored by Harrison.  I don't think there is any question as to which approach is more Lutheran.  

It should also be said, as many have rightly indicated during the course of the many conversations being had around the blogosphere these days, that the problems we face within our synod will not be solved by electing the right man as president.  As an avid Harrison supporter, I am quite aware of the fact that, should he be elected, he will not be able to wave some magic wand and bring our problems to an end.  But, he knows that better than anyone else.  His plan calls for a 10-year process.  He knows that our problems will not be solved overnight.  It will take patience and steadfast determination to work through the issues that ail us.  But, he believes it is work worth doing, as do I.  And, perhaps best of all, he believes that the only way the ship of Missouri can be righted is by the Word of God, as do I.  What will be the result?  Who knows?  Only God.  But, I am prayerful and hopeful that we'll give Harrison's plan a shot, for it is the only plan proposed which has a chance of allowing the Word of God to do its work among us.  

Anyway, you can now listen to Harrison read aloud the plan he proposes.  He sounds like the kind of pastor and theologian our synod desperately needs as a leader.  It's Time, Missouri!  It's Time!     

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Check This Out - Looks Pretty Awesome!

Delayed Holy Week/Easter Reflection

What an absolute blessing it is for me to serve among God's children at Peace.  We may be a small parish numbers-wise, but there is nothing small about the faith I am privileged to witness here.  That faith was on full display during the most important week of the Church Year last week.  The faithful gathered daily around Word and Sacrament to travel the via delorosa with our Lord as He set His face to willingly and lovingly endure betrayal, denial, spitting, mocking, hitting, and flogging on His way to the Cross, and to be fed and strengthened by the same Lord with the Fruits of that Cross, which has become for us the Tree of Life. 

There is always that underlying fear I feel as I put together the rather intense Holy Week schedule we observe here that no one will show up for one or more Services during the week, but, thus far, that fear has been unfounded.  Even for daily Matins held at 7:00 a.m., I was joined every day by some of the faithful here; in fact, there were at least six of us gathered for Matins daily throughout the week.  And, for all of the Divine Services, two held each day, many of the faithful here gathered together - more, really, than I expected, especially given the fact that Spring Break paralleled Holy Week this year.

Of course, the highlights of this Holy Week, as with all Holy Weeks, were the Services held during the Sacred Triduum.  Our Holy (Maundy) Thursday evening Divine Service began with Corporate Confession and Absolution, included Dr. Luther's Christian Questions with Their Answers, and concluded with the Stripping of the Altar, all of which was beautifully observed.  This is one of our longest Services of the year, yet I have never heard a complaint about its length, since it is also one of the most austere and moving Services of the year.  Simply beautiful!  And sets the stage well for our transition into Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  The Chief Service of Good Friday was held at Noon and included meditation upon our Lord's Seven Words from the Cross, the Sacred Procession of the Rough-Hewn Cross, and the reception of our Lord's Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.  Another very moving Service indeed!  Then, eight of us gathered together at 3:00 p.m. for a Short Devotion at the Sacred Hour when our Lord breathed His last and gave up His Spirit, which is always a special time together as we kneel in awe at the foot of our Lord's Salvific Cross and plead for His mercy upon us and the whole world.  Finally, our Good Friday observance was concluded in the evening as we gathered for Tenebrae.  I know there are some of my brothers and colleagues who are not big fans of this Service and prefer to observe Vespers in the evening, but I wouldn't dream of changing this Service, which is also one of the most moving and meaningful Services we observe here annually.  We begin the Service with the somber bells, which ring forty times.  For the last twenty rings, the congregation turns to face the rough-hewn Cross in the rear of the nave.  It is during this Service, and not the Noon Service, that the reproaches and their responses are shared as the Cross is processed in, with the choir singing "Lamb of God, Pure and Holy" (LSB 434) in between (the trio of ladies - Carol, Lois, and Marlene did a fabulous job of singing this hymn beautifully this year - thanks, ladies!).  The Service continues with the Sentences and Collects, after which comes the reading of the Passion according to St. John with hymns and the extinguishing of candles in between each part.  The homily and Bidding Prayer come next, and then the Service reaches its climactic conclusion with the reading of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the strepitus, and the complete darkness which envelops the church.  It is always awe-inspiring and, yes, even emotional.  Nope, wouldn't change it for the world!

Then comes our Holy Saturday Divine Service in the morning, in which we hear the account of Daniel and the Lion's Den and meditate upon the rest of our Lord, the Greater Daniel, in the tomb.  After this Service, we decorate the church for Easter, which is always a welcomed endeavor following the Divine Drama we've witnessed unfold before us the previous couple of days.  Then, this year, we added the Easter Vigil to our Holy Week/Easter schedule, gathering together around the new light of Christ.  All in all, our first-ever Easter Vigil went very well, although there are definitely some kinks to be ironed out for next year.  We had planned to begin outside around the "new fire," from which we would light our new Paschal Candle, but the weather didn't cooperate, so we began in the fellowship hall, allowing an old Christ Candle to serve as our "new fire."  We followed the Paschal Candle into the darkened church, carrying our own individual candles with us, stopping at the entrance to the nave, in the middle of the nave, and at the front of the nave for the Lux Christi to be chanted (Roger, who is our default Cantor, even though he probably doesn't realize that, did a fabulous job of leading us in this and in singing the Exsultet which followed - absolutely beautiful!).  Then we settled in for the trek through the lengthy readings from God's Word, which put before us the Divine Plan of salvation, beginning with the Creation account and ending with the account of the Fiery Furnace (we actually only read 6 of the 12 readings assigned, but that's still a TON).  This is one of the kinks we'll iron out for next year.  I read all the readings myself - not a good idea.  Midway through, my throat was letting me know that it did not appreciate this at all; it was all I could do to make it through with my voice intact, and the pain was barely bearable, but more annoying than anything else.  Anyway, yeah, I'll be employing some additional lectors for next year.  Another kink we'll have to iron out is the carrying of the Paschal Candle by the elder.  I don't know if it's the specific candle we purchased or if all wax Paschal Candles are the same, but the wax splashed all over the alb Larry was wearing and the candle holder was pelted with wax as well.  Amazingly, the wax kept to the alb and the basin of the candle holder and did not get on the carpet, but, still, improvement in this area is something we'll strive for next year.  But, other than that, the Vigil was beautiful, attended by far more than I expected, and I received lots of compliments on it.  We didn't have any Baptisms this year, but the Service of Holy Baptism, during which we all recalled our Baptismal vows, was special - and the symbolism of dipping the Paschal Candle into the font during the Rite was stunning.  The Litany of the Resurrection, the brief Service of the Word with Gospel Procession and brief homily, and the reception of our Lord's crucified and resurrected Flesh and Blood in the Supper concluded the Vigil.  The Vigil actually proceeds rather quickly after the lengthy Readings are completed.  Our first Vigil ended up coming in at about an hour and forty-five minutes, which is noticeably longer than our normal Divine Services, and even about 15-20 minutes longer than our Holy Thursday evening Divine Service, but what a blessing to all who attended!

After the Vigil, we held a Champagne Reception, which went far better than I ever dreamed it would.  Special thanks to Carol for making all the arrangements for this.  The hors d'oeurves and desserts were delicious.  Everything was absolutely perfect!

The next morning it was up and at 'em early for our Sunrise Service, Easter breakfast (best one EVER!) and the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord.  I was exhausted by the time Easter morning rolled around, and left without much of a voice, but by God's grace got through the morning okay.  What joy it was to break out our Alleluias again (actually, we broke them out already during Vigil, but Easter morning Divine Service, packed as it was, really saw them unpacked with great vigor again after the Lenten fast).  Both choirs (adult and children's) sounded amazing, as did Roger's solo of "Christians, to the Paschal Victim," during the Festival and it may have been our best celebration to date.

It truly was a blessed Holy Week this year; perhaps, for me, the most meaningful yet.  Although, I have to admit that I was more wiped after this year than I ever have been in the past.  Three Services a day with visits to our eleven shut-ins interspersed throughout the week took its toll on me - maybe I'm just getting old!  In any event, I am thankful for the rest afforded me the last few days (we transferred our Easter Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday Services to our regularly scheduled Wednesday evening slots for the next three weeks, rather than observe them at Noon on the actual days as originally planned, which has given me not only some time to rest and visit with family, but also time for my voice to recover a bit).  

Next year, we'll make some adjustments not only to the Vigil, as mentioned above, but also to our schedule.  We'll start the Vigil a little earlier next year and we'll drop the Sunrise Service (it was pretty sparsely attended this year and seems a little redundant with the Vigil in place).  I'm already looking forward to it!  But, now, to enjoy the Great 50 Days of Easter, where fasting gives way to feasting!  He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

Special thanks to everyone who served so wonderfully throughout the week, especially to Mary, our secretary and organist, who made sure to have all the bulletins prepared (and to the ladies who volunteered their help with that), who played absolutely beautifully during our Triduum and Easter Services, and who did a wonderful job preparing and leading our choir; to Carol, who did an excellent job, as always, caring for our altar and preparing for each Service, who oversaw the Stripping of the Altar with great care (and to the ladies who assisted in that endeavor - I strip the altar, hand the items to the elder, who hands them to the ladies), who sang beautifully, and who did a superb job, as mentioned above, with our Champagne Reception after Vigil; to my elders for assisting me so faithfully throughout the week; to all who sang in the choirs; to all who helped decorate; to all who prepared food for our awesome Easter Breakfast; to all who served in any way.  "I thank my God always for you!"  A Holy and Blessed Week it was!  All praise, glory, and honor be to God our Father, to His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, now and always!  Amen.