Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Still laughing at this one!

Inspired by the recent video released by Jesus First titled "THAT Church," Brian Yamabe put together a video in response, titled "This or THAT Church."  Great stuff! :)  Enjoy:

We Got Spirit, Yes We do! We Got Spirit, How 'Bout You?!

Nothing surprises me anymore about happenings in the LCMS.  That's what saddens me.  I think I've been desensitized to what should shock any true Lutheran.  I'm not over being greatly perplexed about many things, just not as shocked or surprised as I once was. 

Anyway, in the realm of, "Wow, I can't believe this is happening, but not surprised that it is," I was alerted to the Commissioning Service being suggested for participants to the 2010 LCMS National Youth Gathering.  It is suggested that this Commissioning may take place in a congregation's worship service (or as a special service or in a different congregational setting).  The whole Commissioning strikes me as way, way over the top, as if attending the National Youth Gathering is one of the absolute most important things these young people will ever do in their lives.  For Pete's sake, it's just a Youth Gathering!  Calm down, will ya?  Say a prayer for the kids and adults who will be accompanying them during the Prayer of the Church in the Divine Service.  That would be more than enough.  Instead, they put together this super-duper, special Commissioning Service, giving the impression that these kids will be going on some life-changing pilgrimage or something, where their Christian faith will be impacted like never before.  Good grief!

Anyway, besides all that, what really strikes me as not only way, way over the top, but as completely inappropriate for the Divine Service is the "Confessional Cheer" (yeah, that's right, "confessional cheer") which is an optional conclusion to the Commissioning.  Actually, it seems inappropriate no matter where or when it would take place, but it definitely has no place in the Lord's House.  Here is the "Confessional Cheer":

(The commissioning may be completed with this responsive confessional cheer or it may be used by the group prior to the time they depart for the Gathering.)

Leader:      Do you believe?
ALL:          Yes! WE BELIEVE!
Leader:      Do you believe?
ALL:          Yes! WE BELIEVE!
Leader:      Do you believe?
ALL:          Yes! WE BELIEVE!
Leader:      Do you believe in the Father?
ALL:          We believe in the Father!
Leader:      Do you believe in the Son?
ALL:          We believe in the Son!
Leader:      Do you believe in the Spirit?
ALL:          We believe in the Spirit.
Leader:      Holy God, Three in One?
ALL:          Holy God, Three in One!
Leader:      As it was in the beginning?
ALL:          As it was in the beginning!
Leader:      As is now, shall ever be?
ALL:          As is now, shall ever be!
Leader:      We believe, now and forever!
ALL:          We believe! We believe!
Leader:      We believe!
ALL:          We believe!
Leader:      We believe!
ALL:          We believe!
Leader:      We believe!

Leader:  May God bless and keep you, now and forever in the name of our incredible God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Congregation: Amen! Go in peace. Serve the Lord!

Youth and Adults: Thanks be to God!!!

(*) Based on Ephesians 3:18. This commissioning was written by Rev. Dr. Terry Dittmer, Director of LCMS District and Congregational Services – Youth Ministry.

Seriously?  A pep rally?  In God's House?  Seriously?  I thought it was a house of prayer, not a gymnasium.  Oh, well, as I said, nothing surprises me anymore.  

And people wonder why so many of us will not support, or send our youth to, our own National Youth Gathering. 

Lord, have mercy!    

Some Mo' Betta Pics of Sarah's Luau Open House

Thanks to my sister, Brandy, I have some much better pics to share.  Here are a few:

A Proven Theologian?

In a post last night, I mentioned that Rev. Chuck Mueller, Jr., a leader in Jesus First, made an appearance lover at ALPB to defend Jesus First's Delegate Letter #9 and to offer further slander toward Rev. Harrison and WR-HC (Pr. Wilken has a post about this over at the Steadfast site, which you can read here).  Rev. Mueller, Jr. concluded his post with the following endorsement of Pres. Kieschnick:
"I'm going for a proven theologian (elected by his peers to chair the CTCR), an able churchman, a confessional pastor, an excellent administrator and a proven leader elected again and again to the office:  Jerry Kieschnick."
First, let's get one thing straight right off the bat:  You do not have to be "a proven theologian" to be elected to chair the CTCR.  You just have to be elected.  As for Pres. Kieschnick being "a proven theologian," one wonders how that possibly jives with his own public confession:  "I am no theologian!"  Besides that, when I think of Pres. Kieschnick, theologian simply doesn't come to mind.  I'm not trying to be rude, just being honest.  I think his confession about himself is much more accurate than Pr. Mueller, Jr.'s flattering depiction.  I've heard Pres. Kieschnick speak and preach many times, I've read his writings, including his recent book, "Waking the Sleeping Giant . . .", and theologian simply doesn't come to mind.  There simply isn't a whole lot of theology coming from the pen of Pres. Kieschnick.  Vision?  Yes.  Bylaws expertise?  Yes.  Political adeptness?  Yes.  But, theology?  Not so much.

Case in point:  I subscribed some time ago to the weekly email messages Pres. Kieschnick sends out.  He calls them "Perspectives."  For the most part, they're rather harmless random thoughts he has about this or that.  Some of them are actually quite good, as Pres. Kieschnick often shares personal experiences and stories from his family life in a humorous and inviting way to make some general points about the Christian faith and life.  Nothing wrong with that.  But, when he tries to get a little theological in these little missives, he is definitely out of his comfort zone.  Consider the latest edition of "Perspectives," received on June 24:
Perspectives - Volume I Number 38
“Command and Promise”
In my chapel homily this week at our Synod’s International Center, I focused briefly on four passages in Deuteronomy. They all contain God’s command and promise. The commands are somewhat different, but definitely related: “Honor your father and your mother … walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you … do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD … obey all these words that I command you …” God always wants His children to do what He knows is best for them.

The promises are somewhat different from each other, but all are tied together with exactly the same seven words: “that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you … that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess … that it may go well with you and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers … that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever” (Deut. 5:16, 33; 6:18; 12:28). That’s my prayer for you this day and every day—that it may go well with you!
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!
Now, I understand that these are just short, little messages meant for Pres. Kieschnick to share some quick thoughts and hopefully inspire the reader.  I don't expect them to be deep theological treatises or anything.  And, certainly I can give Pres. Kieschnick the benefit of the doubt and supply the Gospel which is painfully missing in the message.  But, "a proven theologian" wouldn't dare release this message to the public, especially when that public includes who knows how many laypeople who may not have the ability to supply what Pres. Kieschnick leaves out in the message.  Some may very well come away with the impression that it will go well with them if they obey God's commands, as if they can obey those commands and merit the promises attached to them.  

Now some would decry my criticism here and point out that Pres. Kieschnick recognizes that he is speaking to a Christian audience and is using the Third Use of the Law (guide) here with them.  The problem with that is that the Gospel is what motivates Christians to do what is pleasing in God's sight, and since the Gospel is decidedly absent, his attempt at using the Third Use of the Law fails (if that was even his intent in the first place), and his missive becomes mere moralizing and leaves the door wide open for works-righteousness.  

"A proven theologian" would make sure that his hearers knew and understood, even in the midst of a short little message like this, that "it goes well with them" not because they do what God knows is best for them, but because the Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ, has lived the perfect life they fail to live, obeying and fulfilling the Law perfectly and completely on their behalf, and has paid the price for all of their sins on the cross. 

I simply cannot imagine Pr. Matt Harrison releasing messages like this one to the public, were he privileged to be serving as our synodical president.  He is a definite proven theologian.  The difference in that particular area between he and Pres. Kieschnick is crystal clear.  Pr. Harrison is someone who is completely comfortable having a theological discussion off the cuff, without having to have theological questions screened ahead of time in order to formulate a proper response.  He is a pastor who is well versed in every theological realm - systematic, historical, exegetical, and pastoral.  He can pick up his Greek New Testament and lead a Bible Study.  Comparing his books to the book Pres. Kieschnick recently had published is like comparing Martin Luther to Joel Osteen.  Pres. Kieschnick is gifted in other areas, to be sure, but theology is not one of his strengths, which has nothing at all to do with his intelligence or capabilities, but is due to the fact that he has swam for too long in the waters of those whose theology is simply not Lutheran, as is very evident to proven theologians who read his book.  

Anyway, I would use the same endorsement Pr. Mueller, Jr. uses, but with the opposite candidate and without the phrases "elected by his peers to chair the CTCR" and "elected again and again."  That is, I'm going for a proven theologian, an able churchman, a confessional pastor, an excellent administrator and a proven leader:  Matt Harrison!      


On Tuesday, March 18, 2008, I came home after our Holy Tuesday Divine Service at Noon, sat down in front of my computer, visited Pr. Weedon's blog, and read about the sudden cancellation of "Issues, Etc."  My heart immediately sunk and I felt the emptiness one feels when one gets some awful news.  I spent the next several hours browsing the blogosphere and following the story.  I called the LCMS International Center, KFUO, and sent several emails to the pertinent persons protesting this absurd event and asking, "Why?"  When I heard that there was a petition being started to protest the cancellation, I immediately signed my name (I think I was in the first five listed on that petition).  I couldn't believe this was happening.  It was definitely a dark time in our synod.  The way it all went down and the way in which our synodical leaders handled the aftermath still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

But, thanks be to God, this excellent, Christ-Centered, Cross-Focused, Worldwide Outreach, radio program returned to the airways on June 30, 2008.  And, being independent, it has been better than ever!  The cancellation actually turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise.  So, thanks LCMS, Inc. for canceling this program and allowing it to flourish on its own.  And,


Wait, What?

Less than two weeks now until the LCMS National Convention and the synodical politics are heating up.  Jesus First, the political arm of the LCMS Left, has been sending the delegates regular letters the last couple of months in the attempt to persuade them to re-elect Pres. Kieschnick and to vote in favor of the proposals-now-resolutions of his Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG).  That's all fine and dandy.  They're certainly entitled to their opinions and to make their opinions known.  But, the last couple of "special delegate letters" they've sent out have been more about attacking Presidential Nominee Rev. Matthew Harrison and his supporters than making their opinions known.  They have been pretty ruthless, to put it mildly.

In Delegate Letter #8, they got down and dirty, chastising Rev. Harrison for "the company he keeps."  Ironically, those of us who use the historic, one-year lectionary were preaching on Luke 15:1-10 about the time this letter was released.  I couldn't help but draw the parallels between the Pharisees who were disgusted with Jesus for hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners and the Jesus Firsters who were making their disgust known with Rev. Harrison for the company he keeps.  Then, in Delegate Letter #9, they sunk even lower, accusing Rev. Harrison of being a liar, horrible steward, and terrible leader, artfully misrepresenting facts concerning the financial reality of LCMS World Relief and Human Care during Rev. Harrison's leadership as Executive Director.  An immediate response from WR-HC was issued and posted on the LCMS website correcting the record.  One would think that Jesus First would issue an apology for its scathing attack and misrepresentations, but nothing so far.  It's reminiscent of the lawyer who knows he's crossing the line in a courtroom with some "zinger," but goes through with it anyway in order to try to win points with the jury.  In fact, not only has Jesus First not apologized, but one of their leaders, the Rev. Chuck Mueller, Jr., made an appearance over at ALPB this evening to justify the article and to offer more unsubstantiated slander toward Rev. Harrison and WR-HC.  He claims that the article was factual, contrary to the response from the WR-HC, and even has the audacity to list other items which the article could have listed to raise suspicion about Rev. Harrison and WR-HC, but refrained from doing so, since there could be other explanations for those items.  In other words, he thinks the criticism of Delegate Letter #9, which has come from all sides of our synod, is unjustified, and that the author could have been a lot more ruthless if that was his desire. 

And now, Jesus First is beginning to release videos as part of their political strategy.  Here is the first in what I believe will be a series of videos put out in the days before the Convention:

Wait, what?  "The church that we are becoming is the same church our grandfathers dreamed of"?  Wait a minute, here.  I'm confused.  The candidate Jesus First supports, Pres. Kieschnick, has been heard saying on many occasions, "This is not your grandfather's church!"  Methinks Jesus First and their candidate need to have a team meeting and figure out which way to go here.  Maybe a team huddle to better strategize their campaign efforts is in order, 'cause the players don't seem to be on the same page.  Besides that, the video really doesn't say much.  Pastor Mueller, Jr. shares a nice story about baptizing the son of the first convert of his missionary grandfather and he, and a chorus of others, enthusiastically exclaim that they want to be a part of THAT church.  I hope there is more substance to the rest of the videos, but I'm not holding my breath - substance is not something Jesus First is big on, after all.   

Anyway, as I said, things are heating up.  It will be interesting to see what else Jesus First has in store for us.  I don't know if they can sink much lower, but I guess we'll see. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Society of St. Polycarp

I received word today from Rev. Fr. Larry Beane, Dean of the Society of St. Polycarp, that I had been welcomed into membership in this beloved brotherhood.  I am honored to be a part of this Society.  In a day and age when being Lutheran is defined in a variety of ways, I find myself drawn toward those who refuse to define Lutheranism beyond how our very own Confessions define it.  To belong to a brotherhood of Lutherans who take being Lutheran seriously and commit themselves to a common rule is entirely appealing to me, since I, too, am "committed to the confessional, liturgical, sacramental, and spiritual renewal of the Church of the Augsburg Confession" (Introduction/Preamble to the Rule of SSP).  While I don't yet know all the brothers who belong to the Society, those I do know are brothers for whom I have long had the deepest respect and admiration, including Fr. Beane, our Dean.  These are men who are faithful to, and remain steadfast in, their confession of the faith, and, as I said, I'm honored to be counted among them.  What follows is the Rule of the Society, to which all members voluntarily commit themselves:

The Rule of the Society of St. Polycarp 

As Lutheran Christians who understand ourselves to be a part of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, we have joined ourselves voluntarily in a fellowship to be known as the Society of St. Polycarp. The Society is made up of Lutheran clergymen and laity committed to the confessional, liturgical, sacramental, and spiritual renewal of the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Since our Church's problems are not political, but rather spiritual, we pray God to grant us repentance, and seek no political aim. Members of the Society commit themselves to the following Rule: 

1. Members of the Society confess Holy Scripture to be "the pure, clear fountain of Israel" and also "the one true guiding principle," i.e., the sole norm or "judge, rule, and guiding principle" of the same (FC Ep. Comprehensive Summary, 7; FC SD Comprehensive Summary, 3). We rejoice in the tradition of the Holy Doctors and Fathers of the Church, in whom Christ kept His promise that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against (My Church)" (Mt 16:18), so that the Lutheran confessors could say that "the churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith" (AC Preface to XXII, 1, Latin). We reject all methods of interpretation that seek to understand the meaning of Scripture apart from the guidance of the Church, through which God gave us the Scriptures.

2. Members of the Society will promote the importance of daily prayer and meditation on Holy Scripture.Members will commit themselves to praying at least one of the daily offices, keeping fellow members as well as the Church Catholic herself in their prayers. The ideal use of the offices is in the corporate setting; however, the praying of the offices in private is to be carried out if there is no alternative.

3. Valuing Holy Absolution as "a voice from heaven" (Ap. XII, 40), members of the Society will avail themselves of the benefit of this sacrament, as well as promoting its use. Members will seek out father confessors of their own for regular and frequent private Confession and Absolution.

4. Members of the Society will promote the Sacrament of the Altar as the chief parochial service in the Church of the Augsburg Confession (AC XXIV, 34). Members will receive the Sacrament of the Altar often, as well as encouraging others to receive it frequently, thereby restoring the traditional Lutheran understanding of the central place of the Sacrament in Lutheran worship. As the Lutheran Symbols assume the weekly celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar (AC XXIV, 34-38; Ap. XXIV, 1), members of the Society will promote this evangelical and catholic practice in their own parishes and in the work of the Society.

5. As the Sacrament of the Altar is the true Body and Blood of Our Lord that is truly present, distributed, and received (AC X, German), members of the Society are committed to the evangelical and catholic doctrine of closed communion, i.e., not admitting to the altar to receive the Holy Communion those who have not previously been examined and absolved (AC XXV, 1-2), let alone those of a confession of the Faith contrary to that of the Church of the Augsburg Confession.

6. Members of the Society will promote the historic liturgies of the Church Catholic, since such liturgies shape pastoral practice and teaching that is consistent with the evangelical and catholic Faith as it has been handed down in Holy Scripture, the Ecumenical Creeds, and the Symbolical Books of the Church of the Augsburg Confession.

7. As the Lutheran Symbols confess the Blessed Virgin Mary to be "the pure, holy, and ever-virgin Mother of God" (Theotokos, Gottes Mutter), as well as "that the blessed Mary prays for the Church" (Ap. XXI, 27; SA I, IV, Latin; FC SD VIII, 24), it is altogether fitting, proper, and consistent with the Faith of the Church Catholic to honor the Blessed Virgin in liturgical celebration. Members of the Society will seek to restore the traditional Marian feasts of the Church of the Augsburg Confession (i.e., the Feasts of the Purification, Annunciation, and Visitation) as a testimony of the grace of God through her, that we might imitate the Blessed Virgin in word and example, and in thanksgiving for the Incarnation of the Son of God through her humble submission to the will of God. Members of the Society will also promote the observance and celebration of saints' days and commemorations. This is wholly in keeping with the evangelical and catholic tradition of the Church of the Augsburg Confession, whose Symbolical Books acknowledge the saints as fitting exemplars of the catholic Faith worthy of imitation, as well as our heavenly intercessors (AC XXI, 1; Ap. XXI, 4-9).

8. As the Church of the Augsburg Confession understands herself as a part of the One Holy, Catholic, andApostolic Church, particularly as she exists in the West, members of the Society will take seriously the commitment to the proper ecumenicity this demands. Members will pursue dialogue with:
  • Fellow Lutheran Christians to foster and promote Lutheran unity.
  • Our separated brethren in the Roman Church, with which the Lutherans at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 clearly sought reconciliation.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Church, following the example of the exchange between the Lutheran theologians of the University of Tübingen and Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople (1573-1581).
This reflects not simply the Lutheran commitment to the unity of all Christians, but ultimately the will of Our Lord Himself (Jn 17).

9. Members of the Society will make every effort to make a retreat once a year for the purpose of disciplined prayer and study, silence and reflection, as well as the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar.

Following the example of our patron, members of the Society ultimately strive to be faithful to Our Lord, recalling His words to St. John the Theologian: "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev 2:10). Members also pray God's grace that we may be able to hand over to our posterity the tradition we have received as Lutheran Christians, and that we may be able to confess with our forebears at Augsburg that "nothing has been accepted among us, in teaching and ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or the catholic church. For it is manifest that we have most diligently been on guard so that no new or ungodly doctrines creep into our churches" (AC Conclusion, 5, Latin).

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Borne c. A.D. 69
Died c. A.D. 155

Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, modern day Izmir, Turkey. Before dying as a martyr, Polycarp was recognized a leader by the Christians in Asia Minor. Because of his position in the church, the death of Polycarp is one of the first and best recorded and documented deaths of a Christian martyr.

Polycarp was brought to the faith by the Apostle John. He also knew the Apostle Paul. The Apostle John, the only Disciple of Jesus to die a natural death, died at an advanced age at Ephesus c. A.D. 100 bringing an end to the "Age of the Apostles" considered to run from A.D. 33, with Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven after his death and Resurrection, to A.D. 100, at John’s death.

Polycarp belonged to the generation of church leaders who followed and had known and been taught by the Apostles themselves. Many second century Christians looked to Polycarp as a living link to the Apostles. One of these was Polycarp’s disciple Irenaeus.  St. Ignatius of Antioch was his friend and contemporary.

During his lifetime, Polycarp wrote, taught and fought for the faith, defending it against the many heresies that tried to creep in with the passing of the Apostles. 
He was martyred on Easter Eve.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sarah's Luau Open House

Sarah's "Luau Open House" this past Saturday was a great success.  The decorations were awesome, the food was delicious, the weather was fabulous, and the turnout was even greater than expected.  A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who put so much time and energy into preparing for the big bash - especially my parents, who spent many hours helping us get ready.  It truly was a splendid affair and the absolute best graduation party I have ever attended (of course, I'm admittedly biased! :).  Here are a few pics from the occasion (can't wait for others to send me their pics, since I didn't take very many myself - ugh!):


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Freda Hill + 4/1/21 - 6/22/10 +

Freda was called home by her Lord this morning at 4:09 a.m.  The family received a phone call a few minutes before 4:00 a.m. notifying them that Freda's breathing had become more and more shallow and that she was going quickly.  The family called me shortly after 4:00 a.m. with the news.  None of us were able to make it there before Freda departed this vale of tears, but I think that's exactly how Freda wanted it.  She wanted to go quickly and peacefully and the Lord graciously granted her request.  Nobody thought that she would go as quickly as she did.  I kept my cell next to me last night, just in case, but I was pretty sure that we would have at least another day or two with Freda.  So, I was surprised to hear the cell ring, and even more surprised to get there only to find that she had already fallen asleep in Jesus.  But, as I said in my last post, only the Lord knows these things, and He takes us home in His way and in His time.  I am thrilled for Freda.  What a blessing to go so quickly and peacefully!  I will miss her immensely.  She was one of a kind and always a ton of fun to be around.  But, I know that I shall see her again.  Besides, in true Freda fashion, she said to me last night, "I'll put a good word in for you with the Lord when I see Him."  Yeah, I'm gonna miss her bunches!

+ Freda Hill +
4/1/21 - 6/22/10
Rest eternal, grant her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her!

Arrangements are as follows:
Thursday:  Visitation at Berry Funeral Home in Shepherd from 3:00-8:00 p.m.
Friday:  Visitation at Peace at 10:00 a.m.; Funeral Service at Peace at 11:00 a.m. (luncheon at Peace to follow Service)
Saturday:  Committal in Newark, Ohio, to be conducted by Pr. Larry Kudart (Freda's former pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Zanesville, OH) 

Saying Goodbye to a Dear Friend

I wasn't expecting the phone call I received from Tina this afternoon.  I just saw Freda last week and she seemed to be recovering well from her latest setback.  Same ole' Freda, fun as ever to sit and chat with, sharp as a tack and quick with the wit.  I wonder how many hours I have spent with her these past five years.  I have always saved visiting her for last when out on the rounds, since I knew I'd be settling in for a lengthy pow-wow.  I could count on hearing her say upon my entering her room, "Oh Lord, look what the cat dragged in.  I thought you only worked on Sundays."  Or something like that.  To which I would respond with something like, "Just dropping by to see if you're still around.  I thought you would have surely kicked the bucket by now."  I know, doesn't sound very pastoral, does it?  But, that's only if you don't know Freda and our history together.  She loves to get her jabs in at me, and loves it even more when I jab her back.  We've grown very close over the years and as much joking as we've done together about her many unsuccessful attempts to exit this world (the running joke is that I've conducted Last Rites on her at least four times - actually, it's only been once, and it wasn't exactly Last Rites, but the Lutheran version - Commendation of the Dying - a few years ago when death was all but certain), I am going to miss her immensely when the Lord does finally take her home, which appears to be very soon now.

She is a dear friend and I love her very much.  I've grown very attached to her.  She is family.  I don't want her to go.  And yet, I know how much she wants to go and I am comforted by the fact that both she and I know where she's going.  She has great faith.  Even now, as she nears the end, that faith is on full display for all to see.  She is not the least bit worried about things.  She is ready.

I am ever so thankful for the countless hours I've had the privilege to spend with Miss Freda these past five years, but especially for the time I got to spend with her this evening.  When I walked in the room, she said, "Well, if he's here, things must be pretty bad."  Typical Freda.  Then, as I knelt by her bed to talk with her, she said, with that smirk on her face I've grown to cherish, "Remember that time when you forgot to give me Communion?"  "Even now," I said, "even now you have to bring that up?"  She laughed.  Then, she grabbed my hand and pulled me close and said, "Pastor, I think it's really time this time.  I'm going home."  And then we had the most serious and profound discussion we've ever had together.  During that conversation, I asked her why she was so sure that this time was for real.  "Because I've never seen an angel in my room before and I know he's the one who will be taking me to heaven."  Then, after a lengthy pause, she said, "I know I'm not crazy.  I've seen that angel three times today."  I told her that I didn't think she was crazy at all and that I believed her.  And, I wasn't lying.  I do believe her.  So, we prayed together, I comforted her with the Gospel, and we talked about the joys of heaven at great length.  Yeah, I'd say that of all the visits I've had with Freda - all of which were immensely enjoyable - this was the best one ever.

I don't know how long Freda has left in this vale of tears.  I spent the whole evening with her tonight (well, last night, now), and while it seems like it won't be long, only the Lord knows for sure.  Freda seems convinced that she will be leaving us tomorrow evening (well, this evening, now).  She said that many times and seems pretty sure of it.  It wouldn't surprise me if she was right.  But, who knows?  Again, only the Lord.  But, what I do know is that she is fully prepared to leave this world for the next.  She is in pain, but that pain is being made bearable, and as hard as it will be to say goodbye to my dear friend, I pray that she will soon be whisked away to where there is no more pain and suffering, but only unknowable comfort and peace.

O Lord, have mercy.
O Christ, have mercy.
O Lord, have mercy.
God the Father in heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Be gracious to us.  Spare us, good Lord.
Be gracious to us.  Help us, good Lord.
From all sin, from all evil, from all suffering, good Lord, deliver us.
By Your incarnation, by Your cross and suffering, by Your death and burial, help us, good Lord.
By Your resurrection and ascension, by the coming of Your Holy Spirit, help us, good Lord.
We poor sinners implore You to hear us, good Lord.
That You deliver Your servant Freda from all evil and from eternal death, we implore You to hear us, good Lord.
That You forgive all her sins, we implore You to hear us, good Lord.
That You give her refreshment and everlasting blessing, we implore You to hear us, good Lord.
That You give her joy and gladness in heaven with Your saints, we implore You to hear us, good Lord.
Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us Your peace.
O Lord, have mercy.
O Christ, have mercy.
O Lord, have mercy.  
(Litany for the Dying)


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Excellent thoughts . . .

shared by Pr. Brown over at Confessional Gadfly on the true understanding of outreach.  Go.  Read.  Now!

Some of the projects . . .

we did around the house this past week:

Landscaping under the pool deck my dad and I built last year

Landscaping around the deck on the back of our home (something we've been wanting to do for five years!)

Landscaping the triangular section of our walkway out front

One of the many rose bushes we strategically transplanted around our property

The Tiki Bar my dad built from scratch and we all pitched in decorating for Sarah's "Luau Open House" next weekend


I was very impressed with our VBS this week.  We used the excellent program from Pax Domini Press titled "Five Words of Understanding."    The program is designed around the Greek word "Ichthus," which means "fish," and is the symbol the early Christians used to identify themselves one to another.  This ordinary word serves as an acronym which points to the One in whom Christians place their faith and trust:

I = Jesus; CH = Christ; TH = God's; U = Son; S = Savior.  
"Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior"

Each day, the kids learned what each of the words represented by the letters in Ichthus meant, and how they applied to the salvation won for them by Jesus.  If you click on the link provided above, you can see the theme and accompanying Scripture passages for each day.  

We started using resources from Pax Domini Press a couple of years ago and I have been extremely pleased with them.  I also love the philosophy we follow when doing VBS, which is based on what we have learned from Higher Things, namely that we worship when we worship, play when we play, and work when we work, being careful not to inter-mix those things.  Even little children are capable of learning how to distinguish these things.  Our format includes an opening and closing chapel each day, which is reverent and appropriate for gathering together in our Lord's House, a time for a puppet show and fun sing-along, a time for crafts, a time for games outside, a time for instruction, and a time for snacks.  We want the children who come to have a lot of fun, but we also want them to learn about our Christian faith and how we practice that faith in worship, work, and play.  I really enjoy the format and am ever so thankful to all those who volunteered their time this past week to serve during VBS.  It was truly a blessed week!  Here are a few pics:

 Some of the crafts the kids made

Yeah, I made this all by my lonesome!  (Sparty colors, of course!)

Post-puppet show, fun, sing-along

Planting flowers in the children's flower bed on the last day

Lunch on the final day

The best way to eat hot dogs!

Our youngest VBS attendee, Mabel (they don't get much cuter than this, folks!)

Our oldest VBS attendee (and congregational president), Chris (actually, he just showed up for lunch on the last day - things that make you go, "Hmmm." :)

A Busy Week

This past week was one of those extra-busy weeks for me.  I've learned in my almost five years of serving as a parish pastor that this is just a plain busy vocation.  The old joke about pastors only working a few hours a week on Sundays stopped being funny a long time ago.  Not that I'm complaining.  I love what I do.  I don't mind the busy-ness that goes hand-in-hand with being a full-time parish pastor.  I really don't.  I actually enjoy it.  What I do find difficult is trying to find an agreeable balance between being faithful to my vocation as a pastor and to my various other vocations as a husband, father, and home maintenance dude.  Often, the busy-ness of being a pastor results in having to miss this or that event in which my children participate and in getting woefully behind around the house (can you hear my wife, Lisa, screaming a hearty "AMEN!" to that?).

Anyway, this past week, I tried to do it all.  We had VBS this week every day from 9am-Noon, after which I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then started tackling the many chores and projects around the house that have piled up on me, while also trying to get my visits in, prepare Services, and write sermons.  A busy week, indeed!  Thank God my parents were here to help around the house.  Nowhere near as much would have been accomplished without them.  We got all the landscaping done that we wanted to get done, got the pool up and running, and got much of the preparations done for the big bash (Sarah's Open House) we'll be having here next weekend.  There is still much to do, but it is much more manageable than it was a week ago, and I'm confident that we'll get everything else done.  As for my pastoral duties, I'm still catching up on those.  Still have visits to make, sermons to finish, the newsletter to get ready, etc.  So, the busy-ness will continue, but such is life.

What I have learned about myself in trying to go full-bore from early morn to late at night is that I am woefully out of shape and my body doesn't agree with physical labor like it used to.  I need to catch me a little Weedon-itis and start making myself exercise daily, 'cause the aches and pains I've experienced this week have been no fun at all.  Man, if only I had more time . . . :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Great Politician

Say what you will about LCMS President Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, there is one thing for certain:  He is a great politician.  You gotta give the man his props in this area.  He knows what to say and when and how to say it.  Like all great politicians, he has mastered the art of spin and has the uncanny ability to deflect criticism away from himself and back onto his critics.  Anyone who has paid even a little attention to the way in which Pres. Kieschnick has carried himself these last nine years must admit that he is a political genius.  He has been careful to maintain plausible deniability regarding many controversial happenings under his watch, always managing to keep himself out of the eye of the storm, so to speak.

So it is that in the latest "President's Leadership News" (the fancy, colorful insert included in the Reporter), we see Pres. Kieschnick's political prowess at its best, especially in the section where he answers a few questions regarding the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, whose proposals have now been drafted into resolutions to be presented and voted upon at the LCMS National Convention next month.  All three of the answers Pres. Kieschnick provides to the three questions in this section are politically captivating, but the third Q and A is simply marvelous.  Just read for yourself:
Q:  I've heard that task force recommendations are really just an effort to concentrate power in the Office of the President of the Synod.  Is that true?

A:  No.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For five years, task force members have addressed organizational and structural challenges in our Synod - unnecessary bureaucracy, lack of coordination, ambiguous supervisory relationships, inequitable representation, inefficient organization, insufficient accountability, etc.  They have sought and responded to feedback from convention delegates and other leaders.  Approval of the recommendations will streamline the operations of the national Synod and reduce or even eliminate the "silo" effect that currently stymies cross-pollination and necessary coordination of efforts and resources.  
Now, come on, you have to admit it - this is genius!  First of all, note the phrase in the question, "just an effort to concentrate power."  Talk about a softball!  Of course Pres. Kieshnick can adamantly respond with a resounding, "No.  Nothing could be further from the truth."  But, who in the world has ever said that the task force recommendations are "JUST an effort to concentrate power in the Presidential Office"?  To be sure, there have been a great many who have noted that the adoption of the task force proposals would, in fact, result in a further concentration of power in the office of the synodical president.  Heck, even outside consultants with no dog in this fight have noted this.  But, having the question phrased the way it is here allows for Pres. Kieschnick to cleverly avoid having to address the whole centralization of power issue at all.  Brilliant!

But, there is more here than meets the eye.  This is politics at its best, folks.  This question and answer is provided in this specific way by Pres. Kieschnick for a specific purpose, and that purpose is to convince the people in our synod, including the delegates who will be voting on these proposals, to simply ignore any talk about these proposals resulting in further concentration of power in his office.  Rather, they should direct their attention toward the fact that this task force has been working hard for five years in the attempt to address a whole host of issues which currently stymie our structure and governance.  Like a great politician, Pres. Kieschnick manages to completely avoid the heart of the question to which he is responding, which, as noted, is helped along by the phrasing of the question.  Again, brilliant!

Pres. Kieschnick is fully aware of the fact that the real question he should be responding to is:  Will the adoption of the proposals of the task force result in further concentration of power in the office of the president?  Of course, if the question was phrased in that manner, he would have no choice but to answer, "Yes."  I mean, there is no debating the fact that the adoption of the task force's proposals will result in further concentration of power in the office of the president.  That's simply an unquestionable fact.  But, a good politician knows how to avoid unquestionable facts - or, at least, to avoid having to address unquestionable facts.  And, President Kieschnick is a good politician.  This is most certainly true!         

Friday, June 11, 2010

Not So Different

One of the arguments I hear time and time again from those who abandon the historic liturgy and replace it with other forms of worship is that this is necessitated by the fact that we have so many different cultures within the boundaries of our country.  The historic liturgy may be appropriate in some places, but it simply doesn't play well in other places, or so the argument goes.  I don't buy this at all. 

I'm certainly not so naive or uninformed as to think that there are not some cultural differences from region to region here in America.  Surely there are.  But, these differences are not so great as to demand the employment of different forms of worship, as if the historic liturgy would be so utterly foreign and useless in this or that region that it simply must be abandoned.  Ba-lo-ney!  Those who make this argument are simply looking for a way to justify the use of the different forms of worship that they themselves desire.

I witnessed an example of this a couple of summers ago when I was visiting my kinfolk in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia.  I attended the nearest LCMS congregation on the Sunday I was there.  It turned out that this particular congregation (which is one of only three in the whole state of West Virginia) was currently without a pastor.  An LCMS Mission Executive was there that day to lead the Service.  I was thoroughly disappointed with what I witnessed.  I really don't even know how to describe it.  It was a hodge-podge of various liturgical elements, some familiar, others obviously made up, with several contemporary Christian "praise songs" interspersed throughout.  It was wholly informal and dependent upon a theology of worship inconsistent with our Lutheran confession of the faith.  I could have saved the gas I spent to travel the 45 minutes to this congregation and just drove a mile down the hollar to attend Lick Creek Community Church and got the same thing.

The worst part about this experience was that I learned that the decidedly un-Lutheran "style" of worship I suffered through there was completely intentional.  Rather than preaching a Law-Gospel sermon, the Mission Executive's "message" was a power-point presentation, the main purpose of which was to drive home the point that you simply cannot worship like Lutherans in West Virginia.  He repeatedly emphasized the idea that the "old ways" of doing mission and ministry do not work in places like West Virginia, which "has a completely different culture."  One of the lines still firmly entrenched into my memory bank was, "We can't come into West Virginia as Lutherans, but need to first establish ourselves as Christians."  Huh?  What in the world does that even mean?  Was he actually making the argument that Lutherans doing mission and ministry in West Virginia should refrain from being Lutherans?  Yep.  That's exactly the argument he made.  Lutheranism doesn't play in West Virginia.  Lutherans can't preach like Lutherans there.  Lutherans can't worship like Lutherans there.  Lutherans can't teach like Lutherans there.  Lutherans simply can't be Lutherans in West Virginia.  The culture is just too different for such a thing.  Lutherans have to forsake their confession of the faith and pretend to be the kind of Christians West Virginians are used to if they have any hope of being successful there.

I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Gee whiz, maybe we Lutherans should just stay the heck out of West Virginia then!"  I mean, why bother?  If the culture is so vastly different and Lutherans have to forsake their confession of the faith and alter their doctrine and practice to fit in, what's the point?  If we're not going to be bringing Lutheranism into West Virginia, we really shouldn't be doing mission work there.

But, hey, this Mission Executive had a plan.  He had recently spoken at length with the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, after all, and he was confident that he could sneak Lutheranism into West Virginia.  He would just have to pretend to be a Baptist to do so, that's all.  He was sure that Lutherans in West Virginia would be able to actually be Lutherans someday, but it would take many years (maybe even a few generations) of being Baptists before that would be possible.

I also learned during this presentation that the reason this congregation had not yet issued a call to a pastor was because they were having trouble finding a guy who would be comfortable with the approach that needed to be taken there.  The guys they had already interviewed were just too Lutheran.  They needed a guy who would be willing to forsake Lutheranism and embrace being a Baptist.  It was actually refreshing to my ears to hear that they were having trouble finding a guy like that, although I knew that they eventually would.

Anyway, back to the point.  Having been visiting my kinfolk in West Virginia since I was a baby, the one thing I am absolutely certain of is that the culture there is not so different from the culture in which I live here in Michigan.  There are differences, to be sure.  But, these differences pale greatly in comparison to the commonalities we share culturally.  And I would say that this holds true throughout our country.  From coast to coast, from our northern to our southern borders, we Americans share a common culture which far outweighs the subtle differences we find from region to region and place to place.  To claim that the culture of this or that region of our country is so vastly different from others is to deny this reality.  And, to do so for the sake of abandoning our Lutheran confession of the faith and altering our Lutheran doctrine and practice is completely absurd.  Of course, when we seek the advice of the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention and other non-Lutheran "church consultants" to guide us in our endeavors to do mission and ministry throughout our great land, it shouldn't surprise us to witness Lutherans buying into the fallacy that we just can't be Lutherans in this or that area.

The other thing I am absolutely sure of when it comes to my kinfolk in West Virginia is that what is needed in their region is the pure Gospel confessed and practiced in their midst.  Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that this is what is needed everywhere in our country and all over the world.  Lutherans should be doing Lutheran mission work wherever they go, wholly committed to presenting the pure Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in confession and practice, unwilling to compromise that in any way, for the saving of souls wherever they find themselves.  That requires a commitment to our confession of the faith, which flows from an unwavering confidence that our confession is true.  This, of course, is the hard way of doing things.  It is much easier to compromise and adapt to our surroundings in order to fit in.  But, this should not be an option for Lutherans, not if we actually believe in our confession.

Lastly, those who continue to make the argument that different cultures require us to abandon the historic liturgy and employ different worship forms would do well to remember that the historic liturgy of the Christian Church has been employed throughout the world, across actual cultural divides, for quite some time.  The theological principle employed in this regard by Christians throughout history has been that the Church has her own distinct culture which must be maintained wherever she finds herself.  Worldly cultures cannot be allowed to influence the Church's culture in such a way that her culture would be altered and no longer identifiable.  On the contrary, the Church's culture is to have an impact on the worldly culture, no matter how diverse it is from place to place, so that those who are drawn in from the world are drawn into a decidedly different culture from the one in which they live out their daily lives.  In other words, the Church must always remain distinct from the world.  That's a decidedly Biblical principle and one in which true Lutherans continue to confess to this day.

If the historic liturgy works among Lutherans in Africa and Haiti and Russia and Sweden and in many other parts of the world, where there really are vast differences between cultures, one wonders how any sane Lutheran can actually try to advance the argument that it won't play in this or that region of our own country, where we share a culture that is far more common than diverse.  The only plausible explanation for this is that such Lutherans simply don't like being Lutherans.  Or, am I missing something?      

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You gotta check this out!

Okay, so I'm a day late and a dollar short on this, but I know there are still some of you who have not yet been introduced to the most excellent video presentations of my friend, Rev. Jonathan Fisk.  I met Pr. Fisk at the Brothers of John the Steadfast Conference earlier this year and had the opportunity to chat with him, get to know him a bit, and swap stories about life as a parish pastor, and about the writing assignments each of us are working on (which I'm betting that he'll complete far sooner than I ever will!).  Anyway, he uploads videos every Tuesday and Friday to his youtube channel, and not only are they wildly entertaining, but they are solidly Lutheran and very informative.  I HIGHLY SUGGEST that you check them out!

The video posted below is from a couple of weeks ago.  In it, Pr. Fisk does an awesome job of showing us what it actually looks like to change the style, but keep the substance of Lutheran worship by providing clips from our Lutheran brethren in Africa, and comparing and contrasting those clips with clips from American Lutherans whose changed style results in changed substance.  The constant argument employed by those in our midst who advocate and practice contemporary worship is that they are changing the style, but keeping the substance of our Lutheran confession of the faith.  Um, not so much, as can be clearly seen by Pr. Fisk's fine display in this video.  Again, check it out!  (I love the Sesame Street song - so on target!).   

Also in this video, Pr. Fisk presents a challenge to support the work of Pr. James May, who is a real, flesh-and-blood missionary doing wonderful work in Africa (i.e. he's not the sort of "missionary" so oft promoted in our midst today; you know, the kind of lay "missionary" who goes on a two-week vacation short-term "mission" trip to teach English as a second language and see the sights - NOPE!  He's a real missionary doing real Word and Sacrament Ministry in Africa, which is, sadly, a rather novel concept in our synod today).  Pr. May and his family need our support so that they can remain where they are and allow Pr. May to baptize, catechize, and feed the people there - you know, do what real missionaries do!  If you have the means, this is something well worth your support!  You can send donations to Pr. May's home congregation:

Bethlehem Lutheran Church
7500 State Road
Parma, Ohio 44134
(indicate "support Lutherans in Africa")

Okay, so here's the video (be sure to visit Pr. Fisk's youtube channel to see more of his great videos):