Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pastors With Advanced Degrees Who Choose to Stay in the Parish

Rev. Dr. Scott Murray
Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwish
Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt
Rev. Dr. Frank Senn
As I thought about the many well-credentialed pastors in my denomination I often wondered if many  of them had aspirations of positions in academia.  Undoubted some do. Possibly many tried and could not secure a place for any number of reasons. Yet there are many who would be great assets to the universities and seminaries, yet who choose to remain in the parish.  I am certainly not aware of all who possess advanced degrees and doctorates on the clergy roster, but the ones I know of seem content to be pastors.  Dr. Stuckwisch, who I noted in the last post is one.  Another is Dr. Burnell Eckardt, or Dr. Karl Fabrizius.  All three of these men, by the way, are associated with the worship journal Gottesdienst.  Still, there are others out there who have taken the time and energy to earn these terminal degrees, men from a variety of backgrounds and interests.  One in my district would be Dr. Timothy Roser, recently elected as the first vice president.  He holds the degrees STM and the Ph.D from Concordia, St. Louis, and teaches part-time for the SMP program. Two others would include Dr. Scott Murray, fifth vice president of the LCMS and a published author among other achievements, and Dr. Frank Senn, a noted liturgiologist and accomplished author (and the only one listed here who is from outside of my synod). I am currently using his magnus opus, Christian Liturgy - Catholic and Evangelical as part of my research.   Obviously many of these men use their academic achievements for the greater good of the church by teaching (sometimes overseas at partner church bodies) and by writing.  Yet what fascinates me are why these men remain in that first call, the humble call as a local spiritual shepherd. How highly they must view this sacred trust.  I'd love to interview some of these men on this very topic; pick their brains and see what moved them to stay where they are.  Maybe someday.  Someday when I'm not overwhelmed with my own graduate work.....

Graduate Work

Images of what you imagine and pictures of the reality of what is often clash.  So it is with graduate work.  Begun in the summer of 2010, I well imagined that the coursework would be completed and the thesis finished at least by the beginning of this coming year.  Well, the coursework was completed by the end of the summer of 2011, and then came that long arduous task of the thesis.  Unfortunately I completed my M.Div without a thesis.  I say "unfortunate" because it left me without any real sense of what is involved in such a project.  Nashotah House has truly been a wonderful place to study and retreat, but from the time I began the program to now several transitions have taken place at this campus.  The dean resigned after a decade's service.  The one in charge of the STM program changed.  And during this time it seemed as if a lot of adjustments and changes were being implemented.  It was indeed a time of transition for Nashotah, on many levels.  And as it is in times of transition, details fall through the cracks.  Thus, I suspect that my progress might have been a bit faster but for the glitches along the way and lack of firm direction.  So is life.  Since this time, however, I was able to attend a very informative graduate seminar this year and as a result was able to discover what was missing and lacking in my next stage.  Now  I have a draft of my proposal in process, a process I may add that is far more involved that I realized.  Advanced master's  degrees may not be doctorates, but the journey seems rather similar.  I was encouraged today in reading the Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch's recollections about his dissertation experience.  When I read that it took him six months to develop his dissertation proposal I didn't feel so discouraged. Research takes time, and good research worth doing takes a lot of time.  The other day the seminary emailed me inquiring about my plans for graduation.  Apparently they will hold only one commencement a year and that will be in May.  Given where I am right now that doesn't seem possible.  Still, it's o.k.  Eventually I would like to take the material for this thesis and work it into a published book.  So stay tuned. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Where Has Jesus First and OnWord Gone?

After the synodical elections back in 2009, Jesus First, which is the political action group of the middle to left of Synod, went dormant in 2010.  Nothing more was posted.  In its wake a new organization arose called OnWord, with a decidedly more 'missional' emphasis.  However, after a burst of posts little was added.  Now both sites are out of view.  OnWord claims that the site is "currently undergoing a complete revision."  When bringing up the Jesus First site you encounter the message: "The website you are trying to reach is temporarily unavailable."  The address indicates that it is a "suspended page."  So, like the charismatics of a previous time (RIM - "Renewal in Missouri"), is this political machine going to now disappear as well?  Or is OnWord its next incarnation and it will effectively replace the former site?  Stay tuned....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Open Discussions and Alternate Interpretations in Synod

A new issue of the online Daystar Journal is now available.  Nothing new had been published since the Spring, so I was interested to see what was written. Three articles are offered with a common theme detected from at least two of them.  Once more a call arises for more open discussion and study of previously controversial and contentious issues, not least among them being the ordination of women.  In the past I have been resistive to seeing the Synod treat WO as an 'open topic.'  In many ways I still am.  The Daystar folks would undoubtedly label my reaction as one of fear: fear of change.  Perhaps.  Or might we substitute the word cautious for fear?  I take my cue from the beginning of Holy Scripture, remembering the devil's ancient method contained in the seemingly simple question: "Did God actually say...?"  Questioning, of course, is part of the learning process.  However, in our culture today the idea that there are any absolutes has been substituted for a philosophy of relativism.  Thus, questioning does not end with a definite answer, but more questions.  It seems that this is what continues to plague us in the Synod.  At what point are we allowed to rest on truth and accept it as is?  Or is the understanding of truth always subject to more inquiries?  Or do we ask questions only for the answers we wish to have?  Or do we let the world outside the church set the pace for these questions?  I think that all of this needs to be examined before we once again work to dismantle what we confess.  If one takes a careful look at the Synod today you will not have to go far to see where this questioning is going.  Take a very public sight on Facebook called "OWN: Ordain Women Now."  This is not a call for discussion.  If so one would employ the subjunctive.  Instead we are given an imperative.  So we know where the questions are intended to lead.  Others have studied the issue and they ordained women.  So what's holding us back?  Stop the studying and just do it!  Of course the approach could be said to be the same on the other side of the aisle as well.  My point, however, is that those calling for more open discussion appear to already have made up their minds.  So, are we willing to really discuss this?  I wonder.....

Monday, October 8, 2012

On Finding Used Books for Ones Theological Library

Occasionally I'll break down and buy a new book for my professional library, usually at conferences.  However, it's fun to find good books more cheaply in other places.  It may seem an odd venue to find theological/biblical works, but one of my favorite 'haunts' is Good Will. For our community, at least, it's the best source of good used books. Recently I added another pile to my collection, picking up several more reference works and other religious books.  All of the books were half-off, so it was all the better. Finds this time around included The Catechism of the Council of Trent, a reprint by Tan publishers in 1982, but in seemingly new condition.  I also picked up the Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, edited by Patrick W. Carey and Joseph T. Lienhard.(Hendrickson, 2000, 2002).  Both of these are paperbacks and cost me $2.50 a piece.  I took a chance on another book, authored by the Catholic author Aiden Nicholas in 2005 and published by Ignatius press in 2007.  This one was $2.00.  The title is Lovely Like Jerusalem: The Fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ and the Church.  So far, a $7.00 investment.  The Catechism is listed on Amazon.com for as much as $39+ for the hardcover edition.  AbeBooks has one for $35, so I guess my find was 'a steal.'  The Biographical Dictionary lists on Amazon for $11.99 for the paperback, still a great deal since my copy is clearly 'as new.'  Lovely Like Jerusalem is listed for as much as $13.22 and as low, for a used copy of $7.65.  Using a conservative comparison, it looks like I was able to purchase about $50 worth of books for $7.  Way to go, Good Will!

Other finds also included a few general reference works good for Bible studies and other general classes: Machines, Buildings, Weaponry of Biblical Times: A Fascinating Reference of Biblical Engineering and Design by Max Schwartz (Flemming H. Revell, 1990, 1997) - as new ($2.50); Guide to Bible Data by Andrew E. Hill (Word Publishing, 1981) - as new ($2.50); Atlas of the Christian Church, edited by Henry Chadwick and G.R.Evans (Equinox/Oxford, 1987) - hardbound, good condition ($2.50); 111 Questions on Islam by Smir Khalil Samir, et. al. (Ignatius, 2002, 2008) - as new ($2.50); and the Handbook of World Religions by Len Woods (Barbour, 2008) - as new paperback ($2.50).  If I wished to check, I'm sure these books are also worth much more than I paid for them.  And almost all of them seem new and unused.

As my wife will attest, I am 'swimming' in books having now amassed a respectable library of some size. Yet many of them were acquired quite reasonably.  Perhaps the best find to date was when my wife picked up the entire set of Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament for less than $10 at a local rummage sale.   Discovering books is a hobby, and the main downside is space.  I keep telling myself that I can't buy any more until I get rid of some, but this discipline is still to be found. 

Have you found some amazing deals of your own?  I'd love to hear the stories!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

" Door Set Open" by Peter Steinke: A Review

Having heard Dr. Steinke at a recent meeting of church officials, I was intrigued to read more of his work.  His knowledge and perspectives caught my attention and he seemed worth the time for more study.  A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope (The Alban Institute, 2010) is a relatively short book (141 pages) and easy to read, but offers some engaging ideas.  Dr. Steinke is a well-known congregational systems consultant and has worked with many conflicted organizations (churches and denominations).  Although he leans heavily upon the psychological work of his mentor Edwin Friedman, he also engages the biblical text for additional insight.  As a Lutheran he predictably quotes Luther at selective intervals, but appears to prefer non-Lutheran theologians for their perspective, especially the work of N.T.Wright.  Contrary to my expectations, he did not go down the predictable path of more church growth rhetoric, and was even critical of some of the dependance on this model for the renewal of the church, especially as it encouraged the church to find solutions through easy and quick efforts.  Real change takes time.  His emphasis throughout the book held true to the subtitle:  Grounding change in mission and hope.

While one could argue that certain aspects of Steinke's book do not go deep enough (theologically, in particular), and that he may be too dependent on psychological theory, the primary purpose of his book was obviously to challenge the church to change its perspective, not to develop an exhaustive treatment of the subject.  Personally I gained from reading this book, especially as one who not only pastors a congregation, but also as a church official charged with working with conflicted congregations and those going through times of transition and change.  Several points at the end of the book serve well to summarize his theme:
  • The challenge of the change for leaders is to keep one's eye on the ball (stay focused), take the heart (remain calm), stay connected (talk and listen), and get a good night's sleep. 
  • The purpose of the local church is to invite people to be part of the true mission of the church. 
  • The church is a school for developing agents of the new creation from among those who are beneficiaries of God's grace. 
For anyone who pastors a church that is stuck in conflict, Steinke's book would be worth the read.  And even for the many traditional Lutheran churches that too often turn inward and lose sight of the bigger mission to which we are all called.  In many ways his call to be in mission seemed to echo President Harrison's work on mercy.  Mission is lived out in concrete ways.  Love for people should have real connection with the community.  Steinke shows that for the church to be renewed and vital in the world it has to live out the Gospel entrusted to it.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Powerpoints and Children's Sermons: An Evaluation

Over the years we have been told that visual images are the most effective way to communicate in church.  Admittedly, during my time at the seminary (1983-1987) this was not the message, although I'm sure that it was already being practiced, to one degree or another, at the parish level.  With the advent of Powerpoint and big screens, the presence of visual images during worship and sermons has increased several fold.  Personally, I have not been sold on this, but did not have any real research to support my views.

A recent article at the Steadfast Lutherans site offers that support.  Two studies are referenced, one a D.Min project and the other an Ed.D dissertation.  The first studied the effectiveness of projected images during the sermon, the other (included in the comments section) studied the effectiveness of children's sermons.  I would highly recommend the article for your own review: "Why We Should Rethink the Use of 'Visual PowerPoints' in Sermon Messages." 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Greatest Minds Did Not All Possess the Highest Academic Degrees

In a recent journal article by Dr. Paul J. Grime from Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, the professor notes that the great musical master Johann Sebastian Bach "never had the benefit of a university education" (CTQ, January/April 2012, 4-5).  This sent me searching elsewhere for more information on Bach's formal education.  At the Bach Cantatas Website I further learned that his "formal education ended at what we would consider High-School level."  Now I note all this not in any way to disparage the great composer.  My point here concerns a personal issue with the value and necessity of advanced degrees with regard to the mastery of skills and knowledge in a given field.  Last year I posted an article entitled "Theologians Without Doctorates."  In it I noted some great minds that never achieved the terminal degree for which so many strive, and yet their achievements outweigh those with far higher credentials.  Again, I do not wish to disparage any who have worked to achieve such academic accomplishments.  They are to be lauded.  However, it is easy, as well, to become so enamored by these credentials that we can conclude that nothing worth studying or reading comes from any without these degrees.  Admittedly I have taken issue with many televangelists in our time who amass great flocks and write numerous best-sellers and yet have no real formal theological education (like Joel Osteen) or a meager one at best.  While the degree itself is never a guarantee of mastery, one can also tell if a person has attempted mastery without it.  Bach demonstrates an amazing brilliance, one that was fed at the feet of other masters.  So the degree is not the critical issue here, but rather the drive to learn, to achieve, to master. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Personal Updates

This is probably the longest absence I have taken from this blog.  By now I can't imagine too many people, if any, are keeping track of what it written here.  For what it's worth, though, I thought I'd post a personal update, if for no other reason than to maintain a kind of 'electronic journal' of sorts.  My son gifted me with an actual leather-bound journal at Father's Day, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to record my thoughts in this throw back to another time. 

I finally officially enrolled for my thesis hours at Nashotah.  The money was available, and with good-natured coaxing from my wife I used the funds as they had been intended, resisting the temptation to apply them to other needs.  At any rate, enrolling for my thesis also benefits both of my children as they now have me listed as "parent in college."  I think that our parental contribution amount was reduced by about $200 or so.  Oh, well, everything counts, as they say. 

I also attended the STM seminary at Nashotah last month to get an overview of the program and especially the thesis process, as I never really attended it last summer when I should have.  They have a new director of the program and it seemed like a good opportunity to meet him and make sure I wasn't missing any details.  The seminar was quite helpful, and even though I spent over 7 hours on the road for an hour and half presentation, it was worth every minute.  One of those 'details' I had overlooked in the proposal was the extensive required bibliography.  It has taken me some time to accumulate a respectable list, as the adviser recommended no less than five pages.  That comes to as many as 70 listings, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.  However, it is well worth it, as this forces you to organize the potential source material in one place.

To assist me with this effort I did some research online regarding reference management software. The STM adviser recommended Nota Benne, but the price tag was simply out of my range.  I also checked out Docear, Qiqqa, and Zotero, among others, but they all seemed a bit more than I needed. Each one appeared quite helpful, and you can't argue with the free service in many cases.  That said, I settled on a simple bibliographatic service at bibme.  It formats in Turabian, which is what Nashotah requires, and the search and fill in feature has saved me a lot of time.  If you need to generate a sizable bibliophraphy, I would suggest taking a look at this service.  It's free.  There are a few things I am not entirely satisfied with, but I can live with them.  Perhaps in another post I will review it more thoroughly for those interested. 

Besides this research I also had a significant first in my professional life.  Some time back I was nominated for the presidency of the district where I serve.  As quite a surprise to me I actually ended up in the top 5 candidates and therefore was permitted to stand for election.  The custom in this district is to allow each candidate five minutes to address the assembly.  To be honest, this was a rather nerve-wracking experience for me.  In short, I lost, coming in second-to-last.  I'm o.k with this, and in reflecting on the whole experience I realize that the honor itself was more than I would have even imagined a year ago.  As to the office, I'm know that I could have fulfilled the responsibilities, but looking back I'm no longer sure if it would have been the best fit.  When I addressed the assembly I stressed the pastoral nature of the position as I understood it.  Others stressed their broader vision for the district.  I think that the assembly majority was looking, among other things, for continuity and a man who was more connected to the current program direction.  Oh, well.  It was still a 'once-in-a-lifetime-experience' for me.  If you are interested you can see the notification of my nomination in the convention workbook and the accompanying resume here. By the way, I was also nominated or regional vice president, and lost that election.  Furthermore, I was nominated for District Secretary, and I lost that one too.  Seeing a pattern here?  In the end, my prior election as Circuit Counselor was therefore ratified and I now begin my third three year term. 

Other than this I have kept busy with reading, never venturing very far without a book or my handy Nook in tow.  I have wanted to post some book reviews here for a while, but let it suffice here to do a simple listing an summary.  At the convention I picked up President Harrison's book A Little Book on Joy (CPH, 2009).  It's a bit over 200 pages, packed into a small paperback.  Just inside the cover is no less than 10 pages of endorsements.  In short, it is an easily read book filled with many charming and poignant anecdotal illustrations along with some wonderful biblical insights on joy.  Certainly a contrast with the usual popular Evangelical books touting how one can live the life of success with God's blessing.  There are also a number of great pithy sayings he pens, worthy quoting in a sermon or elsewhere.  Several times he offers the "secret to living a good news life in a bad news world," and I want to go back and catalog those for future reference.  My bottom line?  I recommend you buy the book and read it. 

A second book I read on my Nook was The Rite - The Making of a Modern Exorcist (2009). Excellent! Highly recommended. If you would like to read my review, it is listed here under the date 7-28-2012, "Anonymous."  Oops, I guest it's not anonymous anymore :)

Until later.....

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Prayers

This morning I had the honor of providing the opening and closing prayers for the Memorial Day ceremonies at our local courthouse.  The veterans have asked me to do this now for the third year.  The guest speaker for this event was our state representative Tom Tiffany.  Below is a copy of the prayers I offered.

Almighty God, we gather this day in your holy name, thankful for the freedoms you have protected and preserved through the sacrifice of those who fought and died in our stead.  Make us ever mindful of the high cost in human life required to resist the forces of evil that seek to bring pain and destruction upon the innocent and helpless.  In mercy bring comfort to those who grieve this loss because of the deaths of family and friends; comfort them through the promise of your abiding presence and the assurance of eternal life in your risen Son.   Bless now our gathering in this place, that in honoring our fallen heroes we would honor you who worked through their service for our greater good; that all glory would be given to you who gave strength to our weakness and allowed us to serve you by serving our fellow citizens, sometimes through the giving of life and health that others might not suffer, that life be preserved, that safety for all would be secured.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Gracious Lord, may you bring peace and an end to warfare in our time, that the sorrow and sadness we share this day will soon be but a distant memory.  Sustain us in true hope, that even in our darkest hours when we struggle to see any good, and when the enemies of freedom seem for a while to prevail, we might look confidently in faith to you, our all-powerful God, in whom all things work for good for those who love you.   And may that hope carry our vision beyond this place and time to the end of all things, when death is no more, evil is judged and banished, and the faithful find eternal rest in you, our living Lord. As we await that day, preserve our country according to your gracious will, and uphold our brave military service personnel who still serve, both here and abroad. 
In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and Savior of the world, Amen. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

In Memory

The Seelsorger would like to remember in gratitude the many brave men and women who have served this nation in the various branches of its armed forces.  God has graciously used their sacrifices to keep our nation safe and secure from its enemies, so above all our thanks ascend heavenward to the Heavenly Father who has provided such protection.

In particular two veterans are remembered here, one being my father, SSG  George S. Engebretson (Ret), who served this nation for 20 years from the 40's through the early 60's.  His service encompassed two wars, World War II and the Korean; and SMSgt Robert E. McBride (Ret), my father-in-law, who served this nation for 20 years from the 50's until the early 70's in the U.S. Air Force, encompassing the Vietnam War era.  Both of these men were highly decorated veterans who were immensely proud of their service and of their country.   They have since passed away and their legacy is left to those who remain.

Requiescat in pace....

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study

The date on the inside reads "1970," so my recent purchase of this used copy at my local Good Will store was partly out of nostalgia, and partly out of respect to its author, Dr. Frederick W. Danker.  Earlier in February I posted a brief article on Danker in honor of his recent passing, so this find seemed rather fortuitous. Dr. Danker's legacy still remains, if even in the most unlikely places.  The title is a bit deceptive as far as the average lay reader is concerned.  Chapter headings concern the Nestle Text, the Hebrew Old Testament, the History of the Septuagint, and a wealth of information on grammars, lexicons, Bible dictionaries, various versions of the English Bible, Judaica, Archeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  A revised and expanded version of the book is available through Amazon.com.  It appears that this last revision was done in 2003, complete with a CD-ROM (the last revision being 10 years before in 1993), something Dr. Danker could not have imagined when he first wrote this classic in 1960, 43 years before. The 1970 edition was published by Concordia Publishing House, but the latest edition was now done by Fortress Press.  Given Dr. Danker's departure from the LCMS, the change in publishers is not surprising. Even though my copy is now decades out of date, much of the information is still relevant and worthy of study.   I'm curious how current seminary professors in the Missouri Synod rate this updated classic. 

A side note:  Dr. James W. Voelz offers a short but fitting tribute to this scholar in the latest issue of Concordia Journal (Spring 2012), entitled "Frederick W. Danker: The Passing of a Giant."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Couple of Interesting Artcles

A couple of articles I recommend for your review that were posted on Lutheran sites but written by non-Lutherans:

"24 Hours -Plain as Day" by Dr. Jud Davis of Tyndale College.  He specifically addresses a topic being discussed currently on the ALPB site regarding whether the days of creation were 24 hour days or not.  This article is posted on the Christian News site, but came originally, as far as I can see, from the Answers in Genesis site. Dr. Davis is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Amercia.

"Osteen: 'God Wants to Supersize Your Joy' - So what's wrong with that?" This is posted on the Steadfast Lutherans site.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Ascension of Our Lord

Tomorrow brings one of those almost forgotten festivals of the church - at least among Lutherans.  A few still hold a midweek service with a small, but dedicated crowd.  A few others transfer it over to the nearest Sunday.  However, the Ascension of our Lord represents a significant event in the Easter season and one worthy of observing, whether on its own appointed day or the nearest Sunday. That said, a challenge still remains.

At our circuit pastor's meeting yesterday a retired pastor admitted the difficulty of getting a handle on a clear theme for this festival.  Christmas and Easter, he admitted, were easier to find topics on which to preach.  Now we are familiar with the Creed's declaration that our Lord "ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty" (Apostles' Creed).  Perhaps this lies behind Dr. Pfatteicher's observation that "The Ascension is part of an enthronement festival.  The coronation of Christ the King is celebrated, but so in him is the enthronement of humanity itself.  John Chrysostom declared, 'Our very nature...is enthroned today high above all cherubim'" (Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship,1990, pages 295-296.)  This last quote coincides with the appointed collect for the festival: "Grant, we pray, almighty God, that even as we believe your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind ascend and continually dwell there with him...."

The Ascension, however, was originally not viewed as a separate feast, but as part of a unified fifty day festival period.  Sometime after the third century this unity broke down and the Ascension was celebrated as a separate festival.  In Jerusalem, according to Egeria, the Ascension and the sending of the Spirit were celebrated together on the fiftieth day.  Jesus ascends and in turn sends the Spirit.  The two do naturally link together.  However, for those who celebrate Pentecost linking them sermonically provides repetition the pastor may want to avoid.

Adolf Adam provides two themes worth considering: "The festal Mass emphasizes both the return of Christ...and his abiding presence in the community" (The Liturgical Year: Its History and Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy, 1979, 1981, page 88).  This works well with the account from Acts 1 where the angels inform the gazing disciples that Jesus will return as He ascended, as well as the emphasis in that text on the visibility/invisibility of Jesus' presence.  The Reformed would take this event as a sign that Jesus' physical presence is now locked away in heaven until the end of time.  That, of course, does not bode well for real presence Christians who take Jesus' promise of being with us until the end of time as a real, physical presence celebrated regularly in the Supper.  The cloud "hides" Him from their sight, it does not remove Him from their presence.  This could be an important point to stress on this day, helping hearers to appreciate how Jesus dwells among us and how the Supper is a key location to appreciate that presence.  Thankfully we are celebrating the Sacrament tomorrow night, so this theme could work well.

The Ascension provides a tension with which we can wrestle.  In a post in 2007 I wrote: "The Ascension is truly an event of the 'now, not yet' reality of the Kingdom. It is fulfillment, yet it is transitional. It is hiddenness, yet it is revelation. It is comfort, yet it is also anticipation. So it is also with the blessed dead. In heaven, yet awaiting the fulfillment of their salvation at the final resurrection."

With these brief thoughts I would like to wish all a blessed Ascensiontide celebration, even if you must do so in the privacy of your personal devotions.

Personal Update

The Seelsorger has been busy as of late, and admittedly has not been posting on a regular basis.  Spring always seems to bring a number of concerts and recitals, and with two children in the arts we have a few to attend.  Add to this my wife serves as an accompanist for a couple of high school choral groups as well as the community choir. 

My son is going to graduate from high school next month and spends the remainder of his free time working at a local grocery store, now that the school musical has ended (which consumed a lot of days this Spring for all of us).  They performed "Beauty and the Beast," a musical based on the Disney production of the same name, and he was privileged to have one of the leading roles - the Beast.  We joked at the time that it was cheap therapy.  He could vent all that rage and anger in a safe environment at no cost to us - except all the flowers and tickets we bought.  He is going to attend the same university as his sister this coming Fall.  Although he is going in with an undeclared major, one of his interests is theater arts.  Whatever he does, though, he brings a lot of talent and potential. 

My eldest daughter is now in the last stages of her university career, inching ever closer to the final semester of student teaching.  Recently we ventured over to the university to proudly witness her reception of a scholarship from the English department.  She has worked very hard to establish herself as a promising up-and-coming professional with great potential.  With high respect from peers and teachers alike, we are very encouraged for her future.  She will make a terrific teacher.  I also think that she would do quite well in graduate studies! 

The Seelsorger, meanwhile, continues to keep up with parish responsibilities and community commitments.  The work on my STM degree is now in the thesis phase, and I have made one trip downstate already to consult with my adviser at Nashotah House. I am finished with my coursework and will miss the enjoyment of the summer classes for the first time since 2010. I have to finish the proposal and submit it for approval, a task I have been whittling away at little by little.  The working title at present is "The Apocalypse as Used in the Worship of the Church: A Rationale For Its Omission and Selective Use in the Historic Lectionaries."  Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

I am also serving as chaplain for the upcoming district convention, a role I have now served in for three conventions (2006, 2009, 2012).  My duties involve planning all the worship for the convention, but with a shorter convention this time around (a mere 24 hours) the work was lessened considerably.  Conventions involve elections, and the Seelsorger was also nominated to a few positions, among which are district president, regional vice president, and district secretary.  My reelection as circuit counselor has already been completed, so if the other elections do not claim me I will still have plenty of church-at-large responsibilities to keep me busy.   Stay tuned.

Reading remains an enjoyable pastime and a way to keep me intellectually stimulated.  My choices are eclectic and have recently ranged from a biography of Rick Warren (Prophet of Purpose: the Life of Rick Warren, 2009), to an apologetic work by Lee Stobel entitled The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity, 2000.  This last work was picked up after encountering author Bart D. Ehrman, one of those "objectors" to Christianity.  I checked out his 2008 book God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer.  Dr. Ehrman (a NT scholar at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill)  is an avowed Christian-turned-agnostic, and while he is less vitriolic than Dawkins, an angry atheist, he is still a powerful influence in the popular book world.  I was less than impressed with Dr. Ehrman's arguments, which I felt were stretched, and reading Stobel has been an invigorating distraction. 

My wife blessed me with a Nook at my birthday this past December, so picking up books for this electronic toy has also given me a new environment to explore.  Unfortunately I am too cheap to spend more than a few dollars on an electronic copy and prefer to hold in my hands the actual paper copy.  I'm adapting, though, and the Nook often goes with me in the car as my portable library filled with classics and others interesting works to be read at convenient snippets of time.

Of course, I also continue my study of Dr. Herman Sasse as part of a book study group that meets monthly at our district office.  We are currently working our way through the "We Confess" series, the present one concerning Christ.  Dr. Sasse's works saved me in my early ministry when I was drowning in a sea of Church Growth theories, so I am particularly indebted to him. 

While I am not always blogging a lot, you can usually find me dropping in on discussions over at the ALPB site which I joined about a year or so ago.  I pick and choose what I am interested in and usually do not write long posts.   I can also be found via Facebook, although I have to confess that I do not frequent that realm as much as some.  I'm trying to use it more, but I prefer discussion boards and blogging.  Must be my age. 

Well, it seemed like a good time to update and I think that is complete enough for now.  Blessings to all in the waning days of the glorious Easter season!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Some Comments Are Worth Saving

While searching for a review of works by Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, an acknowledged agnostic and seeming enemy of Christian truth, I ran across a comment I simply had to save and share here.  It has to do with the value of atheism.  I'll let the commenter, John Murphy, speak for himself:

It is certainly true that Mr. Ehrman is inimical to historical Christianity, and through his books is trying to destroy confidence in the Scriptures (good luck at that Bart). What I find...curious about guys like him and this web page is their eagerness to draw others along with them. To what end, I wonder. Why are you so worked up about what you obviously believe is a myth? Why waste so much energy? Especially when your own alternative is so bleak. We live, we die, we rot. Wow, now there's a worldview that should catch on quickly.

It reminds me of the penguins in the movie Madagascar. They spend the whole movie in an intense, excited attempt to stow away on a ship for Antarctica. They succeed! The last view of them they are all standing in a bleak ice scape in Antarctica in a snowstorm and one of them says, "well this sucks." Yep, I think that's a pretty good illustration of the end of atheism.

The comment was from the blog Debunking Christianity.

Monday, April 2, 2012

LCMS Goes Blue

After 30 years with the same corporate logo and color 'palate' the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has decided to completely change its color.  Out with the familiar burgundy and in with royal blue.  Some thought it was an April Fool's Day joke, but it's now beginning to sink in that the change may be for real.  It makes little sense to me, no more than trying to change the name of the denomination itself (See my Feb. 24 post "Re-Branding a Religion - Is It a Good Thing to Do?").  But then I wasn't part of the 'focus groups' that designed the change.  Since the cross doesn't decorate anything obvious at my church we have nothing to change.  But for those who designed their church signs and everything else with the logo.....

If you want the official explanation for the change, go to the LCMS Brand and Logo Center.