Friday, September 27, 2013

Does Evolution Change Our Theology?

One of the issues with Evolution that seems to go unnoticed by many is its potential effect on the traditional understanding of our theology.  The claim put forth usually makes it seem like nothing really changes.  We simply need to approach Genesis differently so that its message and what is claimed by evoutionary theory agree.  Thus what began as narrative history now becomes symbolic.  Yet it doesn't end there.  A whole host of doctrines ultimately need to be reexamined.  Genesis 1 - 3 sets the stage for all that comes after this.  Adherence to Evolution of necessity brings into question the doctrine of sin, how we understand death, and salvation.  These doctrines are morphed, it appears to me, into this kind of thinking:
  • If Adam and Eve do not represent real, historical figures, then their recorded actions are merely symbolic and not related to any particular action.  Thus, their disobedience and the consequence of that disobedience, having no anchor in reality, floats free and becomes detached from any discussion of sin.  For sin is the act of disobeying the clear commands of God.  Actual sin morphs into a sense of general sinfulness which vaguely morphs into whatever we end up defining it as. We see this happening already as certain social behaviors are re-explained as no longer sinful because they are too widely accepted by people.  Sin becomes our unwillingness to accept people for what or who they are, for intollerance. 
  • If living things, including the evolutionary ancestors of man, were dying long before homo sapiens came on the scene hundreds of thousands of years ago, how are we do understand the reason for death and how it fits in which the general plan of God?  When Paul writes that the "wages of sin is death," death is then reinterpreted as "spiritual death" to make it fit with the evolutionary picture.  Death is even reimaged as somehow "good" since those who suffer from disease, disability and pain are relieved of these burdens by death.  There are real issues here that need to be noticed.  The Easter miracle so central to the Christian faith is that Jesus physically rose from the dead, the first fruits of all who would rise. If death is not the curse it is pictured in the traditional reading of Genesis, then how do we reinterpret the resurrection of Christ and its implications for the life and future of all who believe?  Why would His 'physical' resurrection be so important if spiritual death was the ultimate culprit and physical death simply incidental?  
These are but a few thoughts on the implications Evolution has for our theology.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why Francis is More Popular with the Media than Benedict

The title to this post, while reflecting a recent article on the subject ("Are the Media Giving Pope Francis a Pass?" - RNS), is a bit misleading on the point of this post.  My point, then?  I have to admit that this brief article revealed some simple, yet signficant points that could be incorporated by many Lutheran pastors in their own ministries.  Sounds odd, I suppose, for Lutherans to be taking pointers from a pope, but you should be perceptive enough to spot these things when you see them.  I would recommend reading the article for yourself, but here are the main points made (although not all are equally applicable).  Why does the media seem to like Francis more than Benedict? -  1.) Few knew him before he became pope, 2.) Francis is empathetic and humble, 3.) Style becomes substance, 4.) He practices what he preaches, and 5.) Francis is not Benedict.  Francis connects with people with a sense of genuineness that also betrays the ability to truly relate.  In other words, he's not removed from the world.  He may live in a kind of 'gated community,' of sorts, but that does not keep him from interacting with the common and the poor. He seems to understand the pastoral nature of his position and he acts as much like a regular parish priest.  To be pastoral means to minister to real people where they are at with a real sense of love and concern.  More could be said, but the point was made, and I confess I am still growing into this. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Professors Who Return to Parish Ministry

Another professor is returning to parish ministry.  Dr. Reed Lessing will be leaving a position at our seminary in St. Louis, where in addition to teaching various course offerings in the Old Testament he was also director of the graduate school.  These transitions facinate me.  After being in parish ministry for so long one has a tendency to think that positions such as Dr. Lessing's are seen as 'higher' than the common pastorate.  After a seeming 'promotion' to teaching future pastors, and that at a graduate level, you wonder what would move a man to go back to the parish.  Having known nothing other than the parish, I am admittedly at a loss to relate.  I realize that academics has its own downside.  One can probably feel a bit 'cut off' from the real world of the Church, left dealing with a somewhat artificial world instead of the flesh and blood people a pastor has to minister to in real time.  Perhaps one misses the relationships formed in the family of a congregation where the bonding between pastor and people brings untold blessings that cannot be duplicated in a classroom.  I'm not sure.  However, I am encouraged.  Too often I have coveted the opportuntity that Dr. Lessing is leaving.  I have not appreciated the tremendous honor given me as a parish pastor.  Thank you, Professor, for letting me see again the priviledge I have!
As his biography will no doubt be removed soon from the seminary site, I will reproduce it below.  Dr. Lessing, it will be noted, did enjoy about 13 years of pastoral experience before going to the seminary.
Dr. Reed Lessing was born and raised in Denver, Colo. He was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry on June 29, 1986 at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, West Monroe, La. Reed served as the church’s pastor until March of 1990. From March 1990 to August 1999 he was the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Broken Arrow, Okla. In September of 1999 he was installed as assistant professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary. In May of 2005 he was advanced to the rank of associate professor. In August of 2007 he became the director of the Seminary’s Graduate School. Reed is married to Lisa (nee) Radke and their marriage has been blessed with three children: Abi (24), Jonathan (21) and Lori (17).

Luther Academy

My congregation was blessed yesterday by a wonderful message from the Rev. Dan McMiller, executive director of Luther Academy, who came as part of our annual mission festival.  His sermon and presentation following the service provided us with a true tour de force in presenting the extensive work of his organization in international mission efforts.  Luther Academy is a small organization with a big mission and worthy of our support.  Pastor McMiller serves as the only paid staff, serving the many needs internationally by a team of very qualified volunteers.  They fill a unique niche in mission work by providing several annual pastoral conferences to pastors throughout the world who would otherwise not have this valuable resource which we in this country take for granted.  I would encourage you to check out their website and review their various projects and the teachers and presenters they employ.  Luther Academy was the brainchild of Dr. Robert Preus, the president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne where I studied for the ministry.  I also had the honor of taking a few classes with Dr. Preus, an exemplary theologian with an international vision.  His son, the Rev. Daniel Preus, currently serving as fourth vice president of the Synod, continued the work of his father and enlarged the vision.  Luther Academy, like many small organization, is facing financial challenges in meeting the increasingly growing demands for its services.  Consider supporting their work and maybe even sponsoring one of their projects as a worthy mission effort!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Changing the Verses in Hymns - Or Not

In our increasingly politically-correct culture coupled with an incredible ignorance of biblical truth, it should not be surprising to hear of those who are offended by even the most simple hymns.  But they are.  In the article "Hymn Writers Won't Change Lyric for Presbyterians" we read that those who are responsible for the new hymnal in the Presbyteriann Church (USA) will not include the popular hymn "In Christ Alone" because of one verse.  They asked the authors if they could change it.  The authors refused.  Good for them!  The verse in question was: " "On that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied."  Apprently substitionary atonement is out of vogue now with Presbyterians.  They preferred instead: "the love of God was magnified."  As the article's author notes at the end: "Bringle writes that most committee members didn't want the new Presbyterian hymnal to suggest that Jesus' death on the cross was an atoning sacrifice that was needed 'to assuage God's anger' over sin."  So God isn't angry about sin?  That's new.....

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My New Car

It may be hard to believe but I haven't bought a car in about 7 years.  The last purchase was a 2001 Subaru Outback which I paid for outright with money I inherited after my grandmother's death in 2006.  With the exception of a head gasket repair, for which Subarus are notorious, it has been a tough and reliabe vehicle.  Purchased with 107,000 miles, it now boasts 222,000.  Since my son needs a car at college, we will be selling it to him, knowing that it will be a good dependable first purchase.  Now I am the proud owner of a 2004 Honda Accord Sedan LX. Well, I will be later today once the loan is approved and I claim the vehicle from the dealer. My wife and I researched this to death and we narrowed the field down considerablly before settling on this model.  Basically we crossed off most, if not all, domestics.  Toyotas, Hondas, and other similar makes seem to have the best track record overall in terms of dependability and longevity.   Although it has 110,000 miles, Hondas are known often to exceed 300,000 miles or more, so I know I've got this car for a while.  I could have gone smaller, but as a middle-aged man I enjoy a little comfort now, especially on longer trips.  The Accord is techically a mid-sized sedan, larger than the smaller Civic.  I also bought from an established dealer, which while I realize may have meant I paid more upfront, it also gave me more assurance that the car I purchased was in good mechancial condition. It also gave me instant access to CARFAX information, which is becoming, I suspect, an industry standard for establshed car dealers.  It's a clean and well-maintained vehicle with one prior owner and no previous accidents or problems.  Nothing fancy, to be sure, as the picture shows.  But I've never been flashy.  I just want dependability and comfort.  [Note: While I was posting the dealership called to inform me my loan was approaved and we can claim the car, which we will this afternoon.  Hooray!]  For the 'techies' who might be interested it has a 2.4L DOHC MPFI 16-valve i-VTEC I4 engine.  I've read up a bit, however, I'm still glazing over.  I guess I don't care as long as the thing works.....

My Thesis Saga

It's been a while since I posted on the progress of my thesis.  Unfortunately it's taken a while to get through the proposal phase.  My first proposal simply didn't work, and although my advisors were kind in their contructive comments, I could see that the topic was mired in a swamp of ideas and wasn't going to gain the traction it needed.  So I started over.  Practically from scratch.  A thesis or even a dissertation on the lectionary issues surrounding the Apocalypse of St. John still retains much potential, but it was too much work for what I need to accomplish right now.

I submitted my revised proposal this past spring, but with the usual complexities of forms and paperwork coupled with the inevitable confusion of changing staff, it slowed down considerably.  Finally, I was told by the advisor of my program (which has changed a couple of times since I started in 2010) just to start writing, which my thesis advisor had told me at the beginning of the summer.  And I have.  So far I'm only on the eighth page, but I am attempting to understand Massey Shepherd's work, which has taken a bit more effort than I initially anticipating (and I'm also a working pastor and circuit counselor and active father and husband....).  For those so interested, here is the final working title: "A Study of the Influence of the Church's Liturgical Forms on the Literary Stucture of the Apocalypse of St. John."  I'll keep you posted on the progress.....

Deep Survival

Back in 2008 I wrote an article on "Survival Skills," mainly commenting on some material I had read by Laurence Gonzales in National Geographic's magazine, Adventure.  Ironically, five years later, I just finished reading his book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (2003).  Like so many books I read this one was picked up from my local Good Will store (the best used book store in town, I might add).  Yet it was not purchased on a whim.  I have always been very interested in the essence and art of survival.  My library has a small, but growing section on this topic, and I continue to look for those principals that inform not just outdoor survival, but the skills and mental toughness necessary to survive the ordinary rigors of regualar living.

Survival, as Gonzales outlines in his book, is as much about the mindset of surviving as it is about any techniques or equipment one possesses, probably more.  For he fleshes out his book with several survival accounts that testify to unlikely situations where a person survived despite the odds against it.  The book delves into the science and pyschology of survival, a part which may feel slow going for some readers.  However, it undergirds the subtitle of his work, namely, the question of who lives and who dies, and why.  It's not just about technique.  It's about what goes on in your mind.

The final appendix offers a nice summary of the basic principles of survival he advances throughout the book.  They are similar to those listed in my article from '08, so I won't repeat them here.  I recommend the book for all who would be interested in the inner essence of survival, an art we all must master throughout life regardless of where we live or what we do.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What's So Uncool About Cool Churches?

I've seen this blog article referenced at least a couple of times on FB, and after reading it thought it worth archiving here.  For those so interested in the failure of trying to make the church relevant for our youth, see here

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Concerns about Joel Osteen

I ran across a blog article about Joel Osteen that demonstrates why one should be deeply concerned about the theological aptitude of this self-proclaimed pastor.  It includes an interview he had a while back with Larry King.  The author of the article highlights the number of times Osteen says "I don't know," and it's shocking.  True, pastors don't know everything and we should be willing to admit that.  But to not have a good answer for the fundamental questions King asks?  Read the article and see for yourself: "Why Seminary? Exibit A: Joel Osteen."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Worst Excuses For Not Changing Your Life

I stumbled on this at FB (that was taken from LinkedIn here), but wanted to leave it on my blog for my own reference - and for anyone else that it might inspire :)

It's likely that one of your excuses is that you don't have enough time, so let's get right to it:
1. I can't get anyone to listen.
People will listen to anything that is entertaining, interesting, heartfelt, amusing, shocking, informative, titillating, stupid, satirical, controversial, sad, silly, sexy...
If you can't get anyone to listen, they aren’t the problem: You’re the problem.
What you want to say is irrelevant; change your message so it means something to the people you want to reach.
Then they'll listen.
2. I'm too scared.
Join the club. Everyone is scared.
So you have a choice: Let your fears hold you back... or use those same fears as fuel to do whatever it takes to succeed.
Complacency is the enemy of achievement; use your fear to drive complacency away.
3. I don't have the money.
For most entrepreneurs, business is all about the art and science of accomplishing more with less: Less money, less people, less time, etc.
Face it. You will never, ever have "enough" cash or capital or funding. Never. If you don't have enough capital to launch your business the way you plan, change your plan.
You can't always control what you have, but you can control what you choose to do with what you have.
4. I don't have the time.
Everyone has the same amount of time. The only difference is what you're willing to do with your time.
If you were trapped underground and only had 24 hours worth of oxygen you wouldn't check your Twitter feed or chat with friends or spend a little "me time" in front of the TV. You'd dig and dig and dig the entire time.
Apply the same level of importance and urgency to what you want to accomplish and your schedule will instantly clear.
Finding the time to do something is always a matter of how badly you want to do it.
5. I don't have the skills.
No problem. Go get them. Go to school. Read a book. Read 10 books. Talk to friends. Get a part-time job at a small business. Get a part-time job in a completely different industry.
Find someone who has done what you want to do and volunteer to work for free in return for the opportunity to learn.
Does that seem too hard? Like too big of a price to pay? Or simply not fair? Then accept you will never have the skills, and stop complaining.
Skills and knowledge are earned, not given.
6. I don't have the right connections.
Between company websites and LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media platforms you can reach almost anyone besides the Pope and maybe Bono. In fact some people are surprisingly accessible (maybe that's one of the secrets of their success?)
Still, start small. Start feasible. Build a foundation. A great network is like a pyramid with a wide base, not a thin vertical line that goes straight to the top.
And never forget that the more influential the person, the more they tend to be inundated with requests. Have a good reason to connect, give before you expect to receive, and you will be surprised by the people who respond.
7. I'm too late.
Jobs beat you to the graphical interface and mouse... but Xerox beat him. Zuckerberg wasn't first in social media. Buffett is hardly the first to buy and hold.
The list goes on and on. Innovation is never one-and-done; some of the most successful companies – and careers – are based on refining earlier ideas and innovations.
You're only too late if you're not willing to be better, faster, stronger, cheaper, or just ever so slightly different than whoever got there first.
8. I can't think of a great idea.
Dreaming up something new is really, really hard.
Reacting to something that already exists is really, really easy.
Walk around and start complaining (to yourself.) You'll see tons of problems that require solutions. Those solutions are ideas.
Or walk around your workplace and start complaining (again, to yourself.) There are tons of problems you can address.
"New" is hard to imagine. "Better" is much easier.
Most careers and businesses are built on "better," not on "new."
9. I can't take that risk.
Any risk you take today is a risk you can recover from tomorrow. Given time you can overcome almost any setback, stumble, or failure, and emerge stronger and smarter and better equipped to succeed the next time.
If you never try, all you will be is regretful. When you're old and grey and "done" you'll have to look back on your life and think, "I wonder what might have happened if I had only..."
Having to look back with regret is one risk you should never take.
10. I'm better at planning than execution.
No you're not. You're just too lazy to do the grunt work. Or you think you've already paid your dues. Or you think you're above it. Or – pick your excuse.
Every successful person I know can and does, when necessary, roll up his or her sleeves and just plain outwork everyone else. (That's one of the reasons they're so successful.)
You don't need some undefined innate quality to be good at execution; all you need is discipline.
11. I can't stop until it's perfect.
Sure you can. You just don't want to: Maybe you're insecure, maybe you're afraid, or maybe you fear rejection or criticism.
Do this instead: Do your best. Then step back: If doing a little more work will result in a dramatically better outcome, go for it. If doing a little more work will not make a difference anyone but you will notice, let it go.
Then make improvements based on feedback you get from the people whose opinions matter most: Your customers.
12. I'm not comfortable doing it that way.
I was raised to be humble and self-effacing, so I hate to say I'm good at anything. But sometimes I have no choice; taking advantage of certain opportunities requires confidently describing my skills, experience, and accomplishments.
If you're not comfortable doing something because it violates your principles or ethics, by all means don't. But if you're not comfortable doing something simply because it will take you outside your comfort zone, you're just rationalizing.
And you'll never be more than you already are.
13. I can't find anyone who “gets” it.
Oh, they get it. They just don't want it.
Truly great ideas can be described in a few words. Truly great products can be described in a few words. When no one seems to "get it," the only person not getting it is probably you.
Let go of your pride and agenda and "unique point of view" and figure out where you've gone wrong.
14. It's too hard.
Long journeys are hard. No problem: Individual steps are easy.
Say you’ve been sitting on your couch for years and suddenly decide to run a marathon. You're right: That's too hard. But you can go out and run a lap or two. Or you can walk a mile or two. You can take one small step towards a difficult goal. And then another. And then another.
Or say you want to lose 50 pounds. That's too hard. But you can eat one meal differently. Or you can take a walk at lunch.
Or say you want to open a business. You can look at possible locations. Or work on your business plan. Or talk to a potential supplier. Or get advice from a mentor.
You can't accomplish any difficult goal overnight, but you can accomplish one step, however small, towards that goal.
Think about the end of a journey and every single step that will be required along the way and you'll never start. Instead, just do one thing that will help get you there. Then build on that one thing.
You can definitely do that.
15. I'll be too embarrassed if I fail.
Failing in public can be humbling, especially since some people love to talk about the misfortunes of others. Of course those are the same people who never dare to try something themselves. So don't worry about them.
A smaller (much smaller) group of people will respect you for taking your shot. They'll recognize a kindred spirit.They'll empathize. They'll encourage. They'll pick you up.
They know what it's like to try and fail and try again.
They're people living their lives on their terms.
Like you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Book on Exorcism and Demon Possession

I read about this book on another blog, and considering how I have addressed the topic of exorcism here in the past, it seemed appropriate to inform you of it.  It is published by Concordia Publishing House and is entitled I am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare.  The author is the Rev. Dr. Robert Bennett.  You can read a brief but informative interview with the author here.  Please note that by clicking on the author's name you will go to his personal web page where you can learn more about him along with other books he has written.  The book above retails for $24.99.  You can order the book here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why I Love My Disappointing Church

Ran across this article and wanted to pass it on to you.  Probably one of the most balanced and mature insights into the realities of what church membership really means.  He notes that the difference in those who seem not to be disappointed and those who are is in the level of involvement. He writes:

So, the best way to avoid finding yourself in a disappointing church is to limit your involvement.
Only go to worship.
Don't volunteer.
Be friendly, but don't make friends. 
Sing, clap and give a little money.
Stay at the edges.
You have probably noticed, if you compare worship attendance with the totality of those showing up for anything else, that many Americans have already figured this out.

The rest of the article is good and ought to be read by all church leaders, pastors and lay.  

You can read the article here

Monday, June 3, 2013

Uniformed Scouts March in Gay Pride Parade

After the Boy Scouts of America lifted its historic ban on openly gay scouts, many Christians indicated deep disappointment and concern.  Some, including many Baptists, are now talking about cutting ties with the organization all together.  As an adult scout leader I have concerns as well and am contimplating my own actions once the ban lift officially takes effect in January of next year.

However, many had to be equally stunned by the recent report of uniformed scouts and adult leaders taking part in a gay pride parade in Salt Lake City.  As one who wears not only the uniform of the BSA, but also of my volunteer fire department, my initial anger was over the politizing of the uniform itself.  But my additional concern is how the flood gates have opened and this once esteemed youth organization now appears vulnerable to all the political social activism seen elsewhere.  The idea was to be neutral, but the move has only invited a tsunami of potential change that the Boy Scouts could not have imagined just a short while ago.  I am fearful that the organization I once respected and admired has gone down a path I couldn't possibly follow. 

You can read more of this parade here.

Interesting Article: "Sympathy for the Devil"

I recently read an article on Real Clear Religion by Robert Barron entitled "Sympathy for the Devil" that I would like to pass along.  It is quite relevant in light of the latest move by the ELCA to elect an openly gay bishop.  Brings to mind the familiar words of Is. 50:2 - "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The ELCA Elects an Openly Gay Bishop

At its recent convention last mont the ELCA moved the denomination one more step in the direction charted in 2009 when openly gay candidates were deemed eligible for the pastoral ministry. You may read here of the election of the Rev. Dr. Guy Eriwin as biship of the Southwest California Synod. As was observed by someone else, the ELCA is precisely 10 behind the Episcopal church when it elected Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.  For those who might have stilll held on to a slim hope of some reconciliation with our Lutheran counsins, this should demonstrate that our charted paths are diverging at ever-wider tragectories.  Kyrie eleison.....

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Society of Creation

In light of the ongoing debate over Creation vs. Evolution within the LCMS, I recently decided to add my support to a relatively young organization in Synod set up to promote creation studies.  As a pastor I was eligible for "associate membership" as regular membership is reserved for those active in teaching and administration of colleges and universities.  I would encourage you to check out their site and see if you might support them also.

Society of Creation

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Creation Conference and Reactions

The May issue of the Reporter announced an upcoming conference on the subject of creation to be held at Concordia University - Wisconsin on July 8-10.  The conference will feature two keynote speakers: Dr. Danny Faulkner, an astronomer at Answers in Genesis, Petersburg, Ky., and Dr. Don DeYoung, chairman of the science and mathematics department at Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind. Other speakers will include Dr. Joel Heck, theology professor at Concordia-Texas.  You can find additional details of the conference and speakers on the website of the Society of Creation. As a side note check out the list of professors who are public members of this society as well as the opportunity to join as an associate member.  The Northwoods Seelsorger has applied for associate membership and invites all Missouri members who support the biblical teaching on creation to do likewise.

The announcement of this conference predictably arroused the attention of Dr. Matthew Becker, a very vocal critic of the Synod's stance on creation and an enthusiastic proponent of evolution.  He provides a critique of the Reporter article and the subject of creationism in the LCMS at his blog.  Other reactions to the announcement and subject matter also appeard on the ALPB's Forum Online in the thread "Bible: 'God Created the Universe.'" 

Might any readers of this blog have an interest in attending the conference?  Let me know!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why It Is Important to Use the Historic Liturgy

This evening one of my confirmation students gave me a bulletin from another LCMS church.  In today's parlance it would probably be called a "blended" service.  However, as I reviewed the order of the service I strained to find the actual order of the historic Mass, not to mention the content of that ancient service.  True, one could find 'hints' of it in designated readings, in a confession (without a real absolution), and in other sections.  Yet, in the end it was not the order handed down to us.  It was created for one particular church in one particular place, as far as I could tell.

In the Missouri Synod today this is not uncommon at all and it is tearing at our unity.  I fear that what binds us now is simply a corporate identity and some doctrinal statements.  The words of our worship, the expression of our living faith, are so different from one church to the next one would be hard pressed at times to know we are from an identical church body.

A conflict has brewed for some time in our midst about these matters, and the more we discuss it the more we seem to drift apart.  Someone who went traveling across the country could easily enter two different LCMS churches and find each so far from the other as to seem as if they were completely different confessions altogether.

Sanctuaries have been replaced by worship spaces.  Hymnals have been pushed to the side with large screen to take their place.  Robes are hung in the closet in favor of a more casual, approachable attire. The theology of our worship has transformed from one church to the next.  We print and publish books on the subject in our publishing company, but the actual practiced theology in our churches lacks any consistency at all.

Which brings me now to the title of this post.  Why is it important for our churches to use the historical liturgy in our hymnals?  Prosper of Aquitane's famous dictum applies still: lex orandi lex credendi, or "the law of worshiping founds the law of believing."  What we pray on Sunday morning will ultimately inform what the church believes and confesses.  The act of crafting and creating new worship settings each week communicates to those in the pew a lack of continuity and consistency in what we confess.  It betrays as well a lack of humble respect for what generations of Christians have handed down.  We can do better than they did.  Their faith is not relevant any longer.  And given a word processor I can easily put together a setting of worship equal to anything the Church has practiced in the past.

I find it interesting that as a country we would be loathe to allow anyone to rewrite the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem.  These words unify us and are part of our cultural identity.  Yet when it comes to the Church even the Creed is subject to revision.  Over the years I have been in the ministry I have seen everything rewritten at one time or another: the Creed, the confession of sins, the Invocation, etc.  What words unify us as a Church?

Dr. Arthur Just said that two words define how we should approach worship in the Church: reverence, not relevance, fidelity, not innovation.  Yet relevance and innovation do characterize much of what is done in Lutheran churches today.  And what does that communicate?  Worship adapts to our perceived emotional needs.  Worship must always adapt to be able to communicate.  There is no durability to our words.  Change is the defining word of our futures.  It is hard to communicate the "Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday and forever" if the words we use to pray and praise in His name never remain the same.  Where is the discernment to critique the culture rather adopting it so uncritically?

In a world that is changing so rapidly, people need some consistency, some reminder that there is something that endures.  The wrapping around our fast food burgers is disposable, but should our worship be as well?  I have lived long enough now to see the trends of my youth come full circle.  The bell bottoms I thought died as the 80's dawned have returned along with tie-dye shirts.  And yet the trends are not the same, but transformed by a new era, so they are different than what I knew decades ago.  The sanctuary where I hear the familiar ancient words once repeated by my predecessors in the faith gives a stable center for this swirling pool of change that I must navigate during the rest of the week.  I feel bonded to the generations that came before.  There really is a sense of that vision in Revelation of the myriads upon myriads of believers from every nation and tribe and people and language.  In the Divine Service they are there and they are one, for their language now is transformed into a single tongue.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Sexuality Battle

Reading RNS this morning I noticed an article talking about how the Catholic church is trying to 'soften' its approach to gays and the gay marriage issue.  The author also talked about something we all know is here as well: a growing shift in public opinion.  Often it is the pressure from the general population that forces change more than anything else, at least in the political realm.  The president understands this well and has used the 'court of public opinion' to his advantage many times in battles with congress.

Yet the question on my mind is not whether gay marriage will be legal one day in all the states of the union.  Like many I see this as inevitable.  My question is also not how the church should respond.  Those denominations that have capitulated on this issue did so long ago.  Many conservative churches will remain opposed, although how they express that opposition may be a debated issue for the future.  An article on Richochet noted that a key issue facing the church is whether our contrary views will be afforded the equal protection of free speech, or whether the church will be legally penalized for its opposition and refusal to perform gay marriages.  I pray that this larger issue remains within the realm of the states and does not become a federal mandate.  However, tax exempt status remains an Achilles heel for the church with regard to federal law.  This, rightly observed, could disappear as a penalty for non-compliance.  Now such rhetoric may seem 'over the top' for some who feel that in the end its all about 'live and let live.'  That may be.  Yet legal rights are often seen as constitutionally defined 'inalienable rights,' like "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," rights vague enough to elude definition and allow a host of others to be included.  When the issue of collective bargaining was being debated hotly here at the Wisconsin capital, I remember well how these privileges were debated as inherent "rights" and not allowances.

The impact from today's discussions may seem years away, but as the Supreme Court now discusses it we are reminded that tomorrow is today.  Coupled with the tide of public opinion the future now presents a far different picture, one we can't entirely bring into focus, but one that is vastly different than the one our forefathers envisioned.  The Church should understand that Jesus himself reminded us that confessing the truth brings suffering and alienation.  It happened to the early Christians as they faced the twin fronts of Rome and the Jewish opposition.  Yet like our predecessors in the faith we must learn to bear our cross in love.  Hate and anger will never proclaim the Gospel.  May the Lord therefore make of his people one that embodies the care and mercy of God, while keeping us faithful to his Word.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

One Step Closer

A review of my latest thesis proposal has been made by my two advisers and with a few corrections and adjustments it is ready for submission to the committee.  I am confident that after so much review and critiquing it will pass and be approved to write.  I had no idea that there was so much involved in this.  When I finally finish it will feel as great an accomplishment as my M.Div was over 25 years ago.  Except this time the research and writing is much more demanding.  I probably included it on an early post, but the proposed title of the thesis is: "A Study of the Influence of the Church's Liturgical Forms on the Literary Structure of the Apocalypse of St. John."

By the way, for those interested in Nashotah House, there was an interesting article online from the Journal Sentinel back in 2011.   It was written around the time when they were getting ready to install a new dean.  I have only one correction to the article, though.  The author writes that the STM program was added "in recent years."  This is incorrect.  Their STM program has been around for a long time.  I think that the author, however, captures the unique personality of the seminary, especially as it sets within the broader Episcopal church culture.  I was initially hesitant about enrolling, knowing the very liberal nature of the Episcopal Church.  When I discovered that ELS seminary president Gaylin R. Schmeling had earned his STM there back in 1993 and spoke highly of the seminary, it was clear that this would be a 'Lutheran friendly' place to pursue my graduate education.  And I have not been disappointed.  The "Anglo-Catholic" nature of the institution has fit my long interest in the liturgical life of the church, and the current faculty certainly boasts a solid lineup of scholars (see link above for Nashotah's website) comparable to any other seminary.  Of course, there are differences too, but these have not detracted from my education overall.  Now, if I could just get Concordia - Ft. Wayne to relocate to northern Wisconsin..... 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Christian Unity

On another site it was recently suggested that no one appears to really be interested in Christian unity.  Obviously a bit of a hyperbole as there exist both national and international organizations for that very purpose.  However, it caused me to think about the issue.  What would constitute true Christian unity, and is it even a realistic goal? It appears to me that when such unity is attempted it brings about a semblance of that unity by using either a lowest common denominator approach, or by simply avoiding traditionally divisive issues, such as the sacraments.  Or, unity is just declared with the understanding that those so united can 'agree to disagree' on various items while retaining the right to claim unity.  So, not only is Christian unity a difficult reality to achieve, defining what that unity is presents an equally large challenge.

Personally I don't see outward visible unity as a realistic possibility this side of heaven, at least not legitimate unity.  Christians, by definition, enjoy a basic unity in their common faith in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, etc.  We generally understand what divides Christian from cult.  Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are not true Christian churches by the historic understanding of that term.  Neither of these organization accept the fundamental Christian understanding of God, salvation, the person of Christ, and a whole host of other essential creedal beliefs.  

Unfortunately as the older mainline denominations age this traditional understanding of the fundamental essentials of the faith appears to be eroding.  A willingness to grant equal footing to other faiths as legitimate expressions of Truth causes denominations with historic Christian identities to shed the exclusive claims of Christ himself.  Thus, Jesus cannot be THE Way and THE Truth and THE Life if all roads ultimately lead to heaven.  Expressions of God have also warping into unrecognizable shapes.  Take the example of "herchurch," also known as the ELCA congregation Ebenezer Lutheran Church in San Francisco.  They no longer worship the revealed God of Holy Scripture, but now recognize the deity as "Goddess."  So even paganism is now placed alongside of Christianity with equal voice.  Yet that never works, for one voice always dominates.  In the case of herchurch the voice is that of paganism.  In the description of their proposed "Goddess Mural" write: "The Goddess mural will rise 64 feet high with four basic symbolic representations of the divine feminine: The Earth Mother, the Black Madonna, the Christ-Sophia, and an androgynous Kali-Kundalini figure whose chakras merge with the phases of the moon and the universe." The last figure is clearly a Hindu deity.  The "Earth Mother" reaches back into primitive mythologies and other non-Christian religions.  

So given such a diversity, where do we start?  Should we even attempt such a thing?  Would we not surrender the Faith itself in the end by compromise?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Noticer

Andy Andrew's little book The Noticer (2009) reminded me of Og Mandino's books of another era.  He uses a simple story to make a larger point, not entirely unlike the use of a parable.  Andrew's book, admittedly is not an overtly religious work, even though published by Thomas Nelson.  Still, it's an engaging story and quite practical with natural applications to a Christian life.  The subtitle explains the heart of the tale: "Sometimes all a person needs is a little perspective."  As an old Chinese proverb states, "if you want to know what water is, don't ask the fish."  Or as Ravi Zarcharias notes, "total immersion deprives the mind of a counterperspective and, for that matter, an honest evaluation."  To put it more simply: we often lose perspective when we are too close to the issue.  In Andrew's story an indigent old man named "Jones" provides this perspective to a number of people in crisis.  For some it's a marital crisis, for another a crisis of morals, for another simply of purpose in life.  Looking back on the many times I have been called to 'counsel' troubled people as pastor I realize that I probably was employing, much of the time, Jones' simple attempt to regain perspective, to be able to see the problem from a different, and hopefully, more productive angle.  We can choose to see life in any way we want, and too often we choose the negative.  And one thing I learned in psychology class, self-fulfilling prophesies do work.  If we see our lives as
unmitigated disasters we will begin to live in such a way to reinforce that.

Of course Andrew's book lacks the most important ingredient of God's grace in action, and if I had one substantive critique it would be there.  Not that you can't see God's hand at work even without mentioning His name, but it would have been nice to acknowledge God's work as the real healing in this scenarios.  All in all, though, it's a nice little book worthy perusing if you find yourself with a few minutes at the library. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Some Reflections on the Pastoral Ministry

The pastoral office is central to the church.  We operate seminaries for the primary purpose of preparing men for this very important office.  Yet it seems, at times, that so many other positions compete in importance with that office.  It's not hard to see how a pastor could see other positions in the church-at-large as promotions from the pastorate.  One position would be teaching at a synodical university or seminary.  Another could be a director of some department within the International Center at the LCMS in St. Louis.  Obviously these require special skills and education above and beyond the 'entry level' position of parish pastor, right?

After spending over a quarter of a century in the pastoral office I have come to see that such thinking is dangerous and misguided, if tempting to be sure. It has certainly captivated my own thinking.  Not that the larger church does not need such specialists, or that they are not important.  However, technically speaking, do they not ultimately exist to serve the local parish and school? 

But beyond this it is hard to compare any of these offices and positions with the unique opportunities that exist in the pastoral office.  Once one steps out of this office a connection is lost with the intimacy of ministry.  Today I communed a dear saint at a local nursing home.  He was crying as I served him.  To receive Jesus' body and blood was the most important gift for him at that moment.  And to serve this gift is one of the most important responsibilities of my call. I handle holy things. The other day I ministered to a family in the midst of a crisis.  I responded to their farm as their barn was burning, fulfilling multiple roles that day of firefighter, chaplain and pastor.  Gently leading an older member away from the fire I saw the pain in his face as he watched a lifetime of memories burn to the ground.  But I was there.  In the very heart of life's mess.  I saw the tears.  I experienced the immediacy of their grief.

As pastor I am invited into the most private places of people's lives.  Their hearts are opened in trust, looking to me as Christ's representative to offer some comfort and hope.  I am there at their births and rebirths, their weddings and funerals, their anniversary parties, holiday gatherings and family reunions.  They invite me to their land to hunt and include me on a snowmobile ride.  We eat together, laugh together, and cry together with a bond as deep as a family.

Sometimes I forget the privilege it is to serve this way, the honor to be called someones "pastor."  It is unfortunate that even as we recruit men for the ministry we sometimes neglect to remind them of this tremendous privilege.  Some day I may leave the pastoral ministry.  I don't know.  But I do know now that if I should I will never find such an incredible opportunity to serve.  Nothing will compare. 

The Staurogram

Every now and than an article from Biblical Archeology Review catches my eye.  One in particular from the current March/April issue interested me in particular.  The article by Larry W. Hurtado is "The Staurogram: Earliest Depiction of Jesus' Crucifixion" (see here for a somewhat abbreviated version by BAR on their website.)  The symbol to the right was an early Christian representation of the crucifixion (combining the Greek letters tau and rho, no doubt from the Greek word for cross - stauros), intending to serve as a kind of pictogram of a figure hanging on a cross.  What makes the article most interesting is that this symbol has been discovered in a papyrus fragment dating to 200 AD.  And why is this significant?  For the simple reason that it provides an example 150 to 200 years earlier than the earliest depictions of the crucified Jesus.  This challenges what the article's author noted has been a "commonplace belief among historians of the early church that early Christianity did not emphasize Jesus' crucifixion and that this did not change until the late fourth or fifth century."  The article seemed doubly appropriate this week given that the cross and the crucifixion is so central to the story of salvation.  So, despite so much scholarship to the contrary, it looks like the cross really was important to the church from the beginning!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Devil in Pew Number Seven: A Review

Every pastor experiences at least one member who makes his ministry and life difficult.  Some endure people who make it a living hell.  Robert Nichols, unfortunately, had to have the latter.  Having worked through many of my own traumatic issues over the years with some incredibly challenging parishoners, I do have to say that Nichols tops it all.  You simply have to read the book from cover to cover to really appreciate what this man went through.  However, it's easy to get caught up in the horror of it all and miss the real point of the author: forgiveness. 

To tell the story in full here would be to spoil the ending if you don't already know it.  So I won't share too much, except to encourage you to read the book.  The book's author, Rebecca Nichols Alonzo, shares an incredible tale of survival on a physical, mental and spiritual level.  You find yourself wondering if you could have survived all that she endured.  Yet it also reminds you that no matter how bad your situation is, there are those who have suffered much worse, especially in terms of congregational dysfunction.  Still, the real healing is not survival, but reconciliation, a most helpful story for this time of year. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Charity's is the Face of Christ

As many are observing the new pope as a humble man with a heart for the poor, the following quote from my breviary seemed apropos.  It is from the great Lutheran scholar Charles Porterfield Krauth.

Charity's is the face of Christ.  He is gone - yet lo, he is here always, dwelling in the faithful and the holy.  Oh, if Christ, the suffering, Christ, the hungering and thirsting, the naked and the sick, the stranger and prisoner, still abides on earth in the persons of those who suffer, abides in their persons because his love makes him one with them - Christ the pitying and relieving moves among us in the persons of those who pity and relieve, moves in their persons because his grace makes them one with him.  As the burdened and sorrowing "fill up the measure of the afflictions of Christ," so do the loving and helping become channels of that stream of his love which yet remains to be poured upon the world through every age, filling up the measure of the benedictions of Him who ascended on high that He might give gifts to men.  Charity has gazed on the incarnate Mercy, and loved, and followed, and given herself up to His transforming power, till she has been changed into his very image.  Those who would know how Christ looked, must not go to the dim imaginings of the painter or the sculptor, but must fix on her their eyes, and learn form her what was the marvelous beauty of him who was "fairer than the children of men." 
--from Poverty: Three Essays for the Season

Reflections of a Rural Fire Chaplain

Over ten years have passed since I came to my first meeting.  At the time I knew precious little about real firefighting or the culture of a volunteer fire department.  Wading into unfamiliar waters was compounded by the need to create a non-existent position without experience.  We started slowly.  None of us knew quite what we needed, although my reason for pursuing this course was grounded in previous traumas.  Even volunteers will face unspeakable horrors at times.  Young people laying bloody and lifeless on the pavement, dead from a stunt gone tragically wrong.  A small child pinned under a rolled over pickup that careened into a ditch when the driver dozed off.  An EMT stabbed by an intruder with her colleague attempting to revive her while her husband keeps watch with a loaded shotgun.  An elderly couple hit head-on by a teen racing down a country road, body parts littering the asphalt.  Such incidents may occur only once every decade or more, but they occur, and the odds in such a community that the victim is a family or friend is high. 

I decided early on that these men and women needed more than a ceremonial chaplain.  So from the beginning they had me in turnout gear, carrying a pager, treating me always like one of the rest.  I've worked beside them holding hoses in subzero nights, mopping up a charred field after a wild land blaze, riding with an elderly couple in a Hummer out of a flooded city, driving an engine or a van or a tanker as need arises, in and out of burning buildings.  I train beside them as much as time allows.  At 52 years of age I am not the first for interior attack, but I train in search and rescue for the day it may be needed.  It's sweaty, backbreaking work that favors the physical conditioning of a younger man.  Yet many an older, seasoned volunteer keeps these departments going, manning the pumps, serving as backup support, driving vehicles to scenes. 

By now the men and women I serve with know that their chaplain is no further away than the line of attack, experiencing the same risks, laboring at the same mundane tasks.  Every now and then we have to gather at the station for debriefing and it is then that this earned credibility serves well.  I am one of them.  I know what they see, what they experience, the stresses that weigh them down.

If I had to sum up my office it could be done with two words: presence and support.  The blue helmet I wear with a reflective rocker panel printed with "Chaplain" keeps my profile visible on any fire scene, even when I am only working as a regular fire fighter.  However, even without this symbol, they know I am there.  And I think sometimes that is enough.  Words do not always have to be spoken.  Sermons can be saved for another time.  I was reminded of the symbolic nature of this presence early on when I went to my first viewing at a funeral home as chaplain.  Ready to process in and greet the widow my captain was looking for the chaplain.  I held back, remembering that it is never right to assume first place, especially when you are the newbie.  All of a sudden I heard his voice calling for me to come up front.  "God goes first," he said firmly. 

These men and women may not always be the typical every-Sunday attender.  Some of them may only come at funerals and weddings.  Others are very active.  It's a mixed group.  Yet I sense a high respect for the things of God among these people.  Perhaps when you stand on the edge of death and destruction long enough you begin to appreciate the need for God's presence and some assurance of what comes after our departure from this veil of tears.

As a rural department our calls are often less frequent than the big cities.  Chaplains there certainly have more demand.  Like my other fellow firefighters we train and prepare for incidents that may not occur for months or years.  Always ready.  Perhaps that's another unofficial motto of my work.  I only hope I am not needed too much, for that always means more trauma and tragedy. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

One More Time

Sometimes you simply have to step back and take another look.  For me it involved my thesis proposal.  After soliciting input from my advisers it was clear that something wasn't working.  The concept had potential, but the scope seemed too broad.  I discovered I lost passion for it, in part because I no longer felt that I could do it justice.  Add to that my sense of not possessing quite enough depth of learning and understanding to adequately handle the growing number of issues I had put into the proposal.  So I stepped back, took a deep breath, cleared my head, and took another look.  Might there be something I could salvage here?  I really didn't want to start completely from scratch. In the third part of the proposed outline I found a place to begin.  Massey Shepherd's book, The Pascal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (1960), had been a key volume in my original bibliography.  As part of my original research I had planned to examine the place the liturgy played in the book of Revelation. I should have realized then that it was a topic worthy of its own thesis.  In my reading I had also discovered a more recent work by Dr. Scott Hahn (The Lamb's Supper - 1999), which I reviewed elsewhere on this blog.  He seemed to be going down the same path as Shepherd, albeit in a slightly different manner.   Feeling I had a topic I could now put my energies in with come confidence, I set about to read Shepherd's book and reread Hahn's.  I also began to reassemble a working bibliography, flesh out the outline, and write the actual proposal. Over 20 pages later it was finished. It took a few weeks, but I managed to rebuild what a month earlier seemed but a pile of ash.  With a bit a trepidation I called my primary adviser to bounce it off of him.  He felt that my new direction was better than the old one, and liked the topic.  So after having it thoroughly proofread by my wife I mailed it off and now I wait.  The new 'working title' is: "A Study of the Influence of the Church's Liturgical Forms on the Literary Structure of the Apocalypse of St. John."  I'll let you know if it passes.  After that comes the actual writing. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Costs and Pricing of E-Books

The other day I discovered that the first volume of my four volume prayerbook had become water damaged with coffee.  It was a stupid mistake.  Replacing the volume, which is still technically useable, would run $35, so I'm not too eager to shell out the money at this point.  However, I thought it might be a good time to check out CPH's prayerbook Treasury of Daily Prayer.  Happily I found that the price for this single volume work was $30, hardback (It's on sale at the moment.) Then I saw they had an e-pub version.  Great!  I own a NOOK, so this could be an option.  Then I looked at the price.  It was $19 more!  What?  You've got to be kidding!  A paper copy is cheaper than an electronic copy?  How does that work?  Well, I guess there are a number of things I didn't understand in the new world of printing and books, especially the costs associated with e-books.  Even though storage is considered virtually, it comes down to bandwidth, which costs.  And there are other expenses as well.  If you are curious, as I was, I found a short article that helped me understand.  I'm still not happy with it all, but hopeful that one day these e-books will be more cost effective.  See: "What Making an E-Book Costs, Publisher Responds."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Nice Quote Concerning Contemporary vs. Traditional Worship

Every now and then one finds a succinct statement about worship worth repeating.  This one was found on the website of the Anglican Catholic Church:
While contemporary worship may entertain, it also tends to isolate us from the historic and universal Church by reflecting back to us our own culture and tastes.  The Anglican tradition emphasizes the timeless nature of Christian worship.  Our liturgy (literally "work of the people") encourages us not only to know the Jesus of the Bible, but to experience Him through the sacramental life, drawing us out of our narrow and self-contained existence and into the loving presence of God.

My summary:
  • Contemporary worship reflects us back to our own culture and tastes.  It is therefore bound to a small range of experiences and personal desires and not reflective of the communion of saints throughout time. 
  • Traditional, thus liturgical worship, emphasizes the timeless nature of Christian worship.  It never becomes 'dated' but transcends trends. 
  • Traditional worship allows us to experience Christ through the sacramental life of the church.
  • This sacramental life draws us out of our narrow and self-contained existence, for it includes us in the communion of the one, holy, and catholic church.  

Preaching the Kingdom of God

Preaching the Kingdom of God presents a unique challenge to the preacher.  This challenge arises not because the concept lacks clear and sufficient reference in Holy Scripture, but rather due to its understanding in the mind of the modern hearer, especially the American hearer who has no connection with a functioning royalty or monarchial rule.  Instead, the modern hearer may encounter the word “king” more in connection with its secondary definition, namely “one that holds a preeminent position; especially : a chief among competitors.”[1]  Thus, in hearing the word “king” the hearer might associate the word with an eating establishment (e.g.: Burger King) or a famous singer (e.g.: Elvis Presley, king of Rock of Roll; Michael Jackson, king of Pop), or the famous late 20th century civil right leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Then again, a younger hearer familiar with the film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, where they encounter kings in a surreal quasi-medieval setting similar to other fantasy literature, may have yet another concept quite different still.   All said the preacher is faced with a variety of potential perceptions in the minds of his hearers.  Older members will hold one image, younger another.  The challenge comes in finding a way to convey the biblical image accurately and in a way the hearer can understand and apply. This Lent I will be putting together a series of sermons entitled "Thy Kingdom Come," which will examine the variety of references to Jesus as king and his proclamation of the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  My interest in doing this comes partially from the fact that the Kingdom of God features so prominently in Holy Scripture. The Kingdom of God forms a central theme of Holy Scripture, especially in the gospels. “Everywhere the Kingdom of God is on [Jesus’] lips,” John Bright notes. Indeed, the “burden of Jesus’ preaching was to announce the Kingdom of God; that was the central thing with which he was concerned.[2]  Thus, it is not surprising that a preacher encounters this theme frequently in the appointed lections from Advent through Easter, and certainly elsewhere.  

So, how does the preacher most effectively proclaim Jesus as king and the arrival of the Kingdom of God in a culture that has such a different conception of these themes?  That will be a question I will wrestle with his Lent.... 

[2] John Bright, The Kingdom of God: The Biblical Concept and Its Meaning For the Church (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953), 17.

[1] Miriam-Webster online dictionary: