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All My Heart This Night Rejoices

December 24th, 2009 Comments off

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Fray Juan Bautista Maino (1581-1649)

This is Pastor Paul Gerhardt’s great Christmas hymn. It first appeared in a collection of hymns published in Leipzig by Johann Crüciger in 1653, with the tune that Crüciger specifically prepared for it. The hymn is a sermon on the meaning of Christmas, and a deeply devotional meditation on what Christmas is all about. It is deeply realistic, and anchors the singer in the solid hope and joy that comes in and through Christ Jesus. It is a powerful assertion of the Gospel. I can think of no finer Christmas hymn ever written.

1. All my heart this night rejoices, as I hear far and near sweetest angel voices. “Christ is born,” their choirs are singing, till the air everywhere now with joy is ringing.

2. Forth today the conqueror goeth, who the Foe, sin and woe, Death and hell, o’erthroweth. God is man, man to deliver. His dear Son now is one With our blood forever.

3. Shall we still dread God’s displeasure, who, to save, freely gave His most cherished Treasure? To redeem us, He hath given His own Son from the throne of His might in heaven.

4. Should He who Himself imparted aught withhold from the fold, leave us broken-hearted? Should the Son of God not love us, Who, to cheer sufferers here, left His throne above us?

5. If our blessed Lord and Maker hated men, would He then be of flesh partaker? If He in our woe delighted, would He bear all the care of our race benighted?

6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh sin away and for aye full atonement maketh. For our life His own He tenders and our race, by His grace, meet for glory renders.

7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger, Soft and sweet, doth entreat: “Flee from woe and danger. Brethren, from all ills that grieve you you are feed; All you need I will surely give you.”

8. Come, then, banish all your sadness, one and all, great and small, come with songs of gladness. Love Him who with love is glowing. Hail the star, near and far light and joy bestowing.

9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure, weep no more, see the door to celestial pleasure. Cling to Him, for He will guide you where no cross, pain, or loss can again betide you.

10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted, who for sin, deep within, long and sore have smarted. For the poisoned wound you’re feeling help is near, One is here Mighty for their healing.

11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched. Know His will is to fill every hand outstretched. Here are riches without measure. Here forget all regret, fill your hearts with treasure.

12. Let me in my arms receive Thee; On Thy breast Let me rest, Savior, ne’er to leave Thee. Since Thou hast Thyself presented now to me, I shall be evermore contented.

13. Guilt no longer can distress me; Son of God, Thou my load Bearest to release me. Stain in me Thou findest never; I am clean, All my sin is removed forever.

14. I am pure, in Thee believing, From Thy store evermore, righteous robes receiving. In my heart I will enfold Thee, treasure rare, let me there, loving, ever hold Thee.

15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish. though my breath fail in death, Yet I shall not perish, But with Thee abide forever there on high, in that joy which can vanish never.

Notes: Hymn #77 from The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Luke 2:11 Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1653; Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1858, altered.

Titled: Froehlich soll mein Herze springen

Composer: Johann Crueger, 1653 Tune: Froehlich soll mein Herze

Categories: Uncategorized

A Pastor’s Tool Kit

December 23rd, 2009 1 comment

I loved this blog post by Pastor Paul Cain. Note: that is “Cain” not “McCain.” We’ve had some fun with this over the years. I told him that obviously somebody cut the “Mc” off an otherwise perfect last name. Paul is a pastor in Wyoming and does a terrific job as the Wyoming District’s worship resource guy, producing a newsletter called Liturgy, Hymnody and Pulpit Quarterly Book Review, that he has now transitioned over to a blog. I encourage you to add QBR to your blog feed reader. Here is his post on his pastoral “tool kit.” Love it!

On the Road: Pastoral Care Tools in Wyoming

The Weather in Wyoming can confront a pastor with just about anything. It’s snowing outside as I type. How can one make sure he has everything for a shut-in or hospital visit and protect it all from the elements?

Shortly after I was ordained, I got tired of carrying my Bible, Communion Kit, and Hymnal along with bulletins, Portals of Prayer, and other resources in my bare hands. So, based on being raised by a carpenter, I went to SEARS and bought a tool bag. It served me well for nearly ten years until I needed something a little larger.

I am told that “Craftsman” is actually a better translation for Joseph’s vocation in Scripture than “carpenter” anyway!

So, the first photo in this blog post is my new pastor tool kit. I have bulletins, devotionals, Lutheran Service Book, an English Standard Version Bible, the LSB Pastoral Care Companion, and even the pocket edition of Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions on one side. On the other side is my Communion Kit, CDs for shut-ins, and a small kit for emergency baptisms. And it usually makes people smile.

You may be wondering, “If that’s his pastor bag, what does his Communion Kit look like?”
I’m glad you asked. This summer I drove up to see a shut-in in the mountains. After I arrived, I noted that the glass bottle from my original Communion Kit had burst. Everything was ruined. I needed a replacement fast.
Looking throughh the catalogs, one could spend hundreds or thousands on a new Communion Kit. I saw a nice looking one for $250 that looked like a handgun case. So, I went to the local sporting goods store and re-purposed a handgun case and food safe plastic camping bottles.

So, that is an insider’s guide to pastoral care tools out here in Wyoming. And may a be a good time to remind my brother pastors to be diligent in visiting your people. These are your tools: bread, wine, water and word. They appear humble, but they have great promises attached to them. No part of my ministry has borne more fruit than doing visits to shut-ins, hospitals, nursing homes, and eventually every member family in their homes. My wife calls it “hunting the brush.” Jesus called it leaving the ninety-nine to seek out the one. And heaven and earth rejoiced.

Peace in Christ,

Paul J Cain, QBR Editor

Categories: pastoral ministry

The Pastor’s Guide to New Media

December 21st, 2009 15 comments

new-media

David Householder prepared this great summary of new media and the pastor. Enjoy! It’s a whole new world out there. The truth is, even email and websites are now getting outdated.  And no one even thinks about yellow pages ads anymore. The key is to know what your “take” on the Christian message is, and then to broadcast it on all channels. The upside is that most of the New Media world is free.

Message.  Clarity is king in New Media.  What is your life message?  If it sounds vague and could just as well be used by any of the Christian leaders in your community, then it’s not yet “New Media ready.”  Craft it and hone it.  And it has to come out of a deep place in your soul, not the latest popular book on faith.  The pastors who rule the New Media world are crystal clear about their message and they are always on message.  Think Brand

Clarity.  With today’s information inundation, clarity is the royal road to influence.

In today’s world, you need to be clear about your “core” soul identity, your life message, having and teaching a reproducible piety (prayer and Bible, etc.), integrating the worship style of your church to your message, and broadcasting it to the universe.

SMS-Texting. Gotta do it.  If you don’t, you are ignoring the media most used by 15-25 year olds.  And how many of you have too many of them in your church?  Discipline yourself to send out 3 texts a day until you get the hang of it.  This is the coin of the realm and it leads into everything else.  If you have a simple cell phone (no QWERTY keyboard), ask a young person to teach you how to T9.  It’s way easier than manual data entry.

Unified Posting Tree. Whatever nooks and crannies of the media you use, it helps to post from one place.  Most use PING or POSTEROUS.  That way you can post TO everywhere FROM one platform.  The service is free.  And you can post through Ping or Posterous from your phone using SMS, from whence it will go out to all your other channels.

Blog. I once saw a shirt that said “More people read my T-Shirt than your blog!”  This may be true for many of us, but a blog is still the best place to craft your message in more detail for the public.  Many of us use WordPress or Blogspot.  These services are free. Choose a fun background and get started.  I’m new at this, and obviously you have already found me.  The stats section on these blog servers give you a great window on what parts of your message anyone is actually listening to.  Drive as much traffic as possible from other media to your blog.

TinyURL. This is vital.  In a abbreviated communication world, being able to drop short “links” to other places online is key.  Put any long web address into TinyURL and it will give you a short version which you can copy and send to people.  This is important if you want to direct others to something specific you have written online.

Facebook. This thing is just plain gigantic.  Cultivate a 3 or 4 figure friend list as fast as you can.  The lines between public and private life are blurring.  This is good for ministry, because for integrity to emerge, the two have to flow into each other.  Post at least once a day and aggressively go after building that friends list.  If you aren’t passionate about influence, you may be in the wrong line of work.  Look at my Facebook page under “David Housholder.”  There are a couple of us DH’s out there, but you’ll find me.

Facebook Groups or Fan Pages. Your church should have its own presence on Facebook.  You can do it through:

1)  Giving your church its own “personal” page.  I.e. your church is a “person” on Facebook called “__________ Church.”

2)  Having a Facebook group called “____________ Church.”  This is what we do at Robinwood Church.  Check it out.

3)  Creating a Facebook “fan page” called “___________Church.”

Each of the three has advantages and disadvantages.  Pick one and run with it.  Use it to promote church activities, podcasts, etc.

Podcasts.  Becoming as essential as having a web page.  Young people are most likely to check you out here first.  ”What’s on your iPod?” is the best conversation starter ever for young people.  Try it.  Get an iPod and subscribe to the best church podcasts (although you don’t need a portable player to enter the podcast world, any computer will do).  You go to Apple.com and the iTunes store and get started.  You may need some assistance getting this set up.  Find a 20-year old, give him/her a pizza and don’t stop ’til it’s done.  Post and promote, post and promote.  Repeat.  Our Robinwood Church podcast is listened to all around the world.

Print. Most church newsletters are disappearing; just like many newspapers.  But you should have a book out that defines your message.  Have it for sale everywhere you go; keep a box in your car.  Make sure it is available on Kindle or other readers.  You double your income at every speaking event if you have it for sale and let people know about it.  Go to Create Space and publish with great editorial and artistic support for about $3k.  You can earn that back after a while, and the resource, always on hand, is a big value added.  Put links to Amazon so people can easily find it.  Look at what I have done with this.

And sure, websites are old school, but there are trends to watch.

1)  Simple is good.  Think iPod.  If you aren’t going to update it, don’t post it.  Stale dates, etc. are a bad sign.

2)  Never ever ever use stock photos of “beautiful people.”  Use real pix of your people.  Authentic is everything.

3)  Make it easy to “contact us.”  Real phone numbers and email addresses.  Don’t make people have to hunt to find you.

4)  Prominently feature the picture and bio of the senior pastor.  People are looking for this.

5)  Come right out and tell people what your worship style and political/theological stances are.  Don’t be vague.  If you’re pro-life, say so.  If you are liturgical, say so.  Etc.

6)  Make sure the branding, colors, logos, etc. actually match your church service and “vibe.”  Don’t have an artsy, brooding (albeit cool) website if you are a happy clappy church.  The medium is the message.

Check out our site at http://robinwoodchurch.com

Google AdWords. This is a huge resource of targeted advertising.  We use it extensively and it works great.  There is quite a learning curve and it takes the better part of a year to master.  There is no substitute for practice on this one.  Just get started.

Twitter. The senior pastor and the church should have a unified account.  Check out mine at “RobinwoodChurch” and “David Housholder” –same account.  I just got started.  This is way more challenging and unforgiving than the happy and safe Facebook atmosphere.  You will have to dodge porn and haters.  The big upside is that you learn to communicate, just like Jesus, in great sound bites of 140 characters in an uncontrolled social forum.  And the truth is, you can test your ideas for potency.  If it doesn’t matter on Twitter, it probably doesn’t matter to the public.  It can be sobering, but vastly helpful.  Be patient and keep at it.

LinkedIn and MySpace. Other valuable social networks.  Have a look.

Google Wave. I am one of the blessed few let into this beta-testing version and can’t figure out what it’s about–yet.  I’ll let you know…

Remember you can post to most all of these formats at once by using Ping or Posterous.  That way you don’t have to maintain all of them.

Thanks to David Householder for this post.


Categories: Uncategorized

Are We A Small and Arrogant Oligarchy?

December 19th, 2009 12 comments

artblog-23-old-man-rembrandt-large-smkI can’t think of a more foolish attitude I harbor at times than when I look back on previous generations and assume they were ignorant, unenlightened, unaware and totally outside of what I’m thinking and experiencing today. I was reminded of something the British writer G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy (Chapter 4):

“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” Chesterton goes on to say: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”

And here’s the rub. While it is absolutely true that previous generations did not have the same technologies or understanding of “how things work” in their world, but is there such a vast difference between 21st century people and those of previous centuries? Are we so far removed we think we can not possibly learn anything from our fathers, grandfathers and ancestors in the past. I’m particularly struck by this when I consider, as I grow older, how my own parents appear ever increasingly wise. The tradition in Asian culture of revering their elders has much to commend it. Today, we regard those older than us as people who, obviously, are not as “in touch” with “reality” as we are. And even more so do we view our ancestors as hopeless irrelevant.

Here’s some concrete examples of where I see the arrogant oligarchy in action over against those who have come before. Christian worship: Why is it that in the past twenty-five years the worship forms that have been used for thousands of years, have come to be regarded as wholly inadequate and must be replaced with forms that have little in common with the historic worship forms of the past? Why do I sometimes assume that nobody can possibly understand how I’m feeling when faced with a difficult situation who is a member of a generation far removed from mine? Why did I, for example, the other day when looking at Starck’s Prayer Book, smile at the fact that there were prayers there to be prayed as a thunderstorm approached and to be prayed after it was over? “Oh, how quaint,” I thought. Then I felt shame, as I considered the fact that dangerous thunderstorms back when there were no safe buildings, or emergency services, or advanced warning, were devastating.

Do you have some examples from your life where you see yourself as part of the arrogant oligarchy? Would you share some by way of comments?

O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?

December 18th, 2009 1 comment

baptismFor centuries, Christians have sung hymns in order to praise God. Anyone who knows a hymn like “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” or “Now Thank We All Our God” recognizes how well the hymnody of the Church enables God’s people to raise their voices in thanksgiving for all that He has given.

Hymns are indeed songs of praise to God. Still, a dictionary definition can’t begin to grasp the riches of the Church’s hymns. For example, some hymns are not so much praise to God as they are prayer. Hymns can be confessions of sin or confessions of faith. Some hymns give praise to God by telling the story of what He has done. Finally, there are many hymns that masterfully teach the Christian faith, even as they lead God’s people to praise their Maker and Redeemer.

For an example of how rich our hymns can be, consider the Advent hymn of Paul Gerhardt, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You.” In the opening lines, the purpose for our Advent observance is clearly sounded:

O Lord, how shall I meet You,
How welcome You aright?
Your people long to greet You,
My hope, my heart’s delight!

Before celebrating Jesus’ birth, Christians do well to prepare their hearts for His coming. One way that is done during Advent is by recalling God’s Old Testament people and the centuries-long wait they endured before God finally sent the promised Savior. Echoing the words of Isaiah 9:2, Gerhardt writes in stanza 5:

Rejoice, then, you sad-hearted,
Who sit in deepest gloom.

We have much in common with ancient Israel, for we often find ourselves overshadowed by the darkness of sin and the trials of life. But the coming of the Savior has changed all that. Here’s how Gerhardt expresses the good news:

Despair not; He is near you.

Similarly, in stanza 3 Gerhardt beautifully describes both our sinful condition and our new status as forgiven children of God:

I lay in fetters, groaning;
You came to set me free.
I stood, my shame, bemoaning;
You came to honor me.

Confession of sins? Yes. Proclamation of forgiveness? Most definitely! Prayer, praise…and much more. That’s what our hymns are all about. As you sing them, give thanks to God for this great gift to His Church. Here is the whole hymn:

1. How shall I meet Thee? How my heart
Receive her Lord aright?
Desire of all the earth Thou art!
My hope, my sole delight!

2. Kindle the Lamp, Thou Lord, alone,
Half-dying in my breast,
And make thy gracious pleasure known
How I may greet Thee best.

3. Her budding boughs and fairest palms
Thy Zion strews around;
And songs of praise and sweetest psalms
From my glad heart shall sound.

4. My desert soul breaks forth in flowers,
Rejoicing in Thy fame;
And puts forth all her sleeping powers,
To honour Jesus’ name.

5. In heavy bonds I languished long,
Thou com’st to set me free;
The scorn of every mocking tongue–
Thou com’st to honour me.

6. A heavenly crown wilt Thou bestow,
And gifts of priceless worth,
That vanish not as here below,
The fading wealth of earth.

7. Nought, nought, dear Lord, had power to move
Thee from Thy rightful place,
Save that most strange and blessed Love
Wherewith Thou dost embrace

8. This weary world and all her woe,
Her load of grief and ill
And sorrow, more than man can know;–
Thy love is deeper still.

9. Oh write this promise in your hearts,
Ye sorrowful, on whom
Fall thickening cares, while joy departs
And darker grows your gloom.

10. Despair not, for your help is near,
He standeth at the door
Who best can comfort you and cheer,
He comes, nor stayeth more.

11. Nor vex your souls with care, nor grieve
And labour longer thus,
As though your arm could ought achieve,
And bring Him down to us.

12. He comes, He comes with ready will,
By pity moved alone,
To soothe our every grief and ill,
For all to Him is known.

13. Nor ye, O sinners, shrink aside,
Afraid to see His face,
Your darkest sins our Lord will hide
Beneath His pitying grace.

14. He comes, He comes to save from sin,
And all its pangs assuage,
And for the sons of God to win
Their proper heritage.

15. Why heed ye then the craft and noise,
The fury of His foes?
Lo, in a breath the Lord destroys
All who His rule oppose.

16. He comes, He comes, as King to reign!
All earthly powers may band
Against Him, yet they strive in vain,
His might may none withstand.

17. He comes to judge the earth, and ye
Who mocked Him, feel His wrath;
But they who loved and sought Him see
His light o’er all their path.

18. O Sun of Righteousness! arise,
And guide us on our way
To yon fair mansion in the skies
Of joyous cloudless day.

Source for notes on hymns.

Categories: Uncategorized

Crucifixes and Lutherans

December 18th, 2009 3 comments
Lower Center Panel of the Altar Painting in St. Mary Church, Wittenberg, Germany. By Lucas Cranach.

Lower Center Panel of the Altar Painting in St. Mary Church, Wittenberg, Germany. By Lucas Cranach.

From The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s FAQ page….

Question:

Is the use of crucifixes a Roman Catholic practice? Doesn’t the empty cross provide a better symbol for Lutherans? How does the LCMS feel about using a crucifix in church? [Note: A crucifix is a cross with a statue of the crucified Christ on it].

Answer:

A common misunderstanding among some some Lutherans is the opinion that a crucifix, or the use of a crucifix, is a “Roman Catholic” practice. The history of Lutheranism demonstrates that the crucifix was a regular and routine feature of Lutheran worship and devotional life during Luther’s lifetime and during the period of Lutheran Orthdoxy. It was also the case among the founding fathers of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. If you were to visit most of the original congregations of the LCMS here in the United States you would find lovely crucifixes adorning their altars, and in addition, beautiful statues on the altar of Christ and the four evangelists, or other such scenes. There is nothing uniquely Roman Catholic about this.  Many Lutherans and Lutheran congregations use crucifixes. Crucifixes are used in the chapels of both of our seminaries.

Lutheranism has always considered the crucifix to be a powerful reminder of the sacrifice our Lord Jesus made for us and our salvation, on the cross. A crucifix vividly brings to mind the Apostle Paul’s divinely inspired words, “We preach Christ and Him crucified”  (1 Cor. 1:23).

Interestingly enough, while there is certainly nothing “wrong” with an “empty” cross, the practice of using an “empty cross” on a Lutheran congregation’s altar comes more from non-Lutheran sources. At the time of the Reformation there was conflict between Lutherans and Reformed Christians over the proper place of pictures, images, statues and the like in the church. Lutherans stood with historic Christendom in realizing that such art in the church was not wrong, and was a great aid for helping to focus devotional thoughts on the truths of the Word of God, no greater truth can be found that the death of Jesus Christ our Lord for the world’s salvation.

The “empty cross” is not a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, as some say, for the fact is that the cross would have been empty regardless of whether or not Christ had risen from the grave. The point to be kept clear here is that both an “empty cross” and a crucifix, symbolize the same thing: the death of Christ our Lord for the salvation of the world. Many feel that the crucifix symbolizes this truth more clearly and strikingly. That has been the traditional opinion of historic Lutheranism, until the last fifty years ago, due to the influence we will now mention.

Some Lutherans began to move away from crucifixes during the age of Lutheran Pietism, which rejected much of Lutheran doctrine and consequently many Lutheran worship practices. At the time, Lutheran Pietists, contrary to the clear postion of Luther and the earlier Lutherns, held that symbols such as the crucifix were wrong. This was never the view of historic Lutheranism.  Here in America, Lutherans have always felt a certain pressure to “fit in” with the Reformed Christianity that predominates much of the Protestant church here. Thus, for some Lutherans this meant doing away with things such as crucifixes, and vestments, and other traditional forms of Lutheran worship and piety. It is sad when some Lutherans are made to feel embarrassed about their Lutheranism by members of churches that teach the Word of God in error and who do not share Lutheanism’s clear confession and practice of the full truth of the Word of God.

Lutheranism has always recognized that the use of any symbol (even the empty cross) can become an idolatrous practice, if in any way people are led to believe there is “power in the cross” or that a picture or representation of a cross has some sort of ability, in itself, to bring us into relationship with Christ and His Gospel. Any of God’s good gifts can be turned against Him in this life and become an end in themselves.

Lutherans have never believed that banning or limiting proper artwork in the church is the way to prevent its improper use. Rather, we believe that proper teaching and right use is the best way, and the way that is in keeping with the gift of freedom we have in Christ to use all things to the glory and honor of God. Thus, many Lutherans use and enjoy the crucifix as a meaningful reminder of our Lord’s suffering and death. It might interest you to know that our Synod’s president has a beautiful crucifix adorning the wall of his office, constantly reminding him and visitors to his office of the great love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In short, and this is the most important point of all: there is nothing contrary to God’s Holy Word, or our Lutheran Confessions, about the proper use of the crucifix, just as there is nothing wrong with the proper use of an empty cross, or any other church symbol by which we are reminded of the great things God has done for us. We need to guard against quickly dismissing out of hand practices that we believe are “too Roman Catholic” before we more adequately explore their use and history in our own church.

In Christian freedom, we use either the crucifix or an empty cross and should not judge or condemn one another for using either nor not using either symbol of our Lord’s sacrifice for our sins.

Categories: Art, Lutheranism

Mix and Match: The American Way?

December 17th, 2009 Comments off

Not surprising, but nonetheless disturbing to read about. Thanks to Dr. Gene Edward Veith for this post. Like many ancient Israelites before the exile, more and more Christians think they can add pagan beliefs to Christianity. Here are some findings from The Pew Forum:

Mixing religions: Many Americans have beliefs or experiences that conflict with basic Christian doctrines. People who say they believe:
Total Christians
People will be reborn in this world again and again 24% 22%
Yoga is a spiritual practice 23% 21%
People with the “evil eye” can cast curses or harmful spells 16% 17%
The position of stars/planets can affect people’s lives 25% 23%

Interfaith worship: A third of Americans say they attend multiple places of worship, including outside their own faith (excluding holidays or family events). People who say they attend:
Total All Protestants Catholics
Multiple places within own faith 11% 9% 21%
Services of one other faith 12% 15% 13%
Services of two other faiths 8% 10% 5%
Services of three or more faiths 4% 4% 1%

Attending other services: Attending worship services beyond their own faith is more common among Protestants (30%) than Catholics (19%):
One other faith Two others Three others
White evangelicals 15% 9% 3%
White mainline 11% 8% 5%
Black Protestants 18% 14% 9%

Mystical experiences: Half of all Americans say they have had a “religious or mystical experience or spiritual awakening”:
Total
Black Protestants 71%
White evangelical Protestants 70%
Catholics 60%
White mainline Protestants 40%
Unaffiliated 30%

Spirit and nature: Many Christians have adopted beliefs or experiences that conflict with basic Christian doctrines. People who say they:
Total Christians
Have been in touch with the dead 29% 29%
Found “spiritual energy” in trees, etc. 26% 23%
Had ghostly experience 18% 17%
Consulted a psychic 15% 14%

Source: 2009 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Survey of 2,003 U.S. adults. Margin of error /- 2.5 percentage points

The Strong Can Not Exist Without the Weak

December 17th, 2009 3 comments

67450568_6037ec0f01Some people work hard to “purge” the Christian community of any and all who are erring, weak, and stumbling. Flickering wicks, they would snuff out and they would go ahead and break off the bent reeds (Mt 12:20). The focus of some seems to be mainly on pulling weeds from the field that is the Church (Mt 13:24-30) rather than nurturing, encouraging and feeding the healthy plants. On the one hand, we can go to0 far and simply excuse sin, seek to justify it, or even say it is no longer sin; but, on the other hand, I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a point here well worth considering. Do you?

Every Christian community must know that not only do the weak need the strong, but also the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the community.The Christian community should not be governed by self-justification, which violates others, but by justification by grace, which serves others. Once individuals have experienced the mercy of God in their lives, from then on they desire only to serve. The proud throne of the judge no longer lures them; instead they want to be down among the wretched and lowly, because God found them down there themselves. “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16).

Bonhoeffer, Life Together (Fortress) p. 96

HT: MCH.

Categories: Christian Life

I Have Accepted Jesus….

December 16th, 2009 3 comments

Picture 1 I found this on a Roman Catholic apologetics site and enjoyed it. We Lutherans who confess the manducatio oralis [oral eating] of the body and blood of Jesus should enjoy it. It is a jarring reminder of how the classic and orthodox understanding of Christ’s actual presence in the Eucharist is not merely or only a “spiritual” presence.

Refuting Calvinist Claims that Luther Taught Double-Predestination

December 16th, 2009 15 comments

predestination_tshirt-p235676991342392817u7by_400Whenever the question of why are some saved, and not others, comes up it is common for Calvinists who advocate for the view that God has predestined some to hell, and others to heaven, to try to drag Martin Luther into their argument and claim that they are actually being faithful to what Martin Luther taught. Let this much be clear: Martin Luther did not teach double-predestination. I’ve heard from a number of Calvinists who tell me that they don’t even think John Calvin taught it either, but, that’s for them to hash out. My interest here is in refuting the claim of the “Truly Reformed” or “classic Calvinists” or “T.U.L.I.P. Calvinists.” Here then are two critical points for Calvinists to keep in mind, which, unfortunately, they often do not.

(1) The doctrine of the Lutheran Church is not determined or normed by every writing of Luther. The proper understanding and interpretation of Martin Luther is reflected in the Book of Concord, which is the Lutheran Church’s normative standard of doctrine and practices that flow from this doctrine. This is hard for Calvinists to understand, since they are unable to point to one, unique, formal book of their confessions. They are somewhat scattered about, over time and place.

(2) Luther’s Bondage of the Will is not, and was not, his last and final word on the subject of the hidden will of God. When Calvinists appeal to this document in support of their doctrine of predestination, they do so most often taking this document in isolation from the rest of his writings and teachings. It is a common tactic among Calvinists, and sadly, a common belief that John Calvin and his heirs were actually the more faithful followers of Martin Luther than the Lutheran Church which followed Luther.

Here then is what Luther wanted people to know and understand about his position on the issue of predestination. This is from Luther’s last and final lecture series he gave during his life, his great Genesis lectures. Here is what he said while commenting on Genesis 29:9:

It pleases me to take from this passage the opportunity to discuss doubt, God, and the will of God; for I hear that here and there among the nobles and persons of importance vicious statements are being spread abroad concerning predestination or God’s foreknowledge. For this is what they say: “If I am predestined, I shall be saved, whether I do good or evil. If I am not predestined, I shall be condemned regardless of my works.” I would be glad to debate in detail against these wicked statements if the uncertain state of my health made it possible for me to do so. For if the statements are true, as they, of course, think, then the incarnation of the Son of God, His suffering and resurrection, and all that He did for the salvation of the world are done away with completely. What will the prophets and all Holy Scripture help? What will the sacraments help? Therefore let us reject all this and tread it underfoot.

These are devilish and poisoned darts and original sin itself, with which the devil led our first parents astray when he said (Gen. 3:5): “You will be like God.” They were not satisfied with the divinity that had been revealed and in the knowledge of which they were blessed, but they wanted to penetrate to the depth of the divinity. For they inferred that there was some secret reason why God had forbidden them to eat of the fruit of the tree which was in the middle of Paradise, and they wanted to know what this reason was, just as these people of our time say: “What God has determined beforehand must happen. Consequently, every concern about religion and about the salvation of souls is uncertain and useless.” Yet it has not been given to you to render a verdict that is inscrutable. Why do you doubt or thrust aside the faith that God has enjoined on you? For what end did it serve to send His Son to suffer and to be crucified for us? Of what use was it to institute the sacraments if they are uncertain or completely useless for our salvation? For otherwise, if someone had been predestined, he would have been saved without the Son and without the sacraments or Holy Scripture. Consequently, God, according to the blasphemy of these people, was horribly foolish when He sent His Son, promulgated the Law and the Gospel, and sent the apostles if the only thing He wanted was that we should be uncertain and in doubt whether we are to be saved or really to be damned.

But these are delusions of the devil with which he tries to cause us to doubt and disbelieve, although Christ came into this world to make us completely certain. For eventually either despair must follow or contempt for God, for the Holy Bible, for Baptism, and for all the blessings of God through which He wanted us to be strengthened over against uncertainty and doubt. For they will say with the Epicureans: “Let us live, eat, and drink; tomorrow we shall die” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:32). After the manner of the Turks they will rush rashly into the sword and fire, since the hour in which you either die or escape has been predetermined.

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Manifestor of His Father, Creator of His Mother

December 14th, 2009 2 comments

mary the virgin mother of godEach time I read a golden nugget like this from St. Augustine, I’m once more reminded that, as my beloved early church father professor, Dr. William Weinrich observed to me years ago, “When you are reading St. Augustine, you simply realize you are in the presence of a great and profound mind.” Amen! Thanks to Pastor Alms for this gem. Here is what Augustine said:

My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, of that Lord by whom all things were made and who was made [flesh] amid all the works of His hands; who is the Manifestor of His Father, the Creator of His Mother;  Son of God born of the Father without a mother, Son of Man born of a mother without a father;  the great Day of the angels, small in the day of men;  the Word as God existing before all time, the Word as flesh existing only for an allotted time;  the Creator of the sun created under the light of the sun; ordering all ages from the bosom of of His Father, from the womb of His Mother consecrating this day; remaining there, yet proceeding hither; Maker of heaven and earth brought forth on this earth overshadowed by the heavens; unspeakably wise, wisely speechless;  filling the whole world, lying in a manger;  guiding the stars, a nursling at the breast; though insignificant in the form of man, so great in the form of God that His greatness was not lessened by His insignificance nor was His smallness crushed by – His might. When He assumed human form He did not abandon His divine operations, nor did He cease to reach from end to end mightily and to order all things sweetly. When clothed in the weakness of our flesh He was received, not imprisoned, in the Virgin’s womb so that without the Food of Wisdom being withdrawn from the angels we might taste how sweet is the Lord.

Sermon 187.

Categories: Church Fathers

The Less Decoration in Our Churches the Better: This is Most Certainly NOT True

December 14th, 2009 13 comments

2578478725_ff8d06eff1I was reading around on blog sites, as is my wont, [how often do you get to use that phrase? 'as is my wont'], but I digress. I bumped into some conversations about the kind of church art, decoration and ornamentation that American Lutherans learned to associate with the Lutheran Church. For some, perhaps many American Lutherans, a “Lutheran Church” is fairly plain and “stripped down.” But as much as Lutherans think that this is somehow the “gold standard” for Lutheran churches, the fact is, this is most certainly not true. Even those Lutherans who think that their church is “plain” would be surprised by the reaction from many other Reformed and Evangelical Christians. That there is an altar at all in Lutheran churches is absolutely shocking to the classic Calvinist type of American protestant. That tradition, in its more pure forms/strands, regards any image in a church to be a direct violation of the Second Commandment, as they so number the Commandments, “Thou shalt make no graven images.”

And so, if you happen to find yourself in a conservative Presbyterian Church, chances are it will be extremely plain, with no decorations at all. This “minimalism” impacted Lutheranism, already back in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and then to an ever increasing degree under the influence of Pietism, which tended to eschew outward symbolism, and emphasized the “interior life” more. The other influence of history on American Lutheran tastes is the simple fact that most Lutheran immigrants were dirt poor and so when they constructed their places of worship, they did as much as they could, but access to artists and sculptors was limited, and funding was equally limited, so as a result, any number of smaller churches were often very plain. There are many notable exceptions, to be sure. The end results of a combination of factors: the influence of Pietism, the influence of being surrounded by American Protestants of a Calvinist tradition, and simple economics, resulted in several generations of Lutherans becoming used to Lutheran churches that are fairly plain. Consequently, there are any number of Lutherans who recoil in shock when they see a richly decorated Lutheran church interior, such as one finds in spectacular grandeur at the older city churches in both Saint Louis and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Here I’m thinking of Holy Cross here in St. Louis, or St. Paul Lutheran Church or Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne. The same can be found elsewhere, in Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and so forth.

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Rejoice! Rejoice!

December 12th, 2009 2 comments

Here is a beautiful rendition of a beloved Advent hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, from a small men’s choir in Riga, Latvia.

Categories: Music

The Book of Concord: A Rare Bird

December 11th, 2009 Comments off

I have very perceptive blog readers, here is that Mr. Mark recently posted to my site, and I’d thought I would share here as a post:

The BOC is that rare bird: a profound and important theological document that can be read with great devotional profit by a layperson. I can open it almost anywhere and begin reading with enjoyment–it contains truths that have to be learned and relearned over and over. Luther’s influential tendency to always focus on the pastoral comes through in almost every section. I’ve used it as a devotional book, off and on, for years. I am very pleased to see that it is a bestseller. Let’s see the Calvinists make a bestseller out of the Westminister Confession!  ;  )

Categories: Uncategorized

If Nothing is Sacred, Nothing Can Be Profaned

December 11th, 2009 5 comments

Picture 1I really enjoyed this post on EVANGEL, a blog site that is hosted on the First Things web site. You might enjoy adding it to your regular blog reading. As a blog site that has a large number of contributors, the posts come frequently, and not all are worth reading, but, it’s an interesting way, quickly, to keep up with trends in thinking in American Evangelicalism. Here is a post that gave me food for thought, and it may do so for you too:

If nothing is sacred, nothing can be profaned.

This line has been haunting me for a few months.  The video of the fellow tweeting during his wedding brought it back to mind.

As one commenter on put it in response to the video, “It seems to me the issue–an all-too common one these days–is a lack of understanding of the sacred.”

Sacred space, sacred speech, sacred behavior–our emphasis on intentionality and the universalizing aspect of the Holy Spirit’s presence make adopting such categories…difficult.  ”Don’t judge the heart, which is the important part.  I can worship God anywhere.  Don’t limit him to a building.  There’s nothing intrinsic to the words themselves.”   Focus too much on externals, and someone will accuse you of adding law to the Gospel–without acknowledging the possibility that as humans, we are changed not only from the inside out, but from the outside in.

This is  why profanity still matters.  The sacred implies an element of mystery–which Paul calls marriage in Ephesians 5.  To profane is to seize the mystery and lay it bare for everyone to see–to throw it out of the temple, as it were.  What this means, though, is that only within communities where such mysteries have meaning can profanity have power.  If there are no mysteries, nothing can be profaned.

I don’t wish to be crass, but most common swear words seem to have as their primary referents some action or thing that has historically been done or kept in secret.  The chief exception to this rule is He who is the greatest mystery of all, our Lord Jesus himself.  As such mysteries lose their force, so will (ironically) the force of the words associated with them.  That many of us young evangelicals do not think seriously about the particular aspects of the words we deploy suggests our reverence for what originally made them profanities is on the wane.

I have no intention of restarting the wars over whether profanity is permissible or not.  My interest is the conditions that make it possible, conditions that sadly seem to be increasingly rare.

Categories: Uncategorized