Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Pagan Heart of Christmas

Often around Christmas, much is made about the date of Christmas being selected to cover over a Roman festival or a Pagan holiday. Many might even go so far as to say that it stems from this. We hear all this hullabaloo around this time of year.

I'm glad there is.

I would say it's precisely the pagan that's at the heart of Christmas. The pagan chases after foreign gods and worships in ways that are not according to the ways of the Lord. The pagan holds feasts and festivals to celebrate, and even worship, things which were created by God, but are not gods themselves.

And it's for this very purpose that God became man, and took on human flesh, so that he could redeem us poor pagans, who chase after other gods. God came to cleanse our pagan hearts and fill them with his Holy Spirit, and proclaim us righteous by the death of Christ on the cross.

So, go ahead. Make your accusations that Christmas is founded on a pagan holiday. I'll agree with you, Christmas does cover over that pagan holiday. I'll say it's for that very purpose our Lord Jesus Christ has come: to sanctify the unholy, and redeem the unworthy.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Don't Get Your Biases in My Science

The irony is easy to spot in this article by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director for the center of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

In Mississippi, there's a ballot measure proposed to define "personhood" beginning from conception, a.k.a. fertilization. Polls say that it's going to pass. Dr. Caplan says it shouldn't saying,
The reason this law makes for bad public policy is that it is completely at odds with what science knows to be true about embryos and fetuses.
After mocking these pro-lifers (pro-personers?), he acknowledges their claim saying,
It is true that for centuries science has shown that all human beings begin as fertilized eggs.
However, that is not good enough for him. The process by which human beings develop is also important to him. He says that not all fertilized eggs are "viable" and many don't even make it to implantation. There are many spontaneous abortions, still births and fetal deaths. Therefore they cannot be considered "persons".

He ends the article by saying,
In the push to declare fertilized eggs “persons” advocates claim science is on their side. But it is only by ignoring what science has learned about the long odds that face fertilized eggs that anyone could even suggest that a fertilized egg is a person.

Johannes Kepler.
Because posting a picture of a devout,
Lutheran astrophysicist makes
Stephen Hawking cry.
So often there is a line drawn between pro-lifers - and let's be honest, we're really just talking about Christians here - and science. Too often, I think this is thrown up as a protective guard by non-Christian scientists in an ad hominem attack against Christians to make them seem brutish and uneducated. It is often leveled at Christians making them seem biased and suspicious of the devilish science man.

But seriously. If you can't see the bias in this article... you're biased.

He admits that all human beings come from fertilized eggs. However, he goes beyond science, by saying that if the fertilized egg is not "viable" and cannot make it to full maturity (often by death) then it cannot be a person. For him that would mean recognizing millions of deaths that occur even without our knowledge. And he would be correct, that is the truth. He is unwilling to face that truth. Unwillingness to face the truth, Dr. Caplan, is not science. That is bias.

The truth is truth. And it shows us an ugly reality. Sin causes death in our bodies even from the moment of conception. The magnitude of death that Dr. Caplan rightly makes evident on the basis of science shows us how sin-stricken the world really is.

It causes us to recognize how fallen we are and brings us to call out Kyrie Eleison, "Lord, have mercy". And He does. He sent Jesus to bring life by his atoning death. He sent Jesus to be our only help from sin and death. He is our salvation, even in the midst of such suffering. While the minds of men through the trial and error of science can indeed help us to discover a little more about this world that God has created, it cannot save us, and it does not have all the answers.

So, Dr. Caplan, please take a note from your own book.

Keep your biases out of science.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If It Ain't Broke...

...why do you want to break it?

The past couple days I attended a conference for new pastors (1-3 years in the ministry). The topic was building ministry. I was saddened by the Kansas District in their attempt to show the newbies how to do worship.

There were three things I noticed about the conference:
1) Though the conference was called "building worship", it wasn't so much about worship as it was about exposing us to different forms of worship.

This could have been an immensely helpful conference. There are many ways in which we could have talked about building worship. We could have had a workshop that explores the options available in the Lutheran Service Builder. We could have talked about integration of choir/instrumentalists in the Divine Service (even include the soft rock options, if we must cover that). We could have talked about using the Synod-wide hymnal and its different services throughout the church year. We could have had a presenter on building the bulletin (or power point) to better assist with worship.

...but we didn't do anything of the sort.
The Liturgy of Lord of Life
w/ My Thoughts

Instead, we we taken to Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Leawood, KS. It's a marvelous building. They have facilities that can make churches covet. However, the church was designed to lend itself solely to contemporary music. It had no organ. There were no stained glass windows. The altar was moveable. The cross can be removed completely from the sanctuary, and is on occasion. There were no pews, but locking chairs. Which, to be fair, is just fine. The church of God can exist even where there is nothing but his Word. Regardless, in this space we were taken through the steps of contemporary worship.

Here is the liturgy that we used on Monday night. Notice that the formula of worship is rather common among non-denominational churches. Other than the shout out to Holy Communion, it's pretty much the same.

By the way, the confession was a "metaphor" taken from Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. And since this was a metaphorical confession, I guess the forgiveness was metaphorical as well because the Pastor did not declare those confessed sins as forgiven. Or perhaps it just wasn't clear to me that he was saying that my metaphorical sins were forgiven. Which should raise red flags about clarity.

My main question for all this is: Why? Why all the changes, if many of the "parts" are still there?

The following morning, we were taken to St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Kansas City, KS. What an amazing congregation. It is an old established congregation, served by a wonderful pastor. They do such amazing works of service and have such a thriving social ministry, that it would do anyone who wants to know about such things to pick their brains.

At this congregation, we went through what the District Officers said was "traditional" worship. We used Creative Worship. My heart sink when I saw the liturgy. It had been tinkered with among other things. To be fair, the confession that it brings about is a specific one, but it doesn't have the grind in it as when you confess before God that you are "poor miserable sinner" in need of his forgiveness. It's really not all that "creative" as its name sounds anyway.

Again, my question: Why?

2) We are not about forming a unified Synod, but about forming cliques for those within our Synod.

One of the main thrusts of the conference seemed to be to drill in the idea that we have different forms of worship to draw in different kinds of people. There are those that like soft rock, and those that don't. There is the understanding that if we all do our own thing, everything we do is equally beneficial. And we have to offer as many products as possible, so that we reach as many people as possible. I heard it over and over again, some are able to do contemporary worship and some are not able to do it, thus they don't.

This observation is one that brings to light one of the main problems with a "you do your thing, I'll do my thing" understanding of worship. While I know there will never be one unified group of people all doing the same liturgy on Sunday morning, there is something about "one holy Christian (catholic) and apostolic church" that says we are striving for unity in Christ, not only in faith but in the way that we receive our Savior in worship on a weekly basis.

I did not see this striving at all. What I understood was, let me do my thing, and you do yours. It seems that there is a desire not to talk about things anymore. Saying "I'm ok with 'contemporary'," or "I'm ok with 'traditional'," doesn't really cut it. It just keeps us divided and doesn't allow anyone to express concerns that someone may have with their worship.

From what I saw, we are happy being divided and forming cliques within the Synod. Just make sure the nerds don't mingle with the jocks.

3) Are people really going to church for the right reasons? Are they really Christians?

Finally, while it is one thing to say that a certain form brings people into church, but are we willing to go as far to say that it keeps them in the church? The debate is often over getting people to know Jesus, so get them in anyway that is possible. But what about the opposite end? Must people continue to have that contemporary music to remain not only in the Lutheran Church with right doctrine and teaching, but also must they have it to remain a Christian?

Are people going to church for the right reasons? Are they being fed and nourished as they should be? Are they receiving Christ in such a manner that it is to Jesus Christ they cling and no other? I often pose this question, and posed it during a Q&A session during the conference. If there were no organs, and no hymnals, and if there were no electricity for guitars and laser guns (let the reader understand), and there were no instruments but the human vocal chords which sang and preached the Word of God, would there still be members at your church? Would they still cling fast to the teaching of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and hold the forgiveness he brings so dear, that they would stay?

While I will not make judgments on an individual basis, anyone who leaves the church because of personal preference, instead of the false doctrine taught therein, probably doesn't know what Jesus has done for them, nor what they receive from Christ Jesus when the come to church.

Again, I'm not making the judgment, but am delivering the message. Clearly this last section is less clear than the others, but it should provide a thought provoking question? Do they remain for Jesus, or for the music?


With what we're doing in the Kansas District and throughout the Synod with our liturgies, I have to wonder about Humpty Dumpty. Is the liturgy taking a great fall, or are we egging our father's houses? I'm afraid that before we answer that question as a Synod, we won't be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

But that's ok. Because while all the king's horses and all the kingsmen (again, let the reader understand) won't be able to put Humpty back together again...

...the King can.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lutheran Blessings

Why am I a Lutheran?

There are many thoughts about why a person might be a member of a certain denomination:

From a cynical perspective, one might say that a person is simply born into a denomination and sticks with it. A person doesn't really believe the denomination's doctrine, he or she merely attends because that is simply where they grew up.

The person "church shopping" might be looking for an active social environment. They might be looking for a place where they are welcome. Doctrine is far from the their minds.

Then there are those who look at doctrine and consider "the truth".
People get into the argument about "what is truth?"
They might question the method used in interpreting the bible. Is the bible figurative of literal? To what degree?

Why, then, am I a Lutheran?
It's not for simply growing up Lutheran (though I did). It's not about being part of a group that socializes (though that is very much a blessing). Instead, it is because we look at the bible and see that Adam and Eve were sinners cast out of the Garden of Eden.We see that they should have been struck down and killed for their sin, yet God spared them and clothed them and cared for them all for the sake of the Messiah he promised to send. I am a Lutheran because I am as great a sinner as Adam and Eve, and without God sending his Son to save me, I would not be here today... at all.

There is that recognition that I am a poor miserable sinner hopelessly lost unless someone would save and redeem me, and that drives me to Christ. Lutheranism rightly teaches that Christ Jesus comes in the preached Word and through the Sacraments to forgive my sins and preserve me unto life everlasting. This is the heart and soul of Lutheranism, and the heart and soul of Christianity.

This is why I am a Lutheran.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Yoke of Christ

On Sunday, August 7th, 2011, I was ordained into the office of the Holy Ministry and installed as pastor of both Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hepler, KS, and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Erie, KS.

The responsibility of this office is weighty. Preach a faithful Law/Gospel sermon. Make sure the Gospel is preached clearly. Make sure the phrase "Sir, I want to see Jesus" stays with me throughout all pastoral care. Do not neglect the sick and the elderly. Visit the shut-ins. Provide for the education of the children in the knowledge of the Scriptures and Christian faith. And the list goes on.

Today is Thursday morning and that weighty responsibility still rest upon my shoulders. Yet, I am reminded by Paul that it is not my office to which I must attend, but Christ's. He writes in Ephesians 3:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
To preach Christ, to teach Christ, to give Christ to the people... rests in Christ's hands. I am but his instrument that He has chosen by the gift of God's grace, ...given to me by the working of his power.

+Kyrie Eleison+