Thursday, April 30, 2009

Goals for Christian Education

At the April voters’ meeting of Emmanuel Lutheran Church I presented an outline of Christian education goals for the congregation. Here is the text from a pamphlet I am working on:

The Gospel

of Christ rescues and renews human souls.

It is the heart and center of the Christian faith. Therefore, out of respect for peoples’ eternal souls, we at Emmanuel Lutheran Church maintain an absolute, unrelenting focus on forgiveness and the means by which Christ promises it.



We know that people—at school, at work, or wherever—are constantly confronted by personal and corporate “bait and switch” hypocrisy, so we strive to teach the Christian faith with historic authenticity: straight-up, no gimmicks. We know that Christ calls the church to be “in the world but not of the world.” Thus, like our Lord, we “meet people where they’re at”—we welcome all, regardless of background or situation—but we do not leave them there. All Christians are called to discipleship, and it is a lifelong journey.



The purpose of all Christian education at Emmanuel is:


to develop a comprehensive Biblical literacy

     (i.e., know what the Bible says); and

to develop a comprehensive doctrinal literacy

     (i.e., know what the Bible means); so that we might

instill a comprehensive Christian worldview

     (i.e., believe the Gospel and live it out).


From Christian Education

The Church is not like a fast-food restaurant or department store selling products that are here today and gone tomorrow. Our “business” is the Word of God, which is eternal and true. Therefore, all instruction aims to instill in the Baptized the confidence that comes with Christ’s forgiveness; all instruction aims to teach people who they are in Christ and prepare them to think and act wisely; all instruction aims to help people lead lives of “daily contrition and repentance.” 

—The People of Emmanuel Lutheran Church

Adopted 26 April, A.D. 2009

Rethinking Confirmation in Light of the Classical Education Model

Rethinking Confirmation in Light of the Classical Education Model

By Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell

30 April, A.D. 2009

There is quite a debate going on over at the blog four and twenty + blackbirds concerning the age at which someone is admitted to Holy Communion (cf. ). This debate touches on a host of issues that I have been pondering for some time…

Of particular interest to me as the Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Van Wert, Ohio is my sorrow, regret, angst, fear, hope, and love regarding our catechumens’ (i.e., those being taught The Faith) ability to understand, articulate and practice the Christian faith in a pluralistic culture.

Recently I attended all the lectures of Dr. Susan Wise Bauer (scion and apologist of classical education in the home) at the 2009 Midwest Home School Convention. These lectures are helping me articulate long-pondered thoughts and ideas related to Christian catechesis. In her lecture, “The Joy of Classical Education at Home,” Dr. Bauer outlined the basic structure of the classical model, which she likened to a house with roof and foundation. Here is her outline from


The foundation: principles of teaching

Language intensive (reflective, not reactive)

Trains the mind to learn

Demands self-discipline

The walls:

Grammar stage learning

Logic stage learning

Rhetoric stage learning

Use of living books and original sources

Distinction: skills vs. content

The roof:

The chronological study of history


Here I depict Dr. Bauer’s outline graphically:

From Recently Updated

In further posts I will ponder how this model may adapted for catechesis in my congregation.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Agitator by Bill Simmons

Ok, I'm not a huge Bill Simmons fan (ESPN's "The Sports Guy"), but I laughed while delaying sleep this evening and reading section 10, "The Agitator," of his column, "One for the Ages." If you like sports and can appreciate the way some guys on another team can really tick you off, section 10 at least is a good read. Here it is:

I Dig the Phifer Reader!

At the 2009 Midwest Home School Convention in Cincinnati I encountered a wonderful little device intended to help people read in myriad situations. The device is called the Phifer Reader (see There are a number of pictures below of the reader sitting atop my treadmill with Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover nestled nicely inside it. I did a one-hour brisk walk (with a couple stops to discipline young children!) reading the Ramsey book and the Phifer Reader held it nicely and enabled me to flip pages with no trouble. I'm hooked!!! You have to see the web site to see all that this little creation is capable of, but if you're a multi-tasker I can already tell you that it's v-e-r-y handy.

From Phifer Reader

From Phifer Reader

From Phifer Reader

More on the Midwest Home School Conference in Cincinnati

A friend sent a comment with a question for further information and suggestions for getting started with home schooling. Here's my reply:

The book The Well-Trained Mind is foundational, but it can be a bit overwhelming at first. A good place to start might be the text we purchased at the convention entitled Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer. Another good option will be to view her blog and other options at A further option would be to purchase a couple lectures from the convention. These were recorded by To give you a good flavor for the "Why?" and possibilities of homeschooling, try listening to "The Joy of Classical Education at Home" (labeled B12 by Rhino Technologies) or "Writing Well: A Plan for Grades 1-12" (G54), both by Susan Wise Bauer.

Dr. Bauer is no-nonsense, direct, and exceedingly intelligent. All of these are qualities I appreciate and these are helpful for someone who really wants not just the dog and pony show for homeschooling but the nitty-gritty truth. I went to every lecture she gave and I appreciated every one. It's a pity, actually, that I didn't learn about the conference she is putting on in May. I might have scheduled for us to do that instead. After hearing her lectures in Cincinnati I will take every opportunity I can get to hear her.

Those considering home schooling should talk to people they trust who are involved, and then also talk to others. There are lots of cooperative groups depending on where you live and these can sometimes be valuable. It will depend GREATLY on where you live and who is doing what.

My apologies for the delay in getting this post up, and I welcome the further conversation.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mr. Sleepy Home School Dad

I have no idea who the man in the picture is, but this is a scream!!!

Taken on the final day of the three-day Midwest Home School Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, this picture illustates just how tired a lot of dads were.

Fortunately, Grandma took care of the kids while we were at the convention, but a lot of dad's were there watching the kids in the hallways of the convention center while mom was inside taking in lectures. By the mid-afternoon of the third day these dads were tired!

So, here's to Mr. Sleepy Home School Dad. I hope he found a better place to rest!
Posted by Picasa

2009 Midwest Home School Convention

Pictured here are Carrie and I at the recently completed 2009 Midwest Homeschool convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.

We focused our attention on the wisdom of Dr. Susan Wise Bauer, author (with her mother, Jessie Wise) of The Well-Trained Mind, the text that we are using to help us provide the classical-model framework for the O'Donnell Family Home School.

I hope to write more about this later . . .

Pictured further below are Carrie and teenage author Victoria Kastens. Victoria is a home-schooled ADD kid who has written several books, one of which we purchased for our budding author-illustrator, Siobhan.

At the very bottom is the "Nature's Workshop" booth. They have tons of cool stuff to help with the science side of things.

In any case, we had a lot of fun, and it was v-e-r-y worthwhile.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds

Pictured to the left is the altar cross of my congregation, Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Van Wert, Ohio. It is a lovely place to worship and I was in the sanctuary VERY early Easter morning because I had been called at 1:00 a.m. to what appeared to be the deathbed of a member. By about 3:30 a.m., however, my friend's condition stabilized, and so I headed back to the church to spend some time preparing for my 9:00 a.m. homily (A seminary fieldworker, Duncan Sprague, is preaching at the 6:30 a.m. "sonrise service.").

All of this made me think of a favorite hymn for The Resurrectin of Our Lord, "Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds"

Here is the text of that hymn as it appears in Lutheran Service Book:

Now all the vault of heav’n resoundsIn praise of love that still abounds: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!”Sing, choirs of angels, loud and clear!Repeat their song of glory here: “Christ has triumphed! Christ has triumphed!” Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Eternal is the gift He brings,Therefore our heart with rapture sings: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!”Now still He comes to give us lifeAnd by His presence stills all strife. Christ has triumphed! He is living! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

O fill us, Lord, with dauntless love;Set heart and will on things above That we conquer through Your triumph;Grant grace sufficient for life’s dayThat by our lives we truly say: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!” Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Adoring praises now we bringAnd with the heavn’ly bless├Ęd sing: “Christ has triumphed! Alleluia!”Be to the Father and our Lord,To Spirit blest, most holy God, All the glory, never ending! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Text (sts. 1–4): © 1958 Augsburg Publishing House
Tune: 2006 Concordia Publishing House.

He is risen, indeed!
Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 10, 2009

Meditation for Good Friday's "Chief Service"

Here is the meditation that I expect to deliver, God-willing, to those gathered this evening for the Good Friday "Chief Service" at Emmanuel Lutheran Church--Van Wert, Ohio . . .

Divine Economics: Suffering
Part III of the Holy Week Sermon Series
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Van Wert, Ohio

Good Friday
10 April, A.D. 2009
Isa 52.13-15.12; 2 Cor 5.14-21; Jn 18.1-19.42

CCT: We learn through the Passion of Christ to see through suffering to the joys of a reconciled life.

Introduction: Suffering is Alien

It would seem that we are doomed to suffer, that in the divine order of things--the "divine economics"--we are simply “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” but the truth is that suffering is alien to man . . . because man was made in the image and likeness of God, and “in God” were are told in First John 1, “there is no darkness at all.” (1 Jn 1.5)

Suffering is alien to man . . . that is why your sense of justice is aroused when someone talks behind your back at school, at work, or at home.

Suffering is alien to man . . . that is why your sense of justice is aroused when you are summarily layed-off, fired, or forced into retirement. 

Suffering is alien to us. This means, quite simply, that we were not intended to suffer. It is “foreign” to our nature. That is why, deep in our souls, we reject and despise suffering. Indeed, those made in the image and likeness of God were intended to live with boundless joy and purpose in the presence of God, and to steward a creation at one with its Trinitarian Creator.

I. The Reality of Suffering

Yet, our forefathers chose suffering when they denied God’s Word and coveted God’s place and status.

Let us not forget that. Let us not blame God for the world’s suffering.

Let us not forget that even we too, the Baptized, as the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, often choose to deny God’s Word and covet God’s place and status. 

Yet again, even as we choose suffering; perhaps, rather, as we “reap the harvest of sin,” there is something deep within us, the divinely-given sense of justice by which we know our right sentence, by which we cry for help, that knows deep-down, that we cannot help ourselves out of this predicament.

II. Justice is Done

Witness, then, fellow sinner-saints, the greatest injustice in history. Even Pilate recognized it. “This man has done nothing wrong!” he cried out to the crowd, and yet in fear and cowardice they cried out, and we (in a sense) with them, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” 

Witness Him, brethren, for He does not cry out for revenge. Why?

Why? Because He is The Lamb, the perfect final offering, and--all appearances to the contrary--the cross is His throne. The cross is His throne becasue He was there at the Creation. He was the one walking in the Garden. He was the One who later wrestled with Jacob, the One Job knew he would see face-to-face. He who participated in the “very good” Creation knew what justice demanded, and effectively said, as we will sing in a moment: 

“Yes, Father, yes, most willingly
I’ll bear what You command Me.
My will conforms to Your decree,
I’ll do what You have asked Me.” 
(“A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” Lutheran Service Book #438:3. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006)
You see, as odd as it may seem, the cross is the end of true suffering. We will never endure the Son of God’s suffering, being utterly forsaken by the Father. His very purpose in ascending the cross is to avert that doom for us. This is why the Scriptures say that He went to the cross “for the joy set before Him.” (Heb 12.2)

We are His joy. He takes our punishment that we--though Him--might know the love of the Father; that we might have the image and likeness of God restored and live again--in spite of the difficulties and challenges of living “between the ages”--with boundless joy and purpose in the presence of God, using our gifts without fear and stewarding a creation that, like us, is between the times and groaning in eager expectation for the Son of God’s return.

Conclusion: Seeing Through Suffering

So it is that with the eyes of faith we now see through challenges and suffering for even the challenges and “suffering” of this life are redeemed by Him.

Thus, in thankfulness, we will conclude today:

Your cross I place before me;
Its saving pow’r restore me,
Sustain me in the test.
It will, when life is ending,
Be guiding and attending
My way to Your eternal rest.
(“Upon the Cross Extended.” Lutheran Service Book #453:7. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006)

Believing and Baptized, you are His. His victory over the cross and grave is your victory. His triumph is your triumph.

Yes, in a sense, we suffer in these last days, and that is a challenge, but do not be afraid, for suffering could not hold him, and you are His. Amen

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday--"Divine Economics: Food & Shelter"

Divine Economics: Food & Shelter
Part II of the Holy Week Sermon Series
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Van Wert, Ohio

Maundy Thursday
9 April, A.D. 2009
Ex 12.1-14; 1 Cor 11.23-32; Jn 13.1-15 (34-35)

CCT: In the Supper of Our Lord our most basic human needs converge: food and shelter for our bodies and souls.


“Divine economics,” as I said on Sunday, is not a Holy Week fundraising drive. “Economics” is literally about the order or structure of things, so when we speak of “Divine Economics” we are speaking about the way that God orders or structures things. 

On Palm Sunday we spoke about how the events of that day relate to the most fundamental of God’s institutions, the family. Today as we remember with great solemnity the first celebration of The Lord’s Supper we also remember the whole of Jesus’ teaching on Holy Thursday, most notably His display of love and service in washing the disiples’ feet. In remembering these things we will place special emphasis today on God’s order of things in providing for our most basic needs: food and shelter.

Let’s take each of those in turn--food then shelter--and then reflect upon them in light of Jesus’ “new command.”

I. Food

A. Daily Bread 

In the Fourth Petition of The Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Indeed, we need food to live, and in teaching us to ask for our daily bread the Lord Jesus reminds us that “God give daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

God promises to give us what we need, daily bread.

“Daily bread,” we learn in the Small Catechism, “includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”

B. Bread and Love

There is who whole “food chain,” a whole system beginning with the basic human institution, the family, that leads to the most basic needs on our tables. 

And this calls to mind Jesus’ command to the disciples in the Upper Room: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13.34) The Christian life is to be characterized by love; that is, by--in the words of St. Paul--“looking not just to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2.4) This call to love extends to every area of our lives. We tend to forget this, to lose sight of it, but faithful work--wherever that work is--is an act of love. Showing up and doing a good job, being willing to serve faithfully, is one of the ways in which we show love for one another. I will speak more about this on Sunday morning, but it is well that we remember what our Small Catechism teaches. Our most basic physical need, daily bread, “includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body,” and that includes our loving and faithful work.

C. Bread for the Soul

But there is another bread of which the Scriptures speak, another human need. Jesus speaks of this in at the beginning of His public ministry, in the text with which we began our Lenten journey, His temptations in the wilderness . . .

“If you are the Son of God,” said the devil, “tell these stones to become bread.” And our Lord Jesus replied, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And after the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus expanded on this, saying:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6.51)

Just as basic as the need of food for the body is the need of food for the soul, for man--as you will recall--is made in the image and likeness of God. Man has an immortal soul, and the Word of God is the soul’s sustenance.

We will return to this in a moment, but first let’s also consider our need for shelter.

II. Shelter

If you really think about it, our most basic bodily “shelter” is our clothing. A “roof over our head” is just an extension of this. Listen, on that note, to this familiar teaching of Jesus:

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Matthew 6.28-29)

Here, as with food, Jesus is reminding us that God provides for our most basic needs, yet shelter--like food--is provided by a great chain of gifts and labor, the “labor of love” about which we spoke a moment ago.

Yet, with shelter as with food, there is more to the story. Psalm 91.1-2 speaks of this:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 
I will say  to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, 
my God, in whom I trust.”
And, of course, Jesus speaks of this in the remainder of the passage from Matthew Six:

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6.30-35)

Which brings us back, then, to the Upper Room . . .

III. Heaven and Earth Come Together

Our Lord Jesus, on the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it, and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My Body, which is given for you.
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you. This cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Friends, this is clearly Jesus’ “last will and testament.” The book of Hebrews puts all this in context: 

Therefore he [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.  For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood . . .  22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9.15-18, 22)

And that is what we truly need . . .

For, clearly, we who have been called to love have failed to do so. Even the “best of us” must recognize that even our “good deeds” are often filled with self-indulgence, with “what’s in it for me?” or “what will I get out of this?” For the rest of us it is--dare we say?--much worse than that. Whether passive-aggressively or otherwise, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Even in our own families we at times are vindictive, unthankful, corrosive. We who know the Love of the Ages in Christ, who have witnessed and believed His mercy to us, have fallen prey to the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

We need more than earthly food and shelter. . .

We need heavenly shelter, that is, protection from the perils of our sins . . . And in the Supper Christ mediates to us the forgiveness of sins won by His innocent suffering and death and glorious resurrection from the dead.

Recognizing our weakness, our inability to cultivate our own godliness, we need food for our souls, the Message that we live not under the threat of punishment but under the grace of God, and--again--in the Supper Christ promises us just that, the forgiveness of sins. And we know that where there is the forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.

Today we remember that [CCT:] in the Supper of Our Lord our most basic human needs converge: food and shelter for our bodies and souls.


The bread and wine of Christ’s Supper are real food, but combined with Christ’s Word of Promise they are much more than that.  The clothes that we wear and the roof over our head provide real protection, but even all of Solomon’s splendor could not compare to the Robe of Righteousness that you wear through faith in the promise of Christ.

So, today, as you leave this place with the solemnity of the stripped altar, you leave with the love of Christ coursing through your veins and a truly heavenly protection, for nothing can separate us  from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pictures from the Sanctuary of My Congregation

Here is a video that I put together yesterday with music from the Kantorei of Concordia Theological Seminary and pictures of the stained glass and some artifacts in the church building.

Here, at least in part, is my thanks to The Lord for his saints of old here who sacrificed time, talent and treasure to erect a place of worship that is lovely and conducive to the teaching and hearing of Christ's Word.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Contending for the Faith and the Future of CTS

Looks like Concordia Theological Seminary has put together a very worthwhile one day conference on "Contending for the Faith" (Friday night, May1, and all day Saturday, May 2).

The faculty member behind this is Dr. Adam Francisco, an understudy of LCMS apologetics-guru Rod Rosenblatt at Concdia University-Irvine. Dr. Francisco got his doctorate from Oxford in Islamic history and theolgy, so he's no dummy. :) They've put together a fine lineup of speakers, including himself. My wife and I have gotten to know the Franciscos fairly well (He married Rachel Newton, who's a missionary kid and daughter of LCMS California-Nevada-Hawaii District President, Dr. Bob Newton.). They've written a couple small books together--fascinating to be around if you get the chance. Interestingly, if you didn't know, he's not a pastor, but he's certainly a very learned man with a great passion to defend the faith at the highest level. You might not guess it at first, but he's a former Navy SEAL, so he brings that energy to his teaching and presentations. He is part of the "new blood" on the CTS campus, and I'm thankful for that, as I hope his presence on the faculty and events like this become more common again. 

Concordia Theological Seminary was founded as a confessional Lutheran missionary seminary, that is, as a seminary that understands a firm confession of the Christian faith and missionary zeal to be a unity, not a dichotomy. My hope, my prayer really, is that events like this signify a CTS willing to take on the "edge" of confessional mission, to explore the post-Constantinian world more vigorously. 

All this is to say, if you get a chance to go, I think it will be worthwhile. Plus, the price ($50) is doable.

Yours in Christ,

P.S. Here's the link to the conference's information page. On the top is a short and edgy promo video that a number of friends just posted on Facebook.