Monday, December 20, 2010

NYTimes: A Tough Season for Believers

An interesting read with a conclusion that aptly summarizes the situation and challenges for American Christians...

From The New York Times:

A Tough Season for Believers

Christmas is hard for everyone. But it's particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Sermon Mini-Series at St. Philip



Getting your company through a recession - Recessions - Accounting Solutions Ltd

The essay link below is from the front page of a business web site. The business is owned by a member of my congregation, but I call it to the public's attention because it is a very unusual piece of business advice. It's about the things that are most important, the things that are the foundation of any business or enterprise.

I'm particularly struck by this:
Everyone loses something in a depression. Make sure that it is something you can afford to lose. Your marriage, your health, your honor, your relationships with your family and friends... how can you replace these? Yet the inexperienced seem to sacrifice these first.

That quote has inspired a Christmas sermon mini-series at my congregation. Give this essay a shot. It's well worth your time.

Getting your company through a recession - Recessions - Accounting Solutions Ltd

Monday, December 6, 2010

Encouragement for Pastor and People in Advent and Christmas


I really appreciate the encouragement that the new President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod offers—to laypeople and clergy alike—in his Advent message.

NYTimes: The Changing Culture War

What does this mean for the church in general and Lutherans in particular?

From The New York Times:

The Changing Culture War

Middle America retreats from marriage, and religion.

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reasoning for Three-Year-Olds and Influencing Behavior

I am a very imperfect parent, and I am trying to do better than just “Do this because I said so,” though that is a perfectly acceptable reason now and then. On this note, I had an amusing interchange with my three-year-old this morning that illustrates both my lack of creativity and his delightful reasoning…

Dad (to 3-yr-old who is holding himself): Son, you need to go potty.

3YO: I don't want to go potty.

Dad: Son, you need to go potty.

3YO: No. I don't want to go potty.

Dad: Son, you need to go potty.

3YO (resolutely): No.

Dad (a little steamed): Did you just tell me “no”?

3YO: I don’t want to go potty.

Dad: I know you don’t want to go potty, but you need to.

3YO: No.

Dad (heating up): Ok. Well you can go to the potty, or you go to your room and be all by yourself. [Pregnant pause from Dad while he searches for a more graceful option than just either-or.] Or, you can have a spanking. Which do you want?

3YO (with certainty): I want to go potty.

I’m thinking about the book Nudge that I started but never finished: Sometimes influencing behavior is just about asking the right questions.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

NCAA D-1 Football Playoff Proposal

I used to hate the idea of a college football playoff. I have changed my mind.

I enjoy Division 1 college football and I know that the NCAA crowns football champions in its other divisions by means of playoffs. I enjoy rewarding teams that have had success a trip to a warm-weather bowl game. I enjoy the drama of the NCAA D-1 men’s basketball tournament and think a playoff in football would offer not only drama but also provide the athletes a much better opportunity to prove, on the field, who is the national champion. I also know that, as the NCAA advertisement says, most of these kids will “go pro” in something other than football. They’re students, and they need to turn back to academics after the New Year.

After reading several proposals over the past couple years, including the 16 team proposal by Dan Wetzel that I read today and the earlier eight team proposal by Sports Illustrated (Sorry, I cannot find the link.), here is a modest D-1 football playoff proposal.

NCAA D-1 Football Playoff Proposal


Last Sat in Nov: Conference Championships
1st Sat in Dec: No games
2nd Sat in Dec: Round of 16*
3rd Sat in Dec: Round of 8*
4th Sat in Dec: Bowls
Dec 31st: Great Bowls
Jan 1st: Great Bowls + Final 4
Following Sat: National Championship

The Bids

I think I like Weztel’s idea to give automatic bids to the conference champions. I’m not sure about the NCAA basketball-style selection committee for the five at-large bids. I might like borrowing from the old SI proposal and just use the BCS formula to award the remaining available bids.

The Schedule

Quite frankly, I would rather require these athletes and staffs to go home on Thanksgiving weekend or catch up on school work, but a lot of these conferences will have championship games and it looks like that is the weekend for them. After the conference championship Saturday, it makes sense to give the playoff teams an extra week to rest and prepare for the round of 16. The high seeds get the reward of playing at home for rounds one and two, but I offer this caveat: give the home team 70-80% of the tickets and let the home team decide where the game is played.

I make this last suggestion because many of these schools are “northern” and would be playing in December. For example, though Michigan’s “Big House” is a phenomenal location, it can be pretty nasty weather-wise in Ann Arbor in mid-December. If beautiful Ford Field in Detroit were available and you gave the team 80% of the tickets at a venue like that, they might say that’s the way to go.

The proposed schedule provides another break around the Christmas holiday. This gives some time for the playoff teams and their families to get together, but also provides opportunities for the existing bowl games that operate. In that week following Christmas the bowls operate up through the the late afternoon of January 1st.

It might make sense with the Dec 31 and Jan 1 bowls to call them (for lack of a better name at this time) the “Great Bowls.” These bowls may have some formula, perhaps allowing those defeated in the rounds of 16 and 8 an opportunity to compete against other teams.

My proposal suggests that January first have the football version of the Final Four at night, with the first game at around 6pm and then have the national championship game on the following Saturday.

All of this get us a reasonably undisputed national champion, keeps the regular season very meaningful, grants independents and BCS-busters like Boise State a real shot, keeps bowls and the warm weather travel opportunity, and gets it all done before everyone has to show up for the second semester.

This surely doesn’t consider everything, but that is not my interest. My interest is summarized in the paragraph above. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Seated with Jesus

Matthew 9:9-13 (ESV)
9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I am thankful to be seated with Jesus.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Man convicted of murder in DUI crash that killed Nick Adenhart - MLB -

Just months after my father died in a car crash in 1992 (He had a heart attack at the wheel and crashed into a tree.), my younger brother's best friend was killed by a drunk driver going up the wrong side of the highway. The story below and about the deaths of A's pitcher Nick Adenhart and his friends illustrates just how dangerous it is to drink and drive, and raises the "curious" cases of Braylon Edwards of the New York Jets and other professional athletes who suffer little penalty for drunk driving. True, Edwards didn't kill anyone (Thank God.), but in driving at twice the legal limit he all-but fired a weapon in a public place. Gilbert Arenas of the NBA's Washington Wizards goes to jail and loses a full year of play and salary after carrying a weapon into his locker room, but Mr. Edwards and others in the NFL get to play and make game-winning catches, for example, just days after arrests for "driving while intoxicated."

It's time to take drunk driving more seriously. If you want your players to be role models, NFL, MLB, NBA, etc., then it's time for more than a slap on the wrist, even if the offense doesn't injure someone.

Man convicted of murder in DUI crash that killed Nick Adenhart - MLB -

Friday, September 10, 2010


My wife and I have talked on-and-off for years about whether to institute an “allowance” policy for our children. At present, we still do not have them…

With this in mind I downloaded a few of National Public Radio (NPR) “Planet Money” podcasts, including “Allowance Economics: Candy, Taxes, and Potty Training” from September 3, 2010. The interview features Australian economist, Joshua Gans, who as a father of three young children has been toying for years with his own system of incentives in his household.

I listened intently while on the treadmill this morning. I am curious to hear from other parents about their allowance policies.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Christian Leadership with Depth and Authenticity

The new President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Rev. Matthew Harrison, has a degree of theological depth and a personal authenticity that I admire greatly. I have just listened—again—to his first media interview on the day of his election.

The interview occurs on a formerly sanctioned but now “independent” Lutheran radio program called “Issues, etc” (The story of how this happened is found in this Wall Street Journal column.).  I am not as regular a listener as I would like, but—now and then—I turn to for important reflection on key issues that affect us.

For those who want to hear an excellent example of depth and humility in Christian servant-leadership, click here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reporting on the “End” of Combat in Iraq

It’s hard to believe that after seven years of direct U.S. military involvement in Iraq, the loss of millions of lives, the spending of billions of dollars, that it is barely news. I would have thought that it would be right under the masthead in the nation’s premier media outlets, but pictured below are today’s front pages of the on-line versions of the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and Time magazine. The end of combat is not mentioned.image



These images were taken between 0600 and 0615 Central time in Chicago.

I remember September 11, 2001, the visit of George Tenet to the Oval Office, the buildup to this war, the speech of Colin Powel before the United Nations, the countless images of the dead and maimed and displaced. I still think that if my CIA director walked into my oval office and said something like (as I understand what Mr. Tenet said) “Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” that I would not have made a different decision than President Bush. I hope history shows that some good comes from this decision, for all involved, but as far as I can see right now it has been mostly tragic.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this reporting, but something is missing this morning…

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Great Teams Change Lives

A Facebook post by my high school team mate, Jim Shields, got me thinking about what a difference being part of a good team can be for someone’s life…

I graduated from Frankenmuth High School (Frankenmuth, Michigan) in 1988 and had the honor of playing on two of the finest boys teams in Frankenmuth High School history. Both the football and basketball teams went to the state semifinals after outstanding seasons. For now, I focus on the football team.

Jim Shields (mentioned above) was our all-state punter and kicker. While we were crushed by eventual state champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the state semis at Alma College, I will never forgot the busloads of CC kids getting out, coming in to the stands, and gasping as Jim Shields rocked pre-game practice punts into the stratosphere.

Jim was just one of several outstanding athletes on that team. Scott Jacobs was an all-state wide receiver. We had a fine quarterback in Myron Mauer, a great compliment of linemen (One of whom, Troy Reinert, still (I believe) holds as sack record at FHS and another, Steve Heinlein, who went on the Air Force Academy.), and all-conference caliber players all over the field.

One of our running backs, Paul Sica, gave one of great out-of-body athletic performances I have ever seen in that state semifinal. I’m confident he didn’t show the coaches before the game, but Paul opened his mouth in a pre-game huddle and showed us tonsils the size of golf balls. I don’t know how the guy could breath! He was totally miserable and played his guts out. Many of us remember Michael Jordan’s famous “flu game” against Utah (1996?). Respectfully, I’ll put Paul’s effort that day up there with Jordan’s or anyone else’s for that matter. There was no money on the line, no scholarship, just the commitment to us—the team—and to excellence that competition provided us.

If you click here you’ll see a web page with a single game playoff interception record at FHS. It has my name on it. Elsewhere my name appears for a single season total of six. Some historian of FHS football years from now might look at these records and come to a silly conclusion. The fact is that I had little business being on that field.

My “backup” was a superior athlete named Scott Jackson, who went on to start the following year as a senior and set all kinds of records. Scott could dunk at basketball when he was 5’6”. He was a great athlete, and he played sparingly because I was a senior, the student body president, and because I worked hard in practice. (Our head coach, Ralph Munger, tried to reward guys like me with playing time because he believed it was best for the team in the long-run. He’s now become a Michigan high school legend at Rockford High School.)

I got six interceptions that season, in part because nobody wanted to throw anywhere near all-stater Scott Jacobs, who played defensive back next to me, and because we had a tremendous defensive line and linebacker corps who made life miserable for the opposing offenses. At least two of those six interceptions almost literally fell into my lap. One was a tipped ball that was stupidly thrown by the quarterback at the end of the game. I got a touchdown for that one. (Thanks for the block, Jim Frank.) Another was a “Hail Mary” at the end of the first playoff game against Cheboygan that the quarterback just heaved into the air and I ended up being the one in the pile who came up with the ball.

There are many lessons from all this, but the high school football experience, especially, was life-changing for me, giving me confidence and a sense of accomplishment as I ventured off, away from my family, for my tumultuous college years. I had some success in high school football because I was a decent athlete on a team of great athletes that had coaches that expected us to maximize our potential and gave us every opportunity to do so.

Our coaches, knowing the talent we had from the time we were in elementary school, spent years encouraging, cajoling, and developing both the talent and the commitment to one another that would allow us to achieve personal and corporate successes that most of us could not have imagined when we were on the playground as little children. That team did not just “appear.” It was molded and shaped over many years, and it changes all of our lives for the better. 

May God give us who are now in leadership the vision and commitment to personal and corporate excellence, to develop and use our God-given gifts for the good of our neighbor, that we might mold and shape great teams in our families and workplaces, for great teams change lives.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Marriage of Priests

marriage_460x The Roman Catholic church has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals in recent years. Sadly, this is nothing new.

The chief confessional document of the Lutheran Reformation, The Augsburg Confession (1530), in Article 23 speaks of complaints about “unchaste” priests and then makes the Biblical case for the marriage thereof.

My own assessment is that many Lutherans tend to overstate the case for marriage in practice. Whereas St. Paul encourages men and women to be single ("I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." –1 Corinthians 7:7, ESV), we often do not properly warn those who would be married of the worldly challenges Paul speaks of for married people.

Article 23 (below) speaks well of the blessings and challenges of marriage for those men who would service in the Office of the Holy Ministry, making the Biblical case therefore, but also upholding the Biblical teaching that some have the “gift of chastity.”

Article XXIII: Of the Marriage of Priests.

1] There has been common complaint concerning the examples of priests who were not chaste. 2] For that reason also Pope Pius is reported to have said that there were certain causes why marriage was taken away from priests, but that there were far weightier ones why it ought to be given back; for so Platina writes. 3] Since, therefore, our priests were desirous to avoid these open scandals, they married wives, and taught that it was lawful for them to contract matrimony. First, because 4] Paul says, 1 Cor. 7, 2. 9: To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife. Also: It is better to marry than to burn. Secondly 5] Christ says, Matt. 19, 11: All men cannot receive this saying, where He teaches that not all men are fit to lead a single life; for God created man for procreation, Gen. 1, 28. 6] Nor is it in man’s power, without a singular gift and work of God, to alter this creation. [For it is manifest, and many have confessed that no good, honest, chaste life, no Christian, sincere, upright conduct has resulted (from the attempt), but a horrible, fearful unrest and torment of conscience has been felt by many until the end.] Therefore, 7] those who are not fit to lead a single life ought to 8] contract matrimony. For no man’s law, no vow, can annul the commandment and ordinance of God. For these reasons 9] the priests teach that it is lawful for them to marry wives.

10] It is also evident that in the ancient Church priests were married men. 11] For Paul says, 1 Tim. 3, 2, that a bishop should be chosen who is the husband of one wife. 12] And in Germany, four hundred years ago for the first time, the priests were violently compelled to lead a single life, who indeed offered such resistance that the Archbishop of Mayence, when about to publish the Pope’s decree concerning this matter, was almost killed in the tumult raised by the enraged priests. 13] And so harsh was the dealing in the matter that not only were marriages forbidden for the future, but also existing marriages were torn asunder, contrary to all laws, divine and human, contrary even to the Canons themselves, made not only by the Popes, but by most celebrated Synods. [Moreover, many God-fearing and intelligent people in high station are known frequently to have expressed misgivings that such enforced celibacy and depriving men of marriage (which God Himself has instituted and left free to men) has never produced any good results, but has brought on many great and evil vices and much iniquity.]

14] Seeing also that, as the world is aging, man’s nature is gradually growing weaker, it is well to guard that no more vices steal into Germany.

15] Furthermore, God ordained marriage to be a help against human infirmity. 16] The Canons themselves say that the old rigor ought now and then, in the latter times, to be relaxed because of the weakness of men; which it is to be wished were done also in this matter. 17] And it is to be expected that the churches shall at some time lack pastors if marriage is any longer forbidden.

18] But while the commandment of God is in force, while the custom of the Church is well known, while impure celibacy causes many scandals, adulteries, and other crimes deserving the punishments of just magistrates, yet it is a marvelous thing that in nothing is more cruelty exercised than against 19] the marriage of priests. God has given commandment to honor marriage. By the laws of all 20] well-ordered commonwealths, even among the heathen, marriage is most highly honored. 21] But now men, and that, priests, are cruelly put to death, contrary to the intent of the Canons, for no other cause than 22] marriage. Paul, in 1 Tim. 4, 3, calls that a doctrine of devils which forbids marriage. 23] This may now be readily understood when the law against marriage is maintained by such penalties.

24] But as no law of man can annul the commandment of God, so neither can it be done by any vow. 25] Accordingly, Cyprian also advises that women who do not keep the chastity they have promised should marry. His words are these (Book I, Epistle XI): But if they be unwilling or unable to persevere, it is better for them to marry than to fall into the fire by their lusts; they should certainly give no offense to their brethren and sisters.

26] And even the Canons show some leniency toward those who have taken vows before the proper age, as heretofore has generally been the case.

Concordia Triglotta - English : The Symbolic Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church,  (Milwaukee WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997), 65.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Buying wood for dinner

Our first night camping as a family of six...

Cooked steaks over the wood fire. Exquisite! I can't think of a steak that tasted better since my honeymoon in St. Maarten 14 years ago, and that was an $150 meal.

Good to have a getaway with the family!

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Monday, August 2, 2010

Confessing with Courage

paul_before_agrippa I love to hear the accounts of St. Paul’s witness. Today’s New Testament reading in the highly recommended Treasury of Daily Prayer is Acts 26.24-27.8, where Paul, a prisoner for the sake of the Gospel, makes his confession and missionary appeal to Kings Agrippa and Festus. Also included in the reading is the beginning account of Paul’s famous journey to Rome:

And as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are mad; your great learning is turning you mad.” But Paul said, “I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time you think to make me a Christian!” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them; and when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy, and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go on, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea." (Acts 26:24-27:8, RSV)

Here is the Treasury’s great prayer for the day:

Lord Jesus Christ, before whom all in heaven and earth shall bow, grant courage that Your children may confess Your saving name in the face of any opposition from a world hostile to the Gospel. Help them to remember Your faithful people who sacrificed much and even faced death rather than dishonor You when called upon to deny the faith. By Your Spirit, strengthen them to be faithful and to confess You boldly, knowing that You will confess Your own before the Father in heaven, with whom You and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, now and forever.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bacon, Context, Theological Education, and the Gospel

Viral among my LCMS friends recently was a YouTube video clip from non-denominational preacher Joel Osteen in which he spoke about the dangers of some foods (like bacon) prohibited in the Old Testament. To be fair, it is obviously an edited clip so we do not have the benefit of full context here. And, to be fair, some of the issues raised about the nature and quality of the food are to be taken seriously. Nobody would argue that bacon, for example, is a food so healthy that one should eat it every day.

The above being said, if the the entirety of the message is consistent with the clip then the man is preaching as the Word of God a dangerous distortion, for to suggest that it is against God’s will to eat pork, for example, is to display an ignorance of the Scriptures and theological implications of the incarnation.

In Mark 7.19 the Gospel tells us that Jesus “thus declared all foods clean.” In Acts 10 Jesus reaffirmed this to Peter, telling Peter to go ahead and eat the foods that had been prohibited before the New Testament. Peter reacted strongly to this, at which The LORD  replied, “Do not call anything unclean that I have made clean!”

Again, I refrain from utterly condemning the preacher here, for I do not have the full context, (The recent Shirley Sherrod incident should teach us—as it has taught President Obama—about being careful with context in internet videos.) but—for me—among the many other issues this raises is the importance of a good theological education for pastors. Now, even a good theological education can’t keep one from error, but (again, if this one is true) this one is one of those seemingly elementary errors that has serious theological and practical implications, for this error throws people back on to the keeping of “The Law” for salvation (see my earlier post from today.) and to do that is to TOTALLY UNDERMINE the essence of the Christian faith.

Friends, bacon is clearly not a health food, but it is not forbidden by God. Guard and protect your body by avoiding gluttony of all sorts, but don’t be afraid to enjoy the good things of the creation that have been declared “clean” in incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus.

On that note, here’s some country fried bacon from “Chicago’s must-try dishes” in the Chicago Tribune on-line:

country fried bacon

Love and Fulfilling the Law

There is a proper Biblical understanding of the relationship between justifying faith and the related good works. If this aspect of the faith is misunderstood it leads to utter despair. To understand this relationship rightly, on the other hand, is to have true peace with God and abiding freedom.

The readings for July 31st in The Treasury of Daily Prayer include—in addition to Ps 80.14-19; 1 Sam 16.1-23; and Acts 25.13-27—the beginning of Article 5 of The Apology of The Augsburg Confession (AAC), “Love and Fulfilling the Law.” This article brings comfort to the reader by explaining the Biblical relationship of faith and good works.

I am reading from the new Reader's Edition of The Book of Concord, the collection of faith statements that summarize Lutheran theology and which include the AAC. This edition includes the following helpful preparatory note on AAC V:

Good works do not cause justification; rather, they are the result of justification. Melanchthon [the writer of the AAC] carefully distinguishes between the effect of the Law before a person is justified and he effect of the Law after a person is justified. Rome had garbled these critical biblical distinctions with disastrous consequences. Melanchthon returns to them constantly, writing the longest article in the Apology. Lutherans believe that Christians improve at keeping the Law, and they require good works. However, good works are not necessary for salvation, but are the necessary fruit of salvation…

Copyright may prevent me from extensive quotations from the Reader’s Edition, so here are paragraphs 1-8 of AAC V from an older translation that is in the public domain. In a few places I have put explanatory material in brackets [italics]:

Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law.

1] Here the adversaries [Roman church] urge against us: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments, Matt. 19, 17; likewise: The doers of the Law shall be justified, Rom. 2, 13, and many other like things concerning the Law [10 Commandments] and works. Before we reply to this, we must first declare what we believe concerning love and the fulfilling of the Law.

2] It is written in the prophet, Jer. 31, 33: I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. And in Rom. 3, 31, Paul says: Do we, then, make void the Law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the Law. And Christ says, Matt. 19, 17: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Likewise, 1 Cor. 13, 3: If I have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 3] These and similar sentences testify that the Law ought to be begun in us, and be kept by us more and more [that we are to keep the Law when we have been justified by faith, and thus increase more and more in the Spirit]. Moreover, we speak not of ceremonies, but of that Law which gives commandment concerning the movements of the heart, namely, the Decalog [10 Commandments]. 4] Because, indeed, faith brings the Holy Ghost, and produces in hearts a new life, it is necessary that it should produce spiritual movements in hearts. And what these movements are, the prophet, Jer. 31, 33 shows, when he says: I will put My Law into their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. Therefore, when we have been justified by faith and regenerated, we begin to fear and love God, to pray to Him, to expect from Him aid, to give thanks and praise Him, and to obey Him in afflictions. We begin also to love our neighbors, because our hearts have spiritual and holy movements [there is now, through the Spirit of Christ a new heart, mind, and spirit within].

5] These things cannot occur until we have been justified by faith, and, regenerated, we receive the Holy Ghost: first, because the Law cannot 6] be kept without [the knowledge of] Christ; and likewise the Law cannot be kept without the Holy Ghost. But the Holy Ghost is received by faith, according to the declaration of Paul, Gal. 3, 14: That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 7] Then, too, how can the human heart love God while it knows that He is terribly angry, and is oppressing us with temporal and perpetual calamities? But the Law always accuses us always, shows that God is angry. [Therefore, what the scholastics say of the love of God is a dream.] 8] God therefore is not loved until we apprehend mercy by faith. Not until then does He become a lovable object. Concordia Triglotta - English : The Symbolic Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Milwaukee WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997), 161.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Creativity and Christian Education

This is a follow-up on a previous post in which I reflected upon economic ideas I heard from clips at the Aspen Ideas Festival

In the previous post I quoted futurist Richard Florida, who said:

Every single human being is creative. The key task of our time is to move behind an economic model where the creative talents of 30 or 35 percent are harnessed and utilized for economic gains . . . The true challenge of our time is to stoke the creative furnace that lies deep within every single individual.

I then went on to speak about my role as a pastor of a parochial school and my sense of what a Lutheran education can be:

My belief is that the Christian Gospel and the Lutheran understanding of vocation can and should undergird an education that rejoices in the unique gift of God that is each child. Only the Gospel of Christ truly sets one free; only the Word of God which proclaims this Gospel truly understands freedom. I believe this truth calls for teachers who are faithful disciples and passionate learners. I believe this calls for a dramatically different approach to just about every aspect of education. I believe this calls for courage on the part of parents and a true partnership with them in the education of their children. My struggle in this is analogous, I suspect, to that of many a business owner: How do we facilitate transformation?

Another presenter from the Aspen Ideas Festival, a man I am familiar with through the TED podcasts, is education and creativity specialist, Sir Ken Robinson. In the talk below from AIF he presents a summary of his latest book, The Element.

If you are interested in education, creativity, and helping people discover and utilize their God-given gifts, it’s 74 very valuable minutes. Surprising and wonderful is the video shown at about the 68 minute mark by the founders of The Blue Man group and the school they have begun.

Having seen this extended talk I’m rather interested in reading The Element with some others who want to explore the future of Lutheran education. Perhaps my planned Sunday night “Cana Bible Study” for this fall will become the “Cana Book Club.” We’ll see…

The Church and the New Economy

Back in the spring of 2009, before the possibility of a move to Chicago, I picked up a copy of The Atlantic monthly because I was a former subscriber and intrigued by the cover, "How the Crash Will Reshape America".

The author of the cover article, Richard Florida, thinks that the restructuring that is taking place is the most significant change in economic history. He believes that of the Midwestern cities Chicago is most likely to thrive. He has some particularly intriguing thoughts on home ownership, opining that it inhibits creativity and growth. It is, of course, too early to tell about many things, but even if he is partially correct, whether about the specifics or the grand scheme of things, the implications are dramatic.

Mr. Florida argues that “creativity” is key to new economy. At about 18:30 minutes into the video below he says:

Every single human being is creative. The key task of our time is to move behind an economic model where the creative talents of 30 or 35 percent are harnessed and utilized for economic gains . . . The true challenge of our time is to stoke the creative furnace that lies deep within every single individual.

I believed this to be true long before I ever heard of Richard Florida, but as the new pastor of a church with a long-established parochial school, I am thinking even more deeply about these issues. My belief is that the Christian Gospel and the Lutheran understanding of vocation can and should undergird an education that rejoices in the unique gift of God that is each child. Only the Gospel of Christ truly sets one free; only the Word of God which proclaims this Gospel truly understands freedom. I believe this truth calls for teachers who are faithful disciples and passionate learners. I believe this calls for a dramatically different approach to just about every aspect of education. I believe this calls for courage on the part of parents and a true partnership with them in the education of their children. My struggle in this is analogous, I suspect, to that of many a business owner: How do we facilitate transformation?

Perhaps fortunately, the transformation is upon us at my parish. It cannot be delayed.

Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.


Here is a the recent Aspen Ideas Festival address by Mr. Florida that I mentioned above.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thinking about University Education (with a little poke at my Buckeye friends)

I recently ran across an interesting interview in The Atlantic online, “What’s Wrong with the American University System,” by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz. Ms. Gritz interviews Dr. Andrew Hacker, Professor Emeritus of Queens College (NY), who has recently published the book Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It.

barkhorn_jul27_highered_post Dr. Hacker, apparently, is a advocate of both liberal arts and practical training (e.g., engineering), and he’s not a terribly big fan of the Ivy League. Ms. Gritz asks him some very pointed questions about the merits of an elite school education. Dr. Hacker gives pointed responses. The interview is worth the read. I don’t know if I’d buy the book, but I might get it from the library…

One choice little nugget is about Division I athletics, in which Dr. Hacker takes a dig at Ohio State that is guaranteed to decrease demand for his book in the Buckeye state and find itself on posters in Ann Arbor:

At a college like Ohio State, the team makes money. The undergraduates pour into the stadium for the big Ohio-Michigan game. They paint their faces red and blue and all the rest. But what are they cheering for? Victory in a football game. Michigan is actually a much better university than Ohio State—its reputation, its medical school, its law school, and so on. It makes you wonder whether Ohio is putting so much into its sports teams because its academics really aren't so great.

Here's what my wife says to all this!

Music and the Word of God

Today many churches commemorate the faith and work of Church musician Johann Sebastian Bach (cf. Bach devotee Paul McCain’s blog post here.). As such, it is a great day to extol music. The Treasury of Daily Prayer has  a wonderful quotation today from Martin Luther’s 1538 introduction to Georg Rhau’s symphony and a lovely prayer giving thanks for Bach and the gift of music.

diamond ring This calls to mind a great quotation from a seminary classmate, spoken years ago, if I recall rightly, at a joint student discussion of worship between student leaders at Concordia Theological Seminary (Ft. Wayne) and Concordia Seminary (St. Louis).

My classmate said something like:

The Word of God is like a diamond, pure and sparkling. The task of Church music is, like the prongs of a ring, to uphold the diamond without obscuring it.

Well said, and as the prayer from the Treasury for today says:

Almighty God…Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let’s Be Careful with “Salvation” Shall We?

Cub great Andre Dawson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame recently. He gave a nice speech, with a rebuke of those who stain the game and an admonition to youth to be aware of the dangers of the street. But he also said to youth, “Baseball can be your salvation.”

Now, Mr. Dawson presented himself as a man of God, and I have no reason to say otherwise, but I want to suggest that Christians avoid earthly references to “salvation.” I think we are wiser to use that word for things that are truly eternal.

If you want to see the speech, click here. The quotation to which I referred to takes in a section of the speech that begins about six minutes in.

A Prayer for—and Reflection upon—the Resurrected Life


Christ, our risen Lord, Your resurrection showed us what we will someday be and what we already are now through our Baptism into Your holy name. Give us courage to bear in our bodies Your resurrected life as we live out the fruit of Your victory over death through works of charity and mercy; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. –Prayer of the Day (1065) for July 27 in The Treasury of Daily Prayer.

This prayer in the Treasury follows the New Testament reading from Acts 22.30-23.11 where St. Paul lives the resurrection life by confessing the Christ before an antagonist council. The Lord “rewarded” this by “imprisoning” Paul and sending him via guard to Rome, saying, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23.11, ESV)

The thing is, of course, is that Christians are simul justus et peccator—simultaneously saint and sinner (cf. Romans 7)—which means that though we pray to live the resurrected life and desire to do so, sin still enters in, often in ways that are oblivious to the Baptized. This brings me to a quotation from Martin Luther where he describes the sacraments:

Therefore we always teach that the Sacraments and all external things which God ordains and institutes should not be regarded according to the coarse, external mask, as we regard the shell of a nut, but as the Word of God is included therein.(Triglotta, “Large Catechism,” IV.19)

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but even non-Christians might find this helpful in viewing their Christian neighbors. Be careful of judging a Christian by the “external mask,” for as sinner-saints we have, in a sense, two competing natures. The old sinful nature hates God and doesn’t want anything to do with the ways of God; the Christian nature wants to keep God’s name holy and do God’s will. Thus, we pray prayers like the one above, but sometimes—often—we fall into temptation. In Galatians St. Paul puts it this way:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17, ESV)

Nowhere in the Bible is the Christian’s daily internal battle better described than in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans  (referred to above). Here Paul describes both the conflict and the proper focus of the Christian:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being [Christian nature], but I see in my members [“flesh,” the sinful nature] another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." (Romans 7:21-8:2, ESV)

This is why following Christ is a life of “daily contrition and repentance.” (Luther, Small Catechism, Part IV). In fact, this daily struggle and the importance of maintaining the proper focus on the free Gospel of Christ, is the heart and soul of Christianity and the very beginning of “The Reformation,” for the first of Luther’s famous "95 Theses" says:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite [Repent!], willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

Repentance involves sorrow over sin (contrition) and belief the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (faith). So it is that “the resurrected life” is lived not by faith in self-improvement (which would lead to despair as we see our failures) but by faith in the Son of God (Who always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 13)). Indeed, as Paul wrote in Galatians 2:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)


Monday, July 26, 2010

Is Religion Necessary?

Interesting that Lutherans are mentioned prominently in this discussion of NY Times bloggers (Do We Need Religion?). More interesting is the assumption that the United States is headed the way of Europe, albeit on a different timetable. I question that assumption. I wonder if others do, too…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Harrison Speaks about Missions and the Role of LCMS Seminaries

Below is a clip from the address of Rev. Matthew C. Harrison the day after his election as President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  The impromptu address was given at a reception for the two seminaries of the LCMS held at Memorial Lutheran Church of Houston.

The video was taken from my phone, so I apologize for the image quality, but it is the audio—the passion and theological vision of the speaker and the response of the community gathered—that makes this powerful.

A Little Sunday Afternoon Humor

Something brought the old Saturday Night skit, “Wedgie Fever” into my brain, and so I went searching for it on the web. I found found it!

And I also found this fun little Dilbert number…

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Relationship of Faith and Works

Lutherans have long been accused, as also St. Paul was, of preaching faith at the expense of works. By no means!

Today’s suggested reading in The Treasury of Daily Prayer includes paragraphs 61-74 of Article IV in The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, one of the chief summary statements of Lutheran belief. Here are paragraphs 73-74, which speak to the question of the relationship of faith and good works:

The term alone [sola] offends some people, even though Paul says in Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” He says in Ephesians 2.8-9, “It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” He says in Romans 3:24, “justified by His grace as a gift.” If the exclusive term alone displeases, let them remove from Paul also the exclusives freely, not of works, it is the gift, and so on. For these also are exclusives. It is, however, the notion of merit that we exclude. We do not exclude the Word or Sacraments, as the adversaries falsely charge against us. We have said earlier that faith is conceived from the Word. We honor the ministry of the Word <Preaching Office and Word> in the highest degree. Love and works must also follow faith. Therefore, they are not excluded so that they do not follow faith, but confidence in the merit of love or of works is excluded in justification. We will clearly show this.

For Lutherans, and for those who want to understand Lutheran teaching, I highly recommend the translation of the Lutheran Confessions from which this quotation was taken. Published by Concordia Publishing House, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions contains many historical notes, explanations, etc. that greatly assist the reader.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Humility and Class as the LCMS Leadership Torch is Passed

I have known Rev. Matthew Harrison for years. I have watched him present. I have read his translation and writing, and I have believed for some time that he was well-suited to lead our synod. And, though I have disagreed with some of Dr. Kieschnick’s policies and approach, I have always found him a very personal, approachable, and pious man. He also runs a very “tight ship” at convention; that is, he knows how to run a good meeting.
Below is video of President Kieschnick receiving the news that he was being replaced as President of the Synod. You will see him receive this bitter disappointment with dignity and class. You will see the President-elect, Rev. Harrison, speak with great humility. There was no triumphalism from him, no self-aggrandizing.
After the convention I greeted President Kieschnick and wished him God’s blessings on his next venture, and I certainly do pray that for him. He is a vigorous man, with a devoted wife, and I pray that when the disappointment ebbs that he and Rev. Harrison will be able to speak and find a way for the new President-emeritus to use his gifts in service to the church he served for so many years.
For this time, as we approach the 500th anniversary of The Reformation in 2017, I believe The LORD has given us a servant who has shown himself to faithful to the Lutheran Confession of faith and simultaneously vigorous in engaging the culture. We, as the people of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, have also given his office great new power. May he use it with the humility and grace that both he and his predecessor showed on 13 July, A.D. 2010.

Returning to the Mission

After two weeks of serving as a delegate for the LC-MS convention and a short vacation I am back to my mission work in Chicago…

There is a vortex of financial trouble here (I know we are not unique in that regard.) that threatens to draw me in an render me unable to see the work that God has before us here at St. Philip: gathering God’s people around word a sacrament for forgiveness and life, and preaching and teaching the Gospel to all nations.

Thus, I delighted in reading some blog posts by our fourth grade teacher, Miss Lexi Schmidt. In spite of my own foibles and mismanagement, God managed to enable us to secure Miss Schmidt’s talents for the coordination of local outreach in June and for international outreach (Guatemala) in July.

Miss Schmidt did a marvelous job of organizing our first Vacation Bible School in years. We had around 120 kids, 25% of which were not from our church and school community. Praise the Lord! Now, as I said, Miss Schmidt is in Guatemala (Miss Schmidt's Blog). She is teaching Christ via various means, including Bible studies, teaching English, and through service. (If you click on her blog you’ll hear music from a July 13th post. If you don’t want to hear that you’ll have to scroll down and hit the “stop” button.) I am very thankful for her, and my fervent prayer is that this is just the beginning of a new era of outreach here at St. Philip.

Lord Jesus, earthly concerns abound. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on You, the author and perfecter of my faith, for You bore the shame of the cross with joy, forgiving my sins, that I may be Your own and live with You in Your kingdom, and serve you in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Amen

Monday, July 19, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

LCMS Convention Wrap-up, Part 1

Since i'm traveling and on my phone I'll be brief...

1. I think the LCMS is a lot more united than much of the voting % suggest.

The weighing of issues and voting on them tends to make for two convenient "camps." The reality is vastly more complex than that, and the way to reveal that broader unity is not through oppositional voting but through real theological dialogue. Structure and governance DO make a difference, but my sense is that Pres.-elect Harrison was elected because--at the end of the day--he offered a deeply theological leadership and has an established record of facilitating the effectual and merciful use of God's gifts in the church.

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cooperation in Externals

Before the LCMS convention is Res. 3-03A, which attempts to grapple with the challenges presented by the long-agreed cooperation of the LCMS and the ELCA in social service type of arrangements ("externals"). The challenge is that even though there are many cooperative agencies and arrangements, the two church bodies are traveling increasingly divergent theological paths...

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Convention adopts radical structure changes on narrow margins

The LCMS convention seemed to begin to get "edgy" today as many proposals were adopted by very narrow margins. I sensed the tenor of many delegates turning as this continued, a concern for basic fairness. We'll see what this means tomorrow when we turn to significant constitutional issues...

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Monday, July 12, 2010

Soon to vote on radical resolution 8-08A which would grant dramatic new authority to Synod president. Efficient? Perhaps. But at what cost?
Lost internet connection in my room. Will update as soon as I can.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Election for LCMS President

I expect this morning to see a motion, as the convention opens, to change the proposed schedule. I wasn't sure about this at first, but I now tend to think that having the Presidential election completed will help us to focus on the merits of the proposals themselves.

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Proposals to Franchise “Commissioned Ministers” in The LC—MS

A new proposal is out to enfranchise commissioned ministers in the LCMS. Proposed by-laws 4.2.3 and (see Today's Business) allows a congregation to send a congregation to send either the pastor or a commissioned minister (non-pastoral church worker) to vote in district convention.

This proposal is a radical departure from historic LCMS practice, which recognizes two distinct and God-given “offices” in the church: the pastor, an office that can be occupied only by men who are rightly called; and the royal priesthood (1 Pet 2.9), the office that belongs to all the baptized.

More formal floor committee meetings are scheduled for Saturday, July 10th. We shall see what transpires…

Friday, July 9, 2010

Long floor hearing on structure. I made the case for term limits for all synodical (LCMS) offices, but for some reason those in authority are standing pat.
I just set up mobile blogging. This is my test.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2010 LCMS Convention Updates

As I promised the folks in my circuit (E15) of the Northern Illinois District, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I plan to be giving daily updates from the convention via this blog.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Give Peace a Chance & The Lutheran Difference

A laughed yesterday when my three-year-old appeared for Vacation Bible School with his new shirt: “Give Peas a Chance.” It had a nice pea (the vegetable) on the front. Frankly, it is a shirt that was much better suited for his older brother, for whom anything green was anathema, but that’s another story…

So, the New Testament reading for today in The Treasury of Daily Prayer is John 20.19-31, which includes this:

" On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”" (John 20:19-23, RSV)

When the Lord Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection He did not speak words of condemnation to those who had—in one way or another—abandoned Him. Rather, He spoke words of forgiveness: “Peace be with you!”

This forgiveness—the declaration of God that the punishment for sin is paid by Christ and that His merit is applied to those who believe in Him—this forgiveness is the heart and center of the Christian life. It is forgiveness that gives true peace, that rest of soul which is confident—come what may—that one is secure in God’s love and care.

Thus, at the center of the Christian life is how forgiveness comes. Shall we obscure the work of God and credit ourselves—even in some small way—with the faith that grasps the Gospel message of Christ’s forgiveness? No!

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." (John 1:12-13, NIV)

It is God’s work that we have forgiveness and peace, and God uses “means”—things outside ourselves (Luther used the word “alien” to describe this for-us-from-the-outside aspect of faith.) to give forgiveness and life to us by His Word.

Thus, we come to my little summary of “The Lutheran Difference,” my attempt to speak to the essence of Lutheran theology in a way that is not a caricature but rather opens the door to the beauty of the Christian faith and, in particular, the Lutheran confession thereof.

I put it this way:

The Lutheran difference is characterized by an absolute, unrelenting focus on forgiveness…and the means by which Christ promises it.

I have found this difference to be profoundly peaceful, as—in the midst of my own sins and failures—I find my hope and confidence totally outside myself, in Christ’s Word and sacraments. In these God comes to me with the forgiveness, peace and hope that only the Creator and Redeemer of the cosmos can provide.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath

At the recent Northern Illinois District (LCMS) meeting of 2010 LCMS convention delegates, NID President, Rev. Dan Gilbert, encouraged the delegates to prepare for the convention prayerfully. In particular, he encouraged the reading of and meditation upon Proverbs.

It just so happens that much of June in Concordia Publishing House’s Treasury of Daily Prayer is in Proverbs. (For more information about the Treasury, or to purchase, click here.)The Old Testament reading for June 15th is Proverbs 15.1-29, and there is a lot of meat to chew on in this proverb.

"A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit." (Proverbs 15:4, ESV)

I struggle with this. I tend to have a quick, hot temper, reacting sometimes impulsively. I have been—prayerfully—trying to work on this in recent years. Prayerfully beginning the day has been a good help to me. There are days—even as a pastor—where I just rush into my day without having made plans to pray beforehand. This is foolish, and leads to expressions in word and deed that lack wisdom.

"The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly." (Proverbs 15:14, ESV)

I have done much better on this is recent years, gathering information and seeking to understand before I speak. As I look back on my life I had a wonderful teacher in my early professional years, when I worked as a Legislative Aide for Michigan State Representative Glenn Oxender of Sturgis, Michigan. Glenn was as fine a Christian man as I have ever met, gentle in soul and always seeking knowledge and understanding.

"A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention." (Proverbs 15:18, ESV)

Isn’t that the truth! How often, for example as a parent, have I created strife by letting my temper get the best of me, but when I am “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1) much contention is avoided.

"The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway." (Proverbs 15:19, ESV)

Laziness, as a parent, husband, wife, or worker, leads to nothing but more trouble and difficulty. It’s sure easy, though!

"Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed." (Proverbs 15:22, ESV)

This is an interesting verse for me, especially in my Chicago context, where I face a decent amount of pressure—sometimes subtle and sometimes not—to do much business autocratically and “behind closed doors.” This verse does NOT say, “Committees of the whole are best.” It DOES say that plans are best made with a good deal of advice and—by context—from a good variety of people.

"The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things." (Proverbs 15:28, ESV)

Following this counsel, though wise, of course, often leads to difficulty. There have been times where something was said or done that I knew demanded a response, but in seeking to be temperate and not say or do something I would regret and that would be spoken without knowledge, I chose to let the immediate situation take its course. In a couple of these situations that has put me in the position—as I see now—of not defending someone’s reputation (an 8th commandment violation).

This last point gets us back to the very beginning: prayer. Not giving adequate time to prayer at the beginning of the day, or during times of intense discussion, can lead to all sorts of unnecessary trouble, so I conclude with the “Prayer of the Day” for June 15 in The Treasury of Daily Prayer:

O God, the giver of all that is good, by Your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding accomplish them; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Friday, June 11, 2010

NBA Finals a Fun Diversion

There’s nothing overtly theological about this, but—as I’ve said before—I’m enjoying these 2010 NBA Finals. I posted on Facebook during the first half, “I’m rooting for the Lakers, but I think the Celtics win this one tonight.” Turns out I was right, with the Celtic bench offering up inspiring play.’s Ian Thomsen recorded a funny exchange between game four’s heroes, Nate Robinson and Glenn Davis:

Boston was up 70-64, the Lakers were calling timeout with 8:22 remaining, and Davis was screaming like something not quite human while Robinson jumped on his back with both arms around his trunkish neck.

"You were on my back?'' asked Davis at the news conference.

"You didn't even notice,'' said Robinson. "We're like Shrek and Donkey. You can't separate us.''

"You shouldn't have let us two get up here,'' said Davis to the audience of reporters.

It will be interesting to see how the Lakers respond in game 5…

Read more:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reflections on Competition after Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals

For the most part, I care little for the NBA or MLB regular seasons, as there is typically a lack of intensity, but I really enjoy playoffs. Sunday night’s Lakers-Celtics game had a surprising conclusion (a Celtics win in LA), and passionate, skilled play (Rajon Rondo is sometimes a wizard with the basketball.). There is also in these series’ a chess match of sorts between the coaching staffs. Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, gets a chance to match up with Phil Jackson, perhaps the NBA’s best all-time coach. Rivers would probably tell you “it’s all about the players,” but don’t believe a word of that. These men like to compete, and I love to watch it all play out.

This will sound odd given the above, but the winning and losing has always been less important to me than the opportunity high-level competition provides to expand individual and corporate abilities. Andrew Bynum’s team lost on Sunday, for example, but he gave a passionate and skilled performance. Reports the next day suggested he thinks that was a waste, but it certainly won’t be a waste in the long-term and—Who knows?—what he and his team mates and coaches are learning about his capabilities may well help turn the series in LA’s direction.

Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard thinks this may be an “epic” series (Ballard "epic"). I sure hope so. The b-ball on TV may drive my girls crazy, but in an odd sort of way it is fuel for my soul: the opportunity to turn away from my personal and work challenges and watch people who are the best in the world challenge each other to be better. I love it.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Inculcating Respect for The Office of The Holy Ministry

Dr. Gene Veith in a blog post (The Future of the LCMS) began a discussion on the remarkable presidential nomination numbers for the upcoming elections of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. As the discussion and tenor thereof touch on a number of issues that are important to me it seemed fitting to post my comment here. I encourage my readers to also click the link above and read Dr. Veith’s post.


I appreciate the comments of many here, yet as a pastoral delegate I want to offer a word of admonition and encouragement. For many who support the incumbent LCMS President he is "Rev. Kieschnick" or "President Kieschnick" while his "opponent" is "Matt" or "Harrison." Likewise, many who support Rev. Harrison refer to him with the title while his "opponent" is simply "Jerry" or "Kieschnick." Please remember that whomever you support for the office of president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, BOTH men are called and ordained servants of the Word, both elected to their offices and those offices deserve respect (1 Thes 5.12-13).

I believe that Rev. Harrison is fundamentally correct in saying that our challenges in the LCMS are not fundamentally structural but theological. One of the ways by which we show our resolve to be Lutherans is to respect the Office of the Holy Ministry, and one of the ways by which we show respect for the Office is to always speak respectfully of those in the Office. My district president in Northern Illinois, Rev. Dan Gilbert, often tells us that among ourselves we may call him "Dan," and I appreciate that collegiality, but--respectfully--I will not call him simply by his first name, nor if I disagree with him will I flippantly call him "Gilbert" because the Lord is clear that His people are to respect His servants.

I respectfully encourage fellow delegates and members of the LCMS to show our theological resolve by referring to the two men, Rev. Harrison and President Kieschnick, with their titles.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Lance Armstrong O'Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Northern Illinois, Circuit E15 Pastoral Delegate

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tim Tebow to Jacksonville at #10

There has been talk in the last couple of years about the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars moving to Los Angeles or some other locale. I think Jacksonville can be a viable NFL franchise, and I’m rooting for them to take Tim Tebow with their 10th pick in the first round of the NFL’s 2010 draft. There are lots of reason’s why, but here is part of my argument.

I remember about four years ago reading a quotation from University of Florida coach Urban Meyer about Tim Tebow’s decision to pick Florida over Alabama. Coach Meyer said something like “If Tebow doesn’t come it sets our program back 10 years.” It seemed a crazy statement at the time, but it doesn’t seem so crazy now. There is something about the young man. He combines significant athletic gifts with intelligence and character.

This last aspect, character, is a big part of my argument for Jacksonville to take the “risk” of selecting Tebow so early in the draft. One of the great things that I appreciate about Tebow is his deep Christian faith, a faith that permeates his life pursuits and seems to have steadied him in the midst of the near idol-worship levels of devotion by Florida football fans. Unlike any other college athlete that I can think of Tebow has shown that he will invest himself not only in football but in his nearly home city of Jacksonville.

If they take Tebow, I think in 10 years we’ll be reading about Jacksonville being the model franchise of the century’s second decade, as Indianapolis and New England are argued to be the model franchises of the first decade of the 21st century. 

Indianapolis is a good example of the possibilities. In the run-up to the last super bowl Indy quarterback Peyton Manning spoke about how Indiana, because of the Colts, has been turned into a football state. This applies to Jacksonville because one of the arguments against Jacksonville as a football business is that “Florida is a college football state.” Tebow in Jacksonville, like Manning in Indianapolis, will change that.

The numbers on Tebow are clear (See article), as is his character. To be sure, he will now be tested in ways that he never before has, but I am rooting for him for a lot of reasons. One of those is that I think he has been unjustly criticized football-wise. Mostly, I’m rooting for him because it’s a pleasure to witness the young man’s commitment to his Lord and the humility with which he does it.

I think that Urban Meyer’s belief about Tebow going to the University of Florida will also be fulfilled in Jacksonville… If Jacksonville will dare to have a “non-traditional” quarterback.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Easter 1 Sermon: Essence and Commission

Essence and Commission
by Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell, Pastor
St. Philip Lutheran Church and School
Chicago, Illinois

The First Sunday after Easter
11 April, A.D. 2010
Ps 148; Acts 5.12-20 (21-32); Rev 1.4-18; Jn 20.19-31

Central Christological Thought (CCT):
In His “Resurrection Eve” appearance to the Apostles Jesus: 1) reiterates the essence of His purpose and teaching; and 2) commissions them to extend His ministry.


. . .  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, . . . from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.  (Revelation 1:4-5, ESV) [Amen]

Today we see that [CCT] In His “Resurrection Evening” appearance to the Apostles Jesus: 1) reiterates the essence of His purpose and teaching; and 2) commissions them to extend His ministry.

It will be helpful, then, to begin by defining what we mean by essence and commission...

es’sence n. [F., fr. essentia, formed as if fr. a pres. part. of esse to be...] 2. Logic. . . .  b. ... the totality of those properties or attributes which are indispensable to whatever can be named by a certain term or classified as a certain class.

The “essence” defines a thing. For example, today they will be playing golf at a famous course in Georgia, and there are certain officials there so-designated to ensure that it is golf that is played. If one of the players tees up a large, oblong, leather ball with a small set of laces in the center, the rules official will say something like, “Sir, you may hit that football with your driver, but I can assure you that it will disqualify you from this tournament. We will be playing golf today at The Masters, and golf, by definition, requires a ‘small, resilient ball’.”

In other words, tee up a football on a golf course and you have something, but it is not golf, for of the essence of golf is the “small resilient ball.”

Today, again, we will be talking about the “essence of Christ’s purpose and teaching.”  In a minute, we will learn what that essence is.

First, however, let’s speak of “Christ’s Apostolic Commission.”

I. Christ’s Apostolic Commission.

com-mis’sion n. [F., fr. L. commissio...] 1. A formal written warrant or authority, granting certain powers or privileges and authorizing or commanding the performance of certain duties...

You’ll notice that commission is a compound word made up of the prefix com- meaning “together” or “with”--and the root mission--meaning, roughly, “sent with  a purpose.” And that is, astonishingly and profoundly, what Jesus is doing on Easter Evening:

"Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”" (John 20:21, ESV)

To these men who had the doors locked because they were afraid Jesus sent out as the personal extension of His ministry. Just as Son of God was begotten of the Father and sent into the world, so were the Apostles sent of the Son into the world. And this not a one-time event, for the Greek has the present-progressive tense, “I am sending.” That is, Jesus will continue His ministry through the Apostles and the Church that is founded upon their witness of Him. Jesus, in fact, had foretold this in His “high priestly prayer” offered in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal:

“I do not ask [pray] for these [Apostles] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word," (John 17:20, ESV)

This speaks of the reality that St. Paul later reminds us of in chapter two of his Letter to the Ephesians:

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV)

The Word of Christ that comes to us from the Apostles and Prophets is the foundation of the church. The question for us, now, is: What is the essence of that Word?

II. The Essence of Christ’s Purpose and Teaching

And this brings us back to Easter Evening and the subsequent words of Jesus, but here I want to quote from the Revised Standard Version, which (in this case) does a better job of rendering the original:

"Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”" (John 20:21-23, RSV)

To those Christ had just given His authority to continue His ministry, His first word about what they would preach is about the forgiveness of sin. FORGIVENESS OF SINS is the essence of the church’s proclamation.

The essence of Christ’s purpose and teaching is not about earning God’s favor; it is not about looking good in the sight of your neighbors; it is not about self-actualization. It is about, in the words of St. Paul:

... God [in Christ] reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:19, ESV)

Christ didn’t suffer the cross because we had fallen into benign little “mistakes.” God didn’t require the sacrifice of the Eternally Begotten Son of God because we were good “but not just quite good enough.” Friends, the Scriptures are clear:

"God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8, ESV)

Of necessity, Christ’s message of forgiveness, of reconciliation, means that the church must also, as Jesus says, “retain sins.” That word--retain--does not mean “don’t forgive.” The “retaining of sins” is, rather, Godly, Fatherly, “discipline.”  It’s “binding” sin, “holding” the sinner like a parent does to a child who has just done something very wrong: “Do you realize what you’ve done????”

Indeed, it is the Church’s God-given responsibility to call people to repentance, and that means the proclamation, as we Lutherans say, of “Law and Gospel”…

  • God wants us to love our spouses, not demean them.
  • God wants us to honor our parents, not steal from them.
  • God says, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” so “take the plank out of your own eye” before you arrogantly say “My way or the highway.”
  • God says, “be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry,” not  “claim your rights and get up your opponent’s grill.”
  • God says, “speak the truth in love,” for truth--without love--is actually malice.

And the truth--about us and about God--is spoken in loving candor through his prophet, Isaiah:

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him [on Christ] the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6, ESV)


What we deserve the Lord Jesus lovingly took upon Himself. Through Christ we are forgiven, and this forgiveness--and, thus, the proclamation of Law and Gospel--is the essence of Christ’s purpose and ministry. It is who we are. . . in church, at home, and in the community. Therefore,

to [Christ] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. . . (Revelation 1:4-6, ESV)

Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!]