Derek Johnson Muses

Home of the Straight from the Cornfield Podcast

Category Archives: Lutheranism

Considerations while Receiving Communion

Remember This at All?

Remember This at All?

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14)

“Dear Savior, we come to your table at your gracious invitation to eat and drink your holy body and blood. Let us find favor in your eyes to receive this holy sacrament in faith for the salvation of our souls and to the glory of your holy name.” (Lutheran Worship, Prayer before Reception of Holy Communion.)

I think about this scripture and pray this prayer when I go take communion often. I’m not sure why (a version of the prayer is in the front of LSB), except that I might have something to with the fact that I’m always rushed because I have to go back up to the choir loft and tape another hymn, or I’m the last usher in line and have to tell pastor who to go give to communion in the pew to. Point is, I go to communion with a busy mind and a guilty heart sometimes. I still get Christ’s body and blood, which is fear-inducing.

It’s probably a good thing that communion is for sinners.

Thanks, Dr. Walther

I had a joyous experience Tuesday night. I had the privilege of attending the coordinating council at St. John as the rep from the worship committee. Finally, I was hanging out with the cool people and have made a small step toward becoming one of the elders.

Not only that, but I was also privileged to read the group’s devotion and choose a daily devotion from God Grant It by C.F.W. Walther. The devotion covered John 3:14-15, and was on new birth. Even though I read it at home before the meeting, hearing myself read to the group was a bit surprising. Dr. Walther had a way of piling up words against each other that we don’t hear in today’s diction.

“our bodily birth gives us a bodily life and natural movements, desires, wills, understanding, and powers…” (p. 472, God Grant It, Concordia Publishing House. Translated by Gerhard P. Grabenhofer. 2006)

“a born-again person…thinks, judges, speaks, and lives according to the Word.” (p. 473, God Grant It.)

For a young man who was eager to be in a place of church leadership, I’m glad to remember how little I really know. Today, we read news stories and blog posts that say, “Bill got up. He ate breakfast and went to work. His boss supported him.” Walther hammers on points, making them over and over again, one sentence after the other. In our modern twitterverse, you will rarely hear one person expound the same principal in such a way, for fear of loosing audience. Which you will if you are too repetitive.

A hundred and fifty years ago, when sermons would last an hour and political debates three. Now, pastors I know tell me that they have, at most, fifteen minutes of people’s attention until their eyes start glazing over. Our technology in America today is amazing, great, and a blessing from God, but we should never think that we are so much smarter today than we were fifty years or a hundred years ago, even if we have a greater libraries of information. What we do with information and using it well is what counts for something.

So thank you, Dr. Walther for knocking me off of my pedestal. 

walther

Prayer Books Just Sitting There…

My Treasury of Daily Prayers stares at me from its post on the kitchen table. I try to read it over breakfast most days, and I hope I succeed more than I fail. I rotate other devotional books through-a daily Luther book, a daily Walther, both of whom are worth reading. The daily Luther blog was great too, when it was being update. (Whoever did that, please come back and continue it.) A word of advice to Christian youth: you never think that you’ll get caught up and need devotional time until you really do.

Devotions always feel sluggish to me, but that’s just how they are supposed to feel. That’s probably the devil too, telling me I already know what’s in the scriptures. It’s the same thing I hear in my ear when I go to listen to Issues, Etc., podcasts and choose the quick, 10 minute social issues-cast over the in-depth Bible study. Yes, it’s easier to get into that controversial, call-to-arms, but I still need to carve out time to listen to God’s word. I keep having to remind myself how low the standards of our culture are.

I keep theology books in my bag. I don’t read them that often; they serve more as a talisman than anything else. Sometimes, I peruse them at stops when my brain isn’t going too fast, or when I’m out in Lincoln and don’t want to go home yet. I remember hearing an antidote once that, just like you can’t remember every meal you’ve ever eaten, so you can’t remember every sermon you’ve ever heard, or every devotion you’ve ever read for that matter. I hope that is true, but what concerns me more is when I forget sermons hours after they’re preached or spend my free hours thinking about drivel rather than what Pastor Todd says on the radio.

This is what the hypocrite does: he carries around something just for others to see, or more importantly, for himself to believe that he is a good person. But I do have them with me. Perhaps I need to remember that my vocation isn’t to just read theology books or listen to podcasts; it’s too be a good worker, and a good writer. I listen to sacred music and read God’s word because Jesus died for me on the cross, and I need to be reminded of that over and over.

Right here for you...

Right here for you…

Study on John 16:12-22, The Trinity and the Holy Spirit’s Job

All Scriptures English Standard Version (ESV)

This morning, I had the privilege of leading a Bible study at St. John in Seward on John 16:12-22, the reading of the day for the fifth Sunday after Easter on the sending of the Holy Spirit and “a little while, and you will see me no longer.” (v.16). The Heritage Room study is a very talkative group, which allows for a very open discussion and easy day if you are the leader. Here’s some notes from that study and thanks to everyone who was there who contributed.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (v. 12) Jesus has told his disciples that one of them will betray him and now has lead them to the garden and has warned them that the world will hate them (15:18), all before his crucifixion. Jesus has laid on them many tough teachings on how the church will be after He is gone and their minds must have been swimming.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (v. 14-16) We see the interplay in between the members of the Trinity. In mysterious fashion, Jesus will have to leave His disciples after His great victory over death for the Spirit to come. But the Spirit will not lead people according to their whims or directives, but “will not speak on his own authority.”

Our God is modeling within himself what relationships are to be, as each person of the Godhead serves according to the will of all three. Jesus said in John 5:19  “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” Proper relationships are all based upon service and how we serve our neighbor.

This is a mystery: how does an almighty God not only exist as three persons, but be one. If God would have wanted us to know how this could be, he would have told us, but, as Jesus said to His disciples, they already had enough to bear. This goes against the grain of American culture, where storing up things is encouraged and we can access a wealth of information on the internet. How can we not understand how the persons of the Trinity submit to each other? And yet, in this regard, it is a blessing not to know.

As the Lutheran Study Bible notes (literally), the Spirit is “guiding” the church “in truth”, that is the truth that is already revealed in the Scriptures and through the Apostles. This is not meant to be a directive to deduce new revelations from God, as some would assert. In a speech dissected on Issues, Etc. earlier this year, openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church in the USA used “the Spirit…will guide you into all the truth” as the reason believers should disregard all the passages against homosexuality. Basically, whatever anyone asserts comes from the Holy Spirit is valid truth, even when it’s contrary to other parts of Scripture. This is why clear passages interpret unclear passages.

‘…A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father”?’ (v. 16-17) In retrospect, we know that Jesus was talking about his death and reappearance after his Resurrection, but these words must have come to them as a play on words. (In verse 29, the disciples will thank Jesus for saying plainly that he is going to the Father.) If a husband telling his wife that he will take out the trash “in a little while”, the wife may wonder when a little while is. So the disciples wonder here.

Good. Working on it.

So let me say this first: I believe in the Lutheran teachings about good works, that they flow from the heart of faith only, and that we can’t consciously do good works. I believe that, I really do. But I still have a question.

When I started going to St. John, I wasn’t really involved in anything. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I began helping with the tape ministry, welcomers, and serving on worship committee for the sole reason that I was bored and wanted something to do around church. I didn’t really care about the people who were getting the tapes or I was helping into church. Okay, that is not really true. Technically, I do care about people who are shut-in and in the nursing home. I’d have to be a pretty cold guy not too.

But those good works, like a number of my good works were done simply because they were right in front of me and I just didn’t want to be the bad guy. I wanted to be the bad who once in a while did something not as terrible. Does that make my good works a little less good? Well, any way I answer that question, I’ll end up saying that my good works came from me.

That’s really part of the practical problem with the Lutheran doctrine on good works. Said doctrine states that good works flow from faith, that they are the work of the Holy Spirit, and that even if we try, our good works are just filthy rags. Even when we are thinking we do a good work, it becomes soiled because we are always sinking in our sinful motivation. Perhaps my good works out of apathy reflect this to a degree. My problem with this doctrine is, how do you go out after hearing it and do anything for God, if you know that what you do will ultimately just get soiled by your sin? It’s like the problem with inception Arthur points out to Saito in Christopher Nolan ‘s movie: if you tell someone not to think about elephants, they’ll just think about elephants. If you tell a Christian that good works only flow from faith and have nothing to do with himself, won’t the Christian automatically just do good works because he was told that good works don’t come from himself?

I’m not sure how to answer that, other than to say there’s no good or perfect way to live in this fallen, sorrowful world. Trust whatever certainty you have to Christ, and seek His forgiveness and image. The sheep in the parable didn’t know their good works, so I don’t worry if I can’t know mine.

Why go to Easter Vigil and Long Communion Lines

If you are good Lutheran, you will have been to church three times in four days by the time Easter is up, so why would it hurt if you went four times in four days? I get it: you’re physically spent, and you literally can’t go to church again. But if you live in Seward, here’s the benefit of coming to Easter Vigil at St. John: you will get to watch yours truly play with fire!

Okay, that’s a really lousy reason compared to hearing about God’s grace and reason. But it is ironic that the two major festivals in the church, Christmas (celebration of the Incarnate Word) and Easter (Celebration of Christ’s victory), are both marked by service the night before that involve candles. One is the height of all celebration, the other is an afterthought.

Pastor Will Weedon does a lot better job of explaining Easter Vigil in this podcast, but let me state this from my experience: the service is a lot of readings (not unlike Christmas day), and focuses on how the story of the Bible has culminated in the event we celebrate on Easter, Christ’s resurrection, the promised and testified to hope. If you’re home, going to bed early for 6:30 sunrise service, I understand. But you are missing out.

It’ll look just like this.

Lutherans seem talk about communion a lot, but in one of two ways: one, there are those who talk about what a joy it is to receive Christ’s body and blood, and two, how long it takes. I haven’t met a lot of Lutherans who will talk about both.

Let me just say this, since Easter is tomorrow and you’re probably going to find yourself in a long line: give thanks that it takes so long to go up for communion. You get to sing more hymns, and more time to ponder the mystery of the sacrament. And if you’re church has a lot of old people who sit in front like mine does, it’s going to take them a long time to get up there. I’m on the ushering committee at St. John, I know how long it takes.

I’m guessing there are certain congregations in the LCMS that discontinued weekly communion because it just took so long and so many volunteer hours, which I get. But while it’s up to an individual congregation to decide how often they communion, just remember: you are receiving a gift from God, with your brothers and sisters, for your eternal salvation. Do you really want to complain about how long it takes to set the table and do the dishes?

Let me share from my own personal experience. Since I usher at St. John’s, there are Sundays I don’t get to read the prayer in the front of the hymnal before I go up to take communion. Sometimes, I do feel rushed, since I communion at the end and have to tell Pastor who needs to receive communion in the pew (which is a significant responsibility). I don’t always take communion with the best mindset, but I’m there, and my receiving depends on what God does for me, not what I’m thinking at the time.

So this Sunday, when you’re in a long line headed to an assist who is standing outside the altar, just remember: you’re able to have slice of heaven this because Jesus gave up his God-head and rose from the dead. Even if you’re groggy, you’re getting Christ’s body and blood.

Pastor Morris and Newtown: An LCMS Fair Fight?

The controversy over Pastor Rob Morris’ participation in a syncretistic worship service for the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting revealed a lot about the character of the LCMS. Steadfast Lutherans had a huge week of posts, and Gerald Kieschnick and David Behnke came out of the woodwork, along with their “once-in-a-lifetime” service exception. If you have belonged to the LCMS for a long time, you’ve seen stuff like this, and the fact it occurred again isn’t surprising.

But in reading the blogs and news stories, I came to a realization: LCMS is in conflict because it is unwilling to allow conflict. Non-confrontationalism is an essential part of our denomination’s character, and until we are willing to accept the fact we have divisions, we’re not going to be able to work through them.

No place was this more clear than in President Harrison’s first blog post after the service, where the lone embolden words were “I accept his apology”. The whole tenor of Harrison’s first post on the was, “Yes, Pastor Morris should not have participated in this service, and he knows it. Let’s stop fighting about it.” After the news outlets and blogs cycled through stories, President Harrison felt the need to write another post apologizing for the reaction that was outside of his control, and that this was so terrible that this became a national story.

But really, who cares? The liberal media is picking on a small, infighting church body? That’s not news. In fact, Jesus said things like this would happen.

Lutherans, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there are several types of congregations in our synod. First, there are psuedo-ELCA congregations, who use the green hymnal and say that women serving as elders and communion assistants are just a different expression of the gospel. Then there’s the full blown contemporary, praise band congregations who embrace mega-church trends. There are the churches who embrace the full liturgy and who call mostly from Fort Wayne. And then there are the moderates, who borrow a little from everyone. That makes four very different.. If this is your church body (and how we all ended up in the same church body, I have no idea), you are going to drop the gloves and go at once in a while.

And that isn’t a bad thing. As modern relationship studies have taught us, the couples who never fight are the ones who end up getting divorced, or who are unhappy in their marriage. The couples who learn how to “fight fair” are the ones who survive and thrive. So the question becomes, is the Newtown situation one where the LCMS fought fair?

On that count, I’m not as sure. I don’t know that this caused people to do anything more than to come to their various platforms and reiterate their own beliefs, for their own sake as much as those of their fellow believers. I’m not privy to Synod politics, but there doesn’t really seem to be two fighting factions, as there was in the Behnke-Yankee Stadium controversy, where Kieschnick, the synod’s president at the time, and Behnke, were fighting conservatives on various boards. Pastor Morris apologized (some pastors said he should have “confessed sin”; semantics, in my opinion), and likely would not have participated in the service had he known what people would have said about it afterward. I don’t think this event will result in CTCR studies; the greater damage is that, when a big problem comes up, the LCMS behaves like a good family who lives behind a white picket fence and goes into denial when their youngest son gets arrested for drug use. They make statements and deny that such a thing could even happen.

Just one big, always-at-each-other's throats, family

Just one big, always-at-each-other’s throats, family

Productive Lutheran Worship Discussion?

After reading Pastor Todd Wilken’s Worship Wars article in the Fall Issues Etc. Journal, I would like to examine  the choices that lead a congregation to worship the way it does. While I agree that doctrine is inevitably at the center of worship controversy, looking across our synod and making a sweeping judgment that a return to doctrine is going to automatically going to cure worship-related-anxieties is not the only answer that everyone will accept. It starts with doctrine, but it doesn’t just end there.

As I’ve traveled around our Synod, I’ve been many different congregations, some who use the liturgy in its fullness, and some that use some or all contemporary. One thing I’ve found that’s a bit surprising is that the churches who use the liturgy (and keep closed communion) are more friendly and outgoing than the churches who use contemporary worship. I suspect this in large part because the liturgical churches know that they are asking more of people, and they are okay with that. Some people may find their worship dense and confusing, but the liturgical church uses this as an opportunity to present the gospel. Meanwhile, the non-liturgical churches often have greeters with authenticity and zeal of a car salesman.

As I’ve heard the stories of the advocates of alternative worship, they all follow the same narrative. Dying church, no young people are coming, older adults panic, so contemporary worship gets instituted. Visitors come in and don’t understand the liturgy. Instead of explaining it, the pastor says “Lord have mercy on me” and runs for his guitar. Notice how all these methods are reactionary, presumptuous, and don’t even involve discussion with the people they are trying to reach.

So, in some sense, the difference in our synod between those who use the liturgy and those who use the praise band can come down to “Inner Scoreboard”, as Warren Buffett would say. If your congregation is a middling 150 people, how do you feel about it? Are you okay with consistent attendance by a select few who give and who do a lot of the work, or do you want more? To put it within the context of Wilken’s post, are you okay with worshiping in the way that best reflects the doctrine you believe, or do you have to go chasing people? I will say this: while it’s admirable to try to reach more people, if a congregation holds steadfast to its doctrinally principals, even the most worldly people will admire that.

But of course, none of this deals with the primal issue in our synod, namely we are divided on the nature of what worship should be, going down multiple generations, and don’t have a platform to discuss these issues. In my CUW class, there was a per-seminary student whose father was the pastor of a LCMS parish who embraced contemporary worship and church growth practices. His senior seminar tried to justify contemporary worship’s place in our synod, but it lacked any opening for anyone from the opposing side to come in and engage him on the topic. Even the moderate students didn’t respect it.

So how do we create a platform to have meaningful conversations about worship in our synod? Doctrine is a huge part of the worship wars and at the center, but to find a real solution to the worship wars, we have to talk about practice within the context of doctrine. First, we talk about what we believe and why we are part of this synod (given how we are slaves to tradition at times, such self-examination). Then, let’s move beyond that and talk about what’s essential to teach our churches through worship and preaching. Then, move on to circumstance. If people are leaving our church, what’s the solution? Is changing the worship style the real solution? What about the churches that are taking in more people with alternate worship? Do we want to do everything that they do and believe what they want to believe?

So, there are two parts to this discussion, first doctrine (in the pastor’s study and in the sanctuary) and then practice. The way to have a productive discussion about worship is starting with doctrine, working through this issues, clear through to practice. But it’s important that as we move the discussion from doctrine to practice, we don’t suddenly stop talking about doctrine and jump to practice, because these things are inevitably connected. And even if they aren’t we should weigh them to be sure.

The LCMS is divided on this issue, and working through it is probably going to take another generation. Be honest about what you’re doing and consistent in doing it. Don’t sit on the differences you have with your brother; instead, bring them to the front, and share them openly. Even if we don’t come to a consensus, maybe we can at least move forward.

Church Work: Taping for Shut-ins

A while back, I saw a blurb in the St. John bulletin asking for someone to help with the tape ministry at St. John, which made audio tapes for the older adults at St. John. I called about, and it turned out that our family friends Gene and Marian Faszholz were in charge of the production. So I began helping them make tapes for the shut-in members of the congregation.

I know what you are thinking: can’t we just digitally record the service? Yes, the service is recorded digitally and with full video. There is a ministry that distributes DVD’s but so far, we haven’t worked out a way to easily distribute a distribute an audio recording or CD’s, so we’re stuck with tapes until these machines break. The machines have already been paid for, so anything else we get out of them is gravy.

On the Sundays I tape, I arrive around 8:10 to set up the taping equipment. It’s stored in the work area behind the fellowship area by the pastor’s offices. I take the three bulky tape copiers out of the cupboard, plug them in, and stock them with tapes. I take a clean tape that’s never been used before and write the date on it, and head upstairs.

The taping equipment is up in the corner of the balcony at church. During the school year, I usually have to climb past choirs (bells or voice, and sometimes both), to get to the tape deck and where I insert the tape. I have a little over forty minutes of record time, so I have to cut certain things out, like the pre-service announcements, or a couple of the hymn verses. Time has never been a problem, and once the service is done I head back down to the tape room.

Tape Deck

Once I’m there, I plug the tape into the first machine, careful to get the right side up (otherwise, I will have to stay late and record the eleven o’clock service). It usually takes me half an hour to get all of the tapes I need, during which time I sort the bulletins to send with the tapes, or just read the news bulletin. I need thirty tapes for all of the routes and another seven or eight for the church office, in case someone wants to pick them up during the week. I’m lucky-when Gene started working with the tape ministry ten years ago, he had to make twice as many tapes.

Yes, Tapes.

When I started, there were three delivery routes, so I always had to take a route to either Heartland or around town. But since there have been a few death, and we only do two routes now. While I enjoy not having to deliver and going to Bible study instead, I do miss seeing the people at Heartland. It’s great to be a presence in their lives.

(Worship Committee)

Church Work: What I Do For Worship Committe

Where I watch the sermon from when I’m on Worship Committee Duty

A two years ago, I was asked to be a part of the worship committee at St. John Evangelical Lutheran. As I wasn’t doing a lot at the time, I said sure, and since have been privileged to serve my Christian community in such a capacity.

Worship committee members are part of the ushering team at St. John and do a lot of the coordinating of the various participants in the service (acolytes, lay readers, etc.). One WC member is on duty at each service (two for 8:30 communion services), along with the usher teams, and mostly just handout programs at the beginning, help with offering, and direct people up to communion. They are also have the responsibility of finding a communion assistant if one doesn’t show up, or lighting the candles if one of the kids doesn’t show up (done both). Post-service, they collect bulletins and go up the aisles to collect attendance registers and take them to the office, and change the hymn boards. I’ve even had the privilege of setting up for baptism.

By and far the biggest responsibility of the worship committee is responding to a medical emergency if one arises during the service. This happened once when I was serving (thankfully others were there to help as well), a second time when I wasn’t to someone who was sitting directly behind me. There’s an automatic defibrillator that all of us are trained to use, and Clark urges all of the members to take CPR courses annually.

One of my friends told me when I first started that I had the perfect demeanor to be an usher. I suppose she’s right, although I hadn’t put a lot of thought into it. Sure, it’s a couple of meetings over the course of a year and staying late after service, but with everything God has done for me, it is the least that I can do to serve His people.

For 8:30 service, I arrive at 7:45. I collate programs and news bulletins for most of that time, greet people as they come in. I love it when we have an usher group of teenagers during lent because it usually means I can sit back and let them do all the work, and it’s great to have them involved. I always end up pacing a lot during the sermon, because I worry about having to help someone who might have a medical emergency. Surprisingly, Pastor Ratcliffe doesn’t find this distracting.

Prayers

This past year, I received a leather bound journal for Christmas. Presently, I wasn’t in a journaling frenzy, so I decided to turn it into a prayer book, with the prayers I write down and pray again and again, along with other spiritual meditations. Here’s a sampling of them.

Heavenly Father,

You have said that all who turn to you in faith, You will not turn away. Save me according to Your unfailing love and grace through your Son Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice is good enough for You. May my hope be the one who needs no repentance. Amen.

You are the Creator of all that is good. Cause my mind to meditate on such things, so that I may not be drowned into sin and my mind may be renewed.

You have given us your word for our salvation. Grant us patience to study it, that we may be faithful unto death. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Heavenly Father, You created male and female. Grant us oh Lord grace to serve each other in peace, according to the gifts You have given us, neither out of envy nor strife, but out of love for one another.

In the Light

Issues Etc. Vidcasts: Liturgy and American Revivalism

Driving across Wisconsin and Iowa, while exhausting and tiring, was a great time to get caught up on some Issues, Etc. podcasts that had been piling up. Issues, Etc. works great on the road espescially when you have series, which thanks to Pastor Will Weedon, I did.

I’d referenced this before, but I wanted to mention again how great Dr. Larry Rast’s podcast on American Revivalism is. It goes a long way to showing how dangerous emotion-driven Christianity and the idea of “new measures” are. Dr. Rast, I hope you write a book on this.

Acts 2 has to be the most-abused chapter in all of Scripture. The feminists use it to justify woman pastors, the non-dems use it to justify throwing out the liturgy, and the real extremists use it to justify universal redemption.

goingoutandcomingin

"The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore." Psalm 121:8

Sun-Ton Farms

Dairy Farming through the eyes of a former "city" girl.

GMO Free Girl

Changing The Way You Eat One Bite At A Time

StarboCho

Dragon Slaying: from the Lutheran Perspective

The First Premise

Looking at all things through suffering and the Cross

Final Mystery

"The final mystery is oneself" - Oscar Wilde

Biking with Coleman

Traversing North America by Bicycle

Christian in America

The blog of Matthew Tuininga

Cassie Moore

Adventures in the Mundane

For the Love of Food

...because a girl's gotta eat

An Illustrated Parsonage Life

A new pastor's wife writes about church, home, children, and life's general absurdities and mishaps.

Musings of a Country Parson

Just another small town preacher

Oratio + Meditatio + Tentatio

A theologian's pressure cooker.

Brent Kuhlman's Blog

A great WordPress.com site

Peruse and Muse

The musings of a student teacher

Gamekeeping

Ensuring young baby boomers thrive in today's workforce

%d bloggers like this: