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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

Even if it Weren’t True…

Rogate

Why doesn’t this work for you?

The socially liberal lifestyle (or progressive, as it likes to be known by) is a tempting proposition. For the most part, people can do whatever they want in that life and can follow any kind of whim that they, and if anyone wants to challenge you, you just have to claim personal autonomy.

But I still follow conservative Christian social teaching for a simple reason: Christians are kinder.

Of all the half-truths that are propagated about Christianity and “religion” on TV, this is the one that the world gets the wrongest. They keep portraying Christians as stuck in their ways and unchanging, and sure, I know some Christian people who are bit crusty and who come off as cold and unfeeling.. But all of my Christian friends have better countenance, are better educated, and generally more pleasant people than the non-religious people I know.

There have been times in my life where, yes, I was wandering about, and I would have happily adhered certain liberal positions. But I missed the Lord, and even though Christians are a bit rigid and unwavering, at least they are for the right reason. The modern leftists are so insecure they don’t just want to win, they want the other side’s argument completely silenced in the public square. Why? What is it about Christianity that makes you so afraid?

In my observation, the simple difference between secularists and Christians is that Christians believe in joy over happiness, and secularist just believe in happiness over joy. Secularist look to whatever makes them happy in the moment, to whatever gratifies their fancy as something that deserves moral public standing. Christians believe in joy, that whatever is happening to them, God never lets go, and in fact, whatever happens is part of God’s plan. This is no more different when look at a Christian’s attitude toward having children versus a secularist’s attitude toward having children. Secularists say, “Have a child if it helps you realize yourself. Don’t compromise your lifestyle because of it.” Christians see children as a gift from God, and no matter how much work they are, they have intrinsic value beyond this life. (As someone who really struggles with the idea of having kids, that does help me.)

And even if that wasn’t true, who wouldn’t want to believe in that?

John 17:20-26: One Because of Christ’s Glory

John 17 is a prayer, the sacerdotal prayer, that Jesus prays in the midst of the disciples, somewhat as a sermon. What is prayer? Jesus knew what was going to happen and what the Father was going to do, even after he ascended. But he prayed for His own strength, and that His disciples would be strengthened. In the prayer that Our Lord gave us, we ask for him to do things He has already done (“hallowed be Your name”), but we ask them because we are weak.

Throughout this prayer, Jesus connects himself to His Father, and then Himself to His disciples, and finally, His disciples to His church. It is through this line we receive the Gospel.

Jesus has spent the last couple of hours giving His final teaching to his disciples, and with this prayer, He first looks at himself. He needs His father’s help as much as His disciples. Then he turns His attention to His disciples, those He has trained and prays for their strength.

v. 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,”

Note how Jesus connects the church to the Apostles. Jesus has first testified to the father, and now the disciples will testify to what they have seen and believed about Jesus. (16:30, and post-resurrection). Throughout this prayer, Jesus has connected his work (His “glory”) to His union with God, and the work that God sent him to do.

Grammatical point: the word of the disciples comes before in me. Faith always come through hearing the message, God’s word to us. (Mary conceived through her ears.)

v. 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

We have access to the Father via the Son. Through the Son’s work, we can stand forgiven before the Father.

Where are we one with Christ? In His supper. This is an uncomfortable topic. In the age of ecumenism and our ELCA cousins badgering us, we de-emphasize how we are united to our fellow believers at the Lord’s table. It is an easy trap to fall into-we only talk about the forgiveness we receive at the table, and then, we feel awkward when we tell our neighbors they can’t go to the supper, and they take it personally. We need to take seriously how the Supper judges us.

Through Christ word’s here, we can be assured that no matter what disagreements we may have, we will always be one in Him, because of how He is one with God.

v. 22 “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” God’s glory is through suffering. Glory doesn’t just mean shiny stuff. Glory is the work of Jesus, that He would set His majesty and titles aside, all so that we should be forgiven.

How an Old Person Should Ask a Young Person to Church

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;” 1 Peter 3:15, ESV

A lot of times when I visit a church (or sometimes at my own church), I get this eager look from old people, as if they want to cheer, “Yes, finally someone under the age of forty is showing up! All is not lost!” And just like that, those eager eyes send me running in the opposite direction (okay, not like that.)

But seriously, a large percentage of young people leave the church in their twenties, and since I am still in my twenties and have gone to church consistently throughout the last ten years of my life, let me give some advice to the AARP crowd about how to talk to Gen-Y about church.

First, listen to where they are in their lives. Young people get a lot of messages from the culture about what the church is, and have a lot of things vying for their time. Let them give voice to some of them before you offer yours.And know that, of all the options that they have, you have one that speaks of true life and salvation, so…

Go to them in hope and optimism. As I alluded to before, if you come off as eager, you’ll just look desperate. If you say “What are you looking for in a church?”, it puts the onus on them. They may not even be looking for a church or want anything to do with a church, and will look at you as if you are coming to them to fulfill a need. Instead, talk to what knowing God in this place has meant to your life, and how the ancillary support system has helped you.

Speak in humility and have a message about how God has called you. They will expect you to preach at them, so make sure to make it personal when you talk about your relationship with God and His church on earth. Remember, they can listen to any message that they want to hear. You need to give them a reason to listen to yours.

And make sure you have a message that has theological content, albeit basic. Most young people won’t go to church just for the sake of going, so talk about your specific beliefs and about how Christ comes to you in His word and sacrament.

Do all of this in confidence, because it’s God’s work. Our socially liberal culture may seem appealing and act as if the church will eventually die out, but the peace that passes all understanding only comes through Christ. Churches may rise and fall, but God sustains them all.

Our culture preaches a message that accepts the breakdown of the family in all areas: divorce, premarital sex, living together without marriage (for many, many years even), and homosexual relationships. Many young people simply accept that a lifelong marriage is an unrealistic goal. This contemporary world is very similar to the one Jesus sent His apostles into to preach the good news and offer an alternative to the pagan lifestyle of the day. That is what you and the church have to offer Gen Y, thanks be to God.

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

The Lord’s House, not ours

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.

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.

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.

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.

Appealing Flaws

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23 (ESV)
John Grisham’s novel The Appeal, while a work of liberal propaganda, raises many issues conservatives must confront. Grisham, a self-described moderate baptists who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election, draws his lines clearly, using a tort case against a big company: on the one side, there are the big corporations who use “Christian values” to mask their agenda of advantages for the rich. Then there’s the real church, the one that’s concerned with helping the poor above all else. Just judges, in Grisham’s mind, will always take the side of helping the poor. While I do think that helping the poor needs to be an important part of the judicial system, Grisham draws too many generalities when it comes to religion and excludes the obvious connection between the liberal philosophy he’s advocating and abortion.

Grisham’s perspective, however flawed, does provide insight as to how the Democrats have won the upper hand in the current political arena: cast them as rich, out-of-touch bureaucrats who use empty values to mask greed. Jack Donaghy has done as much to ruin Republicans’ image as George W. Bush did. Growing up, I always thought of Republicans as a party primarily defined by religious, traditional values, but political parties are much more complex. In light of the financial crisis where big corporations share much of the blame, it does give me second thought about the party I belong to. Truth be told, I get my political news from SNL most of the time. Being a true Lutheran, I’m politically apathetic.

Politics aside, there is a bigger problem in this regard, and Grisham takes advantage of American’s (and even Christian’) lack of religious knowledge). There’s more to churches than just large, suburban, and callous, and urban and outreach oriented . Grisham writes little about specific beliefs in The Appeal, andI wonder if he would be surprised to find out that churches who preach social activism over Christ forty years ago are now dying off in America.

As Lutheran, I understand this personally. My own church body, the LCMS, while trying to resolve its issues, has congregational practice that can vary quite a bit from congregation to congregation, and with that, teaching also can very. Not to get into that debate, but churches just can’ be judged actions only. Their teachings (and specifics) should be debated too.

Yes, many Christians have abandoned missions in the cities for houses in the suburbs. Repentance is needed, but we cannot go into these neighborhoods with just food and money. If we don’t preach Christ to these people, than they are worse off than before. This is something that cuts at me personally, because my own church body, while doing notable acts for the poor, does have a track record of pushing doctrine, sometimes too hard.

As far as cases like the one Grisham describes, sadly there are instances where families who suffer injuries aren’t compensated fairly by the courts system. But the judicial liberalism that Grisham advocates for victims is the same logic that legalized abortion, which in many ways slaps the poor in the face by telling them, “The world doesn’t have room for your unexpected babies.” Grisham subtly ignores this fact and does his readers a great disservice by doing so.

But conservatives should read and deal with the issues raised inTthe Appeal, because these are the tactics that lifestyle left are using in their arguments against them. The winning side of a political debate isn’t the one that’s right, merely the one who frames its argument the best.

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