The Cat is Out of the Bag…and This Time I Really Mean It

I post this with a heavy heart. I don’t want this blog to become a diatribe against my church body (LCMS). Complaints lead to bitterness, and that to all kinds of spiritually harmful thoughts and feelings. On the contrary, St. Paul urges us to think on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8 NKJV).

I want to do that, but feel I must share the following. This is press release included in an insert in the latest issue of The Reporter, “The Official Newspaper of the LCMS.”

A new LCMS mission start in Broken Arrow [Oklahoma] began worship and fellowship activities April 7 at Liberty Elementary School. Ablaze! Live Church, sponsored by the Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Tulsa, kicked off its opening day with an Easter egg hunt at Liberty Elementary School at 10 a.m. Despite the cold weather, 500 people participated—250 of them, children. There were plenty of live music, eggs, candy, and fun for all.

Ninety-five people came back for the evening worship service at 7 p.m. The band Zion’s Fire led worship, kids had their own children’s church, and Pastor Tom Dreier gave the message: “What every family needs to know about Easter.”

God exceeded the congregation’s wildest expectations and plans for the birth of His new mission start. More than 40 volunteers helped with various aspects of this church—including music, teaching, children’s church, nursery, greeters, and builders. What an awesome God we serve, and what a witness!

Ablaze! Live Church worships at 7 p.m. on Saturdays at Liberty Elementary School in Broken Arrow. For more information, visit the mission’s Web site at www.ablazelive.com or call (918) 704-6224.

Yes, the name of this congregation is “Ablaze! Live Church.” (Please keep your comments PG-rated.)

But I really don’t want to belabor the objections and troublesome issues outlined in this press release. What I feel I must say is that the cat is out of the bag. I know some folks have been crying this for some time, telling us over and over again that the Emperor has no clothes (and I have been aware of this for some time), yet instances like this drive the point home all the more. And, Lord have mercy, I believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.

We Pray Unrealistically

While praying Matins in the Lutheran rite, the last Collect is the “Collect for Grace,”

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, You have safely brought us to the beginning of this day. Defend us in the same with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by YOur governance, may be righteous in Your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives… (LSB p. 228)

According to L. Reed, this prayer was found originally in the Gelasian Sacramentary, a predecessor to the Gregorian Sacramentary. Reed also connects this prayer with one attributed to St. Basil in the Eastern Rite First Hour.

Here is a prayer from the end of the First Hour from the Horologion:

Thou Who at all times and at every hour, in heaven and on earth, art worshipped and glorified, O Christ God, Who art long-suffering, plenteous in mercy, most compassionate, Who lovest the righteous and hast mercy on sinners; Who callest all men to salvation through the promise of good things to come: Receive, O Lord, our prayers at this hour, and guide our life toward Thy commandments. Sanctify our souls, make chaste our bodies, correct our thoughts, purify our intentions, and deliver us from every sorrow, evil, and pain. Compass us about with Thy holy angels, that, guarded and guided by their array, we may attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of Thine unapproachable glory: For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

I don’t know if this is the prayer Reed had in mind. Obviously these are parallel prayers, but not the same. Note, however the emphasis on our sin and the goodness and mercy of God in this Eastern prayer. This is a feature common to many of the prayers of the Eastern Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Daily Office, or Matins, Vespers, etc.). Add to this the near-continual refrain “Kyrie eleison” throughout Liturgy of the Hours and you get an overwhelming prayer of repentance and faith; there is a saying that the Orthodox find something good to say or do, then they do it three times…or forty.

But praying that we not sin this day strikes me as at once humble and bold. It is bold. How dare we desire such a thing? How could this possibly be, to live an entire day sin-free? Is this a realistic prayer?

Such is it a prayer of humility, for it is unrealistic for us. We sin by “thought, word, and deed,” or as the Orthodox pray, we ask God to “sanctify our souls, make chaste our bodies, correct our thoughts, purify our intentions, and deliver us from every sorrow, evil, and pain.” So in humility it is our prayer that God would give us such grace as to accomplish this, for we are weak and indolent. It is only our Master that may grant such grace and strength.

But again, is it realistic? The pragmatists in us deny it, and if we are pragmatic, there’s no use in doing something, trying something, that cannot be done. To this there is only one response: would you pray the opposite? Would you pray that God would grant us to fall into sin? God forbid! Here our pragmatism must die to Christian hope and faith. Lord may it be so!

Excellent Article

This piece has been linked elsewhere, but if you missed it, or didn’t read it then, here’s your chance.

An excerpt:

Almost no one in America could fail to recognize that marketing—both its language and culture—has become an epidemic. And that, more unfortunately, it has become a significant means of “promoting” the church and the gospel in American Christianity, with billboards, soundbites, slogans, and come-ons. The language and practice of marketing so saturates the Christian world, it is difficult to remember a time when it was not so fashionable….

The perception is that as the church markets itself, more benefits will accrue to the church—more people, more programs, more money, more buildings, more success. When a neighborhood thinks of the church as little more than an ever-expanding spiritual business, it is naturally resentful when this business disrupts the life of the community with parking, traffic, and late-night meetings.

Should it surprise us that in this church-marketing era, members demand more and more from their churches, and if churches don’t deliver, they take their spiritual business elsewhere? Have we ever seen an age in which church transience was such an epidemic?

Should it surprise us that in this era, pastors increasingly think of themselves as “managers,” “leaders,” and “CEOs” of “dynamic and growing congregations,” rather than as shepherds, teachers, and servants of people who need to know God? And that preaching has become less an exposition of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection and more often practical lessons that offer a lot of “take-away value,” presented in an efficient, friendly manner, as if we were selling cheeseburgers, fries, and a shake?…

Be sure to read the rest.

A Texas Canyon In Three Days: Everything is Bigger (and Faster) in Texas

The AP reports on Canyon Lake Gorge, a new canyon formed in Texas this year and is now being opened to the public. It is a fascinating story, the 80 feet deep canyon having been formed by spillway waters from Canyon Lake during three days in July 2002.

Then the writer says this:

Neither compares to the world’s most famous canyon. It took water around 5 million to 6 million years to carve the Grand Canyon, which plunges 6,000 feet at its deepest point and stretches 15 miles at its widest.

The entire tone of the piece is how amazing this gorge is, how big and how rapidly it was formed. My question is, if an 80 feet deep gorge could be formed from a spillway flood in three days, how many days would it take to form a gorge 6000 feet deep? Seventy-five days or 5 million years?

I realize you can’t really extrapolate out the figures. Differences in water volume, flow rate, composition of rock, elevation, temperature and too many other variables would have to be factored in. But think about it. A gorge formed over three days, 80 feet deep. Pretty amazing.

Received Today

Dear Brothers in Christ,

Greetings on behalf of the global Ablaze! movement of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its 30 partner churches around the world.

Asia is Ablaze! Africa is Ablaze! Eurasia is Ablaze! Latin America is Ablaze! Each of our 30 global partner churches has Ablaze! activity. In countries where we work with emerging churches and other partners, they, too, are participating in the Ablaze! movement. In the Philippines, Lutherans at regional conferences wear Ablaze! shirts and share results of outreach activity. East, West, South, Anglo, and Franco Africa mission training centers feature Ablaze! resources. Children in Sunday schools sport Ablaze! bracelets and display Ablaze! balloons. In India and Sri Lanka, probationers (vicars) are planting churches under the Ablaze! banner. In fact, the India Evangelical Lutheran Church has made a commitment to reach 25 million people with the Gospel message by 2017! Ablaze! banners decorate churches in Panama and throughout Latin America. In many areas of the world, the Ablaze! movement is much more vibrant than it is here in the United States. In many cultures, sharing the news of Jesus is a normal expectation of being a Christian, and happens daily. African Lutherans are somewhat surprised that any church would need a special emphasis on sharing the Gospel!

Next time we will explore the Acts 1:8 proclamation model and begin to look at how the national Fan into Flame funding campaign supports this model.

In Christ,

Bill

Rev. Dr. William Diekelman, Campaign Spokesman

Being Tuned-In…or Not

Pr. Brown at Confessional Gadfly writes about anti-Catholicism in Oklahoma in this post. His parish is about five miles west of mine, and some of my members are relatives, ex’s, in-laws and out-laws, former members, future members or childhood friends of his members.

What was strange for me is that I haven’t noticed such strident anti-Catholicism at my parish, and I’ve been here a few more years than he has. I don’t doubt his observation; his post described their “epiphany” quite well. But I haven’t noticed it much at this place. There may be several reasons for this:

1. I’m oblivious. When I teach Bible study, I have my agenda and I try to foment discussion, but perhaps I just haven’t realized the cultural milieu here. To be sure, even from the beginning I haven’t sensed much animosity felt for Catholics, but perhaps I ignore it.

2. They are not the “threat.” There are two good-sized Catholic parishes in town, but Baptist churches surround us, and the Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ come in a close second. It seems many folks around here are more “for them” than against others.

3. I have an agenda. One of my elders recently described me as “swimming upstream here.” He said it with good-natured respect, and I must admit, with an alarming insight of my theological proclivities. I’m not a closet Catholic, to be sure, but as readers here may know, I am more of the Evangelical Catholic bent.

4. While I do contrast Lutheran theology with that of others, from the very beginning of my ministry here I have intentionally attempted to also emphasize what we have in common with others who call on the name of Christ. For example, I believe decision-theology often is an attempt to describe the choice and commitment of believers after they have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. While the language of decision-theology strikes Lutherans as semi-Pelagian, good Baptists who talk that way are often not meaning what they say, but are sometimes talking about good ol’ fashioned sanctification and our cooperation in it. So perhaps the lack of anti-Catholicism I sense is due to my setting this more irenic tone (which is a struggle for me at times, I admit).

5. Pastor Brown’s congregation is rural. Most of his members have been there since birth. My congregation has it’s fair share of cradle members, but is 50 years younger than his and is located in town. No one would call Enid cosmopolitan, but I have a good share of members who have lived elsewhere and have more contact with others who are “not frum here.” We’re still a more rural congregation than others, but it’s relative, ain’t it?

All of these considerations probably factor in to what I have experienced here. It is probably the case that I see what I want to see–I’m hard-headed at times. But I do think I’ll start asking around how much anti-Catholic feelings there are.

Struck Silent…Mostly

My throat started hurting Saturday afternoon, and as the hours passed it grew more and more garbled and graveled and hoarse. It was pretty bad by Saturday night when our favorite ex-babysitter and honorary daughter was at our house for a few hours, back home from college for the weekend. She suggested lip syncing the sermon on Sunday, then with a gleam in her eye said I should speak a little too fast so I “look Japanese.” Of course I didn’t tape the sermon and lip sync.

But if I were the superstitious sort, I would wonder at why I was virtually silenced on a Sunday morning…and it’s not the first time. It happened twice within two months at my previous call the summer before I received the call here. I’ve never lost my voice during the week since I’ve been a pastor–only on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

Zechariah was struck silent because he did not believe the promise of his son, the Forerunner. But Ezekiel was struck dumb as a reproof to Israel. Daniel was struck dumb when the angel appeared to him. Now to be sure, I saw no vision, nor did I doubt a promise of God…at least no more than any of us do when we worry about problems. And I wasn’t exactly dumb; I could speak, but not very loud, and it sounded terrible, and I wonder how many people were able to hear and understand what I was saying. I’m sure they couldn’t understand the prayers and were only able to follow the liturgy because they had service books.

On second thought, I don’t think it’s superstitious to wonder why I had laryngitis on a Sunday morning. Superstition explains that inanimate things control the present and future, or that fate or something else attaches significance to common objects and occurrences. I don’t believe in that, but I don’t believe in coincidences either.

But I can’t say why exactly I had laryngitis on a Sunday morning. But as I’ve written here before, it is a sign for me and for all of us to repent and pray for mercy. It always is.