Book Review:Principle of the Path

Principle of the Pathby Andy Stanley is the latest book I’m reviewing as part of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Bloggers program. I actually received the book and read it months ago. I’ve finally decided to write the review and put the book far behind me.

I’m sure Stanley is a good pastor. By the way he writes, he’s an engaging preacher. Principle of the Path, however, is not a good book.

Tone: I made the mistake of looking at the back jacket and seeing his publicity photo. He wore a casual shirt and looks twelve years old. Now, I’ve had a few people in my parish suggest that I’m young, and perhaps not old enough to be wise. It’s irritating. One doesn’t have to be advanced in years to give good pastoral care. But the problem with Stanley is that he’s adopted a condescending, know-it-all tone throughout the book and looks like a know-it-all-I-just-graduated-seminary guy. I actually think he’s much older than he appears, but that photo doesn’t do him any favors with the tone he uses. Every time he wrote of his surperior wisdom in understanding The Principle, I couldn’t help but think of that boyish person on the back cover. To make matters worse, when the author was not repeating his “I told you so” tone, he adopted a flippant conversational tone that can work well in the pulpit or in a classroom but falls flat in print.

What is The Principle? It’s actually pretty good: we make choices in life and bear the consequences. Much of the time we can reasonalby predict if our choices will put us on the path to our desired outcome. If you start having an extra glass of wine every night, you can imagine what path that choice is putting you on. You make the bed you lie in–or lie in the bed you make, I suppose. It’s not rocket science, but it is a principle we like to ignore. I heard a long depressing show on NPR this afternoon wherein the host spoke with people who had terminal cancers. The main message: they lived each day making choices which would have lasting value. They chose not to worry about possessions. They didn’t waste nights watching TV. Wasting time and energy on temporary pleasures was like eating ashes. Most of us ignore this most of our lives. We do need to be reminded of this. Stanley does it well, then repeats it oOer and over again. To make it worse, Stanley felt the need to justify it by spending far too long exegeting a few verses of Proverbs. I’m talking chapters of defensive-sounding Scriptural lay-level exegesis.

And then he repeated it all again, basically saying everyone who is in debt, buys new cars with loans, has a bad marriage or disobedient kids are idiots with only themselves to blame.

It’s pretty legalistic.

How Simple Should Christianity Be? « Glory to God for All Things

1. Christianity is not an idea.

2. Christianity is not part of the religious annex of planet earth.

3. Reality cannot be simplified.

On the first point – Christianity is not an idea. I could say that it is also not a philosophy. It is a faith about how things (all things) are and Who God is, and what God has to do with us (or us with Him). It is thus a full account of reality, even though much of that account may remain unspoken. Christianity is either everything or it is nothing.

From: How Simple Should Christianity Be? « Glory to God for All Things.

One could object that it’s easy for a priest (or pastor) to say that “Christianity is everything or it is nothing.” It’s all they know, for the most part.

But one could easily say that they became pastors because they realized this. That’s true in my case.

You could also object that Fr. Stephen is opposed to simplicity because his tradition is complex. There’s a reason why byzantine is an adjective.

You could object that minimalism is good. It’s good to cut out the chaff, the ornamentation, the baroque filigrees over life. Use what is needed. No more, no less. It’s an attractive philosophy.

I spent a good part of last week watching the water well rig operating. Dozens of levers grouped together and hidden within the machinery. Pumps and engines and hydraulic values running like kudzu over more valves and lines and pistons. Cables. Lots of cables. I would wager there may be a redundancy or two for backup and safety. But not one extra, unused mechanism. Not one appendix of machinery on the entire rig.

And that’s just a machine to dig a hole in the ground.

Switched to Logos

When I was at the seminary I bought Bibleworksto help with translation, exegesis, and Bible study prep. It was a great program and I used it a lot during those years. I upgraded to a new version several years ago, but found I was using it more for just general searches and on the fly translation help–like using a Formula 1 race car to drive a mile to the grocery store.

Meanwhile I bought a copy of Luther’s Works on CDROM which used theLibronixLibrary format and did not integrate with Bibleworks. I used it some and realized how useful having one collection of electronic resources would be.

So I used some of my professional development money and bought myself a copy of the Logos Oringial Languages  collection (at a huge discount from the MSRP at the link!). It has the complete TDNT on it, a few grammars (always useful) Metzger’s Textual Commentary, digited copies of the “P” manuscripts, and tons of stuff I haven’t discovered yet. That’s the good–it has a lot and can do some really neat searches.

The bad is that the Logos company has some crazy packages. Missing from the Original Languages collection was the lectionary viewer, Bible maps and other basic tools that are present in every other collection. That, and I have been using Bibleworks for so long it’s hard to adjust. I haven’t learned how to do one of my most basic searches: look up a cross-reference and have the English and Greek and Hebrew originals appear with it.

I also hate that there is no manual with it. Yes, I know manuals are going the way of steam engines, but I hate watching tutorial videos. They are so slow and dumbed-down, and every little step is narrated. It’s quite annoying. But I am forcing myself to watch them–a couple a week–as I’m having to learn the system from the ground-up.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with my decision. I think that after the first of the year I may upgrade to one of the other collection in order to have some of the tools that will make Bible study prep easier. I’m also toying with saving up for the Early Church Fathers collection. Though I own them in book format, being able to click a box and search the 34 volumes for references may mean I would use them more than I do now. Though the price tag on those is a bit overwhelming.

Wiped Out

As mentioned yesterday, the Church has contracted for geothermal wells for the sanctuary renovation and we got good news several weeks ago. The subcontractor didn’t have any jobs coming up and offered us a tremendous discount…if we could help with labor.

He came today and four of us showed up to help, not including the mechanical contractor (a member of Gadfly’s Church) who donated his time!

After 8 hours of roughnecking, I’ve decided that there’s work and there’s work. Dave, our mechanical contractor, worked the tongs, serving as derrickman. The rest of us took turns shoveling mud.

We were blessed with relatively smooth operating, no injuries, and great contractors.

Three wells done. Thirty to go…

Good Sunday

…and now I’m tired. DS III –except we cut the Introit in favor of some “Matins-training.” They sang the opening versicles pretty well. The two hymns (Venite and the Te Deum/Benedictus) will be coming soon. During Sunday School a member who is affiliated with RAIMinistries presented on the ongoing recovery efforts in New Orleans. 65,000 houses vacant or abandoned. Still. At the second service Samuel D. Roper was baptized. Beautiful boy. After church the Ropers had a cookout, and the food and fellowship were great.

This week a company is drilling geothermal wells for the sanctuary renovation. This is the first major step, and we’re pretty excited about it.

What is Right in Their Own Eyes

They finally did it. It took them years of statements and votes and new statements and drafts but the ELCA finally got it passed. Here’s what the AP is reporting:

The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination took openly gay clergy more fully into its fold Friday, as leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to lift a ban that prohibited sexually active gays and lesbians from serving as ministers.

Under the new policy, individual ELCA congregations will be allowed to hire homosexuals in committed relationships as clergy. Until now, gays and lesbians had to remain celibate to serve as clergy.

It’s Tough to Interpret Signs

UPDATED: I just read an AP report wherein an ELCA official called the tornado a symbol of the Holy Spirit. See, the title above is not incorrect….Never mind that Elijah’s theophany “the LORD was not in the wind…” And in Acts when the Spirit came the sound was as “a great rushing wind” but there was no actual wind reported….

The prophets of the Old Testament could make predicitions. They could say without reservation that this or that disaster will come because of the people’s sin. They could say without reservation that such-and-such a disaster happened because of sin. They could speak without reservation because they were prophets–they had received the Word of God.

By and large, this doesn’t happen today, and Jesus discounts speculating on whose sin caused whose disaster. He said,

1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV)

But this gives pause for thought:

While the ELCA convention floor was debating a motion which among other things endorses homosexuality, a tornado struck the convention hall and the ELCA church next to the hall that is helping to host the convention.

There were no injuries. The steeple of Central Lutheran Church was destroyed and a hospitality tent was blown over.

HT: Steadfast Lutherans

How to Increase Church Attendance

This is a longer post than normal, but I wanted to include the whole interview. Of course we must remember that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. But when a congregation realizes that God is in control, all things are blessings.

In the following interview conducted by the Rev. Andy Dimit, you will read about some of the exciting things happening at Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, IL. From 1989 to the present, average worship attendance has increased from 38 to 93, and baptized membership has gone from 105 to 197, which includes the baptism of 18 adults and 48 infants and children as well as the confirmation of 35 adults and 7 youths.

What Pastor Mech, a graduate of the St. Louis Seminary, relates is the story of how the faithful teaching of God’s Word and the use of the liturgy have come to be deeply appreciated in this once prosperous coal-mining region in Southern Illinois.

Did the congregation set specific goals to achieve such growth?
No, we didn’t. In fact we’ve never set any numerical goals. We believe that our Lord is responsible for growth in faith and in number, and that it is His will for all to be saved.

But do you find these changes to be things that make you happy?
Yes, certainly. I came in 1989 at a difficult time for Bethel. The financial situation was bad, the building was in disrepair, people were staying home on Sundays or going elsewhere. For many years, pastors had come and gone and people didn’t expect me to stay very long, either. So to say that the changes that came by way of the Lord’s Word and Sacrament have made me happy would be an understatement.

What did you do first?
First, I had to learn to trust that the Lord had put me here at this particular time to serve His people with His gifts. Then, I listened to the people to find out what was going on with them and to get to know them. There was no program, no talk of money. I just said, “I’ll be your pastor.

We’ll rely on the Lord’s Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to sustain us in this life and to bring us into the life to come.”

Ever since coming to Bethel, I’ve been teaching about God. That’s especially true with regard to new members. In fact, there’s never been a time at Bethel that I didn’t have at least one adult catechism class. As we’ve grown by word of mouth, I’ve found that people don’t come to Bethel simply to become members; they come asking specifically for thorough instruction in the Christian faith.

If you didn’t have specific numbers in mind, what were your expectations?
I hoped for tremendous growth in both faith and numbers. I was told by some people, however, that the stagnant economy of this area and the high unemployment would make it unlikely that we could see more than one new member a year. I didn’t believe that. Those who had not or were not receiving the Gospel were out there, and still are. But I don’t believe that growth in the church is just getting a great number of people together.

What, then, is growth?
Growth in our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Our Lord creates and sustains that faith. He brings us and holds us together with Him and each other by coming into our lives and staying with us by way of His Word and Sacrament. Real growth comes in receiving the Lord and His gifts and having Him as our confidence.

How has life changed at Bethel?
First of all, there are a lot more people, especially children, gathered together for the Divine Service. We now have a much larger Sunday school. In 1989 there were two children enrolled in the Sunday school; now there are 58 under the age of 11. Our church building has been repaired and enlarged to accommodate the growth. There was a period of adjustment as many previously unchurched families, most with children, were learning what it is to be gathered around the Lord’s Word and Sacraments. The noise level increased substantially as more children were brought to the service.

How do you incorporate the children into worship life?
Parents and children are taught how they can follow the liturgy together. With the children we focus on those parts of the liturgy that are the same each week so that they are able to participate. I spend time each week during the Sunday school opening connecting the children to the Divine Service. Those who have been members a long time have encouraged new members, assuring them that they and their children are welcome. We held a seminar called “Children in Church” and published the ideas from that in our newsletter. I also teach the children about the physical parts of the sanctuary-the font, altar, lectern, pulpit, paschal candle, etc.

What about the adults? How do you help them?
From time to time, we use “A Narrative Commentary on the Divine Service” so that adults are reminded that the service is the Lord’s and how everything in the service comes from the sacred Scriptures. They are enabled to understand the meaning and the structure of the service.

In regard to helping visitors participate in our services, members of Bethel have been great in showing visitors how to follow the service.

Why do you think these unchurched people came to Bethel, rather than some other place?
They say they came because we showed a genuine concern for them and their families and because we offered them something with substance. People have come from a variety of backgrounds-Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Methodist, as well as those who have never been connected to any church. It’s led other churches in town to ask the same question: “Why are so many previously unchurched people going to Bethel Lutheran?”

What is this “substance” that is attracting people?
Teaching the Word of God faithfully and lovingly in ways that people are able to understand. I hear again and again when I’m teaching, “I never knew this; I never heard that before.”

How do you teach that?
There are all kinds of ways. One is by using family illustrations. For example, to explain the importance of attending worship, I’ll ask a husband and wife if they would believe a spouse who said, “I love you, but I only want to be with you once or twice a year, or every once in a while.” The point is that, just as we enjoy being in the presence of those we love, we rejoice that our Lord wants to be with us. Or I’ll ask parents whether they give their children gifts at Christmas because of their love for them or because the children are good. Our Lord forgives our sins and gives us new life not because we’re good, but because He loves us. He doesn’t leave us alone but comes into our presence to put us and keep us under the care of our Father in heaven for all eternity.

What part have the long-term members of Bethel played in these events since 1989?
They continue to play an integral part. They share with others how much the Lord and His Church mean to them. And they keep bringing people for instruction in the Christian faith.

Were they ready to see the parish transformed?
Initially there was some resistance to growth because of the noise level in the sanctuary. However, most considered the sounds from children to be music to their ears. The history of the parish made it difficult for some people to believe it was a place where growth could occur, especially given our insistence on thorough instruction for new members.

When our sanctuary became full each Sunday, I suggested that we start a second service, but the members wanted to keep just one service with everyone worshiping together. So we renovated the existing building and added more pews.

You don’t imagine, do you, that this formula you’ve outlined would make “little Bethels” sprout up everywhere it was applied?
Not at all. The Gospel doesn’t work by necessity. And I make that clear. People who start catechism classes don’t always become members right away, and sometimes not at all.

Yet, having seen so much progress, what would you recommend to other parishes and pastors?
I’d say this to both: Remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, and stick with the Lutheran liturgy. People with and without a background in liturgical worship, both young and old, love and appreciate it once they learn and understand what it delivers, namely, Jesus Christ and His forgiveness.

That can only be done through teaching. Be patient with one another. Recognize that we all need the Lord’s forgiveness and peace and that He is present through His Word and Sacraments to deliver it. Pastors, speak the truth in love without sacrificing either; you’re not in the office to win an argument, but to deliver Christ. People, forgive, love, encourage and build up your pastor; it means so much!

Do you think that seven years of steady growth has given the people of Bethel a vision for lost souls, or has it caused them to think that enough has now been done?
There’s a genuine concern for people who don’t know Christ. Members are still bringing friends to church. We already have a preschool and are discussing a Lutheran day school. Many would love to see a new school building in the near future. It is truly exciting what our Lord is doing here!

The focus of our church building is a huge cross that appears to be carried by the church. It expresses well what is going on here in terms of evangelism. Every Lord’s day we leave the sanctuary filled not with ourselves, but with Jesus Christ and His love, forgiveness, life, and peace. That is what we have been given to share with others.

Quoted from: God Builds Bethel

HT: Brown and Juhl

Back to the Gym. Again.

Just finished working out for the morning. I’d taken the summer off to my weak shame. But now that school is back in session, I’m hitting it again…this time with a friend. Marjorie has been coming with me!

I think I’ll work out for a couple of weeks before I go get my cholesterol checked again. I’d hate to see what it is now.

Abortion on TV?

Creative Minority Report discussed “The Abortion Episode” of The Family Guy that was too controversial for FOX to air. At first I thought of one of the pro-life episodes of The Simpsons I saw the other night, when Springfield tried to ban children. A memorable line from that one, said to a mob of citizens, “Now let’s go kill all the kids….. ‘s stuff!!”

But in his post, Matthew Archbold goes on to this more serious angle, and I think he’s right on the money:

I think for too long we’ve been told that abortion is too incendiary to discuss. It’s too hot a topic. Can you think of any other issue where Hollywood says this is “too hot a topic” to exploit for profit? The reason for the silence is not capitalistic. It’s ideology.

Big Abortion alone is allowed to stay behind the curtain away from public scrutiny.

I say we should talk about abortion. Heck, show one on television. You want America to become a pro-life nation overnight, show a live late term abortion. Don’t do it when kids are watching and put warnings up beforehand. But do it.

Right now, pro-lifers can hardly even get an ad on television showing cute babies. The logic of the left is priceless. Follow if you will: the fetus is a meaningless blob of tissue that we think it’s OK to rip apart and kill thousands of them per day. But if you show a picture of what we actually kill you’re some kind of sicko who should be on Homeland Security’s watch list.

Why can’t we show aborted fetuses on television? If it’s just a meaningless blob of tissue, what’s the problem with showing it? It’s because they’re afraid that the American people will see a baby and not the blob of tissue they’ve been told about.

Pro-abortion types want to keep the womb off limits from technology and abortion off the public’s radar. That’s why the ordinary ministers of the media don’t cover pro-life marches. Why would they? Big Abortion is a multi-million dollar industry that heavily supports their chosen political party.

One of the liberal mantras is always ‘we need to bring sunlight” to every issue. They “spotlight” racism. They “highlight” the extreme protesters at townhalls. But no light is ever allowed to shine on the abortion industry. It is allowed to operate in the dark unseen, unnoticed and unchecked. They like it that way. They need it that way.