Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sin City Bible Study?

To prove to all that I can be a company man and that I do indeed care for the lost and the “unchurched,” I’ve decided, after prayerful consideration, that maybe my concern that using secular movies as the jumping off point of a Bible study may have been too harsh. I’m now going on record as saying we can and should try to reach those who would never consider otherwise a Bible or Lutheran Confessions study by whatever means necessary even if the base material is of a secular nature.

My first proposal for a new study using popular films is the Sin City Total Depravity of Man Extreme Bible Study. Nobody understands the total depravity of man better than the Sin City’s creator Frank Miller. Why, Miller’s entire body of work in the comic book world is a virtual goldmine of material on man's fall from God's grace! See here for my previous post on Frank Miller’s Lutheran world view.

The Sin City movie is an interwoven set of three stories (see, see, three is one of those holy numbers!) about the most depraved individuals imaginable that could be reviewed as one whole piece or broken up to address the different troubles, concerns, and foibles of the fallen citizens of Basin City. It’s a sure fire way to get “those who might not otherwise attend a Bible class on the Lutheran Confessions” in the door!

If we get ‘em in the door for my Sin City study, who knows, we might even find a way to convince these potential seeker to stay for a while and ain’t that what reaching the lost is all about?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time Out 11

Dan over at Necessary Roughness has the newest Time Out; Time Out Episode 11 posted. This episode’s reading is from Acts 2:14-47 and the hymn “Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow” can be found on pages 880 in the Lutheran Service Book.

Dan is joined in this edition of Time Out by soprano Sherry McCarty of Trinity Lutheran Church, Traverse City, MI with the accompaniment being provided by Deaconess Sara Lemon, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Oakmont, PA on the organ.

Be sure to stop by, say howdy, and thank Dan for doing such a great job on Time Out 11

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bible Studying The Bat-Man

From my inbox comes a story in the Reporter highlighting a new study from Concordia Publishing House:

New CPH study looks at Batman film

God's Light in Gotham's Darkness is a new, downloadable Bible study from Concordia Publishing House that's based on the popular Batman film, "The Dark Knight."®

The six-session study connects and contrasts main themes from the movie with Scripture and Lutheran teachings. It is designed for use with a variety of ages, from senior high to young adult and beyond.
It is available for download only, from the CPH Web site, and includes notes for leaders, handouts for participants, and PowerPoint presentation slides. God's Light in Gotham's Darkness is about "discovering and discussing changeless truths concerning sin and our need for a Savior," according to CPH.

When I see stuff like this I’m always at a loss at where to begin and today is no different. I'm never sure if I should begin with things like the Reporter holding up for praise congregations that “think outside of the box” and rent space away from their church to hold functions to evangelism work so as to not offend the unchurched and be more “seeker sensitive.” I’m also never sure if I begin with the things like the Reporter’s praise of mission churches looking more like the coffee shop down in the local strip mall and their use of pop songs to reach out to those same “unchurched.” Thankfully, the Reporter is just reporting and not commenting. That helps me narrow it down a tad.

Yep, there are times I’m not sure where to begin because there is just so much here…

One of the things that I thought was cool about my pastor growing up was his ability to preach sermons from the big box movies that were in the theaters. I remember one sermon where he said “the Bible must be true because” Raiders of the Lost Ark” had Bible stuff in it. He would go on to say that Hollywood would never have used the Ark of the Covenant as a prop if the Ark didn’t really exist. Using that logic I’d say it’s safe to assume that George Lucas’ Sith run empire just hasn’t spread to this part of the galaxy.

The problem with starting from pop culture movies when designing devotional or evangelism materials for reaching out to the unchurched is that once you make the focus of a sermon or a Bible study a pop culture event, you will not be able go back to expository preaching or teaching without losing those that were attracted to a Bat-Man study for the sake of the coolness factor. You may mean well and good by getting ‘em in the door but sooner or later, if you are serious about catechizing the unchurched, you’ll need to switch the bait. In a time when numbers and head counting are all the rage those that live and die by spreadsheets and viability projections ain’t gonna be happy with any down tick in the forecast indicators. Trust me, you live by the spreadsheet you die by the spreadsheet. But here I am getting off topic again…

That pastor I referred to just a bit ago never was able to make any kind of transition back to something that resembled the preaching of Christ and Him Crucified. He continued to preach on Dr. Seuss’ books and Doors songs even after being challenged to talk more about Jesus. The same problem he faced is the one we face; once you make learning exciting by being cool and relevant it’s very difficult to change course.

And there’s the other problem… relevance.

If CPH was really trying to be cutting edge it wouldn’t be using a movie that is already in the Wal-Mart discount bin next to “The Breakfast Club 20th Anniversary Special Edition” and “Daredevil”! I mean, why not a “Blues Brothers” study? After all, if I remember correctly Jake and Elwood are after all are on a “mission from God.” Or are those movies not relevant enough? Are we only looking at last year’s hit movies or can we try to attract the film school crowd by doing a study on the Lutheran themes in Nosferatu? Does CPH not realize that many purpose driven churches already beat ‘em to the relevance finish line with “Kung Fu Panda” and “Slumdog Millionaire” as well as a “Dark Knight” series already?

Somebody needs to tell CPH that in order to be relevant you really need to be out front instead of playing catch up. That’s just marketing 101 folks.

For the record, when it comes to Christian publishing companies Concordia Publishing House is the best out there period, end… of… discussion. Their scholarly work such as the Concordia Commentary series and the recent Treasury of Daily Prayer (frequently quoted here at POTF) is the gold standard in depth studies and devotional resources. At the end of the day I think CPH is a great publishing house and I hope that this kind of Bat-Man study is just an anomaly.

I say I hope because there seems to be an awful lot ideas out there in the LCMS held up for praise for an out of the box thinking that goes out of its way to present itself as secular. I really hope…

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Oh yeah, it’s Earth Day… that day in the year when a bunch of earth worshiping hippies demand that we celebrate their religion.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Awesome Easter Sermons

Anytime a pastor can properly tie the Gospel reading for the day in with the Torah you know the sermon is going to be a home run.

Anytime a vicar can repeat the task with a different Gospel reading the very next week…you know that
1 Peter 1:25 is not merely rhetoric but rather a fact sometimes taken for granted.

Yesterday, silly synodical politics and worldly concerns seemed miles away as I listened to God’s Word convict me of my sins and then offer that sweet Word of comfort as only the Gospel can through those whom He has called to preach His Holy Word.

Thanks be to God for giving us faithful men to proclaim that Gospel which surpasses all understanding.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Time Out 10

Dan over at Necessary Roughness has the newest Time Out; Time Out 10 posted.

This episode’s reading is Romans 5 and the hymns “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” and “The Strife is O’er, The Battle Done” can be found on pages 458 and 464 in the Lutheran Service Book respectively.

Dan is joined in this edition of Time Out by Deaconess Sara Lemon of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Oakmont, PA!

Be sure to stop by, say howdy, and thank Dan for doing such a great job on
Time Out 10.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Youth Led Worship Coming In June

Yesterday I opened up my email and found the monthly YOUTH MINISTRY E-BULLETIN in the ole inbox. The editor, Rev. Terry Dittmer reminds all of us:

YOUTH MINISTRY SUNDAY/MONTH . . . June has traditionally been youth ministry month. Many churches have special youth lead worship on one of the Sundays in June. A worship resource for youth Sunday will be published in thESource in May (

I had almost forgotten that June is youth ministry month! I have to guess that a majority of folks are as in the dark as I was until I opened my email. What a shame it would be to let such a great opportunity pass without letting our youth lead us in our worship.

As the chair of Board of Youth I feel it is my duty to bring this crucial issue to our council in our meeting next week. I hope all of you who read this would follow my lead, forgo the old stuffy liturgies that have been used for centuries, and let your youth groups show the entire congregation how a true heart filled worship is done.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He Is Risen! He Is Not Here

Mark 16:1-8

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Today the stone has been rolled away so that all the world may see an empty tomb. Christ Jesus is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Have a blessed Easter!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

But if any honest Christian wants to know why the Lord suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and how could He "become a curse" otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written, "Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree." Again, the death of the Lord is the ransom of all, and by it "the middle wall of partition" is broken down and the call of the Gentiles comes about. How could He have called us if He has not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched? Here, again, we see the fitness of His death and of those outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself. Even so, He foretold the manner of His redeeming death, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Myself."

—Athanasius of Alexandria

From the awesome Treasury of Daily Prayer

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday; the day the historic and catholic church celebrates Jesus’ intuition of the Lord’s Supper often referred to as the Eucharist. From the Gospel of Matthew 26:26-30;

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

What does a covenant instituted two millennium ago mean for us today? Here is the explanation from the Small Catechism;
What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

That is shown us in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

In the Eucharist we are given a new covenant where Christ’s bride, the Church, receives the medicine of immortality, the very Body and Blood of Her Lord shed for her sins. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Thoughts On The Musical Settings Of Palm Sunday Hymnody

What the heck is with the peppy musical settings of Palm Sunday hymnody?

Great hymns like Ride On, Ride On in Majesty certainly reflect the pericope or Scripture reading of the day (which is one of the tests with which we measure our hymnody here at POTF) but is such an upbeat musical setting really appropriate? Here is our Gospel reading for the day:

Mark 11:1-10

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”

So they went their way, and found the[b] colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?”

And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

“ Hosanna!

‘ Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David
That comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”

And here is the text of our opening hymn All Glory, Laud, and Honor found in the LSB on page 442:

All glory, laud, and honor,
to thee, Redeemer, King,
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.

1. Thou art the King of Israel,
thou David's royal Son,
who in the Lord's name comest,
the King and Blessed One.

2. The company of angels
are praising thee on high,
and we with all creation
in chorus make reply.

3. The people of the Hebrews
with psalms before thee went;
our prayer and praise and anthems
before thee we present.

4. To thee, before thy passion,
they sang their hymns of praise;
to thee, now high exalted,
our melody we raise.

5. Thou didst accept their praises;
accept the prayers we bring,
who in all good delightest,
thou good and gracious King.

Yes the hymn is repeating back (confessing) the Gospel story that is going to be read but what is with the almost joyful musical setting? Don’t these people know how the story turns out? Don’t the people who write the music for these hymns know that in less than a week these same people cheering for Jesus are going to be the same ones calling for his crucifixion? Don’t they know the ending of the story? Don’t they know that in a few short days, that on Good Friday, Jesus is going be beaten, stripped naked, and nailed to a piece of wood to die? Again, what is with this almost cheerful music? Why, when it is sung, does it sound like a victory parade if we know it ends with death?

Simply put, it’s a victory parade because it ends in death.

In Christ’s work on the cross, we are given victory over sin, death, and the devil himself. In Christ’s work on the cross, all our sins are placed on Him who committed no sin and an atonement; a reconciliation, between God and man is made. In Christ’s work on the cross, we see the magnitude of God’s love; sending His Son as a propitiation for the very creatures who rebelled against him.

The music is joyful precisely because we do know the ending of the story. We know that our story begins and ends at the cross and we sing accordingly. Thanks be to God that we know our Lord and our King rides into Jerusalem to redeem the fallen human race. Thanks be to God that we have great hymns to sing of all the glory, laud, and honor our Savior earned and won at Calvary.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Time Out IX

Dan over at Necessary Roughness has the newest Time Out; Time Out IX posted. This episode’s reading is from Hebrews 9:11-28 and the hymn “Jesus, Grant That Balm and Healing” from LSB 421.

The accompaniment is provided by Deaconess Sara Lemon on the pipe organ at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Oakmont, PA.

Be sure to stop by, say howdy, and thank Dan for doing such a great job on Time Out IX.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Ron Moore’s Nod To The Mormon Legends In BSG

It’s no secret to any long time readers of this blog that my favorite show over the last few years has been Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica which ran on the Sci-Fi channel from 2004-2009. The show was absolutely the best written series on TV and was not so much about science fiction as it was a look at the human condition.

I think an honest comparison could be made to the original Star Trek series in that the updated BSG series routinely wove real world events and social issues into it’s storylines. From the war on terror (or “overseas contingency plan” if you think calling a war is imperialistic) and terrorism to stem cell research and abortions, BSG treated social issues as if they were as complex as in real life.

Sure there was a bit of postmodernism in many of the stories, but all of the writers treated the fans as if they had half a brain and could think for themselves. The show was a fast moving train that didn’t always stop to explain all of the details instead leaving it up to the viewer to fill in the blanks. How many shows treat their audience with such respect? Very, very few are willing to take that kind of risk. Instead, most shows find themselves relying on simplistic narratives that treat the viewers as if they are only one step above Dora the explorer’s targeted age group, but not BSG.

Another thing I’ve enjoyed about the Battlestar Galactica series, whether it was the original series or Ronald D. Moore’s updated version was the strong ties to the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, i.e. the Mormons. I’ve written before about the ties between Battlestar Galactica and Mormon theology and for a quick refresher go here. Wait a minute; I’m getting a bit ahead of myself so hold on to that thought for a moment.

In a recent post over at the Syfy Channel message boards Moore gave us a glimpse at one of several alternate endings where the comatose cylon Anders would land the Galactica on Earth to be discovered years later. Moore explains:

There was a point in the development process where we discussed the idea of the Galactica not being destroyed, but having somehow landed on the surface more or less intact, but unable to ever get into orbit again (the particulars here were never worked out, so don't ask how she made it down without being torn apart). We talked about them basically abandoning the ship and moving out into the world. Cut to the present-day, in Central America where there are these enormous mysterious mounds that archeologists have not been able to understand (it may have been South America, I can't recall the exact location, but these mounds really do exist). Someone is doing a new kind of survey of the mounds with some kind of ground-penetrating radar or something and lo and behold, we see the outlines of the Galactica still buried under the surface.

Did you catch that? Do you see where this is going? These are the mounds that Joseph Smith, the supposed author of the Book of Mormon, claimed were created by the Nephites, a lost tribe of Israel, which had traveled to America centuries before Europeans had discovered it.

Smith claimed that the mounds were proof positive of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as it mentioned a story of mounds or mound builders. The Book of Mormon also makes the claim that the Nephites built magnificent cities, which were destroyed by warfare with the Lamanites around 385 AD. Mormon Elder Charles B. Thompson wrote in his 1841 report:

Now the Nephites were a civilized, industrious people... whereas the Lamanites became an idle, savage, and vicious people delighting in war and bloodshed... Therefore the Nephites had to prepare themselves for self defense which they did by fortifying their cities and casting up banks of earth round about their armies, and sometimes building walls of stone to encircle them about, which accounts for the numerous fortifications and works of defense found so profusely scattered over this land [North America]. And when the people of these nations became numerous they had extensive wars; in some battles thousands were slain who were piled up in heaps upon the face of the land and then earth thrown upon them, and this accounts for the numerous mounds and tumuli found in this country [North America].

Smith himself wrote to one of his first wives, Emma, upon finding a skeleton at one of these mounds:

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendor and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.

For years the Mormons defended the idea that the mounds were the ruins of great cities of that lost tribe of Israel. Sadly for the mound builder theorists, archeology has thrown a wet blanket on the imagination of Joseph Smith and a great many others like him. As the science of archeology has progressed greatly since the middle of the nineteenth century it wasn’t too terribly difficult to determine that it was the American Indians who built these mounds. We also know from the science of DNA analysis that first people to come to this continent came not from Israel but rather from Asia. Science is not the Mormon’s friend by any stretch of the imagination.

The history of the Mormon theories of the mound builders had to be known by Ronald D. Moore to propose putting a Battlestar beneath a mound in the ancient Americas. I believe that Moore is simply too smart for such a scenario to be just crazy random happenstance. Boy, I’m gonna miss Battlestar Galactica both for the masterful storytelling as well as the cool little nods the writers made to the most successful of the made in America religions.

To see some neat photographs of the mounds built by the North American Indians visit Don Burmeister’s site here.