Friday, May 29, 2009

Time Out Episode 15

Dan over at Necessary Roughness has the newest Time Out; Time Out Episode 15 posted. The Scripture reading for this episode is Genesis chapter 3 and the hymn is “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night” found on page 883 in the Lutheran Service Book.

Dan is joined in this edition of Time Out by organist Bruce Ahlich from Trinity Lutheran Church in Traverse City, MI.

Be sure to stop by, say howdy, and thank Dan for doing such a great job on Time Out Episode 15 !

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ablaze!’s Counting Evolution

The Ablaze! website counting criteria evolution:

Baptisms do not count as baptism is only an outward sign


We are not counting baptisms or conversions. We are counting the number of Gospel seeds planted.

and ended up

We are counting sharing the Gospel with individuals--seeds planted in faith…

Well, I guess there has been some progress…

I would love to know when the second standard of what was to be counted on the Ablaze! website was changed to the third.

Personally, I see these changes as progress. Who knows, maybe the Ablaze! program or movement might resemble something vaguely Lutheran by, oh let’s say 2017ish if these changes continue!

Like, wouldn’t that be cool…

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Time Out Episode14

Dan over at Necessary Roughness has the newest Time Out; Time Out Episode 14 posted. The Scripture reading for this episode comes from Acts 13:15-43 and the hymn is “The Day Is Surely Drawing Near” found on page 508 in the Lutheran Service Book.

Dan is joined in this edition of Time Out by organist Bruce Ahlich from Trinity Lutheran Church in Traverse City, MI.

Be sure to stop by, say howdy, and thank Dan for doing such a great job on Time Out Episode 14!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Does Ablaze! Count Baptisms Now?

From last week’s inbox comes this School Ministry E-Bulletin story under the heading “Ablaze Moments in Lutheran Schools”…

ABLAZE Moments

In the past 15 years, Our Redeemer Lutheran School in Fords, NJ, with an average enrollment of 100 students in Grades PK-8, has baptized 16 students. On May 10, #17 will be baptized, and #18 will become a child of God on June 14. God is so good!!!!

The fact that 18 children have been heirs of heaven in the waters of Holy Baptism is a blessing indeed as the sacrament “works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare”.

But… I have to ask the question; is Ablaze! now counting baptisms? The reason the question is important is that for the longest time the Ablaze! website explained the methodology of the program this way:

"We are not counting baptisms or conversions. We are counting the number of Gospel seeds planted."

That same page that the LCMS set up to explain Ablaze! methods: "Are we really counting? If so, what exactly are we counting?" now states:

We are counting sharing the Gospel with individuals--seeds planted in faith…

See the difference? The statement that we do not count baptisms is no longer there! So, are we counting baptisms or not? If we are now counting baptisms, when did we start?

Don’t get me wrong, counting the sacrament of Baptism is a very good thing! One of my biggest problems with the whole Ablaze! fad is the lack of focus on and never pointing to the Means of Grace; the Word preached purely and the Sacraments rightly administered. The Means of Grace should be the only things we look to for visible signs of the Church on this side of eternity. To look elsewhere for signs of a visible church or pretending that we can see what lies in the human heart is the same vain and futile effort and thinking that sent many a Pharisee skipping their merry way down the road to perdition.

I hope that we are indeed counting baptisms now. I would also hope like heck that we hired the right consultant this time to tell us that Scripture and our Confessions have been pointing us to the Means of Grace as something to be counted for quite a bit longer than the Madison Avenue marketing gurus have been saying that the Means of Grace are only an impediment to growing Christ’s church.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Time Out 13

Speak of the… well, you know.

Dan over at
Necessary Roughness has the newest Time Out; Time Out Episode 13 posted. The Scripture reading for this episode comes from the second chapter of Ephesians.

This Time Out episode’s hymn is “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” found on page 556 in our hymnal; Lutheran Service Book. “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” was my congregation’s sermon hymn last Sunday as well as the subject of my previous post.

Dan is joined in this edition of Time Out by organist Dale Stanton from Our Savior Lutheran Church, Morristown, TN.

Be sure to stop by, say howdy, and thank Dan for doing such a great job on
Time Out 13!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dear Christians, One And All, Rejoice

Do you know why there I’ll never sing any hymns of terror on a Sunday morning? The reason for this is that the hymns that my congregation sing will always proclaim the joy of the Gospel. That’s not to say that the terror of the consequences of not keeping God’s righteous and perfect Law isn’t in our hymns, but the law simply can not comfort the right minded Christian (we like our hymns to be about Jesus doing the doing). A good hymn is simply a sung confession of the Gospel proclamation that repeats back what we given in God’s Holy Word.

I would argue that there is no better hymn that walks us through our problem of sin and the work of Christ to propitiate God’s wrath and bring us back into communion with Him after we fell into sin than reformation era hymn Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice by Dr. Luther.

This was our sermon hymn and it has always been one of my favorites. I guess my reasoning is that the hymn really mirrors my own experience of looking inward and to my own works and the result of that self made hell as well as the joy of hearing that it was the work of Christ on the cross that I should take comfort in.

1. Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,
With exultation springing,
And, with united heart and voice,
And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God hath done,
How His right arm the victory won;
Right dearly it hath cost him.

2. Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay.
Death brooded darkly o'er me.
Sin was my torment night and day.
In sin my mother bore me.
Yea, deep and deeper still I fell.
Life had become a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.

3. My own good works availed me naught,
No merit they attaining.
Free will against God's judgment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left naught but death to be my share.
The pains of hell I suffered.

4. But God beheld my wretched state
Before the world's foundation.
And, mindful of His mercies great,
He planned my soul's salvation.
A father's heart He turned to me,
Sought my redemption fervently.
He gave His dearest Treasure.

5. He spoke to His beloved Son:
'Tis time to have compassion.
Then go, bright Jewel of My crown,
And bring to man salvation;
From sin and sorrow set him free.
Slay bitter death for him that he
May live with Thee forever.

6. This Son obeyed His Father's will,
Was born of virgin mother.
And God's good pleasure to fulfil,
He came to be my Brother.
No garb of pomp or power He wore,
A servant's form, like mine, He bore,
To lead the devil captive.

7. To me He spake: Hold fast to Me,
I am thy Rock and Castle;
Thy ransom I Myself will be,
For thee I strive and wrestle;
For I am with thess, I am thine,
And evermore thou shalt be mine.
The foe shall not divide us.

8. The foe shall shed my precious blood,
Me of My life bereaving.
All this I suffer for thy good
Be steadfast and believing.
Life shall from death the victory win.
My innocence shall bear thy sin;
So art thou blest forever.

9. Now to My Father I depart,
The Holy Spirit sending
And heavenly wisdom to impart
My help to thee extending.
He shall in trouble comfort thee,
Teach thee to know and follow Me,
And in all truth shall guide thee.

10. What I have done and taught, teach thou,
My ways forsake thou never.
So shall My kingdom flourish now
And God be praised forever.
Take heed lest men with base alloy
The heavenly treasure should destroy.
This counsel I bequeath thee.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

He Was WHAT? He Was Born Again? Really?

The missus and I were watching the evening news on Friday and as is our custom we had the dial turned to ABC. George Stephanopoulos was filling in for Charlie Gibson who was who knows where and taking the night off.

Stephanopoulos was reporting on Pope Benedict XVI visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and informed all of Christianity that this holy site is where Jesus died, was buried, and…are you sitting down… “where Jesus was born again”.

My missus caught the stupidest thing said in recent memory by someone who claims to be a journalist and nearly jumped off the couch. Normally she tries to not pay attention to the evening news but Stephanopoulos’ faux pas had her sitting up and yelling “what did he just say?” Trying to put the best possible construction on the situation she asked if maybe he simply misspoke.

No, he didn’t just misspeak. When Stephanopoulos guest hosts, he reads off the same teleprompter that any other guest reads off, just like Charlie Gibson does when he’s in front of the camera. No, he didn’t misspeak, he read exactly what was written, and that right there is the problem.

Now, maybe it’s possible that Stephanopoulos didn’t review what he had to read on Friday night but I somehow doubt that. Even if he didn’t have a chance to read his script, someone had to! It is almost beyond belief, that while covering a story that has been as tumultuous as Benedicts’ visit to Israel has been, that a religion expert not be consulted so that ABC could report correctly even the basic understanding of what Christianity has confessed for two thousand years.

Who the heck refers to the resurrection of Christ as Him being “born again”? For crying out loud even the four year olds in our Sunday school program know the difference between resurrection and being born again! Whoever wrote the story has as much understanding of the basics of Christianity as I do of Kryptonian war suits.

Well, this had me on a rant for most of the rest of the night that went like this:

"So, I guess Jesus was born again after He accepted Himself into His heart, after He made that decision to have a personal relationship with Himself? Maybe then He was born again, right? Uh, how did he get by without saying the sinners prayer? Could He be born again if He didn't say the sinners prayer"

Thankfully I was able to calm down before our Friday night Bible study…somewhat, I do after all have a tendency to get a fixated on something that bugs me… like not knowing Jesus 101 for instance.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hymns Of Terror?

My pastor pointed out something in his sermon a few weeks ago that caught me a bit off guard;

“And this is how the disciples respond to the Resurrection, to seeing Christ return in the flesh—with terror and fear. Now, I know the hymnal fairly well. There are lots of hymns for Easter about “Easter triumph, Easter joy. But I haven’t found the hymn yet on “Easter Terror, Easter Fear”.”

Huh? Never thought about that? Never sang an Easter terror hymn either, did ya? Don’t worry, neither have I and I don’t expect to any time soon.

If I’m honest here I’d have to say that I think I’ve been jumping over too quickly how terrified the disciples truly were following Good Friday. Let’s take a quick look at what Scripture says concerning the disciples fearful state:

Matthew 28:1-8
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

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.

Luke 24:1-8
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”And they remembered His words.

Our Gospel reading for this past Sunday was John 20:19-23

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I’ve never blamed the disciples (or thought twice about it if I’m being honest here) for being afraid as that guy that they had been following around for three years, who claimed that He was actually God in human flesh, had just been crucified, died, and was placed in a tomb. At the end of the day they were justified in being afraid because as Jesus’ disciples they had just as big a bull’s-eye on their backs as their Lord and Master.

The caveat here is that Jesus not only claimed that he was God; He proved that He was God by raising Himself from the dead!

After the resurrection Jesus appears to His disciples not as a ghost or phantom but rather physically with a body that still bears the evidence of His crucifixion. His body can be touched and can even eat broiled fish on a beach. Go ahead and tell me that you wouldn’t be a little apprehensive if you were in the disciples sandals, I dare ya. I double dog dare ya!

But our Lord declares that they will, by His Word, have peace and need not worry or fear about those who might do them harm. If Jesus says you have peace, then you have that peace which passes all understanding.

Getting back to my pastor’s point in the sermon, I think he’s right and there are no hymns that sing, or at least start off singing about the real terror that the disciples experienced until Jesus appears and puts them at ease.

I’ve always said that hymnody should reflect the pericope of the day but in lieu of a new hymnal supplement I guess we’ll continue singing our Easter joy hymns. And at the end of the day, I’m really ok with that…

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today’s Quote Of The Day

Today’s quote of the day comes from Dan over at Necessary Roughness in his Nascent Ideas post:

"If the Church Growth movement insists on dividing people up between churched and unchurched, I would rather be called unchurched. That way people will treat me like I still need the Gospel."

Amen brother!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ablaze! Counter Hits 10 Million (Or If You Live By The Numbers…)

From the inbox; last Thursday the Reporter, the official newspaper of the LCMS, sent out emails and reported on its website:

Ablaze! faith-sharing counter exceeds 10 million

By Paula Schlueter Ross

The Web-based "counter" that tracks the number of times LCMS Lutherans have shared their faith with others as part of the Ablaze! movement hit 10,006,997, as of April 29. That figure includes some 310,000 additions from the Synod's Southeastern District, which has been recording Gospel-sharing events for three years and last month added them to the Ablaze! Web site.

Sally Hiller, who has been overseeing the districtwide Ablaze! emphasis, says "people are becoming more comfortable in seeing and seizing the opportunities to share their faith" and now the initiative is "beginning to gain momentum" in the district.

"I rejoice and give thanks to God because each day I am humbled to read of the faith-sharing experiences of people throughout the district," Hiller said.
She recalled one person who told her, "Oh, I probably speak to someone about Jesus 25 to 30 times a day. How do you not?"

Still, the district is not easing up on its Ablaze! emphasis. At its May 1-3 convention in Norfolk, Va., delegates unanimously adopted a resolution to make faith-sharing a districtwide priority for the next triennium. The Southeastern District wants to have reached 750,000 people with the Gospel by its next convention in 2012 -- that's 30 percent of its goal to reach 2.5 million by 2017.

With a little more than eight years left until Ablaze! culminates on Oct. 31, 2017, the movement is one-tenth of the way toward its goal of reaching 100 million people worldwide with the Gospel.

It would be truly delightful if those who lived by the numbers would hold themselves accountable by the very numbers and statistics that they demand of us. Allow me to make my case…

In 2003 the President of the LCMS Gerald Kieschnick was giving speeches as all presidents do at district conventions. In each of those speeches the President Kieschnick stated:

From 1971 to 2001, our Synod’s baptized membership has decreased from 2.89 million people to 2.54 million and confirmed membership has decreased from 2.01 million to 1.92 million.

Sadly, by 2009, the membership of the LCMS has dropped further to 2.4 million baptized members. I looked for how many of those 2.4 million members were actually catechized and confirmed but couldn’t find the current numbers.

How can this be? I thought the Ablaze! movement was being hailed as a success? If we have ten million “critical events” then why has the headcount dropped half a million people since Ablaze! was implemented? Does losing at least five hundred thousand people sound like the non-program is working to you?

So, let’s not try to all be negative Nancys and such and try to put a positive spin on the situation. Maybe those that we are counting as being reached with chance to respond (this is the definition of a “critical event”) are going to other protestant denominations. With the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polling it has been learned that denominational loyalty can no longer be counted on. Maybe those we are counting are actually in other denominations based on our evangelism.

The problem with thinking that we, out of the goodness of our hearts, are just helping out every other denomination but our own is that the number of Americans who call themselves Christian, as a percentage, hasn’t changed in years and in fact there are very real signs of a decline in actual numbers. If we look at Americanized Christianity and can’t see even a small increase with ten million “critical events”, shouldn’t someone ask what the heck are these people doing with all these chances for to respond? Are they going anywhere at all? They certainly don’t seem to be going to church that’s for sure.

And continuing to put the best spin on the situation, I’m also going to make the assumption that they ain’t going to visit the Mormons. The Mormon numbers are increasing somewhat but I seriously doubt that the average unchurched seeker is interested in looking for Jesus on Kobol.

So again; where are these ten million “critical events” folks? Who knows and that’s my point. The Ablaze! movement never had as its goal pointing to the one thing that Scripture and our Confessions say can be counted; the Means of Grace, that is to say the Word preached purely and the Sacraments properly administered. Since we don’t point to the Means of Grace can we really expect a “return” on our evangelism investment?

It’s more than a little frustrating to read how a high cost evangelism movement is praised with no measurable movement concerning results within our beloved LCMS (or anywhere else for that matter). It would be nice if those who lived by numbers and spreadsheets would call a thing what it is and admit that the numbers and spreadsheets being hailed as a success only tell a portion of a sad story.

If you live by the numbers, shouldn’t you be held accountable to them as well?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Sunday School Rules

Here’s how the conversation went down:

Me: What the heck did you just say?

Student: What?

Me: I said, what the heck did you just say?

Future Church Worker: Are you saying you don’t like Bon Jovi?

Me: First rule of Mr. Gillespie’s Sunday school class; you do not quote big hair bands!

FCW: But the song is about prayer..

Me: The second rule of Mr. Gillespie’s Sunday school class; you do NOT quote big hair bands!

Student: I like Poison, are they ok?

Me: Get out of my class, now!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Star Trek Bible Study?

If the good folks over at CPH were really trying to be cutting edge and relevant they might not want to use a movie that is already in the discount bin at Wal-Mart and instead look at something a little more recent. They might also try to get a jump on things and be really, really relevant and have a study ready to go on a movie that is not even out yet, like the new Star Trek movie for instance.

My second idea for a new dynamic and relevant study is an Old Adam / New Man study. The study would look at old school Kirk and Spock, played by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and contrast them with the new, hip, and cool Kirk and Spock, played by someone you’ve never heard of and Sylar from Heroes respectively, and use the characters to further the dialogue of the changed man.

Of course the God that changes the old man into the new man won’t be the "god" the Old Kirk found hiding on a planet in the self directed The Final Frontier. Bringing up that movie would have any seeker running for the door in short order and rightfully so.

As with Der Fledermaus study, this relevant and dynamic proposal is meant to reach out to “those who might not otherwise attend a Bible class on the Lutheran Confessions.”

Update: As proof that those who read this blog are infinitely smarter and wittier than the author, Saxoniae offered up possible chapters for my proposed relevant dynamic study that I thought deserved to be included in the post. Thanks Saxoniae!

1. Church: Where no man has gone before.
2. 40 days of living long and prospering.
3. "D@mn it, Jim! I'm a doctor not a ..." studies on Lutheran vocation.

4. Remote DVD consecration (revisited) by the LCMS CTCR.
5. Comparisons between the evil mirror universe and contemporary worship practices.
6. Passing the peace via Kirk's patented double-axe-handle judo chop to the back.
7. "Friendly angel come to me" vs. "Let your Holy angel be with me ..."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Valerie Graduates!

On Saturday my absolute favorite bestest niece, Valerie, graduated from Concordia University Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts. Ain't that cool?

Her major is in theology with the minor being psychology. Valerie hopes to get a placed as a deaconess soon as she has all but completed her internship at Bethany Lutheran Church up in Naperville, Illinois.

Valerie, your aunt and I are so proud of you for all the hard work it took to get your degree. As they say in these here parts, you done good! Love ya!