Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Flu Is Terrible

Friday I felt bad: full head, itchy throat and fever. Saturday was much better, just lightheaded at times. Eliana succumbed Saturday afternoon. Then Marjorie Sunday morning. Then Olivia Sunday afternoon. Sunday night my chest started hurting and the coughing started. I've been fighting a fever that's gone as high as 102.9 since then.

It's now Wednesday, and Marjorie seems to be on the mend, but Eli and Liv are home from school again, and I am doing the bare minimum I have to do at church before heading back home. This virus is pretty brutal, to say the least. Probably one of the worst I've ever had.

In the meantime, read Dixie's comment on the post below.

Monday, February 25, 2008

America's Religion: Convertism

An excerpt:

A major new survey presents perhaps the most detailed picture we've yet had of which religious groups Americans belong to. And its big message is: blink and they'll change. For the first time, a large-scale study has quantified what many experts suspect: there is a constant membership turnover among most American faiths. America's religious culture, which is best known for its high participation rates, may now be equally famous (or infamous) for what the new report dubs "churn...."

According to Pew, 28% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another one. And that does not even include those who switched from one Protestant denomination to another; if it did, the number would jump to 44%. Says Greg Smith, one of the main researchers for the "Landscape" data, churn applies across the board. "There's no group that is simply winning or simply losing," he says. "Nothing is static. Every group is simultaneously winning and losing."

For some groups, their relatively steady number of adherents over the years hides a remarkable amount of coming and going. Simply counting Catholics since 1972,for example, you would get the impression that its population had remained fairly static - at about 25% of adult Americans (the current number is 23.9%). But the Pew report shows that of all those raised Catholic, a third have left the church. (That means that roughly one out of every 10 people in America is a former Catholic, and that ex-Catholics are almost as numerous as the America's second biggest religious group, Southern Baptists.) But Catholicism has made up for the losses by adding converts (2.6% of the population) and, more significantly, enjoying an influx of new immigratns [sic], mostly Hispanic.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Evangelism When the Church Grew the Most

St. John Chrysostom preached in Antioch and Constantinople at the end of the 4th Century, when Churches were crowded, yet many hadn't been baptized and there were large numbers of pagans. In this time that marked the greatest growth of Christianity, here is how St. John preached evangelism:

Let us show forth then a new kind of life. Let us make earth, heaven; let us hereby show the Greeks, of how great blessings they are deprived. For when they behold in us good conversation, they will look upon the very face of the kingdom of Heaven. Yea, when they see us gentle, pure from wrath, from evil desire, from envy, from covetousness, rightly fulfilling all our other duties, they will say, "If the Christians are become angels here, what will they be after their departure hence? if where they are strangers they shine so bright, how great will they become when they shall have won their native land!" Thus they too will be reformed, and the word of godliness "will have free course, not less than in the apostles' times. For if they, being twelve, converted entire cities and countries; were we all to become teachers by our careful conduct, imagine how high our cause will be exalted. (Homily XLII)

More on "Sex and the Spectacular"

Fr. Hollywood posted similar thoughts here--and does a better job expressing himself. Read his response to the first commenter in the combox too!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sensuality and the Spectacular!

So what's wrong with what the church is doing, as described by the post below?

There's nothing wrong with marital "hanky-panky," to be sure. However, the words of 1 Cor. 7:5 should come to mind, "Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." (ESV) There can be good reason to abstain from this, as self-control and abstention is a good thing in general.

The problem with what this church proposes is their assumption that sex solves problems. It doesn't, and any marital counselor would tell you that. It is likely that the absence of intimacy can create problems, and intimacy can help heal some wounds, but the true healing is done through sacrificial love of the spouse. The cure for problems is love--the kind of love God gives us in serving others as more important than yourself. The pastor is correct that divorce is epidemic in culture, and sadly in the churches as well. But wallowing in pleasure is not the solution, even if it is appropriate and good pleasure.

The reason I called it the "further sexualization" of the church is that this appeal to frequent intimacy is completely consistent with the message many receive in contemporary Christian congregations: your pleasure, your satisfaction, your needs and aesthetics come before submission and self-denial. Instead of submitting to the church, the church submits to my demands. My entertainment needs must be met by the congregation's worship, and their music appeal to me. It's seduction. We can see this even without the sensuality of liturgical dance.

Driving across town today, I saw a church with a marquee that advertised some new program they were starting about "kids" and "unmasked heroes" or something. A church down the block just changed their name to Crossroad Church (it used to be Cornerstone Baptist). A church downtown is bringing in the "Strong Men" to do some kind of spectacular1) show involving feats of strength and skill, presumably to also speak about Jesus. It seems every church has some kind of program, the Latest Thing to entice and attract people. They say it is "being all things to all men" (1 Cor. 9:22). But is becoming like Madison Avenue really what St. Paul has in mind?

Not when it comes to gratifying the itching ears. Not when it comes to neglecting the ministry of the Word. Not when it comes to forgetting "that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Phil 2:15 NKJV). Not to mention the words of Romans 12:1-2, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (ESV)

Chasing after the latest thing that will attract and draw all people to Church is quite different than the Cross, by which He "draws all men to Himself." (John 12:32 NIV). It is quite different than allowing our holiness to shine forth to light the way to our Savior. It certainly gives churches the patina of busy-ness, of work and production, of creativity and effort. Not pursuing the Latest Thing, the Big Plan, the latest effort and program has opened me up for criticism: "Just what are you doing, Pastor? Just what is this church doing? We need a plan!"

But I try to live a holy life. Unsuccessfully. I pray for and preach that the members here may begin to love one another and their neighbors. I know that gimmicks and glossies may appeal to the eyes, to the passions of people who don't come or used to come, but this program, of increasing holiness and transformation by the Gospel is the most productive of the fruits of repentance. It is also much, much harder than putting on a concert or anything else.

1. Fans of Moulin Rouge and Harry Potter movies must click on this mash-up.

The Further Sexualization of the Church

Mon Feb 18, 11:04 PM ET

A southwest Florida church issued a challenge for its married members: Hanky panky every day. Relevant Church head pastor Paul Wirth issued the 30-day sex challenge to take on high divorce rates.

"And that's no different for people who attend church," Wirth said Sunday. "Sometimes life gets in the way. Our jobs get in the way."

The challenge doesn't extend to unwed congregants, however. (AP--source)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Overlooked Miracles

In the last few days two different people told me stories of serious, or serious-looking, medical emergencies which suddenly disappeared. In one case X-rays indicated a severe trauma, which upon a second-look amounted to nothing. Another case involved tests ruling out a simple solution, and then further tests discovering it perhaps was the simple solution after all. Excuse the vague writing--I'm keeping details minimal on purpose.

The physicians and nurses thought they were odd, to say the least. But without doubt they were miracles. Not in a Pentecostal, signs and wonders way, but at least in the ordinary, God-listens-to-our-prayers way. The smallest gift, the most incidental coincidences are miraculous themselves. A miracle is not always the spectacular.

On the other hand, that these divine workings can be so overlooked is more a testament to our blindness than anything. How often do we pray for help and don't recognize it? How often do we pray for direction but don't take it because we fail to recognize what God is directing us toward? That the earth does not swallow us whole for ignoring His grace and mercy is mercy itself. That God is so patient with us in our infirmities and weakness and obstinacy calls for praise and thanksgiving.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


God Is Good

Readers here may know how much I admire Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog Glory to God for All Things. I probably link to him too often, but often times he strikes a deep chord with me and expresses himself better than I can. This post is simply amazing.

A taste:

1. We must believe that God is good.

I struggled with this for many years. I believed that God was sovereign; I believed that He was the Creator of heaven and earth; I believed that He sent His only Son to die for me. But despite a hosts of doctrines to which I gave some form of consent, not included (and this was a matter or my heart) was the simple, straight-forward consent that God is good. My father-in-law, a very simple Baptist deacon of great faith, believed this straight-forward truth with an absolute assurance that staggered my every argument. I knew him for over 30 years. When I was young (and much more foolish) I would argue with him - not to be out-maneuvered by his swift and crafty theological answers (it was me that was trying to maneuver and be swift and crafty) - but often times our arguments would end with his smile and simple confession, “Well, I don’t know about that, but I know that God is good.” Over the years I came to realize that until and unless I believed that God is good, I would never be able to truly give thanks. I could thank God when things went well, but not otherwise.

I am tempted to add my own commentary at this point, but I would simply be summarizing what Fr. Stephen wrote, and he says it better than I can. Please read his post.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch on "Worship"

There has been some discussion the past few days online about an article which appeared in the LCMS's Newspaper, The Reporter. The article (itself not available online right now) focuses on the new Commission on Worship of the LCMS.

Pr. Stuckwisch's blog discusses how some Commission members use the word "worship," and what worship truly is here. Here's a portion:

How is it that well-meaning Lutherans can wander so far afield from the Holy Scriptures? It certainly hasn't helped that "we" insist on using this word, "worship," as the comprehensive term for "what happens during the most visible hour of a congregation's week." There is a place for this word, as there is certainly a central place for worship in the Christian life. But as the chief worship is faith, and all other true Christian worship is by faith, it is ever and always contingent on that which is prior and primary, namely, the Word and work of God in Christ: His speaking of His Gospel, His giving of His gifts. "Worship" refers to that which we do and say to honor God. A term that our Lutheran Confessions use to speak of that which God says and does for us is "Liturgy," which accords with the Ministry of the Gospel. I've been told that we maybe ought to avoid this confessional, Christocentric term and stick with "worship," because of popular opinion and usage. But I don't buy it. I'm all in favor of pastoral sensitivity, and I recognize that terms can be somewhat plastic, but so long as "worship" is allowed to function as the key word, I don't believe that we'll ever be able to avoid the false assumptions and conclusions that everything hinges upon man's doing of stuff for God.

And here's what happens then: Not only is "worship" approached as the congregation's work for God, but it is also then bastardized into a malleable evangelistic tool. Not only is God dethroned from being the One who works for us to give us Sabbath Rest in Christ; He's also then required to share our attentions with outsiders. Does no one detect the idolatry in this? That the Church's "worship" should be aimed, not at glorifying God, but at "winning" over pagans to our side?

Monday, February 11, 2008

An Article

The Lutheran Witness published an article of mine called "God's File Cabinet." You can find it online here.


I've been thinking a lot about the desires we have, and how much time we spend in them. We watch television and think about having a house like theirs, a life like hers, a hairstyle, nails, skin, stuff, money, looks, body, wife, husband, children like we see on the glowing screen. We fantasize about the lottery and how we would spend the money--or use the money for good, even. We shop and shop and shop. We plan for different futures and make to-dos for changing the present.

I've spoken before about the evils of mail-order catalogs and gotten looks of dismay. Catalogs are tools of covetousness, plain and simple. My weaknesses are tool catalogs (Lee Valley is the biggest offender) and Eighth Day Books. We flip through them and see all kinds of things we want, things that will make our lives better, neater, happier, smoother, prettier...or so we think. How can one not look through a catalog (a "wish book") and not wish? When I've said these things aloud, people have looked at me like I was defective, like either I was monstrously sinful and most people don't feel that way when browsing a catalog, or like they wouldn't believe what I was saying. Couldn't believe it. Perhaps I spend too much time flipping through catalogs.

On Ash Wednesday our Director of Music (Mrs. This Side) chose "One Thing's Needful" for a distribution hymn. It's one of our favorite hymns. We even recorded it for a bedtime CD for the little ones. I've quoted the hymn before, but here's a verse:

One thing’s needful; Lord, this treasure
Teach me highly to regard;
All else, though it first give pleasure,
Is a yoke that presses hard.
Beneath it the heart is still fretting and striving,
No true, lasting happiness ever deriving.
The gain of this one thing all loss can requite
And teach me in all things to find true delight.
(Johann H. Schröder, 1667–99; Public Domain)
Placing all our desires in our Lord takes time, and is accomplished through the Lenten disciplines: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The first feeds us, the second disciplines our bodies, the third removes the possibility to gratify our material whims.

A blessed and joyful Lent to you!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Celebrity Meme

I've been tagged, and this one requires thought because I normally don't think about celebrities.

If you could spend 24 hours with a celebrity:

1. Who would s/he be?

My wife would call me a liar if I didn't say Nicole Kidman.

2. Where would you expect him/her to bring you?

Oh, maybe to the set of whatever film she's working on. But why would she bring me anywhere?

3. Where would you bring him/her?

To my house for dinner. I am married, and she is Nicole Kidman, after all, and I'm not that stupid.

4. What would you like to do with him/her?

Go to Mass. She is Catholic, so I hear.

5. What’s the one thing you’d been always wanting to ask the celebrity?

I can't say there's anything specifically.

6. If s/he didn’t treat you well, would s/he be your favorite celebrity?

Probably not. Not saying she's my favorite anyway. Not saying I have a favorite. But she would go down in my estimation if she were not nice.

7. What would you give to him/her as a gift before saying goodbye so s/he’d remember you?

One of my wife's Stampin' Up cards?

8. Tag 3 people.

Jolene. Wess. -C You can respond in a comment if you don't want to place it on your blog.

I'm a Guest Blogger

Susan Johnston at Urban Muse included me as a guest blogger today. It is something I originally posted here several months ago, though I revised it and added some more links. It's better now, I think (thanks Susan!). Here's the post at her blog.

If you're a visitor from there, welcome and enjoy!

To Make our Election Sure...

From the Epistle for Ash Wednesday:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-11 ESV)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Weedon on Ashes

An excellent explanation of Ashes for today:

The Ash Wednesday Gospel speaks against disfiguring faces to show others that you are fasting. People sometimes mistakenly think that's what the ashes for which this day is named are all about. Wrong.

The ashes are put on with the words from Genesis 3: "Remember, O Man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return." The ashes show not fasting, but DYING. They are sign not of practicing piety, but of the rock bottom reality of life in a fallen world. They announce to us: "I am dying...and so are you."

But the ashes are always placed on in the form of a cross to remind us that there is a reality that is even more rock-bottom than death: there is One who became our dying Dust for us and took that Dust through death upon a cross and burial into a glorious resurrection and a life that never ends. We are dying; we are headed to death indeed, but we do so in faith in Him who shared our nature to make us divine, who became a child of man doomed to dust, that we might become the children of God, destined for heavenly glory in union with Him. (posted here.)

A Lovely Post on Being a Good Man and Father

You can find it here: Creative Minority Report. It's a great blog: well written and addressing culture from a conservative Catholic perspective (but good reading for those of all Christian confessions).

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Value of One Soul

I receive the "Jews for Jesus" Newsletter every so often, and while I am concerned about much of their Protestant (Reformed & Baptist) Christian theology, I appreciate their realistic understanding of evangelism. Here's an example from their February newsletter:

Tuvya Zaretsky reports, 'A Jewish seeker named Jennifer began her journey toward faith after her father died in 2005. A Christian friend spoke to her about chirst, but Jennifer had no basis to understand what she meant, so her friend recommended Jennifer to Jews for Jesus. After we ministered to her for two years, Jennifer prayed (with the Christian friend who referred her to us) to receive salvation in Jesus Christ....
This story is not atypical. Many of their stories mention people like Ari, who took a tract and perhaps was seeking, or maybe not. Or they speak of someone who is still asking questions after years.

On the whole, it seems Jews for Jesus doesn't take anything for granted. One person taking a tract is a victory for the Gospel. A woman asking questions is a grant opportunity. They realize that conversion to faith in Christ can take years, and when it happens, it drastically changes the lives of these people (though we may say it takes a lifetime). It's serious business and success is measured one soul at a time.

What a contrast with the mega-Evangelist approach, with those who boast that "thousands came to Christ" after one sermon, where success is measured in the dozens, hundreds, or thousands!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Getting What You Want

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes in his latest post,

I will offer a terrible prophecy, or a truth, if you will. We all get what we are waiting for. I will have to reflect for a while and see if I think that is completely true. I believe it is. What we get reveals much. For what we receive, or what we think we have received is a verdict that proclaims: “for this I waited.” And a great chorus will arise on judgment day and all will say, “See I told you so!” For some this will be the great voice of triumph as those who have waited for Christ and the fullness of the kingdom will not be disappointed. And those who have waited for even the most petty things will find their waiting to be fulfilled. And tragically, when they could have the received the only thing worth waiting for - they will have received their own private prophecy. They will receive just as little as their heart wanted. Cynics will be completely justified in their cynicism and proclaim to the rest of us that we were fools to have waited for anything good.
The whole post is excellent and I commend it to you.