Thursday, March 31, 2005

Ideas have consequences

One of the things that has disturbed me about the Terri news coverage is that the outrage about the starvation and thirst (even the callous Europeans are horrified), might actually work in favor of the pro-death crowd. Denyse O'Leary writes: "Starting slowly in the early 20th century, but now picking up speed, naturalism has begun to make deep inroads into our culture, including the school systems. And we are seeing the results.

At one time, only unborn children slated for abortion were treated with complete indifference to their possible suffering. Now it could be you. And if you complain that Terri is being treated cruelly, you will be told that a lethal injection would be more humane. In other words, going the whole way of treating all humans as animals would be more humane.

So, even if you are not religious or not socially concerned, but merely selfish, wake up and care."

The whole essay is well worth reading.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

254 Lip Service after Easter Services?

On Good Friday, Zach Wendling wrote about why he treasures the services held on that day--services that end in total darkness leaving one with a sense of horror at what has transpired on our behalf, Jesus death on the cross for our sins.

“Before Jesus could overcome sin and death by his glorious resurrection on Sunday, he had to endure that sin and death today. What we will celebrate in two (three?) days is predicated by what happened today, and so it behooves us to mark this day as different. To ignore Good Friday and skip straight to Easter may even have theologically troubling implications. Pride makes us want to ignore our sin and skip straight to the Gospel message of salvation and joy, and appropriately, Easter is a celebration of that salvation. Good Friday, on the other hand, is a stark reminder of why we need Christ, why he died, and how he died.” Zach Wendling In the Agora

In a nutshell, Wendling described why so many sermons with “bumper sticker gospel” fall flat, both for the saints and the ain‘ts. To me they are stuck either on Palm Sunday with happy, relationship themes, or they underscore the law in Paul’s writings with admonitions to go out and do more witnessing, more serving, more stewardship, more good examples, etc. They not only skip over the Resurrection, our hope, the rest of the church year, but ignore what happened on Good Friday.

“Pride makes us want to ignore our sin and skip straight to the Gospel message of salvation and joy.”

Here’s an example of the Gospel of Jesus Christ reworked to be inoffensive. Our church magazine for March has a reprinted interview with Quaker Richard J. Foster, the founder of Renovar√©. My first complaint is that his article on prayer is reprinted from The Plain Truth, the organ of a sect that I’m not ready yet to embrace given its founding by Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God (which has split into many factions since Armstrong‘s death).

I know Foster is considered a wonderful writer, but in this interview the Gospel is just gibberish, an unbeliever would never figure it out and a believer would just be lulled to sleep with all that sweetness and joy. There is no Good Friday. No Easter. Only figuring out through trial and error how to get close to God in prayer--which sounds an awful lot like works to me. It’s not that tough in a two page article to insert a few words about sin and the cross so we have a foundation from which to start. Here’s the cheerleading, bumper sticker gospel to which I object:

“God will not come into certain corners of our lives until we open those corners to him.”

“It is the life relationship, the interaction with God, that changes us.”

“Prayer is one of the means God uses for purifying our motives [to pray?].”

[Through prayer, good, bad, whatever ?] the problems of sin begin to be dealt with in time.”

“A loving relationship with God . . .is a great adventure.”

The name of Jesus does not appear anywhere in the article. Even the Muslim clerk at Meijer’s says, “God bless you” after our chats.

The article did drive me to his website, which is better than this interview--actually mentions Jesus--but still bogs down in relationship chatter. Sort of the ecumenical version of, “do you have a personal relationship with Jesus” to the power of 10.

Monday, March 28, 2005

253 Not only Christians fight for Terri

"Eleanor Smith of Decatur, Georgia, sat on Tuesday in a motorized wheelchair in front of the hospice, baking in the sun, with a sign on her lap reading, "This agnostic liberal says 'Feed Terri."'

Seems she'll take the Christians over the ACLU when it comes to life.

Story here.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

252 The gift of helps

In December 2003 I wrote about the Gift of Helps I saw in action while helping a friend recovering from an injury. The story here.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

251 Ten myths about Contemporary Christian Music in Worship

I enjoy contemporary Christian music--in my office, in aerobics class and in the car. I’m listening to some right now on an Internet radio station. So does Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. He’s not too thrilled with some of the mythology concerning its use in worship. He writes a six-pager on this topic, so I’m including just the ten points with highlights of his essay. I think I’ve heard at least eight of them just casually talking to people in the narthex at our church about why they attend a particular service (we have ten, four styles of worship). You can read the whole thing--and it is worth every word and very funny in a serious sort of way--at http://www.internetmonk.com/looney.html From here on, it's all the Monk.

1. Contemporary Praise and Worship music is especially anointed of God. Advocates of P & W have lost the capacity to realize that Christian music companies will say anything to sell product.

2. God has sent contemporary Praise and Worship music to.....
A. Revive the End Times Church before the Rapture. This is patently ridiculous.
B. Break down "religious strongholds" in the church. I think this means that God wants us to act strangely and say it's the Holy Spirit. Loosing a "religious spirit" seems to be Churchspeak for doing something that used to get the ushers on your case.
C. Minister to the special issues of "this generation." "This generation" seems to be a movable term that most often applies to young people willing to fight you to turn the front of the church into a mosh pit.

3. Praise and Worship Music evangelizes without preaching.
Praise and Worship music falls somewhere between pretty good use of Bible texts to complete nonsense. Preaching, when done right, proclaims Christ and how to be saved every time it opens its mouth.

4. Praise and Worship Music brings down the Holy Spirit.
Among systematically goofy theology, this is one of the patriarchs. . . God PROMISES to be present with His people when they gather in His name. Music is completely irrelevant to the intention of God to keep his promises to His people.

5. Praise and Worship music brings a unique experience of God's Glory.
God's glory is a major Biblical theme, and encountering the glory of God would qualify as the greatest trauma a sinful human could experience. The contemporary Praise and Worship crowd apparently believes that Christians are now invited to become like Moses, and experience the glory of God routinely.

6. The overridingly important factor in deciding what church [service] to attend is MUSIC. [I]t's clear that church government, leadership, the sacraments, preaching, teaching, discipleship, doctrine and church support of the family are all areas where scripture gives some guidance of importance to any of us who are picking a church. Yet, I am not aware of any way to read the Bible that places music in such an important place in church life.

7. People worship better with contemporary Praise and Worship music. How lame is it to say that a mini-concert with hand motions is "worship" and everything else is what we did before, after or instead of "worship"? Since when do we worship "better" based on whether we are singing "A Mighty Fortress" with piano or "Shout to the Lord" with a band? Do these people have any idea what worship is anyway?

8. Contemporary Praise and Worship music is used by the Holy Spirit to bypass the mind and go directly into the human spirit where real change can occur. I feel dirty typing such an absurd sentence . . . This kind of kookicity seems to come from the spiritual warfare camp, where tales of doing an end run on the devil by slipping in through music are pretty common.

9. Contemporary Praise and Worship Music is taking music away from the devil and using it for God. Theology at work here: giving the devil credit for the appeal of the larger culture, especially music, and then sending the church on a mission to raid the pantry.

10. Using contemporary Praise and Worship Music is necessary for a church growth breakthrough. If growth occurs, we ought to be able to say with Luther, "The Word did it all!"

Friday, March 25, 2005

250 A great old hymn

Rebecca in the cold Yukon points us to a warm place in our hymn memory, O sacred head now wounded. Good Friday is not a day for those happy/clappy choruses we hear so often these days in church.

And I think of Terri.

My Savior, be now near her when death is at her door;
Then let your presence cheer her, forsake her nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave her not alone,
But take away her anguish by virtue of your own!

Note: The English was translated from the German which was probably translated from Old French or Latin, so a few adjustments didn't seem out of place for 21st century American English.

249 Jesus died for Michael Schiavo

For this topic, I'm referring you to my other blog, where it was posted yesterday (it gets 5 times the hits as this blog). Most observers agree that the moral thing to do would be for Michael to turn Terri over to her family. However, experts on federalism, states rights, neurology, palative care, right to die, right to live, and rights for the disabled are all over the map on this one causing huge rifts among people who would normally be standing together. Speculation on why Michael won't do the moral thing has caused screaming, vituperative fits of text and video, and even Christians are taking opposite sides. Time to reflect. Jesus died for Michael.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

248 Thanks, but I'll pass

Today we received an invitation from an area church that is planning a forum to "explore moral issues grounded in individual internal consistency rather than any political party or ideological position." The church is responding "to the deep divisions regarding moral values that came to a head in the last election cycle."

On the playbill are a retired Lutheran theologian; an official of Stonewall Columbus; an official of the local and national ACLU; an advisor for health policy at OSU; a former judge; someone from the office of public defenders; a doctor; a professor of health services management; a professor of history; a a former counsel for the ACLU.

Hmm. Grounded in individual internal consistency. Not grounded in Biblical faith or understanding. Many Democrats followed their belief core on life and crossed party lines. Many Republicans, likewise saw the war as a serious moral lapse, and voted outside the party. Is this forum suggesting they should've voted the party instead of beliefs?

The issues on the list are incredibly important. Why shouldn't we be divided? Do they plan to dialogue for 15 minutes about abortion and stem cell research and move to break-out groups thinking we'll come to a consensus on a Spring Sunday afternoon with snacks and child care?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

This Easter, the Passion of Terri Schiavo

"This year it would seem we are to approach Eastertide through the passion play of Terri Schiavo. Now the new culture of technology and disposability vs. the old culture of loyalty and love is put on upon our video stage for what may only be a two-week run before death brings down the curtain. The ultimate end of the play -- two weeks or twenty years -- is not in doubt. No matter. Its resolution it is already that of a vast cultural tragedy. Performed by the Shiavos, the courts, the media, the congress, it was written by all of us day by day over several generations that only wanted one thing -- more. Seen for what it is, it sickens all of us as it should. It is only proper that we now be forced to watch what we have made. . .

This previously private but now national drama reminds us -- as things magnified by our relentless media often do -- that one of the crucial questions of our blighted age is whether or not we are correct in regarding human life as something which is, under the proper conditions and self-ascribed definitions, something that really is "disposable" whenever it becomes inconvenient? And in our answer to this, whatever it may be, we shall learn very little about Terri Schiavo but a great deal about ourselves." American Digest

246 Your view of Terri

For now, there appears to be a compromise that might restore Terri's feeding tube. Now that Terri's face is finally on the national news, even with the condescending, sneers of the MSM commentators who don't know the facts, it is still surprising to me that when the human being is the most helpless, and can't speak for herself, her value and worth, as a creation of God and as a citizen, is determined by the beliefs of the guardian and not by U.S. law or a higher law. In Terri's case, her husband and guardian believes she has no value in her present condition. The people who know her best, her parents, disagree, as do thousands of other Americans. In other cases, it is a mother and an unborn child. If the guardian (the mother) believes the child growing within her will have an unpleasant, or unhealthy or inconvenient life, she determines the child's worth. She determines that her own wishes and values are of greater worth than the child's life.

I listened to Joni Eareckson Tada on the radio Friday. She and all the disabled community are watching this case very carefully, and she stressed again that thousands of people receive nutrition and hydration this way, and it is NOT considered an extreme or invasive life support method. It was reported that Bill Frist of Congress (R-TN) has talked to a neurologist who believes some of Terri's faculties could be restored--but her husband has prevented her therapy, for which he was awarded over a million dollars.

Terri is not aware enough to know the battle that roars around her. Satan has made sure that millions of others will be oblivious too. Terri may die, but now millions know how disabled and dying people are treated in hospice and nursing homes. I know a woman whose father was starved to death (no feeding tube was involved) his last days. Because he was in his 90s and very weak, it didn't take all that long. It was simply agreed between the staff and his wife (not the mother of this woman) to discontinue feeding him. When she (a nurse) and her sister (also a nurse) traveled across several states to be with him in Michigan while he died, they snuck into his room, disobeyed the orders that he wasn't to be fed, and gave him broth. He then immediately revived and knew them. His wife was furious, they were told to leave, and they weren't allowed at his final services when he died.

So, if you're thinking Terri is just one person, about whom the Congress shouldn't be concerned or pass special legislation, think again. Next time, it might be you, or your parent, or your married child.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

245 St. Patrick's Breastplate

A Lutheran pastor comments on St. Patrick's Breastplate.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

244 He's really leaning!

A Canadian church planter, Off shore Fisherman, is really leaning on the everlasting arms. His family is house hunting and in bidding wars. He writes:

"Nothing has come up. But I know, my Lord already knows
who my neighbours are.

Though it feels like we are hanging on by the fingertips,
I know who catches us."

243 Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

"I don’t recall ever hearing this hymn in my home church in Mt. Morris, Illinois--we rarely sang anything with a strong beat, a waltz tune, or revivalist vigor--and you could almost do a slow jitterbug to this one. So I will forever associate it with a tiny church in Flat Creek, Kentucky, (near Manchester) where my sister Carol served with Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) in the summer of 1956. The only service I attended in the little church included this hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” but they sang it like a mournful dirge. The small, poor congregation, who leaned not only on God but each other, the nasal harmony, and the heat of that summer have always stayed with me reminding me of Carol when I hear it."

My blog today at Collecting My Thoughts.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

242 How is Luke doing?

For several months I've been reading the amazing blog about a little guy named Luke who drowned and was revived after 30 minutes 6 months ago. His parents created a blog to keep their friends and family up on his condition and therapy. He just celebrated his second birthday. Here's just one of the routines his mother, Sue, reports:

"After our PT appt. we went to our Pulmonologist appt. I knew when we went in that Luke had a cough that he needed to get out, this happens rarely, of course it had to happen while we were there. At first when the Dr. listened to his lungs while covering his trach he seemed congested and labored breathing, the second the Dr. took his finger off the trach he let out a big cough. I suctioned him and the Dr. listened once again and said that he sounded much better and was more comfortable having his trach covered. We left there with great hope that we will be getting his trach out next month if all goes well with the capping process, he said we could start covering his trach, as soon as we get the cap. If the bronchial scope looks good and he does okay when they take out his trach then he will leave the Hospital the next day without his trach. Please be praying that he will be able to wear his cap all the time and that the bronchial scope will be in God's perfect timing."

Last week Sue reported on a visit with a neurological developmentalist: "She said that given what Luke has been through he is doing great. She told us that his brain is working better than we think. She saw him respond to a request almost immediately after asking him to look me in the eyes she said that it was very fast, that quite often in brain injuries there is a delay in following directions and that she didn't see this in him. She set us up with an intense program to help Luke with quite a few area's in his development."

As I read about their commitment to this child who may always be challenged in his physical and mental development but is making progress every day, I can't help but think of the helplessness Terri Schiavo's parents must feel as they watch their own baby wasting away without therapy, at risk from a husband and court intent on killing her.

Monday, March 14, 2005

241 The Anniversary of The Passion

As the anniversary of The Passion comes around, I’m seeing images from the film appearing in Easter meditations, web sites and magazines. The passions last year about The Passion have dimmed. Millions of people saw it; few were converted because it was primarily shown to believers. Although only time will tell, it was not an effective evangelism tool.

It should be noted that there are still Christians who think the film was just awful and too violent (usually those who didn’t see it), and non-Christians who think it is anti-Jewish (many of those didn‘t see it either). I’ll leave them to their squabbles, but for those Christians whose complaints have been the extra-Biblical sources Gibson used in his research about the crucifixion, I suggest here that if a preacher’s topic is the twenty-third Psalm, he’s probably looked at some extra-Biblical sources about sheep breeds, the Holy Land pastures and dangers, and what shepherds do for a living. If he’s preaching on Martha and Mary, I hope he’s done his research on just what running a household meant 2000 years ago (just a guess here, but the men usually don‘t research this part of that New Testament story, but women pastors do).

However, this morning I was reading a book that is twenty years old, “The Empty Cross of Jesus” by Michael Green (IVP, 1984). To set the stage for Jesus’ death he writes about the use of a cross in Roman times. First he quotes Cicero as it being a most cruet and terrible punishment, and supplies the information that it was a humiliating death reserved for slaves and the lowest of the low. After describing several types of crosses, he comments that it is widely believed that Jesus was executed on the Latin cross (crux inmissa). Then he moves on to a description that could be the background for Gibson’s movie.

“The condemned man was invariably scourged, and men were known to die under that punishment alone, so severe were the wounds inflicted by this cruel cat-o’-nine-tails inset with pieces of metal. It is possible that Jesus suffered this punishment (Matt. 26:67; John 19:1). Thereafter, he had to carry the patibulum of his cross, and was led out under armed guard to die. . . He might have his wrists tied or nailed to the patibulum and then be hauled by ropes up on to the stipes which was already firmly fixed in the ground. More commonly the cross was put together on the ground, the condemned man bound or nailed to it, and the whole thing then erected and dropped into a pit that had been prepared to receive it. The degradation of the criminal was completed by his very clothes being taken from him. He was exposed naked on the cross. The cause of his being there was written above his head and fixed to the cross; and he was left there to die slowly in intense agony from exhaustion, thirst, and wounds.

The criminal had, of course, no recourse but to curse, spit and urinate on his tormentors. Often the kindler execution squads would offer a draught of drugged wine before nailing the man up. . . sometimes a rough sedile or saddle was fixed to the cross. This offered support to the crucified man, and often prolonged his life. By raising himself up on his lacerated feet and the saddle he could give some respite to heart and lungs which were put under immense strain by the position of the crucifixion. When the torture was deemed to have gone on long enough, or in order to ensure that the man was dead, the soldiers would perform the crurifragium, or breaking of the legs. This meant that the man, if still alive, could no longer hoist himself and would soon expire. The physical effects of crucifixion were appalling. Of all deaths it is the most lingering and agonizing. . . The agony of crucifixion was terrible beyond words. But it was not uncommon.”

Green goes on to describe the wounds, circulation, chest pain, etc. At the back of the book there is a bibliography, but he has not referenced his sources, which is not uncommon in a non-scholarly book. Even so, he has done some research on what transpired during a crucifixion, and why it was used as punishment. And with crucifixion being as common as it was (one incident involved 2,000 men at once), there are probably a number of extra-Biblical sources, all to checked against each other since no one has observed one today.

I suspect the real complaint conservative Christians have with this movie is Gibson’s Catholicism. And we know what the basis is of the other complaints from non-Christians. They not only don’t want Jesus in the public square, but they don’t want him in privately funded, block-buster movies either. They want Jesus to just go away and be a nice, meek and mild hillside preacher who gets people to share their food and be nice to each other so we can end wars. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are also working toward that end.

Friday, March 11, 2005

240 Dan Brown and the DaVinci Code

Today at my other, other blog, I write about the DaVinci Code crowd and do a little finger pointing.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

239 I just love this stuff!

What this world needs is a few more sermons on Justification and Sanctification and how one isn't the other. Without it, sermons on the Christian life just come across as more law.

"Nevertheless, the holiness wrought within a sinner by the indwelling Triune God never becomes the basis for the believer’s justification (Rom. 3:28). Rather, the good works which flow from a believer’s faith are simply a response to the forgiveness of sins won by Christ in history for sinful mankind (Rom. 6:1ff). Far from being in an adversarial relationship with one another, good works rather flow from faith, which alone receives the benefits of Christ’s saving work, as Luther testifies: “Faith and good works well agree and fit together [are inseparably connected]; but it is faith alone, without works, which lays hold of the blessing; and yet it is never and at no time alone” (Cited in the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, III.41, in Triglotta, 931). Justifying faith, therefore, molds, shapes, and drives the ethical lives of those redeemed by Christ the crucified."

Steve Parks, a 3rd year student at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, is serving an internship in Texas and blogging at http://sceleratissimus-lutheranus.blogspot.com/

Sunday, March 06, 2005

238 Discretion

In every culture there are dress standards for particular occasions. I attend church every week, and not always the same denomination or building or service style. I am convinced there is no one appropriate standard of attire for church services. God can be worshiped on the mountain top, the woods or the movie theater. However, in each location, is it unreasonable to have expectations? I'm thinking there may be no standards at all for those leading the congregation in worship.

I watched a lovely young mother approach the raised altar with one of her children, carrying the communion elements. As she leaned over with her rear to the congregation in her tight slacks, I could not only see her thong/panty line, but her cellulite dimples through the material.

I was at one service where a beautiful young woman in the worship team pranced and danced and swayed in tight jeans and skimpy shirt and seemed to be offering God a fairly good imitation of fellatio with the microphone.

One pastor I heard recently had on soiled, faded jeans and I half expected him to invite us into the woods for a campfire. When the missionary to the Indians preached in a plaid shirt and string tie, I thought it looked just fine, but if he'd been the regular pastor at that Baptist church, he would have looked odd.

Our choir offerings at the liturgical service are so lovely, I close my eyes to listen because they are all dressed in the clothes of their youth, whether they are 25 or 75. It might be a dark suit and tie, a pair of blue jeans with a shabby t-shirt, or a tight polyester dress from the 1970s. Thankfully, all the men have removed their baseball caps. I long for choir robes.

The sextet at another service comes to the front to lead our worship, the men in suits and the ladies in slacks and jeans and clashing colors, their visual cacaphony and large black music stands blocking all the lovely altar pieces of wood, cloth and metal. Their pride stops at the chin line, because all have carefully made up faces.

The "visual noise" is as off-putting as cell phones ringing in a quiet sanctuary or babies screaching into the microphone. It drowns out the music and the message.