Monday, May 31, 2004

115 In Flanders Field

Memorial Day services in my home town were held on the “campus,” a lovely green space where there had been a college (Rock River Seminary, then Mt. Morris College) for nearly a century, 1839-1931. When I was a little girl I remember the veterans shooting rifles, the band playing, and a senior in high school reciting “In Flanders Field.”
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae, who wrote “In Flanders Field,” perhaps the most famous poem about war ever written at the site of a terrible battle in 1915, died in 1918 of pneumonia in France. He was a surgeon and Lieutenant Colonel from Ontario, Canada, and had written other poems, many of them about death, or the dead speaking from the grave. In addition to serving in World War I where he saw terrible carnage, he had also served in the Boer War in South Africa. The following excerpt from a memorial essay about his character was written by a friend, Sir Andrew Macphail and is included in the digitized book of poems, “In Flanders Field” The passage from Matthew 25 is one of my favorites and most clearly summarizes the Christian life.

"To his own students John McCrae once quoted the legend from a picture, to him “the most suggestive picture in the world:” What I spent I had; what I saved I lost; what I gave I have--and he added: “It will be in your power every day to store up for yourselves treasures that will come back to you in the consciousness of duty well done, of kind acts performed, things that having given away freely you yet possess. It has often seemed to me that when in the Judgement those surprised faces look up and say, Lord, when saw we Thee hungry and fed Thee; or thirsty and gave Thee drink; a stranger, and took Thee in; naked and clothed Thee; and there meets them that warrant-royal of all charity, Insasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me, there will be amongst those awed ones many a practitioner."

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

114 Brother Bob

Today's Columbus Dispatch has a large photo on the metro of a neighbor helping a neighbor--Louis Kenda of Newark was painting the porch of his 83 year old neighbor. The article didn't say, but I'm guessing he's a Christian.

My Baptist brother-in-law, Bob, drove to Columbus from Indianapolis and worked long hours for 2 days to help us get our house ready to sell in 2001. And then he came back a month later when we got possession of our new place and worked another two days fixing door jams, loose tiles, stair treads, hanging mirrors, etc. He would take no money--wouldn't even take a donation for his church. Everyone should have a brother Bob in her life. And many do, because our Brother Bob is always helping his friends, neighbors and church family.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

113 A Modern Hymn Tells All

This morning in the informal 8:30 service, we sang the very beautiful and to the point, modern chorus-hymn, “Before the Throne of God” by Charitie Lees Bancroft and Vicki Cook (PDI, 1997). If you think only the old hymns tell the Good News, treat yourself to the words of this one.

There are three verses and three choruses. All are outstanding and each builds on the other. Chorus 2 puts the Gospel in three simple lines, better than some 20 minute, beat around-the-Bible bush, sermons I’ve heard:

Because the sinless Saviour died,
my sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
to look on him and pardon me.
to look on him and pardon me.

Preachers, pastors, priests, and parishioners! How hard can it be to announce the Good News that our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross, not because of what we do!

Is it that sin part of the equation? Afraid if you tell someone that a Just God required someone had to pay, it would be offensive to our modern ears? What’s the worst that could happen? Would they withhold $5 from the collection plate; not show up next Sunday? What’s the best thing? They might believe you and receive eternal life!

If your best shot is, “God loves you and wants to be a part of your life,” or “get involved here and we’ll tell you more, slow and easy,” then you’re definitely not doing the congregation or the visitors any favors. They’ll go home burdened by the Law because they really do know they are sinful (i.e., depressed, stressed, angry, fearful, lustful, cheating, adulterous, gossipy--it’s a long list) and are seeking a solution. Home to look in the job-jar for something to do to please a Holy God because you were afraid to tell the Good News that it has all been taken care of.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

112 The Storms Rolled Through

From 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. storms rolled through our county last night. Fortunately, my dinner party was planned for inside, but my husband had spent hours cleaning the deck and patio so they could enjoy the beautiful grounds of the condo with iced tea and cider served outside. It was darker at 5 than it was at 8:45.

But we had a wonderful time of fellowship with our soup and dessert. One member of our group is so open and joyful about his love of Jesus that he always brought us back to the point of our gathering if we wandered--not by being harsh or critical, but just by telling another story of how he brought Jesus to someone who didn't know him.

The thunder rolled and the lightning flashed, and we all nodded in agreement, safe and cozy in God's love.

Friday, May 21, 2004

111 Graduations--Advice doesn't change much

My oldest great-nephew is graduating from high school on May 29. I think I knew my great-aunts much better than he knows me, but I did see him last summer and have always followed his accomplishments. So I wrote him a letter and included the speech I gave at my own graduation (I know he'll read every word). Advice to graduates doesn't change much over the years, nor do farewells. I'd like to say I wrote every word from the heart, but I do recall working with the senior English teacher on this and she had a large file of previous graduation speeches going back many years, unattributed. I'm sure I liberally reused what was in the file, although I truly don't remember.
“Parents, Teachers, Fellow-students, and Friends,

On behalf of the class of 1957, I feel it an honor to have the privilege of welcoming you to this important event--our graduation from high school. We are grateful to you who have helped us build and shape our lives; we are fully conscious of what has been done for us--the tools we have been given. Now we have reached a goal. We have waited for this night, not as a means of escape, but as an official entrance into the adult world.

As we pause tonight to consider our future, we are awed by the innumerable possibilities. Every year the horizon widens and millions of young people step up to the doors of opportunity, leaving behind those blind malcontents who can see no opportunity and claim to have no “luck.” This our Golden Age, the age which is the freest and the richest. Now is the time we must grow to meet the demands. The new world awaits new men and new women who can think clearly and carry on to still further heights our complex civilization.

We cannot sit back and say, “Look what a fine world in which I live.” We must meet the challenge of the new frontiers. The frontiers today are not physical, but mental. It is not necessary to pioneer in the wilderness. However, we must pioneer in new methods of education to meet crowded conditions. Waterloos have been won on bloody battlefields, but “we must win greater battles in the field of peace.” There may never be another Lincoln, but we must train true-hearted servants to drive tyrants from political offices. True, another Stalin may not terrorize the masses of Asia and rule with an iron hand, but we in the United States must educate ourselves to the dangers of the Iron Hand of plenty in a world of poverty. In our Golden Age we need Whitmans, Sandburgs and Benets to carry on the light of good literature. We even need more people like Grandma Moses to continue bringing warmth to the hearts of America.

These are our frontiers, possibilities and opportunities. In order to conquer our untamed world which laughs at our feeble but persistent efforts, we must educate ourselves. By education, I mean the patient acquiring of wisdom. Not all of us will be able to go on with a formal education, but the education can be had in the office, garage, home or factory. Wherever we are, we must be on a continuous voyage of discovery, searching for answers. Physical adventure promises only half the thrill of mental adventure. It is a shame that so many mental lives slow down after school days are over just because people forget the necessity of everlasting study if they expect to accomplish anything.

We must learn to think creatively. The Edisons and Marconis were the long range thinkers of yesterday. Where are the long range thinkers of tomorrow? Maybe a few are sitting behind me, smiling at the thought. Charles F. Kettering, former Vice President of General Motors, has such a creative mind. When he discovered it took 31 days to paint an automobile, he called the paint men together. After discussion and planning they decided maybe one or two days at the most could be saved. But Kettering said he wanted it done in one hour. Impossible, everyone said. Today we know it wasn’t impossible, because he developed Duco which dries so fast an auto can be completely painted in one hour.

We have one life to live. What will we do with it? We, the Youth, with our ambition, health, love of beauty, seriousness and laughter, fresh education, sense of duty, love of freedom, friends--have everything--everything that is except EXPERIENCE. We are eager to learn and will strive to do our best.

Our adventurous pioneer spirit will meet obstacles, but if we map out our lives with a purpose and a sense of direction, we can climb over these obstacles with hardly any loss of time. The masses of people are content to rise to the plateau of conformability. They are the 95%. About 4% clench their teeth and struggle to lead the 95%. Only 1% of the people reach a high leadership level. The 1 and 4 percent can meet the obstacles, conquer them and even change them to opportunities. Sometimes we on this threshold of life will want to give up. I hope we are made of the 4% and 1% stuff. We must never give up until we have released our unused abilities and given our talents to the benefit of mankind.”

Thursday, May 20, 2004

110 Being ethical, honest and helpful on the Internet

Radley Balko is a policy analyst for the Cato Institute specializing in "nanny culture" and consumer choice issues, including alcohol and tobacco control, drug prohibition, obesity, culture, and civil liberties. I first noticed his name on a group blog, HistoryNews Network, that was pasting into its blog document complete articles from other print and on-line sources, a huge moral and ethical lapse for an organization that itself had a long list of rules for behavior from readers who would want to comment. To be fair to Mr. Balko, I haven’t seen him do that on the group blog--but someone else in the group is. So I’m giving the whole group a thumbs down.

Then I came across an article Mr. Balko wrote on the regressive nature of cigarette taxes, how they increase crime and are a burden on the poor, and about 25 other really nasty societal and legal points in a very dense article that should have had 20-30 footnotes to really be useful. Is it the speed of the medium, its immediacy, the pressure to publish? Is it so much to ask, “Where did you get that statistic and may I see the original?”

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

109 Small group gathering on Friday Night

There is a slight odor of wallpaper paste wafting through the house, mingled with cooking chicken and frying bacon. I'm in high gear for the party Friday night. When people who visit shut-ins get together for soup, is it called a party?

This is our homebound ministry group from church managed so capably by my new friend Sue. God didn’t give me the gift of hospitality (mentioned in one of Paul’s letters), but I’ve found it isn’t that hard to get a group together for soup and dessert, both homemade. At large church pot-lucks, you only chat with the people next to you. At a table eating family style in a home, it is much easier getting acquainted and this will only be our second meeting.

I've got the tables set up for 10--6 at the dining room table, and 4 in the living room. We brought up the round (fold down sides) from the family room, and I covered it with my one round table cloth, which fortunately, has a Spring floral pattern, close by in the living room near the door to the deck. Then I'm using a matching napkin for the center of the other table to tie it together. I'm using dishes in the dining room, and yellow acrylic plates and bowls in the living room (round table)--a step up from paper, but they go with the table cloth. I'll have to assign seats--smaller people at the round table--using Great-Grandmother Susan's ca. 1850 dining room chairs. 19th century people must have been smaller.

The menu is broccoli soup, vegetable plate (carrots, celery, olives, pickles), rhubarb pie and apple pie (sugar free) and cool-whip. The side of corn chips with taco spread, and crackers with a bacon, egg, cheddar, chicken mix (held together I hope) with a little mayo. So the chicken is cooking to make the broth and I'll cool that to skim tomorrow and make the soup then. The bacon is simmering. One pie is in the freezer and I'll probably make the apple today. On the deck I'll probably serve iced tea and apple cider, with some snacking chips, if there are any left by then, since I've already opened the package. My husband has hidden them from me at my instructions.

The house is a bit torn up. Not only is the bathroom under construction with naked walls and puncture wounds from removed pictures, but the electric yellow guest room is all a clutter with Martha Stewart's spreads and drapes sitting around in bags, and the estimate from the painter still not forthcoming.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

108 Hearing, but not Seeing

“Humans first located the soul in creation—sensing divine breath in the earth, water, wind and fire—and then moved it to the human heart (thanks to a fit of Renaissance self-centeredness and the influence of Eastern medicine), before finally exiling the soul to the brain” writes Nathan Bierma at his Books and Culture Blog. When I read that I said to myself, “but sensing the divine these days, at least in church, isn’t between the ears, it is IN the ears!”

Today I had jokingly told Linda Langhorst, the artist whose work we were dedicating after the 9 a.m. service with comments from the Visual Arts Ministry, the President of the Congregation, and prayer by a pastor, that many in our congregation were “visually challenged,” not in the sense of being blind, but just being oblivious to visual art and its role in worship. We had to move the coffee cart from in front of the very large framed drawing we were planning to dedicate--and someone puts it there almost every Sunday. They just don’t see art. On the second floor gallery where we have an art show of 80 pieces, someone from the Sunday School has attached a large collage of children’s handprints to the wall to advertise Vacation Bible School. We frequently have to move the huge VCR stands and the coat racks so people can see the art. An upcoming concert at the end of the month is being advertised with posters taped to walls and mirrors and windows.

Reading further in Bierma’s blog I read “But what scientists don't know is how the brain integrates the visual pieces it collects. "There is no one 'visual cortex,'" [Steven] Rose explains. "Rather, there are a number of discrete cell ensembles, each analysing different features of the world." That is why there are different kinds of visual impairment—some affecting perception of color, others movement, others depth. But when it comes to "perceptual unity," Rose says, "there is no homunculus in the brain putting it all together."

So perhaps ours is a congregation that lacks “perceptual unity,” a few cells short of a full ensemble--except in music, the louder the better, to which we can swing, sway, clap and roll coffee carts.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

107 Dedication of Artwork, Sunday May 16

The first choice of the UALC Visual Arts Ministry for a purchase is this very large drawing of a tree by Linda Langhorst now hanging in Library Lane. There is no way to look at this piece and not see numerous Biblical passages.

The entire line of David in the Bible is pictured as a tree, a root, a stump, a branch that ultimately develops into Christ, the vine, the tree of life, executed on a tree, having threatened fire to "every tree which does not bear good fruit" (Mt. 3:10).* This drawing reflects the teachings of our church as a symbol of our rootedness in Jesus Christ and the importance of our faith producing good fruit.

Linda is originally from western New York. She received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at Ohio State University, and lives in Upper Arlington and with her family is active at North Congregational Church.

Her work is exhibited in many private and corporate collections in New York, Minnesota, Florida, Colorado, Indiana and Ohio. Her “Buckeye Drum” watercolor is featured in the art collection at the OSU Fisher College of Business.

Linda is active in various local art groups, lending her support and guidance to both new and mature artists. She is currently in the UAAL Spring 2004 show on the upper level at the Mill Run Campus.

*Douglas Jones, "Reading trees," Books and Culture, Sept/Oct 2003.

Friday, May 14, 2004

106 How to prepare Congress

On May 13 a few days after the shock of the photos of the Iraqi prisions and after the horror of the beheading of an American on camera, The USAToday wrote: "Decades of research and eons of history point to one conclusion: under certain circumstances, most normal people will treat their fellow man with abnormal cruelty" and then goes on the cite William Golding's Lord of the Flies, fiction that contains a deeper truth.

The members of Congress who say their stomachs churned at the sight of the pornographic humiliation of the Iraqi prisoners should have been "softened up" first with just audio of Howard Stern ridiculing people's body parts and sexuality. He's a master of humiliation and insult, finding great fun and amusement in T & A especially if his victim doesn't think it's funny.

The Congress people who have had their heads in the sand for the last 20 years, could have glanced through an Abercrombie & Fitch Catalog for naked group posing with huge smiles on fresh young faces.

Then they could graduate by viewing the web sites any child can go to on the Internet sites (often in public libraries). These hard core sites are visited regularly by perhaps as many as 20% of the adult population, a figure probably much higher in the age group of our young soldiers. Pornography is one of the "freedoms" many in this country think we are fighting for. Even the left wing war protesters would support any man or woman's right to pornography and the right would support the enterprise behind it.

They would learn, if they didn't know, that wearing women's underwear or a little S & M is just a matter of choice. True, the Iraqis had no choice, but they hadn't had any freedom for many years, so why would a soldier think pornographic humiliation equated with the horrors we've seen when mass graves were dug up, graves that perhaps some of these prisoners helped to fill?

And what about those 17 members of Congress, unnamed, that the NYT reported had received a letter from a concerned relative of one of the soldiers involved? Did they think it didn't sound like such a big deal? With all this outrage, will they fess up to their own carelessness?

Lots of soldiers take photos--with the little digital, slip-in-your-pocket or hold-up-your-cell phone types, it is easy. This web site has a whole list of photo blogs by soldiers, some are absolutely outstanding, and some ordinary. But it should show the Congress that taking pictures of what goes on where you work is pretty common in Iraq.

Nothing in this whole mess is as outrageous as Ted Kennedy comparing it to Saddam's torture chambers and death pits. It seems he has very little respect or sympathy for the sufferings of the Iraqi people. All that puffiness must be hot air.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

105 A free sample for Big Fish

Tuesday night two friends and I went to the 50 cent theater to see “Big Fish” starring Billy Crudup (Will Bloom), Albert Finney (Edward Bloom) and Jessica Lange (Sandra Bloom, Will‘s mother and Edward‘s wife). It’s quite fanciful, and my friends didn’t care much for it. But unlike a lot of movies, it stays with you and provides much to think about because it is about storytelling and symbolism in our lives.

Christianity Today thinks it is a useful vehicle for a discussion group to reexamine some of the more powerful stories in the Bible, so it has provided a study guide free download at its Points addressed in the 5 1/2 page study are 1) The power of Story, 2) Embellishing the Truth, 3) The Power of Symbolism, and 4) Fearlessness.

The scene that will stay with me is the reconciliation scene, when son Will takes over the storytelling role to give his father a loving and pleasant send-off to the next life. And the funeral is what I expect when I get to heaven--seeing all the folks who’ve contributed to my life.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

104 DaVinci Code and Purpose Driven Life

For every 10 copies of The DaVinci Code sold, Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life sells 8.9, according to The USAToday. Our church is doing both--we’re studying the Warren book as a congregation, and offering a Sunday School class on how to confront the untruths in the Brown book. As a book lover, I’m pleased that people are excited, animated and passionate about books.

All careless or Calvinist theology aside (some Christian groups and denominations dislike Warren’s book), The Purpose Drive Life is a masterpiece of clarity and readability. I particularly like the first sentence of each chapter--if you read nothing else, you’ll get something out of that. Another problem Warren avoids is loading the text with cobbled-together anecdotes. So often when I read a Christian life-style or how-to book, I want to shout, “Stop the inanity and get to the point.” The starting point of each chapter is briefly restated or paraphrased in a box at the end of the chapter with a verse to remember and a question to consider. His chapters are rarely longer than 3 or 4 pages, accommodating the short attention span of most Americans.

Also, Warren (or his editors) have a lively, poetic writing pace. Note this sentence in p. 186 which would work well entoned from a pulpit with an African-American pastor’s call and response style, or as poetry to be memorized and recited (I‘ve reformatted, but not changed the punctuation or phrasing):
God’s Word
generates life,
creates faith,
produces change,
frightens the Devil,
causes miracles,
heals hurts,
builds character,
transforms circumstances,
imparts joy,
overcomes adversity,
defeats temptation,
infuses hope,
releases power,
cleanses our minds,
brings things into being,
and guarantees our future forever!
Where Warren doesn’t succeed is also where many other Christian authors fail. Because he writes for the believer, he pretty much skips over a clear explanation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, giving a casual nod to justification and focusing all his efforts on sanctification. Some of those millions buying this book must be seekers or unbelievers.

Without a foundational knowledge of sin, repentance and Christ’s death and resurrection, this book could become just another “honey do” job jar for church goers. Chapter 24, from which I took the above quote, is devoted exclusively to the importance of God’s Word, and actually outlines a step-by-step list of “must do” for abiding in the Word. No single chapter is devoted to the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Living Word.

Also, it is extremely distracting for the Christian reader to have fifteen English translations and paraphrases of the Bible interwoven in the author’s comments, two of which, The Message and The Contemporary English Version, are quite unfamiliar. To determine what you are reading, it is necessary to flip to the notes at the end of the book, find the chapter and verse, then re-read in a familiar translation to check its accuracy. Frankly, if I can’t even recognize the verse, I’d at least like to know without flipping pages if I am reading Paul or David!

But in balance, the Warren book is a good read and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Monday, May 10, 2004

103 The Ups and Downs of being Lutheran

According to the May 1, 2004 International Lutheran Council newsletter, ICL News, Vol. 15, no.2, there are 66,000,000 Lutherans worldwide, down 640,000 in Europe, but up 1.1 million in Africa, where growth (9.3%) is highest. By the end of 2003, there were 13,068,209 Lutherans in Africa. You could probably find the same information at the Lutheran World Federation site, but reading this newsletter which reports on Asia, Europe, Brazil, Latin America, etc., is more interesting. I was looking for the site for the Russian Church of Ingria when I wandered into this one, courtesy of the distractibility of the Internet. And I was visiting the Church of Ingria because I was reading the sermon notes of Dr. Harold Buls, an American seminary professor who wrote them for missionaries preaching there.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

102 Thumping rhythms, phallic microphones

“On a recent visit to a fairly typical Evangelical church, we were treated to one of its regular features. A handsome young woman, attractively dressed, stood before the congregation with an eight-inch microphone, the head of which she held gently to her lips while she writhed and cooed a song in which she, with closed eyes and beckoning gestures, begged Jesus, as she worked her way toward its climax, to come fill her emptiness. The crowd liked it.

Her song had a different effect on me than I suspect she thought it would. It did, perhaps, bring me closer to Jesus, but by bringing me closer to the sinfulness of my own heart, the kind of heart that would be excited to lust by a pretty woman begging to be filled, and that would be instructed by its conscience to avert the eyes until she was done with her performance.”

Complete article at Touchstones, May 2004, Vol. 17, issue 4, by S. M. Hutchens
Copyright © 2004 the Fellowship of St. James. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

101 Ten ways to improve Worship

Today's worship leaders of the informal or contemporary service format must all be baby boomers--people whose hearing has already been damaged by 40 years of rock n roll concerts and battles of the bands. I noticed "10 ways to improve worship," "10 more ways" and then "10 additional ways," amounting to 30 suggestions on the Internet site of Donald Whitney. I really liked this one from the first group of 10. The author writes:
#9 Have congregational singing with musical accompaniment, not music with congregational accompaniment.

The music is so loud in some churches I've visited that I can't hear myself sing, much less hear the congregation. A few of the Psalms provide Biblical evidence that sometimes it's appropriate for worship music to be loud. But let's remember our priorities: the musicians are there to accompany the congregation, not vice-versa. Parenthetically, drums are especially problematic in this regard. If you have them, keep them from dominating the music.
However, #5 from the third group of ten suggestions was good too. (Numbers 1 through 4 were on singing Psalms whether your format is historical, traditional, or contemporary.) A few weeks ago we were worshipping at our Hilltop location, a lovely, older church building with beautiful stained glass windows and a well-designed chancel area. Its cross, altar, and soaring spaces were completely blocked by an ugly screen. One of our locations keeps no hymnals in the pews--you have to ask for one. Mr. Whitney writes:
5. Use slides, but don't lose your hymnal.

I was the guest preacher in a church that utilizes PowerPoint to display the lyrics to all the songs. The pastor told me of an incident with his children that changed his perspective about having abandoned the use of hymnals. While on vacation his family attended the church in which he'd been raised. At the beginning of the service the worship leader announced a hymn number and my friend and his wife reached for their respective hymnals. Between them sat their two children, approximately ages five and seven, watching. Recognizing that these books weren't Bibles they pointed to their dad's hymnal and asked sincerely, "What's that?"

"It made me realize," said my friend, "that I don't want to raise children who don't know what a hymnal is."

Using electronic means to display the words of songs has its benefits and conveniences, as I've personally experienced in many places as well as in the church where I'm a member. Still, there's a lot to be said for keeping hymnals in use (as our church also does). A songbook teaches the congregation knowledge about music and church history they wouldn't otherwise learn. I can't read music, but by observation and experience through years of singing from a hymnal (which has the music along with the lyrics, unlike mere words on a screen or handout) I have learned a bit about following a tune up and down, when to hold a note, etc. And when I read at the bottom of the page that the words to the song were written by, say, William Cowper, or another Christian hero, my knowledge of the life out of which the words were forged deepens my experience of singing them. (If a hymnal is unworkable in your situation, of course it's still possible to put the songwriter's name on the screen or the handout with the lyrics.)

We're becoming increasingly illiterate as a society. Retaining the hymnal says something about the value Christians place on books. Using a songbook in worship can also have an influence on the Christian growth and experience of our people outside the walls of the church building, for it's much more likely that our church members will use a hymnal in their family or personal worship if they sometimes use it in congregational worship.
Copyright Disclaimer: All the information contained on the website is copyrighted by Donald S. Whitney. Permission granted to copy this material in its complete text only for not-for-profit use (sharing with a friend, church, school, Bible study, etc.) and including all copyright information

Friday, May 07, 2004

100 Well, Surprise, Surprise!

It's probably too complicated to explain in a paragraph, but some congregations within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (created by the merger of the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church of America back in the 1980s) are "creating a refuge" called the Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium for Centrist Lutherans who have been left out of the loop by the more liberal synodical hierarchy. Another group, called Word Alone started as a list serve concerned about the proposals for "full communion" with the Episcopal Church USA. I don't claim to understand church polity, but it seems that new Lutheran pastors will need to be ordained by a pastor ordained by the Episcopal Church.

However, early on they realized something would need to be done about female pastors (some synods have been ordaining women for decades). So they decided to call it "grand-mothering" and let in women pastors to this select group of proper Lutheran male pastors up to a certain date. When none applied for this "safe haven," slam, the door was shut. Considering the welcoming atmosphere, I'm not terribly surprised women have opted to stay with the liberals, who at least recognize their call.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

99 Pray hard--you're quite a sinner

In a letter to Melanchthon (Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521), Martin Luther recommended, “pray hard, for you are quite a sinner.”

“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

Translated for Project Wittenberg by Erika Flores, public domain.

98 Asking the important question first

I picked up a freebie today, The Billy Graham Christian Worker's Handbook (1984). Inside the front cover, first question to ask in the telephone ministry center, "Did you call to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?" Now, here's a group that knows how to get right to the point! I wonder what affect it would have on seekers and unbelievers if our Sunday morning greeters said something like, "Good-morning! Are you here to meet Jesus Christ today?" If they said "NO" it could start a conversation; if they said "YES" it could change a life.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

97 T messages

Sometime there's more Gospel on a pop culture t-shirt than in Christian testimonies, sermons, books, and TV religion programming. "Jesus is my homeboy" doesn't really move me much, nor does it mean anymore than Jesus and I are close friends. But "My Savior is tougher than nails" with a side bar of Rev. 1:18 pretty much tells the story of the resurrection and Christ's victory over death, something most Christians hear about only at Easter.
"These words do not quite prepare us, however, for what follows: I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (v. 18). It is as if "the Almighty" and he who was "pierced" (1:7) and "freed us from our sins in his blood" (1:5) have merged into one. The mighty angel turns out to be Jesus himself--Jesus raised from the dead and clothed in divine splendor--but John cannot know this and we do not know it, until he so identifies himself. John had fallen to the ground as though dead (v. 17), but here was one who had actually been dead and had come back to life again (v. 18; compare "firstborn from the dead" in 1:5), and who consequently held the keys of death and Hades, the power to give life or take it away." Intervarsity Press Commentary on-line
Today's Wall Street Journal carried a marketing story on the Christian pop culture.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

96 Worship and the God Words

I was right with Sally Morgenthaler as she wrote on the importance of worship at her web site
“vertical worship in the Christian sense is the opposite of descending into the self to connect with one’s inner light, spiritual energy, or force. Rather, it means taking people beyond themselves and their own insights, potential, and self-reliance to the Person and Works of God. Vertical worship is an experience of the God Who Was, Is, and Is to Come (the only One worthy of our adoration), and our redeemed relationship to that God.”
But then I noticed the feminist, politically correct code words for the Trinity in the next paragraph:
“Vertical worship celebrates Truth in a Person: veritas embodied in Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. As such, vertical worship leaves no doubt about the source of true transformation: the Triune God’s historical and imminent initiative in our lives.”
In order to avoid the patriarchal, personhood terms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, many women and some of their male sympathizers have switched to task-descriptor-terms, defining God by what he did and does rather than who he is. This article from the archives is

But I didn’t want to be too hasty in judging her. Might be accused of being unkind or harsh. So I browsed through four more articles. No Jesus. No Father, Son or Holy Spirit. In fact, no “God words,” confusing or otherwise, appeared in any other articles I sampled written by Sally. Could be there--I just didn’t find them. Morgenthaler’s professional bio at her web site says she has published with Zondervan and is working on something for Inter-Varsity, both publishers I respect. She has consulted for a wide variety of main-line and evangelical churches, taught at seminaries and colleges and writes worship columns for magazines.

Still, wouldn’t it be nice to hear about WHO we are worshipping, instead of what and how.

Monday, May 03, 2004

95 Getting to Bay City, or to God, the Easy Way

“THERE is one text in the New Testament that has been preached from oftener than any other in the Bible. It has been the foundation of great revivals of religion. . . It is a wonderful text. Luther called it one of "the little gospels." It is this (John 3:16): "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life." . . .

“I heard of an old lady, who was starting on a railway journey from an American station, out of which many trains move, although in different directions. Not having traveled much on the rail cars, she got confused. The old lady I speak of was going up to Bay City, Michigan, and she was afraid that she was, perhaps, on the wrong train. She reached over, and showed her ticket to somebody in the seat immediately in front of her, and said, "I want to go to Bay City. Is this the right train ?" "Yes madam." Still, she was not quite at ease, for she thought that perhaps this fellow-passenger might have got into the wrong train too; so she stepped across the aisle of the car, and showed her ticket to another person, and was again told, "Yes, madam, this is the right train." But still the old lady was a little uncertain. In a few moments in came the conductor, or, as you call him, the guard; and she saw on his cap the conductors ribbon, and she beckoned to him, and said, "I want to go to Bay City; is this the right train?" "Yes, madam, this is the right train." And now she settled back in her seat, and was asleep before the train moved. That illustrates the simplicity of taking God at His word. She did nothing but just receive the testimony of that conductor. That is all; but that is faith. The Lord Jesus Christ says to you, "I love you; I died for you. Do you believe? Will you receive the Salvation that I bought for you with My own blood?" You need do no work; not even so much as to get up and turn around. You need not go and ask your fellowman across the church aisle, there, whether he has believed, and received, and been saved. All that you need to do is with all your heart to say, "Dear Lord, I do take this Salvation that Thou hast bought for me, and brought to me." Simple, is it not? Yes, very simple: yet such receiving it is the soul of faith.”

C.H. Spurgeon, The Heart of the Gospel, 1891.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

94 Understanding Muslims

Today I attended a Sunday School class on Understanding and Reaching Muslims taught by a former missionary with 24 years of ministering among Muslims in North Africa. It was fascinating, revealing, and scary. He uses the Quran (Koran) and Hadith (collection about Muhammed) as the class resource. Today's class covered the differences between Christianity and Islam.

We learned
  • No Trinity in Islam
  • Allah is "Other," not person or spirit
  • Holiness and justice and love are not important attributes of Allah
  • Allah doesn't make covenants
  • fellowship with Allah is not possible
  • man is born weak, but good--he does not need salvation
  • Allah sends to hell whomever he wants, but most of the people in Hell are women because they can't do the good works of fasting and prayer like the men
  • no one can atone for another's sins in Islam
  • Jesus is a prophet
  • revelation to Muhammed was progressive--the later teachings about power and violence replaced those about peace and preaching
  • people can free themselves from sin
  • our Bible was given by Allah, but men changed and corrupted it and made mistakes, so only that given to Muhammed is right
  • both faiths seem to have similar views of Satan as an accuser who will be cast into Hell
  • lying and deception are not serious sins in Islam and are easily forgiven through fasting or prayer (works)
  • women gain salvation by pleasing and obeying their husbands
  • women are a major cause of evil and must be kept under control
  • both the Bible and the Quran teach respect for elders
  • purpose of worship is to acknowledge that Allah is master and man is slave.
  • Saturday, May 01, 2004

    93 Under Construction?

    I was doing some research on the Internet today on a religious topic--Christian martial arts. I think I can find something like 200,000 hits if I just Google the topic, but I wanted something reliable and critical, not a puff piece by someone who is already committed to what sounds to me like an oxymoron.

    So I started looking through various "counterfeit" sites, web sites written by people who study cults, sects, eastern mysticism, new age movement, etc. I came across one page that seemed to have been designed by someone with Adult ADD. There were so many topics, all with competing icons and wiggly things I could hardly focus my eyes. I saw a small hot link for "What must I do to be saved?" Well, that would be a good place to start, I thought. Let's see what these folks are building on.

    Guess what? That page said,

    "Under construction."

    If you're not building on the solid foundation of the Gospel, what else you have to say doesn't mean much. Build that page first, please.