Monday, August 31, 2009

Hymn writing, take two

If I thought the second attempt would be easier than the first, I was wrong. I'm not exactly as comfortable with this one, but I'm going to post it in hopes that I can get some help with it.

This was going to be a pro-life hymn in response to the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, making the connection between John in the womb and the life of the pre-born. As sometimes happens when I intend to write something, the hymn went in another direction than what I'd planned. If any of you can help the hymn run more smoothly or help me bring it back in that pro-life direction, I'd appreciate it. Or if you feel you must tell me it's awful and to go back to my day job, don't be afraid to be blunt.

The Highly Favored Mary Went

1. The highly favored Mary went,
Her pregnant joy to share.
Elizabeth, herself with child,
Received her sister there.

2. Elizabeth heard Mary's word
Of greeting in her ear,
And in her womb her own babe leapt
To know his Lord was near.

3. Though not yet born, John still rejoiced,
For now his task began--
"Prepare His way," would be his work.
"He comes, redeeming man."

4. The Spirit filled Elizabeth
And loudly she exclaimed,
"Mother of God, how blest are you!
Your fruit by all acclaimed."

5. How blest are they who hear God's Word
Of promise and believe,
For all who hear that Word in faith
Its blessings shall receive.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
Common Meter (86 86)
Suggested Tune: St. Anne (LSB 733)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My First Effort at Hymn Writing

I've written a number of hymn and song parodies, most of which won't see the light of day on my public blog. This, however, is my first effort at writing original text for a hymn tune. I wrote new text for "When Peace Like a River (It Is Well With My soul)", but I don't count that, since I just reworked someone else's text. This effort seems a bit simplistic, maybe, but I'm hopeful that subsequent attempts will improve.

This was written in response to the recent Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It's true that homosexual marriages and clergy received approval from this assembly, as did fellowship with the United Methodist Church. Those are just symptoms, even as the ordination of women and the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification were earlier symptoms. The truly dangerous thing, the disease, is that the Word of God was twisted to justify teachings that have no biblical justification.

Conservative Lutherans in North America have been quick to back away from these decisions and to disavow fellowship with the ELCA. That's all very well and good, but we must also beware the log in our own eyes, lest we blindly follow the same path.

So here it is, for what it's worth. Feel free to share and use it with proper attribution.

Lord Jesus Christ, Preserve Your Church

1. Lord Jesus Christ, preserve Your Church
From Satan's evil ways.
Guide us in Your redeeming love
And truth throughout our days.

2. Defend us, Lord, from itching ears
Of those who seek to feed
Their own desires and thus ignore
The one thing they most need.

3. Protect your Church, dear Lord, this day
From traitors from within,
Who in the name of "love" bring death
To brothers lost in sin.

4. Turn us from our self-righteousness
And lead us to repent
So we may fully trust your Word
And crave your sacrament.

5. Lord Jesus Christ, preserve Your Church
Until that glorious day
When you return to bring us home
And death has died away. Amen

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
Common Meter (86 86)
I suggest the tune St. Flavian (LSB 577).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is this what you think you should hear on Sunday morning?

Apparently this decade sucked . . . at least, musically.

Pitchfork published its Top 500 Tracks of the 2000's. As I went through the list, I was struck by the Dionysian nature of the songs on the list: how the music lends itself to the instinctive, passionate, primal urges of the listener. The music is driven by the beat, rather than having the rhythm serve the music.

Sadly, this is the kind of pap that Contemporary Christian Music advocates would have us dancing to in our worship services. Don't get me wrong. I love music, and there's even a few songs on this list that I enjoy hearing--though the 90s were much better for popular music, and the 80s were better still. But this is not what belongs in the sanctuary of a church.

Unless, of course, the golden calf is being brought in, too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

An intereting (and very sad) week in Lutheranism

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest "Lutheran" church body in North America, this week voted in their body-wide convention to approve a document called a "Social Statement" in which they give approval to same-sex relationships. In a subsequent vote, they also approved the ordination of homosexual clergy who are in committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships.

This is only the latest step in a journey which has taken the ELCA further away from the Word of God. The ELCA in its colleges and seminaries teaches that Bible is a document which was written by men under the influence of God, and that the hand of man in the Bible means that certain things that the Bible contains are not actually God's Word, and so it is their responsibility to decide what God actually said and what was written because of the patriarchal, misogynistic bigotry of men. With this method, sometimes called "historical criticism", the first determination the ELCA made was that the Biblical prohibition against the ordination of women must be abolished. Then they determined that they should be in fellowship--meaning that they share pastors, altars and pulpits--with church bodies with which there are doctrinal disagreements, even when these disagreements concern matters of vital imporance and were matters over which Luther himself could not bring himself to declare fellowship with those who held these beliefs. (This includes but is not limited to the understanding of what the Lord's Supper is and what it means.)

And now they have further stepped away from God's Word by choosing to accept homosexual relationships and to ordain actively homosexual clergy. This is not a surprising step, but it is a disappointing one. When a church body allows itself to pick and choose what from the Bible to believe and what from the Bible to discard, it is usually the least popular teachings which fall by the wayside. Notice what they have already excluded:
1. Denying ordination to women means that the Bible discriminates against half of the world's population! Surely God wouldn't mean to do that, so that must be the influence of the patriarchal society in which the men who wrote the Bible lived.
2. Forming fellowship with church bodies based on an agreement in doctrine means that we are discriminating against everyone who doesn't believe exactly as we do. Surely God does not desire the Church to be divided, so for the sake of love we will declare fellowship with bodies with whom our historical statements of confession do not agree.
3. And what about homosexuals? Sure, God talks about homosexuality, but he does so in the same book in which he declares menstruating women to be unclean! Those laws aren't taken serisously today by anyone, so we can do away with the whole lot--including the outdated thought that homosexuality is sinful. It doesn't matter that this prohibition was repeated again in the New Testament through Paul. Paul was just a homophobe.
These Biblical doctrines were eliminated in the name of love. The problem is, by affirming people in these errors, they are literally loving people to eternal death.

I say none of this in a boastful manner. The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (LCMS), the church body to which I belong, has its own problems right now, and our problems are not small ones. Nonetheless, we are duty-bound to "test the spirits" (I John 4), to examine what is taught concerning God's Word. And when someone so obviously steps away from the Word of God, we are duty bound to say so.

Paul tells us in II Timothy 4, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." The ELCA as a body has chosen to turn away from the truth. Instead of clinging to what is right, they have turned to what is popular. Kyrie, eleison!

Please keep these wayward brethren in your prayers. And keep in your prayers all who would hold to the truth of Scripture in spite of its unpopular teachings. This is a difficult time for all of us.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Calling Miss Manners

And now for something completely different . . .

I went into the bank today to drop off some paperwork for my day job. Like a boy whose parents and preschool teachers taught him manners (and whose children hear the message from Yo Gabba Gabba!), I stood in line while the two tellers were occupied. An older man came into the bank, walked up to a woman who was transacting her business with one of the tellers, and struck up a conversation. When the woman's business was done and she walked away, he set his paperwork on the counter and began his own transaction with the teller.

One of the first lessons we learn in school--if not the very first--is to stand in line and wait your turn. We used to call things like waiting your turn in line "common courtesy". The problem is, it's not all that common anymore. My parents didn't use physical punishment on me often, but my mother slapped me twice, and both times were for saying or doing something rude. I certainly don't live a life of perfect courtesy today, though I do try to be polite. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I hear a goodly number of senior citizens talking about how rude the younger generation is today. My word of advice to senior citizens: if you're going to complain about the rudeness of young people today, it might come over better if you didn't show a lack of common courtesy yourself. After all, we learned it from *somewhere*.

That doesn't excuse my generation or the generation younger than me. Whether we've learned the bad habits of discourtesy by example or just out of thin air, it's time to change. Whether or not the old man doesn't hold the post office door for you, it's time to hold the door for a lady or for an elderly person. Whether or not you receive thanks for doing something, it's time to thank the person who does something for you, even if they're only doing their job. And even if some old guy cuts in line ahead of you, don't be rude in return.

After all, maybe they don't have grandchildren in preschool to teach them common courtesy.

GUEST POST: Beer, Brats and Bride IX

From Barb Kavouras

The 9th Annual International Beer, Brats and Princess Bride Watch is quickly approaching and you should begin to make your plans now. I know several on these lists have moved (providing new opportunities to spread this joyous event) and several are new to these lists so a bit of explanation...

What: Princess Bride Watch (either by tape or DVD)

When: Saturday September 19th

Time: 4 p.m. (eastern time zone)

Where: At the neighborhood gathering place (gather some CATsters in your area and designate someone's home)

Accompanied by: Beer (Lutheran beverage and/or root beer for the kiddoes), Brats (bratwurst -- grilled, broiled, boiled with or without sauerkraut) and whatever else your locale decides!

If you haven't seen the movie, Princess Bride, now is the time to experience a movie which will provide you with all the dialogue you need in life : ) If you are not as enthusiastic as you should be, continue to attend the Beer, Brats and Bride and you soon *will* be enthusiastic : ) The rules for this event are fairly fluid -- if there are no other Loopers or TableTalkers in your area, you *may* watch this with just your family or with *gasp* outsiders. But, it is a *must* to watch the movie! *If* you have an aversion to bratwurst (something I can't even begin to imagine) you *may* have grilled hot dogs. *If* you have an aversion to beer (something this German girl surprisingly can imagine) you *may* substitute a different beverage of choice.

You may eat before or after the designated time of the movie but we should all be watching the movie at the same time across the world--Pastor Brockwell...I'm not sure what time this would make it in Finland...perhaps a late night? Marta in England - will this be an English event this year?

Have fun planning your get together. If you are attending in the Cleveland area, let me know by email. Oh yes, one more thing -- Have fun storming the castle!

I will be participating in this. Alas, my wife and children will not, as they will have already left for New York.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

GUEST POST: "Unsung Hymns and Stanzas" by Robert E. Smith

While writing hymn essays for the upcoming Lutheran Service Book Companion, I discovered the following nifty hymns and stanzas:

John Newton, "What contradictions meet" Olney Hymns in Three Books, London: W. Oliver, 1779.

What contradictions meet
In minister's employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy!
No other post affords a place
For equal honor, or disgrace!

Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel;
Constrain'd to speak, in vain,
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt,
When stubborn hearts begin to melt!

The Savior's dying love,
The soul's amazing worth;
Their utmost efforts move,
And draw their bowls forth;
They pray and strive, their rest departs,
Till Christ be form'd in sinners hearts.

If some small hope appear,
They still are not content,
But with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event.
Too oft they find their hopes deciev'd
Then, how their inmost souls are grieved!

But when their pains succeed,
And from the tender blade,
The rip'ning ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid.
No harvest-joy can equal theirs,
To find the fruit of all their cares.

And the sung stanza:

On what has now been sown
Thy blessing, Lord, bestow;
The pow'r is Thine alone
To make it spring and grow.
Do Thou the gracious harvest raise
And Thou, alone, shalt have the praise.

Samuel Stone, "The Church's One Foundation" (Written for the first Lambeth Conference)

So, Lord, she stands before Thee,
For evermore thine own;
No merit is her glory'
Her boasting this alone;
That she who did not choose Thee
Came.chosen, at Thy call
Never to leave or lose Thee
Or from Thy favour fall.

Isaac Watts, "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past"

IV. Thy Word commands our Flesh to Dust,
Return, ye Sons of Men:
All Nations rose from Earth at first,
And turn to Earth again.

VI. The busy Tribes of Flesh and Blood
With all their Lives and Cares
Are carried downwards by Thy Flood,
And lost in following Years.

VIII. Like flow’ry Fields the Nations stand
Pleas’d with the Morning-light;
The flowers beneath the Mower’s Hand
Ly withering e’er ‘tis Night

(Robert E. Smith is an ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and is currently the Electronic Resources Librarian at the Walther Library of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Television isn't completely evil

I like watching television. I can't deny it. I like a good story, and when a TV show has a good plot and well-played characters, I can watch it for hours on end. (Just look at the TV shows I have in my DVD collection, and you'll see what I mean.) So finding a JAG marathon on the USA network and a Stargate SG-1 marathon on the (unfortunately-named) Syfy network, I was torn. Finally I settled on the Stargate SG-1 marathon to watch as I got ready for work, as I liked those specific episodes better than the JAG episodes they were showing this morning.

I know we often hear tales of the evils of television: how it shows too much violence, how it turns the minds of our children to pudding for the likes of Alec Baldwin to eat (and yes, I find it highly plausible that Alec Baldwin is an alien whose mission is to eat human brains), how it makes our children fat. But there's another side to the story. At its best, television powerfully portrays the human condition. Good writers recognize that the best stories are ones that have an authentic feel. In other words, they show us how we truly are. Yes, the Cosby Show was somewhat unrealistic in that every problem could be solved in thirty minutes, but the show portrayed real problems that real families face. Yes, M*A*S*H had some outrageous stories, but the patients did not all miraculously survive and the doctors weren't "saints in surgical garb", as one episode pointed out.

One double-episode during the seventh season of Stargate SG-1 in particular makes this abundantly clear. One of the characters--not a main character but a major character nonetheless--dies during a mission. Though the medium of science fiction sometimes allows characters to be resurrected, this character was not. And the characters respond according to their natures. The more emotional character--yes, she's a woman, but she can still outthink you and kick your ass at the same time--mourns. The intellectual character, though grieving, is forced to consider the personal, ethical and moral ramifications of sharing or not sharing the events around this person's death with a news crew on the base who are assembling a documentary about the Stargate program. My description of these things is cold, I know; the portrayal of these things is not. The characters are moved by the events. And the more the characters are moved, the more the audience is moved as well. And it is the very realism, even in the midst of a science fiction show, which makes that possible.

Not all television is edifying, but not everything that's worth learning is learned from books. Even television can be an asset in learning about our fellow man. While I don't suggest making all human observations based on watching television, not everything you see there will rot your brain. (Take that, Alec Baldwin!)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Let me find in You my pleasure . . .

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." -- Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)

This will be the first week since the end of June where I won't be heading off on Sunday morning to step into the pulpit and preach the Word to God's people. Though it has been a pleasure to return to a weekly preaching schedule for most of the past four months--and I think I preached more in these past four months than I did in my whole last year in Ohio--I'll admit that I'm ready for this break. As a parish pastor it was a fairly simple three-step process to recover from the drain of preaching:
1. Go into the study on Monday (or Tuesday) morning, close the door, and meditate on the Word.
2. Get on my knees and pray.
3. Go to the hospital and visit the sick and suffering in the congregation.
Doing those things always helped me to be able to get past the crash of preaching the previous Sunday so I could begin to prepare for the next.

Preaching ten of the last twelve weekends has left me in need of some serious spiritual refreshment. Now that I work a full-time job outside of the pastoral ministry, that recovery process is not so easy. Although I am able to a certain extent to set my own work schedule, that doesn't include a whole lot of time for me to sit at my desk and meditate on the Word, much less pray. And I obviously don't have shut-in or hospitalized parishioners to visit. I can spare some time here and there, but I have to make do with the barest fraction of the time I used to take to refresh myself spiritually. I also don't receive the body and blood of Christ as often as I did as a parish pastor, as I would frequently commune with my shut-in members. My prayer life is better now than it was before I went to seminary, but it's not nearly as healthy as it was when I was a parish pastor. As a result, I find myself worn down, more susceptible to weaknesses and temptations, less patient.

I'm an orderly person in some respects, not the least of which is that I like to have a fairly good idea of what my schedule will be. I can alter that schedule as the need arises, but I work so much better when there I have structure. (You should have seen my bookshelves in my study in both North Dakota and Ohio. Faith thinks I'm OCD, and she may be right.) But right now, in order to garner for myself more time for spiritual refreshment, I must be more flexible than is my usual wont. I must utilize the flexibility I have when doing my recreational reading to fit in more theological reading and reflection. I must find more time in my life for prayer. I don't think it is necessarily salutary to abandon all my amusements, because those help refresh me physically and mentally. But I can have a better balance. I must have a better balance.

Wisdom's highest, noblest treasure,
Jesus, is revealed in you;
Let me find in You my pleasure,
And my wayward will subdue,
Humility there and simplicity reigning,
In paths of true wisdom my steps ever training.
If I learn of Jesus this knowledge divine,
The blessing of heavenly wisdom is mine.

-- LSB 536, though I like the TLH translation better

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Sermon for 8/2/09 -- Eighth Sunday after Trinity (LSB-One Year)

“I Never Knew You”
Matthew 7:15-23

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I have to admit that I can’t stand to watch Joel Osteen for very long. Whenever I’m flipping through the channels and come across one of his shows, I try to watch as he preaches. But it doesn’t take very long for me to get so angry that I have to change the channel—because if I don’t change the channel, it won’t be long before I want to throw the television through a window. His teaching that God gives wealth and power to Christians as rewards for greater faith is one of the great false teachings of this or any time, one that misleads many, even many Christians.

The Bible has plenty to say about false teachers. False teaching helped bring about the fall into sin, and false teachers have sought to do their work ever since. It began when the serpent said to Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve did eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the serpent had misled them. Though they did not immediately keel over, these people who were not supposed to be able to die were suddenly subject to illness and injury, suffering, and finally death. This problem has plagued the Church throughout its history. The Preface to The Book of Concord tells us, “Just as while the holy apostles were still alive, it happened that false teachers insinuated perverted teachings into the churches in which the apostles themselves had planted the pure, unadulterated Word of God, so such false teachers were also inflicted on our churches because of our own and the ungrateful world's impenitence and sin.”

False teaching is so dangerous because these false teachers tell us exactly what we want to hear. Paul diagnoses the problem for us in his second letter to Timothy: “They will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” We’re not content to hear the Word of God as Spirit breathed it; we want to pick and choose what suits us. “Oh, she’s so pretty. So what if we’re both married?” Whooop! So much for the Sixth Commandment. “I’m pregnant, but I don’t want to be.” Zap! There goes the Fifth Commandment. “The Bible calls homosexuality ‘shameless’ and ‘an abomination’; but that’s just the product of a repressive society. We know better today.” Yet another bit of Scripture done away with.

The Church Militant is especially guilty of ignoring the Word of God. In fact, it is in the Church where false preachers do the most damage, because these false teachers claim to be speaking with the authority of Christ. A church body accepts Muslims and homosexuals and women as pastors and choose them to be bishops; pastors deny that Jesus rose from the dead; denominations ignore the Word of God by saying that Jesus is only spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper rather than taking Jesus at His word and confessing his true, physical present. These are the ones who will say to the Lord on the Last Day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?” These are the ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to consume the faithful, to lead them away from the truth, down the broad path that leads to the wide gate of destruction. And why are these false preachers successful in the Church? It’s because they’re saying exactly what we want to hear. We want to believe in a god who will reward a strong faith by making us healthy, wealthy and wise. We want to believe that all people are basically good. We want to believe that we can earn our way to heaven.

We are in that dark time when men will not tolerate the truth of God’s Word. False teachers have been so pervasive that these false teachings are seen as near-universal truth. Believers are misled by these teachings, and the faithless are confirmed in their errors. For these false teachers the Lord has only one response. He says to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”

But the Lord doesn’t leave us in the midst of these false teachings without any recourse. He tells us, “You will know [false prophets] by their fruits.” These words of Jesus come near the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Up to this point He had taught His hearers about true righteousness, about faithfulness, prayer, and daily bread. After this he continued to teach the disciples about Scripture, and then He commanded them to baptize and to teach all nations “to observe everything I have commanded you”. He spent three years teaching the disciples how to recognize good fruit, and He commanded them to teach everyone else how to recognize it, too. False teachers are caught in their own web of lies. They have reason to doubt their eternal salvation. But you have been taught the truth. You have been taught by faithful pastors to recognize what is true, what is right, what is profitable for your salvation. You were given faith in your baptism, and that faith clings to the Word of God, allowing you to recognize and shun error and to confess the truth.

As you confess Jesus Christ who has come in the flesh, you do so as one in whom Christ dwells through your baptism, as one who belongs to Him. Because He has made you His own, these false teachers and their bad fruit have no power over you. The Holy Supper in which you will soon partake is good fruit, edifying for body and soul, and it feeds faithful sheep.

I’ve said this before from this pulpit, but it bears repeating. You know how to recognize the fruits of anyone who claims to be preaching of God. Does his teaching confess Christ as Savior? Does it confess Christ as both God and Man? Does it confess Christ as the One sent in the flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior? Does it confess that Christ died to bear our sins and rose again to bring us newness of life? If so, trust that teaching. Embrace it. Hold fast to it. And if not, then get rid of it. Flee from it. Run the false teacher out of your sanctuary and out of your life. The false teacher has no fruit that is edifying for you. He can only poison you.

Beware of false prophets. Test what they say, and flee from their teachings. Confess the truth as faithful parents, faithful teachers, and faithful pastors have taught it to you. What they have taught you is good fruit and is edifying for your soul. When you stand before Christ on the judgment day, He will recognize that good fruit in you as His own and will not send you away. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.