Pastor Provost’s Ramblings

 

CONFIRMATION

Just last night (June 17th), I was privileged to lead three catechumens through the rubrics of the Confirmation service.  They pledged that they had been instructed in the doctrines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and that they agreed with and believed them as their own confession of faith.  They stated that they’d rather suffer death rather than give up this confession that they’ve been taught.  They promised to continue to be faithful in worship attendance and study of the Scriptures, and to be regular in their reception of the Lord’s Supper for the strengthening of their bodies and souls.  What a great day to be celebrated in the lives of these young people; what a reminder to us of the faith that’s been implanted into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and nourished and strengthened by Him throughout our earthly lives, until He takes to heaven to be with Him in His time and according to His purpose.

I’m also reflective on how COVID-19 has changed this process this year, as it’s altered seemingly everything else in our lives.  First and foremost, the Confirmation service was delayed by some 2 ½ months.  We were planning on having this service on April 5th (Palm Sunday); of course, there were no public worship services on that day, only online approximations.  Secondly, there was a long delay between the examination of the catechumens and the public rite of Confirmation.  In most years, the questioning would be on Friday evening, and the service would be on the next Sunday.  This year, we had the examination on Friday, April 10th, and the rite of Confirmation on Wednesday, June 17th.  Thirdly, the fact that the Confirmation service was held on a Wednesday night, because the younger and more mobile members were coming to church on Wednesdays, and those who don’t get out at much or who are at higher risk are attending service on Sundays, is a sign of the times in which we live.  It’s sad that we have to be separated into two services because of social distancing; it’s horrible that it’s only considered “safe” for the older members to be around the younger by the miracle of video and internet.  Then again, our loved ones living in nursing homes have been cut off from everyone, even their spouses, for months on end now because of fears to their physical “safety”.

But, the promises within the service – that those who confess the faith they’ve been given won’t give it up, no matter what; that even death will not disrupt their lives of professing the unadulterated Christian faith that they’ve been given, take on new meaning in these COVID-19 times.  We’ve become much less cavalier in days of late when it comes to talk of physical death – we fear it more, because it’s more of a possibility for us.  It just might come to that for us – gone from the sci-fi books and the fiction pages, and into the realm of possibility, are tales of a society in which those who are not in favor, members of the Christian church, might have to choose between their faith and their life.  We are told in Scripture that the day will come, just before the Last Day, that we will be hated for the Name which we bear.  Even in the Gospel reading for this Wednesday and Sunday, Jesus speaks of being afraid not of the one that can destroy the body (secular government, enemies of the faith), but rather having a healthy fear of the One that can destroy both the soul and the body in hell (only God Himself).  These COVID days are a reminder that many among us can at least relate to knowing someone who has succumbed to the modern-day pestilence, and that “even death” might actually happen to even us.

And yet, we do not fear!  God is in control – He created us, sustains us, redeemed us, and will take us to Himself in His time and according to His plan.  If He decides to take us home due to this pandemic, then He has given us the faith so that we are not destroyed, but will have eternal life with Him.  If He decides that we are to stay here a little longer, He will give us the strength and courage to live our the faith we’ve been given in the vocations into which He has placed us.  Thanks be to God that He’s in charge – and that we aren’t!  Congratulations to the confirmands as they take the first step along a lifetime of faith and service toward God and their neighbor.  They’ve been rightly instructed; the Holy Spirit will do the rest.  Take care…God bless…

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A CORRECTION, AND A WOW!

A few weeks ago, I published a post in this blog about the series of books that I’d been reading by Ray Keating, about the “Warrior Monk”, Pastor Stephen Grant, and one of Ray’s non-fiction books concerning the state of affairs of our country.  I included some biographical information about Ray, and how I enjoyed the books, and thought others might also benefit from reading them.  So, imagine my surprise when I received an email from Ray this past week, thanking me for my support, and also making a minor change.  It seems that I had it wrong when I thought his spiritual conversion journey was from Rome through the ELCA to the LCMS – he didn’t make a stopover in the ELCA after all, but went straight from Rome to the LCMS.  So, I gratefully correct the record, and thank Ray for letting me know about my mistake.

And, wow!  I never dreamed that my blog was getting such a wide readership!  That someone who is somewhat of a celebrity, at least in LCMS circles, would not only read my blog, but take the time to contact me about it?  Unbelievable!  Thanks so much to Ray for being so responsive to his readership, and for his kind words to me.  The great news…he’s continuing to write, and there’s another book in the series pipeline coming soon.  So, join me in picking it up when it’s released…Take care…God bless…

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COMPUTERS – TOOLS OR ANNOYANCES?

No, I’m not a Luddite! Really, I’m not! But, in the new COVID-19 environment, I’ve been relying on them maybe too much. From Zoom meeting sessions to downloading documents, online webinars to email, it’s hard to adjust to not having time face-to-face with people. And, that’s what pastors usually do – we interact with our members, with other pastors, with everyone. But, I think that maybe something is being lost that we don’t realize right away – the ability to have non-verbal cues, to read body language, to communicate with each other in ways that don’t reach the printed page or the video screen.

I was just reading an article in Motor Trend about the new Cadillac Escalade (yes, one can at least dream about a vehicle like that!). One of the features that was highlighted was that backseat passengers can send a message to the driver that they’d like to stop soon, either to use the facilities or to stop at a store. They don’t even have to speak to each other! And, the driver can confirm or deny this request electronically. Additionally, the driver can not only use the navigation system to pick their route to their destination, but a feature gives them real-time data on traffic, and a video so that they can see the intersection prior to arriving there. Not only does this sound like yet another thing to malfunction (taking the car to the shop is more and more like taking the computer to the repairman!), but it’s the height of not wanting to have to deal with other people even within the same car.

People are losing the ability to communicate with each other. In fact, I’ve had it happen with younger folks that misinterpret eye contact as aggression. When we rely on email to express emotion, it’s easily misconstrued. Humor just doesn’t translate to words on a page…at least not easily. Sarcasm is just as much a no-no. Without the body language to go with it, people interpret what is written literally, even when it’s not intended that way. The same is true with text messages, but with more severe consequences, because most folks don’t proofread their texts like they do their email, and with a shorter format, it’s also more difficult to capture mood and tone of voice.

I’m not saying that these forms of communication are all bad, or all wrong. But, we need to recognize their limitations, and yearn for the day when we can be back together again, using all of our faculties, to interact with each other. If we continue to have our interpersonal skills atrophy, we will be impaired all the more.

As an historian, it’s interesting to notice the progression in communication. Years ago, folks that were separated by great distances had nothing but postal mail to relay information. Then came the telephone, and the oral word was available. We’ve possibly moved backward a little in recent years, because we have audio and video available to us, yet we choose to regress to simply the written word on the page. Do we do this because it’s easier? Or less intrusive? Or because we simply choose not to take advantage of what we’ve been given?

I’m not saying that we should avoid all new technology, or that in this time of unprecedented responses we might not be limited in how we can be together. I’m just pointing out that we should be mindful of the limitations of the form we’re using, and be careful that we’re not misunderstood. When this is all over, and we aren’t so dependent upon technology, the days of having our computers “freeze up” may not completely inhibit our ability to have a normal day! Take care…God bless…

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WHAT A PLEASANT SURPRISE!

When you’ve read a dozen or so fiction novels by a great author, you tend to think that you know at least some of what’s coming next. Take the books by Ray Keating, for example. He has written about 12 stories about the life and times of Pastor Stephen Grant, an LCMS Pastor on Long Island, New York, who has an interesting past as a CIA Agent. Talk about surprising in and of itself! The exploits that he gets involved in take him around the world, and being a solid Lutheran Pastor at the same time as fighting off bad guys earns him the title of Warrior Monk (which just happens to be the name of the first novel Keating wrote in the series).

It’s rare to see Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod folks in the limelight around our country. We don’t have a lot of them serving in the Congress and the Senate; there’s never been an LCMS President of the United States. In our own Iowa Legislature, I think there are only 10 or so Missouri-Synod lawmakers. Even in the media, the only public figures that come to mind are Mollie Zeigler-Hemingway and Sara Carter, both contributors for Fox News. Another behind-the-scenes celebrity in Washington, D.C., is Tim Goeglein, who was a cabinet-level staffer in the President George W. Bush administration (as liaison to the Christian community). Now he is one of the heads of the Free to Be Faithful campaign and “lobbying office” for the LCMS on Capitol Hill. But, there aren’t very many! Maybe it’s because we don’t seek the spotlight; Garrison Keillor may have had it right that Lutherans are mostly “altos and basses in the choir”, staying in the background most of the time. 😊 But, it’s gratifying once in a while to see a series of books written by an LCMS writer, writing about a Missouri Synod Lutheran Pastor.

Maybe the tip-off should have been that Rev. Grant’s wife is a professional economist – not the most mainstream of professions. But, I recently found out that the author, Ray Keating is himself not only a convert to the LCMS, by way of the ELCA as well as the Roman Catholic church, but also is in real-life an economist and columnist for various sources. Interesting, in perusing Amazon, I saw that Keating also has written a few non-fiction books in his time. In fact, his latest tome is a collection of his columns over the past 30 years or so, on a variety of topics. Entitled Behind Enemy Lines, this latest volume explores his experiences of living his entire life in New York, and being counter-cultural in many aspects of his existence. The big city, especially New York, can be a discouraging and disorienting place for those of the conservative persuasion, after all.

Though the book might appear to be daunting at first (it measures almost 700 pages!), it’s easily manageable because it’s divided into fourteen sections, and most columns within those sections are 2-4 pages in length. Thus, for just picking it up and reading a couple of columns at a time, it’s perfect. Though I don’t agree with everything that he writes (alas, if I had to agree with everything an author put to paper, I’d be pretty limited in my reading!), for the most part he offers a reasoned, thoughtful take on many different issues.

One of the reasons that I include this post on the blog is that I hope you will pick up one or more of his books and read it. The good news about the fiction series is that you can start with most any of them, and know what’s going on without reading the others (although, if you read them from start to finish, there is a progression in the characters that is very intriguing). The non-fiction book of columns is totally different, but also totally worth your time, I think.

Hopefully this is just another way to occupy our time while we’re having an abundance of it during these COVID-19 days, and have that time be well-spent. Take care…God bless
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SINGING – ONE MARK OF THE CHRISTIAN
I was just reading a blog post from Rev. William Weedon, pastor in Hamel, Illinois, on the Gottesblog (see the recommended links under Resources within this Our Savior Lutheran page). He was writing about how essential music and hymnody are to the Church, wherever in the annals of history we are to observe her. When the secular authorities talked about Christians, before they were a legitimate, recognized religious group, the thing that they always noted was that these folks were always singing! I would highly recommend you read Rev. Weedon’s blog post, about the points throughout history where singing was crucial to the life of the church.
 
Think about it – where else, in our day and age, do people gather together and have one of their main activities be singing together. Outside of concerts (which are getting fewer and fewer in the internet and COVID age) and families joining together (when’s the last time you saw people gathered around the piano or the radio?), it’s become a rare thing to sing on a regular basis, unless you’re alone in the car or the shower! It’s almost become uncomfortable for us – we’re so used to hearing the soundtrack of our lives, played for us and we are just listeners, not participants. It’s yet another case of our culture trying to dictate to us what we should do, instead of the church being the vanguard leader of the society.
 
Martin Luther saw singing and music as an integral part of everyday life. He wrote immediately after his Morning Prayer in the Small Catechism that one should, after this prayer, “go to your work, singing a hymn, like that of the Ten Commandments, or whatever your devotion should suggest.” He penned dozens of hymns himself, many of which we have saved for our edification in Lutheran Service Book. Even if they are a little long, or if you don’t necessarily know the tunes, you can still read the words and gain some understanding of what they’re trying to say. Of course, if you are able to sing them, you can follow the advice of Luther and be able to “pray twice” – that’s what happens when we sing that which we read!
 
So many of the hymns that we have today in the church arise from the Psalms, from the New Testament Canticles, and from other passages of Scripture. The Psalms were even published with musical directions for singing them, sometimes even antiphonally (responsively). It’s no surprise that this musical heritage has stuck with us over the years, even to the point of the Lutheran church being dubbed the “singing church.” We not only sing hymns on Sunday morning; our liturgy is chanted (a form of singing that closely approximates speaking to an ordered set of tones); we have hymn festivals from time to time. In short, we embrace singing as one of the greatest ways that God has given us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest His Word.
 
In these days when we cannot gather together in person for church services, one of the things that we’re missing out on is singing together. There are so many things that I’ve taken for granted over the years that I now miss – receiving the Sacrament of the Altar, joining with the members of the congregation to build each other up against the devil’s assaults, being able to set aside time to be part of the Divine Service apart from the distractions at home that easily get in the way of our mind being focused on the things of God. But, singing is one missed opportunity that only occurs to me as we progress longer and longer without corporate worship. God willing, this hiatus will be over soon, and we can receive nourishment and the forgiveness of sins in this place soon once again. God be with you…take care…_________________________________________________________________________
 
Click the green link below for a Lutheran Hand Washing Song
 
 
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CARRYING ON VICTORIOUSLY IN DISTRESS (a new interpretation of COVID?)
 
No, I didn’t make up this phrase, although I think it’s rather cool! However, the jazz singer that we were privileged to listen to at home in a online concert on Saturday night, Tina Haase-Findlay, coined this new phrase to encourage and build up folks that are stressed out and worried about the novel Coronavirus. If you get a chance, look up Noce Jazz Club DSM (Des Moines) on Facebook, and they list all of their livestreams that have been posted since the middle of March. No, it’s not the same as going there live to hear a concert, but it’s not a bad substitute!
 
But let’s unpack this phrase a little bit. “Carrying On”. That’s what we do, as the children of God – we carry on, we sojourn on, until God decides that it’s time for us to come to Him in heavenly glory. We don’t know the day or the hour; we don’t know what lies in store for us in this earthly life. But, we know that He will take care of us, will strengthen us, will keep us steadfast in the true faith until life everlasting.
 
“Victoriously”. Not a somber slog through life, but knowing that Jesus has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. When He died on the cross, the devil thought he had won. But, three days later, Jesus showed him the truth – that the grave could not hold Him. He is risen! He is risen indeed! In these days following Easter day, we proclaim to all that will listen that when our earthly lives are over, we have the hope, confidence, and assurance that we are God’s and that He will take us to heaven. Why? Because of the faith that has been planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, and because Christ died in our place, paying the penalty for all our sins.
 
“In Distress”. Yes, we still live in this sinful world. It hasn’t been right ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. The Christian life is one of cross-bearing, suffering, and chastening. Things will NOT be easy for those who confess the truth. Anyone that tries to promise you that after you’ve become a Christian that things will go swimmingly is just plain wrong! The examples that we should take to heart are those of the martyrs and sufferers for the faith from the book of Acts, and from the narrative about Paul’s missionary journeys. We will be in distress – for a time. For the twinkling of an eye, when compared to the long-lastingness of eternity. But, God will be with us, to strengthen us, and He uses this chastening to build up our faith and our trust and reliance upon Him. Without Him, we’d be lost. But with Him, we can rejoice, even in distress. Even amid the restrictions of COVID-19. Even when those who love are getting sick and even dying.
 
Martin Luther, Paul Gerhardt, C.F.W. Walther and many of the other Lutheran hymn writers were very familiar with suffering. Yet, they were able to pen some of the most encouraging hymns during some of their darkest hours. The Holy Spirit worked within them to build up the members of the church when they needed it the most. So, be encouraged. Rather than a scary time of the novel Coronavirus, we are dealing with a short-term setback of COVID-19 – Carrying on Victoriously in Distress. I hope this provides you with a different perspective in these grey and latter days.
 
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The Word is Great; But What About the Sacrament?
 
One of the strange things (besides preaching to a largely empty church) about this time is that we have been absented from the Sacrament for quite some time. At this writing, it’s been since the 15th of March since we celebrated the Divine Service person-to-person. Although technological means are wonderful gifts from God, there’s still nothing like gathering together around the Lord’s Table, as the people of God, to receive the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life through Christ’s Body and Blood tangibly in, with, and under the bread and wine. Allow me, here to expand a bit upon some thoughts I’ve had with regards to this unplanned and undesired fasting of an unknown duration:
 
1. God is superabundantly generous with His gifts: Thanks be to God that His Word is still available to us. We live in a precious time — most of us have Bibles, Hymnals and other good and salutary books within our homes. We have the wonderful benefit of having not only telephones to build each other up in the faith, but also recorded videos of worship services that we can view at any time. We have video chats available on our phones and computers. Folks in former ages would just have been in awe of the communication tools that we have. Let’s take advantage of them, and use them as long as is necessary, until we can be together again.
 
2. It would be preferable to have the Lord’s Supper available to us, but we just haven’t found a way to distribute this safely to large groups at this time. However, the saying is true that “absence can make the heart grow fonder”. In other words, being away from the Sacrament for a time can quell the urging within us to take it for granted, go through the motions, or absent ourselves from it to do other, less important things.
 
3. The chief benefit, the forgiveness of sins, is available in other ways than through the Sacrament — not to disparage it, but to give options in this troubled time. Firstly, remember your Baptism — that is where your sins were washed away, and you were given the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Secondly, take to heart the absolution that I include in every video, except for the midweek services during Lent — I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Luther tells us in his Small Catechism that we should regard this as if Christ our dear Lord was dealing with us Himself. Thirdly, read and know throughout the Scriptures that God specializes in coming to His people in their distress, and restoring them to Himself. Throughout history, the cycle of sin, punishment, repentance and restoration continues. We see this throughout the Old and New Testaments.
 
4. For those of you who desire it, I am more than willing to celebrate and distribute the Sacrament to individual families, whether I come to you or you come to me. All you need to do is give me a call or send me an email, and we can set up a time. Though we are in an unprecedented time, we can still meet in groups of 10 or less and share this wonderful gift. Please — I’m here for you!
 
5. Additionally, please don’t be shy about giving me a call or send me an email to talk about your concerns, your fears, the things that are bothering you. I’m available for you! I’ve been doing some selected phone calls, but if I haven’t gotten in touch with you yet, don’t hesitate to give me a call. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other; that’s not a good thing.
 
In closing, remember that God is looking out for us, and that He is guarding and protecting each and every one of us in His grace and mercy. It’s not His will to keep us from His Sacrament; however, He is working within us to keep us mindful of His forgiveness, mercy, and peace. Hopefully this isolation will end soon, if it be God’s will! Take care…and God bless…
 
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What do you miss the most?
 
During this strange time, I’ve often reflected upon what I miss the most about “social distancing”. Of course, gathering for public worship is the most important thing, along with reception of the Sacrament. (I’ll visit this in another post soon!) But, I’ve been thinking of some other things that I miss, and I wonder if you’re missing them, too. At the outset, I know that at least in some cases this is a selfish pursuit, what with people getting sick and dying from the novel Coronavirus and the associated COVID-19 pandemic. We shouldn’t be missing such trivial things as I’m about to mention. But, it’s natural for us to reflect upon the first two or three things we’re going to do when we are released from this isolation. Here are the top three that I was thinking of:
 
1. Haircuts: It drives me absolutely nuts when my hair gets too long. It gets curly and messy; it starts down the back of my neck, and gets way too bushy on top. I was fortunate enough to get my last trim just before the barbershops closed; however, it’s been over a month now since then. Hopefully I can get back on my schedule of every 3 or 4 weeks within a little while. Think that’s too often? I heard once that H. Ross Perot had his cut every week! Maybe I can just go for the Bob Ross look…?
 
2. Restaurants: Yes, I know, you can get delivery or pickup, but sitting down to a nice restaurant dinner is a luxury that I took for granted for a long time. In fact, I don’t think I had gone through a drive-thru for years before this happened. First, if you take the food home, it’s usually cold before you get there. Second, if you eat in the car, then the aroma of French fries and burgers permeates your vehicle for weeks. Third, even if you don’t mind the smell, inevitably spills will occur on the nice upholstery…
 
3. Clothing: There’s nothing like the feel of a new suit! Getting measured so it fits perfectly, the anticipation of another addition to the closet, being able to make new combinations of shirts, ties and socks — it’s maddening to have to abandon this for a time. Again, we have the basics available to us at Walmart or Target, but for anything beyond that, we are forced to wait until things improve…
 
I know that these are minor trifles, and I shouldn’t be annoyed, but I am. Patience is a virtue that I don’t possess very much of, most of the time. Perhaps this is a good thing, to take me down a peg or two, and realize that everything that we have is a gift from God, and comes to us according to His will. Maybe I’m not thankful enough for all that I’ve been given.
 
Who knows…maybe this will be all academic by the time you read this, and the restrictions will be lifted already. I’d be overjoyed to be rendered obsolete! Until then, take care…and God bless…