Best Practices for Ministry

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 10.04.00 PMThat’s the name of the “free conference” taking place this week in Phoenix. It’s called “free” because there’s no registration fee. In addition, no honoraria or expenses are paid to the speakers and presenters, who serve for free. Attendees pay their own expenses for transportation and lodging. The host congregation provides free meals for the duration of the conference.

All this is made possible by the sponsoring congregation, Christ Church Lutheran in Phoenix and Senior Pastor Jeff Schrank. Jeff served for a number of years with me on the LCMS Board of Directors. He’s a humble, bold and courageous man doing a great job of ministry in Phoenix.

This is the conference’s fourth year. The first year about 500 attended. This year 1500 are registered. What’s the attraction? A few things come to mind:

  • It’s “A FREE conference for those who love the local church, the unchurched and the LCMS.”
  • It’s in Phoenix in February and it’s cold in many other parts of the country!
  • It meets a need not met in the same way anywhere else in the LCMS.
  • It includes a healthy mixture of lay, commissioned and ordained participants.
  • It offers practical info on what works with transparency on what doesn’t work in parish ministry.
  • It combines ministry ideas with spiritually refreshing worship and fellowship.
  • It’s a gathering of folks who are finding joy in ministry and folks who seek such joy.

BPM Conference Coordinator Nancy Barton says about conference speakers: “Best Practices for Ministry conference does not happen without all these incredible people. I am grateful for all those who share their God given gifts with the church free of charge. This is an act of grace and service, and I trust the person and work of the Holy Spirit to equip the church to do it well.”

Kudos to Pastor Jeff Schrank, the staff and members of Christ Church Lutheran, the volunteer presenters and all participants in this exciting conference! The spirit of camaraderie, cohesiveness and Christ-centeredness is contagious!

My topic this year is “Quo Vadis, LCMS?” Subtitle: “Wine/Women/Worship/Witness/Warfare: Helping a church born and raised in 19th and 20th century culture passionately engage with the Gospel a 21st century culture indifferent and even hostile to Christianity.” I look forward to time together with many wonderful folks!

Feasting and Fasting

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, aka “Fat” Tuesday. An article from AmericanCatholic.org  does a good job of hitting the highlights helpful to an understanding of the contrast between pre-Lenten feasting and Lenten fasting. Here are a few excerpts:

Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday,” has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous, sometimes hedonistic event. But its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the “last hurrah” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That’s why the enormous party in New Orleans ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday, with street sweepers promptly pushing crowds out of the French Quarter.

What is less known about Mardi Gras is its relation to the Christmas season, through the ordinary-time interlude known in many Catholic cultures as Carnival. Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, meaning “farewell to the flesh.” As early as the middle of the second century, the Romans observed a Fast of 40 Days, which was preceded by a brief season of feasting, costumes and merrymaking.

The Carnival season kicks off with the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings’ Day and, in the Eastern churches, Theophany. Epiphany, which falls on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, celebrates the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the infant Jesus. In cultures that celebrate Carnival, Epiphany kicks off a series of parties leading up to Mardi Gras.

Epiphany is also traditionally when celebrants serve King’s Cake, a custom that began in France in the 12th century. Legend has it that the cakes were made in a circle to represent the circular routes that the Wise Men took to find Jesus, in order to confuse King Herod and foil his plans of killing the Christ Child. In the early days, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake, and whoever found the item was said to have good luck in the coming year. In Louisiana, bakers now put a small baby, representing the Christ Child, in the cake. The recipient is then expected to host the next King Cake party.

There are well-known season-long Carnival celebrations in Europe and Latin America, including Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The best-known celebration in the U.S. is in New Orleans and the French-Catholic communities of the Gulf Coast. Mardi Gras came to the New World in 1699, when a French explorer arrived at the Mississippi River, about 60 miles south of present day New Orleans. He named the spot Point du Mardi Gras because he knew the holiday was being celebrated in his native country that day.

Eventually the French in New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with masked balls and parties, until the Spanish government took over in the mid-1700s and banned the celebrations. The ban continued even after the U.S. government acquired the land but the celebrations resumed in 1827. The official colors of Mardi Gras, with their roots in Catholicism, were chosen 10 years later: purple, a symbol of justice; green, representing faith; and gold, to signify power.

Mardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday” in French. The name comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival. The day is also known as Shrove Tuesday (from “to shrive,” or hear confessions), Pancake Tuesday and fetter Dienstag. The custom of making pancakes comes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins.

We Lutheran Christians don’t normally make a big deal of Fat Tuesday, choosing instead to focus on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Traditionally, some Christians “give up” something of value during the Lenten season, signifying a denial of worldly pleasures in favor of a spiritual emphasis on the suffering and death of Christ on Calvary’s cross. Some choose to observe Lent with periods of fasting to focus on Christ’s sacrifice for the world.

The “ash” of Ash Wednesday refers to the long standing custom of the imposition of ashes on the forehead of Christian worshipers that day, in the sign of a cross. The ashes often come from the burning of palm leaves used by worshipers on Palm Sunday.

Hopefully these details will add to your appreciation of the significance of Lent, including the transition from pre-Lenten feasting to Lenten fasting. It’s a spiritually significant time of year!

God’s Special Gifts

Presents

Today I’m writing about a number of people I’ve known for many years. All of them passed away within the past few months. All but one died in Texas. A few details about each are included under my signature at the end of this article. Here are some basic facts:

  • Wilson Whiteside, 97, passed away in Dallas December 22 after a lengthy illness.
  • Rev. Kim DeVries, 64, passed away in San Antonio suddenly January 1 while jogging.
  • Rev. Dr. Michael Snow, 71, passed away in Houston January 21, 2015 after a lengthy illness.
  • Milton Cockrum, 87, passed away in Georgetown January 25 after a lengthy illness.
  • Sharon Doering, 46, passed away in Round Rock January 27 after suffering more than seven years with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Dr. Keith Loomans, 83, passed away in Austin February 5 after a lengthy illness.
  • Orene Easterday, 86, a dear friend of our family for many years, passed away in southern Illinois February 8 after a lengthy battle with dementia.

This is only a partial list. Each of you no doubt could write your own list of people you know and love who have passed away, recently or a long time ago. Each, in some way, left behind a legacy of family members, friends, professional, vocational and spiritual endeavors.

It’s a reality that people make a lasting impact on other people. It’s also a fact that the death of people with whom a close relationship has been developed makes another lasting impact.

It’s my hope and prayer that this brief article will provide a gentle reminder for each of us to thank God for the life of those who are near and dear to us. They are God’s special gifts!

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Wilson Whiteside, 97, passed away in Dallas December 22, 2014. He was very active at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Dallas and other charitable organizations. Wilson served as chairman of the Texas Church Extension Fund and was almost always accompanied by Marilyn, his dear wife of 59 years.

Rev. Kim DeVries, 64, passed away suddenly in San Antonio January 1 while jogging, though seemingly in excellent health. Kim had been pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in San Antonio for 30 years. He left his wife Cathy, two sons, their wives, two grandsons and other family members to mourn his passing.

Rev. Dr. Charles Michael Snow, 71, died January 21, 2015 after a lengthy illness. Mike was a retired pastor who served Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Longview and Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Houston. He was a good friend for many years and is survived by his wife Clara, a faithful pastor’s wife, along with their children and grandchildren.

Milton Cockrum, 87, passed away in Georgetown January 25 after a lengthy illness. Milton and his wife Josephine, together with two of their children, Bradley and Patty Dee, were charter members of the congregation Terry and I started in Georgetown, Tex. in 1981—Faith Lutheran Church. I performed the marriage of Patty Dee and Doug Groves 30 years ago!

Sharon Doering, 46-year old wife of Terry’s cousin Jeff Doering, passed away in Round Rock January 27 after more than seven years with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jeff, their children Thomas, Gracie and Hayden, with assistance from Jeff’s parents Sonny and Laverne and other family members, were godly examples of faithfulness in caring for their dear loved one!

Dr. Keith Loomans, 83, retired Executive Director of Parish Services of the Texas District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, passed away in Austin February 5 after a lengthy illness. Keith and I worked together for many years before and during my time as District President. He was a blessing to many and his wife Margie still is!

Orene Easterday, 86, a dear friend of our family for many years, passed away February 8 after a lengthy battle with dementia. Orene and her husband Dave lived in Nokomis, Ill., along with their children Dan, Marc, Ken, and Christi. They were Terry’s and my family away from home during our years at Concordia Theological Seminary, then in Springfield, Ill. Orene and Dave were baptismal sponsors for our daughter Angie in 1970. They were genuine blessings to us, to our family and to many others!

Biblical Ethics for Electronic Blogging

Laptop 1Several months ago a friend and colleague of mine, at my request, offered a few suggested topics for Perspectives articles. Today’s topic is one of his suggestions.

Suggestions like this are not made in a vacuum but on the basis of personal experience. I’m quite certain that such is the case with my friend and his recommendation.

Electronic blogging, practically defined, is anything a person writes or posts on the internet on a regular or irregular basis. Some consider my Perspectives articles blogs, which is OK with me.

The problem arises when a blogger (the author of the blog) violates the will of God, especially the eighth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) Newer versions say: “You shall not testify falsely against your neighbor.” In both cases the meaning is the same and sets a biblical, ethical standard for any kind of communication.

The Catechism’s explanation to this commandment says: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” An older version uses slightly different words, adding the injunction to “put the best construction on everything.”

There are blogs written by people who claim to be Christian, even some who belong to our own Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, including pastors on the LCMS clergy roster, that fall far short of this standard. Self-justification for judgmental and caustic characterizations is based on insistence that their interpretation of the topic at hand is the only correct and orthodox one and that anyone who disagrees with their way of looking at the matter is dead wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing respectful and even strong disagreement with someone else’s understanding of what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about a particular matter of faith and life. The problem is that some bloggers don’t stop there but continue with ad hominem personal attacks against the one(s) with whom they disagree. Some get downright nasty and vulgar!

Bloggers fall far short of putting the best construction on everything when they do just the opposite of what the eighth commandment commands. Jumping to and writing judgmental conclusions about the person with whom they disagree, they often betray, slander and hurt the other person’s reputation rather than defending and speaking well of him or her.

The Bible says: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect …” (1 Peter 3:15) That’s a biblical ethic for any kind of communication, including electronic blogging!