The Pastor Challenge
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Dear Friends in Mission,
It is with a heavy heart that I write to tell you of the earthly passing of our good friend and brother in the ministry, Rev. Andrew Elisa. Of course, we do not mourn as unbelievers who have no hope. Our sadness is tempered by Andrew's joy as he enters into the presence of God.
As many of you know, Rev. Elisa was the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sudan (ELCS). He died today at the Nairobi Hospital in Kenya, Africa.
For more details, please go to the LHF website (www.LHFmissions.org); there's a link to his obituary at the right-hand side of the home page.
Please keep Andrew's wife, Linda, and their four children in your prayers. Also pray that the Lord might raise up other faithful leaders for the young ELCS.
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! Yes, says the Spirit, let them rest from their hard work, for what they have done accompanies them." Rev. 14:13
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
You may have heard that Rev. Andrew Elisa, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sudan (ELCS), has been hospitalized in Jordan.
As many of you know, the Holy Spirit has worked mightily through Rev. Elisa to establish the ELCS. Fifteen years ago, the Lutheran Heritage Foundation sent Andrew Elisa five copies of Luther's Small Catechism and a Book of Concord, and from there, the Lutheran church began in Sudan! Today, there are more than 80 Lutheran churches, five Lutheran elementary schools and two kindergartens located throughout Sudan, attended by more than 15,000 baptized Lutherans. More than a dozen men attend the seminary in Baguga, studying to become the faithful shepherds of these people.
After working tirelessly for the ELCS, today Rev. Elisa needs your help.
Early in October, Rev. Elisa began experiencing difficulties in his balance. After meeting with doctors at St. Paul Lutheran Hospital in Khartoum, he received treatment and returned to Yambio in southern Sudan.
Over the next two weeks, the imbalance continued and an MRI revealed a growing inflammation in the brain. Rev. Elisa and his wife, Linda, traveled to Jordan on Nov. 5 in hopes of better diagnosis and treatment. Physicians there are continuing his treatment and have started physical therapy. Unfortunately, Rev. Elisa's symptoms do not appear to be improving at this time, and the inflammation has started to affect his speech.
Rev. Elisa has requested your prayers for healing, and for the comfort of his wife, Linda, and their children. In addition, Rev. Elisa's medical bills are mounting. The Lutheran Heritage Foundation is coordinating an effort to help cover these costs, which total more than $12,000 so far (not including his room and board).
To send a gift to help cover Rev. Elisa's medical costs, go to the LHF website at www.LHFmissions.org. There, you can donate online using your credit card.
Or, you can send your donation to LHF at 51474 Romeo Plank Rd., Macomb, Michigan 48042. If sending a check, please note "Andrew Elisa Medical Expenses" on the memo line.
Finally, friends, if you would like to receive updates on Rev. Elisa's condition, or if you'd like to receive the latest news on LHF's work around the world, register as a member at the LHF site. Click on "Manage my E-communications," and you can choose to subscribe to several e-mail newsletters, all delivered directly to your e-mail In box.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Robert Rahn
The Lutheran Heritage Foundation
Monday, November 17, 2008
2. Turn off the TV. Studies have shown that people who watch a lot of TV have a more negative outlook toward life.
3. Slow down. Rushing makes everything seem worse.
4. Interact. With friends, neighbors, family, nature . . . "It is not good for the man to be alone."
5. Pray. Especially the psalms. Remember who's in charge and greater than your problems.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
But now that the elections are over, there is something we are all now to do: pray. Pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4) – both those returning to office and those newly elected. Pray that God would grant them the wisdom and courage to govern in accordance with His Word and for the good of all people. And keep them in your prayers! Our officials do not have an easy job.
But what if you don’t like them!? What if you voted for someone who lost? That’s okay – you don’t have to like who got elected, but we are still subject to them, and we still owe them honor and respect because of the office they now hold (Romans 13:1, 7; Fourth Commandment). Also, Jesus told us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). If that is what we should do for our enemies, how much more should we pray for our leaders with whom we might disagree, but who are not our enemies! Just opponents in the political process.
Also remember that God will use these people to bless us. Maybe you will not agree with everything that do and say, but God uses believers and unbelievers alike to provide us with all that we need in this life – our daily bread, peace, health, safety, and more. Even hard times, persecution, and suffering (if they come) God can use for our good and benefit, to turn us to Him and strengthen our faith in Him.
So keep our leaders in your prayers. If you disagree with them, let your voice be heard. Speak up in love for the benefit and welfare of your neighbor, but always with all charity and respect.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
Things that make you go hmmmmm . . .
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
You all know the old Sunday School joke: “If you don’t know the answer, say Jesus and you will probably be right.” I have been thinking of a new spin on that . . .
Because there are an awful lot of times when I, as a pastor, do not know the answer to a question posed to me. This is when I get asked “Why?” Why did this happen? Why is this happening to me? Why did God do that? I have no answer to those questions. God has not revealed it to us. So I think from now on I’m going to have a stock answer. Why? Because God is merciful.
I’m not sure what started me down that road, but this is growing on me. In all the “why times” in my life and the life of my parishioners, the beauty of this answer is that it focuses us not on ourselves (which will only drive us to despair) but on God and what good He is working. Thus the Law is merciful because it drives me to the Gospel. Suffering is merciful as it causes me to despair of myself and take refuge in Christ alone. Whatever is going on in my life, how is my God and Saviour being merciful to me, a poor, miserable sinner, through it? We still may not know the answer, but at least we’d be looking in the right place.
Monday, July 28, 2008
One final note of grace, for there is a happy ending to this. The wonderful, gracious surprise here is that in both movements in Jonah's life, the disobedient and the obedient, God used him to save the people.
In Jonah's escapist disobedience the sailors in the ship prayed to the Lord and entered into a life of faith: "Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows" (1:16).
In Jonah's angry obedience, the Ninevites were all saved: "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and did not do it" (3:10).
We never do get a picture of the kind of pastor we want to be in this story, but only of the kind of pastor we in fact are. Putting the mirror up to us and showing us our double failure would be a severe and unbearable burden if it were not for this other dimension in the story - that God works his purposes through who we actually are, our rash disobedience and our heartless obedience, and generously uses our lives as he finds us to do his work.
He does it in such a way that it is almost impossible for us to take credit for any of it, but also in such a way that somewhere along the way we gasp in surprised pleasure at the victories he accomplishes, on the sea and in the city, in which we have our strange Jonah part.
I guess the part that struck me was about never getting a picture of the kind of pastor we want to be, just the one we are. Warts, shortcomings, failings, confusion, escapist disobedience and angry obedience and all. Why did God call Jonah? Why did He call me? Grace. What else could it be? And whatever He accomplishes through me is all by grace too. What a wonder.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
It was a great two weeks of getting away from everything and spending time with my family. I got to read three books: two on submarine warfare during WWII (my son's interest in submarines has gotten me interested) and Jeff Shaara's book "Gods and Generals" about the Civil War. I have read a couple of his books now and highly recommend them. They are best categorized as "historical novels" and are highly readable and educational.
Thanks Rad for hosting us at the beach one day! If you ever want a great beach vacation, go to Folly Beach in Charleston. The sand is nice, the water warm, and the surf active and fun. Lots of other things to do in Charleston as well. And good eatin'!
Now back to the real world . . .
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
PS Cool Whip Update! A thoughtful parishioner brought in a tub last Sunday after reading my post! And yes, I plunged a spoon in and ate some straight. Also lavished some on some apple tarts my daughter made. Mmm, tasty.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I have a home communion set which I use for shut-ins and other sick calls from CM Almy. It was an ordination gift from my first congregation. It is quite nice and has received a LOT of use. As a result, the small, round piece of cardboard that seals the top of the cruet has deteriorated in recent years. I have been managing and trying to repair it, but to no avail. A new cruet from Almy costs $50! I did not want to have to pay so much to replace the whole cruet, since my problem was so small.
I was in
Well guess what? I recently received in the mail not just a new lid, but a brand new cruet! There was no note in the package, and no bill – just a brand new shiny cruet. Not believing in my good fortune at first, I haven’t used it while waiting for a bill to arrive! But no bill has come. I am beginning to believe . . .
So here’s my THANKS, CM ALMY! And while in loyalty I encourage everyone to patronize CPH, I also encourage you to take a look at Almy. They sure have taken good care of me. (Ask me someday also about the mis-priced chausable I almost bought from them, for they were going to honor the wrong price on it! Unfortunately, it was the wrong size . . .)
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
Each year the Rotarians of the Town of
And then each year, we do it again.
Why? Where else can you meet thousands of people in just two days? Where else can people see (and ask!) about the name of your church and you get to talk about Christianity and the Nicene Creed? Where else can you tell so many people so quickly about what Lutherans believe and what makes us different? Where else could we give away so many Good News magazines, pro-life information, books, Portals of Prayers, devotionals, and talk to people from ages 2 to 82?
I just wish it was on a different weekend. For on Memorial Day weekend businesses are busy, folks travel, many have family plans, and it makes recruiting workers for the booth harder. I also wish I could have the day to go to a Memorial Day parade and picnic again. And relax. Maybe someday my church will be big enough to allow me to do that. In the meantime, yes, I will be grumpy at the end of another long day, and yes, I will probably say “never again!” And yes, we will do it again. And I remember Paul’s admonition to Timothy: “Do the work of an evangelist.” (2 Tim 4:5)
You were right Paul. It is hard work.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
A couple of weeks ago, when my son Robbie competed at the state-level for National History Day, I got to look around at look at some of the projects he was competing against. The theme of this year’s competition was “Conflict and Compromise.” One project I saw was on the Battle of the Bulge. Now (I thought to myself) the conflict here is clear, but what was the compromise? Looking in his paper, I saw the following: “my grandfather was forced to compromise his belief and break the fifth commandment as a soldier in the army.”
Wow! How grateful I am for the doctrine of the two kingdoms and of vocation, so that I could explain to my children how a person can be both a Christian and a soldier. I told them what Luther said about a Christian executioner – that as a Christian, he should pray for the person being executed, while as an agent for the government (which is given the power of the sword, Romans 13) he can “thrown the switch” and not be guilty of breaking the fifth commandment. And how this is true also of soldiers, of judges, of policemen, and others who serve us in keeping the peace.
I also felt very sorry for the young person who did this project, the confusion he had, and the distress he must feel for his grandfather. I am sorry I did not get a chance to meet him/her and explain. It also reminded me of how doctrine and life go together, and how important pure doctrine is.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Another quote from our Good Shepherd Seminar this past Saturday . . . but this one not so good, from Rick Warren and his book The Purpose Driven Church:
“Bringing enjoyment to God is called ‘worship.’ Worship is not for your benefit . . . Worship isn’t for you. It’s for God.” (p 64, 66)
To me, this is a stunning denial of the true nature of worship. On this basis alone I do not know how this book could be used and held up as a good and salutary thing in any
Now, does serving us with the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation give God joy? Surely. But to say that worship is not for our benefit but God’s, is a complete misunderstanding of the Scriptures and the Gospel. And with such a basic misunderstanding, all theology is turned on its head. The doctrine of the Church, the sacraments, vocation – all is scuttled, and all that is left is the Law . . . Christians trying to find a way to please and bring enjoyment to God through their deeds. How sad.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Sorry I haven’t posted – its been a busy week!
First of all, my report from
After we returned home from
We ended the circuit meeting at on Wednesday, so then it was driving home, swinging through
Tomorrow I will try to catch up on many things . . . but did you ever notice, when you use a day as a catch-up day, it puts you behind again for the rest of the week!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
A few months ago, my Elders and I were studying and we came across the following quotation regarding a church program, or movement, that was marked by:
“. . . reform of theological education, criticism of scholastic theology and theological polemics, advocacy of interconfessional toleration and understanding emphasis on a religion of the heart as well as the head, demand for a faith that expresses itself in life and activity, cultivation of personal holiness with a tendency toward perfectionism, upgrading of the laity, recommendation of private meetings for the fostering of piety, development of the spiritual priesthood of believers, endorsement of mysticism, etc.”
Does this sound like something happening in our synod today? Well, it is a quotation from the introduction of Pia Desideria (p 19), explaining the agenda of Philip Jacob Spener and his pietistic reforms. I think this helpfully illustrates that the battle in the LCMS today is not between the old categories of “liberal” and “conservative,” but between those who advocate a more pietistic, subjective religion, and those who are striving for a more confessional, objective Church.
This is important fact to realize, for when folks try to portray certain people in our synod today as “liberal” they are, well, wrong. They are not in the line of classic liberal Protestantism and what we see happening in so many mainline denominations today. They are in fact conservative by many standards . . . but they are also pietistic, and moving our synod in this direction. We need to understand this, in order to teach rightly and make a positive impact in our synod, and show why many things that are happening are undesirable.
What is at stake? Not just our synod, that is relatively unimportant. Much more critical is the certainty of our salvation, which can be found only in the objective truths of the faith. Once we move to a more subjectivistic, pietistic orientation, and begin to look to ourselves, our efforts, our holiness, our activity, our fire, or whatever else as the evidence of our spiritual life and unity, then we are lost. Then the devil will most certainly drive us to despair. The only certainty we have is the objective truth of the Gospel. The confession of the faith once delivered to the saints. The proclamation of the work of Jesus for us, not primarily His work in us. When we have that, we have everything. When we lose that, we lose everything. And that, my friends, is something worth fighting for.
(For more on this, read also The Lost Soul of American Protestantism by DG Hart.)
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
President Kieschnick has weighed in on the Wall Street Journal article about the discontinuation of Issues, Etc. You can read his response here. Pastor David Peterson has written a good piece about this response here. Please read these.
I simply want to add one point to all of this: while President Kieschnick points to unity in the Ablaze™ movement as evidence of our unity, our synod was founded on an entirely different unity: unity in doctrine and worship.
Here is a good article explaining this understanding about the reasons for the founding of our synod.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
There just isn't anything better than the Divine Service for the Resurrection of our Lord! Period. The joy after Holy Week and the anticipation of the Vigil. Crying out "Alleluia!" a countless number of times. The Victimae Paschali. Using our new communion vessels. Proclaiming the victory of our Lord. I am tired, but it just doesn't get any better than this!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
However, I do want to bring to your attention a petition for you to sign. Please pass the word about this. Many things will be said and done over the next weeks concerning this, but here is something we can do now.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Sunday, March 9, 2008
My congregation’s Second Annual Good Shepherd Seminar will be on May 3rd. The Topic is “The Church and Her Fellowship,” which will be presented by Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki of Concordia Theological Seminary,
Sunday, February 24, 2008
My son Robbie took second place in his age group and category at the National History Day Northern Virginia Regional competition yesterday at
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Tomorrow is the third anniversary of my mother’s death. My family and I will go to
As I think back, sometimes it seems as if that day happened a long time ago, while other times it seems to have happened almost yesterday. But the more time goes by, the more I come to realize what a great mother I had and all that she did. I was truly blessed by her – and by God through her – in so many ways. I sometimes think to myself that if I can be half the parent to my kids that she was to me, then I’ll be doing okay.
She would not have thought that, however. She often shared her struggles of parenting with me after I myself became a parent. She told me that she and my father really didn’t know what they were doing – they just did their best and entrusted all us kids to the Lord. Overall, I think that’s a pretty good model of parenting to emulate! And not just of parenting, but of all the Christian life – do the vocations God has given you to do to the best of your ability, and entrust the results to God.
I know I will think of her much more as my kids grow older and I struggle with the same things she struggled with! I will use the wisdom she planted in my heart. And I will thank God that He blessed me – like Timothy – with such a godly mother.
So tomorrow we celebrate a great lady, and rejoice that she now rests with her Lord and Saviour.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Thursday, February 7, 2008
I am learning Spanish. I am getting better, little by little. I am learning more words, and with practice, the sentences are making more sense and coming together. It takes time, but anything worth learning takes time.
It occurred to me that this is true also for the language of the liturgy. For visitors who come to our church for the first time, things sound funny and don’t make a lot of sense. What does Agnus Dei mean? Why do they bow when they do? What does the Creed mean when we say “of one substance with the Father”? But gradually, these things are learned. Little by little, with practice, things come together and begin to make sense. The rich and powerful symbolism deepens the awe and mystery that comes from being ushered into the presence of a holy God. And like with my Spanish, things begin to ‘click.’ And we’re at home.
Some would argue that the liturgy shouldn’t have to be learned, but that folks should feel comfortable right away. That would certainly be easier, wouldn’t it? But I believe easiness breeds boredom, while learning implants one in the depths of what is taking place, so that we’re at home not just for a while, but for eternity.
Friday, February 1, 2008
A good quote:
"People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves). They avoid both mystery and mess by devising programs and hiring pastors to manage them. A program provides a defined structure with an achievable goal. Mystery and mess are eliminate at a stroke. This is appealing. In the midst of the mysteries of grace and the complexities of human sin, it is nice to have something that you can evaluate every month or so and find out where you stand. We don’t have to deal with ourselves or with God, but can use the vocabulary of religion and work in an environment that acknowledges God, and so be assured that we are doing something significant."
(Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, 48)
My thoughts: The importance of the liturgy and liturgical preaching is that it is not programmatic. It ushers messy (sinful) people into the mystery (the presence of God for us), not so that we can do something significant – but so that God can: the forgiveness of sins. And this we do not evaluate, but receive, for it is gift. And our standing with God is assured, not on the basis of what I see or feel in myself, or what I have accomplished, but on the rock solid basis of His Word and promise (Rom 3:23-24).
Perhaps this is what makes the liturgy so polarizing in the church today, between those who live in it and those who do not. This simple fact: program and liturgy do not go together.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I was disappointed that attendance continues to decline. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. One is that some guys are disgruntled with the seminary administration and the direction the seminary has been going, and so show it by staying home. They believe attending is a sign of support for the seminary. I don't think that is true, and don't want to impoverish myself from the learning I receive there. And while I also do not agree with everything going on, neither do I know the whole story, and I am still willing to "put the best construction" on things. The second reason folks have been staying away (I believe) is that in recent years the presentations had gotten too "esoteric" and were not enough directly addressing the needs of the Church. I think that changed this year, and I hope we will continue in a better direction.
All in all it was a good week.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
+ Mark tells us that Jesus was "thrown out" into the wilderness after His baptism. Why that verb? He is beginning to experience the same thing as the first Adam when he was "thrown out" of Eden and into the wilderness.
+ In the beginning, creation was not "neutral" -- but served sacramentally (small 's') to aid/contribute to our communion and fellowship with God.
+ God breathed life into Adam. What is one of the first things Jesus does after His resurrection? He breathes on His disciples and gives them the Spirit, to give them life. Creation - re-creation.
+ How does Jesus paying the "Temple Tax" foreshadow or fit into the truth of the atonement?
Very enjoyable so far. I am looking forward to today's lectures.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Saturday, January 12, 2008
If you are even somewhat a reader of the Lutheran blogosphere, you know that every so often a topic emerges that “discusses” Lutheran versus Orthodox theology. (I put that in quotes because often times it seems as if the discussion devolves rather quickly into sniping, accusations, and worse.) Me, being hopelessly and semi-permanently naïve, thinks this is a good thing. For responding to the theology and challenges of those who disagree with us serves to sharpen our own theology and thinking.
I know this is true for me, and not just about Orthodoxy, although certainly including it. One of the wonderful things about my congregation is the great questions they often pose to me on a whole host of topics. And while it is often frustrating to me not to have the answers they are looking for, it forces me to dive into the Scriptures, study, and keep reading. I don’t let my folks get away with “cliché” answers in class and constantly ask them why they are answering as they are. So it is good when they come up with questions for me and want to know why.
This is also why recent talk in our Synod about lessening the education required of pastors before ordination scares me. I know how unworthy and unable I am to meet all the challenges of being a pastor (a fact that becomes more evident to me with every passing year) though I thought I was very well trained coming out of seminary! I wonder what our Synod’s current path will lead to . . . but that is probably a topic for another post.
Friday, January 4, 2008
Many folks have trouble taking their work home with them. Not trouble doing it, but trouble not doing it! The result is often that family and home life suffers for the sake of job, money, or advancement. It seems to me that if anything should be true, this should be the other way around. We do not realize how important our vocations as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, really are.
Yet I have found as a pastor, I am particularly afflicted with this problem. The sadnesses of the ministry and my own failures follow me home. I have trouble turning off my mind and focusing on my family, as sermon writing, questions, issues, and concerns keep filling and turning over in my mind. I do not willingly bring these home with me, but they follow, unwanted. And so I find myself not being the father and husband I want to be for my family.
Pastors are always on call. I can handle that. The hours I work, the evening and weekend schedules, I have some say in. That’s the physical part, and perhaps for me, the easiest part. But the emotional and mental stress of the ministry I found not so easy to deal with. I may have to share in the suffering of my flock, but my family shouldn’t have to. Perhaps realizing it is half the battle.