Friday, December 26, 2008

"The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us, and it is a very different problem from that of the accommodation between an Established Church and dissenters. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma - and he is in the majority - he is becoming more and more de-Christianized by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. [...] I am not concerned with the problem of Christians as a persecuted minority. When the Christian is treated as an enemy of the State, his course is very much harder, but it is simpler. I am concerned with the dangers to the tolerated minority; and in the modern world, it may turn out that the most intolerable thing for Christians is to be tolerated."

-- T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Praying the Psalms II

In my last post on "praying the psalms", I presented an approach to wording the psalms in such a way that they were personal (i.e., worded in such a way that they are directed from the one offering the prayer to God). Because I was only presenting on this one subject, I may have left some with the impression that "praying through the psalms" only takes this form.

This is not the case. Prayer is the petition of the Christian offered in faith to God trusting that he hears and answers. There is no "according to Hoyle" where prayer is concerned!

So I want to share another way I have approached "praying the psalms". When I "read through the psalm before 'praying it'", as I mentioned in my last post, I will occasionally be moved by what I read to offer a very specific prayer before continuing.

For example, I was beginning to pray through Psalm 44 this morning when I paused after the first verse.

O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old

Even though the psalmist goes on to talk about the specific mighty deeds of God in the life and history of Israel, I was moved to pray: "Oh Lord, you have given us life through the faithful witness of our families and the community of faithful saints that have gone before us. Thank you for giving us these 'fathers of the faith' and their faithful confession. Grant that we may be found faithful to the Christ they proclaim and that we, too, may be 'fathers in the faith' to those who come after us. Through Jesus Christ. Amen."

At that point, I switched gears and read through the psalm in "third person" fashion (not as a prayer), pausing for prayer at several points. This, too, is "praying the psalms"!


Last night (Christmas Eve), my family worshipped with two groups of saints in Christ Jesus. Last night I was reminded once again of the unity we share in Jesus Christ. Despite the differences that will continue in the midst of Christ's body - the church - until His second coming, I was reminded again that "the kingdom of God is breaking out all around us".

Heather's parents' (Tom and Sarah Clark) congregation, West Noblesville Community Church, presented the Word of God in the format of a candlelight service at 7:30! Structured around the sequential lighting of a series of candles from a central "Christ candle", the service alternated between readings from the prophecy, birth and life of Christ and singing very familiar Christmas hymns in the musical settings you will hear frequently on Christian radio stations at this time of year. Pastor Jeff's sermon was very directly focused on the truths of the incarnation (i.e. the true God's presence with us as the true man, Jesus of Nazareth) revealed in Matthew 1:23: Jesus was God; Jesus was fully man; Jesus was God with us. Although the lights in the nave were dimmed throughout the entire service (to accent the candles being lit on the altar in the chancel), the "candle lighting" for the congregation was conducted at the end. After the sermon, the congregation gathered together to remember Christ through the breaking of bread and the fruit of the vine (1 Corinthians 11:17-26).

Later that evening, after putting the kids to bed, Heather and I joined with the congregation of Christ Lutheran Church for the Christmas Eve vigil service. Here, too, the congregation gathered around the Word exclaimed in the hymn, read from the Scriptures, and proclaimed in the sermon. Pastor Piazza's sermon pointed to Jesus' incarnation and His coming for us. We gathered together to marvel again at Christ's ongoing incarnation as we received the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the altar - the Lord's Supper!

Many Christians refer to the gathering of believers around Word and Sacrament as the Divine Service: God Himself draws near to us and brings His good gifts to us! He is present in His Word! He is present where He comes in Body and Blood! He is present to heal, to bind up the broken, to herald Good News, to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sins!

We receive these gifts in repentance and with thanksgiving! Our response to these good gifts extends beyond the hymns and songs of praise we offer on Christmas to the lives we lead through the power of the Holy Spirit as we wait for Jesus' second coming.

He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:6-21)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Three Hour Tour...

"the weather started getting rough"

Yesterday, the Rosenkoetter family left to spend a few days (including Christmas) with Heather's family in Noblesville, Indiana. We left around 10, with the idea of getting in around 4 o'clock after stopping for lunch and the requisite potty breaks. (That is, 5 o'clock local with the time change.) To skip ahead to the ending, we rolled into Noblesville at 4:30am this morning!

The "wintry mix" wasn't too bad; we had to go slow, though. (45-50 mph was about the fastest we drove the entire trip.) However, after breezing past Terre Haute towards Indianapolis, the traffic ground to a halt about four miles short of the intersection with 231. We waited there (with small movement) for three hours!

Knowing we needed to get gas and food, we checked a map and bailed. We turned around and headed back to the intersection with IN-59, had dinner at Burger King and then drove north to catch highway 40 across to I-465 at Indianapolis. That was a great plan - until we hit a backup at about the same point. We spent the rest of the night clearing one accident, only to drive two miles and run into another one.

Fortunately, we did get in safely. Although Heather's sleep was far more broken, I slept soundly until 11am!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Praying the Psalms I

One of my classes this quarter is Worship, wherein we review some of the history of the development of the liturgies in the Western church, the Lutheran confessional writings as they relate to worship, and the related Scriptures. Another part of the class is "practice" - we will demonstrate the conduct of the liturgy. (Not suprisingly, one is not able to pass the class without passing that particular assignment. I guess the church is concerned that her ministers not do this badly...)

Dr. James Brauer, my professor, has also taken the opportunity in this class to encourage us to practice some ancient Christian disciplines as he joins the chorus of our faculty in exhorting all of us to continually deepen our personal devotions. One such practice is praying the psalter.

The psalter is a collection of writings expressing faith in praise and petition. As near as I can tell (because there are diverse opinions on the subject), praying the psalms is an effort to make the Psalms "personal" (i.e. subjective) instead of reading them as a "third-person" (i.e. objective) exercise.

As you can imagine, some psalms are written in such a way that they are easily made prayers. Consider how Psalm 35 (here verse 17): "How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!" The whole psalm can be prayed directly without modification.

But this is not always the case. Consider Psalm 37, which begins:

"Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb." This is addressed to someone other than God. The entire Psalm is like this!

I've found a couple ways of working with such psalms. The first is to note the form of the verse as "third person address" and modify it in my prayer to address God. For example: "Lord, let me not fret myself because of evildoers or be envious of them who do wrong; for they will fade like grass and wither like the green herb."

The catch is that psalms will (often) switch their mode of address mid-stream and without warning. At one moment, the psalmist is addressing God, the next he is pointing to God's mighty deeds and speaking to the people, then he is addressing his own thoughts and meditations (that is to say, he is talking to himself), then he is speaking about others and you cannot tell right away who he is addressing!

In my experience, the best way to address this is to read the entire psalm first and then re-read it as a prayer. While this approach makes for a "clean" prayer, I've abandoned it. In addressing my Father in heaven, I do not find it troublesome to start saying something and only afterwards realize that what I say is nonsense or offensive. At this point, I will just back up and start again with an improved understanding of where the psalmist is going: "Forgive me my shortness of sight, oh Lord. Teach me to read your Scriptures rightly!"

Now this post is all about how to word a prayer from the psalms in a personal way. I have said nothing about what makes a psalm "personal" or how to handle difficult psalms (consider praying Psalm 35:8)! Perhaps I'll take these questions up in another post sometime soon.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Christianity is perceived to be a good cause which is in danger of collapsing through lack of support. Or - in a quite different manifestation of the same fundamental attitude - there is a strident summons to more energetic efforts in evangelism and social action. I do not mean by speaking in this way that it is not very important for Christians to be active in both evangelism and social action. But I do sense an underlying Pelagianism which lays too much stress on our own activities and is too little controlled by the sense of the greatness and majesty and sufficiency of God. I am saying that there can be a kind of Christian activity which only thinly masks a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of God. [...] It may well be that for some decades, while churches grow rapidly in other parts of the world, Christians in Europe may continue to be a small and even shrinking minority. If this should be so, it must be seen as an example of that pruning which is promised to the Church in order that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1ff.) When that happens it is painful. But Jesus assures us, 'My Father is the gardener.' He knows what he is doing, and we can trust him. Such experience is a summons to self-searching, to repentance, and to fresh commitment. It is not an occasion for anxiety. God is faithful, and he will complete what he has begun."
-- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sem Kids Christmas Party!

Saturday morning was the annual Sem Kids Christmas Party, which is put on by the Seminary Women's Association (SWA). A truly good time was had by all! In many ways, it had the same feel as the Mt. Calvary Advent Celebration from last week: game stations, craft stations, cookie decorating, and snacks.

One of the really nice extras at this event was the "kid's Christmas store" activity. Here the kids go off to another room and gather/make/buy presents for their parents. (I cannot be sure what was going on in that room; it was off limits to parents. However, David and Emily went in with a little money and came back out with less money and a set of wrapped gifts for Mommy and Daddy.)

Although Heather and I volunteered a little time at the event, there were a number of folks who put in a huge amount of effort to pull this off. They did an awesome job! (Note: Most activities on campus rely on an "everyone volunteers a little and benefits a lot" approach to staffing. For those of you reading this blog as you considering a stay with us at the seminary: This is a great strength of the campus community.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"[In] the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Europe turned to another vision of public truth, a vision inspired by the achievements of the new science and eventually embodied in the idea of a secular state. No one, surely, can fail to acknowledge with gratitude the achievements of this period of human history. But no one can be blind to the evidence that the liberal, secular democratic state is in grave trouble. The attacks on it from powerful new religious fanaticisms are possible only because its own internal weaknesses have become so clear: the disintegration of family life, the growth of mindless violence, the vandalism which finds satisfaction in destroying whatever is comely and useful, the growing destruction of the environment by limitless consumption fueled by ceaseless propaganda, the threat of nuclear war, and - as the deepest root of it all - the loss of any sense of a meaningful future. Weakened from within, secular democratic societies are at a loss to respond to religious fanaticism without denying their own principles. What could it mean for the Church to make once again the claim which it made in its earliest centuries, the claim to provide thepublic truth by which society can be given coherence and direction?"
-- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Brian's note: Lesslie Newbigin penned these words before the book was published in 1989!

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Scripture, it has been wittily said, is not a picnic where the authors bring the words and the readers bring the meaning. The content of the gospel is Jesus Christ in the fullness of his ministry, death, and resurrection. The gospel is this and not anything else. Jesus is who he is, and though our perceptions of him will be shaped by our own situation and the mental formation we have received from our culture, our need is to see him as he truly is."
-- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Decorations in New Places

Advent (the season of the church year that precedes Christmas) always brings about the most decorating in the Rosenkoetter family household. This year was not different. But, as you can imagine, a new apartment means a new challenge to figure out where to put things. Since we are now living in approximately one-third the square feet that we had last year, we could not put out all of the same decorations. Here's a small sample of our efforts to decorate in Advent-anticipation of the coming Christmas!

David and Goliath

Sunday afternoon was the Mount Calvary Advent celebration! From two o'clock to four thirty, we enjoyed games, craft stations, treats, a movie about the true gift of Christmas in Jesus Christ. (Live music was provided by my fellow field worker, Brad Urlaub, and my professor from Lutheran Mind during the Fall quarter, Dr. Sanchez!)

Pastor Zimmerman put it very well when he announced the event yesterday morning after the divine service: "Your kids are going to hear the wrong message about what Christmas is about thousands of times over the next few weeks. Wouldn't it be a good idea to make sure they hear that Christmas is about Jesus?"

One of the activity stations was to decorate the (tike-sized) tree. I got a picture of David John "aiming for the stars"...

Mount Calvary during Advent

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Habitat for Humanity ... and Everything Still Hurts!

What better way to shake off the soreness from Thursday volleyball than to get out there on Saturday morning and help build a house! (Yeah, right...)

Mount Calvary, my field work congregation, has been out to the St. Louis Habitat build site earlier this year, but I haven't made it out until now. Three of us (Bill, Tim and I) met at the church at 7am and drove out to the site together; we met David and Dean once we were there. Along with a bunch of other volunteers (apparently more than the site was accustomed to), we set to work installing the front steps, porch lattice work, planting shrubbery, putting up the house numbers, and a whole bunch of work on the inside that I was never in a position to observe.

It turns out that today was the dedication day for the 2008 build houses, so we all shuffled into a nearby elementary school gymnasium and took part in a ceremony where each new owner was presented with a home owners manual, a Bible, a Christmas wreath for their door, and the keys to their house. Each new owner was given an opportunity to express their thanks, and I am very pleased to say that each was quick to acknowledge God's hand in granting them the blessing of these houses! (Most were overwhelmed in the moment, too.) One woman broke out into a song "How Can I Thank You?"; she had an amazing voice and the lyrics gave testimony to her conviction that this opportunity was a heaven-sent blessing.

Even though a "roof over our heads" is a blessing we attribute to the gracious working of our Creator-Father, one woman recognized her blessings coming through Jesus Christ. Another was effusive in recognizing the Spirit working all about her house! Yet another, who had made a number of challenging decisions while preparing for this home and at times was not certain she would be able to follow through with her commitments to the project, bore witness to the fact that God is always good! She quoted from the sermon on the mount: "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things will be added unto you" (i.e. ). What an fine witness!

Oh, did I mention that Channel 4 (KMOV) was doing a special on one of the families. Cameras were on the street the whole time and they tracked the family through the dedication ceremony. I hope the family's witness to the workings of God in their lives through this labor of love finds its way into the final televised version. It's not posted yet, but this link above is where you should look!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Intramural Volleyball ... and Everything Hurts

Concordia maintains a very active intramural sports program, and the students (along with a number of the faculty and staff) are active participants. The participants are sorted into a number of teams that participate in every sport together. (For example, I am on the "Papal Bulls" and my friend Terry is a member of the "Wolfensian Wolfpack".) Not that everyone on the team participates in every activity. Far from it! During the fall, the major team activities were ultimate frisbee and flag football. I did not participate in either of these; however, I did try to score a few points for my team by playing the chess tournament. (It did not go well... I knocked out my two teammates and then fell out of the tournament in the next round.)

Anyway, this quarter the big team sports are basketball and indoor volleyball. Although it's been years since I played indoor volleyball (the last time I played regularly was in California!), it sounded like a lot of fun. So I went out to play my first game with the Bulls last night.

Spouses can participate and family members who show up to support their team score participation points for the overall championship (scored across all sports) each quarter. Heather, David and Emily showed up last night during the first game. Although I didn't play my best volleyball, David and Emily both came over to the sidelines when I rotated out to say "good job". That alone made the evening worth it!

It really was a great time! The matches are played in three games with rally scoring (i.e., every serve scores a point, the serve switches sides when you lose a point on your own serve). The first two games are played to 25 and the third (if needed) is played to 15. Our team won both of the first two games, and we played a third "game" without keeping score until the next teams showed up to take the court.

Unfortunately, I used some muscles I haven't used in a really long time! I've been sore all day. It might be easier to list the parts of my body that don't hurt! Sound like fun? It does to me... I'll be back at the field house next Thursday at 3:45 to abuse my body some more!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"It is the work of the sovereign Spirit to enable men and women in new situations and in new cultural forms to find the ways in which the confession of Jesus as Lord may be made in the language of their own culture. The mission of the church is in fact the church's obedient participation in that action of the Spirit by which the confession of Jesus as Lord becomes the authentic confession of every new peopoe, each in its own tongue."
-- Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret


The word went out yesterday afternoon that the registrar had posted all of the grades that she had. I have received all As and one A-! What a pleasant surprise!

My "Lutheran Mind" (i.e. introductory systematics) grade is not in yet, but I knew it probably wouldn't be. My professor (Dr. Leo Sanchez) is a member of Mount Calvary, my field work congregation, so I knew he'd been leveled by a nasty illness most of the break.

Power Out!

We had heard from Heather's cousins (and seen on the news) that the electrical power grid in St. Louis could be flaky, but we got our first taste of it on Tuesday morning. Our kids woke up in the pitch black of their room (they still use a night light); Emily's crying woke us up. Whatever time the power had gone out, it was starting to get cold in the apartment. (We later learned from our stove that the power went out at about 4:31am.)

We made the best of it: a flashlight sitting on the dresser became the kids nightlight and Heather distributed candles in the dining room/office, the kitchen and the bathroom. (I didn't think to take any pictures.)

The good news is that Captain Elementary and the seminary both have really efficient "notification systems". Captain Elementary (David's school) cancelled classes by 6:45am (no power = no light and no heat); the power was back on by 7:15! The seminary wisely said "power is out - we'll get back with you later". Later was after 7:15; so I had classes as scheduled.

It turned out to be a hectic day, with both kids home, another sem family's kids dropping in (they go to the same school, but their Mom's school wasn't cancelled), and the jitters from a two-week break and a long weekend not quite worn off yet. Ah well! The good news is that things seem to have ironed themselves out! (I'm writing this on Thursday morning.)

Winter Quarter Underway

On Monday the winter quarter got underway with a regular schedule of classes and reading, coupled to a light dusting of snow. My family made the most of the remaining snow in the afternoon!