Category Archives: Ministry Reflections

Sticky Faith: Your Default Setting

I read some harsh words today in Sticky FaithThey were both Law and Gospel to me.  It’s something that I know I should do, but have a really hard time with it, especially toward my children.  So, here is the quote:

When our kids go through rough spots, whether it is because of circumstances beyond their control or the choices they make, their greatest need from us is gentle stability and compassion. Regardless of the offense, whether getting a D or getting arrested, underneath the rhetoric and even outright outbursts, your child is not doing this to get at you.  Even the most egregious of situations, remember that they are, at the core, suffering, and they need you to care. As Jesus cares for all of us in all we go through, so we too are dispensers of his grace. -Kara Powell & Chap Clark

Its hard for me to default with compassion because in the moment the anger and frustration that are coursing through my body are very real. It’s hard to default with compassion when I just react instead of trying to understand.

My oldest son will sometimes become so tired at night that he starts to act especially aggressive toward anything moving.  He will yell, scream, and be mean to anyone in his path, especially when his extra ordinary requests are not going to be met.

I have also met his attitude not with compassion, but with frustration and equally, if not more, aggressive tones of voice. Recently, I have been trying to meet his aggressiveness with compassion. I don’t always remember.  Instead of letting him be distant and distraught, I have sought to bring him closer, holding him tightly, letting him know that I love him and that he is tired. I’ve tried to meet his aggressiveness with compassion and found that is actually what he needed. He needed to know that while he was out of control, I had him and would love him, no matter what  I wish I remembered to do that all the time.  If my children will embody the faith I practice, I want one of the fruits to be compassion.

So, what’s your default setting?

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Sticky Faith: Chapter 1


I started reading Sticky Faith today by Kara Powell and Chap Clark.

The first chapter lays out what the contents of the book are and some initial research into why “sticky faith” is important. For instance, 40-50 percent of kids will shelve their faith in college.

What popped out to me in the first chapter is that parents are the number one influence on children in matters of faith. Not youth workers, pastors, or other adults, it’s parents that will influence their child’s faith the most.

So, what do you do with your children to show forth the faith?  What would you like to do but haven’t?

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Starbuck’s Chaplain: “He’s a pastor.”

After finishing at Fuller Seminary in 2008 I had to complete a final, unpaid, internship.  Luckily, I was able to find an internship in San Diego and we were able to move in with my in-laws.  Since, the chaplaincy was unpaid I needed to find work. I know a guy, who is probably one the better humans beings I’ve met in my life, and he willingly gave me a job, again.  We had worked together previously before I started at Seminary.

So, I started working Starbucks and as a hospice chaplain intern. And interestingly enough I started doing chaplaincy work at Starbucks too. I didn’t mean to.

There was a guy who always came in at night at sat at the comfy chairs tucked away in a corner near our front doors.  He knew what I did with my time outside of work and I knew what he did for a living. We talked God too. They were nice conversations.

I remember one night I was cleaning up the store and he walked in with a friend. He came straight to me and said, “When you get a break I’d like to talk to you.” He was serious.  It wasn’t busy so I took off my apron and sat with him and his friend.

He introduced me to his friend, “This is Josh. He’s a pastor.” Then he said to me, “This is my friend John. His wife died last night from cancer.” He stopped talking and looked at me as if I should start talking. And I did. I don’t really remember what was said, the Spirit does give us the words when we don’t know what to say.

I didn’t know that I would be doing pastoral care on my break at Starbucks but is seems that the Holy Spirit uses even Barista’s to accomplish her work.

Have you been open to the Spirit’s working during the unexpected times? Does God show up where you least expect it?

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I’m a Born-Again Christian

I must have one of those approachable faces, because often when I’m walking the street I’ll run into a street evangelists who wants to talk to me. He’ll approach me and ask, “Have you been born again?” Now I’ve been asked this question enough that I have begun to phrase my answer in this way, “Yes, it was December 14, 1980, a little over one month after my birth. The day my parents had me baptized.” This will often throw them off guard because it doesn’t fit their paradigm of what it means to be born-again, typically meaning saying the sinner’s prayer and being baptized as an adult.

As Lutherans, we shouldn’t shy away from saying that we have been born-again.  We were born again when we were drowned in the waters of baptism and raised into a new life with Christ. Every day, every hour, every minute, we are to remember our baptism, and claim our new life in Christ. Every time we claim our baptism we are born again.  Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “Therefore let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all the time. Every day they should be found in faith and with its fruits, suppressing the old creature and growing up in the new.” So, if asked if you have been born again, tell them the day you were you died in the waters of baptism and were born anew into Christ.

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CWOB: Jesus and Hospitality

Some make the argument that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors. This argument would mean that we should also offer this meal to all whether baptized or not by following the example of Jesus. What this assumes is that every meal that Jesus had including the Passover meal he shared with his disciples was the same thing.  James Farwell writes, “It’s simply not a foregone conclusion that Jesus could not have established or intended a special meal through which his disciples would ritually remember his vision of the kingdom that animated his wider ministry and continues to animate ours.”[1] This meal was instituted for those who where followers of Jesus. It is not truly hospitable to invite everyone to do what Christians do without properly allowing instruction on what God’s grace calls them to, namely their re-birth in baptism.

True Hospitality and Pastoral Care

True hospitality is inviting the guest to continually explore the grace offered in Jesus Christ by inviting them into a life long relationship of discipleship with Jesus through baptism. This instruction is what true hospitality is because it offers inclusion into the community rather than just a welcome to eating with the other. Having everyone come forward without distinction is not hospitable because it does not reveal who we truly are and what this meal truly does. True hospitality entails honesty.

The best practice is to put this into bulletins.  Our churches bulletin says, “ This sacrament is intended for all baptized Christians. If you are not receiving communion please come forward with your arms crossed to receive a blessing.”  This allows our intentions to be clear about for whom this sacrament is intended.  Yet, despite of how seriously I take this as an issue, I equally believe that the Alter is not to be a place of contention.  If someone is not baptized and has their arms extended, I believe that it is my pastoral responsibility to give it to them. We should not require seeing a baptismal certificate before distributing Communion.

There are many ways one could argue for giving communion to the non-baptized and I believe there might be a way to frame it that stays true to the Lutheran understanding of God’s initiatory action on humanity’s behalf. But this would change the what each sacrament does and what order it is to be done in. What ties the sacraments together would be broken and would inevitable lessen the significance of baptism.

[1] James Farwell, “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: One the Practice of ‘Open Communion,’” in Anglican Theological Review 86:2 (Spring 2004), 221.

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CWOB: Order is Important

Those who would offer communion to everyone understand the general meaning of a sacrament as described above.  This view is appealing because there is logical consistency in the sacraments.  Namely, that we do not do anything to earn God’s favor but rather receive it passively.  So, just like justification by grace, God offers the gift of God’s grace in the sacrament of Communion. This understanding of the sacraments, although appealing, fails to recognize that each sacrament embodies a different part of the gospel message. Emphasizing or offering communion before baptism has the potential to harm our baptismal spirituality because of our belief that it is the wellspring of life with God.[1] Our spirituality comes from Christ renewing us in baptism.

As we have seen baptism is that rite which makes us members of the Christ’s body. We are now different because of what God has done to us in the waters of baptism.  Yet, we still need to continually have our sins forgiven and our faith strengthened. This is why communion is the sacrament that one receives after they have entered the body of Christ through baptism.  Baptism begins our discipleship because it is that wellspring from which our faith comes and Communion is that which continually forgives our sins and strengthens our faith.  Paul Bradshaw saw the potential loss in Communion without Baptism when he said:

“You cannot argue that baptism is the foundation from which all Christian discipleship springs and at the same time welcome the un-baptized to the Lord’s Table and place no requirement upon them to proceed to commit themselves to the Lord in baptism. The two simply contradict each other. Our difficulties over this matter often arise from the fact that so many people see baptism as a ritual act…and as detached or at least detachable, from the process of becoming a Christian rather than integral to it.”[2]

Our baptismal spirituality is so integral to our spirituality it is evidenced by the beginning portion of our liturgy in the Confession and Forgiveness and Thanksgiving for Baptism.  It is also evident in the architecture of many churches.  Baptismal fonts are sometimes placed at the entryway of the church because it is through this sacrament that we are admitted to receive communion pointing to the primacy of baptism for the beginning of the Christian life of faith, i.e. discipleship.

[1] Dennis L Bushkofsky and Craig A Satterlee, The Christian Life (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2008), 3.

[2] An excerpt from Paul F. Bradshaw, “The Liturgical Movement: Gains and Losses,” lecture delivered at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, CA, November 6, 2008: 9-10.


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CWOB: Sacraments are…

This next few blog posts will address a tendency in some ELCA congregations to view the Lord’s Supper as open to everyone, as an act of hospitality, whether baptized or not, and baptism as initiation into the community.

In order to talk about the implications of this tendency we must first look at what a sacrament is and then address the specific nature of each sacrament. In the next post we will then address the relationship between the sacraments and why order is important.  Finally we will discuss the pros and cons of  “hospitality” and its implications to mission, outreach, and discipleship.

1. Sacraments are…

According to the Book of Concord sacraments are, “signs of God’s will toward us, …and so it is right to define the New Testament sacraments as signs of grace.”[1]  These signs of grace are then performed with two necessary conditions.  The first is the elements that are being used and the second is the Word of God.  These two things create a picture showing the “Visible Word” of God.[2]  Yet, they also point to the one true sacrament of God, Jesus, who is the visible Word of God given for our sins.  The importance of recognizing that Jesus is the true sacrament of God is necessary for understanding the two sacraments that He gave to us: baptism and communion.  Gritsch and Jenson write, “About the gospel, the doctrine of justification claims that the gospel does what it says; about each sacrament of Lutheranism makes the same point in a way appropriate to that each sacrament as particular embodiment of some part of the gospel.”  So let us now look at how each sacrament embodies some part of the gospel.

2. Baptism

When we baptize anyone we put water over his or her heads and we say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”[3] Arthur Just writes, “Baptism is the ‘frontier’ sacrament upon which all Christian life is founded.”[4] Baptisms are performed on both infants and adults who are entering into the Body of Christ.

There are a variety of biblical images that provide differing but complementary understandings of what baptism does.  The Johannine tradition shows baptism to be a rebirth.  Jesus tells Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”[5] We must be born again through the water and Spirit.  I appreciate this image because this imagery provides a good look at what baptism is doing.  We are taken from our old lives and given a new one in Christ.

The second biblical image that I appreciate comes from the Pauline tradition.  Paul’s image is of death and resurrection.  Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”[6] In the Pauline tradition baptism is something that kills us and then resurrects us into a new life with Christ. Christ has recreated us by making us new creations in baptism.

Although rebirth and resurrection are different metaphors for speaking of the reality of what baptism does there is a common element in that we are removed from the old life and move into communion with God through baptism. Whether operating under the image of being born anew or one of death and resurrection they show that life is radically different after one has been baptized-it’s new life![7]

3. Communion

There are many things that could be said about what the Lord’s Supper does but I will only examine two of them for the sake of space.  Ultimately, I will show how the Lord’s Supper is for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith.

In the Lord’s Supper we proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  Since Christ is present in the meal and it’s proclamation message is sure, we can believe that it actually is the forgiveness of sins.  We say the words of Christ in the liturgy during the Words of Institution, “…shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.”[8]  The Large Catechism says, “[W]e go to the sacrament because there we receive a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. Why?  Because the words are there, and they impart it to us!”[9] These words have the power to create what they say. We receive forgiveness because we are promised it in the meal.

The Lord’s Supper also strengthens our faith.  Since we are given a meal that was instituted and continues to be instituted by Christ we can be sure that the promises that he gives us are real.  The Apology says, “Thus in the church the Lord’s Supper was instituted that our faith might be strengthened by the remembrance of the promises of Christ-of which this sign reminds us-and that we might publicly confess our faith and proclaim the benefits of Christ…”[10] In both the content and the remembrance of the meal our faith is strengthened because of Christ’s promise.

[1] “Apology of the Augsburg Confession.” Eds. Robert Kolb et al. The Book of Concord (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 270:69.

[2] Apology, 220:5

[3] There are variations to this but the words but, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” were commanded by Jesus himself in Matthew 28:19.  See Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders Desk Edition for the variations, 590.

[4] Arthur A. Just. Jr., Heaven On Earth (Saint Louis: Concordia Press, 2008), 150.

[5] John 3:5

[6] Romans 6:3-4

[7] I also think Luther’s flood prayer provides good imagery of God saving through water changing the lives of those whom God has saved.

[8] ELW Leaders Desk Edition, 238.

[9] The Large Catechism, 469:22.

[10] Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 142:210.

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First Communion: Mocking the Body of Christ

In the previous post I gave, to the best of my knowledge, the case for why Communion was reserved for those who are able to “discern” the body of Christ.  This traditional means that they are able to understand what they are doing when they receive Communion.

I will now give a different interpretation of those verses that I believe to be more correct.

The passage of scripture (1 Corinthians 11:27-30) must be seen in the wider context of the chapter in which the pericope begins, 1 Corinthians 11:17 and goes all the way to verse 34.  The first two verses are telling about what is going on. Paul writes,

 Now in the following instruction I do not commend you, because when you come     together it is not for the better but for the worse.  For, to begin with, when you come     together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I     believe it.  Indeed, there have been faction among you, for only so will will it become     clear who among you are genuine.  When you come together, it is not really to eat the     Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own     supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.  What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?  Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? (1 Corinthians 11:17-22)

This is what was going on in Corinth when they were getting together to have communion.  The divisions where economic and social.   The meal that was suppose to unite them with God and bind them as a community but it was actually dividing them. The poor where not eating and the rich where. Some where getting drunk.  After Paul teaches them the words of institution and warns them about discerning the body of Christ he writes:

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.  If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. (1 Corinthians 11:33-34)

The real issue was about what people did when they came together for communion.  They where mocking communion by the divisions among them.  And because of that they where not taking serious what Christ had done for them in his death and resurrection. Richard Hays writes in the Interpretation Commentary:

Those who are failing to “discern the body” are those who act selfishly, focusing on their own spirituality and exercising their own social privileges while remaining heedless of those who share with them in the new covenant inaugurated by the Lord’s death. (pg. 200)

If we take serious the context around what Paul meant when he said we had to discern the body of Christ, we have to also recognize that these verses have nothing to do with children. Paul was concerned that they didn’t mock the sacrament, training our children in the way of Christ does the exact opposite. The way most people really learn something is by doing it.

What do you think?  Is there anything that you would contend with or add?

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First Communion: Discerning the Body of Christ

The Biblical Case Against Communing Infants/Children

One of the most common explanations I hear why children should not partake of communion is because they are unable to “discern the body of Christ.” This phrase comes from 1 Corinthians 11:27-30.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.  Examine yourselves, and only then eat the bread and drink the cup.  For all who eat and rink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.

This seems to be the scriptural foundation on which not communing children until a certain “age of reason” when they are able to discern for themselves what they are doing. The appropriate age varies depending on the pastor and congregation and when they might deem that to be.

I think that this is a concern for some pastors and parents because they don’t want their children to, “eat and drink judgment on themselves.”  The logic then goes that they need some instruction on the real presence of Christ in communion so that they know what they are doing.  Todd W, Nichol in his essay Infant Communion in Light of the Lutheran Confessions writes, “Because Christ is really present in his Supper, worshipers always meet him there, either for judgment or blessing.”  He later writes, “It has only rarely been asked; ‘Can we expose [children] to the possibility not only of blessings so great, but judgment so severe?'”

Because of the traditional interpretation and the battles of real presence during the Reformation, it is understandable why this tradition continues.

For those of you who might hold to this view, do I have it right? Is there anything you would like to add in defense of this argument?  I’d be interested in your reasoning.

Next:  Other ways of reading this passage of scripture.


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First Communion: What Does Your Church Practice?

Lutheran churches today have a variety of practices concerning when children can receive communion.  I’ve seen everything from toddlers (those who can stick food in their mouths) all the way to the 5th grade.  Some congregations don’t have a set age when someone can receive communion and leave it up to the parents to discern when their child can receive.

There are a variety of levels of celebration which accompany first communion. I’ve seen it not be noted at all, being mentioned in the bulletin, to making a really big deal of it.  It seems that that the ELCA also recognizes this in its document Principles for Worship. Principle 37 says, “Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the church to those who are baptized.”  Principle 38 says, “Common mission among the congregations of this church depends on mutual respect for varied practice in many areas of church life including the ages of first Communion.” So in these two principles we have a common belief that the person should be baptized (I recognize this is not the case for some churches) and also that we respect the traditions of individual churches.

My question to you is this: When does your church practice first communion and why?  What is your theological rational for doing this? What scripture and confessional documents do you use to support your view?  In short, why do you do what you do?

(I am starting a series on first communion mainly to work out what I think.  I am not interested in this series in having the communion without baptism conversation)


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