American Lutheranism

A few weeks ago there was a segment on Issues, etc, with LCMS pastor Matthew Harrison on American Lutheranism. There was a section near the end of the segment that I thought was certain to be included in the show’s weekly “Soundbite of the Week” segment. This interview was chosen as the Soundbite of the Week, but for a different section of the interview. In this clip, Pr. Harrison sums up what he believes to be the most important thing that American Lutheranism needs today. I thought this little clip was soundbite worthy enough to clip out that little bit of audio for myself.

Here is the clip.

Download file.

Or, you can listen to the whole segment.

Download file

First Week in Advent

It’s been an interesting week here in El Paso. It all started with rain that started to fall on Sunday. (Rain is always exciting here.) But the wind was picking up and the temperatures were dropping. By mid-morning on Monday it had turned to snow. Big, clumpy snowflakes. On Monday evening everyone was canceling activities (UTEP, the county courthouse, etc) By Tuesday morning we had couple inches on the ground. The public schools started two hours late. And even though the roads were all pretty good, we also waited until 10:00 to start.

This actually isn’t our first snowfall of the year. It snowed a few weeks back and the mountains got a little white on top.

It was on Tuesday that I also realized that the furnace didn’t seem to be working in church. Apparently, other people noticed it on Sunday, but hadn’t said anything. I tried to get someone to look at it, but that didn’t work out, and so our first midweek service was a bit chilly.

What concerned me more than Wednesday’s service was the funeral scheduled for this morning. So last night we had a couple members at church working on the furnaces, but the units are outdoors on the roof, and it started snowing again around 7:30pm. They worked hard at it, but the snow kept them from finishing. Overnight, it laid down a nice layer of snow and ice that made this morning just as interesting. I left for church about 6:30. Since the car I’m currently driving parks in the driveway, the ice layer covered the car. I can’t remember the last time I have had to scrape ice off a windshield (2005, I suppose). Of course, I don’t even own an ice scraper or snow brush any more. Fortunately, a neighbor came to my rescue (who recently moved from Chicago). The roads were iced over and the sand trucks had not been out. It was 20 MPH all the way to church, but it was a little comical to watch the panic of people who really didn’t know how to drive on this stuff. The public schools delayed their start by two hours. But we had the funeral this morning at 9:30 and we had planned on having the school kids sing for the funeral. So we let parents know that we would start at 9:30.

When I got to church I discovered that it was 50º in church, so I did what I could to get a little heat in there and then tried to find a way to get some ice off the sidewalk. Of course we have no shovels or salt or ice scrapers. So I found a hoe and dug up some sand from the back of church (we do have plenty of sand out here). The hoe worked surprisingly well, and I used a broom to sweep away the broken ice and then sprinkled sand to provide a little traction.

The funeral seemed to go rather well, though a little cold. The funeral was for a 92-year-old WWII vet who survived the sinking of the troopship Leopoldville on Christmas Eve 1944 (look it up). He earned a purple heart for that and a second for being wounded in Korea. He was born in NE and raised in Minneapolis area (sound familiar?) but moved to El Paso to get away from the cold. Ironic that he was laid to rest on what should be the coldest day of the year, with snow still on the cacti.

Saturday Evening Prayer

I have found the collection of prayers in the CW Pastor’s Companion, as well as the LSB Pastoral Care Companion, to be quite useful. Here is a pastor’s prayer as he prepares for Sunday morning. The version is from the CW:PC.

O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I humbly pray: pardon all my sins. Look not on my great unworthiness but on your great mercy, by which you have appointed me to be your ambassador in Christ’s place. Put your Word in my mouth and speak with my tongue. Bring forth fruit through me, your unworthy servant, and let not the preaching of your Word be without effect among us. May all that I utter be in accord with your will and the confession of your Church, that your name may be glorified, your congregation strengthened, and your Church built up.

Let the praises of the Church be acceptable to you. Keep us from vain babbling and lying lip service. Preserve your Holy Word among us that it may be joyfully and boldly proclaimed in its truth and purity. Guard us in the right use of the Sacrament in accord with the institution of Jesus Christ our Savior. Be our God and our children’s God, now and forever. Hear my prayer, O Father, for the sake of your dear Son.

Christian Worship: Pastor’s Companion. Northwestern Publishing House, 2004, p. 11.

See also: LSB Pastoral Care Companion. Concordia Publishing House, 2007, p. xix.

Note: Both of these volumes are very valuable to me. I hope to write a comparison of the two books sometime in the near future.

September 1999–September 2009

I guess that makes it 10 years ago that Grandpa Linkert entered glory. September 3, 1999. I don’t know that I thought about it much when the actual day came earlier this month, but I have had several opportunities to remember recently.

  • A couple weeks ago a member asked me for the contact information for the WELS European Chaplain. That’s Josh Martin, who was the vicar who just arrived in Hastings in August ’99 and who (I was told) was arriving for one of his first solo hospital calls when Grandpa died.
  • Every year at the start of catechism class, I explain to my students the way my grandparents found a new church when they moved to a new town. He used his catechism to determine the teaching of the church to which he would belong. I make the point that is was because of what someone learned in catechism class back in 1922 that I am standing in front of them—teaching the same catechism.
  • Last week in Bible Information Class, in our lesson on the resurrection of the dead, we talked about the glorified bodies which believers will receive. I mentioned how Grandpa was pretty hopeful that he would get his thumb back. (He had lost his thumb in a farm accident.)
  • Last week I finally bought a desk for our “extra” room upstairs. That allowed me to get out all my Model ‘H‘ memorabilia. It prompted my Andrew to ask questions about the tractor and my Grandpa, so we spent some time looking through old pictures. I noticed the picture of the barn repair that Grandpa and I did after the storm knocked in the wall of the feed room. We were both in the barn when the storm hit. We saw the pictures of Grandpa on the tractor with the whole family surrounding him at one of the reunions. And all the many pictures of Grandpa surrounded by kids, usually with someone on his lap. I imagine I’m not the only one of my cousins who wish that their kids would have had the chance to sit on Grosspapa’s lap.
  • Today I was playing through next Sunday’s hymns. The Hymn of the Day is “Come, Follow Me, the Savior Spoke.” Grandpa sang a lot of hymns. But there are certain ones that I can remember the way it sounded while he sang them. This is one of them. He would sing while milking the cows. And in my mind, I can hear the way his voice sang the last words of each phrase, “a-bid-ing” and “guid-ing.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that sound.


I could really go on and on with memories that I have of my Grandpa. But what’s really interesting is just how often I find some way in which his life and the time I spent with him influences my life. The examples above are just the obvious ones. That’s not even to mention the fact that Grandpa was certainly the greatest single influence on my decision to study for the ministry. And how many other areas of my life—church, home, you name it—are still impacted by the things I learned from him.

There is one thing, though, that I think goes beyond the others. My family will remember that mornings after breakfast was time for devotion. A Bible reading, Meditations (or Portals of Prayer), The Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, Luther’s Morning Prayer. Every day.

I spent many summers out at the farm. Sometime after Grandma died (1986?), for at least one summer, I stayed with Grandpa in his room. I kept a journal for a good part of that summer, and I would write these insignificant details about the day, like where the cows were grazing and which field was being cultivated. I would regularly write the first and last things of each day. And it struck me how many times I would wake up to find Grandpa reading his Bible and I would go to sleep while he was still reading (Yes, with his face right up to the book with his magnifying glass in between). And then how many times Grandpa would mention whatever it was that he was reading sometime during the course of the day.

If there is one thing that I take as an example from my grandfather, it is this. That I would have such a love for the Word of God that I would keep it as my constant companion, from morning to night, whether I’m milking cows or tending my sheep.

High School GraduationAt our family reunion in 1999, I had some time to talk with Grandpa. We were in the house. I think the bonfire was still going. We must have been singing a little bit, because I remember singing with him a hymn that I learned was the hymn he used as a prayer before worship. I have taken that as my prayer, too, as I prepare to serve the congregation with the means of grace each Sunday. That night we sang it in German, and I usually use the German, too, but here it is in English:

Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For round us falls the eventide,
Nor let your Word, that heavenly light,
For us be ever veiled in night.

In these last days of sore distress
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
That pure we keep, till life is spent,
Your holy Word and Sacrament.

Oh, grant that in your holy Word
We here may live and die, dear Lord,
And when our journey’s ending here,
Receive us into glory there. (CW 541, st. 1,3,7)

Congregations and New Pastors

There is a great post over at Cyberbrethren (blog by Paul McCain) about how congregations receive a new pastor. It’s been four years since I was ordained and almost a year since I began to serve here in El Paso. So I don’t think I would qualify as a “new pastor,” but I’m pretty sure the advice in this article is useful for all congregations and their pastors. I particularly appreciate the paragraph that encourages members to call on their pastor for pastoral care.

Your pastor is not a mind-reader. He will not simply “know” or “sense” when somebody is sick or hospitalized or needs pastoral care. If you, or a member of your family, need to go to the hospital, do not think your pastor will find out about it simply by hearing about it from somebody else. Please let your pastor know. He wants to be your pastor and bring you the comfort and promises of God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper at those moments when we find ourselves, or our family members, in crisis. Do not hesitate to call your pastor, at any time of day or night, when a loved one dies. He wants to know, right away and to come to your side and support and encourage you at these particularly dark and sad moments when death touches us. Nor is your pastor a miracle-worker, though of course miracles never cease.  But your pastor should not be the “last resort” when your marriage is having problems, or when you face a struggle or problem in your life. You will be greatly blessed by God when you turn to your pastor for the private confession and absolution it is his privilege to provide for you, in keeping with his duties. Go to him sooner, rather than later. Turn to your pastor for spiritual counsel and help when you face issues and challenges that feel overwhelming. He will cherish the opportunity to be your pastor. Let him be pastor to you.

Congregations and New Pastors: A How To Guide

Interesting Things

I recall Professor Deutschlander talking about the wisdom of using personal stories in the pulpit. His comments pointed out that the things in a pastor's life that are really interesting are not the kind of things that you can share with a lot of people. And so the stories that you are free to tell are probably not as interesting as you might think. If that's the case, people will probably think that you lead a pretty boring, shallow life.

I have sometimes thought about that in regard to this and other weblogs of pastors. I sometimes feel as though I have nothing to write—even though there are plenty of interesting things going on in my life and ministry. (Or at least I think they are!) But so many of the really interesting things would not be appropriate to share.

I suppose the good thing about this format (a blog) is that I can tell you all about the things that seem interesting to me (that I can share), and you can decide for yourself if it's interesting to you. This is not a sermon, where the stakes are a little higher and where the things that I share ought to really be significant—and not just to me. So I guess by reading this you are taking the risk of reading some rather trivial things, but hopefully not all of it.

Now ordinarily, talking about the weather would be a triviality, but frigid temps in some parts of the country is a pretty serious deal for some of you. I heard on the news that some colder weather might be headed our way in the next couple days, but it hasn't yet. I didn't even put a coat on today, and I ate my lunch outside at church today. It was quite nice in the sunshine. 

I've never been one to complain about the weather—wherever I have been. But I have been enjoying the weather here this winter. I understand that it usually gets a little colder here, but I'm appreciating the regular sunshine. Modesto had more clouds and fog and rain in the winter, even though the temps were about the same. I don't remember minding Midwest winter weather, either, and there is a part of me that misses it—even when the temps are as frigid as they are now. And if I ever live in that climate again, perhaps I'll appreciate it again, but for now I'll just appreciate 60's in January.

Tools of the Trade

For some years now, I have been interested in technology. This is not a surprise to those who know me. Part of it, I'm sure, is just a fascination with new and shiny tech gadgets. It's something that I like and something that I enjoy. But I've always tried to make it more than just a hobby. I have always tried to evaluate each technology for its usefulness in the things that are really important to me. And then I've tried to make the best of use of the technology for those things.

The past several weeks have opened new doors for me in this. After waiting for months, on August 1st I received my iPhone. I could write about how close I came to getting one on the first day, or how the phone arrived just after I left for Minnesota, or how complicated and convoluted AT&T makes the whole process. Or I could write about how much I love the phone, how well it works for me, or all the fancy and fun features. 

But let me just tell you about today. Today I visited one of my shut-ins for the first time. I had never been to her house and she lives on the west side of El Paso. So I simply pulled up her contact info on my phone, tapped on her address and instantly had directions to her house. On the way there, I stopped at Target to pick up something for my wife. The item on the store shelf was not what I was supposed to get, so I used the camera's phone to snap a picture to email it home, called home and had Sara see for herself. Once I arrived at the house, I visited with the member. When I was telling her about my family, I was able to flip through some pictures of the kids on the iPhone's screen. On the way back around the mountain, I plugged in the iPhone to the car stereo and listened to an episode of Issues, etc and the WELSTech podcast. When I'm in the car, I use a bluetooth headset for phone calls. If a call comes in, the music pauses and I can take the call with a click. Today I spoke with a classmate on the way home later in the day. This evening I drove up to Chaparral, NM, for another shut-in call. I make most of these appointments while I'm in front of my computer at church. But all of the contact details and calendar events automatically sync with the iPhone. So when I'm out and about, it's all with me. On the way home from this evening's visit I gave my Mom a call and we chatted about the day.

My point is that this phone has already proven to be an extremely valuable tool for me. Like I said before, my goal is to use the technology for the things that are important. Visiting the sheep is important for a shepherd. The phone numbers and address of the sheep is a nice thing to have at my fingertips, as well as my plans to tend to them (calendar). It is true that many other devices also perform many of the same functions as the iPhone. Here, again, I could mention things about simplicity, design, user-friendliness and reliability. But the point really is that it is a tool that helps me to do the job of serving these people with the gospel. I think it's a good tool. I'm thankful for it.

Back in the Saddle…

Or should I say, back in the chancel. This past Sunday was my first Sunday leading worship at Trinity. It was good to be back at this work that I love. There are so many things that are unfamiliar these days, but presiding at the liturgy I felt at home. Speaking words of absolution, words of prayer, words of benediction—even though it is to a new group of people, I speak on behalf of the same God with the same assurance and confidence.

A few notes on how things are going so far…
  • When we moved into the house, there were a number of issues with the house (appliances not working, loose tiles in the shower, leaky pipes, etc). I think everything is fixed now, so we can live here for the time being.
  • I’ve looked at a few homes in the area, but we’ll just keep our eyes open for the next few months and see what we see. 
  • I’m in listening and learning mode at church. I’m trying to get a sense of how things work, where things are, who does what. After I do this for a while, I’ll be able to have a better sense of the direction things might go in the future. 
  • Untitled
    I think I’m getting used to El Paso. We had our first real desert rain yesterday. It rarely rains in the summer in Modesto, so it was a little different. I have my Texas plates on the van and my new drivers’ license should come in the mail soon. I’ve driven around several parts of the city, though far from all of it. It’s still a little strange to be able to drive and see Mexico out the window. I love being by the Franklin mountains. The picture here was taken with my camera phone as we were coming back from supper on the west side and coming back through the mountains the moon was rising up over them. Beautiful.
  • I’m looking forward to being in Minnesota at the end of the month for worship conference. Not only am I looking forward to the conference and the workshops and the worship services, but I should be able to see some family while there, and I’ll also be able to catch up with a number of classmates and friends and former members. It will be really nice. 
  • I’m looking forward to July 11, when the new 3G iPhone is being released. I’ve been waiting for this for a while, and I’m especially looking forward to a phone with GPS in an unfamiliar city as I start making my initial visits with the families in the congregation.
  • If you don’t have our new contact information, just send me an email and I’ll send it to you. Some of the details (like address) won’t be permanent, but it’s where you can find us for now. 


Last week I took our three youth confirmands out to lunch. I have done this for the past three years as a way of encouraging the kids to continue what we have begun in confirmation classes and to help them see their role in church life.

But this year was a little different, because of the fact that I will be leaving. I won’t be around to be their pastor during the coming years. I always hope that the things I teach to them will stick with them long after confirmation is over, but I won’t be around to check on them or to remind them.

This has reminded me of an old Ietter I have. The letter is addressed to my grandfather from a former pastor who confirmed him. I think Grandpa was confirmed in 1922. The letter is dated January 26, 1926, soon after his 17th birthday. Apparently the pastor was a vicar when he was at my Grandpa’s church and confirmed him. Here is a rough translation of the letter.

My dear confirmand Andreas:

I have received the other letters from you and it makes me happy from the bottom of my heart every time I hear from one of my confirmands. Yet don’t be offended that I have not always answered. It is not always wise and in place for a pastor to write to the people in whose congregation he has served, because he could give the impression that he would like to sneak back into the congregation in which he served as a student. And it might not please the current pastor of the place to be writing to his members. That is why I have not answered. It’s not that I have forgotten you. I think of you often—with joy.

Yet this time I may not be silent. A young man who makes a request of the pastor who confirmed him—if he would be willing to get him a Bible—must be answered. It gives me great pleasure, dear Andreas, that you desire a Bible. I will be happy to send you one. Just read in it diligently, and you will have something in your life that reaches to eternity. Today people too often let the Bible gather dust. You, dear youth, do otherwise. And should it be God’s will that we meet each other again here on earth, you can show me a well-used and read Bible.

So far God has richly blessed me in my office. More than his servant has deserved it. Last summer I also received a call to another congregation, but my dear congregation here has not let me leave. Otherwise we are alive and well here in beautiful Illinois. We are very happy here. Give your dear parents my greeting, and to the others whom I confirmed. And keep writing, even if I may not also be able to reply. Greetings. F.W Henke

This letter is interesting for so many reasons. The first thing I note is his hesitancy to interfere with another pastor’s ministry. It’s not that he no longer cared for the people he formerly served, but the fact is that he wasn’t their pastor. I assume that the people whom I have served in Modesto will always be dear to me. We will hopefully maintain some contact with many of them. I do hope that those who read this blog will continue to do so. But I also understand that I will not be their pastor.

The second thing is his instruction for the Bible he would send to this young man. "Read from it diligently. If we meet again here on earth, I hope you can show me a well-read and well-used Bible." I think that would be the wish of every pastor—both for confirmands and for all his members. He hopes that after he departs those people would continue in their diligent reading and study of Scripture. He hopes and prays that these people would have in their hearts a deep desire to remain students of Scripture all the days of their life.

I always start out each year in catechism by showing the students old catechisms. Some of them are over 100 years old. I want them to see 1) that the study of the Bible’s teaching using Luther’s Small Catechism has been going on a long time and that their parents or grandparents studied the very same things and 2) to see how well-used these books were, even after confirmation class was done. I want them to see this as the beginning of a lifetime of study and I’ve told them that I hope someday to see their Bibles and catechisms as well-used as these. I tell them that I hope their grandchildren will someday see in these books a testimony to their life of devotion to and growth in God’s Word.

I don’t know if Pastor Henke ever saw my grandpa again. But I saw his Bibles and catechisms and hymnals. They were exactly as his pastor hoped.