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Notes from Advent
From self study to commentary, Notes from Advent shares the latest news, events and other information from Advent Lutheran Church.
“Presence” is a word worthy of reflection, especially in the Christian Church. Technology has covertly taken its place. I was present with my grandson on his birthday – when he was in Illinois and I was in Indiana. I was present with a pastor friend in Florida. We talked to each other, but I was here and he was there. In both cases, there was something missing. I can’t give my grandson a kiss or hold him. I can’t see the smiling face of my pastor-friend. The third dimension is gone and so is the magnetism that comes through a real presence. When a Christian worships, a Christian enters the presence of God. As the Son of God is eternally in the presence of His Father (“And the Word was with God and the Word was God.”), we are privileged to enter the presence of God through the Son as these words are spoken: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the presence of the Son of God, God literally speaks to us in His Word, in the liturgy, in the three-dimensional face-to-face with Christ as He talks to us in preaching, as He comes physically in His sacramental body and blood. Among us He is present both as the priest and as the sacrificial lamb.
But people often feel that when it comes to a relationship with God, “presence” is neither necessary nor important. Church worship has taken on a type of “cell phone” mentality – the idea being that we can take God with us wherever we go. We just dial him up in our minds – a little prayer here, and a little thought about God there, and this is the same thing as “presence.” Not so.
A king gives a feast. He invites many to come. Some of them make excuses. “I just got married.” “I bought a cow.” Not only does the king respond by extending the invitation to the “unworthy” out on the highways and byways to fill his banquet hall, but he rejects those who were invited but played hookie with his gracious invitation. They were too important. Their needs trumped the honor of the king. Little did they realize that they would never enter his presence again. It is hard for me to beat the drum for the attention of the minds and souls of my beloved flock, but I must ask each of us – myself included – are we letting the world covertly, subtly, change our way of thinking about our relationship with God? First Article of the Creed: “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, all my members…my reason and senses…clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home…He richly and daily gives me all that I need to support this body and life.” But when it comes to returning and giving thanks, as only one of the ten lepers did, bowing before Jesus, worshipping with such profound thankfulness – well, isn’t it good enough to give him a “thanks-call” on the way to the game, or the store, or wherever and whatever is more important than entering the presence of God?Even more so, the Second Article: “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. Purchased and won me from all sin, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.” Imagine what it was like to be a slave during the 1800’s in the United States and what it meant to be purchased and set free. We have been purchased from sin, death and the eternity of hell by Jesus our Lord. What is the appropriate worship response? An hour or two each month? One Sunday out of three? When those words of invocation are spoken, Christ comes truly and really, and He waits for you and me, inviting and calling, not perfect and sinless people, but broken sinners into His presence. His presence brings us into the third dimension of the Kingdom of God. As we learned in our Bible Study on Sunday morning, when we are in Christ’s presence, we are being remade in our inner persons – like a broken mirror being put together to reflect the image of the one standing before it. Christ’s “magnetism” draws out our Old Adam, kills him, takes away his power, and restores and refreshes us with a forgiven and cleansed person through His own life-giving Spirit. Worship for the Christian, therefore, is not optional. Don’t let the world tell you differently and don’t let your Old Adam think that cell-phoning God once in a while will do the job. Think “presence.” And if and when you have a birthday party celebration – and no one comes – think about what God feels when you don’t. He loves you. Honor Him and “come into His presence with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.” Your drum-beating pastor, Pastor Fiene
Since Lent has arrived it seems appropriate for me to make a confession: When I was about 12 years old I was hired as a baby sitter. The kids liked me because I played with them and read them books. Before leaving the parents told me that I could eat anything in the refrigerator (which was cool because my parents would not have given me the same privilege). There was a half-watermelon in that refrigerator. I would have sliced off a piece and tried to eat it had it not been for the fact that I had to deal with all those seeds, so in my infinite wisdom I dug out the center of the watermelon, made a plug and gently placed it back into the hole so that the watermelon looked untouched. For some strange reason I was never asked to babysit again, but I do remember how sweet that core was when I ate it. To put your mind at ease, I felt very bad about eating that core, but I can assure you, the core is always the best part.
Our midweek Lenten worship this year is about the best part of our Christian watermelon—the core. In this case, however, we don’t have to feel guilty about consuming it. The core of Christianity are the “solas” of the Christian faith: Christ alone. Scripture alone. Grace alone. Faith alone. The Word alone. God’s glory alone. Always Alone = without seeds.
Consider how we use that word “core” today. Core values. Core muscles. Core arguments. Core curriculum. Cores of cities, magnets, computers and nuclear plants. By definition, a core is the foundation, the part of a thing that does not change, the part of the whole that is pure and without seeds. Seeds are our entertainments, our possessions, the things we do for ourselves. Seeds are human thoughts, human actions, human accomplishments. Honestly, even God spits them out because they have no worth to Him. But He wants us to spit them out as well, if and when they get mixed into our spiritual food.
The core is seedless and it is pure. It is Christ alone as our Savior. It is Holy Spirit alone speaking pure truth in Holy Scripture. It is forgiveness, pardon, heaven, undeserved gifts of God given through Grace alone. It is faith receiving all that God has to give because it trusts in God ‘s Grace alone without any merit or worthiness on our part. It is through the power of the Word alone we receive sacramental cleansing. And it is to God alone that we give our thanks and praise for all these "alones."
What then is our Lenten challenge? To spit out the seeds and stick to the core!
It is hard to reflect upon the life of our Christian Church when the world is in such commotion. There is a culture war underway, and like in the days of the Civil War, where slavery divided a nation and one had to choose one side or the other, where intractable opinions, hatred and violence turned brother against brother, such is the condition of the world today. Yet I do not think that things were much different five hundred years ago. Five hundred years ago in the land of Germany a man named Martin Luther walked up to the door of his ruler’s church and plaquered 95 statements. He wanted to right a wrong in the Christian Church. The wrong was an abuse of God’s Word. Albrecht of Brandenburg, Cardinal and Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, acting in league with Pope Leo X of Rome, was wrangling to increase his family’s wealth and power. Like a bribe to a judge to reduce a criminal’s sentence, Albrecht wanted to sell time out of purgatory to living souls on behalf of deceased souls. Luther’s hammer drove a nail into his plans.
God’s grace and mercy cannot be purchased, Luther said. Yes, it came at a price. But the price was his own Son. Just as a criminal’s pardon cannot be purchased, God’s forgiveness cannot be purchased. None can pay the price of salvation. We are all lost and without hope. There is no purgatory, only heaven and hell, and the prison doors of hell are one-way doors. The great joy of the Christian is that out of his great mercy and kindness, God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, as John’s Gospel says – the world is condemned already – but to save the world. And this, the Apostle Pauls says, comes to us as a gift of God, not by works. It cannot be bought, purchased, earned, deserved. It is without a price because it is priceless. It can only be given as a gift.
What, then, is the reason for Christians wanting to do good? What is the great motivator of Christians to love and forgive and show patience and kindness, even, if necessary, to our enemies? Works are the fruit of faith, Luther said. We are moved to do them out of gratitude and love for a gracious God. The Holy Spirit; the gift of a knowledge of God through the Gospel; the gift of a heart that can love God and neighbor; the gift of the food of heaven, the body and blood of the Son of God under bread and wine; the gift of forgiveness; the gift of eternal life.
Everything is a gift. Free. Apart from anything we can do. All because of Christ, moved by His one-sided love for us and not our deeds or love-ability. This, dear Lutherans, is what defines us both as Christians and as Lutherans. Many today regard the name “Lutheran” to be an insignificant denominational label. Every farmer has his plow and his seed. The word “Christian” tells us who the farmer is. He or she is one who belongs to Christ by faith.
The word “Lutheran” tells us about the plow - the beliefs that turn the soil of men’s heart to repentance, preparing them for the seed of the free and unmerited gifts of God. Luther was a man of courage and conviction. Lutherans are but Christians who proudly and courageously follow the farmer’s plow with the pure seed of the Gospel.
Dear Saints of Advent: Shepherds stood in awe as the angels praised God. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men.” Often omitted are the words, “on whom His favor rests.” The favor of God is His grace. How privileged we are to be recipients of God’s undeserved kindness! Those poor people in Syria¬—death everywhere, bombs falling from the sky upon both the good and the evil, people starving, children writhing in pain from poisonous gas. What would we feel like if we lived there and peacekeepers, somehow and by some miracle, broke through and brought an end to the conflict? “The war is over!” we would shout. That would be nothing by comparison to what happened on that starry night. The birth of Christ meant that God had broken into our world. Everyday and everywhere, people are dying, starving for hope, spiritually weak; unable to defeat the diabolical forces of evil. And there He was, the Redeemer, who came to bring peace. Wrapped in a manager, lying in a stall for animals, He brought true and lasting peace to a dying and war-torn world. The promised Savior of the world had scaled the walls, broken down all barriers. And he brought with Him eternal peace. That is why I am so grateful to be among you as your shepherd. Just as the shepherds were privileged to be present at the manger that Bethlehem night, so also I have been privileged to be with you at the manger of today, at the baptismal font, where men, women and children are born again to be children of God. Just as the angels experienced joy at the appearance of the Son of God, my joy rises each and every Sunday as our Savior appears in the Lord’s Supper, giving to us His body and blood. Thank you, Advent for all that you have been throughout this past year; for your faithfulness, support, prayers and gracious love. Thank you for being Christ to me and for accepting Christ through me. So along with my dear wife, Solveig, and all the Fiene family, I pray that you will have a most blessed Christmas. May God’s joy enter your minds and hearts as you praise God for the appearance of Christ, and as His favor descends upon you. In His Name,
An interview with Vicar Debner
As we welcome a new Vicar to Advent, please take a moment to learn more about Vicar Debner and his family.
- Please describe your family background and hometown.
- Who inspired you most as a child and your formative years. How?
- How did you meet your wife, Emily?
- Where did you attend school and church?
- What were some of the activities you were involved in?
- What jobs did you have before entering the seminary?
- What led to your decision to become a pastor? How did you feel that you were called?
- What experiences have affirmed your calling?
- What do you look forward to in the next year as a vicar?
Please describe your family background and hometown.Who inspired you most as a child and your formative years. How?How did you meet your wife, Emily?Where did you attend school and church? As mentioned, I attended public school in Sylvania, Ohio. I was a 2003 graduate of Sylvania Southview and went on to study at four different Universities before completing my B.A. in Religious Studies at Concordia Ann Arbor in 2014. Prior to CUAA I was a student at Ohio Northern University from the fall of 2003 to the spring of 2005 studying chemistry, a student at the University of Toledo studying biology from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2007, and student at Lourdes University in Sylvania from the fall of 2009 to the spring of 2011 studying theology.What were some of the activities you were involved in?What jobs did you have before entering the seminary?What led to your decision to become a pastor? How did you feel that you were called? I decided to pursue the ministry after two years of studying “theology” at Lourdes University where their theological department was pushing Roman Catholic ecumenicalism and OT historical critical method of higher criticism. For me, I never had a problem while growing up believing that men of the OT like Jonah, Job, and others are real people who really lived in historical reality. After finding out that chemistry and biology were not going to provide avenues for celebrating the faith I was blessed with in Jesus Christ our Lord, and after confronting ecumenical Catholicism and higher criticism at Lourdes, I knew that my life had been impacted by the truth of God’s Word to the effect that I had no other calling in life than to serve the Lord in His holy Church. What experiences have affirmed your calling?What do you look forward to in the next year as a vicar?
I was born the first grandson of Michael Debner, the father of my dad Gregory Debner, who himself was the youngest of four brothers. My grandpa Mike went to be with the Lord on July 1st, 1983, over a full year before I was born on July 24th, 1984. He never met his first grandson. My three older sisters were like three additional mothers to me and my younger brother, and all five of us graduated from the same high school in Sylvania Ohio. I was baptized at Olivet Lutheran Church in Sylvania where my dad was an elder. After the congregation’s merger into the ELCA my parents left Olivet for King of Glory LCMS in Sylvania where I was confirmed. Sylvania as a community offered a panorama of different ethnicities, economic strata and faith backgrounds, all of which were present in the public school system I was educated through.
The term “inspiration” carries a heavy connotation. I could look to a number of people who were influential toward my development in my early years such as authors, educators, professional athletes, pastors, doctors, coaches, etc. I would be dishonest if I was to look toward such persons as the greatest inspiration of my growing years. Regardless of how trite it might seem, I was influenced the most by my Savior Jesus Christ. It was a very difficult experience to stare death in the face during the ordeal with advanced Hodgkin’s disease at age 13-14. I don’t think a single person beyond the one who carried our sins to the cross at Golgotha outside Jerusalem impacted me more than anyone else. Reading about the endurance He showed in His passion was a terrific motivation and inspiration to stay mentally tough during such a testing time. I owe my mental toughness to the example of He who demonstrated true mental strength in the face of the most extreme adversity imaginable.
Emily and I met when I transferred to Concordia Ann Arbor and joined the wind ensemble playing trumpet. She was the music librarian for the ensemble and after a rehearsal in the fall of 2011 I helped her stack chairs in the band room. She called my assistance “precious” and we all know how the story ended (married on May 24th, 2015).
All the while I maintained a membership at King of Glory LCMS in Sylvania, a congregation that had become my family and support during the wanderings of my 11 year undergraduate endeavors.
Prior to cancer I was an active Cub, then Boy Scout, reaching the rank of first class before diagnosis. I participated in youth soccer leagues from age 6 to 12, flag football from age 9 to 11, and tackle football from age 12-20 (I played a year of football at Ohio Northern). I was also a track athlete in the events of 300m and 110m hurdles, 4x100m and 4x400m relays, and the sprint medley team for my high school alma mater. At age 11 the task of learning to play the trumpet was undertaken, and apart from the year I was treated for cancer and 8 years of hiatus after graduating high school I have been playing ever since. I did some public speaking at fundraisers for the Make-a-wish foundation and spoke on the radio about my recovery from cancer through the autologous stem cell transplant I received at the Cleveland Clinic. During high school I also attended several Group Workcamps® where I had the opportunity to engage non-Lutheran “Christians” with my confessional beliefs.
The first job I had was working at a local Arby’s restaurant during my senior year of high school. After that I worked for a landscaping company owned by my sister’s husband’s mother for two seasons. Between those two seasons I was a truck loader for Fed-Ex Ground. I also had a stint as a seasonal worker at a local green house. I was a prep-cook at an Italian restaurant in Sylvania for 15 months, an employee at Chipotle Mexican Grill, and a member of the maintenance crew at Concordia Ann Arbor before I entered Seminary.
I have had numerous opportunities to speak of Christ with non-believers throughout my adult life, all of which have left me with the impression that there in nothing in this world worth knowing if not for Christ and Him crucified. The passion and conviction I carry in the true faith given from Christ has left people who were total strangers to me with a sense of peaceful assurance that God has given the forgiveness of our sins as a free gift through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
I look forward to growing in my capacity to be a faithful servant of Christ in my responsibilities as a called and (to-be) ordained pastor. I hope to gain confidence in my preaching ability and continue growing more and more comfortable interacting with people who have not yet discovered the glorious hope of the crucified and risen Jesus. Most of all I look forward to learning more about the various dynamics that come with being a pastor and developing a rich understanding of the ministry in the context of our current age.
Join us June 13 – 17 for our VBS 2016 program: Climb Every Mountain. Our 2016 Vacation Bible School program. This week-long program features bible study and story telling, arts and crafts, Bible challenge, music, snacks and an archeological dig.
VBS 2016 Lessons include:
- Ararat and Noah’s ark
- Sinai and God’s Law
- Hermon and the Transfiguration
- Calvary and Jesus’ crucifixion
- Zion and the New Jerusalem – Heaven