Sunday, February 28, 2010

For I am afflicted and needy,
And my heart is wounded within me.
I am passing like a shadow when it lengthens;
I am skaen off like the locust.
My knees are weak from fasting;
And my flesh has grown lean, without fatness.
Help me, O Lord my God;
Save me according to Thy lovingkindness. (Ps. 109:22-24, 26)

My soul languishes for Thy salvation;
I wait for Thy word.
My eyes fail with longing for Thy word,
While I say, "When wilt Thou comfort me?" (Ps. 119:81-82)

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
For I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
Bring me out of my distresses.
Look upon my affliction and my trouble,
And forgive all my sins. (Ps. 25:16-18)

Do not forsake me, O Lord;
Oh my God, do not be far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38:21-22)

O God, do not remain quiet;
Do not be silent and, Oh God,
    do not be still.  (Ps. 83:1)

Answer me, O Lord,
    for Thy lovingkindness is good;
According to the greatness of Thy compassion,
    turn to me,
And do not hide Thy face from Thy servant,
For I am in distress; answer me quickly.
Oh draw near to my soul and redeem it...(Ps. 69:16-18a)

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, February 26, 2010

How long, O Lord, wilt Thou forget me forever?
How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?
How long will I take counsel in my soul,
  having sorrow in my heart all the day? (Ps. 13:1-2)

Why does Thou stand afar off, O Lord?
Why dost Thou hide Thyself in times of trouble? (Ps. 10:1)

My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry day by day, but Thou dost not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest. (Ps. 22:1)

I am Thine; save me! (Ps. 119:94a)

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

...I am a worm and not a man... (Ps. 22: 6a)

Save me, O God,
For the waters have
   threatened my life
I had sunk in deep mire,
   and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
   and a flood overflows me.
I am weary with my crying;
   my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God. (Ps. 69: 1-3)

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me? (Ps. 42: 11a)

My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud;
     My voice rises to God, and He will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
     In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness;
     My soul refused to be comforted.
When I remember God, then I am disturbed;
     When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
Thou hast held my eyelids open;
     I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old,
     The years of long ago.
I will remember my song in the night;
     I will meditate with my heart,
    And my spirit ponders:
Will the Lord reject forever?
     And will He never be favorable again?
Has His lovingkindness ceased forever?
     Has His promise come to an end forever?
Has God forgotten to be gracious,
     Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Selah.
Then I said, "It is my grief,
     That the right hand of the Most High has changed."
I shall remember the deeds of the LORD;
     Surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Thy work
     And muse on Thy deeds.
Thy way, O God, is holy;
     What god is great like our God?
Thou art the God who works wonders;
     Thou hast made known Thy strength among the peoples.
Thou hast by Thy power redeemed Thy people,
The waters saw Thee, O God;
     The waters saw Thee, they were in anguish;
     The deeps also trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
     The skies gave forth a sound;
     Thy arrows flashed here and there.
The sound of Thy thunder was in the whirlwind;
    The lightnings lit up the world;
    The earth trembled and shook.
Thy way was in the sea
     And Thy paths in the mighty waters,
     And Thy footprints may not be known.
Thou didst lead Thy people like a flock
     By the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Ps. 77)

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
    And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
    For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me. (Ps. 42:5-6a)

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Liturgy is a precious, precious gift.  Absolutely.

Some time before the GREAT SNOW, I purchased Evening and Morning: the Music of Lutheran Prayer.  Simply put, this is the best $9.99 I have ever spent in my entire life.  SIGH.

I have spent the past five hours reveling in Matins, Vespers, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the Litany.  The Litany!  I have that chanted now!  I will admit that listening made me feel a bit lonely and I craved the opportunity to be with other brothers and sisters in Christ as I sung these music of these offices of prayer.  Still, it was simply glorious to have the Living Word poured over me as it rested on my tongue, fell from my lips.  The day after the night of the concert, Pastor came to my house and prayed Compline with me.  Having never encountered it, I missed much.  I would give most anything to have that opportunity again.

While I was reading and singing and listening, I kept thinking about my time with Walther yesterday and the moment of pure fellowship I found with Luther, a moment where I wept with Christ.  I also, too, kept thinking about the sermon outlines he used as examples of where Law and Gospel are not rightly divided by teaching in the wrong order.  Personally, I struggled a bit with a few of the outlines, even though I have found this book quite easy for me to read.  Such perfect sense, a fitting together of things that have been off set for years.

It is not so much that I did not understand them, but that I kept cataloging all the sermons I heard for years that fell into these outlines.  What truly disturbs me is that my own thought processes fall into them:

  • First Subject:  The Way of Salvation.  It consists of 1) faith; 2) true repentance.  A perversion of this kind would constitute you genuine Antiomians and Herrnhuters.
  • Second Subject:  Good Works.  We shall see 1) wherein they consist; 2) that they must be performed in faith.  In such an outline you would state what good works are without having spoken of faith.  A description of good works requires a statement that they are performed by believers.  Otherwise you would have to formulate your judgment on good works from Law.  But that is wrong:  for viewed in the light of the Law, any good work even of  Christian, no matter how good it may appear, is damnable in the sight of God.
  • Third Subject:  Concerning Prayer.  1) True prayer is based on the certainty of our being heard; 20 true prayer consists in faith.  According to this outline the first part of your sermon would be entirely wrong.
  • Fourth Subject:  Promises and Threatenings in the Word of God.  1) Promises; 2) threatenings.  When I hear these parts of the sermon announced, I say to myself:  First the preacher is going to comfort me; then he will proceed to throw rocks at me, causing me to forget everything that he said at the start.  No; first you must come down on your hearers with the Law and then bind up their wounds with the divine promises.  When a preacher concludes his sermons with threatenings, he has gone far towards making the sermon unproductive.
  • Fifth Subject:  True Christianity.  It consists, 1) in Christian living; 2) in true faith; 3) in a blessed death.  This outline is simply horrible.
  • Sixth Subject:  What must a person do to become assured of salvation?  1)  He must amend his life and become a different man; 2) he must repent of his sins; 3) he must also apprehend Christ by faith.  How is it possible to lead a better life when I have not yet reached that stage where I abhor sin and abominate a wicked life?  The worst part is Part 3, for there is nothing that gives me greater assurance of being saved than faith. (94-95)

I certainly heap many a threatenings upon myself...but you are not being a good enough witness for Christ Myrtle!  You are not trusting God enough.  I browbeat my own self over works or lack thereof, my own faith, or lack thereof.  I hold a measuring stick out against my faith and note how far down it's notched...forgetting even faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains.  Crap.

But I also have had the same handed to me again and again and again.  I bet if I pulled out the four binders I have upstairs of all my sermon and bible study notes, just about all of them would fall into one of these outlines, especially True Christianity.

And assurance of salvation?  Well, I am not sure if it would fall here or under True Christianity, but over and over and over again I heard that if I were struggling with sin it was because I was not trusting God enough in the matter.  If I just "let go and let God," all will be well.  It was never well.  Year after year passed by with the growing burden of that dirty little secret, that I knew how much of a sinner I was and, consequently, how little of a Christian I was.  Oh, I did many "good" things, but in my heart, I struggled with despair because I knew that I was also jealous and sad and frustrated and ill-tempered and all manner of unpleasant things toward others even if I kept such from my face or behavior.  I was the city of Venice!

I kept wondering why it was that I failed so miserably at making myself so Godly, so badly did I want to be a better Christian.  Fail enough and despair becomes a constant companion.  It was mine.  [Okay, sometimes still is...but we are ignoring that since I am baptized even if I fail to remember that enough!]

So, I thought I would put the whole section of Luther that drew in my breath with recognition.  I have said over and over that I find in Luther, in the Large Catechism, a soul that knows anguish and despair.  He speaks of such unflinchingly and includes those walking wounded in the brother and sisterhood just as much as those who walk in the perfect peace of Christ.  Here, in the pages of Walther, I heard in Luther's own words that I was right.  A suffering soul recognizes another.  Would that I can learn what he has to teach with regard to the sweet, sweet Gospel and the forgiveness and freedom therein...daily...for me....

In his Commentary on Genesis (chap. 21, 12.16) Luther writes (St. L. Ed. I, 1427ff.):  "It is indeed correct to say that people must be raised up and comforted.  But an additional statement must be made, showing who the people are that are o be comforted, namely, those who, like Ishmael and his mother, have been thrust out of their home and fatherland, who are nearly famished with hunger and thirst in the desert, who groan and cry to the Lord, and are on the brink of despair.  Such people are proper hearers of the Gospel."  Hagar and Ishmael had to be brought into misery before they could be freed from their pride.

Man is by nature a conceited being.  He says:  "What wrong have I done?  I have committed neither manslaughter, nor adultery, nor fornication, nor larceny."  Wrapped in these miserable rags of his civil righteousness he purposes to make his stand before God.  That spirit of pride in himself must be cast out.  That requires an application of the hammer of the Law which will crush the stony heart.

Luther continues:  "Therefore the Antinomians deserve to be hated by everybody, spite of the fat that they cite us as an example in order to defend their teaching."  The Antinomians  pointed to the fact that Luther himself at first had preached nothing but comfort.  They claimed that he had now departed from his former teaching and had become a legalist.  That, they said, explained his opposition to them.  But they misjudged Luther.  When he began his public activity, he did not have to instruct the people at great length in the Law.  The people were so crushed that hardly one among them dared to believe that he was in a state of grace with God.  For in their best efforts at preaching the Roman priests preached the Law, placing alongside of the divine Law the laws of the Church and the statues of former councils, theologians, and Popes.  When Luther came forward, he had passed through the agony that harassed the people; he knew that no more effectual help could be provided for the people in their misery than the preaching of the Gospel.  That was the reason why the entire Christian Church in those days experienced a sensation as if dew from heaven or life-giving spring showers were being poured out upon them.

Accordingly, Luther proceeds:  "They cite us as an example  to defend their teaching, while the reason why we had to start our teaching with the doctrine of divine grace is as plain as daylight.  They accursed Pope had utterly crushed the poor consciences of men with his human ordinances.  He had taken away all proper means for bringing aid and comfort to hearts in misery and despondency and rescuing them from despair.  What else could we have done at that time?"  If Luther had smitten these miserable people still more, he would have been the meanest kind of torturer.

But conditions have changed.  In those days people treated the Law of God and were in anguish of hell; now their slogan is:  "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are dead, and death ends us all."  Those who do not take this extreme position imagine that matters will not be as bad as they are pictured.  To such people you must preach the Law, or you will accomplish nothing.

Luther continues:  "However, I know, too, that those who are surfeited, ease-loving, and overfed must be addressed in a different strain.  We were all like castaways in those days and grievously tormented.  The water in the jug was gone that is, there was nothing to comfort men with.  Like Ishmael, we all lay dying under a shrub.  The kind of teachers we needed were such as made us behold the grace of God and taught us how to find refreshment.  

The Antinomians insist that the preaching of repentance must being with the doctrine of grace.  I have not followed that method.  For I knew that Ishmael must first be cast out and made despondent before he can hear the comforting words of the Angel.  Accordingly, I have followed the rule not to minister comfort to any person except to those who have become contrite and are sorrowing because of their sin, —those who have despaired of self-help, whom the Law has terrified like a leviathan that has pounded upon them and almost perplexed them.  For these are the people for whom sake Christ came into the world, and He will not have a smoking flax to be quenched.  Is. 43,2. That is why He is calling:  'Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.'   (97-98)

So, from yesterday, you got the bit about agony and finding Gospel-laden teaching like dew from heaven, the bit about being a grievously tormented castaway in need of teachers who help us behold the grace of God and teach us to find refreshment in Him.  Today, add those who have despaired of self-help, whom the Law has terrified like a leviathan that has pounded upon them.  Myrtle words if there ever were.  Five steps to holiness.  Six ways to a closer relationship with God.  Bah!  I failed them all!

But until I read this, I never saw that the whole invitation from Christ to all those who are heavy laden could include those who were heavy laden beneath the Law, beneath the weight of the reality of their sin, beneath their failure to make themselves more godly, to enlarge their faith.  Pretty stupid, eh?

Oh, how that verse has taken on new meaning!  How, Lord Jesus, do I come to You, find refreshment in You?

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, February 22, 2010

I had planned to take a nap all afternoon, but I received crushing news and could not sleep.  Bettina, in her mercy, agreed to play Scrabble with me when I called her because I could not contain my grief.  She ignored my tears and my rather fierce play, allowing me to wipe her across the board in my hurt.

Magnificent woman that she is, Bettina also sent me many an audio clip this evening of hymns she knew in the Lutheran Service Book.  For one hymn, she sent me three versions:  one singing acapella, one her playing flute and singing, and one just flute. 

And...she told me I was forgiven, since I no longer was going to hear those words this evening.

Walther's 11th Evening Lecture is based upon his VII Thesis:  In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace. (89)

He started off talking about false teachers, woe to them, but also to those who believe their teachings...for in innumerable passages of His Word, God has with great earnestness warned men against false teachers and prophets and has minutely described them. (88)

This gave me pause, especially since I have been thinking deeply on Bettina's plight (she would say "situation").  Her pastor is currently teaching on the Ten Commandments (you can listen here) and, to put it bluntly, has missed the mark by far.  Sunday, he tackled keeping the Sabbath and honoring parents.  In a nutshell, his teaching was that God gave us these commandments so as to learn respect, respect for rest and respect for parents.  His final charge:  go out and give respect that you might get it in return.  UGH!

First, these two commandments are NOT about respect.  Second, he has turned the Law into law for Christians.  If I had to choose a favorite of Luther's instruction on the Ten Commandments, I would (cheat) and choose the second and third commandments, for they are completely, completely different than I have ever, ever heard and are presented as just another way God loves us, knows us, and provides for our needs.  I would HIGHLY recommend you stop reading here and go look up this section of his Large Catechism.

But if you do not, please know that to take the Lord's name in vain does not mean to cuss (unless you are cussing using His name)--this is not about saying shit or damn.  We are charged not to curse or swear or use His name falsely or to cover our own sin with it.  There are don'ts in this instruction.  But more importantly, God means for us to use His name properly, to call upon it in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. He has, in our baptism, placed His name upon us, giving us the love and forgiveness and shield and power we need to have life and stand victoriously against the onslaught of Satan.  In His name, He has given us everything;  He longs for us to receive it, to use it, to hide ourselves in it.

Knowing our tendency to go on about our business and not stop for that which we need, in the third commandment we are given time for Him to come to us, to feed and sustain us, so that we might continue on in this life we lead.  Such is the gift of the Lord's Day.  Certainly no sabbath bound by restrictions and things we do or not do for us, for Him.  No, this commandment is all about what He does for us, because He knows our needs, is intimately acquainted with our weaknesses and failings, our doubts and terrors.  We need Him.  He comes to us.  This!  This is why we are commanded to stop our labors...not respect!

Bettina was greatly disturbed by what she heard, telling me that as she listened, she pictured me sitting beside her shaking my head and saying that is not what Luther would say.  [I guess I've gone on and on about Law and Gospel a bit much of late.]  She left in distress and hungry, having no division of Law and Gospel for she was given no Gospel at all!  Where, then, on the spectrum of false teaching, does his sermon fall? 

But I digress.

Walther teaches that there are four ways that the proper division of Law and Gospel can be perverted by improper presentation:

  • preaching the Gospel prior to the Law
  • preaching sanctification prior to justification
  • preaching faith and then repentance
  • preaching good works and then grace

The Antinomians and the Moravians taught that you must start first with the suffering and bleeding of Christ.  But...Their hearers were never made aware of their deep sinful depravity; they were never made to realize they were enemies of God, worthier to be cast down to perdition rather than to be saved.  ( 90)  How could they understand the magnificence of the cross if their sin was not presented first?

The proper order is maintained all through Scripture. Three examples Walther gives are Mark 1:15, repent and believe; Acts 20:21, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and Christ's final charge tot his disciples before ascension that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name. (90)

I find it interesting that Walter presents the second perversion first in the Psalter, then in the epistles, and finishes with the words of Christ.  In some ways, his presentation emphasizes how, as sinners, as wretched men and women, we cannot walk in holiness without being made holy.

The words of Christ he uses are ones that fill my second most favorite sermon Pastor has preached:  Christ as our vinedresser.  So sweet his sermon, I have included it again below.  For now, consider Walther's words:  John 15,5 the Lord says to His disciples:  I am the Vice, ye are the branches.  He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me ye can do nothing.  The Savior desires that we be grafted in Him like branches in a vine.  That does not mean that we are to be physically incorporated in Him, but that we believe in Him with our whole heart, put our confidence and trust in Him, and embrace Him wholly with the arms of faith, so that we live only in Him, our Jesus, who rescued and saves us.  When this takes place, we shall bear fruit.  The Savior, then, shows that we must be justified before we can lead a sanctified life.  If we become loose, severed branches, we wither and bear no fruit.  (91)

So incredulous is Walther regarding the third perversion of presenting faith before repentance his shock permeates his words, or so I think.  "Faith is the primary affair; after that you must become contrite and repent."  What a foolish direction!  How can faith enter a heart that has not yet been crushed?  How can a person feel hungry and thirsty while he loathes the food set before him?  No, indeed; if you wish to believe in Christ you must become sick; for Christ is a Physician only for those who are sick.  He came to seek and to save that which is lost; therefore, you must first become a lost and condemned sinner.  He is the Good Shepherd, who goes in search of the lost sheep; therefore you must first realize you are a lost sheep. (92)

For the forth perversion, teaching good works and then grace, I personally thought Walther should just have quoted the Second Article of the Augsburg Confession on Original Sin.  How can a sinner do good works, do anything that could possibly be construed and imputed as good?

I like his words, though.  There is a golden text in Ephesians, chap. 2,8-10:  For by grace are ye saved, through faith; not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.  The apostle does not say:  "We must do good works in order to have a gracious God," but the very opposite:  "By grace are ye saved; but by grace ye are created unto good works."  When you have received grace, God has created you anew.  In this new state you  have to do good works; you can no longer remain under the dominion of sin. (92-93)

But remember my earlier post on works.  Christ showed that when we visit the ill and imprisoned, give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, and clothe those in need, we have done so unto Him.  You do not have to go out and save a nation.  No, you could, perhaps, do as Bootstrap did today and come scrub a toilet or two for a friend in need.

Walther then gives six errant sermon outlines on popular topics.  Perhaps I shall post those tomorrow, after you have had time to swallow this some.

I would like to post one more portion of this lecture, because for me it was like an oasis in a vast, vast desert...not a desert of Walther, but the desert of my life in the Protestant church.

The Antinomians [those who did not believe in teaching Law] pointed to the fact that Luther himself at first had preached nothing but comfort.  They claimed that he had now departed from his former teaching and had become a legalist.  That, they said, explained his opposition to them.  But they misjudged Luther.  When he began his public activity, he did not have to instruct the people at great length in the Law.  The people were so crushed that hardly one among them dared to believe that he was in a state of grace with God.  For in their best efforts at preaching the Roman priests preached the Law, placing alongside of the divine Law the laws of the Church and the statues of former councils, theologians, and Popes.  When Luther came forward, he had passed through the agony that harassed the people; he knew that no more effectual help could be provided for the people in their misery than the preaching of the Gospel.  That was the reason why the entire Christian Church in those days experienced a sensation as if dew from heaven or life-giving spring showers were being poured out upon them (97-98)  [emphasis mine]

...We were all like castaways in those days and grievously tormented.  The water in the jug was gone that is, there was nothing to comfort men with.  Like Ishmael, we all lay dying under a shrub.  The kind of teachers we needed were such as made us behold the grace of God and taught us how to find refreshment.  (98)

For all I have been given in the wonder of praying the Psalter, hearing the Word properly divided, taking in His body and blood, dying and living in the waters of Holy Baptism, receiving the Book of Concord, and the lessons found in this book (Walther's Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel) I am sharing with you here, I still find myself crushed and tormented at times.  I cannot escape the inculcation of works theology drummed into me for 26 years.  I still need teaching such as can help me behold the grace of God and teach me how to find refreshment.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Jesu Juva

“A Blade for Life”
Text: John 15:1-8 (Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:1-11)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

Jesus told us today:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

What’s the difference between “taking away” branches or cutting them off, and pruning? Jesus mentions both in the verses I just read. But how can you tell one from the other? Both involve a plant, both involve branches, and both involve cutting. But there are two entirely different results.

Well perhaps, we might say, the difference is one of purpose, or sincerity - what it is that you
intend to do. But that doesn’t work. Because there are times when I sincerely intend to prune a plant, and make it better and stronger, but what I wind up doing is cutting off the branches and killing it. And the opposite is true as well. There are times when I sincerely try to take away a plant and cut off its branches, only to have it come back and grow stronger than ever! Perhaps the same kinds of things have happened to you. So intent, or sincerity, isn’t the key.

No, what makes the difference between taking away and pruning is
the eye and skill of the one with the blade. Branches that I think are dead and fruitless and should be cut off, the skillful eye of the pruner will leave. And then I’ve watched knowledgeable pruners at work, and I see all the stuff they’re cutting off and I think their killing the plant! But in a little while, their expertise - and my ignorance! - begins to show, as the plant roars back to life, better and more fruitful than ever.

That’s why it’s good to have people who know what their doing. And that’s why it’s good that Jesus said to us today that when it comes to our lives as Christians, we have someone who knows what He’s doing. Someone who knows which branches are dead and which are not. Someone who knows how to prune and make us more fruitful. Someone not just with good intentions and sincerity, but the One who created us, and so knows how to best care for us. “
I am the true vine,” Jesus said, “and my Father is the vinedresser.” So, dear Christians, you’re in good hands!

But we need to consider that a bit today, because knowing that and believing that is a matter of faith. Of faith believing and trusting that when the blade is coming down on you, and it feels as if you’re being cut off, or punished, or thrown away, that your Father is - in goodness and love - doing what needs to be done not to hurt you, but to help you. His careful eye and skillful hand pruning you, that you bear much fruit, more fruit. Now, to our untrained and disbelieving eyes, it may not look or seem that way. We feel what’s happening to ourselves and see what’s happening to others, and think the worst. But while our minds may think the worst, faith believes the best, and trusts the merciful and compassionate hand of our Father in heaven. His hand which connects us to Jesus and keeps us in Jesus.

That work began for you and me at the font. For the water of Holy Baptism is where we were connected to Jesus and given life. We were cleansed and forgiven and given the new life of faith in the Spirit. Some of us came to those waters as infants, some as children, some as adults. No matter. It was the same hand of God taking us and joining us to Jesus, that we grow in Him and He in us. He the vine and we the branches. We heard about a baptism today: the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, and how God worked to bring Him to the water of Baptism and life. It sounded all simple and easy, but it probably wasn’t always so. For what had the eunuch been through? What hardships and struggles?  What brought him to this point? . . . Was his an extraordinary story? Yes, in some ways. But no more extraordinary than yours, and how your Father has worked in your life, through His Word, through His servants, through the water, to connect you to, and keep you in, Jesus. It’s not always easy, but in the end, we too will go our way rejoicing.

But the work of the font doesn’t end at the font. We are not begun in this Christian life and then left on our own, as some false prophets would teach - left to make the best of it; left to reach our potential; left to see if we will make it to the finish line of heaven, where God is waiting for us. No, the hand of our Father-Vinedresser continues to work, in your life, in your heart, to keep you in the life He has given you.
To keep you in Christ. Because it is a life we often wander from, isn’t it? Drinking in the wisdom of the world instead of the wisdom of Christ and His Word. Growing into the ways of the world instead of the ways of Christ. Branching off in directions contrary to Christ and His life. Wild branches, we might call ourselves. Uncontrolled branches, maybe. Branches that the blade ought come down on, no?
But which blade? To give up on us, cut us off, and take us away? Or to lovingly prune us, with a skillful eye, at just the right time, and in just the right way, that we grow right again? And how do we know? How can we tell the difference?

Well we can know by looking to the cross. For there we see that Jesus became for us the one cut off in our place. By taking all our sin, all our wildness, all our uncontrollability, all our rebellion, all our unfruitfulness upon Himself, and receiving the death blade of the Father in our place. What we deserve, He received.
My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Cut off. I thirst. Cut off from the life and juice of the vine. It is finished. Dead. Cast away. Ready to be burned.

Except He is not burned, but this tree roars back to life in resurrection! The fires of hell cannot consume Him - He is victorious over them. The bonds of the grave cannot keep Him - He bursts them. The penalty of sin cannot enslave Him - it has been paid in full. And so the Tree of Life lives again! The true and new Tree of Life, once barred because of sin, is available again! And gives life to you. For He is the vine, the tree, you have been grafted onto. And so His life is now your life. A new life, a true life, that is yours to live now, and to live forever.

And so the death and resurrection of Jesus shows us that the blade we often feel in our lives in no blade of death, but a blade of life. For those connected to Christ, death is done and life now reigns. Our merciful and compassionate Father prunes us only to discipline us, to correct us, to get us to grow straight, to get us to produce more and better fruit - to keep us in Christ. And so He is working. He calls us back to the font in repentance, calling us to Christ, to wash again in His absolution - His forgiveness - and be once again raised with Christ to a new life. He calls us back to the altar, to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ - the fruits of the cross, the fruits of the new Tree of Life - to be nourished and fed, forgiven, and raised with Christ to a new life. He calls us back to the Gospel, that we abide in Christ and Christ in us, and so produce much fruit. The fruits of faith. Not our own fruits, but the fruits of Christ and His Spirit, which come from Him and flow through us branches.
Apart from Him, we can do nothing, because apart from Him, we are dead. Dead, lifeless, dried up branches. But abiding in Him, we not only have life, but His promise: that we will produce fruit. For notice that there were no commands to produce fruit in these verses - only the promise of fruit. The command is to abide in Christ. As we do so, He will work in you and through you, producing the fruit of lips that confess His name, and the fruit of love that loves as He has loved us. And so the key is not anything in us or what we do, but in Christ and what He has done. And connected to Him, His love becomes our love, His compassion our compassion, His life our life. A life to live, a life to lay down for others, a life that will never end.

And if you feel like that pruning blade has been at work on you overtime, well
thanks be to God for such attention, love, and care. Thanks be to God that your life and love matter that much to Him. Thanks be to God that Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] And that His life now lives in you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stop the presses!  Myrtle Bernice managed to turn on and use a chain saw without injuring herself, fainting, or otherwise incurring any danger or harm!

I called my writing student's father for some tool man advice.  He's got more saws than a body needs.  Surely he would know if a circular saw could be used while held sideways.  If you are interested, it can.  However, it doesn't really make for an effective cutting tool.  At least mine is not.  The diameter of the blade needs to be much, much larger.

After learning it was safe to try, trying, and then failing, I decided that I would simply try to start the chain saw...just to see what would happen.  There is a whole list of all these instructions on starting the thing.  And I admit that it took three times for me to get all the steps done correctly in the proper order.  However, I started my own chain saw!

I was right about using it being quick work.  In no time flat I got the tree trunk portion that was hanging over the fence back on my side.  Apparently when the chain catches as the weight of the limb being cut pinches back down on it (binds is the word Mr. P used), the saw kicks off.  So, I had to start it again.  But when it kicked off a second time, I took that as a SIGN that I should stop while I was ahead.

If someone were with me yesterday, I am sure I would have been advised NOT to pile the top branches of the tree in front of the fall trunk that still needs to be chopped up OR in front of the portion of the tree that remains precariously leaning against the phone and cable lines for the neighborhood.

I had not the energy to move the rather large pile of branches, so I took the SIGN and stopped work, grateful that no offending portions of the tree remained to vex my absent neighbors and that I had not further injured myself in the process.

It would be an massive understatement to say that I am sore today.  My arms, shoulders, back, and head are protesting just about every movement.  Each flare of pain shouts, "You are stupid, Myrtle.  Plain stupid!"

And yet, today, I also found myself painting my boss' bathroom.  Don't ask.  It is one thing, in my opinion, to offer her care and succor when she is ill because I cannot know Jesus and stand by and watch her in need; it is another thing to feel pressured to help her work on her home so as not to lose my job.  Am I splitting hairs?  I thought not once about my job whilst at the hospital with her.  My job was all I thought about when she asked me to help her with her home improvement project (I will also be hanging her bathroom light when she chooses the one she wants).  SIGH.

I had to work really hard to hide my grimaces whenever I raised my arm to paint near the ceiling.  I also had to work really hard to be patience and ready to do whatever she asked.  The up side is that she asked me, also, to take comp time tomorrow.  While I would rather save it for a possible Bettina cabin visit in March (hint, hint), I am so darned tired from working all week during the blizzard even whilst dealing with the snow...and then possibly not getting sufficient rest whilst Bettina was here...and then staying up nearly all night after talking into the wee hours of the morning.  I do not mind another day of rest given my tree and painting labors.  [The five loads of laundry are still unfolded, piled on the un-made bed downstairs.]

I tried to talk to my nephew to celebrate his birthday today, having missed him for two days now.  His comments:  It's okay that your present came late.  But I can't talk.  I have to go watch the 'Lympicks.  The United States of America is coming down the mountain right now!

I think he was watching Bode Miller ski!

Today I discovered another wonderful hymn:  O Love, How Deep (544)

O love, how deep, how broad, how high
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals' sake!

He sent no angel to our race,
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame,
And to this world Himself He came.

For us baptized, for us He bore
His holy fast and hungered sore;
For us temptation share He knew;
For us the tempter overthrew.

For us He prayed; for us He taught;
For us His daily works He wrought,
By words and signs and actions thus
Still seeking not Himself but us.

For us by wickedness betrayed,
For us, in  crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us He gave His dying breath.

For us He rose from death again;
For us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All glory to our Lord and God
For love so deep, so high, so broad;
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore.

Today, I found the words for me as to why I find Lutheran hymnody so precious.  So often, I can pray in song what I cannot speak for myself.  So often, I can rejoice in Gospel, rather than remain in Law.  So, often, I find mercy and forgiveness.  Lutheran hymnody, so often, is for me.

Pastor E today asked the question in his sermon:  Where are you most weak?  He was referring to the fact that Satan pounced when Jesus was weak from hunger.  I can immediately answer that question, which gave me great pause.  Then, he pointed out something so obvious I felt a fool for not reveling in the knowledge sooner:  Three times Christ answered Satan, It is written....  Funny, I had never really thought about the fact that Christ rebuked Satan, drove him off, with the Living Word.  What a double entendre there!

Would you, could you, understand in that one moment the bible became all the more precious to me?

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bettina's husband counseled that I had no business trying to wield a chain saw.  Bootstrap suggested that perhaps I should wait for her visit on Monday before trying to use the pruning clippers, my second idea for beginning to deal with the tree.  Sage advice I should have followed.

However, while the duplex joined to mine is not currently occupied, the owners let their displeasure with my failure to remove my downed tree be known.  Their desire for it to be gone fueled today's folly.

I cleared enough snow away from my two sheds to retrieve first the pruning clippers and then the hand saw. After two branch removals, I switched to the latter because the clippers just were not large enough to deal with the job and trying to squeeze them closed was too difficult for me.

Two hours I spent sawing away at those branches.  First, I began on the lower branches, clearing out the ones I could reach most easily.  Then, I tackled one that was about four inches in diameter.  That was tough and I was trembling violently by the time it crashed to the ground.  However, my greatest strength and deepest flaw is that once I begin something I rarely quit, pushing through, whatever the cost, because I am reluctant to have to return to finish.  So, there I was, perched on the upper portion of the fallen tree, sawing away at the last branch.

I fainted and fell out of the tree, hitting my head some time before I hit the snow.

I awoke dizzy and vomiting and dragged myself to a spot bare of snow, thinking that my friends are brilliant and I am just plain stupid.

When I made it back inside, my blood sugar was low, so I prepared something to eat.  My choices were limited so I picked the eggplant that I bought while Bettina was here.  I sauteed it in olive oil and ate it, sitting on the floor because I was so shaky, but talking with Cousin D who called to talk about his writing project.

Did you know that eggplant is a fruit?

Do you know where I am going with that question?  Yep, I had an allergic reaction that seemed at first it was just a nuisance, a warning that my days of eating eggplant are drawing to a close, but slowly and steadily caused my throat to swell dangerously.  Shortly after I hung up the phone, I ended up having to jam that blasted epipen into my thigh.  Shaking all the more from the drug and my own fear, I pulled a pillow off the couch and just wailed over my own stupidity and the fact that fruits are quickly becoming my enemy!


Truly I need someone to teach me how to start the chain saw for the tree trunks.  I am fairly sure taking down the rest of it should take a mere half hour since I have removed two thirds of it if one was wielding a chain saw.  One portion of the tree is still standing, but it is resting against the phone and cable lines in the alley.  I think I would need someone to hold it off the wires while cutting the bottom of it.  And I need to get all of it to the curb for pick-up.  Thankfully, the county will come haul it away as long as none of the pieces are longer than six feet, more than six inches in diameter, or weigh more than fifty pounds.  The latter restriction may mean I need to cut a few of the pieces a bit more...but...if I can start that chain saw, doing so should be a matter of mere seconds.

I wonder...can you cut up a tree with a circular saw?  I've also got one of those.  Using it would mean no pulling on a rip cord or mixing the oil and gas or whatever the mysteries of chain saws are.  I have a power cord long enough to get the circular saw to the tree.  Hmm...but is it safe to use a circular saw sideways?

Last night I recorded both Articles II and III of the Creed for El.  I had started to just do the second one, but enjoyed reading and thinking about the Book of Concord so much that I went ahead and finished the Creed.

What struck me was how very differently I read Luther's teaching now than I did this summer, the first time through, and I continued to dwell upon Luther's instruction that the Creed teaches what we are to expect and to receive from our triune God as Christians.

  • That Luther begins his instruction on Article II with  We see how He has completely pour forth Himself (Matthew 26:28) and withheld nothing from us (II Corinthians 8:9) truly positions us rightly  before God.  Kleinig's receptive spirituality once again.
  • That Luther summarizes this article in one word, Lord, and then translates that as redeemer centers on the only work necessary in salvation:  Christ's.  I know all about lordship from all the modern high fantasy books I've read and studied and researched back when I was Dr. Myrtle.  While many of those attributes fit Christ, the lordship Luther presents is one rooted in love, not duty or honor.  I realized that once again I do not understand love.  Truly I do not.
  • That Luther firmly roots the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament was completely lost on me last summer.  When Pastor told me he just needed to teach me a bit about the Holy Spirit and then I could join the rest of the church at the alter, I was like, okay...yeah...I get that...not really taking in a word he said so intent was I on finally, finally being able to receive the Lord's Supper each week.  Then, when he presented those questions, I fell apart in my Law-based understanding, having not heard one word of the Gospel he was speaking, for I  knew my utter inability to fulfill the intentions of those questions.  I felt to answer would be a lie and wailed at losing the alter right at the finishing line. 

    Even when I finally understood that no one expected me to answer yes on my own, that all my yes-es were yes by the grace of God, not merely the one that included that qualifier, I still did not understand what Luther was teaching, what Pastor was sharing with me.  I think, truly, I have only begun to glimpse this in the past two weeks, wrestling with understanding the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer. 

    But I do know that God has worked in me as I have prayed the Psalter, filling my ears with the Living Word, letting it rest upon my tongue, fall from my lips.  The Holy Spirit working through the Word.  I do know that taking in the body and blood of Christ helps my anguish, my struggle.  The Holy Spirit working through Sacrament.  I do know that having the word of forgiveness spoken to me in Holy Absolution helps me to understand that I am washed clean, frees me of the burden of my sin, if but for a while. 

    The Holy Spirit working and working and working...illumining and enkindling my heart that I might understand, accept, cling to, and persevere in the Word. (LC, Part II, 42)
What am I to expect and receive?  The Father gives all creatures.  The Son gives His entire work.  And the Holy Spirit bestows all His gifts.  (LC, Part II, 70).

Gives.  Gives.  Gives.  Gives to I, a poor miserable sinner.  Gives to I, a mere beggar.  Gives to I, unworthy and unable to help myself.  Gives freely, unconditionally, without reserve, again and again and again.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Determined not to earn yet another berating for not taking care of myself (a voice mail, text, and 2 emails), I had a solid lunch with much protein before my afternoon meeting.  Three hours later, my blood sugar tanked again.  I felt it coming on and finally found an opportunity to get

The meeting was very, very strange.  This pastor who uses social networking quite heavily in his church came to teach us about Facebook (everyone in our department are all devout believers that staying off this social networking site is best for professional development and are thus dunces in navigating this venue).  In 17 years, the average age of his parishioners has plummeted 40 years.

Thankfully, after much exploration, we learned that the better course of action would be to use WordPress to create a blog that can have multiple pages.  While I was glad not to be tied to Facebook, there will be a STEEP learning curve on learning the WordPress interface.

That was made clear by how much twitting and dissing and specious flattery was tossed about as all four of us tried to figure out how to set up a basic page.  For once, I would have read the darned instruction book.

The whole time, as we set up three different profiles (Facebook organization, Facebook personal, Wordpress), everybody kept double and triple checking with me that I was writing down the user name, password, and secret question answers.  At one point, I muttered I better put down the password (okay...I use the SAME one for every online profile at work) just in case I die today.  [Yes, my blood sugar was a bit low.]  The pastor, who was sitting right next to me, announced he hoped very much that would not be the case.  Without thought, I immediately replied that if I did, I would be with Jesus, which would be perfectly fine with me.

Oh, my, I guess I don't know Methodist pastor's very well because he was at a complete loss for words.  Well...yeah...but....

Perhaps I should not be so eager to be with my Lord?  Who, tell me, would rather live in this vile world if given the choice?  Not me.  Not at all.

However, I will say, that this evening I am glad He has not yet called me home...if but a wee while.  .


I've been sitting here, just thinking.  Thinking about the look on that pastor's face as he struggled to refute my comment.  Thinking about why in the world my blood sugar's been bad the past two days.  Thinking about the snow I need to shovel in the back yard because Kashi is having a hard time getting around.  Thinking about Bettina's visit and how much I savor her presence.   Thinking about Pastor W's comment about love and a prayer he set to me, for me.

And praying the Psalter.

Pastor challenged the church to pray the Psalter throughout Lent and creating a schedule to do so.  He took Sundays off the schedule, I guess because of folk already going to church, but I would have not skipped a day.  If I have become the Amway salesman for confessional Lutheranism, I am not sure what you would call me for praying the Psalter.

I heard two Ash Wednesday sermons, both choosing the same text, but taking different tacks.  Return to the Lord your God (Joel 2:12-19).  Both talking about how Lent is a time to return to God, to set aside the things we've placed ahead of Him, in place of Him.  Both mentioning self-discipline.  Pastor had far more Gospel, but not as much as I would have expected.  The sermon was very, very brief.  I could have used more, so surprised was I when the audio track ended.  I am on a soap box these days regarding Luther's teaching in the Large Catechism, fresh on my mind from the recordings I made.

What struck me is neither mentioned that self-discipline is really a misnomer since even our discipline is a gift from God, one which we pray for in the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer and expect to receive in the first article of the Creed.  For our selves have no discipline.  Our nature is selfish and lazy and greedy and prideful.  We assume so much and actually achieve so very little when it comes to what we can do or what we can control.

Both mentioned discipline and talked about doing. I was surprised. I've spent nine months learning that I cannot do...that it was never mine to do.  I found the emphasis on doing strange.  Very, very strange, even though Pastor's was a mere whisper compared to the other sermon.

Monday I am having private confession with a pastor I do not know.  I look forward with great eagerness for the words that will be spoken over me, for the cross traced upon the forehead of a sinner such as I.  Right now, in this moment, I would be hard pressed to say if I crave the fragrance of the wine more or the word of forgiveness.  Having had the Supper both Sunday and Wednesday, I would say that my choice would be easy, but I am not so sure.

I look forward and yet I cannot imagine speaking what is on my heart to someone I do not know.  I suppose that will drive home just how it is that the office is not the man, even though the man can overshadow the office.

While I believe most anyone who knows me would surely chose Psalm 6 to be my life psalm, sadly drowning my bed with my tears, it is Psalm 119:11 that fits so well...I have hidden Thy word in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.  

I know the Law of this, but what is the Gospel?

He also gave me a pamphlet of preparation, taking the reader through the Ten Commandments.  I did not tell him that I can practically recite the salient points of all but one of them. Still, in addition to reading the Treasury of Daily Prayer and praying the Psalter, I have added a section of his pamphlet.  I may quickly be becoming rather learned in Lutheranism, but the Holy Spirit has shown me just how little it is that I actually understand.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tonight was my first Ash Wednesday. I almost did not make it.

There I was, hastily working to finish some planning documents for a Board committee meeting for my boss when I started feeling ill.  I kept clacking away at the keyboard.  I thought it was something else and ended up fainting because I was oblivious as to what was really taking place within my body.  One of the Board members knows I have diabetes and knew what what wrong.  God watched over me in that moment to be sure.  But I heartily wish I could understand this disease.  I suspect the death knell for me was a wee piece of chocolate after lunch.  Not some gigantic slab of chocolate cake with real peanut butter icing topped with crushed Reese's peanut butter cups.  It was quite small and rather insignificant.  No matter that I barely registered its richness upon my tongue.  I believe I had not consumed sufficient food prier to taking in this illicit morsel.  Apparently 16 pieces of tasty asparagus does not a full meal make.

[I do not know why, but I have become a sauteed-with-olive-oil-and-garlic-salt asparagus junkie, even devouring it cold.  Bettina brought me three huge bunches of it last Friday.  There is nary a stalk left in my refrigerator.]

My boss already knew I wanted to go to church this evening and was willing for me to depart.  However, keeling over does not inspire confidence to get behind the wheel of the car and do so.  Part of me felt like just making my way home to collapse on the couch.  But El's earlier words to me kept ringing in my ears...this is my first year as a Lutheran; I wanted to experience the imposition of ashes, I wanted to hear the Living Word for this season, and I wanted to have the sweet medicine that is the Lord's Supper.

The liturgy was wonderful!  While I wish that I knew the hymns, there was one which I did not bother to try and sing, but simply allowed it to wash over me.  Words of what we have in Christ, who we are in Christ.  In Christ.  We also prayed a litany, which I savored for its words for me, as well as those for you.

Earlier, I was talking with a woman from my old parish, wishing we would be at the same service together.  She surprised me by saying that we would be. We were already together in the death and resurrection we shared with Christ in our baptism. We would together again as we each took in His body and blood because closed communion actually means close communion, close with those who share in the Lutheran confession.

Call me silly, but though we were miles apart, I felt as if she was standing there with me at the rail. Sort of like the joy of fellowship I find in knowing I am not alone in reveling in the Living Word each day via the Treasury of Daily Prayer.

I came home and spent a long time looking in the mirror.

"Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return. But the ashes are place on in the shape of a cross -- we are indeed dying, but we die in hope of Him who became dust and ashes for us and who raised that dust to a resurrection life that will never end and of which He even now grants us a share." (Pastor W)

A share of life.  A share of grace.  A share of mercy.  A share of forgiveness.  Shares born and bought by death.  Being clothed with Christ took on new meaning for me this evening.  

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Five loads of laundry, clean, are piled upon the still unmade bed in the basement.  Just the thought of them exhausts me.  Yet I cannot run down the basement every time I need socks, underwear, or a towel.

I kept my dear friend up too late during her visit, exhausting her and myself.  I couldn't help myself, so hungry am I for fellowship, so generous is she.  I hate myself for doing so.  I do not see why she ever comes back.

When I am tired, my body doesn't hold things in place.  First my right knee.  When I am turning, such as to load the dishwasher when I am standing at the sink, if I am not careful to lift my foot off the floor my thigh will turn and my lower leg will remain where it is, pulling apart my knee.  Agony follows as I have to slowly turn and guide things where they should be.  Then my right hip.  If I am too tired, when I raise my leg to step up, my hip begins to move out the socket.  Agony follows as I lower my legs and twist and shift and move it back in place.  Next came my right shoulder.  Then my left thumb.  Then my left wrist.  Now it is my left foot.  When I am tired, and I tuck my foot beneath my leg as I move around in bed or go to sit on the couch, it will fold in such a way that the metatarsal bones rub against each other.  Besides enduring the sheer agony of such a happening, I am terrified one more will break given the rather loud crunching and popping sound that occurs at such times.  My foot and wrist are in agony just now.

I keep my dear friend up, but I also try to wait on her more than she waits on me since she is always fetching things for me or picking up things I drop.  No one waits on her.  I genuinely want to cook for her and clean all the dishes and bring her snacks and change diapers and anything she wants and feel as if I hardly ever do anything for her.  But waiting on her makes for exhaustion compounded by my own selfishness with regards to late hours.  She is very good at hanging up on me when she needs to go (rather sweetly, but firmly).  My dear Bettina, you need to just get up, walk away from me, and climb into bed as well.

I want to do too many things that are hard for me.  I do not care that they are painful.  Just like I wanted to, truly wanted to, wash the dishes when I was doing that cooking for others, but doing so hurt so much I could hardly endure it and barely hid my agony.  Yet I know the pain makes me tired, which, in turn, makes everything worse.  The exhaustion brings me pain, which, in turn, makes everything worse.

How am I going to chop up that tree?  SIGH.

Despite my fatigue and discomfort (which I believe I hid rather well today), I had a most wonderful lunch with Bootstrap, her daughter, and my old Scripture Memory Partner.  We crammed in two games of Rumikub.  While I bitterly lost the first game, I managed to eek out a win in the second game by a fairly good tile manipulation at the very last second before I had to leave.  My only regret is that Bootstrap has yet to know the joy that is winning Rumikub.

She poured upon me many blessings.  First, her presence.  Second, the start of my first ever scrapbook.  Second, the loan of two CD sets I have been eyeing on Concordia Publishing House, which she didn't even know.  And, third, the most wondrous give of the Lutheran Hymnal (1941).  The covers is soft and smooth, perfectly worn yet pristine.  The typeset is beautiful.  The pages smell simply wonderful.  There are prayers in there that are new to me.  The words to some of the hymns I know are surprisingly different, providing much food for thought.  And, in my opinion the best part, she inscribed it to me!  For me.

The hymn I looked up upon first opportunity was Through Jesus Blood and Merit.

Through Jesus' Blood and Merit                   Through Jesus' Blood and Merit

Through Jesus' blood and merit                      Thro' Jesus' blood and merit
I am at peace with God.                                 I am at peace with God.
What, then, can daunt my spirit,                     What, then, can daunt my spirit,
However dark my road?                                 However dark my road?
My courage shall not fail me,                         My courage shall not fail me,
For God is on my side;                                  For God is on my side;
Though hell itself assail me,                           Tho' hell itself assail me
Its rage I may deride.                                     Its rage I may deride.

There's nothing that can sever                          There's naught that me can sever
From this great love of God,                            From the great love of God;
No want, no pain whatever,                              No want, no pain whatever, 
No famine, peril, flood.                                    No famine, peril, flood.
Though thousand foes surround me,                  Tho' thousand foes surround me
For slaughter mark His sheep,                          For slaughter mark Thy sheep,
They never shall confound me,                          They never shall confound me,
The vict'ry I shall reap.                                    The vict'ry I shall reap.

For neither life's temptation                            Yea, neither life's temptation
Nor death's most trying hour                           Nor death's so trying hour
Nor angels of high station                               Nor angels of high station
Nor any other pow'r                                        Nor any other pow'r
Nor things that now are present                       Nor things that now are present
Nor things that are to come                             Nor things that are to come
Nor height, however pleasant,                         Nor height, however pleasant, 
Nor darkest depths of gloom                            Nor depths of deepest gloom

Nor any creature ever                                      Nor any creature ever 
Shall from the love of God                               Shall from the love of God
This ransomed sinner sever;                            This wretched sinner sever;
For in my Savior's blood                                 For in my Savior's blood
This love has its foundation;                            This love its fountain taketh;
God hears my faithful prayer                            He hears my faithful prayer
And long before creation                                  And nevermore forsaketh
Named me His child and heir.                          His own dear child and heir.
(LSB 746)                                                         (TLH 372)

Little changes here and there until the last verse.  Funny, I never really understood and long before creation, named me His child and heir...thinking creation sounded like creation of the world but I think it has to be creation in my mother's womb.  What do you think of the change from "ransomed" sinner to "wretched" sinner?  Is fountain a reference to baptism?  Why the departure from the idea of not being forsaken to setting a time reference and emphasizing that we are named child and heir?

Who gets to change the words to hymns?  Is it because the original hymn was written in German, I think, and the LSB version is a new translation?

Funny that I love this hymn so dearly even though it never has the word forgiveness in it once!  If I were changing it willy nilly, as it seems with the end of the last verse, I would definitely add in forgiveness.  I need every opportunity to hear that word.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

The other day I read an article about some 43,000 children in this area who have been hungry since the first snowfall over a week ago.

I have been so busy working, even with the office closed, to keep up with all that I have to do since I was out ill for two weeks that I never once thought of the children on the free lunch program in this area.  With schools closed all week, they went hungry.  And today was yet another day without food as we celebrated President's Day. 

Here I was so upset thinking about them getting through the summer that I never stopped to consider how often we have four-day school weeks or the winter holidays or Spring break.  What is it like to long for school because being able to go means being able to eat.

With many local food pantries also closed due to back-to-back blizzards, those children and their families had little recourse. 

I never once thought about them even though I have been praying about hunger in America since this fall, still fervently hoping our church might step forward and start to act in mercy to address this blight in our country.

Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Today, my dear friend and her cherubs had their first blessing, as least the first one not one given for a christening.

I asked Bettina if we could venture to church so that I could receive the Lord's Supper, feeling selfish because I knew I would receive this medicine and she would not.  Being the woman she is, Bettina readily agreed.

I chose to take her to a church far nearer to my home for several reasons, none of which I can truly explain just now.  It is the closest I could find to the teaching and confession of my church, though the pastor's sermons posted online seem far more heavy on Law than the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.  And, frankly, I almost burst out laughing because today's sermon was essentially:  God is love...the proverbially empty sermon topic I've heard 1,001 times in the Protestant church.  Yes, God is love.  But that is not all He is, nor is it the breadth and depth of Law and Gospel.

From the first hymn note hanging in the air, I felt within me a great release and was awashed in the comfort I knew was to come before the words had yet been spoken.  By God's mercy I actually knew the first hymn.  By His mercy, the last hymn is one I need to learn.  But I digress.

Being a Baptist, my dear friend is still, gulp, a Protestant.  I long so deeply for her to know, to take in what I have learned.  I often have to stick a figurative sock in my mouth so as not to drive her off like the most annoying Amway consultant ever to walk the neighborhood.  There are many sticking points in Lutheran Doctrine that are in conflict with the Baptist Confession.  But...she is searching for the truth and is open to that being in Lutheranism should the Holy Spirit reveal it to be.  Perhaps not so much as he did I, I have a sneaking suspicion Pastor would call her a closet Lutheran as well.

I know that it will not surprise her when she reads here that I long for her children to be baptized.  I pray for that to happen quickly.  But for it to happen she and her husband would have to take the plunge I have in joining the Lutheran confession.  I had hoped a Lutheran pastor would baptize them knowing that Bettina and G-man are already raising them in faith.  But I have been told that no pastor would do so without taking them under pastoral care and that baptism is, in part, an agreement between the congregation and the baptized to ensure proper instruction follows, not just between the baptized and parent/caregiver.

Oh, how I want her cherubs to have the gift of faith.

I was selfish about asking her to go to church with me because it has been far too long since I have had the Lord's Supper.  But I wanted to go with Bettina not to have company when at a different church so much as to at least have her children join me at the alter for a blessing.  Much to my surprise, my dear friend wanted to have one herself!

I would not have dared suggest it.  To me, it would seem as crazy as my longing for a crucifix like the one I saw hanging on Pastor's wall.  After all, I struggle to explain what a blessing means to me.  Silly Myrtle, the Spirit had already moved in her.

Before the service, I had to seek out the Pastor to let him know that I was a communicant member of a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod church so that I could have the Lord's Supper this morning.  With much hemming and hawing and nervously squeezing of E's hand, I got out the purpose of my popping into his office just as he appeared to be about to put on his vestments.  I also told him about Bettina's children possibly coming up for a blessing because Pastor gives blessings to children using the words "baptismal grace."  I knew it was important that this pastor understand neither child had been baptized, so I fumbled my way through that explanation as well.  He thanked me for that knowledge and welcomed us all to join him at the alter.

I have to admit that as deeply as I longed for the body and blood of Christ upon my lips this morning, I longed to share that with my dear friend and was sorrowed that she would remain on the outside of the closed communion.  Having her and her cherubs receive a blessing was almost, not quite but almost, as good.  I watched the pastor, whom I do not know, bless each of them, perhaps focused more on the joy of that moment rather than properly paying attention to the joy of my own.

Bettina told me, this afternoon, that she had a hard time not becoming teary-eyed before she went up at the mere thought of a pastor giving her a blessing.

Oh, my dear Bettina, even Baptist preachers ought to give blessings to those beneath their care.  Would that yours would suddenly understand what a gift it is to trace the cross upon a parishioner's forehead, reminding her all that she has received, while calling upon God to look upon her in favor.

The hymn I should learn?

Jesus, I Will Ponder Now

Jesus, I will ponder now
On Your holy Passion;
With Your Spirit me endow
For such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith
May the image cherish
Of Your suffering, pain, and death
That I may not perish.

Make me see Your great distress,
Anguish, and affliction,
Bonds and stripes and wretchedness
And Your crucifixion;
Make me see how scourge and rod,
Spear and nails did wound You,
How You died for those, O God,
Who with thorns had crowned You.

Yet, O Lord, not thus alone
Make me see Your Passion;
But its cause to me make known
And its termination.
Ah! I also and my sin
Wrought Your deep affliction;
This indeed the cause has been
Of Your crucifixion.

Grant that I Your passion view
With repentant grieving.
Let me not bring shame to You
By unholy living.
How could I refuse to shun
Ev'ry sinful pleasure
Since for me God's only Son
Suffered without measure?

If my sins give me alarm
And my conscience grieve me,
Let Your cross my fear disarm,
Peace and pardon give me.
Help me see forgiveness won
By Your holy Passion;
If for me He slays His Son,
God must have compassion!

Graciously my faith renew,
Help me bear my crosses,
Learning humbleness from You,
Peace mid pain and losses.
May I give You love for love!
Hear me, O my Savior,
That I may in heav'n above
Sing Your praise forever. (LSB 440)

God's mercy today was in discovering this hymn.  His mercy was also in Bettina offering to listen to difficult things, to things that make her hurt for me, so that I wouldn't have to remain silent.  And His mercy was in her using my gizmo to record her singing the Lord's Prayer as a gift for me.

For me.

It was with glad heart that I gave her my second copy of the Treasury of Daily Prayer that I keep in my office and the copy of Luther's Small Catechism I received just a while ago.  Riches she did not have.  Riches that are for her as well as for me....

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My birdie Sam has sinusitis!  This means I have the joy of giving him nasal drops each day for the next week.  You should have heard him protest having his left nasal passage cleaned out with copious amounts of saline and the careful but tedious application of a syringe to remove the blockage.  Funny thing is, I was worried about the right side of his nose/beak/birdie face.  Once he was done being manhandled, he sat indignantly upon my shoulder, fuming at the world.  When his girlfriend got a chance to step away from the front desk and visit him, he refused to even look at her, scolding her at the top of his lungs when she dared offer her finger in an invitation for a visit up front for a while.

I did envy, once again, my vets ability to handle the birds with such ease.  She can twist and turn them any which way she wants, pulling on that, pressing here, peering there, and they are completely submissive.  Nary a squawk even when she was denuding their flight feathers and clipping their nails.

Needless to say, Sam did not quite give me the same respect when I gave him his first application of nasal medication this evening.

Ire seemed to be in the air, for this evening Bettina's youngest cherub was slightly less than angelic!

Although he spent much time curled in my lap and cheerfully walked with me about the neighborhood a second time when E had to go to the bathroom, J felt utterly betrayed when his mother elected me for bedtime duty.  Apparently, I can feed him, play with him, cuddle with him, put him in the car, pull him out of the car, push him about the store, prepare his meals, and even change his diaper, but I am not an acceptable evening companion.

He HOWLED for a very long time, with three instances of my having to put him back into bed and discipline him for leaving, since I was the one who started the process.

Once he finally gave up the battle, Bettina suggest we venture downstairs to see if there was a picture worthy moment awaiting us.  I shall let you be the one to decide.

To express his displeasure, he stripped off his pajamas and the bedding, kicked off the railing, flung all his toys to the floor, and fell asleep with only the bare comfort of his blankie stuffed into his mouth.  After taking a dozen shots between the two of us happy snappers, I was able to re-clothe him, reposition him, and recover him without awaking the little hellion.

Who's the baby charmer?

I cannot decide what my high is today.  [Bettina asks her children at the dinner table to share their high and low for the day.]  I could say that it was having my best friend and her cherubs with me while my babies were being attended to by their most wonderful vet.  I could say that it was learning that Bettina scrubbed on my tub for me.  I could say that it was having her run me three different places after the vet, getting 3 of my 4 errands completed (we have yet to figure out how to repair the leaking faucet in my bathroom).  I could say that it was how well-behaved her cherubs were whilst we were trotting about Wal-Mart.  I could say that it was learning I had good news rather than bad with respect to my income taxes (I waited to do the calculations until I had moral support because I was afeared that the opposite would be true and Bettina lovely allowed me to input all my data awhile ago--it seems having to pay a huge state tax bill last Spring because the accountant at work entered my deduction wrong made for a huge refund this year).  I could say that it was learning that hours and hours of Lutheranism talk did not did not put off my dear friend, nor did my bungling answers drive her to despair (though the phrase the proper distinction of Law and Gospel filled her mind all night long as she tried to work in a bit of sleep).

Is is a true friend who makes you diabetic cookies or one who lets you pig out on regular ones that would make you sick? 

I would most definitely have not opted for the diabetic choice...but...they were not altogether horrible.  She also cut the dairy content with half-fake butter.  Perhaps had she made them ALL for me, instead of considering her youngest cherub whose body takes offense at dairy products, the difference might have been less noticeable.  However, while they are not quite her world-famous-double-peanut-butter cookies, I shall have no problem consuming as many as are left after being forced to share them with Bettina and her cherubs.

I should get brownie points for only consuming two this evening!

Bettina's favorite drink is what I call Bettina Beer, or for the general population, Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade.  Since the refrigerator is quite full with the groceries she brought, we decided the huge snowbanks on my deck would serve as an outdoor cooler.  Is there something sacrilegious about having alcohol surrounded by Scripture references written in the snow?

El has been praying through the Psalter, in part because I speak so passionately about what a gift doing so is, how magnificent these prayers are, and what I find within those words.  Two thirds of the way through the process, she is still not all that convinced the Psalter is for anyone but the mature reader, perhaps even the scholar.

I keep telling her that it matters not if she understands what she is praying because the Holy Spirit does...and God's Word will never return void.

However, when she mentioned Psalm 109 as yet another example of the difficulty of the Psalter, I dared to respond with teaching rather than simple encouragement.  [Yes, you can roll your eyes at the prospect of me teaching anyone about Scripture.]

I first recorded the Psalm so that it could fill her ears rather that just rest upon her tongue, fall upon her lips.  Then, I gave her some Myrtle commentary:  a wee bit of my own thoughts and the whole of what I found in Luther's Works, the American Edition, that I purchased for myself a wee bit ago.  [I read her what I found in volume 11 with a little bit of explanation.]

I found it slightly wonderful that the psalm is about the disparaging of reputation, since El has just recently finished listening to my audio recordings and commentary on the first part of the Large Catechism, and I...well...I have struggled of late with something akin to this.  Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Luther's teaching was illuminating for me, and I rather enjoyed my feeble attempt to make this passage of scripture a bit more clear to El. know what I found most comforting?  Luther's commentary on verse 23:  This verse is too obscure for me to understand.  Luther wrote this!  While he did go on to offer a couple of possible interpretations, it was good to know that I am not the only one truly perplexed at times.


NOTE:  Bettina's husband is of the decided opinion that it is not I who should be the one to use a chainsaw on the downed tree.  "She has trouble mowing!  She certainly cannot be using a chainsaw!"  You know my intrepid friend has entertained the notion that perhaps she could hack away at my tree.  What is proper etiquette on downed trees that have fallen primarily into your neighbors yard?  How long do I have before not dealing with this problem becomes a neighborly offense...if the tree takes up a mere corner of a wide empty space?  Or does size not matter????

As I write this, Bettina is catching up on my blog and noted that I AM THE MOST HORRIBLE BEST FRIEND IN THE WORLD!  While I did send her Grace Upon Grace for her naming day and serenaded her several times, I forgot to sing to her here!

Happy Birthday to you (fifteen days late)!
Happy Birthday to you (fifteen days lay)!
Happy Birthday dear Bettina (fifteen days late)!
Happy Birthday to you (fifteen days late)!