Tuesday, April 27, 2010

By doing exactly what I should not be doing, the pain is more bearable now.  And the muscle or whatever is at least somewhat better.  I have been taking prescription strength ibuprofen round the clock—an utter no-no for someone on high dose Celebrex—and taking the maximum dose of acetaminophen mid-way between ibuprofen doses (a trick a nurse once taught me).  I also have been icing that part of my back with this re-freezable thing that gets very, very cold—I may be the first one ever to get frostbite in April in Virginia.  At least today I could bear to sit in a chair for work.  Although being there, with a smile pasted on my face, was almost as painful as my back.

Someone once told me that there was no way I was not having a good time, that I couldn't possibly be fooling him.  In that moment, I realized that I have become the consummate actress and my heart sunk in absolute despair.  I hate pretending.  For is not doing so really living a lie?

Of course, I also believe that if you look at me, really look at me, you will see the pain I bear, you will see the cognitive dysfunction I struggle to hide, you will see the battle.  The problem is no one ever looks.

My anger over that is something I confess to God daily, sometimes hourly.  "Oh, Myrtle, you look so well!"  I want to scream at such comments.  Can you not see that I am leaning on the copier just to remain upright?  Can you not see that I am the last to leave the conference room so that I can battle through the pain of stiffness from sitting through a meeting?  Can you not see my trembling hands?  Can you not see my confusion, my panic?

Want to know a secret?  The worse I feel, the more I dress up.  When you see me wearing my pearls, you know I am barely hanging on.  I am not sure why I do, but I do.  Today was a day for pearls, a flowing skirt that twirls when I spin, heels (something someone with MS has no business wearing), red lipstick, and my grandmother's antique earrings from Italy (the ultimate sign of my distress).

This woman at work asked me, out of the blue, if I was upset about something.  When I nodded almost imperceptibly, she assumed it was over my boss.  In part, that would be the truth.  What is happening sickens my co-worker.  But she knows there is no recourse other than to quit, which neither of us can really do.  Today, in a moment of macabre joy, we fired each other so we could at least get unemployment.

It is exhausting to be actively hated, to be judged an incompetent failure every single blooming day.  It is harder when you have to pretend you do not hear such things, you do not hear the threats against your job.  It is exhausting to turn the other cheek, to smile, to continue on graciously.  I stink at doing this.  And actively hate myself for such weakness.

I know God gave me this job.  And I am almost certain He did so that I could love her.  I find that to be most humorous—my loving her.  I don't know how.  I mean, I hide my hurt and anger and absolute disgust for her behavior.  I hide my disrespect and actively try to respect her authority.  I help her when she needs help.  I offer before she asks.  Some things I do is because I am in terror of losing my job and some things I do because she is a child of God, though she knows it not.

Still, I hate that my life, from the moment I walk in the door in the morning until the time I climb back into my car, is at least some part, if not all, a lie.  I cannot be weak.  I cannot be ill.  I cannot be confused.  I cannot make mistakes.  I cannot be anything less than positive.  I cannot be anything less than perfect.  Given that I am incapable of doing any of these for any substantial length of time, I spend my time trying to minimize the punishment for failing to do them all of them, one of them.  It is in doing this that I sicken myself.  My boss, at least, is not pretending.  I am.

I wonder sometimes just how much pretending other people do.  It would be helpful to know that I am not alone in this.  But I suspect that no one comes close to the pretending I do.

Funny, I work very, very hard to be truthful, to be honest.  In part, this is because of the lies I've had in my life.  In part, it is because of the blessed time I spent being a hospice volunteer, having the privilege of attending the dying and their families.  You never know what tomorrow will bring so you should not waste an opportunity to speak today.  But, really, that means nothing—my committement to honesty—given what I hide, eh?

I have been thinking a lot about this and about something that Pastor S said today that was very harsh, very hard, in as kind a way as possible to speak such words.  I am more thankful for his honesty than I can say.  He told me that something I was doing was making myself out to be God.  While I do not fully understand his comment, I understand more of why what I was doing was wrong.  It is a good thing to know your sin, even if you find yourself falling beneath its weight again.  Even then.

What is extraordinary, to me, then is that he said, knowing my depth of sin, knowing the sin I committed and even that I long to commit it again though the shame of it tears at me, "I forgive you. I forgive you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."


It is no secret that I feel as if Walther's words were written down for me, words from well over a hundred years ago spoken to a group of young men preparing to enter into the ministry.  I was not there then. I am not that audience not.  But this is not like 2 Timothy, a letter not meant for me.  January 23, 1885 Walther spoke for me.  Strange, I know.  But is not God a God of Strangeness?  Are not His ways utterly different from our own?

The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel is a text I have lingered over.  Normally, this would have been scarfed down in mere days, not the months I've taken to make my way just past a third of the truth God gave through Walther's pen.  I believe it is a text taught in Lutheran seminaries, but I wish more pastors would take it up again, perhaps once a year, to remind themselves of the importance of properly dividing Law and Gospel, of giving Law and of giving Gospel.  Moreover, I wish they would take it up, translate papist with Protestant (applicable most of the time), and know the false teachings that permeate much of American Christianity.  For then they would know the grave state of those of us ex-Protestants who stumble to their doorsteps.

My Dear Friends; Beloved in the Lord: —

Even there I pause.  See the passion?  See the love?  I could be called Beloved in the Lord every hour, every day, for the rest of my life and never tire of hearing those words.

My Dear Friends; Beloved in the Lord: —

You know that the papists teach even godly persons do not enter heaven immediately after earth, but before being admitted to the vision of God must first pass through a so-called purgatory, where they are supposed to become purged by fire with horrible torments from sins for which they had not made full atonement.  Worse than this, the papists teach that no person, not even a sincere Christian, can be assured in the present life that he is in a state of grace with God, that he has received forgiveness of sins and will go to heaven. Only a few, they say are excepted from this rule, namely, the holy apostles and extraordinarily great saints, to whom God has given advance information by revealing to them in an extraordinary manner that they will reach the heavenly goal.

This is the doctrine of the Antichrist—absolutely without comfort.  You know that our Lutheran Church teaches the very opposite.  It is a pity that the great majority of nominal Lutherans, while cherishing a kind of human hope that they are accepted with God, that they have obtained forgiveness of sin, and will be saved, nevertheless have no assurance of these matters.  This sad phenomenon proves that such Lutheran, far from having received the Lutheran doctrine into their hearts, have no knowledge of it at all.

How could the Christian doctrine be called the evangel, that is glad tidings, if those who accept it much be in constant doubt whether their sins are covered, whether God looks upon them as righteous people, and whether they will go to heaven?  If even a Christian cannot know what his relation to God is and what his fate will be in eternity, whether damnation or salvation, what difference would there be between a Christian and heathen, the latter of whom lives without God and without hope in this world?

Does not part of this sound familiar at least?  The Calvinist teaching that we know we have faith by being faithful?

Does not Holy Scripture say: "Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"?  Heb. 11,1. (Luther translates:  "Faith is having a sure confidence regarding things hoped for and not doubting things unseen.")  Does not our blessed Lord Jesus Christ say:  "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"?  Matt. 11,28.  Does He not say:  "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst"?  John 4,14.  Does He not say:  "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand"?  John 10, 27,28.  If the aforementioned doctrine of doubt were true, would not all these sayings be empty delusions, yea—I shudder to say it!—lies and cheats?

Our dear Lord Jesus Christ requires of His followers that they wrestle with their own flesh and blood, the world, and the devil, and that they be faithful unto death.  He requires of them that they renounce all that they have, come to Him, take His cross upon them, deny themselves, and follow Him.  He tells them in advance that, if they side with Him, the world will hate them, revile them, and persecute them unto death.  If the aforementioned doctrine of doubt were right, who would desire to come to Christ, side with Him, and fight all the great and dreadful battles of this life, following His crimson banner?  Who could muster the strength to follow after holiness if he had to doubt whether he will ever reach the heavenly goal?  Indeed, any one who has received this doctrine of doubt into his heart is an unhappy man.  He remains forever a sorry slave of the Law; he is constantly told by his conscience:  "It is not well with you; who can tell what god's thoughts concerning you are, what punishment is awaiting you?"

Unquestionably, this doctrine of doubt is the most horrible error into which a Christian can fall.  For it puts Christ, His redemption, and the entire Gospel to shame.  It is therefore no jesting matter.

Where are we to look for the root of this error?  Nowhere else than in the co-mingling of Law and Gospel.  Let us learn, then, rightly to divide the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, which the Apostle Paul requires of every servant of the Church of God.  (138-139)


I may be the worst excuse for a Christian, a Lutheran, walking the face of the planet, but I know my error lies in the co-mingling of Law and Gospel.  I know it.  And I know I need help with the untangling.  Yes, I need to plant myself in the pew most every chance I get so that I might be properly fed.  But more importantly I need those knots undone.  I need for Law to be no longer wrapped around Gospel, for Gospel to be no longer woven with threads of Law.

We also learned that it is a false method to prescribe to an alarmed sinner all manner of rules for his conduct, telling him what he has to do, how earnestly and how long he must pray, and wrestle, and struggle until he hears a mysterious voice whispering in his heart: "Your sins are forgiven; you are a child of God; you are converted," or until he feels that the grace of God has been poured out in his heart.  That is the method adopted for conversion by all the Reformed sects and their adherents. (140)

That is the method I was taught.  This is the method that has soaked so deeply within that I do not recognize what I am practicing...even as I read, savor, and delve into Lutheran doctrine.

It is therefore a pernicious delusion when people pray in such a way that they dare not wholeheartedly add "Yes" and conclude with certainty that God hears their prayer.  Instead, they remain in doubt, saying, "Why should I be so bold as to boast that God hears my prayer?"  "I am only a poor sinner," etc.  That means they are looking not at God's promise but at their own works and worthiness, and thereby they despise God and accuse him of lying.  Therefore they receive nothing, as St. James [1:6-7] says, "but ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter...must not expect to receive anything from the Lord."  Look! God has attached much importance to our being certain so that we do not pray in vain or despise our prayers in any way (Book of Concord, LC, Part III, 121-124, Kolb/Wengert).

While wailing again (I know, I am doing that a lot lately) to someone, I quoted this passage to him.  Flung it, actually at him, to prove my point.  He lobbed it right back at me, properly divided.  I wish I had taken notes.  Truly, all I can do is bungle my way through what I caught.

The ball I flung him was wrapped in Law. I doubt. I practically live at sea sometimes, so therefore I cannot expect to receive anything from God.

What he returned was that, yes, I sin in my failure to pray with true conviction, with pure faith, but that when I pray, God does not see my sin, my failure, but the purity of His Son.  He does not hear my words, but the words Christ has taken into Himself and passed on to the Father.  Surely the Father never stops hearing His Son.  And His Son never stops praying for me.  Even when I falter.  Even when I fail.

The Law is there to remind me to pray and teach me how to pray, but the Gospel is there to remind me that I pray through and with and under the cross.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, April 26, 2010

I am tired of pain.
I am tired of pain medication that only takes the edge off.
I am tired of a body that cannot tolerate anything other than such medication.
I am tired of having to endure.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Today was a bad pain day.  I fell in the shower last night and wrenched a muscle in my lower back.  Sitting is agony.  There is much sitting in church.

I honestly was not sure that I would be able to endure being in the pew.  The new church is most decidedly not one in which I could lie down in the pew.  Because the pews are most uncomfortable, for months I have been trying to figure out how I could bring something to make sitting in them for an hour and a half more bearable.  I mean, I really do not want to walk in there with a two pillows, one for the seat and one for the back.  I don't have any flat cushions.  I think a blanket might work, but I can also picture myself slipping off the pew and landing on the floor because the blanket shifted.  Having found no solution yet, I could not imagine going since I barely got myself dressed this morning.

But I miss the Lord's Supper.  Not taking it in last Sunday made two weeks for me, at least 7 days too long.

I went, shifted about the whole time, laying down half-way by leaning on my elbow more often than remaining upright.  Of course, holding myself up most of the time made my arms tremble.  Afterward, I accidentally dropped my keys on the ground in front of my car and spent 10 minutes trying to pick them up without toppling over.

I came home, took extra pain mediation, and napped.  But I am in too much pain to sleep.

Needing a distraction from how I feel, I turned myself to Pastor F's bulletins.  I completed drafts of all the ones for May, the devotional for the last week in May, and then the parishioner booklet, leader's guide, and bulletin insert for the third part of a discipleship study he will be doing the first four weeks of May.  Not bad for a day's work, eh?

The best part was reading through the lectionary readings for every Sunday so I could get the title for the bulletins.  Or, actually, the bestest part was that two Sundays the choir is not singing so I have the freedom to fill in the back panel that usually has the words to their song.  I will give you three guesses what is my choice of filler.

Oh, how brilliant you are!  Yes, I drop in words from Luther!  I probably spent at least two hours longer than I needed to in order to choose my filler.  One week, I actually put a portion of a sermon he preached on the Gospel reading for that week.  Won't Pastor F be surprised!  For the other Sunday, I put in his comment on why "grace and peace to you" is such a good greeting, from his commentary on Galatians, because Pastor F is the kind of pastor who likes to teach things, drop in nuggets of the whys and wherefores and histories of things, as if he were a professor addressing a classroom.  Frankly, I enjoy that.  Pastor used to do so when he was lessoning me.  Pastor E does sometimes in his sermons.  And Pastor W gave a running commentary on the Psalms he was chanting when we read Compline together on the phone last week—something that cracked me up even as I regretted not being able to take notes on what he was saying. Psalm chanting with Myrtle commentary, mostly focused on what was NOT Law since he knew I was surely reading it as such.  Oh, how merciful is God to me!

Galatians 1:3 Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The greeting of the Apostle is refreshing. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God. 

Some times I am awed by how much God gives such a wretched sinner in the gift of His Living Word. It is a Word that I believe, even when I dare not believe.  It is a Word that I believe, even when I do not understand.  It is a Word that I cling to. even when I despair of being able to grasp a hold of the Truth.  It is a Word I crave, with longing too deep for words.

I have been told I should be more patient, that I cannot unlearn what I long to unlearn in just a short while when that learning was 26 years in the making.  I know I am impatient.  Anyone who objects to such an admission would be lying to me.  I know that I feel a pressure to study, to learn, while I can, while I can before the MS cheese holes become too many in my brain and learning becomes another "loss" I must endure.  But what I hunger for is not merely the learning, not merely the doctrine.  I hunger for the Gospel, for hearing the heart of that as many times as it takes to break apart the lies I know I carry around in my head...and in my heart.

I want the Gospel poured over me  I want it sung, whispered, shouted, crooned, spoken, and chanted.  I have been too long with the Law.  But, as I wrote before, I want the Gospel poured over me in such a way that I can also learn to love the goodness of the Law.  For the proper distinction of Law and Gospel does not mean to cast the Law away from me forever.  I am chastened to see that this is the very thing I have been doing. 

Ah, I believe it is time for me to read more Walther!

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I have wanted to write about something for a very long time, but each time I do my clumsiness with words gets in the way, destroying what I long to say.  I have decided I shall stop trying to speak my heart and just write.

Something I have found in confessional Lutheranism absolutely missing from the Protestant churches in which I was raised spiritually is a reverence for God and true love of Jesus.  That sounds harsh, I know, but it is the simple truth.

For reasons too great to speak, I have had to switch parishes, which has brought no end of grief for me, but doing so has also driven home this very point.  Such is the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling me to do that which I would never do, because I hunger for what I have found in Divine Service.  God coming to me. Jesus feeding me His own body and blood.  The Holy Spirit working the gifts of Christ deep within.  These I have spoken many times, especially how I savor, revel in actually, having the Living Word poured over me from beginning to end, a salve to my wounds, a balm to my soul.  But all this is not the whole of what I have found.

The confessional Lutheran pastors I have met, in person and on line, all share one thing in common:  passionate love of Christ and reverence for what they do.  Deep, deep passion.  Deep, deep reverence.

Oh, I am not talking about feelings, though certainly feelings are there.  I am talking true passion.  Beloved, so many pen for the pulpit.  Beloved.  We are loved in Christ.  We are loved because God loves us.

You would have to be dense to not surmise I struggle with that one.  Love me, yes, for Christ died for me.  Has good things for me, yes, but in heaven.  Life is pretty tough.  Here.  Now.  Love is for later, when I am in heaven.

Yet as a Lutheran, I hear: God never stops loving His Son, therefore He never stops loving you for you have been hidden in Christ. 

God never stops loving His Son.  I know that!  I believe that!  Oh, how I do.  I never connected the dots to me, though.  Not to me.

But I have digressed.

Frankly, I despair that the new parish can be a home, which distresses me more than I can say, for I want the true body and blood of Christ.  Near me, this church is sort of the only other option for the proper division of Law and Gospel in a liturgical church confessing the Symbols of Lutheranism.  However, being there has driven home this point I am so clumsily trying to say.  Passion is missing from the Protestant Church.  For all the emotion, for all the seeker friendly stuff (crap), passion is missing.  Passion and reverence.

The new parish is a bit more formal.  Boy, do I not fit in there.  I watch all these little things they do, bow here, fold hands there, and I feel even more the interloper than I ever have since first starting this journey.  But not once have I thought that all those things I do not understand are anything less than good, right, and salutary for I can see rather clearly they are born of reverence.

For example, each time one of the pastors or lay assistants approach the altar, they bow.  Even if crossing from one side or the other, they will stop in the middle and bow.  So much of the service is actually spoken not to those in the pew but toward the altar. Deep, deep reverence.  For God is with us.  He is here to serve us, to give to us, to teach us.  This is why the Divine Service is Divine, as I have written before.  I did not understand the fullness of those words, however, before sitting in the new pew, watching, confused, yet soothed.

Now, I am not saying in the least that my old parish did not have the same reverence, for that is something I oft puzzled about Pastor, but I couldn't see it so clearly, understand what was happening until now.

We should be reverent.  We are approaching God after all.  We are in God's house, where the building does not matter so much as His presence.  He is the Lord of the Universe, Creator of All.  He is the One who endured agony unimaginable that we might live.  He is the one who brings Life to us.  We are beggars.  We are dross.  Before Him  we are nothing apart from Christ.  Nothing.  Wretches deserving to be smitten from the ground upon which we stand.  Yet we are clothed in Holiness because of His Son.  We stand in the Light, rather than in darkness, because of the faith given to us by His Spirit.  Clearly, reverence is called for here.

I had gotten used to children running here and there, chasing each other even across the altar, really a stage more than an altar.  I had gotten used to a sanctuary being used for everything, an auditorium of sorts, party central. I had gotten used to a casualness born of the belief that these were just four walls and a roof about us.

Worship was about singing our hearts out, showing God we love Him.  Oh, how incredibly backwards that is.  Worship is about how much He loves us.  As one pastor writes:

You are no [sinner], but a beloved and precious, delightful and well-pleasing member of the Bride of Christ.  He has given Himself for you, and He has cleansed you by the washing of the water with His Word, so that you are dressed in Him and His beautiful righteousness.  There is no fault or flaw or wrinkle or blemish in you, nor any such thing.  There is only your Bridegroom, who has given you His Name, His honor, His glory, His life, and His own Body.  That is what is true.  Nothing else remains....
Let His Word and promises ring in your head, and take them upon your lips as a confession of faith in Him, who is your Savior.  He will not forsake you, no matter how frail you yourself may be.  Take courage in knowing that He Himself and His Holy Spirit pray and intercede for you, even with groanings too deep for words....

You are not simply tolerated by your dear Lord Jesus Christ, but you are beautiful and precious to Him.  He knows all your wounds, all your sins and failures, all your doubts and fears and troubles, and yet, for the sake of His sweet love and mercy, He delights in you; He rejoices over you; He is gladdened in His great heart because of you, who are His own dear child.  He sees no fault or flaw or blemish in you, nor any such thing, but only the radiant glory of one who is a member of His beloved bride.  How deeply and richly He lovingly cares for you, and provides you with all good things in Himself.  He does not take pleasure in your suffering, but He brings you through suffering in the strength of His own Cross and Passion for you....

It is Christ, who has made our wounds His own, who welcomes you to Himself, into His embrace, in the palms of His wounded hands.  That is your sure and certain hope, in that He daily and richly forgives you all of your sins, inside and out, by that which He has suffered for you....

These are not mere rote words, but Words of love, of the passion of Christ for us, of God who created heaven and earth for us.  That agony He endured was not merely agony of body.  That agony was also unfathomably greater agony of spirit.  Love held Christ to the cross.  Love held Him there as God His Father turned His back so that Christ could take our sin upon us.

These are not merely words.  These are Words of fierce love, of a Father running with reckless abandon to a son who has returned in shame, of a Shepherd who loves us so much to foolishly leave His 99 other sheep just to find the one who is lost, wounded, frightened, and when He finds her, he places her filthy body across His shoulders to carry her home, rejoicing in the finding, rejoicing the the labor it took to save her.

While I do not understand such, I see it, hear it, have it poured over me week by week in Divine Service.  Such passion, such love, such reverence...all rightly pointing to our Lord and Savior.

When Pastor W posted the photos of his new crucifix on his blog, I thought he was strange, as I have written.  He adored it.  What??  When he posted more photos.  And then a third entry...  Seriously, I was taken aback.  It's just a crucifix.  Then, as I wrote, I was struck by the same strangeness and longed for something I would have thought I would have eschewed until the day I died.  Now, I do not walk through my living room without gazing upon my crucifix.  I will even admit that I have pulled it down off the wall and fallen asleep clutching it, a guard against the night terrors I often battle.  I stop my work and find my eyes shifting toward it.  I realize that I have missed part of my TV show because my eyes have fallen upon the crucifix again.

But I am not looking upon a crucifix. I am looking upon Christ crucified.  To explain the difference, once again I borrow words::

I'm so pleased for you, that you have received such a crucifix from someone.  Marvelous.  I can hardly get enough of the crucifix, myself, and I dearly love to surround my family and congregation with that image of our Lord Christ in His Passion for us.  You have mentioned that you do not know what love is, but, in the crucifix, Myrtle, you see it embodied for you and manifested to you.  It is God becoming like you in every way, save without sin, and humbling Himself to become obedient unto death, even death upon the Cross; laying down His life willingly for His sheep, that He might raise them up in and with Himself, to live with Him in His Kingdom, by His free and full forgiveness of sins.  It is His mercy toward you, because compassion fills His heart toward you, and a deep divine desire to give you life and all good things: to give you even Himself. Satan attacks and accuses, undermines and embitters, because you are right that he hates all this Gospel you are hearing and learning and receiving; Satan hates you, and he will do whatever he can, by whatever means he can derive, to destroy you and your faith in Christ.  On your own, you cannot thwart or stop him.  Your own old Adam too quickly and eagerly joins forces with him, and the world likewise conspires with them against you. But He who is in you, Christ, with His Word and Holy Spirit, is far, far greater than this old evil foe who so loathes you and berates you.  Even when you are weak and faltering, hurting or angry, sorrowful to the point of despair, or not sure which way is up or which way to turn, Christ stands fast for you, ever your Champion against sin, death, the devil and hell; ever the forgiver of your sins and the healer of your ills; ever your defender and the giver of life to you.  That is what love is.  Not an elusive and fleeting emotion, but Christ, God in the flesh, your Savior.

Do you see the passion, the reverence?  Do you hear the love?  This is what is missing.  This is what I crave.  This is what humbles me.  This is what awes me.  Both that these men speak so unabashedly and passionately of love and that they love with such abandon themselves, standing before all as they do.

Pastor W on the Eucharist...

A little while. And to get you through, He gives you what’s already gotten through. He gives you His body and blood. He gives you the body and blood that knew the sorrow of the cross, the anguish of abandonment, the full weight of your sin and mine, the terrors of wrath. But even more the body and blood that came out ALIVE - never to die again. The Risen Body and Blood of Him who is the Forgiveness of sins and the Destruction of death. And as He feeds that precious food into you, He whispers: Hang on, child. It’s just a little while. And then I will see you and you will see me and your sorrows will be turned into joy.

O people loved by God, there is no one to whom we can compare the Holy One who loves us so and who has prepared for us such a rich salvation!

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, April 23, 2010

"You see Law where none was intended, Myrtle."
"That's not Gospel, that's Law!"
"The Way of the World does not get to have the last word.

While the Law and the way of the world are not the same thing, in my mind the two are connected.  

I know that first assessment is true.  If you grow up spiritually in a works-based church, you cannot help but have Law bred to your bones, infused in your every waking moment.  For you cannot have faith without doing good works.  You cannot do good works without knowing the Law.  

So, first, read about the Law below and then I shall share the lesson I was given:

VI. The Third Function of the Law
The Chief Question at Issue in This Controversy
1 The law has been given to men for three reasons: (1) to maintain external discipline against unruly and disobedient men, (2) to lead men to a knowledge of their sin, (3) after they are reborn, and although the flesh still inheres in them, to give them on that account a definite rule according to which they should pattern and regulate their entire life. It is concerning the third function of the law that a controversy has arisen among a few theologians. The question therefore is whether or not the law is to be urged upon reborn Christians. One party said Yes, the other says No. Affirmative Theses

The Correct Christian Teaching in this Controversy
2 1. We believe, teach, and confess that although people who genuinely believe and whom God has truly converted are freed through Christ from the curse and coercion of the law, they are not on that account without the law; on the contrary, they have been redeemed by the Son of God precisely that they should exercise themselves day and night in the law (Ps. 119:1). In the same way our first parents even before the Fall did not live without the law, for the law of God was written into their hearts when they were created in the image of God.1

3 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the preaching of the law is to be diligently applied not only to unbelievers and the impenitent but also to people who are genuinely believing, truly converted, regenerated, and justified through faith.

4 3. For although they are indeed reborn and have been renewed in the spirit of their mind, such regeneration and renewal is incomplete in this world. In fact, it has only begun, and in the spirit of their mind the believers are in a constant war against their flesh (that is, their corrupt nature and kind), which clings to them until death.2 On account of this Old Adam, who inheres in people’s intellect, (tr-807) will, and all their powers, it is necessary for the law of God constantly to light their way lest in their merely human devotion they undertake self-decreed and self-chosen acts of serving God. This is further necessary lest the Old Adam go his own self-willed way.3 He must be coerced against his own will not only by the admonitions and threats of the law, but also by its punishments and plagues, to follow the Spirit and surrender himself a captive. 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 6:12; Gal. 6:14; Ps. 119:1; Heb. 13:21.

5 4. Concerning the distinction between works of the law and fruits of the Spirit we believe, teach, and confess that works done according to the law are, and are called, works of the law as long as they are extorted from people only under the coercion of punishments and the threat of God’s wrath.

6 5. Fruits of the Spirit, however, are those works which the Spirit of God, who dwells in the believers, works through the regenerated, and which the regenerated perform in so far as they are reborn and do them as spontaneously as if they knew of no command, threat, or reward. In this sense the children of God live in the law and walk according to the law of God. In his epistles St. Paul calls it the law of Christ and the law of the mind. Thus God’s children are “not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 7:23; 8:1, 14).

7 6. Therefore both for the penitent and impenitent, for regenerated and unregenerated people the law is and remains one and the same law, namely, the unchangeable will of God. The difference, as far as obedience is concerned, rests exclusively with man, for the unregenerated man — just like the regenerated according to the flesh — does what is demanded of him by the law under coercion and unwillingly. But the believer without any coercion and with a willing spirit, in so far as he is reborn, does what no threat of the law could ever have wrung from him.

8 1. Accordingly we condemn as dangerous and subversive of Christian discipline and true piety the erroneous teaching that the law is not to be urged, in the manner and measure above described, upon Christians and genuine believers, but only upon unbelievers, non-Christians, and the impenitent.

1 Gen. 2:16; 3:3.
2 Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:21, 23.
3 Rom. 12:7, 8.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration (Tappert)

Now for my lesson on the Law:

The Law is "good." It's not just good because it shows us our sin. It does that, and that is God's ultimate use of the in terms of redemption. But the Law is first good because it is good. It is good not to kill people. It is good not to steal. It is good to love. It is good to protect our neighbor's possessions, etc. The proper distinction of Law and Gospel is about many things, but part of it is being able to look at the Law and see how good it is to do—not for salvation, not because I must, but because the result is goodness for someone else. This is Luther's great insight: "God doesn't need your good works. But your neighbor does."

Or think of it this way, the Ten Commandments are promises of what life will be like with Jesus' once we're freed from these body's of death. In paradise, forever, you will have no other gods. You will keep pure worship, always. You will live in perfect harmony under a King. You will never hurt nor harm. You will never lust or envy or lie or despise. This is the law kept. But it will not be to earn rewards or so that we can look at ourselves and say, "Ha, aren't we good." It will be God's gift of peace and bliss and innocence forever—and it will forever be in and from Jesus. The Lamb at the center will be our light.

This view of that is received through faith alone now. Christ is the end of it. He fulfills it, and in him, as Peter says, we do have an example of what humanity not merely was supposed to be, but what we are in Him. Thus, having in him died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?

Well...we have to, but we don't have to like it. That is learning to love the Law. Not because I have to keep it, but because it is the definition of love.

Granted: this makes it sound all nice and easy. It's not. Romans 7. The thing I want to do (the goodness of the law) I do not do, etc. The Law still must and will point us back to our need for Christ. But that's exactly why we must also hear it and be reminded of it, not merely, "You're a sinner," but "Do this. It is good to do this."

What's important will be important for you to wrestle with as you continue your growth in the Book of Concord is to be able to rediscover a love for the goodness of the Law and the left hand kingdom
this is the freedom of the Christiannot to be a slave to the law, kept under it as a guardian, but to be freed to pursue it with a clean conscience in the blood of Christ.

It is no secret that I was near miserable during Lent, hearing Law at every corner save for two beautiful sermons that I could "hear" properly from Pastor E.  I know the Law.  Delving into the Large Catechism, I was confronted with just how much greater a sinner am I than I ever thought...even when I was secretly carrying that burden as a Protestant.  I knew that no matter how much works I did, I still struggled with my sin.  I could not enlarge my faith enough to stop struggling.  Hence I was the failure; hence, my despair.

The best thing about Confessional Lutheranism, aside from the doctrine itself, most particularly Objective Grace, is that I am justified by faith alone, in Christ alone, for His sake alone, is the ineffable gift of the Book of Concord.  To have all that teaching at my fingertips, free access to the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, is to have life...and freedom.  But the very worst thing about Confessional Lutheranism, for me, was that confrontation with the Law.  Knowing my sin more deeply does overwhelm me.  I am overwhelmed by the depths of my wretchedness.  And I am overwhelmed, sometimes to the point of no speech, how much greater the gift of the cross was/is for me.

I would have said, before Pastor F wrote me, that I could have lived the rest of my life without hearing another mote of Law.  He is the one who told me that I struggled with Lent because I impose it upon myself 24/7 and thus do not really need it as others do.  He is right in that, too, just as Pastor E was in telling me that I see Law where none was intended.  I crave instruction so deeply because I know that too much of what I have learned as Law is really Gospel.  And I need that Gospel.

But in the most magnificent way, Pastor F pointed out, taught me, that I should learn to love the Law not merely for how it points me to Christ, but for its goodness.

I believe I shall be chewing on that for a long time to come.

What is the connection then to the Way of the World?  Neither get to have the last word with us.

The way of the world doesn't get to have the last word.  Shut your ears to what it says, and hear the Word of Christ, which stands fast against even the gates of hell, and which alone remains while the heavens and earth pass away.

When I still couldn't speak, but wrote anyway, he replied once more, changing the title of the email to reinforce the Word he was giving me.

The way of the world is still real in your experience of it; and it is still real, underneath the curse of sin and death, as God's own good creation.  But the way of the world is not the last word; nor does the way of the world determine what is finally true for you and for all those who are in Christ Jesus.  The world has hated Him, and so it hates all those who belong to Him.  They have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, so how shall they not call those who live under Him in His house demonic. But it is not so.  You are a beloved and well-pleasing child of your dear God and Father in heaven.  He loves you more than the world is ever able to hate or hurt you.  And He who is in you, in the midst of frailty and weakness, is greater than he who is in the world.  He has risen from the dead, and you also rise in and with Him.

Did you catch the connection?

The Way of the World does not get to have the last word with me.  How this is connected to the Law is that the Law doesn't get to have the last word either.  All too often, I allow the Law to be the final word with me.  And it is not.  This is what I need to be taught: how to see Gospel instead of reading Law; how to love the Law for its goodness; how to allow Jesus to be my final Word.

One of my all time favorite Michael Card songs (The Final Word) is on this very point.  Is that not strange I dearly loved a song, yet did not understand what it truly meant?

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father's wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

He spoke the incarnation, and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father's fondest thought took on flesh and bone.
He spoke the living luminous word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard,
Took place in God the Father as he spoke that final Word.
He spoke the incarnation, and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Light became alive and manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time so we could understand.
He spoke the incarnation, and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

Lord I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pastor E's sermon from Sunday, also on the Good Shepherd, shows just how it is that I can spend a lifetime learning about the Good Shepherd and still not understand a 1,000th of what this truly means to me, for me....

Misericordias Domini sermon
John 10:11-16

Does it comfort you, when Jesus says, I know My sheep?  It means that He knows precisely who we are.  He knows precisely what you have been, what you have thought.  He knows what you desire; He sees your schemes. Your selfishness and hypocrisy, camouflaged to others, is seen clearly by Him.  Jesus the Good Shepherd knows the things you hide from others, and even the things you hide from yourself.  He says, “I know who you are.”

That was the startling revelation to Thomas last week: Jesus had heard Thomas’s declaration of unbelief, and so repeated the words back to him:  “Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing” [Jn. 20.27].  In the book of Revelation, Christ Jesus says again and again to the seven churches, “I know your works.”  He knows your works.  He knows your words (as He knew Thomas’s).  He knows His sheep.  

He knows that we have lived “like sheep going astray” [Epistle].  For that, we deserve to be devoured and destroyed, as a lamb left alone with the wolf. Do you think what is happening to you is not fair? God has decreed death for you and for all mankind, and He is just, righteous, and completely fair in doing so. If God were altogether fair and just in dealing with us, He would simply consign us and all humanity to hell, as one great lump or mass of perdition.

Those words, “I know My sheep,” are not necessarily comforting words.  But these are:  “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” [Introit].  The Hebrew concept of goodness here includes mercy; the LORD’s goodness is in His steadfast love. So we can read that verse from the Psalms this way:  “The earth is full of the goodness—the mercy, the steadfast love—of the Lord.”  Our God is a just God, who knows you in all your sin and fallenness. But He is also a merciful God.  Jesus our Good Shepherd is a merciful Shepherd.  Although He knows your failings, your wretchedness, your sins, nonetheless, purely out of His goodness and love, He shows mercy.  And God the Father has so ordained it that precisely at the time when the earth is blossoming with all manner of good things, when our globe is garbed in beauty and the land is clothed in fragrant splendor, precisely at that time did He choose to have His Son rise again from the grave.  Thus we are annually reminded that these words are true:  “The earth is full of the goodness—the mercy, the steadfast love—of the Lord.”  

In this life you have known and will know gloom and despair. And you have gone through, or perhaps are going through now, a time of impiety,   failing to pray, neglecting to let the Lord’s Word have its way with you. In this life you have known and will know a world that doesn’t care about you.  On just such a “cloudy and dark day,” says our God, He Himself will search for His sheep and “deliver them from all the places where they were scattered” [OT].  On a cloudy and dark day, He seeks out the lost, brings back what was driven away, binds up the broken, and strengthens the sick.

Those words from the Old Testament foretold God Himself coming, in the person of Jesus, to do for you what you could not do for yourself.  Jesus is not a good shepherd, but the Good Shepherd.  A good shepherd would be expected to defend his sheep, but Christ the Good Shepherd voluntarily sacrifices His own life as the Passover Lamb—the Paschal Victim—so that His sheep may live.
One of the students in a Christian Faith class at our school said something brilliant this past week. Pr. McClean had stopped by so the students could meet him, and he was explaining to them that the word “pastor” means shepherd, but that Jesus is the true shepherd, and we pastors are just His helpers. So my student Bryce said, “Jesus then is the ultimate Shepherd.” Exactly!

Jesus the ultimate shepherd put Himself between us His sheep and the gaping jaws of that hound of hell, Satan.  But in seeking to devour Jesus the ultimate shepherd, death bit off more than it could chew.  Satan grabbed a Man, and discovered God incarnate.  Death could not hold Him.  By Christ’s death, He destroyed death.

Our Good Shepherd, having saved us then from the penalty of our sins, and having made us His flock, does not abandon us.  He will not abandon you, but He continues to care for and tend His flock, the Holy Church, of which we are a part by Holy Baptism.

How does He do this? Two ways:  First, by speaking to His flock—by the Word; and second, by feeding His flock—by the blessed Sacrament.  “My sheep hear My voice,” [Jn. 10.27], says He, and we confess, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” [Ps. 23].

First, He speaks to His flock.  The sheep, He, says, “will hear My voice.”  We come here to the church not to do something for God, but to hear His Word. We do that together on Sundays and, if possible, during the week for worship and Bible study. But it also should be something that goes on throughout every day of the week. It’s important to read the Bible and think on the Word of God every day. This is not some sort of Law or guilt trip; we need God’s Word because we are constantly being bombarded by other words. Words of bad news on the television and radio, words of covetousness fed by the advertisements, words of filth spoken everywhere. We need to hear God’s Word often to remember who we are – sheep prone to going astray – and who God is – the Shepherd who rescues us and cares for us.

Jesus has called us to “follow Him [as He] lead[s us] by the way of death through the lowlands of this passing world to the pastures of life” [St. Peter Chrysologus].

That is where Christ’s voice is leading us – to the pastures of life.  We are “the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” [Venite].  Follow Him to death, for He will lead you to life.  Be His companion in shame, for He leads you to honor.  The way is indeed hard, but He shall be your Way.  Listen to the doctrine of the Good Shepherd, and be bold and uncompromising in the Faith.  Listen to the love of the Good Shepherd, and be tender and compromising toward your neighbor.

For Christ your Good Shepherd knows you, and here at the Eucharist He makes Himself known to you. Just before reading the Gospel today you sang, “Then was the Lord Jesus known to them in the breaking of bread” [Verse].  Here at His Table is where we know Him – where we see His mind toward us, His mercy, His goodness, His steadfast love.  And here He knows us, in all our poverty and defeat, and embraces us anyway.  Here He feeds us and nourishes us with His own self, and we know Him, or rather are known by Him.

I leave you, therefore, with the Holy Spirit’s words recorded in Hebrews:  “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight…” [13.20-21a]+inj+

The Peace of Christ that passes all understanding keep your minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pastor W wrote a sermon for his flock that I needed to hear today, now, and always...

Miscericordias Domini...Good Shepherd Sunday
[Ezekiel 34:11-16 / 1 Peter 2:21-25 / John 10:11-16]

There’s a lot of thinking out there that the Lord only has time for those who, more or less, have their act together. That God loves you when you are lovable. Against such a notion comes this glorious Sunday with its readings. Miscericordias Domini - the Loving-kindness of the Lord. That’s its name in Latin, but we usually just call it “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

The Lord Jesus lets us know that that’s who He is. “I am the Good Shepherd.” So in today’s Gospel reading. But in saying that He lay claim to be the one speaking in the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel: “I myself” - that is Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel - “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”

The sheep that are so torn up and damaged that one might wonder what they were - the Good Shepherd welcomes and tends them all. The ones that have lost their way, straying into the byways of sin and all its sorrows. The ones that have injured themselves, inflicted damaged on their own persons and those around them. The ones who are just plumb worn out and don’t know if they can go on. The Lord is in the business of gathering them together and making them lie down while He tends them.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!” - that is the cry of your Lord’s heart to you. You see He knows you. He knows you in your sin. The lies you’ve told. The gossip you’ve passed on with glee. The hatred you’ve harbored. The bitter words you’ve let flow from your heart through your lips to sting and hurt the people you were supposed to love. The betrayal of the promises you made your spouse and children. The distrust that overwhelms your heart at times when you wonder if there really even is a God who can bring good out of this mess. The misuse of your body, treating it as though it were yours to do with as you please, forgetting that you were bought with a price. The stinginess of your heart that judges your brother and hypocritically holds him to a standard that you know you do not keep yourself. Oh, yes. He knows you inside and out. Me too. In all the things I’ve ever done, thought, or said - and the countless good I have failed to do.

But that’s the miracle of grace we celebrate this Sunday. He who knows us inside and out, didn’t come among us to destroy us. For some utterly unfathomable reason that we’ll never understand and will marvel at for all eternity, He loves us. He came to heal us. He came to set right the things broken. He came to bind up the wounds and heal them. He came above all, to protect us from the wolf.

You see, to Him the wolf is personal. To the hired hand, his own life is more valuable than the sheep. He runs at the first sign of the trouble on four legs with a bush tail and howl. Why? Jesus puts it so simply: “he doesn’t own the sheep.”

To Him, you are valuable. Don’t go scrounging around inside yourself to discover what it is that He finds valuable. You can’t find it that way. Your value comes from the outside in: you have value because He values you; He doesn’t value you because you have intrinsic value. You’re His. No matter how damaged you are, not matter how beaten up and bruised and wandering. Now matter how worn out and tired. You’re His. He made you His own in the font of living water, plopped His name on you and said: “Mine. Mine forever.”

So the wolf coming after you is very personal business to Him. And He has no intention of allowing you to end up as a canine snack. So He interposes His own life. “The Good Shepherd lays down His LIFE for the sheep.”

“Here, little wolfie! Come over here and eat me! Let them go free!” Of course, the little wolfie has no intention of letting anyone go free, but he freely gobbles down the snack offered. Bait. Poison. You know the story. The wolf couldn’t keep that Good Shepherd in his stinking gullet. The Good Shepherd burst right through. Raised from the dead on the third day. Leaving a hole behind in the wolf’s belly that will never ever heal or mend. And so when the wolf comes after you, you can go cheerfully down its stinking throat without a thought of fear - for you know that your Good Shepherd has already travelled this way, has gone down into the valley of shadow of death, and come up again, and He will bring you with Him. When all is darkness, and it closes around you - you needn’t fear. His voice rings out: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live though he die and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Death had no right to Him because He had no sin; but it took Him; and so Death forfeited its right to hold you forever.

Tending the wounds of your sins, giving you rich pasture in His word, refreshing you at His table with His own body and blood - the table set in the very presence of your enemies as the sign and seal of your triumph over them - you begin to see how Good your Shepherd truly is. Good beyond all deserving, good beyond anything we could even imagine.

In all of this gift, St. Peter tells us, our Lord has left us also an example - so that we might follow in His steps. The pattern He set is clear: trust in the Father who loves you and who will vindicate you and then you have no need to extract vengeance and such on your own. Rather, like the Lord, when He suffered, He did not threaten, when mocked and reviled He did not revile in return. He bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

No, He’s not the God and Lord of those who have their act together. Those who imagine they do are, in fact, not His proper clientele and the only ones He really ever chews out - so serious is their self-deception that He would rouse them from. He’s the God and Lord of the sick, injured, and weak, the straying and foolish ones. He will not turn you away. He died to release you from sin’s power. He rose to proclaim to you that death itself would never be the end of you. He invites you to come to Him today at His table and be refreshed and then leave this place to follow His example - to die to your sin and to live in the righteousness that is His gift to you, forgiving and loving those who mistreat you and cause you suffering as you yourself have been forgiven and loved by Him, by Jesus, your Good Shepherd. Amen. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tonight I was charged to remember who I am in Christ, to remember my baptism.  So, I spent some time reading through Luther's teaching on Holy Baptism in the Large Catechism:

We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves.  So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, "Nevertheless, I am baptized.  And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in souls and body."  For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism:  the body--which can grasp nothing but the water--is sprinkled and, in addition, the Word is spoken for the soul to grasp. (LC, IV, 44-45)

For the kernel in the water is God's Word or command and God's name.  His name is a treasure greater and nobler than heaven and earth....God Himself stakes His honor, His power, and His might on it. (LC, V, 16-17)

So you see plainly that there is no work done here by us, but a treasure, which God gives us and faith grasps.  it is like the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, which is not a work, but a treasure included in the Word.  It is offered to us and received by faith.... The Sacrament alone would be enough, even though it is an entirely outward thing.  It is like the commandment "Honor your father and your mother," which refers to bodily flesh and blood.  In these words we do not think  about the flesh and blood, but God's commandment in which flesh and blood are included, and on account of which the flesh is called father and mother.  So even if we had only these words, "Go and baptize," or such, it would be necessary for us to accept them and do them as God's ordinance.  Now there is not only God's commandment and injunction here, but also the promise.  Because of this, Baptism is still far more glorious than whatever else God has commanded and ordained.  It is, in short, so full of consolation and grace that heaven and earth cannot understand.  (LC. IV 37-40)

Therefore, every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and do all his life. For he has always enough to do by believing firmly what Baptism promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sins, God's grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with His gifts.  In short, Baptism is so far beyond us that if timid nature could realize this, it might doubt whether it could be true. (LC, IV, 41)

Even in this short collection of snippets, I have a lifetime of learning.  Things I struggle with, things I savor.  God loves me so much that He gave me something that my body could grasp, could hold on to as indisputable fact, so that I might believe.  Tonight, I am trying to remember that God staked His honor on me, trying to understand what that means.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Some visiting students were in search of a confessional Lutheran church and contacted my new parish, so there was a sign-up sheet for drivers to get them from a nearby metro to the church and back.  I signed up.  Shocking, I know.  I was trying to be other than me.

I arrived first and greeted the group, but the leader wanted to wait until the church contact was there in case there were car assignments.  I went back to my car to wait.  Then all the other drivers arrived...together.  The students and their chaperones crammed themselves and their luggage into the cars.  All but mine.

It was like being on the playground again, for me.  I was never picked for any games, always the one both "captains" did not want on their teams.  I was the one who sat alone, played alone, and was teased and taunted.  To this day, one of my most painful memories was sitting in the locker room and getting ready while listening to some high school classmates ridicule me.  They were Christians and were bemoaning the fact that they just learned I was going on a mission trip with them.

Some of the vehicles were literally stuffed with bodies.  But still I watched and waited and no one came to mine. 

I felt like dirt.  I did not want to go to church. I just wanted to go home and try to forget that I am always the one left on the playground.  I shouldn't have expected anything else.  I shouldn't have tried to be helpful.

I called Bettina and wailed on the phone and then managed to go to church so that I could have the Lord's Supper.  I admit that I had tears spilling down my face the whole service.

I hate how I felt standing there and waiting.  I hate how I feel now.  I hate that I feel.

Friday, April 09, 2010

God, in His infinite mercy, released me from such a burden tonight that I am still weeping in His gift.  I shall not be able to truly explain.  In short, 2 Timothy 1:7 is not for me.  Not for me. 

This is a letter written to a pastor about being a pastor. I can learn from it and profit from it, but that verse is not for me!

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but one of power and love and discipline.

Oh the weight of failing this!  Each time I would speak of struggle, of fear, of terror, this verse would be given to me as admonishment that I wasn't trusting Jesus enough, wasn't exercising my faith enough, wasn't having the "mark" of a Christian in my life.  Think of your witness, Myrtle!  You should be a better one.  Don't you want that?

It is not for me!

The pastor God brought for Bettina taught her and I this evening via video conference and this verse came up during the course of our conversation.   Oh, the sweet mercy of learning the context and the purpose and understanding it is not a measure of faith, not at all.

Oh, Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

If any man is a devout lover of God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.  If any man is a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of the Lord.  If any has labored long in fasting, let him now received his recompense.  If any has [worked] from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any has come at the third hour, let him have no misgivings; because he will in no [way] be deprived thereof.  If any has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.  If any has tarried even until the eleventh hour let him, also be not alarmed at his tardiness, for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as to him who has [worked] from the first hour.  And he shows mercy at the last, and cares for the first [and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts]. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward [both the first, and likewise the second].  You rich and poor together, hold high festival.  You sober and you heedless, honor the day.  Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.  The table is full-laden; feast you all sumptuously.  The calf is fatted; let no one go away hungry.  All of you, enjoy the feast of faith:  Receive all the riches of loving-kindness.  Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.  Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.  Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free.  He who was held prison of it, has annihilated it.  By descending into Hell, he has made Hell captive.  He angered it when it tasted his flesh.  And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:  Hell, said he, was angered when it encountered You in the lower regions.  It was angered for it was abolished.  It was angered, for it was mocked.  [It  was angered, for it was slain.]  It was angered for it was overthrown.  It was angered, for it was fettered in chains.  It took a body, and met God face to face.  It took earth, and encountered Heaven.  It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.  O Death, where is your sting?  O Hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.  Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.  Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice.  Christ is risen and life reigns.  Christ is risen and not one remains in the grave.  For Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

John Chrysostom, Paschal Sermon (taken from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Easter Sunday).

Pastor W posted the last part on his blog, commenting on how much he savored it. A commenter noted that it did not meet a sermon diagnostic from Issues, Etc.  Pastor W responded by showing specifically how it does: 

1. How often is Jesus mentioned? Keep a simple running tally. It’s a problem if He is mentioned only a few times, or tucked in at the beginning or the end.

He is mentioned in this homily from start to finish, note all the "your Lord" and "He" and "Savior's" and the triumphant "Christ is risen" repeatedly at the end.

Is Jesus the subject of the verbs, the one doing the action?

He accepts the last even as the first.
He gives rest.
He shows mercy.
He cares.
He accepts the deeds and honors the intentions.
He reveals the universal kingdom.
He is pardon shone forth from the grave.
His death sets free.
He annihilates hell.
He is risen, and hell is overthrown.
He is risen, and the demons are fallen.
He is risen, and life reigns.
He is risen and not one dead remains in the grave.
He is risen and become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

What are the verbs? What is the preacher telling you what Jesus did, does, and will do for you? Is the Jesus that is presented one of pop therapeutic deism, who helps, inspires and gives examples? Or is He instead the Jesus of Scripture who lives, suffers, dies and rises again, all for you?

Clearly the later.


I believe, more than anything I could say or write about the differences between confessional Lutheran worship services and the Protestant church I have experienced, this shouts the primary one out loud!

Jesus being the point of the sermon sounds so very logical for people who take their faith name from him: Christians.  So logical.  But...most sermons I was fed were more about me, more about man, more about our faith.  Christ began and perhaps ended them or came somewhere in the middle...though for some on Old Testament passages had no mention of Christ...just God.  I think that ought to be part of the diagnostic...perhaps there is more.  But one criteria should be a clear teaching of our triune God.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Not just God...not just Christ...which is more par for the course.

I challenge you to take a cross section of the sermons you are fed on a regular basis and measure them by our Lord Jesus Christ!

It is no mystery that I am on a one woman campaign to woo others to the joy that is praying the Psalter.  Recently, I got the idea to start sending prayers from the Psalter rewritten with the person's name in them, pronouns changed appropriately.  I have wondered if this were sacrilegious or irreverent, but I do not mean it in any way other than these are the words God gave me to pray and I am praying them specifically for someone other than I.  El, who has been bravely trying to pray the Psalter though she despairs at times how she does not understand much of what she is praying (remember that doesn't matter since the Holy Spirit, who is our intercessor, does), sent one back to me.

I was stunned.  I wept with joy at the Word she gave to me.  I was awash in the grace and mercy of Christ...

She even did me one better by sprinkling my name throughout instead of just at the beginning!  Isaiah 43:1 tells us that God calls us by name.  Seeing it here was such a powerful reminder of His love for me.

I wonder if El can understand how magnificent of a gift this was for me.  For me.

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
        all my inmost being, praise His holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
        and forget not all Your benefits--
Lord forgive all Myrtle's sins
        and heal all her diseases,
Redeem her life from the pit
        and crown her with love and compassion,
You satisfy her desires with good things
        so that her youth is renewed like the eagle's.
You, Lord work righteousness
        and justice for all the oppressed.
You make known Your ways to Moses,
        Your deeds to the people of Israel;
You, Lord, are compassionate and gracious,
        slow to anger, abounding in love.
You will not always accuse,
        nor will You harbor Your anger forever;
You do not treat her as her sins deserve
        or repay her according to her iniquities.
For as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is Your love for those who fear You;
as far as the east is from the west,
        so far have You removed her transgressions from her.
As a father has compassion on his children,
        so Lord do you have compassion on Myrtle who fears You;
for you know how she was formed,
        You remember that she is dust.
As for man, his days are like grass
        he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
        and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
        Your love, Lord, is with Myrtle who fears You,
        and Your righteousness is with her children's children--
with Myrtle who keeps Your covenant
        and remembers to obey Your precepts.
You Lord have established Your throne in heaven,
        and Your kingdom rules over all.
Praise the Lord you His angels,
        you mighty ones who do his bidding,
        who obey His Word.
Praise the Lord, all His heavenly hosts,
        You His servants who do His will.
Praise the Lord, all His works
        everywhere in His dominion.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, April 05, 2010

I am blatantly copying a quote I found on Pastor W's blog when plowing through his older entries.  It is such a lovely quote from Luther on Jesus being our High Priest.

Priest is a strong and lovely word. There is no lovelier or sweeter name on earth. It is much better to hear that Christ is called 'Priest,' than Lord, or any other name. Priesthood is a spiritual power which means no other than that the priest steps forth, and takes all the iniquities of the people upon himself as though they were his very own. He intercedes with God for them and receives from Him the Word with which he can comfort and help the people.... He offered Himself once for all, so that He is Himself both Priest and Sacrifice and the Altar is the Cross. No more precious sacrifice could He offer to God than He gave Himself to be slain and consumed in the fire of love. That is the true sacrifice. ~Exposition of Genesis XIV (Day by Day, p. 151) 

This calls to mind a passage from Hebrews (4:14-16) that I savor:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Notice that it does not say we might receive and find grace but that we may, that we will!  If we only draw near....

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Alleluia!  Jesus is risen!
He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Alleluia!  Jesus is risen!
He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Alleluia!  Jesus is risen!
He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Mowed.  Fainted.

Showered.  Fell.


What is a vigil?  Simply put, a time of  waiting.  Tonight, waiting on Christ.  Pastor P wrote a beautiful post about why we wait.

The Psalmist says "Wait on the Lord..." and if you check a concordance, you find these words echoed throughout the Scriptures.  But we do not like waiting.  Though it is awkward for us, it was terrible for the disciples who waited that first Holy Saturday.  What they had seen on Good Friday etched in their minds and hearts a picture of death so powerful they forgot what Jesus had told them.  In the grip of loss, they gathered together a few, hid in the homes for some others, and did what all of us so much of our lives.  They waited.

Our waiting is far different.  We wait not as those who do not know the outcome of the story but as those who do not want to wait to celebrate what we already know to be true.  And for too many Christians, there is no waiting at all.  They drive by the cross with a nod and buzz off to the party without so much as a moment of somber reflection and hopeful waiting.  I am sorry for them.  They are too busy to wait on the Lord for this awkward day between the Friday we call Good and the Sunday that transforms our view of life.  They are too busy for the Lord.  Period.

This waiting is good.  This waiting is the needful time to connect the death that pays sin's terrible cost and the life that death cannot overcome.  It is not that Easter makes up for or balances out Good Friday.  They go together.  This time of waiting allows us the time to connect this death the innocent dies for the guilty with the life He gives to the dying.  Wait on the Lord and you find the surprise of grace!  Always

The service was glorious, even if I spent most of it using my nebulizer again.  We started by candlelight and ended in the bright light of an empty tomb.  The bulk of the service was readings of creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3), the flood (Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13), Israel's deliverance at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-15:1), the promise of salvation offered freely to all (Isaiah 55:1-11), a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:24-28), the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14), and the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:1-30)...all in all 115 verses following how our Creator has saved us, provided for us, planned for us since the beginning. 

Then came this most magnificent hymn All You Works of the Lord (LSB 931).

All you works of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!
You angels of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!
You heavens, bless the Lord;
All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord;
All you powers of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You sun and moon, bless the Lord;
You stars of heaven, bless the Lord;
You showers and dews, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You winds of God, bless the Lord;
You fire and heat, bless the Lord;
You winter and summer, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You dews and frost, bless the Lord;
You frost and cold, bless the Lord;
You ice and snow, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You nights and days, bless the Lord;
You light and darkness, bless the Lord;
You lightning and clouds, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

Let the earth bless the Lord;
You mountains and hills, bless the Lord;
All you green things that grow on the earth, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You wells and springs, bless the Lord;
You rivers and seas, bless the Lord;
You whales and all who move in the waters, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

All you birds of the air, bless the Lord;
All you beasts and cattle, bless the Lord;
All you children of mortals, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You people of God, bless the Lord;
You priests of the Lord, bless the Lord;
You servants of the Lord, bless the Lord;
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

You spirits and souls of the righteous, bless the Lord;
You pure and humble of heart, bless the Lord;
Let us bless the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Praise Him and magnify Him forever!

After that was the remembrance of Holy Baptism, prayers and responses that walk us through the gift given in baptism.  I savored speaking that part of the liturgy again since I missed so much of my own baptism.  A part of this was our confession of faith, the Apostle's Creed.  Each time I speak this with brothers and sisters in Christ the experience becomes more precious to me.

Next was the service of prayer with the Litany of the Resurrection, a glorious prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ and His work in our lives.  This was followed by the first Gospel of Easter (John 20:1-18).

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia! 

All those weeks without alleluias, leading up this moment...the reason we wait.

Matins and Divine service tomorrow morning, Resurrection of Our Lord Sunday.  One last Divine Service Monday evening.  Five opportunities for the Lord's Supper in nine days.  I am thankful for each one, each one a time of forgiveness, healing, and sustenance for this life in a wretched, fallen world.

What I keep thinking about, walking through these Passiontide services is that my experience in the Protestant church taught that Easter was mostly a holiday.  The egg hunts, the Easter baskets, the chocolate, the flowers, the pretty clothes...and somewhere in there is a celebration that we have a risen Savior.  The latter a part of the day, not the whole of the day.

Spending the four days of Passion week has been illuminating for me.  I cannot help but wonder if what Krauth wrote about how Reformation Day ought to be taught to our children, to each other, so that we never forget the importance of that day, what it represents for the Church ought really to be applied to the days of our Savior's passion.

Imagine being raised in a home with parents leading you through the fullness of this time, teaching you the wonder of that first Lord's Supper, the road Christ walked for us, the dying with Him in our baptism, waiting on His resurrection, and welcoming the victory of that empty tomb.  This is not another story of the bible, it is THE story of the bible.  Children ought to be given the opportunity to walk through it, take it in, so that they, too, might understand the depth and breadth of that Work?

If nothing else, there's the promise that God's Word does not return void...I have had several hundred verses poured out over me during these services.  Such riches! How thankful am I to have joined a confession that savors each moment of Christ's passion and leads us to revel in the grace and mercy of that time.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!