Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gifts and Satan and Candles and Menorahs

Christmas Break is here. I can finally sit back and take a breather myself for a few moments before things get nicely hectic with my children and four grandchildren in Little Rock. My “Second Family” of six children are off with their own families by now. We had a half-day at school yesterday following the annual Christmas Program, party, and gift exchange.

While having all the usual elements of a school Christmas Program, Pastor Sawyer’s sermon makes this rather something closer to a “Lutheran altar call.” He misses no chance to catechize parents in infant baptism, and this year presented a prime opportunity. Three of our students became older siblings recently. One of these infants is headed for Baptism; the other is sadly going to wait until he makes his own decision.

As pastor pointed out yesterday, the one thing that makes a gift a gift is that it is given. It surely can be accepted, rejected, exchanged, or returned, but the one thing a gift must be to be a gift is GIVEN. Even these tiny newborns will be given gifts this Christmas, some even from Santa.

Imagine a note from Santa:

“Dear Baby,

I have a gift for you, but you are too young to accept it or even understand why it is given to you or what it means. So I can’t give it to you until you are older.


Such a “Santa” might soon be known as “Satan.”

God through parents gives babies their first gift ever without them deciding that it should be theirs by accepting it. This is the gift of life. Babies are conceived and born without their permission. Can you imagine the poor mother whose child is slow in understanding what being born is all about or is not ready to accept his place in the world? “Mornin’ ma’am. How long’s it been you’ve rented that womb to your child? Eight years now?”

My Second Family understands this so clearly, primarily because they’ve been catechized every school day in the foundations of the Christian Faith, and by Christian I mean Lutheran. We pray the Catechism; we apply it to our lives in what we say and do. It becomes a part of who we are. By that it is the ABC’s of what we do and be.

The first week of Advent began as always. A young girl lights the menorah. In years when I have only boys, I will lights the candles. We read the passages to explain why we used this practice. In Jewish homes even now, Seder candles are lit by a female.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined, Is 9:2.
God promised His Seed would come through a woman (Ge 3:15), so the darkness would be overcome by that Seed.

The continuity of the Old and New Testaments is made certain by Christ who said, You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, Jn 5:39. So, the Advent candle is lit from the menorah. John 1 identifies the Life who is Light of Men, (4-5); He is Creator (3,10); He is the Word of God(1); He is the Son of God who tabernacled among us(14).

And yet this Gift of God the Father was and is today rejected. John 1 says “the light shines forth and the darkness has not overcome it,” (5). Furthermore, even though He was in the world the world He created, His own creation and creatures “did not know did not recognize their own Creator (10). He came to His own people, and His own people did not receive Him, (11). Jesus spoke to the Jews of His day who claimed to be Children of Abraham doing what Abraham would do. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,”(8:11). Jesus told them that Abraham saw His day and rejoiced in it. There are some who have yet to do the same, but still claim to be Abraham’s Children. Others continue to lift up and look to Israel as a place of salvation for the world.

It is Christ who was lifted up for our sins. His Body and Blood is fed to us in the bread and wine He by which gives us Himself, and into our ears through which He comes by way of His words of forgiveness in the Absolution and preaching, and upon our heads in the water and Word. Rejection of God’s gift, or exchanging it for another results in a different way of salvation. “No thanks. No Jesus. I have another way.” Jesus told his hearers that those who rejected Him were of another father (8:44). My Second Family has no trouble at all understanding that anyone who does not have Christ as his Savior cannot have God as His Father; and where God the Father and His Son are, there the Holy Spirit is, too.

That took care of the first week. The second week dawned icon and one of my students asked, “What next? We need more.” So we searched about and one of them looked at the display of icons on the wall and said, “That one! We need to know that one means.” It was the Tree of Jesse icon. Jesse sleeps at the root, the Theotokos and her Son rest in the middle of the tree which springs from him. Twelve prophets sit in four branches, each holding an item identifying himself and his prophesy of Christ.

In the next few days I hope to write for you what was presented to my Second Family. A blessed Advent to you all!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

That G-Spot

Yesterday afternoon John and I saw Love Happens starring Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Anniston. It was a pleasant enough movie: sort of an old fashioned boy meets girl comedic romance. Both actors did an excellent job in their roles, Eckhart as, Burke, a successful author and self-help life counselor; Anniston as, Eloise, a florist with a series of bad relationships.

While the budding romance between Burke and Eloise is the primary focus of the movie, it blossoms only amid the back story of the tragedy that set Burke on the path of authorship and self-help guru. Three years prior to the current events his wife died in a car accident near Seattle where they lived.

Burke has now returned to Seattle to conduct one of his “A-OK” seminars. For all appearances, he has completely recovered form his wife’s death. Attendees have (apparently) read his book and now expect the same sort of recovery for the tragedy in their own lives through group sessions and upbeat lectures by Burke. Now and again some pearls of “wisdom” are dropped from his mouth, the greatest of which is that those suffering from a tragedy in life must confront their fear before they can move on; i.e., overcome or move through their grief. The big surprise (Not really for those of us who can practically write such films in our sleep!) is that Burke has not come to grips with his own fear. (No spoilers here, but again, for those of us who can practically write these things ourselves, there were no surprises, either.)

“Fear” it seems, is a code word for guilt, the G-spot. Can’t call it that, of course, because guilt it tied to sin and sin means there is a God. Oh! what a piteous word-playing world we live in! Guilt often hides behind a mask, from sexual promiscuity to fear and anger. In Love Happens, guilt hiding behind a mask of fear, can be handled quite easily: Just do one thing you are truly afraid of, like walking on a bed of hot coals, and your g-spot is lessened. The release of tension brought about by one fear abated grants permission for another to be set free. Soon your g-spot is entirely set free.

What a concept! Perhaps we can do that in our churches. We can have coal-and-ash beds implanted into the entry way of every church so that as each one enters he can be absolved. His G-spot can eventually be eradicated. Isn’t that the way so many think of Confession and Absolution–as if they were being asked to walk on a bed of hot coals? As if it were the most fearful of all things imaginable? Yet we believe, teach and confess that “confession is to be retained for the sake of absolution” (AC: II; xxv; 13. Tappert).

Absolution is what the seminar attendees are truly seeking, after all. The death of a child can in fact be “just an accident,” but the parent who could not save his own son will nonetheless punish himself for what he could not do. Drat! that g-spot. The husband who was driving the car in which his wife was killed will do the same. There goes the g-spot again.

The guilt of grief takes many forms; each one finds its answer in only one place, and yet in this movie once again the world hears that the answer can be found in the silence of one’s own doing-ness. In another movie the lead character yelled to the night sky, confessing his sins to God. The answer was the silence of the stars brightly shining upon him. In Love Happens, the Absolution comes in shopping at Home Depot and walking on hot coals, but not in words of comfort relating to life and death itself. Too bad they weren't thieves hung on crosses so they could hear from their Savior Himself.

“It was an accident. It wasn’t your fault.” How true. How very true. Accidents happen. Now there’s a good movie title: Accidents Happen. When accidents happen, who sends them? Scripture says God disciplines us as His own sons (Deu 8:5; He 12:7). Yet in the same way God took Abraham’s son and then returned him to Abraham by way of the ram He sent for the sacrifice, what God takes from us He gives back to us through His Son. God’s discipline is for the sake of our repentance. There is no such thing as an accident that happens for no purpose, as if to say “Accidents happen” with a shrug of the shoulder in the same way one would intone, “skubalon happens.” Joseph received all the injustices to his life from the hands of his own brothers as if purposed by God, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” Gen 50:50. Joseph spoke these words to his brothers when they stood before him, convicted of their guilt for crimes against their own father, brother, and God in heaven. Joseph’s words were an absolution to them. Ah! There’s another movie title: Repentance Happens.

All humans have the capacity to believe, and do believe in something. Movies like Love Happens bring to the forefront a need grounded in that capacity, to be absolved of one’s guilt. When repentance happens, who is there to speak the words of forgiveness as if Christ Himself is present? Christ instituted the means whereby His words of Absolution should be spoken by His servant and received by the hearer (John 20:22-23). If anything at all, Love Happens, in a quirky mixed up way, redefines why it is important to be where the things of Christ are going on and to receive them as often as one is able. That thief comes whenever he will. His Absolution is the only cure for that nasty g-spot that accuses and wills not to be silent. His comfort is the only true one, and is found nowhere but in the things of Christ and the unity of His Body.

JT's Here!

John Tristan Carder, all 8lbs 9oz and 20" of him, arrived at 12:51am today.

God be praised!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The wee one is being born tonight. More news as it happens. JT arrives on his own schedule, y'all know!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Listening to Children

“I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you.”

That’s the day-in and day-out litany of the children in my classroom. My students apologize for the least little infraction.

“Remember to dot your ‘i’s’”

“I’m sorry. I won’t forget.”

With as much sincerity as the apology is given, they expect to hear they’ve been forgiven. “That’s OK. I know
you’re still learning.” This is the gentle pattern of our life in the classroom. The students learn that all their failings are carried by Another, and that One carried them to the cross to die for them. Perfection is not attainable because sin has robbed us of that ability. Besides, no sin, no Jesus; Jesus only came for sinners. That doesn’t mean repentance is cheap. For, holding onto sins is the same as telling Jesus, “No, thank you. This sin’s on me. I’ll die for this one.” The children get it. They live from it freely and openly.

I cannot count the number of sermons I’ve listened to based on Eph 5:22-33. I can tell you this: The number of sermons based on this text encouraging husbands and wives to confess sins and absolve each other can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I watch my students submit to one another daily. They admit their sins openly and freely. They receive each other’s absolution, and the gates of heaven are opened to each other. Anger is released, grudges are stopped before they are even begun. Gossip is halted in its tracks.

When the sins against each other are serious, the students are asked if they would like to speak with the pastor to receive Absolution “as if Christ was speaking Himself” into their ears. Often they do. Sometimes it’s not an option. They are simply sent to pastor so he can help them untangle the mess they have made for themselves. They do not return without his Absolution, and an apology to all concerned.

These children live from the Absolution as Christ intended it (Mt 6:12). Luther caught the whole of it in the first of his Ninety-five Theses: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Repent), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

What of husbands and wives, though? Too often I’ve heard a sermon based Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives that seemed to want to only reminded me that “submit is not a dirty word.” Then it failed to tell me that the sort of confession of sin and forgiveness practiced by my students should also be practiced between husbands and wives. Of what higher service can any spouse be to the other than to speak Christ's words of forgiveness to the other? What better submission can any wife give to her husband than to ask that he forgive her, and he, in turn, die to her sins as Christ did for his, and hers?

This is not merely “looking over” the day-to-day trivia of human life encountered when two people live together. Did he miss the clothes basket again? Does she snore? Who forgot to close the refrigerator door or turn off the garage light? No, this is real confession of sin. Hurts and angers can submerge deep inside the heart and mind, not seeming to affect a relationship. Yet their edges poke and prickle, wearing away until finally they find a weak spot and emerge. Will it be confronted with more destruction? Or will there be an opportunity for forgiveness in Christ? Marriages can survive long and hard, even looking the healthy picture of Pauline dual submission, yet still be suffering without this joyous service between husband and wife.

Pastors, preach it as often as you are able! Husbands, wives, submit to each other with the confession of your sins. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church by forgiving her; wives, submit to your husbands forgiveness, for it is as Christ’s own to you--just as your wife's is Christ's to you. As Paul also says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God,” (1 Corinthians 11:4). But also as Paul's Teacher taught him, we are to forgive sins as we have been forgiven in and by Christ.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Emi and Maps from Here to There

Emi came to our house this summer. She spent her week again with us, all by herself. We picked her up in Little Rock and drove her down. She travels well, as she should. She’s made enough trans-Atlantic flights in her short life to take in a six-hour road trip like sand does water.

The first thing Emi did arriving at our place was pick a bowl full of blueberries–certainly a must if there was to be a tea party and muffins with Grammy in the morning. Emi helped make the muffins, of course. One of my students had given me a perfectly lovely tea set as a birthday gift. Little did they know what a treasure it would become.

Emi's daddy drove down with her little sister Lianna to pick her up. This gave Mommy some much needed rest during this last part of her pregnancy. Also, traveling is becoming hard on her right now. Lianna is two now, quite a handful, but so very precious. The three planned to go from here back to Arkansas to Cindy's parents' house. Her dad had a very mild stroke July 4, and the Army gave John time off to help him out around the house and with his recuperation. The night before they left here to go back to Little Rock Emi and her daddy studied maps to plan their route. Emi is fascinated with maps, an influence from the Dora show.

Emi is five-nearly-six. She has a late birth date, November. So she begins Kindergarten behind many other children born in her year. That’s often a blessing. She’ll benefit from that edge of maturity. Emi had already gone to VBS before coming to see us. One evening the television happened to land on a show in which a woman was knocked out or laid out or otherwise incapacitated. “Oh, Grammy,” Emi cried out, “she died!”

It wasn’t yet clear whether the show actually had taken that turn, but Emi perceived it to be that way. As I was trying to think of a response, she continued. “Don’t worry. She’ll come back alive again.” Now I didn’t know what to think. Was she already tainted by too much tv or video games, having seen too many characters ‘die’ only to been seen as ‘alive’ elsewhere? I decided to let Emi keep talking and let her tell me what she was meaning.

“Jesus died and He came back alive again. She died and she will come back alive again because Jesus forgives our sins.”

There it was, simple as can be. During Rev. John Rutowicz's lecture of The Augustana Ministerium's Challenge of Eastern Orthodoxy William Weedon can be heard to say, “Death is original sin made evident; and the converse is also true: original sin is death made visible.” Emi has already locked in the kernel of that maxim. For Emi, death is evidence of sin needing Christ’s forgiveness, and restoration to life is evidence of Life in Christ. Nice stuff even when a little child speaks that which flesh and blood has not revealed.

Emi with her pastor, Larry Peters of Grace Lutheran, Clarksville, TN, on the day she died and was resurrected in Christ.

Monday, May 25, 2009

War's Glory or Glorification

Pr. Peterson asks in his blog post The Cost of War, “Was there ever an idea so stupid as glory in war?” I’m not entering the thread that comment sprouted. It has by now taken on a life-form of its own, well removed from where it started.

Still, as the daughter, wife, and mother of military combatants, I’m somewhat pressed to answer that question. My father served in Vietnam, as did my husband. My son has seen duty in Gulf I, and now three tours in Iraq. This November he will see duty in Afghanistan. When the World Trade Towers were attacked he was in Kosovo. That is considered a combat tour, also. Al told that is six tours in combat zones.

My father once told me that the only glory in war was in the movies. My husband and son have echoed the same sentiment, but now include video games. I suppose, then, Pr. Peterson is correct on one level: Was there ever an idea so stupid as the glorification of war?

There is a distinct difference between there being glory in war, which is a result of human sacrifice for a greater good, and the glorification of war, which is magnifying war for its own sake. What I appreciate Pr. Peterson saying is the latter, not the former.

War is a necessary evil, now that we are subjected to sin in this life. While war reduces daily bread, a strong army protects the First Article gifts of the people.

It would therefore be fitting if the coat-of-arms of every upright prince were emblazoned with a loaf of bread instead of a lion or a wreath of rue, or if a loaf of bread were stamped on coins, to remind both princes and subjects that through the office of the princes we enjoy protection and peace and that without them we could not have the steady blessing of daily bread. (LC: LP, 75)

And yet why is there war? God chastises His children.

By nature we all have this beautiful virtue that whenever we commit a wrong we like to cover and gloss over our disgrace so that no one may see it or know it. Nor man is so arrogant as to boast before the whole world of the wickedness he has committed. We prefer to act in secret without anyone’s being aware of it. Then if anyone is denounced, God and his name have to be dragged in to turn the villainy into righteousness and the disgrace into honor.

This is the common course of the world. Like a great deluge, it has flooded all lands. Hence we get what we deserve: plague, war, famine, fire, flood, wayward wives and children and servants, and troubles of every kind. Where else could so much misery come from? It is a great mercy that the earth still bears and sustains us. LC: The Ten Commandments, art. ii, par. 59-60)

It is good to read The Children’s Homer with children. They get a taste of what war is really like. The men of Tory argue, “We are right! Our cause is just. Helen came with Paris willingly.” The men of Sparta argue, “Menelaus did no wrong. No man should have his wife stolen from him. There is a pact among the rulers, and it must be honored.” The children learn that on both sides there is honor and sacrifice for friends; on both sides there is dishonor in war.

We also read the book with this as our presupposition: “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15). There are no good works for those who are not in Christ, even by way of the Promise. It is a tough lesson to work through for some, but they soon get it.

This is a lesson the world about us doesn’t get, so it glorifies war itself. We don’t recognize that war is God’s tool calling the nation to repentance. Repentance? Repentance for what? That implies sin, and this nation has yet to identify real sin instead of its own made-up varieties of socio-political wrong-doings.

There are glories in war, true instances where soldiers have made sacrifices. Some, where, when or whom we can only leave to the Father Himself, are magnificent good works. These aren’t the same things as we now see portrayed in the movies and cheapened by video games. I understand that a hungry nation wanting to express gratitude to its Audy Murphys and SGT Yorks wanted to see their stories portrayed onscreen–but unending versions of Rambo and Empire: Total War are another thing entirely.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sneak Peek


... John Tristan Carder, expected to arrive sometime in early October. Cute kid, isn't he?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Decisions

It’s Mother’s Day. OK, if Mom isn’t near you, you can at least pick up the phone and join in on the following exercise. Turn to her and say:

“Mom, thanks for toting me around for all those months. Thanks for putting up with sick tummies, swollen ankles, and sore backs just to give me a place to be nurtured before I was born. Aren’t you glad I decided to be born? Sure I know you did some pushing and had your part to do, but it was really my decision that brought me into the world, giving me life. And anyway, aren't you happy I chose you to be my mother? I sure am!”

Now I don’t know how things are in your families, but I know how they are in mine. Had my father ever heard me speak to my mother like that I’d likely not be sitting well for a couple days. Even if my dad hadn’t heard me speak such vile words to my mother, she’d have taken care of me herself. She’s that sort of woman. Good for her.

But let’s look at things a little deeper. Isn’t that statement the very same thinking that lurks behind decision theology? That’s the theology that says in large or small parts we make a decision that contributes toward our salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life in Christ.

I had a discussion recently with Bruce following my blog post Fireproof. Bruce took issue with how I characterized the speech of the actors who used words like, “Before I gave my life to the Lord... When I gave my life to God...” He said they themselves would not approve of the terminology “decision theology” because, if asked, they would say that the Lord had acted in their hearts, and all they had done was the Lord’s work. It was just their manner of speaking, but they meant what we mean.

My response to that was, “OK, then surely they also baptize infants.” Therein is the true test between those who reject decision theology in all its parts, and those who merely reject the appellation “decision theology” because it itches like a cheap wool sweater. There was other work to do before that question would be answered, though.

There was still that book, The Love Dare, the book from which the film Fireproof sprang. The Love Dare was written by Stephen and Alex Kendrick, both of whom serve as pastors at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. They are also film makers. Fireproof is one of theirs. Reading through the book demonstrated just how much that term must be itching. There was more language of “receive” than of “accept.”

And yet, this is simply a slippery mask on a façade. Midway through the book is written,

Perhaps you’ve never given your heart to Christ, but you sense Him drawing you today. You may be realizing for the first time that you. too, have broken God’s commands, and that your guilt will keep you from knowing Him. But Scripture says that if you repent by turning away from your sin and turning to God, He is willing to forgive you because of the sacrifice His Son made on the cross. He is pursuing you, not to enslave you but to free you, so you can receive His love and forgiveness. Then you can share it with the ones you’ve been called most specifically to love.

The language of decision theology has changed. There is more talk of receiving what Christ gives, and an emphasis on the fact that it is the Holy Spirit who gives it. Yet in the final the movement is the penitent toward Christ, rather than Christ toward the penitent. Perhaps you’ve never given your heart to Christ. . . Christ is drawing, but the final work rests upon the one who gives his heart to Christ. It is a fascinating interest that so many of those who practice decision theology–even while they abhor its name and try to distance themselves from it–deny baptism to infants because it is this group of humans who cannot make that step toward Christ. So it is Infant Baptism that most clearly delineates those who are truly practitioners of decision theology, and those who are not. Soft words can cover a heap of indiscretions, but is the practice that will reveal the theology.

I wrote to Rev. Michael Catt, Senior Pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church, and asked him directly. “Do you practice Infant Baptism?” He had an assistant respond, asking that I include his entire response. I agreed. It follows here.

What about infant baptism?

Since baptism is for those who have repented and believed, we do not practice infant immersion. An infant cannot repent. An infant cannot believe. Hence, we practice "believer's baptism." Infant immersion began in the early centuries (by the year 200 A.D.) because of the development and distortion of two doctrines. One is called "baptismal regeneration" which said that baptism actually washed away one's sin or regenerated the person. The other distortion had to do with the doctrine of "original sin." The church came to believe that an infant was born not only with original sin, but also with original guilt which meant that an infant was guilty before God and God would hold him accountable for his sin. Thus, if the child died, then he was doomed for hell. Since the church believed that baptism actually saved the candidate, they began to do the next logical thing: they baptized babies believing that the rite saved the child if it were to die.

This idea is called the Sacramental View of baptism. A sacrament is thought to be a channel through which God bestows grace upon a candidate. Baptists have never been sacramentalists. We don’t call baptism a sacrament. We understand that the Bible teaches baptism to be a symbol. Thus, we use the term “ordinance” to describe the rite. An ordinance is something that has been ordained or decreed by God. Jesus commanded us to be baptized as a symbol of what has happened in the life of someone who has reached the age of accountability and consequently is old enough to repent and believe.

Many of the mainline Protestant denominations modified their teaching from a sacramental view to a symbolic one. They have continued to sprinkle infants, but they have poured new content into its meaning. Some consider it to be an act of dedication for the parents. Others see it as a sort of down payment on the infant’s salvation. They say that the infant is baptized that he may be saved rather than to save him. And then others believe infants are children of God because of their innocence and the faith of their parents. We believe that a child is innocent and if the child dies he is received into the eternal presence of God.

It helps to remember that when most mainline denominations were founded (in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries), baptism was not a major issue as it is with Baptist, and in most instances it was not even a minor one. Denominations like the Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians began because of issues totally unrelated to baptism. Hence, they kept the rite of infant sprinkling, but poured new meaning into it.

Baptists came out of the Church of England in the mid-1600s over the issue of believers’ immersion. Since the church and the state were one on the same in those days, their acts of immersion adult believers were considered treason. Thus our Baptist forefathers were harassed and persecuted and in some cases put to death because of this “new” and “heretical” teaching.

I’d like to suggest we reclaim the term “decision theology.” Let’s say we all gather together and hash this thing out, beginning with whether or not Baptism now saves you or if infants who leap in their mother’s womb at the sound of the Christ-bearer’s voice can believe. We can move on to what's for Supper and who rightly serves the Meal. Then it will be a good time to make a decision, a decision based on what scripture says. Then it will be time to decide to be Lutheran. And in making that decision, one would practice like a Lutheran, speak like a Lutheran and actually mean the same thing as Lutherans believe teach and confess, and worship as Lutherans–rather than trying to put otherwise style onto Lutheran substance. This all includes recognizing that we Lutherans already have a perfectly wonderful marriage handbook without all the little pitfalls of The Love Dare and Fireproof impinging upon our spiritual health and welfare. It’s called the Catechism.

Now wouldn’t it be something if we Lutherans paid as much honor to our own ABC’s as we do to the spz’s from elsewhere? Why, it would be akin to paying honor to our own Mother rather than to glorifying some flounced up actress playing a mother.

But this I say for myself: I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism—and I also do so gladly. These fussy, fastidious fellows would like quickly, with one reading, to be doctors above all doctors, to know it all and to need nothing more. Well this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the people’s souls, yes, even God and his Word. They do not need to fall, for they have already fallen all too horribly. What they need, however, is to become children and begin to learn the ABCs, which they think they have long since outgrown. M. Luther

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Pictures

As per request, here are pictures of the sanctuary taken last night and this morning, dressed for Easter. Last night we began Easter celebrations with the Easter Vigil. That's when two were baptized and confirmed into Christ, one renewed her confirmation into Christ, and two others were confirmed into Christ. It was a night and morning filled with hymns, readings, psalms, incense, oil, water, bread, wine, and CHRIST in all of these things!

The youngest children used cut flowers to adorn the cross. This is the first place I've ever been where this custom has been maintained. My first Good Friday here I participated in the liturgical rite: The pastor holding high the unadorned former Christmas-tree-now-made-cross and intoning, "Behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the world;" the congregation then chanting in reply, "O come let us worship Him." That was an excitement in and of itself. Yet upon returning the next evening for the Easter Vigil, a greater one awaited. The bare cross pastor had carried to the four corners of the sanctuary was now shrouded in white bandaging. For all the world that cross imaged Christ in His burial garment to me. It was striking.

To maintain that imagery this year, pastor has decided to leave the altar adorned only with the fair linen throughout the Easter season. The altar is a work of art in and of itself. The superfrontal, which is no less a beautiful piece of art of a different kind, lays over a portion of the altar, as if it were a mask for the beauty underneath (A great lesson there!). But for the Easter season another lesson is being told to us.

Jesus burst forth from the tomb, leaving His burial clothes behind on death's bed where He slept for three days. The simplicity of the fair linen on the granite of the altar recalls this. The altar is the place where Christ is present for us in the bread and wine; Christ literally sits enthroned upon this altar. So to leave a bare slab of rock with only a strip of linen across it is not a far stretch to thinking, "This is where My Lord's Body and Blood lie for me; this is the place where the Church is born form Christ."

By the way, the cover is removed from the Baptismal font prior to each Mass. The font has water for those who wish to dip their fingers and make the sign of the cross.

So, more views--as Easter progresses. We left before the flowered cross was taken to the roadside fence for passersby to see as they drove by. My newest godson needed to get home. He'd already had a long day. I think he'd have gone on for more. He was acolyte today. Had a lot to do, lighting candles, holding books. I asked him if he felt any different today. He said he did. He said he slept better last night than any night he ever did before. Baptism's like that. And he's been waiting a long time for it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

All Ye Works Of God!

It has been a labor of love and aching backs and sore hands–literally so for there were breaks taken for surgery on David’s back and hands. Yet by Palm Sunday Michelle’s vision had come to fruition, and the chancel area was complete. This is not to say that the renovations of the interior of the church are complete. There are still some bit-and-pieces yet to be attended to, but the major portion is finished. We can enjoy the beauty of what Michelle envisioned and David and his crew of many volunteers crafted.

In case you’ve forgotten how far we’ve come, here is a photo of my consecration that will give an idea of “then”. The rest shown were taken this morning for the “now.” The altar is dressed for Good Friday.

This week, whether it was Holy Tuesday or Holy Wednesday I don’t recall, we had just finished Matins and my class left to use the bathrooms in the church, as is their custom. I asked them to wait for me in the church while I checked the state of the trash receptacles. The are small and need emptying often, especially with frequent services and babies attending. When I went to collect them, they were oddly quiet. I’ve struggled with them to keep their voices respectfully low in the sanctuary all year long. “Don’t you know it’s a throne room?” Do you realize that the King of Kings sits on that altar in the bread and wine?” This is no place for being rowdy.”

On this day they were standing near the communion rail, entranced by every word coming from pastor’s mouth. They were asking questions, “What is that for?;” “What do we have that up there?”; “What does this symbol mean?”; and finally, the great catechetical question of God’s children,“What is this? ” Pastor was answering each one, making the link to Christ. They didn’t want to stop, and not merely because they wanted to miss Math classes. They wanted more of Jesus.

People can argue, as they did with Jesus (Mk 14:4-5), “These are hard times. Money is tough. Why do you spend it on luxury when it should be spent on the poor?” The answer is simple. It was spent on the poor. It was spent on the poor in spirit so that they might have more Jesus.

This is the highest reason we adorn churches. It is not for the sake of puffery, for making ourselves look grand. It is so the great catechetical question is asked, “What is this?” and it can be answered through Christ. Bread of heaven given; bread received.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Laetare: Rejoice in What it is!

Now and again a word or even a phrase hits me right between two firing neurons and literally explodes with excitement and heavenly light. Such occurred on Laetare of this year, the Fourth Sunday in Lent–which was March 22.

The Old Testament reading included Exodus 16:15, “When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.’”

In Hebrew the word for the question asked is "manna," What is it? It’s a double entendre. The question names the thing asked about: Manna? Manna. It’s sort of an Hebraic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” Still, it’s by God’s giving that the question is asked and answered in the first place, so it is God’s happy joke on us.

Manna, is very similar to another question with which we are familiar, Luther’s Was ist das? (What is this?) of his Small Catechism. And this is where it all gets exciting.

After walking around in that huge vast desert the Children of Israel were hungry. So God fed them His way. He sent them bread from heaven. It sustained them in their temporal life, but not eternally. For that another Bread from heaven was needed. Jesus would speak of that later during His ministry on earth (Jn 6:49-58).

As God’s New Israel (He 8:8), the baptized wander in a desert no less vast and huge, no less fraught with dangers and enemies than our forefathers in faith did. They are just as hungry. God feeds them again with His heavenly food. Luther’s catechetical question makes the connection for us. God’s Word comes to us as heavenly bread; we ask,What is this? The answer is a confession according to His Word. Daily bread given; daily bread received. All this in preparation for the Greater Bread to be given and received in the gift of His Son who gives His own Flesh and Blood for us to eat and drink in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins.

Was ist das?, What is this? It is Christ, come down from heaven.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fireproof: Water on Hotspots

A comment to my blog post, Fireproof, caused me to view Fireproof again. I like to be accurate, but try as I might, sometimes I do fail. This time I did. I got the quote wrong. In my original post I wrote:

And that’s the biggest error of the movie. At the “final breaking point” for the character played by Cameron, his father is leading him to realize that he has not kept God’s Law. The Law is being proclaimed in all its severity. “How can I go on loving someone who keeps rejecting me?” Cameron asks. His father is now standing near a cross, built near a lakeside trail. It is then Cameron realizes there is a connection between Christ and his marriage. His father fills in the gap, and does so beautifully while proclaiming the Gospel in all its sweetness, “God doesn’t love you because you are lovable, but because He loves you. He loves you because His Son died for you.” Then it all comes crashing down as the Gospel is ripped away and everything is left in utter despair, “But son, you’ve got to decide…” followed by a litany of what must be done to be acceptable or to let Jesus in. Shoulda known. Wasn’t it daddy who first told his son, “Well, you haven’t opened the door very much to let Jesus in, either.”

The quote I got wrong is, “But son, you’ve got to decide…” What Caleb’s father actually says is, “The cross was offensive to me until I came to it.” For that I do apologize. I do so dislike inaccuracy in my work, and I appreciate my attention being called to it.

However, that doesn’t undo what I have written about the movie; in fact, it further supports it. The scene is a powerful one. John Holt, Caleb’s father, gets the message of Law and Grace right, only to snatch Caleb from the comfort of Grace and then to toss him into the jaws of the Law and leave him back in it. I suppose the statement would be alright in and of itself if left in isolation and if it were the only one like it. We sometimes talk in that casual way. But Caleb's friend Mike at the station house exacerbates the situation when he says, “Before I gave my life to the Lord... When I gave my life to God...” All of this is Law-talk. It is speaking of what we do, not of what God has done and is dong for us in Christ. If it is our response to Him that completes conversion in some way, then how can it be said that it was all Christ’s work of salvation that saves us. Wouldn’t it be more accurate, if we are responsible to give our lives to God, to say that some of our salvation rests on us, as a part of our responsibility? In that case, wouldn’t that mean that Jesus is only a partial Savior, and we are co-Savior with Him?

Even young children can understand this, and they do because they have parents. They didn’t ask their parents to be their parents. Their mothers and fathers are theirs because they did something that caused the conception of their children. The children didn’t one day say, “I give my life to you. You are my father. You are my mother.” If my children had ever spoken to me that way I’d have taken them to the bedroom for a long sit-down.

Paul says we are at enmity with God, and cannot be subject to Him ( Ro 8:7). But this is good news, too. Jesus came for sinners, not the righteous, who have no need of Him (Mt 9:13). John Holt spoke rightly when he said the cross is offensive to those who reject not only Christ’s Grace, but also God’s Law. So how does this get reversed? How do us God-haters become those who desire to keep His Law? Something has to happen in a person in order for the cross to no longer be offensive, and that “something” needs to be delivered. That’s where God’s Grace comes in. Grace is what God has done and does through Christ. But what good is it for you if it is not given to you? How can it be effective in your life if it is not yours to apprehend? It is a simple concept: If we by nature are unable to turn to Christ (as Paul says), then Christ’s gifts must be delivered to us.

Children also understand the wonderful habit parents have of giving gifts. Parents will break the bankroll on birthdays and at Christmas for their children, then wrap the gifts and hide them until that special day arrives. The children know the gifts are coming. Is it enough for the parents to tell the little darlings, “We bought you gifts. Here are the receipts. We wrapped them up. We even have pictures of them–see?” Hardly! The gifts need to be delivered. The need to go from the hand of the giver to the receiver.

Christ has instituted the means whereby this happens with His Gifts for the Church through the Holy Spirit. Faith, once delivered, is not sustained in a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, and once found, a host of that which is not of the Faith rushes in. Jesus sent His apostles out with the instruction, “He who hears you hears Me,” (Lk 10:16). This authority is reinforced after His resurrection when He tells His apostles that they are to forgive sins in His name, even withholding forgiveness from the unrepentant (Jn 20:23). Christ’s institution of Baptism for all nations, (Mt 28:19), goes hand-in-hand with “teaching all that He command” and His promise “lo I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). In Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22, and 1Co 11 Christ locates Himself in the bread and wine. “This is my Body... this is My Blood.” With these words Christ has located Himself. He is wherever His baptizing and teaching, His Absolution, and His Holy Supper are going on. These are the things of the Church, for this is how the church knows where Christ is for them. It is by these Means the Holy Spirit is delivering God the Father’s gifts of Grace through and for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. This is how the church is created and sustained.

Caleb is left alone at the outdoor cross after his confrontation with his father. We see much of that in the movie: Caleb alone in the bedroom struggling and praying, Caleb alone with the computer, etc. Granted, not everything can be presented in this film, and perhaps the makers didn’t want to offend by presenting a church setting that might make it seem to lean toward one particular denomination. Choices have to be made. I get that. So the focus was on the marital issues. Still, marriage cannot be separated from its institution in Christ especially when a Christian organization wants to make a film on how to fireproof a marriage. A marriage cannot be fireproofed without water, and lots of it. And by “water” I mean the water of Baptism–through the daily living in it. We see and hear a lot about Jesus in Fireproof, but He is never delivered to anyone. The Gifts are purchased, wrapped, and hidden in a closet somewhere, waiting to be given. Not only did the characters in the film only receive (word) pictures of them, they also spoke as if they could give their lives to their own Heavenly Father–as if they had something to do with their own salvation!

This grates on me, for it is Law disguised as Grace. So it is for this reason I will continue to throw Kleenex boxes at the movie, and advise any right-minded pastor to not expose his congregation to the teachings in The Love Dare. Some have argued that it is good to use because it depicts the situations in marriages so well. That it does, as I have already written. Therein lies the entrapment. Fireproof is well-done, and does depict life as we know it. For that reason one is pulled in before even realizing it. And for that reason the false doctrine in it is even more dangerous. C. F. W. Walther advised his hearers:

Lastly, he [Paul] writes to the Galatian congregation, after errorists had found their way into them, in chap. 5:7–9: “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” He means to say that a single false teaching vitiates the entire body of the Christian doctrine, even as a little poison dropped into pure water produces a deadly potion.1

Now as long as we are in the correction mode, There are two more things that need correcting–this time from the post Fireproof Reprise (I have to tell you, my memory is unreliable! That’s why I love my books.) I had complained that Caleb did not confess his sins. Wrong! Caleb did confess his sins to his wife, and she forgave him. In the blog post I can see I was thinking more of Holy Absolution. The forgiveness from his wife was a good scene–and necessary. Also, the song with the lyrics “waiting for Jesus” doesn’t occur while Caleb is on the trail, but later. There is less of that sort of thought when one knows where to find Him according to where He has promised He will be with His forgiveness of sins: in the water of Baptism, the preaching and teaching of His Word, His Absolution, and His Holy Supper.

There you are. Here I am. My Old Adam may be drowned daily and much, but he floats just as daily and much. I am a sinner. Thank God in Christ for Jesus!

1 Walther, C. F. W., Dau, W. H. T., & Eckhardt, E. (2000, c1929, c1986). The proper distinction between law and gospel : 39 evening lectures. Forward by Jaroslav Pelikan. Includes index. (electronic ed.) (350). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Morning Prayer

The more I use it, the less I know it. Even the simplest sections have a depth that defies reaching. Every now and again an opportunity to delve deeper into its riches presents itself, and I find myself in awe of its beauty once more. I’m speaking of the Small Catechism, of course.

Our classroom opening ritual consists of the Invocation, Luther’s Morning Prayer, The Lord’s Prayer (in Greek), the Creed (in Latin), the Pledge of Allegiance, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, and the National Anthem. By then we are ready to pray the Catechism and go to Chapel.

One day last week one of my students was silent during the Morning Prayer. We can’t have any of that, I decided. Instead of fussing at the poor child, I reckoned that he really didn’t know what he was missing out on. It was time to break Luther’s prayer down, bit-by-bit according to good Was ist das? style.

It’s a simple prayer, written for use by the children of God of all ages.

I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.


I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son

God becomes a Father to us through Christ, His Son. It is Christ who revealed God as “ Our Father.” Through Christ we may speak to God as our Father, asking Him whatever we will. He is our Father in Christ; we are His children in Christ.

that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger;

Do we not confess in the First Article of the Creed that our heavenly Father, the God Almighty Creator of heaven and earth defends and protects us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil?

First Petition

and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil

In the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray that “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come.” Of course, God’s kingdom has already come to the baptized, and none will be snatched away from it (Jn 10:27-28).

that all my doings and life may please You.

When we pray this simple line we do so in accord with the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. To hallow God’s name, keep it holy, is to teach His Word in truth and purity so that we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Conversely, anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. So we pray here that we may not be found among those who profane God, but, rather, in the company of those who glorify His name by our work and speech.

Second Petition
For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul and all things.
These words Christ Himself spoke from the cross, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Lk 23:46). Our Lord and Savior, ever filling His own mouth with His Father’s Word, was quoting Psalm 31.

5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

Jesus trusted Himself to His Father for all things, even His death for sins that were not His own. The Father turned away from His own Son on the cross and chose to save mankind. On that day, the First Son came last, and the last sons came first. Then God’s Son was raised from the dead. He who was last is now the firstfruit of the resurrection of the dead, and those who are in Him shall be as He is. So we, too, pray as He did.


Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.

God sets His angels watch over His own. There are heavenly angels whom God sends for this purpose (Ps 34:7). And then there are other angels God sends for His purposes. For what is an angel but a messenger? And what greater power over the evil one is there than God’s own Word and Christ’s Sacraments, the very living presence of Immanuel? The Office of the Holy Ministry and the angels therein administer to the needs of Christ’s people, that the evil foe may not claim any as his own.


The blessedness of this word resounds in heaven! Yes and yes again! It shall be so because we are in Christ and He has given these words to us.

Obama Beats Jesus

I skimmed over the news about Obama being more popular than other "icons" of the era, such as Mother Teresa, Ghandi, JFK, and even Jesus. Was that meant to make me go flippity dippity or some such thing? Jesus Himself said it would be that way.

Moreover, that's the way of the two religions, and of the life of the Christian who lives as both sinner and saint in this life in the first place. There are only two religions in this world. There are those religions by which a person will appease his god by his own gifts as retribution for sin in hope of salvation and heaven, and there is the religion in which God gave His only-begotten Son to die for the sake of the sins of all mankind. What a paltry substitution it is to trade one's own good works, or even one's faith (as if it were the one last good work to be done) for what God gives freely for the forgiveness of sins. This is truly what it means to be one's own god. And Christians can be swept up in this idolatry, too.

The irony of the news report that Obama is more popular than Jesus is that in all Christian honesty daily and much we are more popular than Jesus to ourselves. That is why we fail to love our neighbor as we ought. Even if we do not murder him, even if we do not maliciously slander him, do we do all we can to help him in his bodily and spiritual needs? Do we speak well of him and protect his image? Do we covet what others have? That's what all those ads on TV are for in the first place, to incite covetousness. How well do we combat that inclination?

This is why the whole life of a Christian is that of repentance, plunged ever deeper into Baptism. Just as we sin often and much, so do we need to be drowned often and much. This doesn't mean re-Baptism. Scripture is clear in Ephesians 4 that there is only one Baptism. What this means is daily confessing what God already knows is true about us: "I am the sinner. Only Jesus saves me from sin, death and the devil." This is repentance. This is living daily in Baptism, drowning the Old Adam so that the New Man might arise.