Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beloved of God

This summer I had the distinct pleasure of obtaining my first, very own copy of Johann Gerhard's Sacred Meditations (translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler). While I have heard and read many wonderful things about Gerhard and his Lutheran Orthodoxy, I never had the joy before of reading his writing itself. I have found it to be the deep, contemplative, and holy book of meditations on God's faithfulness and love and on the consolations and certainties that the beset sinner has in the assurance of Christ's work for me that I imagined I would find there. Beautiful.

A snippet that I read from Meditation VIII: The Certainty of Our Salvation today moved me to want to write again on this blog, and hopefully resume my former practice of working out my own meditations on the sacred presence and work of the Lord Jesus in all of life, even in the seemingly common bits of life.

Without any further digressions or explanations, here is the motivating excerpt:

Inexpressibly great was the price of our redemption (I Peter 1:18); great and marvelous, then, is the mercy of God in our redemption. It would almost seem to one as if God loves His elect children as dearly as He loves His only-begotten Son; for what we obtain by purchase we certainly esteem of greater value than that which we give in exchange for it. And that He might have adopted sons, God did not spare His own co-essential Son. 
 Gerhard follows a logical conclusion about God's love for us that I have never before considered, and perhaps that is the reason it struck me as so powerful.

That God loves us, his elect children, as dearly as Jesus, his only-begotten Son.

And yet how true it must be, for the Father to give the Son in exchange for us, as a ransom for all mankind.

Gerhard's words bring also to mind God's promise through the prophet Isaiah: a promise to the nation of Israel, a promise to the Israel of faith, that is you and me and all the redeemed:

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine... Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, people in exchange for your life. Isaiah 43:1, 4
Not only does the LORD promise to give peoples in exchange for the lives of his chosen ones, He gives the life of His own Son as their ransom. And what a fearful and wonderful privilege, to be purchased at such a costly price.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Some thoughts on vocation

I took a few minutes to read the news today, a beloved practice of mine that I have neglected for far too long. Sifting through The New York Times website, I found the opinion article "A Life Beyond 'Do What You Love'"

It was a refreshing read, to see a lucid articulation of what Lutherans call the Doctrine of Vocation there on the page: doing what is necessary, what is best, what is good for your neighbor, rather than simply what one likes to do.

These are the things that the Lord calls His people to: serving the neighbor, whether its convenient or not, whether it's the thing that one would most like to do.

This idea of vocation may also involve a call to love and serve when it is decidedly inconvenient, even when to the world it looks like lunacy. Like this incredible video I saw recently.

The living God does not ask something that He is unable or unwilling to do, Himself. He is not above doing the necessary thing, like remaining on the cross to serve His people, in spite of taunts and revilings.
"'He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.'" Matthew 27:42

The beautiful, upside-down thing about Christianity is the incredible honor in being asked by the Lord to do "lowly" things.

We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:23-25
God grant that I may honor Him and my neighbor today and every day in the vocation He's given me. And if it pleases Him, may He also grant me joy and pleasure in this service.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Long Middle

Today I find myself thinking about being in the "long middle" of things. Right now the Church throughout the world is in the long middle of Lent, we're almost exactly halfway between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

And how is Lent going? How is my penitence? My contrition? My self-examination? Frankly, not as impressive as I hoped it would be at the beginning of this season of penitence, contrition, and self-examination. Somehow, somewhere along the way I got distracted by the fact that the rest of the world, and the demands of vocation continue on as though Lent were not. I find it difficult to focus on slowing myself and my thoughts down in the midst of the bustle of life-- even during Lent-- in order to reflect and meditate on the real state of affairs in my sin-laden heart, and to see which part of me the Lord is working on for my sanctification.

So there's another thing to repent of: imperfect penitence.

In this long middle of Lent, I also find myself thinking about the long middle of Lent in the life of Christ. The long middle of Jesus' 40 days of wilderness fasting; the long middle of Satan's temptations; the long middle of that night when he was seized and shuffled from one part of the Holy City to another, from one kangaroo court to another; the long middle of the Via Dolorosa; the long middle of those agonizing crucified hours. And, for the disciples, the long middle of those days in the tomb when all was silent and all hope seemed lost.

And now for the Bride of Christ, the long middle of life as we continue to await His reappearing and long for the wedding banquet to begin.

Perhaps the Lord is teaching me patience (one virtue that I am particularly lacking), teaching me to wait. The Lord is indeed not slow in keeping his promise, and perhaps He is teaching me to wait on Him as He takes His time in teaching me penitence and contrition and self-examination. And as He sanctifies me while I wait in the long middle for Him.

May God grant it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How is the role deaconess found in the Triumphal Entry?

This morning, my dear husband and I read Matthew 21 (The Triumphal Entry/ "Palm Sunday") in our devotion time. This carried me back to Dec. 1, the first Sunday in Advent, and my deaconess commissioning and installation. Matthew 21:1-11 was the text for Pr. Jonathan Mumme's sermon that morning. He made a beautiful, humorous, and humbling case for how a deaconess is like a donkey in this story. 

Hosannah to the Lord! For He fulfills God's word.

Matthew's account of Palm Sunday is the only one that tells of two donkeys: the unbroken colt and the other one. The Lord rode on the colt, the one on which no one had ever sat. The other donkey-- the auxiliary donkey-- was the one which bore burdens on behalf of the colt, that the colt might be reserved for bearing the Lord. 

The deaconess is like an auxiliary donkey: she bears burdens and performs many tasks so that the pastor, like the colt, might bear the Lord, and bring Him to the people. Both animals are beasts of burden and neither receive glory for themselves, but their task is a glorious one. For the first, it is to bear the Lord. For the other, it is to facilitate the bearing of the Lord. 

What a blessing it is, then, to be in the role of auxiliary donkey. At times this calling, as Pr. Mumme assured me, will be work, a heavy struggle. After all, donkeys are beasts of burden, and an auxiliary donkey certainly is tasked with weighty loads. The blessing is in the knowledge that this work, this role, is one which enables the Lord's other servants to focus on the primary need of bringing Christ Jesus where He means to go. What more honorable role is there than serving so that the Lord's work is done! As a deaconess, may I be a joyful burden-bearer, and devoid of that other trait for which donkeys are so well known: intransigence and stubbornness. God grant it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

All about the Blood

Today, in my morning devotions I tripped across a couple of great things that I thought I should share. Enjoy!
But if you say: What, then, shall I do if I cannot feel such distress or experience hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? Answer: For those who are so minded that they do not realize their condition I know no better counsel than that they put their hand into their bosom to ascertain whether they also have flesh and blood. And if you find that to be the case, then go, for your good, to St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, and hear what sort of a fruit your flesh is: Now the works of the flesh (he says [Gal. 5:19ff ]) are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.

76] Therefore, if you cannot feel it, at least believe the Scriptures; they will not lie to you, and they know your flesh better than you yourself. Yea, St. Paul further concludes in Rom. 7:18: I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. If St. Paul may speak thus of his flesh, we do not propose to be better nor more holy. 77] But that we do not feel it is so much the worse; for it is a sign that there is a leprous flesh which feels nothing, and yet [the leprosy] rages and keeps spreading. 78] Yet, as we have said, if you are quite dead to all sensibility, still believe the Scriptures, which pronounce sentence upon you. And, in short, the less you feel your sins and infirmities, the more reason have you to go to the Sacrament to seek help and a remedy.

79] In the second place, look about you and see whether you are also in the world, or if you do not know it, ask your neighbors about it. If you are in the world, do not think that there will be lack of sins and misery. For only begin to act as though you would be godly and adhere to the Gospel, and see whether no one will become your enemy, and, moreover, do you harm, wrong, and violence, and likewise give you cause for sin and vice. If you have not experienced it, then let the Scriptures tell you, which everywhere give this praise and testimony to the world.

80] Besides this, you will also have the devil about you, whom you will not entirely tread under foot, because our Lord Christ Himself could not entirely avoid him. Now, what is the devil? 81] Nothing else than what the Scriptures call him, a liar and murderer. A liar, to lead the heart astray from the Word of God, and to blind it, that you cannot feel your distress or come to Christ. A murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour. 82] If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible. But there is no reason why we walk so securely and heedlessly, except that we neither think nor believe that we are in the flesh, and in this wicked world or in the kingdom of the devil.

83] Therefore, try this and practise it well, and do but examine yourself, or look about you a little, and only keep to the Scriptures. If even then you still feel nothing, you have so much the more misery to lament both to God and to your brother. Then take advice and have others pray for you, and do not desist until the stone be removed from your heart. 84] Then, indeed, the distress will not fail to become manifest, and you will find that you have sunk twice as deep as any other poor sinner, and are much more in need of the Sacrament against the misery which unfortunately you do not see, so that, with the grace of God, you may feel it more and become the more hungry for the Sacrament, especially since the devil plies his force against you, and lies in wait for you without ceasing to seize and destroy you, soul and body, so that you are not safe from him one hour. How soon can he have brought you suddenly into misery and distress when you least expect it!

85] Let this, then, be said for exhortation, not only for those of us who are old and grown, but also for the young people, who ought to be brought up in the Christian doctrine and understanding. For thereby the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer might be the more easily inculcated to our youth, so that they would receive them with pleasure and earnestness, and thus would practise them from their youth and accustom themselves to them. 86] For the old are now well-nigh done for, so that these and other things cannot be attained, unless we train the people who are to come after us and succeed us in our office and work, in order that they also may bring up their children successfully, that the Word of God and the Christian Church may be preserved. 87] Therefore let every father of a family know that it is his duty, by the injunction and command of God, to teach these things to his children, or have them learn what they ought to know. For since they are baptized and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy this communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us; for they must all indeed help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil.

You need this! It is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin.

-Luther's Large Catechism, Section V: "The Sacrament of the Altar"

Let us then return from the Table like lions breathing fire, having become terrible to the devil; thinking on our Head [Christ] and on the love that He has shown for us... Our Lord says: "I feed you with My own flesh, desiring that you all be nobly born, and holding forth good hopes for your future... I have willed to become your Brother. For your sake, I shared in flesh and blood, and, in turn, I give you the flesh and the blood by which I became your kinsman." This blood causes the image of our King to be fresh within us. It produces beauty unspeakable and prevents the nobleness of our souls from wasting away... It nourishes our souls and works in them a might power. This blood, if rightly taken, drives away devils, and keeps them far from us, while it calls the angels and the Lord of angels to us. For wherever they see the Lord's blood, devils flee and angels run together. This blood poured forth and washed all the world clean. St. Paul uttered many wise saying concerning it in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This blood cleansed the secret place and the Holy of Holies. And if the type off this blood had such great power in the temple of the Hebrews, and in the midst of Egypt, when smeared on the doorposts, much more the reality! The type sanctified the golden altar. Without it [the blood of the sacrifices], the high priest dared not enter into the secret place. It even consecrated priests. It cleansed sins [in the Old Testament]. But if the blood [of the sacrifices] was but a type and had such power, if death so shuddered at the shadow, tell me how would it not have dreaded the very reality? The blood [of Christ] is the salvation of our souls. By it the soul is washed, it beautiful, and is inflamed! This blood causes our understanding to be more bright than fire and our soul more beaming than gold. This blood was poured forth and opened heaven.

-- John Chrysostom

Painting by Lucas Cranach the Younger

It's all about the blood here, folks.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I've been thinking for a LONG time that I really ought to resume posting on this blog, retooling it as a blog for sharing with my friends, family, and supporters those things which I am learning in my seminary education, and hopefully transmitting some of the solid education I am receiving here at Concordia Seminary as I'm being formed for deaconess service in the LCMS. I am going to try to post once again on a regular basis, hopefully weekly.

This morning, the appointed reading from the Book of Concord was the seventh petition of the Lord's Prayer in the Large Catechism, particularly paragraphs 121-124:
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 that 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.
Martin Luther LOVES to remind us to pray with certainty, giving our resounding "Amen" to the end of our prayers, knowing that as God's dear children, we can ask our dear Father for whatever we need. And He will hear us, NOT because of who we are-- for we are sinners, it is true-- but because He has promised He will hear us for Christ's sake!

This is something that I think about frequently: If I KNOW that God delights to hear my prayers, why on earth do I not pray with more fervor and more boldly, making outlandish requests of my Father who loves me? What's the worst that can happen if I do? He'll say "no." But that answer doesn't change the fact that I am His baptized and beloved child, so why hesitate?

That connects beautifully to the other Luther reading I had this morning, from one of his baptismal sermons, in LW 51:320-321:
Here [in baptism], says St. Paul, is the Word of the living God which says, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; in other words, here not a man, but God himself is baptizing. For when it is done in his name it is done indeed by the holy Trinity,
because of His word by which He
commands us to baptize in this way, that is, to immerse in water and to speak these words.
Beautiful! I am baptized! Praise the Lord!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Czech Top 10

I've been doing a lot of brainstorming about my favorite things from the Czech Republic, and here's the Top 10 list with explanation.

10. Alfons Mucha
This man was a Czech painter who studied in Paris and painted all these wonderful, though washed-out, posters of beautiful women, such as the turn-of-the-20th-century famous actress Sarah Bernhardt.

9. Olynth
I'm not sure if this is only a Czech thing, but I've never seen it in the US. It's this incredible nasal spray that clears up nasal congestion within about 3 minutes of use and keeps your airways clear for about 24 hours. It was excellent when I was suffering with a head cold and couldn't breathe.

8. Water cookersIn Czech they're called "rychlovarná konvice" and they're electrical water pitchers. It's a much faster way to boil water for tea or for instant coffee than using a tea kettle on the stove. I used mine every day with my delicious instant Jacob's coffee. Yum.

7. Rohliky and Housky
These are the breadsticks and rolls that everyone buys fresh and eats every day. I'm REALLY going to miss them.

6. KrtekKrtek is Czech for "mole" and Krtek is like the Czech Mickey Mouse. He's the start of an animated cartoon for children. Mole's friends are a mouse, a rabbit, a hedgehog, and a frog, all named for what they are. The cartoon has no dialog, and the only sound is music and a toddler giggling.

5. Vepřo-knedlo-zelo
This is the Czech national dish. It's pork, bread dumplings, and Czech-style sour cabbage. It's delicious!

4. Kofola
Kofola is the Czech cola. During communism, the government didn't allow Coca-cola into the country, so this was the cola that everyone drank. When communism ended in 1989, Coke came in and overwhelmed Kofola, but in recent years, it's been increasing in popularity again. It's main flavor ingredient is anis, which is also the main flavor in black licorice.

3. Přání
Přání is Czech for "wishing," and it's tradition to shake hands, wish beautiful things and give blessings to a person on their birthday or name day, or saying good-bye to a person who's moving away. This is such a lovely tradition and a great way of honoring people and letting them know how important they are to you. The person wishing shakes and holds the hand of the one to whom he or she is wishing, looks them in the eye, and tells them everything they need to say. I had many wishes before I moved home.

2. Prague
The most beautiful, romantic city in all of Europe. I love it, but can't spend more than a couple of days there, because it's full of tourists. :)

The Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (pictured is the current Bishop, Stanislav Pietak): This is the church with which I worked during my 27 months of field work as an LCMS missionary. It is by far my favorite thing about the Czech Republic: the church body itself, as well as the people which comprise it.