Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Christus, sola scriptura

I like that Martin Luther decided to post his discussion points on Halloween. It lets Lutherans like me do stuff like this:

Recently found a great hymn for the Reformation. Reformation Day was observed in Lutheran-- and other Protestant-- churches around the world this past Sunday. I suppose it was celebrated, or at least mentioned, in the church here in Trinec. I don't know about this, however, because I had been invited by a friend to visit her church (nothing took place there that could have been mistaken by anyone as Lutheran...). Anyway, here it is:

Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.

What God di in His Law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on ev'ry hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.

It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
That sinners could themselves redeem
And by their works gain heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.

From sin our flesh could not abstain,
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our guilt was e'er increasing.
None can remove sin's poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart--
So deep is our corruption.

Yet as the Law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God's anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He has for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father's vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Your death is now my life indeed,
For You have paid my ransom.

Let me not doubt, but truly see
Your Word cannot be broken;
Your call rings out, "Come unto Me!"
No falsehood have You spoken.
Baptized into Your precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.

The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes us conscience-stricken;
But then the Gospel enters in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.

Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God who saved us by His grace;
All glory to His merit.
O triune God in heav'n above,
You have revealed Your saving love;
Your blessed name we hallow. (LSB 555)

I pray, dear reader, that this coming Reformation Day, you would be assured by the true Word of God that your salvation is in Christ alone, by grace through faith alone, and that it depends not on any deeds of your own. (See Ephesians 2:8-9)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Little Joys

Today was a day of so much joy for me. The joy actually began about 24 hours ago when I had a 90 minute "phone" call on Skype with my dad, followed by another one of similar length with my precious best friend from high school. I hadn't heard the sound of her voice in probably 6 weeks, so this was delightful to me.

One of the first things of my (always too early at 6:00 AM) morning was the discovery upon checking my email that God worked a miracle in the clutch, as I'd been hoping and praying for, for my friend Emily. Her last day for raising support for her internship with Cru was Wednesday, and I had an email from her saying that her support percentage was high enough that she can finally stop spending every waking minute raising support and she can FINALLY get on campus at UVA. WOOO!!!!

Then, I had a teaching highlight. This was completely unexpected. Thursdays are my longest (and admittedly least favorite) days. But the 6th graders made me so happy: after I had finished teaching them this little song about the seasons-- to the tune of Frere Jacques-- and was getting ready to sit down and let the "real" teacher take over the class, one of the boys said "jeste jedno." This phrase is Czech for "again." I couldn't believe it. I asked if they wanted to sing again, and all the little heads in the room began bobbing up and down. So, we sang it again, and when I sat down and the other teacher took over, I did a little, internal happy-dance. Wow. And, the eighth graders weren't as bad as usual, so that was good.

When I got home, completely exhausted from a full day of teaching, a package was waiting for me outside the door to my flat. It was from home. It was mostly books that I had ordered on the internet for myself and had shipped to the house, but when Mom and Dad packed the box to send to me, they included strawberry-flavored Twizzlers, Starbursts and Gardetto's snack mix (my FAVORITE!!!). I was SO happy, I forgot that it was a Thursday and that I was supposed to be tired and miserable. :P

When my flatmate got home, she had good news: her sister gave birth to a baby, Rebeka, this afternoon. Yay! AND she shared with me the good news that her religion classes (not required for the students) at the high schools in town are going so well. At one of the schools, so many kids signed up that they had to split into 3 classes because they couldn't all fit in the room together. She also told me that in her class today, when the hour was over, the students wanted more, and were even asking if they could have class more than one day a week! Praise the Lord!

I will pray that your day, dear reader, will be filled with as many little joys as mine was, and that God will open your eyes to see the blessings that He showers you with every day.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Yesterday (Sunday) morning I was invited to go on a day-trip to Auschwitz and Krakow with our building manager and a group of pastors from Korea who are visiting this area for 10 days. I got invited because the building manager speaks no English or Korean, and because the pastors speak no Czech or Polish, and because none of the bi-lingual members of our church were available. Basically I was the "translator." Bizarre. I've been here for 5 months and my ability to express myself in Czech is half that of my pastor's toddler daughter's ability. But she still doesn't speak English ;)

So we left on our trip around noon. It took us about two and a half or three hours to get to Auschwitz because we stopped for lunch in Bielsko-Biala at McDonald's (only the third Mickey D's I've even SEEN since I've been here... nice that it's so rare).

My impressions of Auschwitz I: Horrible. There were many barracks there, which had been "home" to the thousands of prisoners, and while some of them were under renovation or reconstruction, the majority of them were dedicated to housing a display about different aspects of the camp and the history of the war. One was for the confiscated possessions of the prisoners (mountains of shoes, suitcases, brushes, combs, wash basins and pitchers, eyeglasses, and implements such as crutches, back braces, and wooden legs; Jewish prayer shawls displayed hanging from rods, rather than in a heap like the aforementioned items; a few items of children's belongings including a doll and shoes for a toddler). This one, and the one depicting the physical toll that the camp took on the prisoners (photos of nude, skeleton women at the time of the liberation of the camp, listing that they had shriveled from around 165 lbs at internment to 55 lbs at the time of the taking of the photograph), are the two that had the heaviest impact on me. The Jewish barracks also had a huge emotional impact. We walked through the gas chamber and the crematorium, where they incinerated thousands upon thousands of people PER DAY.

My impressions of Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau, a mere 2 miles from A. I): Huge. I'm afraid it will seem irreverent or ghastly for me to admit, but Birkenau seemed almost elegant, giving me the same sensation as when something rancid also has a sweet tinge to it's odor. Not that there is ANYTHING sweet about what happened in Birkenau, but it's physical appearance now, 63 years after it closed has a ghastly beauty to it. It was so symmetrical. So meticulous. And that's a part of the horror of it. The Nazis were so meticulous in their extermination of people: Jews, the sick, homosexuals, the weak, children, criminals-- guilty or innocent of real or imagined crimes... From the entrance building to the camp to the back of the camp where the incinerator was located (it was about 95% demolished... the destruction that remains is a powerful tribute to the destruction that occurred when it was in use) was at the very least half a mile, maybe even a mile (I'm not great at estimating these distances). I have no idea how far it was from side to side, but it was wider than it was long, and filled with these barracks designed to house 52 horses. When the camp was occupied, each barracks housed 400 people.

Auschwitz I overwhelms with words and images and the presence of a plaza of execution and a prison basement in one building where many prisoners were sentenced to death by starvation or to pass nights in a row in "standing cells" where they would wait out the night only to work 11 or 12 hours the next day.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau overwhelms with it's sheer size. There are very few placards with words or images on them. It's just a huge, empty, outdoor prison, where the Nazis had dismantled many of the buildings in an effort to cover up what had happened there. Of those buildings, the wood was taken away, but the two chimneys from each of the barracks stands as a silent monument to history.

A final thought: As I wandered through these two death camps, I was thinking that no matter how horrible and awful the atrocities committed in Auschwitz were, no matter the evil that the Nazis did there, there is something that I've done that's worse.

I am guilty of killing the Author of Life and nailing Him to a tree just outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

Auschwitz was not the most horrible thing to ever occur in human history.

The Cross of Calvary was.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Whirlwind Week

This week was my busiest week of the school year to date. I knew it would be chock-full of activities, and so I wasn't surprised when I had basically no down-time for the first four days of the school week.

On Monday I went to Navsi, a neighboring village, where for a few weeks now, the pastor of the SCEAV (the local Lutheran denomination) church in town and I have been leading a Christian English Club for the junior high aged kids at the primary school. Because it was the first Monday of the month, I went not only for the club, but to also teach two classes. That evening I had my first class in the "new season" of my Anglictinu s Ashley (English with Ashley) classes. When I arrived in the classroom, I was overwhelmed as nearly 30 pairs of eyes were looking at me, waiting for me to begin. Because there were so many, and the class was designed for 2 hours, we decided to break the class in half and do only an hour for each half so that there would be fewer students and less for them to remember from week to week.

Tuesday was the first day that I was to be in the 1st and 2nd grade classrooms at the school here in Trinec. I had planned to do a memory game with the second graders, but due to a communications error, I showed up for that class during the second hour when the class was during the first hour. Oops. In the first grade classroom, the director of the school and I taught using a song about the "Happy House": roof, wall, door, window, floor, and chimney. Cute. That evening I had high school and adult conversation at the church. My chosen topic for the day, because I'm going alphabetically through my conversation topics, was "Arguing." I thought that this would be a wonderful, fun topic with lots of participation. Boy, was I wrong. Arguing, not even in the sense of defending one's position with facts, was not regarded as important among my students. It was much more important to avoid making any waves. I tried to bait the conversation by posing a situation about having a friend inviting them to go shoplift at Tesco (like Wal*mart), asking whether that would be a situation in which they might argue. The answer: a lot of hemming and hawing. This makes me wonder about the state of conviction about the Truth among the believers here. But I digress.

Wednesday was 3rd, 4th, and 6th (a) grades at school. It's getting easier, but it's still hard to stand in front of a group of children and try to teach them something. Everyone says that just giving them the opportunity to hear and be around a native speaker will help these kids a lot. I hope so. That evening was my intermediate class at the church. Thinking about this class was the most nerve-racking of the evening classes for me, because it was the new one. And because I have no curriculum for it. For the beginners I have a curriculum, for the conversation students, I already have a plan worked up for the lessons. But the intermediate? Would they even understand me? It went really well. I'm starting from a basic level: introductions/getting to know you activity, classroom vocabulary, past simple and present simple verb tenses (review) and a little reading: a simplified telling of the Fall with LOTS of our "verb tenses of the week" included. The students gave me good feedback, and by the end of the two hours, I began to think that maybe it would become my favorite class. We'll see.

Thursday: the longest day every week. I have 5th and 6th (b) grade regular English, and then conversation with the 8th and 9th grades. It's good. The eighth graders are the most difficult class for me because many of them don't want to be there, but they are required to be. If anyone has any ideas on how to involve and interest 13-year-olds, I'm more than willing to listen! After lunch, I teach the teachers at the school. They are so much fun and so eager. I really enjoy their class. By the time that class is over, around 3:30, I'm completely beat and have only 90 minutes before my Czech lesson begins. The best way to completely exhaust myself, I've found, is to teach all day on Thursday and then sit and try to think and listen in Czech for two hours in the evening. Wow. My brain wants to jump out of my skull and run away from me, screaming "No more!!!!!" by 7:00 on Thursdays.

Friday: awesome! I teach only 7th grade conversation during first hour, and then I'm done for the day. This week Stephanie and I met in the afternoon for our first Book of Concord reading group meeting. We went to a nearby cafe and talked and drank caffeine and read from the Formula of Concord and discussed our questions searching Scripture. It was great.

When I started writing this, it was late Saturday morning, and because I had been so busy during the week, not evening checking my email for four days, I was at a loss as to what to do with the free time. I had already gone for a run and even cleaned my bathroom, but was wondering what to do with myself. Strange to be so busy and then all of a sudden, not.

Prayer Requests:
-For my friend Emily, that she would receive the last bit of her support for being a Campus Crusade staff intern. Her deadline is 3 days away and she has a way to go, but we have a big God who is able to provide for all our needs.

-That God would use me as His mouthpiece to share the Gospel of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, especially in my evening classes and in the children's club on Mondays in Navsi where there are non-believers. These people, and all without faith in Christ, need to hear the Gospel because they are perishing in their sin.

-That I would improve as a teacher of English and a learner of Czech.