Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hold on to What You Have

This Monday was the Trinec SCEAV church staff Christmas party. Our theme verse was Revelation 3:11, and I was asked to be the main speaker on the verse. So, below is my lengthy talk on the verse. I thought that you might enjoy it (and I've been feeling like I've been neglecting my blog, so it takes care of that, too).

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” Revelation 3:11

Christ is coming soon! Alleluia, Amen.

I was asked to talk about this verse, about what else the Bible has to say about the ideas touched on here, and to talk about how we in Trinec can improve things as a Church of Christ. So, I’d like to start talking about our verse by reading the letter in which it’s contained to get some context, to see what our verse is really talking about. In order to know what any verse says, we’ve got to know the surrounding context…

READ Rev. 3: 7-13

So, we see a bit of the character of the church to whom Christ was speaking through the pen of the Apostle John. They were known by Christ. They had little strength. In spite of their weakness they had kept his word and not denied him. They had been enduring patiently.

Christ has also made promises to them. He had placed before them an open door which could not be shut. It was the door of faith in Christ. This door indicated that no one could take from them the promise of salvation in Christ. He promised that those Jews who denied that the Philadelphians were God’s people would one day confess that Christ did love this church. He promised to keep them in the hour of trial to come on the world. He promised to establish them, in their faithfulness, in the temple of God: heaven. He would claim them as His own by putting His name on them.

The only command Christ gives to this faithful church is to hold on to what they have, so that no one could take their crown. He says: Hold on to what you have, for I am coming soon. If you hold to what you have, no one can take your crown, but if you let go of what you have, your crown will be taken away.

So, what is it the Philadephians have? What are they commanded by their Lord to hold on to and not lose or let go? We can get a glimpse of our answer if we look back to verse 8. “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” This shows us that what the church in Philadelphia has is Christ’s word and His name. They are keeping, guarding, obeying, living according to His word and are proudly wearing His name, confessing before men that they know Him and are His.

Christ’s command to them to hold on to what they have is not an additional, burdensome command they must keep, but an encouragement to keep up the good work. It’s an admonition to do what they’re already doing.

How have the Philadelphians been keeping Christ’s word and name? According to verse 8, it’s in spite of their small strength. They are not able to keep Christ’s word and name because they are a mighty church, nor because they are personally very faithful people. It’s not because of anything else of worldly impressiveness about them. They are weak. They are sinners! They have held Christ’s word and name because He himself gave them faith, gave them His word and entrusted His name to them. He gave them His own strength to enable them to hold on.

Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown!

If the Philadelphians continue to keep Christ’s word and His name, they will keep the crown of eternal life that they have in Christ. Their endurance in faith in Christ is winning for them this eternal crown of victory. If they don’t hold on to what they have, if they let go of Christ’s word and His name, they will lose their promised crown. It will be taken from them and they will be disqualified from eternal life in Christ. If they abandon Christ’s word and His name, and then don’t repent of their rejection, they forfeit their crown.

We in Trinec aren’t the church in Philadelphia. This short letter is not addressed to us. However, Christ’s promises, commands and warnings do not depend on the recipient or anything in them, but on Christ alone. Therefore, this letter can and does speak to us and to all the church throughout the world.

Christ is indeed coming soon. This is the promise that we have been eagerly anticipating throughout the last 22 days of Advent, a promise that the church has been hoping in for two millenia. Though it feels like a long time to wait, it is nearer now than at first, and indeed is much sooner than we can know. We in Trinec, just like the church in Philadelphia have been given faith in Christ’s word and we have His name on us, applied to our foreheads in our baptism. We have the same priceless treasure they did. We have the word of Christ and we have His name. Just as Philadelphia did, as the true church always has, we hold on to these treasures not in our own strength, as though we had any strength to boast of, but we hold on to them only in His strength and by His grace.

READ Ps. 118:14

It is in Christ’s word and in His name that we have our hope of eternal life. If we hold to them, and do not succumb to the temptations of other ‘gospels’, we too will have the crown of eternal life after which we strive.

However, if we do not hold firmly to all the teaching of Christ’s word and to His name, our crown, too, will be taken from us. If we, Christ’s sheep, listen to any voices but the voice of our Good Shepherd, we will go astray. If we put up with any teaching which is not of Christ’s word and which does not clearly proclaim the center of our faith: Christ Jesus crucified for sinners, we are in danger. Any other ‘gospel’ is no gospel at all, it can bring us no good news of Christ’s forgiveness. The Apostle Paul condemned all teachers of such other gospels (Galatians 1:8-9). If we were to abandon the true gospel for any ‘gospel’ that says we must do something to earn our salvation, which doesn’t point us to belief in Christ, we are losing our crown of salvation.

So, how can we in Trinec improve? What can we do to be doing the works that God requires? The answer is not new, but old. It’s not innovative and different, but ought to be very familiar to all of the Lord’s people. When Jesus was asked by some people what they must do to be doing God’s work, our Lord replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28). So, we hold on with fervor, and in Christ’s strength, to that which we have, the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). According to 1 Corinthians 15: 1-5, we hold to the Gospel which Paul preached, which we received, in which we stand and by which we are being saved: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and he appeared to many witnesses before ascending to heaven. To grow stronger as a church, to be pleasing the Lord, we must simply, faithfully hold on to what He’s given us, what He gave the earliest church.

We in the Church often think that large numbers, obvious physical growth in the church, is the goal of our existence. It’s not. Right now many congregations across the US are growing very rapidly, but sadly, many of them are doing so by abandoning Christ and His gospel in favor of talking about anything but Him, anything that it takes to attract non-Christians to their pews. Just as Paul prophesied in 2 Timothy 4:3, they preach to itching ears instead of putting up with sound doctrine.

The church here, and everywhere throughout the world, in order to improve things, must set itself to simply be the church. The best example of this in Scripture is of the church right after Pentecost. They dedicated themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Acts 2:42). We hold on to what Christ has given us: all of scripture and it’s authority as God’s word, the proclamation of the Law for repentance from sins, the teaching of the Gospel for the forgiveness of those sins, fellowship with one another, wherein we encourage one another in the faith: we encourage one another through mutual conversation about the Lord and things of the faith, proclaiming to each other the wonders of what He has done for us in Christ’s cross, we encourage one another through our very presence in worship and other church meetings. The breaking of the bread in Holy Communion is vital for the life of the church, because that is where Christ’s forgiveness, life, and salvation are delivered to us personally. There we are reassured that Christ died not just for the world out there, but for the individual receiving the sacrament. We pray fervently and continually because prayer is our means of communicating our praise, repentance, thanks, and needs to our loving heavenly Father.

As the church, these are the things we do in holding on to what we have. As God’s forgiven and redeemed people, we desire to listen to God’s word and we ought to require of our pastor to weekly declare to us the depth of our sins as well as the great mercies of God in His forgiveness of our sins through Christ.

Just as the church has something it should hold on to, so does our pastor. His job, as found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, is to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season, correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” His job is to deliver to us, Christ’s people, the condemning words about our sin to drive us to repent from our wickedness that we can receive Christ’s forgiveness weekly, because we sin daily and much. When our pastor drives us away from our sin and back to Christ, he protects us from losing our crown. The life—temporal and eternal—of our church depends on this, holding on to what we have.

Furthermore, because of the great forgiveness and freedom Christ has given us, we want to bring others along that they too might have salvation in Christ, that they might join us in the victory he’s given us over death. Christ has commanded this of us, that we go and make disciples of all nations—including this one—baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded us. In order to increase the Church, we must simply proclaim the same thing outside our walls as inside: repentance and the forgiveness of sins found in Christ Jesus. From there, we trust Christ to give the growth, because he has promised that His word is effective, that it’s His word which creates faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we are spurred on to this proclamation of repentance and forgiveness by Christ’s promise to the Philadelphian church.

He said, “I am coming soon.”

Let us trust Him, let us hold on to everything that He has given us. We have been entrusted with the very words of our God. We have forgiveness of our sins in His name.
Let us hold on to these things so that no one can take from us our crown of eternal salvation!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Compared to Christ

On Monday morning, I read the following section from Philippians, and I've been cogitating on it all week:

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (3:7-11)

Paul was comparing all of his own merits (circumcised on the 8th day, an Israelite, Benjamite, Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, zealous defender of Judaism against Christian teaching, blameless under the law), the laurels he had which recommended him among his people, to the merit of Christ and the righteousness we have in Him by grace through faith. He called them utter garbage. All of the outward signs that he had which would indicate to other people that he was on the right track, that he was pleasing to God, that he would gain heaven: all worthless. Less than worthless compared to Christ.

It's really incredible that, even though Paul did have all of these wonderful things in his life to commend him to men, he said they were nothing. They had no real worth in his eyes, since only Christ and His righteousness had any lasting value. Paul says that he counts all of his merit as waste that he might: know Christ, share in his sufferings, become like Him in His death, and to attain to the resurrection of the dead. If Paul, oh-so-impressive Paul, considered that he had to lay aside all his own merit and trust in Christ alone for salvation, for the resurrection, then so do I. I must consider all my own merit as worthless and hope rather in Christ alone. Okay, fine. I know that I have no hope for salvation apart from Christ, that there is nothing for me to do, nothing I can do to be forgiven and be saved.

There is a difference in trusting in my "merit", however, and liking the way it looks/feels/sounds on me. I know that I can do nothing for salvation, but I also know there are things I can do solicit praise from men. I value these little trinkets, the laud of men, and even self-glorification. This is the point at which this passage has been working on my heart this week. I trust in Christ alone, but I still place a high value on other things, things which I might formerly have put my trust in. What would life look like if I, like Paul, truly thought and believed that all of my own supposed righteousness was nothing-- NOTHING? What would it be like to truly count everything which could commend me before men as rubbish? What would life be like for me to truly realize the vast gulf between Christ and these little, foul nothings?

Christ is so much more than these things. From here to the moon, to the sun, to Pluto-- so vast is the gulf, the gaping abyss between them and Him. Christ is infinitely more to be adored, honored, thought of, treasured, glorified. And should not the heart leap within me to think on Him; His beauty; and His suffering, dying, and rising love?

Lord, forgive me for loving and treasuring little bits of trash more than you. So order my values that You outshine all other things like the sun outshines a single, pitiful twinkle light. Let all my satisfaction be met in You.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On the Eve of a Baptism

Tomorrow awaits the joy of the addition to the family of God another lovely daughter in the Czech Republic! What a delight it is to be able to celebrate with a friend of mine, Lucie, her baptism. She first believed the promises of Christ's resurrection this summer, and it's been marvelous to see her love for Christ grow, and the level of spiritual maturity that the Lord has given her in such a short time is amazing. Our God can do anything!
It is right and proper that whenever a Christian witnesses a baptism, he remember the promises Christ gave to him at his own baptism. We remember that it was at that time that the Gospel which had been preached to us in Word was delivered to us personally, applied in the water traced in a cross on our foreheads in the name of our Triune God. It was at that time, when the pastor spoke on Christ's behalf that we (yes, us indeed!) were recipients of Jesus' promises, we were united with Him in His baptism, that we were likewise united with Him in His death, and so too, united with Him in His resurrection to new life!

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." Romans 6:3-8

The beauty of the Gospel being applied to us in baptism is that when we sin, when we fall or are faint of faith, we don't despair of our salvation. We cling to Christ's promises that He gave at our baptism. When the devil attacks, we are able to tell him to go hell, that he has no right to molest or accuse us, because we are baptized, sealed by the Holy Spirit! We are Christ's and Satan has no longer any power over us. And we are more than sure we are Christ's, because He claimed us individually.

What does Baptism give or profit?--Answer: It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God? Answer: Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Luther's Small Catechism, IV, 2)

The other wonderful beauty which I expect on Lucie's baptism is that it's the first Sunday of Advent. During Advent, we speak of John the Baptist preparing the way for the coming of the Lord by doing his work of baptizing people for repentance. Christ's baptism, which we receive, is greater than John's baptism, but it's an interesting connection that Lucie's baptism, in Advent, will prepare her and giver her confidence for the coming of the Lord. Lovely.

On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of kings!

May you have a blessed Advent, and may you be prepared for the coming of the Lord: the coming in His birth at Christmas, our remembrance of His coming into Jerusalem to finish the work which He set out from before time to accomplish, and our hopeful gaze toward the skies as we eagerly anticipate his glorious and imminent return.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


After being on the mission field in the Czech Republic for 18 months, with only 9 to go, I'm looking ahead to what will be after I return to the States. I'm fairly settled (like 95% sure) that I'm going to go back home, and I've got these dreams floating around in my head. All of them involve abandoning my previous pursuit of science altogether to become a worker for the Church and for Christ. This is not me denying secular vocations the Christian, but rather being convinced that the desires of my heart and my passions are changing (have changed) from the pursuit of a secular vocation to a sacred one.

And I'm worrying, doubting myself, and asking all kinds of questions:

Will I be enough to get accepted into this or that program?
Will I impress the powers that be enough to get in?
Will I be good enough at it?
Will I be faithful enough?
Will I learn enough?
Will I work hard enough?
Will I be able to sacrifice myself enough for the service of others?
Will I be willing enough or strong enough to pursue this to the end?
Will I be "holy" enough to get a position after I've been trained?

I'm nothing. I'm not some kind of evangelism genius (if you'd met me, you'd know...). I'm not a particularly effective missionary. I'm not an inspiring teacher. I'm not great at caring for people. I'm more likely to be concerned about myself: my comfort, my reputation, my wants, my needs, my happiness, my, my, my, me, me, me. Ugh.

All of that is my sinful, old nature which I must daily drown in the waters of my baptism. I know this. Service which is pleasing to Christ is not done by the most genius evangelists, the most effective missionaries, the most inspiring teachers, the most caring people. The service rendered to Christ is done by one who can self-identify as a "chief of sinners" who recognizes that, though he or she is not enough, Christ is.

How can we possibly fail at service to Christ if we throw ourselves after Him with all that we as His redeemed people are, delighting to know that though all our deeds are like filthy rags, through His redemption, they are clean and white like snow.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Cor. 12:9-10)
May you and I be able to rest in our Lord, acknowledging, and boasting in our weaknesses as the Apostle Paul did, knowing that His power is made complete in them. We are not enough. We never will be. But He is enough, He always has been. And He is able to keep us faithful to the end.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hymn of Comfort

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I need Thy presence ev'ry passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's pow'r?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for ev'ry plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, they victory?
I triumph still if Thou abide with me!

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

For a Time such as This

I have heard a few wise pastors say that Christianity is about preparation for death, that the culmination of the Christian life is a Christian end. And so it is that Christians can approach a time like this with sadness lightened by hope, the load of grief lifted by God's promise, looking at our death through the lens of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This afternoon, Pastor Kadlubiec, one of the two pastors of my congregation in Trinec died. Two weeks ago, during one of the regular weekly meetings he had with the seniors from the church, he suffered a brain aneurysm. He'd been in the hospital ever since and made quite rapid improvement from the aneurysm, not even ending up with any paralysis. In the hospital, the doctors discovered an irregularity in his heartbeat, but that also seemed to have corrected itself during the course of his hospital stay.

Pastor Kadlubiec was slated to return home to Hutnik (the parish hall building where I also live) today. I have been told that he was here around noon today. After that, the details get a bit fuzzy for me. Around 1:00 I saw an ambulance from my window, but didn't know what to think of that, because a lot of hospital-related practices here are still a mystery to me. There wasn't any frenzied activity happening, and I hadn't heard any sirens, so I wasn't too concerned. At that time, I needed to go visit Sarka (Pastor Klus' wife) and on my way walked past the Kadlubiec's door. Some other people who work at the church were standing around the open door, and I asked if Pastor was home. One of them answered yes, but that the doctor was seeing him now. So, I put off saying "hi" and went to see Sarka. I returned to my apartment after half an hour, and about an hour later, my roommate knocked on the door and told me that Pastor had died. We were both so shocked because he was supposed to be healthy and coming home to stay.

Anyway, at this time, I still don't know the exact cause of death. His brain was supposed to be okay. His heart was supposed to be okay.

In my thoughts, and those of several of the church ladies I've spoken with, has been the inevitable "you never know when it'll happen." Pastor had just turned 60 in May. We have NO control over the two major events of our lives (birth and death), and very little control over many of the events that happen in between those two. Why do we think that we do? God only is the one who numbers the hairs on our heads and the years of our lives.

I've also been struck with the futility, stupidity of a lot of the things in life that we waste our precious time on (surprise-- not... I'm actually struck by this frequently). Death puts the value of Christ into stark relief against the "value" of other things: games, television, clothes, beauty, knowledge, money, happiness, and any other of the precious little idols that we set up.

I have the scene between Martha and Jesus in Bethany after Lazarus' death playing out in my head, but in the scene, I'm Martha.
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." John 11:21-27
Unlike Martha, I suppose I wouldn't tell Jesus that He should have been here. I know that He was. But just like Martha, I know that whatever the Son asks from the Father, the Father will give Him and that my brother Pavel will rise again on the last day. Though Pr. Kadlubiec has died, he shall live, and though I die, so shall I too live again. You too, dear reader: believe and live in Christ Jesus, and never die.

Please pray for Irena, Pastor's wife. Pray also for their four children, their spouses, and for the grandchildren. Keep this congregation and all of SCEAV in your prayers, as Pastor's death is a great loss to the whole Silesian Evangelical Church.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Desires of a Heart

(Caution: the post to follow is a long, probably quite boring and possibly even able-to-be-interpreted-as narcissistic view into my ponderings about the future. Because we know nothing about the future except that the Lord's return is imminent, this post could be a waste of both your time and my energy. Consider yourself fairly warned.)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37:3-5

I've been hoping and waiting for the Lord to put His desires into my heart, that I might do with my life what He would have me do. I suppose that coming from a Lutheran, that seems a little... odd. That's not exactly the way we talk about vocation. Even as I think it and type it, it feels strange, at though the next thing I'm going to say is that I've also been praying about what I should wear tomorrow. Okay, no. That's not what I mean.

The Lord lead me on this crazy journey into volunteer English teaching in the Czech Republic, lead me to be a missionary here. I should also clarify that by crazy, I only mean that 3 years ago, I probably had not a thought in my head about mission work, as far as actually doing it myself. I had no desire for that. I did not really think that it was the kind of thing that I could do. Not because I didn't (in pride) think that I was capable of it, but because I just didn't think that was the kind of thing that I was cut out for. I definitely was not (am still not...) "holy enough" to do it. Missions is the kind of thing that those other, syrupy sweet Christian girls-- one of which I decidedly am NOT-- do. It was something one had to be groomed for her whole life. Not me. I felt groomed for school, studying, teaching (wait a second... that's what I'm doing with a lot of my time...). In my mind's calculator, plugging in "Ashley" plus "missions" always returned "ERROR" or "undefined quantity" like dividing by zero.

Funny thing about God, though. He doesn't let a little thing like our silly notions about mission work or about our own innate capacity for doing His work get in the way of calling us to do what HE wants us to do.

Since I am planning for only another year in volunteer missions in the Czech Republic, I have been trying to figure out the answer to the "what next" question for some time. A year ago at this time I was toying with the idea of returning to entomology or possibly getting a M.S. in Biochemistry, possibly even going into some kind of medicine, but I had a growing interest in working for the Church rather than pursuing a secular vocation. I really can't see myself being personally fulfilled (or as being useful to others) in entomology, or in pretty much any other secular role. Weird. I never thought I would want to be a church worker.

At home this summer, I took a few days to visit Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and chat with the good men there about a possible future studying with them to pursue a career in Deaconess ministry. After speaking with them, and having an interview at the Nebraska District office for admittance into the program, I'm thinking that's still an option, but I feel like I know very little about the possibilities there (note to self: look up rostered, called deaconesses and ask questions about their work). I am really attracted to the idea of studying for a Masters degree in theology at CSL, but don't simply want the degree for the sake of having it.

At any rate, another of the ideas floating through my head for a while has been in the area of Bible translation. It's a bit of a surprise that it's become something that I'd want to even consider. When I was at the U, one of my best friends and her boyfriend were talking about joining Wycliffe after graduation and a wedding and becoming linguists. I thought they were crazy and couldn't understand why they wanted to do that. Now, as I look back, I'm saddened by the hardness of my heart at the time, and amazed that God has made such a change. And what a change.

I've been thinking and praying about the possibility of joining Lutheran Bible Translators for a while (okay, a handful of months) now. Last night before bed I hit up the LBT website. I read for about 45 minutes and just felt like I'd had the wind kicked out of me. In a good way. I seriously was so moved and in me a yearning to become a translator was so stirred that I felt nauseated in a good way (is that possible? If it is, that's what I felt). I couldn't believe it. Then my "it's bedtime now, go to bed" alarm went off (yes, I actually have a clock set in my room to go off at bedtime), and I hit the bed and pulled out my Treasury of Daily Prayer (highly recommended!). The overwhelming emotion (no, I know I'm a Lutheran and we don't operate on feelings, but this one was hard to ignore, and it wasn't something a Pepcid could cure...) didn't go away, but grew as I read the Psalm for the day, #46. It outlines the incredible majesty and power of our God, the mighty works He does and His unwavering sturdiness (the first verse of this psalm is remarkably, but not coincidentally, like the first line of the Reformer's most famous hymn), how because He is with us, we won't fear even the most terrifying disasters. Just incredible. So here's verse 10 which just stopped me in my tracks:
"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

I guess another thing to know about my thinking in the last year is that I've been constantly brought to a screeching halt in my Bible reading when I come across God being exalted among the nations. I can be reading along and enjoying myself, but then every time I read any text which is directly speaking about God being known and worshiped by all the peoples of the world, it catches me like a snag. I had all of a sudden a mental image of our Good Shepherd, as I wander after my own ovine thoughts, catching me by the neck with His crook and saying "look at this and ponder on it my lamb."

I say all that in order to say that the Lord is giving me desires and massaging them into my heart, desires for a future in mission work, desires of working for the translation of the Bible into all the languages of man, that all people on earth would have access to His saving, life-giving, inspired Word. I am working on delighting myself in Him, but when He places before me such captivatingly beautiful gems of a future, it's no work at all to be utterly delighted.

Okay, enough stuff about me. Please pray that God will raise up His people throughout the earth who want to do the work of missions, of evangelism, of Bible translation, of unglamorous, behind the scenes work; for His cross to be proclaimed to all the world.

Flight OS94 to Vienna

I arrived safely back in Trinec on Sunday evening, September 13th. My flights back here weren't quite as eventful as my many, interesting flights home to Nebraska. I didn't even really get to talk to anyone on 3 of the 4. My seat 'buddy' on the trans-Atlantic flight ignored me for the first hour or so of the flight, which I have to admit that I was pretty bummed about. I was really hoping for as much excitement and Jesus talk on the way back to the field as I was blessed with on the way home. Once he finally started talking to me, he told me WAY more personal stuff about himself than I probably would ever have solicited. However, that led him to ask me about myself and what I do in Europe (bingo! just the question I look forward to). I asked about his church background, and he told me he was raised left-handed Catholic (which apparently is code for Episcopal... I was confused and thought he meant that they were just bad Catholics), but that he, in the course of growing up "learned better" and discovered the wisdom of Celtic religion and describes himself as a druid. Whoa.

I had no idea where that was going to lead us in conversation, so I just asked what that meant that he believes. He said you could also call it wicca (and I thought "oh boy... he's a witch..."). It turned out to be this kind of pantheistic kind of "life force in all things" kind of idea. He told me that it basically boils down to him being a tree hugger and probably one of the "greenest" people that I've ever met, thinking that care for the environment and leaving it better when he dies than when he was born (reminds me of so many school field trips with lunches in public parks... "pick up your trash kids!"). Interesting. I asked him why he cared if the world was a "better place" when he dies, why it matters for him to work to clean up the world. He couldn't give me a much better answer than something about it being the right thing to do, or doing it for his grandkids. Oh.

I told him that God certainly does want us to take care of the earth, that when He created Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden, that He told them to care for the plants, to cultivate the garden. I also told him, however, that I would like to leave the world a "better" place when I leave it than when I came, but I can't. Everything I do, everything I touch, every relationship I enter and person I interact with I mess up. I break stuff, no matter how hard I try to do the right thing.

He said that that was a pretty pessimistic view for a Christian to have of things.

I told him that that was pessimistic, but that it was only the first half of the story. I said that God created me and him, loves both of us, but He's holy too, and all of that "messing up" in our lives is called sin (remember he'd told me a LOT about himself already) and banishes us from God's holy presence or utterly destroys us if we try to be in His presence. That's the pessimistic first half. But the optimistic second half is that Christ Jesus, God's Son, was sent into this world to live perfectly, leaving the place truly better at His death.

Now, that's a tree worth hugging!

Jesus died without deserving it, willingly, to take our punishment, our banishment, our destruction so we could be with God. I also told him that when Jesus returns at the end of time, He will restore all of creation to perfection, all people and all of nature. My friend really perked up at that point.

Until I finished telling him all this, he simply stared into the middle distance and listened hard. I could tell that that the wheels in his head were turning. He had the same look on his face as my Slovak and Jehovah's Witness acquaintances had had on the opposite direction flight just a month before.

It just so happened that we both had VERY long layovers in Vienna and were both planning on going into the city. It also just so happened (to my single, vulnerable, and alone young lady's dismay) that we managed to be heading for the train to the city at the same time. So, I was "stuck" wandering around Vienna with him for about 6 hours. The wandering also gave me more chance to speak with him about Christ and to give him an apparently much needed listening ear.

Praise God for the blessing of those many hours with my new friend, for the opportunity for me to tell him about Christ, for the opportunity for him to hear the Truth!

Please pray for "Rob", that the Holy Spirit will pursue him tenaciously, not ceasing in his pursuit until He catches another child for our blessed Father in heaven, loosing him from his bondage to sin and death, and freeing another worshiper for our blessed Jesus Christ, a worker for the Kingdom of our God.

Kyrie eleison

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Children's English and Dorost Camp

The final week of July-- the 27th through the 31st-- was my final English camp for the summer. During this week, a few women from the church in Trinec, a few American volunteers, some Czech youth volunteers and I worked together to do an English day camp for children at the parish hall of our church. For 5 days, from 9 to 3, we basically had a VBS in English for the Czech kids, ages 7 to 12. Some of the children were from our church, but a lot of them were from non-Christian families who have a strong desire for their children to know English. Our activities included singing, story time, Bible story time, snacks, crafts, 2 English lessons, lunch, and outdoor sports everyday. We used last summer's CPH VBS materials (the leftovers from my home congregation), and so our theme was all about friendship, what kind of friend Jesus is for us, and how we can be good friends for others because of Jesus' friendship for us. My favorite part of the day was working with my students to learn their Bible memory verses every day.

For me, the greatest blessing of the week was getting to know one of the women on the American team. The American team was composed of three people, two were my World Mission field coordinators, David and Radka Fiala. The third was a dear Mrs. Carlton from Michigan, the widow of an LCMS pastor who has an extensive background in overseas missions and who has spent the majority of her summer in Poland and the Czech Republic, serving her neighbor in Jesus' name at English camps and laboring for Habitat for Humanity in Poland. This woman was such an encouragement and blessing to me in so many ways, and her love for her Lord and the people He died to save was inspiring.

Bright and early on Saturday morning after the Children's English camp ended, I was on the road to go to a 7 day youth camp with the youth group from the Trinec congregation. About 5 adults, 25 youth, and I went to a sort of retreat center just outside of the village of Čim, which is about 50 km south of Prague. The area was surrounded by woods and hills, with a creek flowing through the camp's grounds to a nearby lake. We spent the week hiking, swimming, boating, and running around after dark playing games in the woods. We also spent part of one morning rolling down a hill in our sleeping bags and playing other great sleeping bag games. Two times a day we met in small groups for discussion of our daily topics, Bible reading, and prayer. In the evenings, we had a speaker each night to teach us from Scripture something related to our camp theme.

The theme was "Two Ways" and we talked about this in two contexts, the first, the difference between the Two Ways that people live, with and without faith in Christ. The second context was in decision making in the Christian life and what kinds of things in our lives we often struggle with that can either draw us nearer to Christ or draw us away from Him. The topics included laziness, peer pressure, loneliness and fear, among others.

The week was a great time for me to get know the youth better and make great friends of a few of the girls [younger sisters, at their request :) ]. It was also a good chance for me to deepen my friendship with some of the teen leaders of the youth, as well as expand my Czech vocabulary. It was also a very fun, relaxing week, a good one for my last week in the country before a month-long vacation at home in the States.

Please pray:
-for the kids who learned about Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and promised return for the first time during the children's English camp: pray that the Holy Spirit will grow the seed of the Word which was planted in them during the camp, giving them faith in Christ and salvation in His name
-for the youth group: that these young people will continue in their faith, growing and following Christ, not being distracted or discouraged from the Lord by the things of this world. Pray that the young men will grow up to be strong men of faith, understanding what it means to be a man of God, spreading the Gospel to those all around them, growing to be leaders in the Church. Pray for the girls, that they will grow up in their faith, finding joy in the Lord and strength from Him, and learning who they are as women in Christ.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Xcamp was from July 18 to the 25th. It is a huge youth gathering organized by people from my church here, SCEAV. It is a big tent, week-long evangelism meeting. The teenagers stay over night and have small group discussion/Bible studies, attend fun workshops and seminars on different Christian topics in the mornings. In the afternoons adults (and young people not staying on-site) come to hear the evangelist speak, to sing, to have supper, and then attend a concert in the evening.

Xcamp by night.
The teens slept in the tents in the background.
All the meetings happened in the big tent on the right.

This year was my second year at the camp, and I have to say it was far superior to last year. This year I wasn't lonely because I'd spent the whole year getting to know people who were at the camp. It was a lot easier for me this year, because my Czech has really improved, so I wasn't lost all the time. The evangelist was an American, too, so that didn't hurt, to be listening in English (and also paying close attention to the translation, too).

Xcamp by day.

This year was wonderful for meeting new friends, and I was especially blessed to have some pretty extensive, deep, hard conversations with some non-Christians. The most memorable was talking with a young man who'd been invited to the camp by one of our mutual friends. We spent a very long time talking about God, what kind of a being He is. My new friend, R., is the most honest non-Christian I've ever met. He knows and believes that God exists, that He sent His Son to die for the sins of the world, but for him none of that matters because he hates God. That's right, those are his words. He admitted it. It's important to note that most people who hate God (i.e. everyone who hasn't been given the gift of faith in Christ Jesus-- the Bible describes all of us before faith as God's enemies) won't come right out and say it. They'll say they don't believe He exists, that He's just a fairytale. Or they'll say that they don't know. Or they'll say that they hope that they are well behaved enough to get into heaven, even if it probably doesn't exist (figure out THAT logic...).

No, R. is honest. He knows God exists. He also knows that because of his own rebellion against God, he deserves hell. He kicks against this, it chafes on him, because he knows that there are only two options: believe, trust and worship God or go to hell. He doesn't want either one. He says, "It's not fair. God didn't ask me if I wanted to be created, and now I have to love Him or suffer." He says that God is evil because in spite of the fact that He knew before creating the world that there would be sin and that His creatures would not believe Him, that they would go to hell, He still created them. And He still created them with the possibility of sin. "Why didn't God just create everyone in heaven with no sin to begin with?"

As you can imagine, it was a very long, very difficult conversation to explain to someone who hates God, who thinks Him evil, that He's really good, that He defines good. And how to explain the "WHY" questions: Why did God still do it? Why is there evil? Why did He create ME, knowing that I wouldn't want to exist? I had my work more than cut out for me. My concern for R. and that God would shower His grace on him, snatch him out of his sin and rebellion and hatred for God, has been hard on my heart in prayer. It pains me that someone can confess that my God is but so COMPLETELY miss who He is and what He has done, the nature of His altogether lovely and irresistible wonder, goodness, and holiness.

*Interesting note that God's nature is so hidden from and unknown to R. This year's Xcamp theme was "K neznámému Bohu" or "to an unknown God," from Paul's visit to Athens in the Acts of the Apostles. We spent the whole week talking about God's various attributes...

I had another conversation with a girl, B., who sort of grew up in the church, but now she doesn't think she really needs "that kind of thing." She was at the camp because she had been visiting her grandmother, attended church with her, was caught by the kids in the youth group and insistingly invited to come.

Of course I had a number of talks with fellow believers which were of untold encouragement, conversations which magnified Christ's goodness and glory, the wonder of His atoning death. In short, it was a great week and I'm looking forward to attending the camp again next summer!

My Xcamp group
Ashley Angerman (center, in white), the other LCMS missionary in the Czech Republic, and I led it together.
The photographer wasn't concerned with making us look good...

Please please PLEASE pray for R. and for all other people like him who are at such all out enmity against God. Pray that God would make His own glory great by conquering such a rebellious heart and making him to be a worshiper of Jesus Christ. If the Lord can save a sinner like me, He can surely do the little thing of rescuing R. from his sin and rebellion! May the Lord open R.'s eyes to His own infinite mercy, goodness, and love to him through Jesus Christ and give him joy in living eternal life before the throne of the Almighty!

Please also pray for B. that she will see her need for the Lord and believe that Jesus has died for her sins, to make her His own and to be her treasure.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


English Camp

This summer's English Camp in Smilovice, a nearby village, was July 6-12. This was such an incredible camp this year. Last year was good, of course, but this year was incredible. It felt to me as though this year was really focused on what is important, that is, that this year the point of the camp was to tell the teens in attendance about Christ, and English was simply the means to do that (last year I felt as though the camp was more concerned about "fun" and teaching English).

Just as last year, an American team came from two congregations in San Jose, CA (and one man from Iowa). The team of 12 people (3 women and 9 men, 4 teens and 8 adults) arrived in Trinec a few days before the camp started in order to have a day for the American and Czech teams to bond and to create one English Camp leadership team. This was a great addition to the camp, as it really allowed the teams to unify, to get to know one another, and to get on the same page, that this year we were going to be about sharing Christ first and teaching English second. We also had a lot of fun, having a photo scavenger hunt at a local castle during the day, and cooking dinner for each other in the afternoon.

English Camp T-birds

During the camp, every day we had English classes, Bible studies, and discussion topics. There were also activities such as a hike up a mountain to the location where Protestant Christians from the area would meet to worship during the persecution of the counter reformation, lots of sports and outdoor games, crafts, and free time. In the evenings, we had several different programs, such as a campfire, an Oldies party, a talent show, and a very complicated scavenger hunt with a puzzle and text message clues, which we played throughout the whole of the village of Smilovice.

One of my favorite parts of the camp was getting into deep discussion with another of the leaders (our wonderful, German photographer) about how we are saved, whether God or man does the choosing (which of course, God chooses us and man is completely incapable of making any kind of "decision for Christ": we are DEAD in sin and trespasses before the Holy Spirit calls us and gives us life through the Word). This was a very lively, passionate conversation which had many rounds and lasted a couple hours in total. For me it was wonderful, because it was the first time I've really had a chance to get into a debate with someone about anything in over a year. It was so refreshing for me to be able to go deep with this brother of mine, to completely disagree with one another but to still have great friendship and mutual respect, still being able to enjoy one another's company. Wow it was great.

Finally, the theme of the camp this year was "Y" and we, every day, took on one of the difficult "Why" questions of life (my dad always says "you can't answer 'why' questions"; nevertheless, we still labored to give answers to life from God's Word to the kids in attendance).

Good things have already come from the camp for God's kingdom. L-- a non-Christian girl who came with her Christian friend, B, to camp-- said to B last weekend, only a week after the end of English camp, and said, "By the way, I'm a Christian now." Hallelujah, God be praised for adding people to His eternal kingdom!

Please pray that the students from English camp who learned about Christ, but who have not believed in Him yet: that the Holy Spirit would do His work in their heart though the Word of Christ which they have heard. Also pray that the students who already knew Christ before the camp would persevere in their faith and that they gladly seek out opportunities to tell other about the forgiveness which they have in Jesus Christ, our wonderful God and Savior.

"God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved." Ephesians 2:4-5

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." John 15:16

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Words and Memory

A waste of time for you, fun for me

I've spent the better part of this week studying for the GRE, which I will take when I am home in August. I spent 2 whole days refreshing my math skills (it's been 6 YEARS since I've had a math class!) and another whole day working on vocabulary. As I was reading through the hundreds of words and definitions that I found in an online GRE study guide, I actually went on kind of a trip down memory lane.

It's said that smell is the sense that's most strongly tied to memory. That may be true, but for me, certain words this week have brought up some pretty vivid memories, too. For some of the words, I remember exactly what was happening when I learned them, for others, there's some incident which strongly attaches itself to the word, which I had learned long before. I'm including a list here for your reading pleasure, assuming that you're interested in my memories and how I have learned some of my vocabulary. You're probably not, but you would rather read this and waste your time than do something more important. ;) I'm not going to include actual definitions here (just allusions to them), so you'll have to look them up on your own if you come across a word that's new for you. Sorry.

I actually don't like this painting
(it's what my dad, and I, would call "weird"),
but I thought it fit with today's theme

acumen: from listening to Edgar Allen Poe on tape when I was... 12 years old (?) My mom bought a cassette tape boxed set of Poe and this word occurred in my favorite tale, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"

anemia: learned from a bright Senior trouble-maker who wrote for our school newspaper when I was in 8th or 9th grade. He had created a cartoon which questioned the wisdom of an already pale, blond, fellow Senior participating in the blood drive.

apogee and perigee: 8th grade shop class? I'm not sure why we needed to know this, but I remember having a really hard time getting my mind around the concept (you mean the moon's orbit isn't actually a circle?) and remembering which was which.

bacchanalia: thanks to my second semester freshman Classics 180 professor (Greek Mythology), who, for a full month before spring break referred to the impending bacchanalia in EVERY class session I'll never forget this word.

benevolent: first day of 7th grade English with Mrs. Gautreaux. We had two assignments right off the bat: to write our autobiographies (which became graduation gifts 6 years later...) and to figure out what "benevolent dictatorship" meant, because that's what we were getting ourselves into in her class.

bullion: from 4th grade when we read Snow Treasure, a book about school children in Norway sneaking the country's gold to safety on their sleds, right under the noses of the Nazis

cache: I'll never forget this word after the private embarrassment of not knowing what the proctor was talking about when he read this word in the Saline County spelling bee when I was in 7th grade. As far as spelling bee embarrassment goes, it was worse for me when I misspelled "superintendent" at County... I sometimes still second-guess myself on this word (sorry to let you down, Dad).

cogent and copious: favorite words of a very smart ex-boyfriend

colloquium: Senior year of high school, the Honors' Colloquium was one of many wonderful UNL-related excuses to get out of school... I had to find out if I REALLY wanted to go there, to miss as much class as possible, and to have fun speaking informally with other potential UNL Honors freshmen

diorama: learned from a project created by boys in my 6th grade class. I was secretly embarrassed that these boys new a word that I didn't know (of course I didn't let them know that I didn't know...)

doldrums: second semester sophomore year at university we read Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in my "Brit. Lit." class. and the whole poem took the wind out of my sails.

eugenics: from my sophomore year genetics text book. I'm glad I'd never even heard of this word before then, now wish I'd never had to, terrible stuff...

expedite: this word will probably be forever linked in my mind with bribing the government to do its job. Did you know that it doesn't REALLY take them 6-10 weeks to process a new passport?

gait: learned from helping my mom work with some of her less ambulatory patients

hypochondriac: this word was cemented for me in high school when one of my classmates-- who shall remain nameless-- was constantly worried (hoped?) that she had appendicitis or some other tragic and interesting health problem

ignominy: from my summers of light reading... this word was almost embarrassingly-- shamefully-- repetitive in The Scarlet Letter

inconceivable: forever in my mind linked with Wallace Shawn's lisping Vizzini in The Princess Bride ("I don't think that word means what you think it means")... Another great word from this movie: putrescence (boo! boo!).

insipid: another word learned from learning Spanish... one day during lunch with my host family in Mexico, my host mom and I had a lengthy discussion about our sopa insipida (insipid soup), as she tried to figure out what should be added to the broth. As she was wont to do, she took the insipid theme and extrapolated it out to a lot of fun word play... oh, Rosa.

mangy: from Papa making fun of my brother's favorite stuffed animal, a fox puppet, which he constantly-- to my brother's displeasure-- referred to as a "mangy squirrel". Still makes me laugh. :D

menagerie: from Disney's Aladdin, the song "Prince Ali," when Aladdin comes parading into town to impress the sultan and win his beautiful daughter's hand (this song also taught me the words genuflect, hoards, coterie, amorous, and fakirs).

morbid: from reading Jurassic Park in 6th grade (my first Crichton novel... ahh).

pestilence: Mrs. Gautreaux's middle son had a brief obsession with this word-- saying it like 5 times in one day-- when my 8th grade Sunday school class was talking about the 10 plagues in Egypt.

predilection: solidified for me through my study of Spanish... predilecto is another word for "favorite" in that language.

pyromaniac: oddly, I learned this from our church's vicar in my 7th grade confirmation class in Crete... during a discussion of the 6th commandment. Figure THAT one out (okay, it comes from the name of a band called "Porno for Pyros" and he was trying to be hip in talking about the commandments with my reprobate classmates).

slovenly: I was a bit hurt, but undaunted, when I learned this word for the first time, since it was used about me. My grandma said it because I wasn't wearing nylons to the prom.

subsidiary: this word was embossed with the name of the toilet paper company (which I don't remember...) on the toilet paper dispenser in the Nemaha Valley High School girl's room. Inside my mind is a strange place to be, remembering THAT.

surreptitious: When you're as much of a fan of 19th Century British romance novels as I am (Austen and the Bronte sisters), you're always coming across people sneaking these secret peeks at their objects of affection

vagabond: Disney songs ARE educational. This one comes from The Lion King's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Interesting that when I was in high school, one of my best friends misused this word, thinking it was some kind of designation of royalty. When I asked him why he thought that, he cited The Lion King... He was pretty excited about it, though, when I explained that it basically means "hobo." He likes the word "hobo."

verbose: learned from my high school guidance counselor, Mr. Gallagher, the LAST time I was preparing for a standardized test.

warren: Just about the only thing I remember about Watership Down which Mom read aloud in its entirety during a family vacation roadtrip when my brother and I were kids. I never thought that rabbits were all that interesting...

I have more words that stirred up memories for me during my recenty vocabulary study, but I'm sure that 30 is more than enough to include in this list.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I've been saying a remarkable number of good-byes in the last week or so. I said my temporary good-byes to most of my students during class over a week ago (I didn't have to teach at the school during the last week due to myriad non-classroom school events happening, such as a track and field day, etc.). This past Monday I said good-bye to my preschoolers, 5 or 6 of whom will be my first-graders in the fall.

On Monday I also said good-bye to my dear Eliska in Navsi. She's the only member of the English conversation club which Pr. Chodura and I started at the elementary school there. It may have been a permanent good-bye, I don't know. What a dear girl. She was a ninth-grader, and so next year she's going to high school in a different town, and in fact, her family is moving there so she doesn't have to commute. I'm sad to have to say good-bye to her, because I want so badly to be able to continue to tell her about Christ. She claims not to believe that God exists. When we said good-bye, in our final "club" meeting (just the two of us :) ), I had a teacher from the school take our picture together, and I gave her an English Bible as a gift (Contemporary English Version, a not great, but easier-to-read translation). I had spent time highlighting several passages that I hope the Holy Spirit will use to open her eyes (though He can certainly use whichever passages He wants!), and I told her that, in spite of the fact that she doesn't believe God exists, there are many good reasons to read the Bible. I explained that idea to her, and talked to her about which book she should read first (The Gospel according to St. John, of course). I sincerely hope that she will read it and continue to wonder about that crazy American who came to speak with her every week, to be her friend and to introduce her to the love of Christ.

On Monday and Tuesday night, I had an end-of-the-year party with my evening classes. We ate fabulous ice cream and played games. It was, for me, a very wonderful way to wrap things up, bring them to a close until the fall-- probably October-- when I can start up again. It warmed my heart that so many of my students asked when we'd start again, and when I told them, they balked at the word "October" and asked why it would be so LONG before they could have class with me. Many of them told me that they loved my classes and that they would really miss having English every week. What a wonderful thing to be told.

On Wednesday evening, there was a party for the 9th-graders, their parents, and all the teachers from our school. These kids are going to all go their separate ways in the fall (two of them to bilingual Czech and English high schools!). It was a lovely evening with clever skits, presentation of gifts and flowers, and even a quiz game competition between the three groups present (parents v. teachers v. students; the teachers won! right on!). There was no shortage of emotion on the part of the 9th-grade homeroom teacher, Mr. Heczko. He was working hard not to cry as he said "thank you" and "good-bye" to his kids. It was even sad for me, though my contact with the 9th class this year was somewhat limited (this year the Czech government decided that English conversation shouldn't be required for 9th graders, because they already had too many classroom hours).

On Friday afternoon, there was another going away party with the school, as the vice director of the school is retiring after 40 years of teaching. I'm going to miss this lovely lady next year. She doesn't speak more than a few words of English (thank you, you're welcome, hello... you know, the basics), but her tender, precious heart came across even to me.

Of all the good-bying, Thursday afternoon was the most significant for me. The three other LCMS girls in this area got together for "tea time" to chat and to say good-bye to Stephanie, who is leaving now after two years in Cieszyn, Poland. Thinking about her departure is really a sad thing for me, as she's been my closest friend here. I can't imagine what it would have been like to come here and not have her only 30 min. away from me. From the first time we met, we really hit it off, already being able to joke around with each other and relate well to one another from the very start. I'm so grateful for the listening, sympathizing ear that she gave when I started to experience my culture shock, my thoughts of "what in the world have I done in coming here?", and all of the adjustments that I had to make. Without her already culturally adjusted influence just across the Polish border, ready to laugh and to listen and to share words of wisdom, I probably would have gone crazy. It was so precious to me during my first months here to meet with her nearly every Friday afternoon to just talk about what was going on and to have our Book of Concord reading club (however short-lived :P).

Please pray:
-for Eliska, that the Holy Spirit will work through His Word, to open her eyes to the Truth, and to mercifully give her faith in Christ Jesus, who has died for her.
-for all the students and teachers, that they would have a safe, happy, and restful summer
-for Stephanie, that her last few days in Poland would be productive, that her return to the States would be safe, and that she would quickly and joyfully adjust to life in America without too much heartache over leaving her beloved Poland.
-that our dear Lord Jesus Christ would continue to make His Word known throughout the nations of the world, and that He would continue to use us, His small, weak instruments, to do the eternally majestic and glorious work of telling of His wonders and mercies-- His Cross-- to all He's pleased to put into our path.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Purpose-Driven Life

Today I was listening to a back-issue of Table Talk Radio on podcast and this was one of the questions (and answers) in the game "Are you smarter than a first-year seminarian?":

Q: What in the world does God have me here on the earth for? What's my purpose in life?

A: You're on the earth so that Jesus can love you and forgive you all of your sins. It's not a question of what you're doing, but a question of what Jesus is doing for you. Instead of being burdened with things to do, with the law, the purpose is simply to receive the gifts of God.

I particularly liked it, with the craziness of these days, everyone running around and trying to do stuff to please God, trying to figure out what we're here for. The question was asked and answered in the context of an elderly person who is ill and suffering, not able to be out and about, "doing useful things," for the Kingdom. Even though it was asked in the context of age and failing health, the answer is true regardless of age, health, or any other of the variables of life. It's true that God has prepared good works in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), but they aren't our ultimate purpose. After all, it's the case that the good works were given for us to do, not that we were created so that good works might be done. We are here so that Jesus can love us and forgive us our sins. Awesome.

"It would be better if you had never done a good work in your life so you had nothing to trust in but Jesus." Bryan Wolfmueller (Table Talk Radio, episode #46)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading Rainbow: May

I have read 5-- yeah, that's right 5!-- books in the month of May. Three of them I'm going to advertise here. The other two I'll mention, but not necessarily advertise. The two: "Prey" by Michael Crichton (may he rest in peace), and "Daisy Miller" by Henry James. I've been reading Crichton for 12 years now, and he's never failed to steal my attention from just about anything else when I'm reading him. James' novella was alright, but not anything really spectacular. Okay, that covers the honorable mentions. Now down to the meat (in order of reading).

Book 1: "Let the Nations be Glad" by John Piper (by the way, if anyone knows how to underline on blogger, let me know... my inner English teacher is screaming that I can't properly underline a book title here...) Subtitled "The Supremacy of God in Missions," this book took me a long time to really get rolling in, because it feels like nearly every sentence is another thesis. However, it was VERY good in that it very clearly outlines the remaining need for missions throughout the world. Mr. Piper lays out the case for pioneering missions, citing manifold verses from throughout Scripture which say that every nation, tribe, people and language will be represented before the throne of God in the new heaven and new earth. If every nation, tribe, people, and language are to be represented in heaven, then our primary task in missions is to reach every nation, tribe, people and language. As each of these different types of groups is reached, then the newly established churches ought to work to reach all the individuals in their purview.

Some might assume that the task of pioneering missions isn't that great, thinking, "What's the big deal? The whole world knows about Jesus." Wrong. According to the Lutheran Bible Translators webpage, of the 6,912 languages spoken on planet Earth, only 429 have a complete Bible in the language. This means that 6,483 languages have only partial access to the Bible. In fact, there are 4,486 languages with NO TRANSLATED PART of the Bible! And in English we have more than 20 different translations. Of course Bible translation isn't the only point of pioneering missions, but if they have no access to Scripture, it is quite difficult to know Jesus and His saving work. How many of those nearly 4,500 languages without Scripture are also languages where our Savior's name remains unspoken?

Book 2: "Peace Child" by Don Richardson. Mr. Richardson was a missionary to Netherlands New Guinea (today Papua New Guinea) in the 1960s. He went to tell about Jesus to a tribe of "stone age" people. These people, the Sawi, were cannibals in whose society, the highest virtue was treachery and "fattening with friendship." This refers to the high honor given to those who were able to deceive their enemies into trusting a friendship, and then, when the victim's guard was down, to strike, killing and cannibalizing the victim. Because of their vengefulness and deceit, this people was broken into many small villages which had long standing feuds between them. The only way to stop the warring and treachery was for a "peace child" to be given. This meant that one man from each village had to give his son in exchange for a son of the other village. The fathers would exchange names and this peace child would be protected more fiercely than the biological children of the village, because maintenance of peace depended entirely on the life of the peace child. If the child died, his parental village had the right of vengance.

The incredible way which God prepared even such a barbaric people for the Good News of the ultimate Peace Child, Jesus Christ gripped me as I read. WE were at war with God, and He gave us His Peace Child, His ONLY Son. And we even killed the peace child, an offense which, for the Sawi, would mean retribution. But with God, it meant the guarantee of peace. Because He had given us His Peace Child, the war would NEVER start again-- He kept His word, even when justified in taking His retribution on His enemies: us. INCREDIBLE book. How many other unreached peoples are out there, into whose cultures God has already woven the material needed to clearly point to His Son and His salvation?

Book 3: "Shadow of the Almighty" by Elisabeth Elliot. Mrs. Elliot compiled journal entries and letters of Jim Elliot with letters written to him in order to give the reader a fuller picture of her husband who gave "what he [could] not keep to gain what he [could] not lose" (the most famous quotation from Mr. Elliot, quite possibly the most famous missionary of the 20th century). The passion which Jim exhibited throughout his life for the Lord, for obedience to His will, and for Gospel proclamation to those who had never heard of his Savior is simply overwhelming. I pray that I might have even a fraction of Elliot's passion and single-mindedness in following his Lord where He led.

I am currently reading yet another missions book, "Chasing the Dragon" by Jackie Pullinger. I'm only a few pages into it, but I have a feeling that it's going to be another story in which God's power for saving people is put on display. I'm sure that it will make my jaw drop and my heart beat faster for the cause of those who don't know my incredible Savior. I sure hope so.

Please pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send out laborers into His fields! They are, after all, ripe for the harvest! Pray that Christ will continue to do His work of saving for Himself an inheritance from all the nations, tribes, peoples and languages of the earth. Pray that He will continue to make peace with His enemies and snatch lost and dying sinners from the clutches of sin, death, and Satan.

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Revelation 7:9-10

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Three that testify

On Friday night last week, we had quite possibly the best mládež group (the word means "youth", but the demographic translates culturally as "college group") meeting that we've had since I've been here (a whole year). Our topic for the evening was "Assurance of Salvation" and our speaker was Pastor Taska from the congregation in neighboring Oldřichovice. Pr. Taska had chosen for his text 1 John 5:5-12:
"Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."
Pastor Taska began his talk by assuring us that it isn't arrogance, as some assume, to be sure that we are saved. He gave examples of people he's been to visit who, though being believers, say they aren't sure-- and possibly don't feel that they should be sure (the arrogance thing)-- if they're saved, if they'll go to heaven when they die. He said, rather, that God our Father wants us to be sure. He also said, that because we have faith in Christ, that we have eternal life right now, that we don't have to wait till we die to have eternal life. He told (something like) the following story as an illustration.

There was a little girl who thought her grandmother's vase was very beautiful and asked her grandma if she could please have it, because she liked it so much. The grandmother replied that the little girl could not have it right now, but that it was hers; that when she would be a little older, she could keep it herself. Every time the little girl came to visit Grandma and see the vase, she would ask her grandma if the vase was really her own. The grandma would always reply, "Of course it's yours." The little girl brought a friend of hers one day, pointed to the vase and said, "You see that vase? That's mine!"

We are like the little girl: Eternal life (the vase) IS ours, right now, though it may not look like it. The Lord (like the grandmother) wants us to know that it's ours, and we can ask Him over and over again, the answer is still the same: "It IS yours!" Likewise, we can point to eternal life and tell others: "You see that eternal life? That's mine!"

After this illustration, Pastor Taska posed and answered the question: How do we know that salvation-- eternal life in Christ-- is ours? The answer was verses 7 and 8: "There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree." How do we know that we have salvation? The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Word tells us that we are the children of God. The water of baptism delivers to us our salvation by applying to us the water and the words of baptism in the Name of our Triune God, giving us faith and naming us "Christian"; God claiming us for His own. The blood of Christ, which we receive through the cup in the Lord's Supper, with His body in the bread, truly delivers our Lord to us, and where our Lord Jesus is, there is forgiveness, life and salvation. So, as God comes to us in His gifts of the Word and the sacraments, these things testify that we indeed belong to Christ, and therefore have assurance of salvation.

When Pastor Taska had finished his formal presentation, in the discussion, one of the young people present said that after a long day of ups and downs-- starting the day with the Lord, then going to school and doing other things of "normal life," not thinking about God, and then, trying to end the day again with the Lord, but assaulted by the memories of his various sins throughout the course of the day-- he often wondered if he really was Christ's if he had lived in this faltering way. Someone said that he ought, in those times, to remember the time when he first believed and was saved. Pastor Taska, brilliantly, interjected something so important at that point. He cautioned us not to look to the moment we first believed for the assurance that we are saved, because the moment we believed took place after we had been saved.

He said that he himself had been saved on a Friday afternoon around 3:00, around the year 33 (at this point I was a little confused, because I thought he was referring to 1933-- I was listening to the whole evening without translation-- and Pr. Taska definitely isn't that old). He said that he was saved, and we were too, not when we believed, or "accepted Jesus into our hearts," but when Jesus cried out "It is finished" and died. He told us not to look to our own decisions or lives for assurance of our salvation, but to look to Christ.

When all the discussion about the topic was finished, I broke into spontaneous applause (yeah, it was that good). I couldn't help myself. I had been nodding, smiling, crying, and whispering amens throughout the talk. It was so good because it was ALL JESUS, all the real Gospel for Christ's true people; pure gold! I wanted so much to express my deep appreciation to Pr. Taska, but couldn't fully. Though I listened without translation (and honestly understood probably 90% of the words, not just 90% of the thoughts, but words!), I certainly am not capable of expressing myself adequately-- yet-- in Czech.

May we all remember that we can know we're saved because of the testimony of the three which agree: the Spirit and the water and the blood. Let us not give up remembering this and seeking Christ in these three, where He delivers Himself and His salvation to even sinners like us!

Please pray for Pavla, that she would read through John and send me her questions, as she promised. Though she's gone to youth group for a long time, she has never believed, and says that it's impossible to believe, and yet is willing to hear about Jesus and to read the Word herself. May the Holy Spirit give her faith through the life-giving Word!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my arrival in the Czech Republic for my service here as a missionary and English teacher.

Looking back, I can't believe it's been so long, because it feels like it has just flown by. I imagine I'll feel that way this time next year, as I finish my second and final year here, to return to the United States and the Lord knows what else.

Heavenly Father, our times are in Your hands. Look with favor on me as I celebrate this anniversary. Grant that I may continue to grow in wisdom and grace. Strengthen my trust in Your goodness and bless me with Your abiding love all the days of my life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Easy(er) to Find

Since establishing my new blog address and title, I've learned that it's actually LESS convenient for people, since you can't find my blog any more by typing my name into a google search. This is my attempt to give google searchers a hand:

Ashley Effken

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Christ in the Flesh

It turns out that to learn more about a problem, all I have to do is keep reading. This morning I was reading the appointed Book of Concord section, from the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord (I'm turning into a really Lutheran nerd: not a bad thing), and I found this. No thoughts of my own, today, just those of some old Lutherans:

"Our basic arguments, on which we have always stood in this matter since the outbreak of the dispute regarding this article, are the same as those that Dr. Luther set down in the following words initially against the sacramentarians. (Dr. Luther in his Large Confession concerning the Holy Supper): My reasons upon which I rest in this matter are the following:

1. The first is this article of our faith: Jesus Christ is essential, natural, true, perfect God and man in one person, inseparable and undivided.

2. The second, that God's right hand is everywhere.

3. The third, that God's Word is not false, nor does it lie.

4. The fourth, that God has and knows of many modes of being in any place, and not only the single one concerning which the fanatics talk flippantly, and which philosophers call localem, or local.

Also: The one body of Christ [says Luther] has a threefold mode or all three modes of being anywhere.

First, the comprehensible, bodily mode, as He went about bodily upon earth, when, according to His size, He vacated and occupied space [was circumscribed by a fixed place]. This mode He can still use whenever He will, as He did after the resurrection, and will use at the last day, as Paul says, 1 Tim. 6:15: "Which in His times He shall show, who is the blessed God [and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords]." And to the Colossians, 3:4: "When Christ, who is our Life, shall appear." In this manner He is not in God or with the Father, neither in heaven, as the mad spirits dream; for God is not a bodily space or place. And this is what the passages how Christ leaves the world and goes to the Father refer to which the false spirits cite.

Secondly, the incomprehensible, spiritual mode, according to which He neither occupies nor vacates space, but penetrates all creatures wherever He pleases [according to His most free will]; as, to make an imperfect comparison, my sight penetrates and is in air, light, or water, and does not occupy or vacate space; as a sound or tone penetrates and is in air or water or board and wall, and also does not occupy or vacate space; likewise, as light and heat penetrate and are in air, water, glass, crystal, and the like, and also do not vacate or occupy space; and much more of the like [many comparisons of this matter could be adduced]. This mode He used when He rose from the closed [and sealed] sepulcher, and passed through the closed door [to His disciples], and in the bread and wine in the Holy Supper, and, as it is believed, when He was born of His mother [the most holy Virgin Mary].

Thirdly, the divine, heavenly mode, since He is one person with God, according to which, of course, all creatures must be far more penetrable and present to Him than they are according to the second mode. For if, according to that second mode, He can be in and with creatures in such a manner that they do not feel, touch, circumscribe, or comprehend Him, how much more wonderfully will He be in all creatures according to this sublime third mode, so that they do not circumscribe nor comprehend Him, but rather that He has them present before Himself, circumscribes and comprehends them! For you must place this being of Christ, who is one person with God [for you must place this mode of presence of Christ which He has by His personal union with God], very far, far outside of the creatures, as far as God is outside of them; and again as deep and near within all creatures as God is within them. For He is one inseparable person with God; where God is, there must He also be, or our faith is false. But who will say or think how this occurs? We know indeed that it is so, that He is in God outside of all creatures, and one person with God, but how it occurs we do not know; it [this mystery] is above nature and reason, even above the reason of all the angels in heaven; it is understood and known only by God. Now, since it is unknown to us, and yet true, we should not deny His words before we know how to prove to a certainty that the body of Christ can by no means be where God is, and that this mode of being [presence] is false. This the fanatics must prove; but they will forego it.

Now, whether God has and knows still more modes in which Christ's body is anywhere, I did not intend to deny herewith, but to indicate what awkward dolts our fanatics are, that they concede to the body of Christ no more than the first, comprehensible mode; although they cannot even prove that to be conflicting with our meaning. For in no way will I deny that the power of God may accomplish this much that a body might be in many places at the same time, even in a bodily, comprehensible way. For who will prove that this is impossible with God? Who has seen an end to His power? The fanatics indeed think thus: God cannot do it. But who will believe their thinking? With what do they make such thinking sure?" (Article VII: The Holy Supper, paragraphs 93-103).

I certainly don't pretend to understand all of this, but at least it's an explanation of a problem that has been vexing me for some time now.

Also, how wonderful it is that the Book of Concord may be read in its entirety on the internet!