Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's Not in My Genes...

Last week one of the workers removing asbestos from our sanctuary took a fall off a 14 ft. ladder onto the concrete floor. We thanked God that he was not badly injured--only whiplash injuries, and have continued to pray for the crew and their safety.

Eliana asked about him a couple of days ago, and yesterday decided to make a card for him, addressed to "Man Who Fell Off Ladder At Church" (dictated by Mrs. This Side...).

I'm proud of that girl. I wish I could be half as sweet and thoughtful as her. She must get it from her mother!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Nearest Book Meme

I know this is not how this is supposed to work, but I thought it fun, so I'm breaking blog rules. The blog that tagged others would never tag me (I don't comment there and run in different ecclesial circles).

1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

So here it is:

"I live in Iceland." Because of the joke, Kerthialfad spared his life. To be courageous is to be someone on whom reliance can be placed.
I Tag: Rasburry, Anastasia, Gadfly, Doorman, Emily

PS If you read here regularly but I don't tag you, it's because I don't know you read here because you don't leave comments. So let's fix that, eh? :)

Thought I'd add what book it was from:After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition. I'd pulled it down to re-read and perhaps write something on as his thesis relates to theology, but it was just sitting there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hypocricy Defined

Especially for Pastors, Teachers, and Critics...

“A brother asked Abba Poemen: What is a hypocrite? The old man said to him: A hypocrite is one who teaches one’s neighbor something without making any effort to do it oneself.”

“Abba Poemen also said: Someone who teaches without doing what one teaches resembles a spring, which cleanses and gives drink to everyone else, but is not able to purify itself.”

HT: Mind in the Heart

Rich Fare, Hard Work

Why is it that we can sit for hours reading a novel, but 20 minutes of Psalms feels like a chore?

Why is it that I can sit for hours in front of a computer monitor, but sitting--not even standing--in prayer for ten minutes makes me fidget?

It is work to pray. The Scriptures are rich fare--so unlike the dust of most novels. Worship and prayer require concentration and energy. Television does not--not even the History Channel or the so-called "The Learning Channel" (TLC now).

And we have an enemy, lest we forget, who desires to distract us from the "one thing needful," with every pleasure, with every entertainment, even with work and labor, so that we will not pray, so that we will not worship, so that we will not love others.

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you, mercifully grant that by your power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord... (Collect for Sexagesima, LSB).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another Sign Babies Are People Too

Babies apparently can identify "good samaritans" and prefer their company, so says this article. I love stories like this because they remind us that even the smallest are not as oblivious and incapable as we sometimes think. That they can identify kind people and choose their company shouldn't surprise those who also say that the same little ones can have faith.

Today's Silliness

What Kind of Drink Are You?

You are a Fine Glass of Wine. You are sophisticated and refined, but also complicated and hard to deal with. Not everyone loves you, but those who do swear that you're the coolest thing since sliced bread. One of these days the people that matter will understand you. Until then, you will be sitting on your throne as the distinguished product that not everyone has the taste to appreciate.
Find Your Character @

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Real Opiates

Marx lied and said that religion was the opiate of the masses, meaning of course that religion induces a stupor whereby we become distracted and unconcerned with the harsh and unfair reality. Second Terrace puts this notion to rest and introduces his list of opiates for the masses today. Please note: Second Terrace is not the easiest blog to read and uses a peculiar vocabulary...but one worth learning.

His list:

Sports. Not backyard sports but professional sports and parent-organized youth teams.

Professional Politics. Not local politics, but the glossy package of national politics

Wealth Management. The "human sacrifice" we give for more money.

Orthodox Church Structure (the author is Orthodox). You may substitute your own denomination's turmoil or political problems and "If only's..." here. Optional: if church politics don't distract you, then substitute company politics, city politics, or whatever else you obsess about.

Entertainment. Fun. Not Christian joy, but entertainment. Continually. Fun as the measure of good things. Was it fun? No? Then it must be bad.

Professional Sex. Or sex-obsessed society.

And his list of mantras that can induce stupor simply be repeating them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's Not You, It's Me

This has been making some rounds across the internet today (I've checked my blog reader breifly two times and seen references to this five or more), but I thought it profound:

God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, is it possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honour Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honour Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through resembling God, are united to Him, but if we become evil through not resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness we cleave to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons who torture us. And if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this does not mean that we have won God over and made Him to change, but that through our actions and our turning to the Divinity, we have cured our wickedness and so once more have enjoyment of God’s goodness. Thus to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
Who said such things? St. Antony the Great.*


*St. Antony the Great is, well, the Great. A hermit of Egypt, an early monastic, whose biography (written by no less than St. Athanasius) made monasticism known and popular in the 4th century. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession refers to him favorably in AP XXVII.38

Confession Is Also Good For Headlines

Readers here probably read Pr. Randy Asburry's Blog as well, but just in case, here's a link to his recent post on Confession and Absolution.

His blog template sometimes hides links, so here is the newspaper article he references.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fastenzeit is Near

The Lenten fasting season begins in just over two weeks, and I am looking forward to it.

Two years ago the vicar and I presented the congregation with the basics of the traditional Western Rite fast. Previously this congregation was used to the idea of "giving up" something for Lent, but wasn't too aware of the practice of giving up food for Lent. Vicar presented what my friend Fr. Fenton gave for his (then) congregation in Detroit. It was a surprise to many. The next year I worked up a leaflet for the congregation which gives not only the fasting guideline, but also gives some background from Scripture and the Confessions, along with a FAQ and resources published by the LCMS. I heard more of a response last year, no doubt due to my Vicar's excellent groundwork laid the year before.

I'm providing a link here for the leaflet. Feel free to use it as you wish. If your pastor doesn't address the Lenten fast much, feel free to share it with him. For purists, please note that I've modified the fast for the sake of this congregation. I eliminated the Ember Days and Advent Fast (don't hit me!), and made some decisions about seafood and cheese which some may quibble with. The Ember Days and Advent Fast may show up in the 2nd Edition, but we're taking baby steps here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Being the Best You Can Be

Driving in the dark through North Central Illinois, Marjorie and I had a heart to heart. She confessed that she hadn't always been doing her best in a few of her volunteer positions outside of church. I confessed that at times I knew I wasn't doing all that I could as a pastor, for various reasons. We both admitted that some of this is part of the normal human condition, that there is always more to do, and more to do better. But sloth and complacency must be resisted. So we both agreed that our motto (not resolution) for 2008 will be "Stop making excuses, get off your heiney and do the best you can." It's a good motto, covering lots of ground, professionally and personally. Under this umbrella, I can call on members more frequently, add my niece's birthdays to my Treo, putz around the house, pick up Wheelock's Latin Grammar again, and so on. So far I've noticed a difference in my attitude and efficiency.

While on vacation, Weedon's Blog had a rip-roaring discussion about forensic justification, with an incredible 163 comments to date. I didn't read them all (that's crazy) but near the end I noticed a few comments by the lightning-rod (and friend) Fr. Gregory Hogg. He wrote,

To my Lutheran friends: try to be the best Lutherans you can be. Try to live as if the body described in the Lutheran confessional writings actually existed where you are. Rebuke in your midst, for example, the errors it rejects--not in bombastic posts on anonymous blogs, but by following the procedures agreed to in your midst. Live as if pastors had the right to excommunicate. Press forward in the appropriate way with those who practice lay absolution etc. (find it here)
I was reminded of Fr. Benjamin Harju's (LCMS) post "You Will Know a Tree by Its Fruit." He wrote in part (the whole essay deserves a read or two):
The times call for a sincere and emphatic call to rally around Lutheran spirituality. It is not enough to cry out "Scripture alone as confessed in the Book of Concord!" We must cry out with our deeds. We must unapologetically expect our fellow pastors at the circuit level, our elected district representatives, and even our entire synodical bureaucracy to live out this spirituality.
"Be the best Lutheran you can be," and both the ex- and present LCMS pastors say, "See where this takes you." What's depressing is that one is certain it fails, and the other isn't sure what will happen.

I think we who are Lutheran can be certain that God has placed us in our congregations and vocations for His purpose. We can be certain that God desires us to live faithfully and to grow. We can be certain that our Christian lives ought to be done to the glory of God, which demands all. While the parable of the talents is often quoted at this point, what may apply more directly is: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able," (Luke 13:24) and, "whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

Lutherans tend to be minimalists when it comes to our faith and practice. But "doing your best," implies maximalism--living maximally as a Lutheran (or whatever your confession is), not seeking the lowest common denominator, nor the minimum of what the Christian faith is, not rejecting tradition qua tradition, but embracing the fullness of what it means to be a Lutheran pastor, chemist, student, retail employee or what have you.

Do the following:

1. Pray. Pray more and more regularly. Pray at the set times of the day: morning, noon, and night. I don't mean a minimal prayer, but a maximal prayer: like the hours of the day, or at least the brief services contained in Lutheran Service Book. If you want more, acquire a copy of the Brotherhood Prayer Book or The Monastic Diurnal and use them. What, you say? Too catholic? Too...pious? Too...fanatic to pray like this? Yes it is, and more. It is also too faithful, too strong, too powerful, too watchful. Maximize.

2. Educate yourself. Read Christian literature. Like St. Augustine's Confessions and G. K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and the Sermons of St. John Chrysostom and The Brothers Karamazov and other literature by Christians. Read the Book of Concord and find out exactly what it means to be a Lutheran.

3. Remind yourself of the hobby or talent you once enjoyed but dropped. Start it again. You ask what this has to do with Christian living and "being the best Lutheran you can be?" God gave you all your abilities. Use them to His glory.

4. Attend every worship service your congregation offers. If you are laity, ask your pastor to offer more and to post times of private confession. Help him be the best Lutheran he can be.

See where this takes you. I imagine that some may realize they're not Lutheran after all or don't want to be. Some may become "more Lutheran." Some may re-direct their lives. But if we receive the Sacraments more often (see #4), are immersed in the Word more (see #1), pray more, edify ourselves more and so forth, you will be blessed regardless of where God leads you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Big Week for the Family

Today my eldest is singing at the "Circle the State with Song" regional concert. Immediately after this, my bride is presenting a talk at a Mothers of Preschoolers group in another town--this is the third MOPS group that has asked her to be their main presenter. On Wednesday both of them are driving to Tulsa for the All State Choir Concert. Mikayla was one of four 6-9 grade children in Enid chosen for the choir (only one other 6th grader in town was chosen). It's rare that any 6th grader gets to go to All State! They will be out of town until Friday morning when I will pack up the rest of the family and go to Tulsa for the concert. It will be a fun week, God willing!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Threat Within

I had a dream that wouldn't let go of me. Despite waking up several times, the dream did not fade. On the contrary, it started again each time I fell back asleep.

In the dream, our family moved into a new house, a house worm-holed with secret passages where a killer, a molester, hid. This killer was going to get one of my children. He had struck others in the past and now we were in his sights.

Toward the end of the dream cycle, I opened a secret hatch and found the monster within my home--a little girl. While harmless today, I knew she had to be removed, before she grew older and stronger and could do real harm. I called the police to report her trespassing, her hiding within my house, and the officer laughed it off, telling me to return her to her mother. I hung up, frustrated, and realized the girl had escaped while on the phone.

I suppose this says more about my psychological condition than I probably want to confront, but it is also a fitting symbol for temptations and their power. The house is a symbol for the body, for the physical life, our outer life. What happens inside the house is a symbol for what happens in our inner life, our spiritual life. At least it can be.

In the dream I knew my home was compromised, my life was compromised, that something alien to me and dangerous had infiltrated and was threatening my inner life. This is a symbol for temptation and sin. In the beginning temptations come and are mostly harmless, but if not removed, they grow in strength. Temptations left unchecked lead to sin which destroys, not just us, but also those around us who suffer the effects of our trespasses.

Of course, these temptations make themselves out to be natural, normal feelings, conceptions, and inclinations. When temptations come, they seek to convince us that they are not alien to our spiritual life. They are self-deprecating, appearing to be gentle, normal and unobtrusive. If we do not recognize them as a threat, we will leave them be, perhaps even befriend them.

Imagine a man who stepped on a nail. He picked up his foot and saw the head of the nail barely poking out of his heel. But there was only a spot of blood he quickly wiped away. He tried to walk on it, and found he actually could, though with great pain and a slow gait. He walked into his home and his family saw his pain and the effects of the injury. His wife made him sit down and looked at his foot, immediately seeing the nail that had penetrated his heel. Now it would be complete insanity of him to say, "Oh no. That's part of my foot. It's okay for it to be there. I'll just leave it be and learn to work around it."

St. Paul writes, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor. 10:4-5 NKJV) St. Paul is not talking about apologetics here, about creation vs. evolution, about "reasons to believe." He is talking about taking every logismos captive, to patrol our souls for all that which is alien to the life of Christ we have received, to cast them out, to not be fooled into admitting dangerous thoughts and temptations into our lives. It calls for watchfulness (nepsis), for prayer, for repentance, and especially for a unwavering hold upon the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ who crushed the head of our enemy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What To Think About Those Thorns...

An excellent Sunday behind me, and a month of Sundays before that. A sermon about the Epiphany and an application to this congregation, about my call here, about our place in this Body which gave me comfort and hope and enabled my eyes to see our gracious God at work, and by His grace, it had the same effect for others. A refreshing and enjoyable move to our temporary sanctuary with members working together.

And then one of those thorns in my side returned. Pastors know them well: the issue that is never allowed to die, that one or two folks bring up every few months because they are not satisfied with your answer, with any answer but their own. Issues that should have been settled.

At first I was disturbed and angry. I complained to myself, to God. I wanted to put an end to it, to finally yell, "Enough already! Never again! It is settled now and forever!" (If you're a member reading this, don't try to even guess what it is, and especially not who it is).

These issues bring humility. My smart, nuanced answers may not be so smart. My patience is thin. Would God have been so impatient with me, all would be lost. I'm not in control, and when I feel I am, these thorns remind me of my weakness, of the Cross, of submission to God even in trial.

These issues shine light on repentance and the fight against sin. When the thorn stabs in our sides, it teaches us to remember our sins afflict us in a similar way. We can never conquer our sins by ourselves, and in this life even long-dormant temptations can assail us at any moment. Keeping watch over our mouths and minds and hands is our duty. Prayer for strength and help in our time of need is our only hope.

And while it may be obvious, we need to remind ourselves to pray for our enemies, pray for our thorns, pray for humility for ourselves and for others.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Move

What has been discussed 'round these parts for several years has now come to pass. Yesterday after the Divine Service for the Epiphany of our Lord, we relocated the sanctuary appointments to the space otherwise known as the "gym." Everything was moved, from altar to pews. Those items which the gym could not support, such as the large wall cross and stained glass windows were stored. Asbestos removal for the sanctuary is scheduled for next week, but may begin later this week if we are ready.

The plan now is to remove the asbestos covering the ceiling and walls, remove sheet rock if necessary, and then evaluate the structure for the cost and possibility of repair and renovation. If that proves excessive, we'll demolish and build anew. So for the time being we will be worshiping in the "temporary sanctuary" as I have made pains to call it, and it actually is looking very nice.

The most blessed result of this is the level of unity and peace that we have received. It is fair to say that we have gone from a congregation that is conflicted to one of cooperation, all thanks and glory be to God.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Christmas Sermon Update

Byzantine Dixie kindly asked in my Christmas post how the sermon(s) went. I thought I'd respond here.

Briefly put, on Christmas Eve I preached the Gospel of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and then said, "Amen." Mission accomplished. Was it a finely crafted sermon that I enjoyed hearing myself preach? Not really. Did I structure it to hold the hearer's attention? Perhaps, but I thought it was a little dry in parts. I wished I could have met those criteria better.

On Christmas Day, the sermon went in a direction that was well-suited (I believe) for the parishioners there. I left few stops in liturgically, so a portion of the sermon explained the reasons for this--more of a catechetical sermon. I believe I pushed this a little too long and still fear that I may have been a bit defensive. However--again--the Gospel of the Nativity of our Lord was preached, and I pray God was glorified and my hearers edified in their faith. I dare not expect any more!

Thanks for asking, though.

If You Can't Get Enough Here...

Check out Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. The newest issue contains an article I wrote called, "Baby Pew Sitters." It's an excellent journal (despite publishing my work). My piece is not available online at this time, but do take a look at the articles that are and the archives too.

A Night of Great Interceding

The plan was to travel from Lake Barrington, IL (NW Suburbs) to as far as possible Sunday evening. We got a late start, which is another story entirely, but were headed south on I-57 by mid-afternoon. Memphis was out of the picture. Perhaps Effingham was a possibility? But the kids were stressed and bored and fighting, Marjorie and I were stressed and tired and cranky, and our landing spot ended up being Matoon, IL. It would make for an 11-hour trip the next day, but we could not possibly go further.

I splurged a bit on a two-room suite, thinking the girls would sleep in one bed, Jack in the port-a-crib, and Marjorie and I in the other bed. We would have the extra room for getting Jack to sleep and for us to relax while the kids slept. It was a great idea, God-blessed in its own way...but not in the way we ever expected.

It was late, so all the girls went to bed at the same time, with Eliana coughing (she has terrible asthma). Jack wouldn't go down, however. He heard the coughing and loves his sisters, so he would lay in his bed until we left the room, then stand and call the girls. After countless trips back and forth, he finally gave in and slept. Meanwhile, coughing continued.

Marjorie and I turned on the TV in the outer room, snuggled up and finally relaxed. This lasted all of one commercial break and half a scene of "Raymond." The coughing in the other room was growing worse. Marjorie went in to get her a drink when, from the outer room, I hear Eliana finally gag and choke and puke. In the bed. The same bed where her two other sisters were sleeping. I rushed in, picked her up and she puked on me. When she got in the bathroom, she was still vomiting on the floor towel. She couldn't make it to the toilet. Marjorie worked on getting the sleeping girls out of the one bed into the other (which was supposed to be ours), while I put Eliana in the shower to rinse off and get the steam going on her lungs. By the time Marjorie finished moving the girls and covering the vomit with towels to help stifle the smell and prevent accidental contact I was finished and we gave Ellie another breathing treatment. That did the trick for her, and she went off to sleep for the rest of the night relatively wheeze-free.

We now had to sleep on the pullout bed in the outer room. You know, the one with the bar that cuts in right under the shoulder blades? Those? Yep, those. I start to fall asleep when Marjorie gets up coughing. Oh, did I forgot to mention that she had Strep Throat a few days before? Silly me. She's coughing and ends up gagging, but is able to hold it all together. I sleep for an hour or so while she's standing in the bathroom with the shower running. That and the medicine finally kick in and we both sleep for another hour or so.

Then Olivia shows up on my side of the bed with a bloody nose. Not just any bloody nose but one of her colossal bleed-a-thons. There's blood all over her face, her hand, her arm, the walls where she reached out in the semi-darkness to find her way, the bathroom floor and every towel in the room. She says it was bleeding a while but she finally ran out of tissues and toilet paper and started using towels. She couldn't get it to stop. I stayed up with her for another hour or two, pinching her nose, getting her tp (I found another roll), and waiting. And praying. It begins to slow and finally reduces to spotting and I send her back in bed. I lay in bed, praying like crazy to get through the rest of the night without further incident or worse.

But I'm up again with the nose a few minutes later, and Marjorie after that, and then, mercifully, peace and answered prayers.

The next morning I survey the room, the vomit, the bloodstains, the overflowing trash cans and know I have a bit of explaining to do. I fully expect a visit from DHS once they they track us down.

The moral of the story is:

1. God does indeed answer pray out of His great love for us, and all told, I prayed very hard, but not really for very long before He did answer my prayer.

2. I should have been praying more. It takes nights like these sometimes to remind us that the standard is to "pray without ceasing," and not just at set times and for extraordinary needs, which most of us probably do. Pray more. It's a good policy in general, and an exhortation that applies to us all.

3. "Man proposes, God disposes." (Thomas a Kempis) We bought the extra room for our own purposes: to have some down time before we would go to sleep . God allowed this so we would have a vomit-free bed. That was pretty nice to have, thanks be to God.