Time—for nothing and yet for much

It’s been a while since I last blogged. I have had many thoughts and ideas. But I haven’t been able to type.

July 20, 2017: A fall on concrete caused me to break two bones in my left shoulder. The good news— no surgery. But the rehab path is longer than I would like, and there are many things I can’t do.

What I can’t do?

Not as much as I would like. I can barely use my left arm/hand, and any movement causes extreme pain in the shoulder/elbow/arm. So this is my first attempt at trying to use both hands for typing. It’s frustrating for me because of my life as pastor and president of seminary. Many check lists of things to do, but I can’t right now.

One of the things I have loved doing over the past 50 years (post-high school) is reading, averaging 100+ books a year. But even that activity has been off limits. I can’t hold small (empty) plates, (empty) glasses, and certainly not a book to hold and read.

But the last two days I think I have found a work around. I sit in a recliner, pushed back to first “notch.” I put a large but soft pillow in my lap. Then with my right hand I lift the book and position it at an angle in the pillow so that I can read comfortably. I tried several positions and angles. Finally yesterday I attempted to read a little. I managed 15 pages. Tiring, but so relieved that I can do that.

(BTW the two handed typing lasted only the first two paragraphs of this post.)

I haven’t driven since my fall. And it looks like maybe 2-3 weeks before I can attempt that. I can’t buckle myself into a seat belt.

What have I done?

So far I have written about what I can’t do. But one thing I have done is think— a lot. Not the frantic thinking that my vocation demands, but slow, deep thinking. This takes time, not clock-watched time, but mind-resting time. I have needed this for many years, but never seemed to have time to make it happen.

So despite my complaints of what I can’t do, this aspect of thinking has been refreshing. No writing notes (that’s hard to do too). No pattern, demands, but thinking.

One topic is “What is Church?” At our (TAALC) 500th year celebration of the Reformation in Minneapolis, I am teaching on that topic. This isn’t a new topic for me. But it has given me an opportunity to think, think, and think more.

The current pace of “church” and attempts to tinker with the concept have left the church starving to death from lack of refreshing itself in Word and Sacraments. Likewise the church has been trying to implement methods of previous generations, or suffering from jet-lag reaching for the latest method, newest technique, sure-fire way to grow.

And yet…

Yet God has been building His church for almost 2000 years. One of the benefits of the Reformation for us as Lutherans is found in two statements appearing often in our confessions (Book of Concord):

“The church has always taught”

“We believe, teach, and confess”

The thrust of my presentation will revolve around these two expressions. Over the past month I have outlined in my mind the sense of the presentation. Even more I could begin teaching now. But I look forward to being able to write on this in the coming two months, to hone my topic, to be sure that I have expressed what we do “believe, teach, and confess.”

So, in this “lost time of productivity” I have gained what I need most: time to step back, evaluate, examine, reflect—and rest, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. For that I am truly thankful.

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Thank you…

BTW, thank you to the people in the church who have helped—driving me to doctor appointments (60 miles each way), to those who have made our congregation continue smoothly. Thanks to Alex McNally (seminarian) for preaching and teaching here during August. I was supposed to be on vacation, but that plan changed; in God’s time Alex’s planned visit couldn’t have been better timed. And thank you to everyone who has prayed for me during this time. And thanks be to God for the time I needed, but didn’t think I could afford.

Posted in Meditatio, Personal Reflection | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

More on Fire

Fire has been part of my life from my earliest memories. Our house burned (kitchen area) in 1952. I was three and caught in the kitchen‚ still have a snapshot memory of that. My father rushed in to rescue me. In the process he singed his lungs. My forehead had 2nd degree burns and entire face 1st degree. Being Irish and having that happen, I cannot be out in the sun very long.

I worked on the Maintenance Crew of the School District for four years while in college (1967-1970). One of the men I worked with was also a volunteer firefighter. One afternoon on the way home, the traffic was at a stand sill (yeah, in the country). There was an accident and my friend responded. One car was on fire, and the people were still alive, yet they couldn’t do anything to get out and neither could the fire fighters. Their screams haunted him for years. That stuck with me, too.

I served in the Navy from 1973-1982. I deployed aboard the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) for its last cruise (1975-6). We never had fire drills aboard the ship—Why? Because we has so many real fires that we didn’t need drills.

I worked at Sprint from 2000-2008. When we moved to the new campus (one of the first groups to do so), they wanted “Safety Monitors” (think fire). I accepted the position with one provision: if we ever had a drill, everyone on the floor (about 100 people) had to evacuate, no exceptions. People thought I was bluffing—until the first drill.

When the alarm went off, I began chasing people out, going to every desk in the unit. Some were reluctant. One Director did not want to go during a drill, I didn’t care. I offered that the Director could walk out, or be carried out. I went to VP and said we all needed to participate in a timely manner.  VP agreed—until a few fire drills later. I broke into an “important” meeting that the VP was having. VP was not happy, and mentioned that he was a VP and far outranked an analyst. I told VP that once the alarm went off I outranked him. We did have a couple fires over the years.

Interestingly after a couple years of training, our unit was always the first safely outside, accounted for, and reported.

When we moved to another building a (different) Director went to the (different) VP and said: I don’t care where you put me as long as Rich is the Safety Monitor on the floor.

I don’t have all the answers regarding fires, I only know from experience that thinking ahead and planning is critical. So when people talk about fire, DO NOT take an indifferent attitude, that doesn’t set well with me and shouldn’t with you.

We have moved 28 times. One of the first things we do is look at the fire escape routes. When we adopted our boys we did the same thing. Telling about fire dangers is not scaring them, it is protecting them They are worth it—you are worth it.

A couple years after the fire I discovered several 2nd cousins on my father’s side (my father never knew his father or any family until he met an aunt and uncle in 1979). There were about 10 of us in the family room talking. I mentioned the fire we had in 1998. I noticed concerned glances going around the room and couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I asked.

They said going back to my great-grandfather, every generation in every family branch, there was at least one fire. So my father had the fire in 1952, mine in 1998. And going back to the 1870s the pattern had held in every family. Sadly my son was in the 1998 fire, so he joins that “heritage.” Yeah, fire has been part of my life far longer than I imagined.

Bottom line: be prepared, be wise. If you have smoke detectors in your home or office, make sure they work, batteries are replaced regularly. If the alarm goes off, get everyone out—right away, if a fire extinguisher is handy and may be sufficient, good, but don’t risk other lives. Two minutes can be the difference between life or death.

Posted in Personal Reflection | Tagged , ,

June 30 — not on the calendar

There are special days on the calendar that carry much meaning and joy: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, moving days, etc. We may likely mark them on the calendar, as if we could forget them. They help define us and shape us.

Other days are still significant, but carry much different meaning. The focus isn’t joy, but something just as profound. We may not mark the date on the calendar, but our hearts know exactly the date. Etched in memory for good or bad.

June 30 is such a date for me.

Background

We were married in early 1971. One of the first things we did was to make sure we had smoke alarms. Second thing: we changed the batteries on April 1 and October 1, every year. I couldn’t do anything on those two days until the batteries were changed. A private joke between us. Little did we know how critical this would be.

In 1998, our son, his wife, and three grandchidlren (ages 3, 2, 1) had been living with us (in the parsonage) for almost a year and a half. A delightful time of love, and adjustment. Many happy memories amidst the challenges and struggles of melding two families.

June 30, 1998

In June 1998, my wife and I took vacation to Minnesota. At the end of that time, my wife decided to stay with her parents for a longer time. I drove home on June 29, a 12 hour drive capped off with joy at seeing our loved ones again after weeks apart. Our DIL’s youngest brother (age 12) was staying with us at the time, too.

At 4:45 AM the next morning our lives changed dramatically. The snoke alarms in the entire house were going off. The initial fogginess quickly dissapated. Replaced by urgency!

Our son instantly grabbed the keys to get our cars out of the garage and driveway. Our DIL and her brother and I began gathering up the grandchildren to get them outside. We had no time for gathering anything but children—no clothes, no extras, just get them out.

We rushed across the parking lot to the church. Since there were no cell phones, we had to get there to call the fire department. We could not even get near the house by that time. I don’t remember the time it took but eventually the police cars and fire trucks were all over the parking lot.

I remember one fireman said they couldn’t even go into the house for the first 20 minutes because the smoke was so bad. Later one of the investigators noted that had we been two minutes later getting out, we would not have survived because of the smoke.

The Aftermath

Later that morning and afternoon, the sudden change in our lives was further highlighted because we had no place to live (for 8 of us). We had no clothing, no food, nothing. We were in survival mode and even thinking about any immediate needs was beyond us.

By that time I was so shelled shocked I couldn’t think straight. But members of the church were arriving and helping us with minute to minute decisions. Including getting some food for the kids because breakfast was not a top priority initially. These people opened their homes—by afternoon we were separated into three different homes. We stayed with them for the next weeks until I could find a house for us to live in.

So grateful to those three families for sharing everything with us. That became our safe haven. We will never forget their kindness and love, their help in our instanteous need. Thankful for many others who pitched in with immediate clothing needs. We lost all of our household goods as well.

I felt really bad for our son and DIL—they had been saving some household items each month for the time when they would get their own place. They stored all of that in the basement —in the center of the fire. They lost everything. My heart was broken for them.

Both our son and DIL demonstrated how strong they were that day and in the following days. Both acted quickly, but never in a panic. I am so proud of what they did and all that they had been through. Love you both so much. 

One Last Effect

June 30, 1998 will be etched in all our minds as the day of the fire. Happily we had no injuries/burns. Our son and DIL eventually had two more children.

For me it marked the 7th major crisis in 9 months in my life. Three weeks later I had my breakdown—and that has affected me every day since then.

June 30 will not be marked on our calendars, but will be seared into our memories. So thankful to God for saving us that day, for seeing us through the long months afterward.

Posted in Depression, mental health, Personal Reflection | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The unthinkable becomes reality

Romans 5:6-15 is the epistle reading for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 18, 2017). The pervasive reality of sin had always been an obstacle for humans relative to God. No amount of work or effort or wishful thinking could remove that barrier.

The barrier between God and humans existed because of sin that was inherited from the sin of Adam. Every person is born as a sinner, we never have to teach someone to sin let alone how to sin. There are two aspects to the barrier:

  1. The positive demand to be perfect could not be met by human sinners. (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10)
  2. The negative consequences of sin meant that the sinner had to die to pay the penalty of sin.

Left to their own devices, sinners could never satisfy either part of that demand. That meant that sinners were helpless. As Paul writes in our text, Jesus was the solution to both aspects. He  lived that perfect life (2 Cor. 5:17) in the midst of temptation to sin (Hebrews 4:15). In our text, he wrote: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Note the consequences: “declared righteous,” “saved,” “reconciled.” All of this is entirely God’s gifts to us. And that is worth singing about:

Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to God! Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to God! Serve the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:1-2)

Romans 5:6-15 (CSB)

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned. 13 In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a type of the Coming One.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflowed to the many.

By faith in Jesus, we have a perfect standing before God, forgiven, restored, and waiting for that final salvation.

Wonderful news to ponder daily and give thanks.

Posted in My church, Romans | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Depression is Not Due to a Lack of Faith

Originally posted by Pastor Benjamin Meyer, reposted with his permission.

August 14, 2014

There are a lot of false teachers in this world and there always have been. One false teaching that Christians have always had to battle is the idea that once something comes to faith in Jesus, everything will go well for them. There is an idea that as long as your faith is strong, God will give you health, wealth and happiness. Even though Jesus told His disciples to “deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me,” and Paul wasn’t healed of the “thorn” in his flesh, but instead he was told “My grace is sufficient for you,” there are still false teachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer who tell people that God’s plan for them is physical and financial blessings in this life.

Physical afflictions are not God’s way of punish us, but a result of the fall into sin. However, they can be used by God for His good because when you are weak, you must look to Christ for strength, just as St. Paul did. I think that most Christians understand this about physical maladies.

However, mental illness is another matter. In the church there is often a misunderstanding of mental illness. Some believe that mental illness means that the person simply lacks faith. Some think of mental illness as being mentally weak. However, the reality is that mental illness, like physical illness, isn’t because the person lacks faith, but because the person is corrupted by sin just like everyone else. Mental illness is, like physical illness, due to being fallen creatures who live in a fallen world.

Are Christians exempt from mental illness, such as clinical depression? Of course not.

It is likely that Martin Luther suffered from depression. Some of the greatest names in the history of the LCMS, such as the first president of the synod, C.F.W. Walther, and the great missionary and second president of the LCMS, Friedrich Wyneken, suffered from depression. Faithful and devoted Christians can and do suffer from depression. Getting treatment for these conditions is not showing a lack of faith any more than it would be showing a lack of faith to go to a doctor to have a broken arm set. God has given us doctors for a good reason and Christians should make use of them.

If you know someone who is suffering from depression, please encourage them to talk with their pastor. He can help you find a good mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or any other form of mental illness, please don’t be afraid to get help. It is not because of a lack of faith that you suffer from this and you shouldn’t try to face it alone.

For more information about mental health issues I would encourage you to check out “I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression.” This blog and booklet were written by a Lutheran pastor who suffers from clinical depression.

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 Corinthians 12:10)

Posted in Depression, mental health | Tagged , ,

Church—some thoughts about it

Lately I have been thinking a lot about “church” —what it is, what it is not, how it functions.

There are two approaches that have garnered a lot of attention. As I describe these, at this stage I am observing, not evaluating them The first is the formal, structured church. This is evident in not only architecture but also in worship life. Most of “church” revolves around the building and the liturgy. Great care is taken in the details of both.

The second is the person-centered approach to church. Thus, the person’s needs, wants, desires move center stage. Instead of a formalized liturgy the need to encourage, excite, motivate people is the focus of worship. The second kind of church has been an occasional part of my life in the last 25 years. I have participated in some very moving worship times.

Interestingly, though, I have also felt a hollowness of my own spirituality in such churches. As I examined this more, I discovered that there were no long lasting links with the Church. Songs from 20 years ago were no longer sung. The experience of the gathered people in worship spanned maybe 10-20 years. Yet I am in my late 60s. My spiritual and worship life span almost seven decades.

I grew up and have spent almost all of my adult life in the first kind of church. The liturgical form of worship was all I personally knew until I was in my 40s. The temptation was to let my participation turn to auto-pilot. I knew everything by heart, no need for the hymnal, except for occasional hymn that I didn’t know by heart. At times such participation became automatic with little thought of “what was I saying/singing.”

Yet, in some of the deepest valleys in my life, my participation in that liturgy and hymns brought stability when nothing else did. The congregational span of worship was not limited to the age of the participants. It reached back hundreds of years, and even further. The perspective was not limited to any one in particular but the to Church as a whole, throughout the ages. I realized I was part of a community that could carry me along as we sang the Kyrie, even if my lips did not move. As church, we sang, prayed, and meditated. I needed that. And over the years I have encountered others who have realized this “larger than me” experience of church.

The Foundations: Word and Sacrament

In the Church of all ages, there are foundational elements of Church: The Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Confession and Absolution, and our responses of prayer and singing. They form the heart of Church life.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 CSB)

And Matthew 18:15-20 (CSB)

15 [Jesus said:] “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

 

 

Posted in Biblical studies, Ephesians, Matthew, Ministry, Worship/Liturgy

Church: The Good, Bad, and Beautiful

Church is an amazing thing—created by Jesus, yet made up of sinful humans. It’s easy to overlook the essence of Church, especially when things aren’t “working” like we want it to. So, let’s step back for a few minutes and consider what an Amazing thing this is.

The Good: Jesus Christ Builds the church

The Greek word for “church” only occurs in two places in the Gsopels: Matthew 16 and Matthew 18. In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples,

He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matt. 16:13-14 CSB)

Certainly a worthy group of people for Jesus to be included. But Jesus presses them for their own thoughts about who he is:

“But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:15-16 CSB)

Peter moves beyond the accolades of the crowds, to confess who Jesus really is, the Messiah [Christ], the Son of the living God. Jesus accepts Peter’s confession, while adding further to it.

Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. (Matt. 16:17 CSB)

That is, for someone to realize who Jesus is means that only God could reveal it. On our own any evaluation of Jesus will fall short. We miss who Jesus really is, and we miss what

Jesus not only acknowledges Peter’s confession and shows him the basis for his confession, he extends it to be the basis of church.

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock [your confession] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matt. 16:18 CSB)

That is amazing, the good.

The Bad: Church is made up of sinners

The reality of the church is that church consists of sinners, only sinners. It doesn’t take us long to be in a church to come to that realization: we are all sinners. We can mess things up in church.

Sinners do sinful things, and it may be easy to spot the sin and sinner. The spotlight helps us identify the sinner, or at least we think it does. If only we could get rid of “those sinners” then church would be acceptable.

Jesus builds the church, and he knows exactly who the people of the church are: sinners. So, he is not surprised by it. Amazingly Jesus still works in and through the church. Because sin is a persistent problem with sinners, even in the church, Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom to the Church (Matt. 16:19).

Jesus does not leave the church to fend for itself. He builds the church and he cares for the church. Sin does not surprise Jesus. Rather, he anticipates that people in the church, sinners, will sin. Thus, in the other mention of “church” in the Gospels, Jesus provides the remedy for the church to continue to be the church.

[Jesus said:] 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. (Matt. 18:15-18 CSB)

Sadly this process of dealing with sin is often ignored in the church. The church either thinks the sin will go away, or it hopes that it won’t be noticed, “We don’t want to ruffle feathers.” Jesus knows that sin can only be dealt with by confronting the sin and forgiving the sin.

By following these steps, the church can only do one of two things: bind the sin or loose  (forgive) the sin. Note that in v. 18, in either case, the church declares what God has already declared: “whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

In other words, this is not the church acting as an independent organization for its own good. Rather, the declaration regarding sin is something that God has already determined, and the church speaks that (which will have been already bound/loosed in heaven). The church is not arbitrary in the announcement, but follows the lead of the One who builds the church.

The Beautiful: The Church Lives in Unity

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus:

1 Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

He emphasizes that the church living together is not marked by a laundry list of things to do. Rather the church exhibits the character of Christ: humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Elsewhere Paul describes these as “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23).

It’s is amazing when the church begins to live out that reality. Humility means the other person is more important than me. Gentleness means I treat those who have been wounded, abused, shaken by sin with the same gentleness Jesus demonstrated to people: woman at the well (John 4), the one caught in adultery (John 8), even Peter who rightly confessed who Jesus is, and yet who also denied Jesus. Bearing with one another in love means walking with another, who struggles, who lives in fear, doubt, anger.

The life of the church is guided by the one who built it. Note in Eph. 4:3 the church “makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” The church does not establish unity, only the Spirit can do that. But the church does strive to maintain what the Spirit established. Note how this is the outcome of the church rightly dealing with sin.

In our eyes, we see the church: battered, torn, weak, divisive. From that perspective it is tempting to walk away from the church.

In Christ’s eyes, he sees the church: forgiven, restored, and his voice in the world.

Walking away from church is not the answer. Being the church, as Jesus creates and sees the church means that we stay in the church. Broken sinners, forgiven. Weak yet strong in love, bruised, but not abandoned. That’s how Jesus intended the church to be.

Christ’s Church is amazing and beautiful

Posted in Doctrine- Systematics, Matthew, Ministry | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment