The Post(s) I Couldn’t Write

For quite some time I have wanted to write a post (or series of posts) about adoption. My wife and I adopted two brothers from Korea 33 years ago. And yet, every time I began to write, I stopped… or was stopped. I’m not sure why.

I even had a title picked out: Adoption— A Love Story. I was going to start with our own experience and then move to the greater story of adoption, namely God’s adoption of us as sinners.

Galatians 4:4-6

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

This central truth of God’s saving work is one of wonder, beauty, love, and devotion—God’s devotion to us. What a grand statement, and truth to cling to. We may wander, but we don’t stop being God’s children because of that. This is a passage of comfort, strength, and peace.

And yet, I couldn’t write about our own adoption. I am still working through why. I know that even now my emotions run high (in both directions)… There are joys and fond remembrances and current good things; but also failures, hurts, pains that run deep, abandonment in times of need, loneliness, guilt, fear, shame. Please note: I love our boys (well, grown men, with our five grandchildren!), and while tested, my love for them never broke. So it isn’t that I am heartless.

I do know that when someone relates their “wonderful experiences” of adoption, I want to be the wall flower in the room (“Please, don’t let anyone ask me!”)—yes, I rejoice with them, but I can’t fully relate to that. Over the years I have begun to realize that our experience of adoption is much like the rest of life, sometimes great, sometimes terrible, sometimes, a day-to-day struggle.

Perhaps someday


Liturgy — Brokenness, Forgiveness, Praise

I originally posted this on 03/31/2011, Liturgy—Brokenness, Forgiveness, and Praise, and it seems fitting on this day after Christmas. Liturgically it is also Martyrdom of Stephen.


After posting about “Liturgy — Response to Forgiveness,” I reflected a lot about that post. I thought: “What have I done?” Not that I made a mistake in anything I had written. Rather that post could easily be seen as strengthening the argument against the use of liturgy. In practical language someone could say, “See, there the liturgy goes over my head and misses my heart.” And that is a problem. So let’s step back for a minute and put liturgy within the context of our brokenness, sinfulness, and the role of Church in all this. So this post is about brokenness, forgiveness, and praise from the perspective of how the Church is to be, and then how liturgy connects to that aspect of the life of the Church.

I read several blogs over the past two days that had to do with some brokenness in some devastating areas of life. Personal hurts, public sins, etc. One in particular, grace is for sinners, noted that the Church often is not a place for broken people. We don’t know how to deal with “them,” either from the stand point of the sin (i.e. Matthew 18 in practice) or from preconceived notions about how “we don’t want that kind of person here.” We don’t know how to forgive and restore people who have been broken by their sin. And yet, in each of the blogs, the constant was there: God’s work of accusing and condemning (Law) brought about spiritual death, but more importantly, God’s work of forgiving, renewing, and restoring (Gospel) brought new life.

So how does this relate to the liturgy? The liturgy is not separated from hard realities of life. In fact, the liturgy gives expression to the full realm of life, sin, death, resurrection, and new life. Our shared confession of sin in liturgy is God’s wake up call—for ALL of us. If I have sinned, even publicly, I’m broken when I hear God’s Law. If I stand aloof or indifferent while a fellow Christian is broken or suffers, I have sinned and must be broken by that Law (even though I might not feel it immediately). Confession unites us at the bottom of the pit. Absolution (forgiveness of sin) brings the forgiving, healing, restoring words from God himself. And thus Absolution unites us in Christ.

What would you do if someone was crying during the confession and absolution? Pretend that it isn’t happening, “it isn’t my responsibility,” look away because of embarrassment? Perhaps we have all been there. As we shift in liturgy to praise, that might be the exact time to stand next to the person who is crying. No words, but maybe a gentle touch on the arm, a hug, if appropriate, even your own tears. Some might think that such an action would “disrupt the solemnity of the liturgy.” My theological evaluation of that response is, “Hogwash!” That is the very heart of praise. A quietness shared in the midst of pain, a heart ready to share, a tear of consolation… isn’t that a response of praise? Maybe neither of them can even sing praise right now. And that is okay. But they are part of the praise community. It will bring us all along, in our time, in our way.

There have been times when I have not sung any of the praise responses, occasionally I couldn’t sing the praise. But I listened to everyone else sing and thus joined them. In that quietness my heart was praising, even though my lips were not moving. At times the praising was right at the edge—would I cry now? Men don’t cry! Would I have to leave in embarrassment? No, over the decades I have learned that men do cry (I’m a living example), and when we are talking about forgiveness of sins, that is not embarrassment, but a relief, a joy to be shared, a life to celebrate. God is at work in the most astounding way possible.

Brokenness, forgiveness, and praise then are at the heart of the liturgy. And liturgy is directed to the heart as well as the mind. I hope that we begin to see that liturgy does not obscure God, rather it forces us to deal with God. In stark terms as a “poor miserable sinner” and as “one forgiven and restored.” And that brings us to praise!

My Favorite Blogs 2011

The Greatest Gift

Moving into Christmas week, we receive the greatest gift of all, God’s very own Son took on human flesh. He lived, ministered, died, and rose again so that we might be right with God. How can it get any better than that? It doesn’t.

My blog gift to you:

One of the blessings of the internet is the ability to connect with people, even though we may never meet face-to-face. I have had the privilege of getting to know several bloggers over the past year. I present their blogs (with links) as my gift to readers. Only one have I met face-to-face, long before computers and the internet. Another one I have spoken to on the phone. One I have had no contact with at all. One lives in one of the largest metro areas in the world, one lives in a rural area, one is a pastor, one is a pastor’s wife. For most of them I have posted comments on their sites, and emailed them at times with followup questions and dialog. These bloggers are different ages, live in different parts of the country, come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but they share the love of Jesus.

I may not always agree with everything they write. I didn’t select these because they have the most hits or because they are deemed “popular.” But one thing they all do: these authors make me pause: to think, ponder, reflect, and even challenge me. Most of them have been through very difficult times; while that causes sorrow, it also brings them alive, so that we see their sorrows, their joys, their frustrations, and eventually more clearly, our God. As a result, I have found each of them very deep and profound in what they offer, sometimes with humor, sometimes with insights into family life, sometimes turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, sometimes with humility that catches us off guard, which calls us to repentance. May you enjoy them as much as I have.

My favorite blogs (not in any particular order):

Life in Limits: What a gem this is! Audra lifts the corners of her life and heart and lets us see a young woman and her family through fresh eyes. I love the title of her blog: “life in limits.” Her subtitle furthers that thought: “finding Him in the ends of us…” Her gift of writing will unfold before your eyes. Don’t pass too quickly over this site, you will be blessed to spend some time reading her thoughts and living in light of something new. Thanks, Audra.

Weedon’s Blog. Rev. Will Weedon serves as an LCMS pastor in southern Illinois. His subtitle speaks volumes: “Homilies, Musings, and What-not from a Lutheran Pastor.” We were seminary classmates, he quite a bit younger than I. But we both have a passion for the Lord. If you have questions about Lutheran liturgy, worship, devotional life, Will is the guy to turn to. He injects his blog with quotes from the early Church Fathers, Reformers, “old” Lutherans, and “recent” Lutherans. You will be greatly blessed by reading with him. Thanks, Will.

Weak and Loved: Emily Cook is a wife to Josh (an LCMS pastor), mother to six little ones, and a writer. I have been following her blog for several months and was immediately attracted to her writing and observations. As we became internet friends, she invited me to read and review her soon-to-be-released book, Weak and Loved. After reading it —in one sitting (yes, many hours in the chair)—my response was Wow!!! What a writer! It was a privilege and delight to read the book—you have to read it. I will be posting a complete review as soon as it is published. Her blog gives us glimpses of life with the eight of them in various situations. Your head will nod, you will smile, and maybe even cry, but you will be affected by Emily’s writing. Thanks, Emily.

Sarah Markley: Sarah has an amazing story to tell, one of brokenness, restoration, and the amazing way that God can work with people. Sarah will not let you sit on the sidelines. When she opens her heart, you will feel as if your own heart has been revealed. Her hurts resonate with all of us in some way. She has also spoken at conferences, and so is widely known, probably much to her surprise and humility. She offers much, so pull up a chair and spend some time reviewing her blog. You will be blessed for it. Thanks, Sarah.

Little Pieces of Ordinary: This is one of the more recent finds in blogging. She recently delivered her third child. The blog title says it all, and gems await you as you read. Her subtitle offers this, “A little grace, a little gratitude, a little ordinary wonder.” This is not the spectacular but life as it is lived by her and her husband and their three children. Her latest post about “Held” is precious. Her blog is worth your time. Maybe because I am a grandpa, I love the little events of “ordinary life” that make life extraordinary. Thanks, Ashley.

Theologia Crucis: Dr. Jack Kilcrease takes us to the other end of the spectrum. You need your thinking cap on to read his blog, and that is a good thing. He is a Lutheran layman, and teaches Theology and Humanities at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, MI. He engages current topics that are not limited to responses to evangelicalism or the latest fads. Rather he goes behind the scenes to analyze the underlying theology and thinking that goes on in our world today. He engages readers with a style that is intellectual without being aloof. Thanks, Jack.

One Small Town Girl: Ashlie is a wife and mother of two littles one. Her subtitle is: “Seeking truth in the journey; finding grace in the mess.” What a great description of life in general, for Ashlie in particular. Sometimes her insights catch you unguarded, other times you want to join in “laughing til my sides ache.” Thanks, Ashlie.

There you have it

Each of these have been special to me this past year. I like their varying styles, their wisdom, their brokenness, their turning to God’s grace in the midst of everything. May God continue to bless their writing, their living, and their growing in faith in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 9:5 in NABRE—on second thought

Recently I purchased the newly revised NAB Roman Catholic translation, now called NABRE (New American Bible—Revised Edition, 2011). During the Advent midweek services I have explored the titles of Isaiah 9:6 (9:5 in Hebrew and in NABRE), with the final one this Christmas Eve, “Prince of Peace.” Since our church uses the NIV 1984, that is the translation I use for preaching, and is relatively standard for English translations.

English: This is the cover artwork for the New...
New American Bible Revised Edition

NIV 1984: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

But today I was looking at a few other translations, and NABRE (as did the NAB) offered this:

NABRE: For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, Prince of Peace.

Three things stuck out in this translation:

1. Pattern of sentences: NAB follows the Hebrew pattern in the first two phrases, whereas most translations invert the structure (NIV, ESV, etc.). But then why the reverse shift in the third phrase? Thus, we would expect consistency to write: “and dominion will be upon his shoulders.” So it seems odd to switch it for the one phrase, namely putting “upon his shoulder” to the beginning of that sentence? The Hebrew maintains the subject-verb-adverb. This change seems unnecessary and awkward.

2. Switch to 3rd person plural: Why the switch in the next sentence to 3rd person plural— “They name him”? In Hebrew it is “And it shall be called his name…” (waw-convert of 3rd singular verb with noun following for subject “his name” (שְׁמ֜וֹ) to denote future or incompleted action) or more familiarly in English, “And his name shall be called” or as NIV has “And he will be called.” But the inclusion of the 3rd person plural “they” makes no sense here. Often when the passive is used, it indicates that God or God’s agent is behind the scene causing this specific action. But that now changes with the NAB translation. The closest referent for “they” would be those who are mentioned in 9:4 (NAB or 9:5 in other English translations). But would the enemies be the ones to name this child? The New Testament certainly does not support such a view. This leaves me scratching my head.

3. The second name/title is “God-Hero.” Not sure what the advantage of this translation is over the standard translations “Mighty God.” In fact, the NABRE has a footnote reference to Isaiah 10:21, where I would expect the same translation. But no, in 10:21 we read: “A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.” Now, this seems totally unnecessary. If they are referencing the same Hebrew term in the same general context, why translate this in 9:5 as “God-Hero.” Again, another head-scratcher.

Stayed tuned for more on my assessment of NABRE.

Mark 1:4 and the NLTse —really?

The New Living Translation (second edition, abbreviated NLTse) at times is a good translation. It provides an accurate reflection of the underlying original language text and does so in understandable English. But then… there are times when I shake my head and want to throw it all out.

Take Mark 1:1-8, the Gospel lectionary for yesterday, the 2nd Sunday in Advent. After doing my own translating of the Greek, I began comparing translations, specifically on 1:4. I looked through a few translations of differing methods. First, three from formal equivalence method (sometimes called word-for-word):

New American Standard (NAS95) John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins

New King James (NKJV) John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Then four from functional (dynamic) equivalence method (sometimes called phrase-for-phrase):

New Internal Version (NIV 1984, so also NIV 2011)  John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

God’s Word (GW) John the Baptizer was in the desert telling people about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

New Century Version (NCV): John was baptizing people in the desert and preaching a baptism of changed hearts and lives for the forgiveness of sins.

New Living Translation (NLTse) This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.

Notice that six of the translations (as well as many other translations) follow the same basic rendering of the Greek. NLTse, however, changes the entire sense of the verse by its rendering in two ways: 1) Baptism is no longer left to its own force, not even connected to forgiveness of sins and 2) there is nothing to baptism except that it is a sign of something the people have done, namely repent of their sins. But is that what Greek text states? Not at all. Even a literalistic translation of βαπτιζω as “baptism“ is better than importing a different theological concept.

Just to note: Common English Bible—CEB and Everyday Reading Version—ERV follow the same direction as NLTse.

This is not a case of the translation trying to make the underlying Greek easier to understand, but rather of changing what the Greek text does say. This translation imports a specific theology contrary to what the text is saying (in Greek, as well as in most English translations). On this specific text, the NLTse/CEB/ERV would receive a grade of F for accuracy and reliability. And here is a case where NLTse’s normal “understandability” is not helpful, because it presents an understanding different than the original text.

Advent: Prepare by Repenting

Advent is my favorite time of church year. A new beginning. And who could do with that?

Sadly, the rush to Christmas of society infects us as Christians. We begin singing Christmas hymns and songs even as the house still smells of Thanksgiving delights. Because Christmas overshadows the month of December, it is easy to miss Advent and what that means for us — in worship, in hymns/songs, and even in attitude.

Advent Worship:

For Series B lectionary, Mark 1:1-8 (Isaiah 40:1-11) dominates as John comes on the scene as the one who will tell the people: “prepare the way for the Lord” (Mark 1:2) That preparation included repentance. And this seems to be a forgotten key of Advent preparation. The rocks and stones and valleys of our sinful lives are dealt with through repentance —confessing the sin and through forgiveness of sins then turning away from the sin. Do we take time to examine ourselves under the microscope of God’s Law? Do we see the imperfections that God’s Law points out? Or are we looking only for the obvious sins to confess? Let us hear anew John’s call to “prepare the way for the Lord.”

Advent Color:

I like the older liturgical color of purple (or technically violet) for Advent because it focused on the royal color of mourning (much as Lent does), mourning for our sin, mourning our lack of preparation for the coming Lord. Is it possible that color even affects how we view things? I remember my vicarage supervisor who hated the color purple, anywhere, anytime, any shade. For him, it brought back memories of family members who upon death were prepared at home, and purple was always used to cover the person during that phase.

Advent Hymns/songs:

Advent hymns are among my favorites. Here are some great hymns, with easily learned melodies (making them easier to memorize!):

  • “Lift up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates” (LSB 341; LW 24)
  • “Savior of the Nations, Come” (LSB 332; LW 13)
  • “The Advent of Our King” (LSB 331; LW 12)
  • “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” (LSB 344; LW14)
  • “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” (LSB 347; LW 28)
  • “Hark the Glad Sound” (LSB 349; LW 29)

Let us not rush to Christmas hymns, but rather sing, linger over, and ponder the truths of the Advent hymns.

Advent Attitude:

For us Advent can be even more exhausting than the longer Lenten season. We hurry to fit in all the “Christmas” activities (all very good), but where is our heart? What is our attitude? Can we just make it through this week? Is one more activity worth it? Does it help me “prepare the way for the Lord”?

The Advent theme helps us to step back and look at life as a continual preparation for our coming King, Jesus. This is a call for me as much as it is for everyone. Let our Advent preparation be truly that. And then the wonder and majesty of Christmas looms as the (super)natural extension of Advent—the King is here!