Sunday, June 07, 2009

Life is rarely fair; God is always good.

Our extended family is reeling from a cancer diagnosis. At first, we were incredulous, then upbeat and now angry at the very real possibilities of a cancer diagnosis. I've been reflecting on the saying, "life is not fair." It reminds me of that metal poster on the wall of Jimmy John's sandwich shop. No, I wouldn't send these words to someone with cancer.. but the list helps put the rest of life's annoyances into proper perspective. Life is rarely fair. God is always good. That is somewhat illustrated in Job 1. I think I will work on reading Job this week.

Job 1

1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

4 His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom.

Job's First Test
6 One day the angels [a] came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan [b] also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"
Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."

8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."

9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."

12 The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."
Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

13 One day when Job's sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
and naked I will depart. [c]
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised."

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Discussing religion...

There are lots of places on the internet to discuss religion. When I first started writing on this blog, I was really sorting out my faith journey. I don't have much figured out yet, but I am at a place where I prefer to listen, learn and attempt to discuss without seeming to attack. That is not always possible though, because one person's perception discussion is often another person's perceived attack. What to do?

When discussing various facets of Christianity, you invariably end up discussing denominational differences. Calls for unity without examining the underpinnings of a denomination are not workable. Scripture calls us to examine teachings and avoid what is not compatible with scripture. Words of wisdom came today in an unusual place:

Secular Bible Study casts wide net

by JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
February 20, 2009

As if it's not unusual enough that Trinity United Methodist Church and the Minnesota Atheists have joined forces to promote a project, wait till you hear what the project is: a Bible study class.

Granted, it's not your normal one. At least, that's the hope. Called Secular Bible Study, the program aims to "foster and nurture relationships between folks who would otherwise avoid each other," said Chester O'Gorman, community outreach director for the northeast Minneapolis church. "Secular Bible Study hopes to attract a variety of people -- Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, Christians and even Jews and Muslims."

The weekly class will focus on the Bible's historical and cultural context. Organizers have drawn up a set of ground rules designed to keep participants from proselytizing, but that doesn't mean that they want to discourage disagreement. Just the opposite.

"We've discerned that people have lost or lack the skills to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue in the context of profound disagreement," O'Gorman said. "An emphasis will be placed on dialogue among the group of small groups (emphasis mine)."

I don't know the faith of Mr. O'Gorman, but I certainly agree with him that people have lost or lack skills to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue. That is a goal of mine which I imagine will take years to refine, God willing.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Mom, sing me that song....

I'm not great singer, but I love to sing. Both my husband and I were in various choirs as youth and we have been blessed with a songstress for a daughter. Our son also has a fine voice, but has refused to sing since becoming a teen. When my kids were younger, I sang to them a lot at bedtime. We had a cassette tape of Michael Card's Sleep Sound in Jesus to go along with the book. I had all the songs memorized. I also would make up songs to sing them at night. The other night, my daughter called me from college and asked me to sing one of the songs to her. Later, her friends called and asked me to sing it to the whole gang. They must have been having a group hug session and needed a reminder that they were once children and are still loved very much.

A pastor once suggested I learn some of Paul Gerhardt's hymns for encouragement. I've been slow at that suggestion, but I still end up "discovering" Gerhardt's hymns again and again. Last night for Lenten service we ended with Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow. I found myself loving the words and wishing that I had been Lutheran when my kids were younger. This hymn would make a great nighttime song for a mom and her kids.

Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow
Words: Paul Gerhardt.
Music: O Welt, Ich Muss Dich Lassen, 15th Century German melody;
adapted by Heinrich Isaac, 1539;
harmony by Johann S. Bach, 1729 .

Now rest beneath night's shadow
The woodland, field, and meadow,
The world in slumber lies;
But Thou, my heart, awake thee,
To prayer and song betake thee;
Let praise to thy Creator rise.

The radiant sun hath vanished,
His golden rays are banished
By night, the foe of day;
But Christ, the Sun of gladness,
Dispelling all my sadness,
Within my heart holds constant sway.

The rule of day is over
And shining jewels cover
The heaven’s boundless blue.
Thus I shall shine in heaven,
Where crowns of gold are given
To all who faithful prove and true.

To rest my body hasteth,
Aside its garments casteth,
Types of mortality;
These I put off and ponder
How Christ will give me yonder
A robe of glorious majesty.

Lord Jesus, who dost love me,
Oh, spread Thy wings above me
And shield me from alarm!
Though evil would assail me,
Thy mercy will not fail me:
I rest in Thy protecting arm.

My loved ones, rest securely,
For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads.
Sweet slumbers may He send you
And bid His hosts attend you
And through the night watch o’er your beds.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him

Today's sermon for Transfiguration Sunday had a timeless message for our family: It is good for us to be here! It was based on Mark 9: 2-9.

The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

There were several scripture references that I didn't catch, but I'll get them and update this post. I appreciated a classic Lutheran sermon reminding me of why it is so good to be in God's house hearing God's word. In hearing God's word, I am preparing for the future and getting a glimpse of glory. His Word convicts me; it shows me my sins. His Word also shows me why I can hope for glory. His Word reminds me that wrath, condemnation and anger are all gone through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Facebook and church fellowship

I had the opportunity to hear a sermon by an ELCA pastor this past Sunday. This church is home to my brother's family. My nieces and nephews hear the gospel preached in this church and I am thankful for it. Still, my synod and their synod are not in altar fellowship. I did not join them in holy communion and I did not join in the prayers. I sang the hymns I knew and confessed our agreement in the Apostle's Creed. I was happy to know that my godson, a confirmand on that day, knew the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. I was curious, to say the least, to hear the pastor's sermon for that special day. His sermon title: Remembering and Responding. How did he start? Yep, with a Facebook story. He told a story about finding an old friend on Facebook and renewing the friendship. I'm pretty sure he figured he would draw in the confirmands with the mere mention of Facebook and he was probably right. In his story, he made a very clear point about fellowship...a point that I don't think he intended to make. In fact, I'm probably the only one who drew that point. He was commenting on how you become friends on Facebook and how it is a somewhat safe platform because two people become friends based an agreement. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who saw the irony in his Facebook story. Agreement on Facebook is important. AND... church fellowship - agreement on what scripture teaches - is also very important.

The Lutheran Confessions

How and why do people find and join a church these days? In my 30+ years as an adult Christian, I mostly chose a church because I liked the people and the music, along with the scripture-based sermons. Before joining our last and current church, our family didn't really know anyone and we weren't real keen on the "old-fashioned" hymns. However, the draw of a church, pastors and congregants who were dedicated to the concept of Sola Scriptura was like water to our parched throats! We each were given an opportunity to study scripture and learn about the Lutheran Confessions under the instruction of a pastor; my husband and I through Adult Instruction and our kids through a formal Confirmation program. Some Christians might wonder what exactly are the Lutheran Confessions. Some Lutherans might wonder why we need to even bother studying them. I found a great explanation, Why Study our Lutheran Confessions, while looking through my synod's website. It was written by Pastor Ted Gullixson. I have posted it here, in its entirety, based on the Creative Commons License.

“For every new book you read, also read three older books,” said the sainted Prof. Glenn Reichwald of Bethany Lutheran College. This advice has much wisdom. It is easy to lose one’s perspective in religious matters if one is reading what modern authors are saying about truth or the Bible.

One older book that is always worthwhile reading is the Book of Concord. This book contains the six confessions of the Lutheran Church and the three confessions to which all Christian churches claim to adhere. All but one of these confessions were written during times of doctrinal strife in the Christian Church. They were written to confess the truth which the authors found in the Bible.

As we read the Book of Concord we note that many Bible passages are quoted. The reason is that the confessors understood that the Bible is the only source of truth. This is proclaimed in the Formula of Concord: “We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, ‘Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’” If the Bible is the only source of religious truth, it follows that “other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on a par with Holy Scripture.” (Tappert, pp. 464-465). This rule applies to the Lutheran Confessions also.

The Book of Concord is important for us to read because in this book are confessed the doctrines that the Holy Scriptures reveal to us. These confessions are “witnesses and expositions of the faith, setting forth how at various times the Holy Scriptures were understood by contemporaries in the church of God with reference to controverted articles.” (Tappert, p. 465)

This gives us another important reason to read the Book of Concord: the Lutheran Confessions are expositions of the faith and the Bible. Reading these confessions will give us a correct understanding of what God’s Word says. This is especially important when it comes to the biblical teaching that we are justified by faith alone. For the enemies of the gospel will point to many passages in the Bible that seem to teach that good works at least help get us to heaven. For they will point to texts such as Matthew 19:17, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments,” and Romans 2:13, “The doers of the law will be justified.” The Apology of the Augsburg Confession explains how these passages are to be understood: Keeping the law “cannot happen until, being first justified and regenerated, we received the Holy Spirit. For, it is impossible to keep the law without Christ; it is impossible to keep the law without the Holy Spirit.” (Tappert, p. 124)

Understanding the Bible and knowing its truths are two important reasons to read the Book of Concord. This book also teaches us God’s truth. In his preface to the Large Catechism, Dr. Martin Luther wrote, “I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism. Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly.” (Tappert, p. 359)

Luther further states that “nothing is so effectual against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy oneself with the Word of God.” (Tappert, p. 359) By studying the Bible and the Book of Concord we fill our minds with what God has revealed. This is especially important since we live in a world filled with many temptations to regard science as more truthful, to regard fame and possession as providing a happier life, and to regard religion as being more harmful.

We live in a society which values experience and feelings as agents that validate the choices of one’s life. Society “forgives” a person who feels remorse but labels people as intolerant who believe they know the truth. The Book of Concord is filled with statements of biblical truth about the triune God, about Jesus as God and man, about Jesus as the only way to heaven, and about salvation through faith alone in Jesus. Reading this book will direct our thinking to know that truth is not what we feel but what God says. For Jesus said, “For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37).

We have just celebrated the 475th anniversaries of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. They were written to confess the truth that sinners are justified alone by faith in Jesus Christ. Reading these confessions in the Book of Concord will bless us with the same faith that many others, who now reside in heaven, once confessed here on earth amid great difficulties.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's a marshmallow world v.2009

We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.

~Buddy the Elf

It's just snowed a few powdery inches and now the temperature has plummeted well below zero. Out the window, it looks like a marshmallow world! For the few readers I have left, I've been thinking lately about why I haven't posted to Be Strong in the Grace for a while. Have I quit attending my fantastic church? Nope. Has my church changed and I've become disillusioned? No. Have I run out of thoughts? No. Have I allowed careless comments to bother me and make me second guess any thoughts of blog posts? No. Do I seem to have less time for posting? Yeah, I think that is it. Is Elf still one of my favorite movies of all time? Oh yeah!

Back in 2006, I must have been bothered by a few things. I wrote on this blog,
"In a perfect world, not only would I live at Santa's workshop with an all-candy and cocoa diet (watch Elf), there would also be no synods...only one perfect church. Seems I'm going to have to learn to live with the fact that not only is there no perfect synod, but I will also have to remain vigilant. I must accept the fact that others will criticize me and that I will sometimes need to criticize others. I will also have accept the fact that I must eat good meats, whole grains, salads, fruits and vegetables, with only the occasional candy cane and cup of cocoa."

At the start of 2009, I am bothered by fewer things. Mostly, time speeds by. Having a child in college is way different than I thought it would be. Dealing with my back injury seems to take up a lot of my time, oddly enough. And I'm really trying to stay on top of homemaking and other creative endeavors. I do expect to post more often in 2009, so stay tuned...