teaching time

DSC_0861Holy Week teaches us to order our days according to Christ, around Christ, in Christ.

That is the cherry on top of the suffering-death-resurrection cake.

Because during Holy Week, we learn to clear our schedules, to plan life around Divine Services, to leave church with the words, “See you here tomorrow!” on our lips.

It’s the week that we buy special dresses and special hats, new bow ties and shiny shoes, wearing our best on the day we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection.

It’s the week that we pray to learn better how to defend the faith, annoyed with columnists and TV hosts claiming that Christianity is a real dud, a myth no one can prove, a belief no intelligent person would hold.

It’s the week we make special decorations–cookie tombs and candy crosses–to remember our Lord’s work on our behalf.

It’s the week we ask our neighbors, “What service are you going to on Sunday?” and “Will we see you at breakfast?”

That is to say, Holy Week sets the standard for all of life.

It teaches us to order every week according to Christ, around Christ, in Christ.

It teaches us to clear every schedule to be where God is, to plan life around where He comes to us, to leave a service anxious to see our church family again soon.

It teaches us to we take church seriously, that it is holy space, that we are reverent in it.

It teaches us to read and learn and inwardly digest what it means to be a Christian, a Lutheran, every week, not just to ward off naysayers, but to grow and stretch and be bold in our confession always.

It teaches us to fill our homes continually with things that make us think on Christ and His cross.

It teaches us to look up our neighbors and ask our friends to church, urging them to be where Christ has promised He is.

Yes, Holy Week sets our compass to Christ, to His humility, to the way in which He became one of us to save us.

But it also sets the tone for how we live as Christians in the weeks before and following, not just for Lent, but for Easter and Pentecost and Advent and every day before and after and in between.

Christ became obedient to death, even death on a cross. O come, let us worship Him.

pet peeves and why I love them


I have a lot of pet peeves.

People who park their shopping carts in the middle of the grocery store aisle. Loud cell phone talkers. Melodramatic moms. The non-word “irregardless.” The way the flat iron works on one half of my hair but not the other. Unnecessarily personal question-askers.

I could go on for days.

Obviously.

Whatever commandment involves being annoyed, that one’s my favorite to break.

But one of my biggest annoyances is people whose lives/jobs/anything ever turn out just right, even when they don’t work for it or play by the rules.

The person with no initiative who scores the killer job. The dud single who ends up getting married. The person who can’t write landing a book deal.

Oh, man.

I could start pulling out chunks of my ponytail if I thought about it for too long.

I was complaining about this to my a mom a while back (ok, it was actually Thursday night after she handed me a plate of nachos so covered in cheese I could feel my arteries giving up on life), and after outlining a particular case of two people I was especially frustrated with, I whined the following words in exasperation: “It’s just so annoying that they get all this credit and everyone’s patting them on the back when they aren’t playing by any of the rules and are hurting people along the way!”

Then my mom looked at me.

Like moms do.

Then I said, “Ohhhh” and made busy snarfing down a pound of melted pepperjack.

Because, like parents who see their own worst qualities manifest in the behavior of their small children, I am my own complaint.

I am a sinner, the person who doesn’t deserve the blessings I have, who doesn’t play by the Lord’s rules and instead loves to break every single commandment just as often as I can, who hurts people with reckless abandon pretty much just by being in their general vicinity.

And yet I have a Lord who gives me grace upon grace, who has blessed me with a husband whose patience might just be bigger than Texas’ land mass, with a family who makes me laugh until I am bent double, with pastors who smack me upside the head with the Law and apply the medicine of the Gospel.

church2I have a Lord who fell to the ground in the garden and asked His Father to save Him from what He had to do for me.

A Lord who asked His Father to forgive me for putting Him on that cross.

A Lord who knows that I don’t play by the rules and yet credits Himself to me anyway.

A plate of nachos later and I had it figured out.

So, you can keep your melodramatic moms and all your “irregardlesses.”

Because it turns out . . . the joke’s on me.

I’ve got nothing to be peeved about.

 

a treasure chest

I started getting snobby about sermons in seventh grade.

My parents drove us an hour to an LCMS church one Sunday to hear a new, young pastor they’d read about in the newspaper.

And half of what he preached didn’t make sense.

So naturally, we went back.

And then back again. And pretty soon, we were driving there every week.

But every Sunday, we were also leaving church horribly confused.

We’d get into our blue Dodge minivan, trundle out of the parking lot, and then, almost in unison, ask each other, “Why does this pastor talk about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper ALL-THE-TIME?”

“Doesn’t he have anything else to talk about?” I’d ask. ” GEEEEEZ.”

“I don’t get it,” my dad would say.

“There’s got to be reason,” my mom would add. “We just can’t figure out what it is.”

Every Sunday. For weeks.

Baptism. The Lord’s Supper. Over and over again.

And every Sunday we struggled to figure out why his sermons were basically variations on the same two themes.

Then we stopped wondering and started getting annoyed.

“Seriously,” I’d say. “Does he need new material? Because I just feel like there’s a leeeeetle more out there than these two topics.”

“I still don’t get it,” my dad would say.

“There’s got to be a reason,” my mom would add. “There’s just go to be.”

Then we stopped being annoyed and got mad.

“Hello!” I’d grumble. “I’ve heard this sermon, like, 42 times now. I get it!”

“I don’t,” my dad would say.

“Well,” my mom would start and then fall silent.

And just when we got mad, it dawned on us.

He talked about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper all the time — not because he had nothing else to say — but because these were the things that mattered, the ways in which our Lord comes to and for us, the places where He is tangible and real and earthy, giving out His forgiveness and promises, won for us on the cross.

He wasn’t a vague God anymore, a nebulous Creator . . . out there somewhere.

He was Jesus for me and my mom and my dad right here, every Sunday, in the flesh.

Stuff was getting real.

And then our entire car ride home changed.

“Dude,” I would say. “We learned about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper today.”

“I get it!” my dad would yelp.

“Why have we never heard this before?” my mom would marvel.

It was, my dad believes, like a treasure chest had been opened, a big vault filled with priceless jewels that we had heard of but never seen.

I don’t want any Lutheran girl to have to wait until seventh grade to know why God’s gifts of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are where He comes with forgiveness, the holy things that give shape to who we are as Christians, the very heartbeat of our life lived out under Christ’s cross.

And I don’t want any moms and dads to have to wait until they’re in their forties to hear it either.

So let’s talk about our Lord in the flesh, in the water, in the bread and wine today, every day.

A lot.

The treasure chest is open.

The vault is filled.

Let’s start talking about — rejoicing in — the jewels.

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skinny jeans and salmon

This is for all you college kids out there, all the ones who are learning what it’s like to color outside the lines, so to speak, without Mom and Dad there to correct you.

College is awesome. It’s a time to make friends and stay up late and leave behind whatever baggage you got lassoed with in high school and discern just how many packages of ramen noodles you can buy with the ten dollars you have left to your name (not counting the change in the couch and between the car seats).

It’s equally awful. It’s the time when everything you learned as a young person is challenged. Was the world really created in six days? Why can’t two people of the same gender marry each other? Isn’t living together the best way to figure out if two people are compatible and ready for marriage?

College is the time when you decide you want to push the limits. You want to be different. You want to be counter-cultural. You want to be the salmon that swims against the current. You want to break free of what your parents taught you, wear purple skinny jeans and hot pink bow ties, and stick it to the man, even if you don’t even really know what that means.

But after a while, that’s not enough. You have to push the boundaries even more.

And so you start to mimic your friends, arguing with your parents and skipping church, just because you can.

And then you discover that’s not enough either, so you start to turn your back on what you know is right. Raised to believe a marriage is between a man and a woman? So 42 seconds ago. Grew up holding out for your spouse? No more. Lived your first 18 years thinking your parents were curmudgeonly but actually loved you? Get real.

And soon, before you even realize it, you’ve flipped it and reversed it, now so in tune with all the cultural chaos that you, for once, feel like you fit in.

And that’s the big lie the culture feeds you.

Because now you do fit in. You are one of them.

And that’s not so counter-cultural after all. Now you are the culture.

Just like everyone else.

So if you really want to be different, if you want to stick it to the man or the government or your parents, if you want to be set apart from the crowd like a salmon swimming against the current:

  • Go to church. Few people your age do.
  • Get married young. Marriage is awesome. #truestory
  • Know what you believe, and speak about it. Most people don’t.
  • Listen to your parents. They actually do have your best interests at heart.
  • Study. College isn’t a gigantic ball pit. It’s there for your benefit.
  • Talk to your pastor. He isn’t scary. He actually wants to shepherd you.
  • Reevaluate your friends. Weed out the ones who aren’t helping you move forward.
  • Work hard. Really hard. When you go to find a job, that won’t go unnoticed. (Read: You’ll actually get one.)
  • Wear purple skinny jeans. Just stay away from those awful ones that bag around your knees.

It’s okay to color outside the lines a bit, to push the boundaries when it comes to discovering for yourself what God’s Word has to say about life, vocation, marriage, and truth.

But if you want truly to be different, to stand out from the herd, to be the change you want to see in the world, stick to what works: Church. Pastors. Family. Truth.

Because if you do, you still stand out like a sore thumb . . . and that will make college more awesome than you ever knew it could be.

the word of which we do not speak

Women of the world:

You can stop taking offense at the word submit.

Really.

Somewhere along the way, we started bristling at that word. It’s the dreaded S word, the word of which we do not speak, the word that implies that we have to turn into wallflowers, giving up any hope of expressing a thought that’s actually our own, so we should RUN AWAY SCREAMING ANYTIME ANYONE IMPLIES THAT WE MIGHT ACTUALLY BE DIFFERENT THAN A MAN.

This just in:

Let’s take a peek at our first mother, at Eve, at the one who, at least for a time, submitted as the perfect wife.

Adam gave to Eve: his rib, his affection, his completeness. He gave protection, a home, love, contentment. He shared his actual, tangible paradise with her, and together they walked with the God who created it. Adam provided her with food, with companionship, with no need to feel or be ashamed, even with a name, “Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23).

Eve received, and she rejoiced. Her femaleness reacted in kind to Adam’s maleness. She responded by collecting all that he had to offer, and all that he offered was exactly what she needed. He fulfilled her desires, met all her demands, left her wanting nothing. He truly did complete her. Her response was pure and chaste love, utter unselfishness, resplendent joy.

Adam gave.

And Eve received.

That’s submitting.

It’s the same thing Christ does to His Bride, the Church: He gives His body, His blood, His Word, His forgiveness, His love, His _____,  and we receive.

It’s what pastors do for congregations: They give us Christ’s gifts, and we receive them.

There’s a pattern here.

An order to things.

Structure in the middle of chaos.

And so you women,  you wives, like Eve, receive, and you rejoice in what you have been given. You submit (Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. I promise.) in an anxious desire to embrace what your husbands have sacrificed to give you.

This is normal. Good, even, despite what the world will tell you.

But this submission “[is] not compelled through a demand or by force.” Instead, it is a reaction, a response, to your husband’s maleness, an “insight into God’s order of things.” (For more on this, read Bo Giertz’s “Twenty-Three Theses on the Holy Scriptures, The Women, and the Office of the Holy Ministry in the May 1970 The Springfielder.)

To submit to her husband means that a wife turns the other cheek.

That means that you as a wife respond in faith, trusting that what your husband has given to you is good and true, that he means what he says when he says it, and that his gifts are those which are best and right for you.

“As the husband cannot attain to the ideal of Christ’s love without self-denial, so the wife cannot conform to the ideal of the Church’s love to Christ without surrender of self to Christ’s precious will.” (G. H. Smukal, Love and Obedience)

So you submit. (See? It’s getting easier already, isn’t it?)

And you don’t submit as one who no longer has a voice or an opinion, but as one who is open to receiving all of the best of what your husband has to give. You “learn[s] quietly with all submissiveness” (1 Tim. 2:11). That is to say, your response is one of humble gratefulness, modesty, self-control.

Your husband will fail in his vocation as giver. He will screw up. And you will fail in your vocation as receiver. And you’ll flub things up just as badly.

But that doesn’t mean that you start doing his job as giver. And he doesn’t start taking on your role of receiver.

Nope. That’s when you ask for forgiveness, from God and from another.

Submitting means that you turn the other cheek.

You move forward.

You submit again to all that he has to give you, all the work he does on your behalf, all the decisions he makes and the ways in which he leads you through this life, protecting you and loving you.

Again and again and again. Always. Every day.

And eventually you begin to understand that to submit means that God created men and women for a specific order and that order is meant for the benefit and well-being of both of you.

And  you start to rejoice in the fact that men, following Christ’s lead, are there to give only the best to women, and the women, in turn, are there to receive them with grateful and humble joy.

And suddenly, submitting isn’t such a dirty word after all.

 

 

 

9 most dangerous words

Ronald Reagan said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

We Lutherans chuckle. That Ronald Reagan. What did he know?

OBVIOUSLY the nine most terrifying words in the English language are from your pastor: “This is new to you but let’s try {insert subject X}.”

Making the sign of the cross. Bowing at the name of the Trinity. Incense. Fasting. Pick your poison.

Propose anything that smacks ever-so-lightly of Roman Catholicism, and we are on you, as we here on the farm say, like stink on cow poo, Preacher Man!

We’re Lutherans, after all. We’re of the Church of the Reformation. We don’t {insert subject X} here because Luther set us free from that. Fasting? Jesus died on the cross so I don’t have to. Making the sign of the cross? Helllloooo! Next thing you know you’ll be asking me to eat fish on Friday. Incense? Have you gone c-a-RAY-zy!? And enough of all that head bobbing and knee bending. You’re giving me a nervous twitch over here. 

But what if your pastor is really onto to something with all of this? What if–and I realize I’m going to break a limb jumping to conclusions one day–everything that happens in worship actually teaches something? What if your pastor isn’t trying to shove you out of Lutheranism into the arms of Rome? What if he’s just showing you some pious behaviors the Church has held dear for a long time? What then?

What if making the sign of the cross really does remind you of the sign of the cross made on you in your Baptism, of the way in which Christ has saved you from all the gunk and filth of this world?

What if bowing at the name of the Trinity really does show reverence and respect to the triune God?

What if fasting really is good outward preparation when it comes to repentance and confession, especially during this Lenten season?

What if incense really does symbolize our prayers, as we hear in LSB’s Evening Prayer: “Let my prayers rise before you as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice”? And what if–perish the thought–the hymnal itself even encourages the use of incense, just one part of the multi-sensory way in which we worship?

But . . . but . . .

All of these actions are yours–free to do, free not to, free to try out, and free to wrestle with. But before you pitch a good old-fashioned fit in your pastor’s office, laying down on the floor and kicking and screaming to match any three-year-old, ask him questions first.

Ask him why he believes {insert subject X} is a healthy practice.

Ask him if the Church has historically done it and why.

Ask him what it means for you and where you can read more about it.

And then actually do read, do learn more, do go to him with more questions.

Then make up your mind.

Because whether you choose to making the sign of the cross or bow or take a deep breath of that incense or not, your pastor still will have been right: Everything that happens in worship teaches something.

And it turns out, no matter what conclusion you come to, it already has.

 

 

 

 

of SCOTUS, Hobby Lobby, and bridegrooms

The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. – James Madison, 1785

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“The Church shouldn’t get involved in politics.”

That’s the line we hear. There’s enough to do right here at home, enough issues to deal with in our own congregations, among our own pastors, with our own youth, in our own Synod.

And there is.

And often, that sentiment is right.

But there is also much to do when, on the flip side, the government decides it wants to get involved in the Church.
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On Monday, I made the rounds: from the White House to the Washington Monument to the World War II memorial. The sun was bright; the crowds of tourists busy.DSC_0354

But on Tuesday morning, when the snow came down masquerading as rain and people gathered in front of the United States Supreme Court building, the mood was different.

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There were two groups gathered. Similar in size, they both held signs and umbrellas. They both invited speakers to their podiums. They both cheered.


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But one was very different.

One stood for life.

For liberty.

For freedom to worship and live as our Lord bids us to do and not as Uncle Sam does.

That is our side. We are, after all, the church of the Reformation, the one that tries with all her might to repair what is broken, but the one that ultimately heeds the voice of her Bridegroom, turning away from something when she knows it is irreparable, even if it grieves her.

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We will be tempted in this life to stay out of issues like this, to say that Hobby Lobby and religious liberty and standing in the snow to support life don’t apply to us, that we have bigger fish to fry or that these subjects are best left to lobbyists and congressmen.

But that will just be an excuse.

DSC_0408Because as Christians, we believe that the Church is the bride and that Christ is her groom; that she submits to Him and lives in and by Him; that He protects her and cares for her, loves and respects her.

And that means that no other person, no other groom, gets to tell her how to submit, how to live, what she is given to do and who she ought to do it for.

She hears only her husband, and not another man, not even a government. DSC_0401

I know my husband Chris’s voice. I also know what he believes and what he stands for, the faith he confesses and his love for truth. I would know in an instant and without looking if someone other than Chris stepped into my kitchen at night and proclaimed, “Honey, I’m home!”

And I wouldn’t stick around to see what it was this impostor wanted either. I would make a beeline for Chris, to the man who protects and cares for me, who keeps me safe and helps navigate me through our marriage and this world.

So also the Church. She hears and responds only to Christ, only to her Bridegroom.

No one else.

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That is why She involves herself in matters of life and marriage and religious liberty, why she prays for the Green family and the Hahn family, why she speaks up and speaks out when another tries to tell her to submit to ideas and thoughts and ways that her husband has not. 

It’s why I was proud to represent the LCMS in Washington, D.C., on March 25 when the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments on behalf of the government and on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities.

It’s why I chuckled to hear Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women of America, exclaim, “Oh, you’re with the good Lutherans!”

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It’s why I thanked Matt Bowman, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, for his webinar on religious liberty for our LCMS members, that we may know more fully the areas in which the Church, the bride, must be alert and be informed.

It’s why I marveled to hear Paul Clement, the attorney who argued the case on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, calmly and humbly ask that our work on this front not stop simply because the hearing was over.

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It’s why I was honored to shake the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Green, the co-owners of Hobby Lobby, and the Hahns, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialities.

It’s why I could tell them in completely sincerity that members of the LCMS are praying in earnest for them, thankful for their bold stand as members of the bride of the Christ who hear the voice of the Bridegroom and listen to no other.


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There are two groups, two who will stand between now and the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, two who will speak to us. One will remind us that we are free in this country to live according to our Bridegroom, that He alone gives us the right and the joy to do that.

One won’t.

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“The Church shouldn’t get involved in politics.”

That’s the line we hear. There’s enough to do right here at home, enough issues to deal with in our own congregations, among our own pastors, with our own youth, in our own Synod.

And there is.

And often that sentiment is right.

But there is also much to do when, on the flip side, the government decides it wants to get involved in the Church.

And the very first is to turn back to our Bridegroom, to His cross, to His love for us, and to His forgiveness, trusting that–even in the midst of those two voices–He will have Words of comfort and peace for His Bride, for His Church, for us.