Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Carnival, the Carnival!!!

Lutheran Carnival LIII, "Transylvanian Edition" is up over at Barb the Evil Genius's blog. So go on over for a bite, and don't worry, you don't need your garlic or your silver bullets, but a crucifix is never really a bad idea.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Good Father Addendum

I think it should be noted that the previous list was made while I did not consider myself a Lutheran. I was. I was just in denial.

I was also in college in rural Utah. Before I went to college, I was attending a non-denominational "fellowship" and working at a Christian bookstore. I also don't know that I had come to see dating and relationships as being the road to marriage. I still only viewed them as ends in themselves. I probably would've been spared a lot of heartache if I'd had a healthier perspective. But I still bought into the world's perspective of "school, career, adventure, and then marriage" but who wouldn't enjoy the company along the way?

I'd at least had the common sense to establish beforehand that when I moved to Utah, I would not date a Mormon. I could not imagine him serving my purposes, and I knew that I could not serve his. I would never become LDS and therefore never marry in the temple. But that was the limits of the criteria that I went in with.

Many people don't realize how completely the LDS church pervades the culture in Utah. It has a tight rein on the state and local governments, can determine whether or not you get a job, and is also the main force in most people's social lives there. I had a professor who quipped that if you weren't 3rd generation Utah Mormon, you were an outsider. It is truly a different culture, even non-Utah Mormons experience culture shock upon moving there, and I can vouch for the fact that reverse culture shock is experienced, also. The pastors that are there are truly missionaries in a spiritually unfriendly land. Just seeing a passing stranger in Kmart who was wearing a cross was a comforting reminder that "I am not alone." Those of us at Southern Utah University (a public university) who were not Mormon (forget even Christian) felt a bond with each other based solely on that fact. So, that became the definition of my dating criteria as well.

Anyway, as I described below, when I moved there, I attended a Baptist church and was relatively happy there, except for the fact that I couldn't seem to find a comfortable place regarding the sacraments. While I still struggled with the idea of baptism as a proclamation of faith - I still didn't have a problem with the validity of my infant baptism and the fact that I did really receive the Holy Spirit there. I also could not bring myself to take Communion where they did not believe that Christ's Body and Blood were indeed present with the bread and the wine.

I had a flirtation (and nothing more) with an Episcopalian, but as our friendship progressed, I realized we were on two different pages morally and Biblically. I also dated a Catholic for two months and that became very clear that would not work. (No one prays to St. Thomas of the Roads to protect him in MY car - even if that u-turn wasn't particularly legal!)

I was probably married to my Lutheran seminarian for two years and close to giving birth when I realized that I couldn't imagine what it would be like to marry someone who wasn't Lutheran. So many people don't think it matters - but what about when the birth of your child comes up and all of a sudden you realize that your spouse thinks that it is abominable that you would want your baby baptized?

Or even before that. I can't imagine what it would be like to not be able to worship with my husband or commune with him. That would break my heart. (even though I have generally spent the first three years of each of my children's lives griping that I don't worship WITH my husband...he's in the pulpit while I'm wrestling my escape artist toddlers to the ground in the narthex).

As Lutherans, we are in a very unique place in the Christian world, theologically. We reject the teachings of the Catholics that are non-Biblical, yet we hold to inerrancy of Scripture and we also reject that the waters of baptism and the bread and wine are merely symbols of Christ's forgiveness. There really is no other denomination that truly holds to that. We really can't yoke ourselves to believers in either Catholic or Protestant realms and find true unity and peace. That is something that I didn't quite comprehend when I made my list below and simply put "Christian."

Yet I also mourn that I can't simply tell my children "make sure they're good Lutherans" without a full checklist of what Lutheran is, thanks to the false teachings of the Evangelical "Lutheran" Church in America, who claim the name but not the theology, or even in the strongly varied teachings in our own Missouri Synod. But as parents, it is our job to teach them what their faith means, and to pray that God protects them and keeps them in that faith. And we do teach them, even now--especially now, before those hormones kick in and make it a little harder to listen.

Still, I have visions in my head of the Cheers episode where Woody (LCMS) and Kelly(ELCA) realized how different they really were--after their wedding. When I first saw it, my friend Pete and I were rolling on the floor laughing (with a bunch of our Mormon dormmates wondering what was THAT funny). Now that I have children, I don't think it is as funny as I did then.

(though I can't believe that I can't find that clip on YouTube!! Some technologically savvy Lutheran fan of 1980's and 90's sitcoms has got to put that up!!).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Good Father

In the Spring of 1991, I was driving back to school from Las Vegas. To the left of me was probably one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. There really is nothing like a sunset over the desert. Oh my, sometimes I miss the desert.....

Oh, yeah, back to the Spring of 1991. I barely noticed the sunset. I was crying. My boyfriend, Frank, and I had just broken up. Frank was kind of structured (very unlike me) and his weekends were laid out just so: Saturday night, he usually spent that evening with his friends Ray and I don't even remember the other one...he was more Ray's friend anyway. Sunday was spent with his half-brothers. Neither one of those things could bring any complaint, really. It is good to spend time with your friends and your brothers. I just happened to live 175 miles away, and I worked on Fridays, and only sometimes on Saturdays if I was needed, and I usually didn't know if I was needed until Saturday. Frank didn't cancel plans without notice. I'd driven down to see him, hoping that he would be able to make time for me, and he didn't. (I did get to do some great four-wheeling with my friend Todd, though). In the midst of those obligations, there was no time for me, the person he willingly entered into a relationship with, and said he loved. On top of it all, Frank and I had been dating off and on through high school (mostly off) and this was the longest we'd gone, and I had really started to hope we could make it work this time. I realized there was something wrong with that, and we had the first fight we'd had in our six year friendship and relationship. Usually, we'd just distance ourselves for a while. It was good to have that fight.

Somewhere along that drive though, I had an epiphany. I realized that I dealt with those same issues with my father. My father is a good man who keeps his word....but he's not very flexible, and sometimes it seemed like the obligations he made to other people came before the ones to his the name of taking care of his family.

At that point, the tears dried up, and the realization came to me that I had been saved from a very trying relationship, one in which I could not win. It also occurred to me that if I didn't want to end up in this situation again, I'd better really figure out what I wanted in a guy and be on the lookout for it. So, I put together this list.

I had a guideline. I decided that it would all fall under this category: He must be a good father. I didn't even know if I wanted kids, but I figured the traits that I wanted for my kids, if I had them, would be a good guideline. And I loaded that definition with A LOT more than just - he must like playing with kids and will be willing to change diapers.

1. He must be a good Christian (Frank was not..he was a good guy in many ways, and he was curious and respectful, but he was not a believer. I don't think any guy I ever dated had been a Christian, not a committed one, anyway, and this part scared me. I did like a guy who was exciting and who got my blood pumping. I didn't know if the two were really compatible. They are).

2. He must be respectful and have manners. If he cares enough to pull out my chair, open my door, or get me flowers - then that is a good sign that he will be respectful when things get more serious. Convincing myself that I deserved these things was another story. But I did. I told myself that I wanted a man who would show my son that it was important, and just as importantly, his daughter should expect this from any man who was interested in her, as well. And if they don't take time to do this at the beginning of a relationship, they won't be any better at it (in fact, they'll be worse) when they are comfortable with you. They have to believe you are a gift from God (and you have to believe they are, too).

3. I need to be able to respect him. This is so important. More important than I could've ever imagined. Today I would put that in terms of "He loves God more than he loves me." Because there have been times I wanted him to conform to my will, and that was against God's will - or at least there was some wisdom that I was missing. And when my husband loves God more than me, he takes even more seriously the command to love me as Christ loves the church. And still the quantity of the love that my husband has for me is more than I can ever fathom.

4. I want him to want to spend time with me. I want that to be a strong priority. I want to enjoy being with him. I want him to believe that building and maintaining his relationship with me is what the foundation for the family should be built upon (only second to our foundation being built on Christ). When we have a happy marriage, we have a happy family. And the problems....when we emphasize this, we work through those problems.

5.He has to have a great sense of humor and like to play....with me as well as with our children.

6. He can't make his decisions in life based on the risk of getting hurt. He has to want to risk loving and know that getting hurt is part of the process of loving a sinner and being a sinner. He also can't be the kind that wears his heart on his sleeve either -showing off his hurts or expecting them. He simply knows that God is going to take care of him in this.

Not long after this list was made , I met Jeff. I don't know if he knows what kind of scrutiny he was under (but he had his own list, too). Having guidelines helped me to keep my head on my shoulders while I was falling in love and until the very day I said "I do." It was amazing the difference that there was. I also think the fact that he possessed all of these traits and then some led me to fall in love with someone I may not have normally considered my type. It took me out of "my type" and drew me to someone who was truly good for me. Sometimes the fact that he did seem to fit these so well kept me there even when I really thought it might be better to go my merry way, just to see what would happen next. It was a completely different process.

I don't believe that we are victims of our emotions or our pheremones. I do believe we can fall in love with whom we choose. And when all the stars and such seem to fall from the sky and we are back on earth again and calling attention to each other's faults in spades, the fact that the person who now seems very very human is still a very good man and inspires me to be as good as I possibly can be in the face of this new adversity ends up being the strength that the relationship stands on. (because in the end, that was based on finding someone who truly put their trust in Christ in the first place) --and what rescues it from our sad and sometimes evil flaws (Okay, this sentence is such a grammatical nightmare that I can't believe I published it. I am still wrestling through a more concise way to say it. At least it poetically expresses the tumult that is felt when this situation finally comes, right??? Repeat after me "Rationalization is my friend.")

To a great extent, this is why I think arranged marriage or courtship can work so well. Other people recognize a good man, too. My parents certainly did recognize that Jeff was "the one" from the very moment they met him. And so did my friends - even the ones who hadn't met him - like Frank. Often, they've seen things I wasn't willing to see.

And when you have a person who trusts in God and has good character and integrity - you will have a good relationship - because at some point in time, that is what you are left with.....and love and passion continually flow through these and are fed by these traits.

I have friends who let their kids become everything when they have them. Their lives become centered around their kids and all of a sudden the husband is a means of supporting this lifestyle they have with their kids. They don't understand when their husband is working longer hours or going out with his friends more, and they fear for the day that their kids will grow up and leave them. I don't have that. I love and respect my husband, and above all, he is my best friend. I love the time that God has given me with my kids, but I actually look forward to when they will be gone, and it will be just us again, and we can just lay about and talk and do other things without interruption, and enjoy life together again at our pace.

And - as far as all those people who say "sexual compatibility is so important." I agree....but beyond physical attraction, beyond intelligence, beyond money -- NOTHING is as sexy as a truly good, loving man.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Oh Me Oh My Sweet Baby Says She's Five

Sometime during church yesterday it occurred to me that five years ago at about that very moment, I was throwing up into a frisbee on the 110 Freeway.

Explanation. Yesterday was Maggie's birthday.

Oh, you need more explanation than that? (and who wouldn't take the opportunity to use a Diamond Rio title for their blog when inspiration hits??)

First, I'd need to tell you about the 110 Freeway. It is the curviest freeway you can imagine, that isn't on mountain roads. It was the first freeway ever designed in California and runs from South Pasadena down to the start of Orange County, through downtown Los Angeles (If you've seen the commercial where the guy tells his GPS that he loves it, then you've seen the 110....actually, 90% of all city car commercials are on the 110). It was very experimental, and most of its path is along an old train route. And because of that, it also has these incredible onramps that are about 15 feet long....and they have a stop sign at the end so you have to merge with traffic from a dead stop....traffic that is going 75-80 miles per hour sometimes. That's enough to make anyone throw up. But I happened to be in labor....and for the first time in my life, I experienced motion sickness. Thank goodness Anne, my doula was driving....but we'd neglected to bring a container for such purposes, but serendipitiously, Jeff found a frisbee. Frisbees being shallow, they also can't be trusted to contain such matter on such a drive, so it had to be disposed of. I still to this day feel sorry for the guy in the BMW convertible behind us (yes, the top was down). If it had been a Mercedes, Maggie might have had a different name just to assuage my guilt.

It has been quite the week and weekend. I've been stressed all of last week and this week about parties. Maggie's party worked out well. Melynda and her girls joined us for a day at the zoo and we had a simple picnic outside. That was fun.

Yesterday, though, we also celebrated my husband's 10th anniversary of his ordination (it really was on the 22nd). I can't believe its been ten years! For obvious reasons (as mentioned was a LONG labor), I kind of missed the 5 year one, and this one, given that he wanted most of our attention on preparing for Maggie's birthday, didn't get a whole lot, but it was the first time I have put together anything at the congregation, even cake and punch. Thank goodness for DK. She was a God-send. It wasn't much, but really, if he wanted more attention to his ordination anniversaries, he shouldn't have knocked me up so that I'd be due in June he should've planned better. (By the time you hit your 20th, she'll be 15....we'll have a blowout then, Sweetie)

So needless to say, yesterday was kind of chaotic. Then on top of it, we were having DK over for dinner for presents and such, and before dinner, one of our rabbits decided it was time to die, so we had to deal with the emotional issues as well as the practical issues of that (it was our first rabbit death, and she was very sweet). Then Chris fell and hurt his hand and so he and I missed the cake because we had an impromptu trip to Redi-Med. Luckily, it wasn't broken, but we had our concerns for a while there.

So, this seems like it is pretty typical of the last week or so, and this next week doesn't show much more promise of letting up. So those of you waiting for me to address the Epistles and the Book of Concord, the posts are completely written in my head, but there is no time for them to come out. I appreciate your patience.

Please keep me in your prayers...I think I have a sore throat....and I fear for my sanity.... :P
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Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Sometimes there is nothing like just hanging out with friends....

Over the past several years, my main source of support and inspiration in homeschooling has been the wonderful Lutheran ladies on Martin Loopers, a confessional Lutheran email list. And I am blessed to live in an area where it is sometimes even possible to get together, hang out, and talk about the things that are important to us, and some of the things that are unimportant, too.

Add to this the kind hospitality of Indiana Jane who hosted us in her home for two nights, and some good food, adult beverages, and more chocolate flowing than you can ever imagine, I don't think you can have a more idyllic weekend.....

True to form, I was too absorbed in the conversation to actually bring out my camera, so I will have to defer to Polly for pics....but you will also find Susan, Melynda, Jane, Bethany, Jenny, and Barb there well as several others very special women who don't blog.....Thank you for the wonderful weekend ladies!!

Thursday, June 14, 2007


When I went to college in Utah, I started attending a Baptist church with my sister, who was attending college there, too. I remember after the first service I went to, I met with the pastor. We had a long talk about baptism, the difference between Baptist and Lutheran beliefs (while I was raised Lutheran, I hadn't been in years. But they still shaped me, as hard as I tried to deny it. He didn't know much about Lutheranism, we compared notes). After a good talk which involved talking about the fact that infant baptism didn't count, he suggested I not come to communion the next week (the only time I actually remember them having it) since I wasn't baptized (or at least, he believed I wasn't). I respectfully agreed, for different reasons. Despite my rebelliousness against my Lutheran upbringing, I could never quite seem to bring myself to commune where Christ's body and blood weren't recognized.

The issue of baptism was never really brought up again, and while I did struggle with the issue of my parents "having the audacity to choose my faith for me and making that proclamation in my stead" I still never could bring myself to truly question the validity of my infant baptism, and I never completely bought into the idea that immersion was the only valid method. So since the pastor didn't talk about it, it actually slipped my mind. I did kind of intend to get rebaptized, but never could seem to get around to doing it.

For the next year, I really enjoyed myself in that congregation. They were pretty laid back as far as Baptists go. They were friendly and nice, but not overbearing or legalistic (most of them even drank a little. I think that being in a place where you are truly persecuted makes you more aware of what is really important and what is not - there, in Utah, the ones who were adamantly against alcohol were the Mormons). They had great potlucks and picnics. I really enjoyed Bible study, and eagerly went to the Sunday college group (five of us (two were the PKs, one other girl, and my sister and me) led by a rancher guy named Lynn), and I almost never missed the midweek study with the pastor. We had some great discussions. I enjoyed the church service, which usually involved singing a hymn (verses 1,2, and always cracked me up that the man who led music never wanted to sing a whole hymn), the readings, the sermon , then another hymn, and an altar call. Then it finished up with some prayers and another hymn (they stood up and sat down more often than Lutherans!). The sermons really weren't the way that most Lutherans imagine Baptist sermons. Pastor Dave never could've been like that. They were calm, insightful, and stuck to the text. I really felt a part of that congregation.

The altar call often puzzled usually was the place where a person publicly "gave their life to Jesus" and then arrangements were made for their baptism to follow in the next few weeks. While altar calls at the nondenominational church that I had attended before that year often involved people re-dedicating their life to Jesus, this didn't seem to be what it was for this congregation.
Every week, the organist would play a hymn and we would sing, and the pastor would just stand there by the altar and wait. Sometimes it seemed to me like he waited a long time. I just figured that it was something that he did at that point in time because he was supposed to (actually, there were many rudimentary liturgical aspects to this worship format, they just didn't know it) , but it didn't seem to make sense, since every person in that small church was fairly active in the congregation. It seemed like that business was pretty much taken care of for a while. Yet the pastor waited, and seemingly waited with purpose.

Two days ago, these memories came upon me again for one reason or another....and all of a sudden I realized, "Oh my goodness!!! He was waiting for ME!!!"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What Scripture Says About the Congregation - The Gospels

I’m afraid what was going to be one post is now becoming three, because to look at what the gospel holds on this, it will take a full post.

Honestly, there is one place to go to find out how God Himself feels about the gathering of believers, and whether they need a pastor: Jesus’s conversations with Peter. There might be other things to point to….but these are enough.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:13-19

Now this confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” is important. Plenty of people believed that Jesus was the Messiah. It was the confession of Christ being God that was so important. Many who believed that He was the Messiah ran away when He referred to Himself as “I Am” It was that confession of Peter’s that Christ was looking for, and on nothing else could His church be built.

Then, right after that it goes on:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” vv.21-23

The man who was so recently told that He was the rock upon which Christ’s church would be built is now rebuked as Satan. That’s a good lesson for all of us. “Christ, the Son of the living God,” only came to die on the cross and defeat death for us. That was His purpose from the time that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb – actually, from the very first promise that God gave to Adam and Eve. If the church forgets that, and becomes about anything else than that – about healing, about socialization, about mercy to the extent of forgetting forgiveness, about liberation theology, about self-esteem, about making Christ a buddy, or a good teacher…..the church no longer is of God, it is of Satan, even if the “mission” seems good.

But the church is not meant to be this nebulous spiritual connection between believers who are living in their own separate worlds, coming together by twos or by threes to pray and chat. When the issue of dealing with a problem with a brother comes up, Jesus instructs:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Matt 18:15-17

“Take it to the church.” These are to be real people who gather together and have real authority. Notice, Christ uses the word “brother.” He’s not talking about Andrew. Our brothers are Christ’s brothers those who believe.

He goes on immediately to say:

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (that promise that Jesus first gave to Peter, He is giving to the other apostles as well). Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be
done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Matt 18:18-20

This is real authority. We Lutherans call this the “Office of the Keys.” The disciples are given real power over Christ’s flock, who will gather together to learn from them in Acts 2.

Verse 20, the “Where two or three are gathered” is used in lots of contexts. It is used to justify the gathering of believers, it is also used by those who do not want to come together in the context of a congregation, to rationalize just hanging out with like-minded friends. But it is not responsible to take a verse out of context and quote it where you will. Even Satan can do that, as He proved in the desert while He tempted Christ. Scripture interprets Scripture. It is in the context of dealing with bringing someone to repentance.

One of the purposes of the church, and those who shepherd the church, is to call us to repentance. If we refuse that call, our sins are bound to us. If we are just gathering with those who are close to us, we are often seeking to surround ourselves with people who will not call us to repentance or encourage us to grow in the faith, or to fight against our Old Adam. Of course when we pray with friends, Jesus is there (unless we are in a state of unrepentance), He has promised to be there even when we are alone. In fact, we pray the “Our Father” even when we are alone because we know that Jesus is praying with us and for us to His Father, as He promises.

No, Jesus is using "Where two or three are gathered in My name..." to emphasize that if a believer is called to repentance, and the person does not respond to that call, after even the church seeks to have them come to repentance and be forgiven, then Christ is there with them, blessing their decision to cast the person out and is part of that decision (after all, Jews would not even go into the home of someone who was a Gentile. It would make them ceremonially unclean).

Nowhere is this so driven home than in the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. But whatever is loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven. He also blesses the forgiveness of one who repents. This is a very clear statement that Christ is giving real authority to those who are over a flock to forgive and to hold sins; that this is His will that they have authority over the flock – over the church. We are not talking about the invisible church – the sum total of all who believe, but over real people that are having real problems that are before you – that you worship with, interact with, partake of the Sacraments with.

Now, back to Peter….we know that He denies Christ three times, even going so far as to say “I never knew the man.” In Luke 22, there is a frightening statement that Christ makes to Peter when He predicts Peter’s denials

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.(vv. 31-32)”

Even though Christ knows that Simon Peter is going to deny Him, run when it might be time to die with Him, but He still says “when you return, strengthen your brothers.”

I wonder if it is not that phrase there that keeps Peter from despair….that Jesus still gives Him a role to fulfill and provides hope of forgiveness. I wonder if Peter thought that maybe somehow, he could make it up to God.

Then, when Jesus is raised, and meets them on the beach in Galilee, Jesus performs the miracle of the net full of fishes, and then makes breakfast for them (note: the fish Jesus is cooking, is not the fish that they caught).

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” and he said to him “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him “Feed my sheep.” Luke 21:15-17

“Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” Three denials, three affirmations of love, three statements times of placing the care of Christ’s church into Peter’s hands. Peter could not prove that He loved Christ. He could only say it. He knew only too well that his actions could be used against him. Not only did he run like the others, he actually said “I don’t know the man.” But yet, God is calling Him to care for His church. Like Moses, he did not deserve this attention. Like Moses, he was humbled enough to know that he had not earned it. But it meant that he was forgiven, and I doubt that he ever forgot that as he showed mercy to everyone else.

What does Christ call those who belong to Him? His flock, His sheep, His lambs. A very recurring theme in Christ’s teachings.

I grew up out West, where there is lots of land and a climate similar to Israel. Many people raise sheep, and while in the era of barbed wire and electric fences, you do not see the shepherds out there with them as much, I have as yet to see sheep that were not kept in a flock. Sheep gather together naturally. They gather for protection. Yet they need the protection of a safe place, and someone to make sure that things are safe. They graze heavily, leaving nothing behind in their wake, so they need to be constantly guided to new food (the ranchers in Utah called sheep “range maggots). They are not smart enough, fast enough, and I am told by someone in the know that they have “a worse attention span than a seven year old boy amped up on cotton candy at a carnival.” They can wander into very dangerous situations. Ranchers who keep sheep probably don’t abide by Christ’s parable of the Good Shepherd who, when he realizes one is missing, leaves the ninety-nine and goes searching for the one. That’s not good business. The occasional sheep is going to be attacked by coyotes. That’s life. Christ is the one who gathers His flock together, and goes after the one lost one, and bring it back to the flock.

Jesus didn’t pick sheep as His metaphor on a whim. It fits us. We need to remain in a congregational body under a good shepherd because we need to be protected. We need to strengthen and encourage each other. We need to be led to good food – Scripture and Christ’s very Body and Blood. We need to be corrected and we need to be brought back when we wander.

Even when the disciples scattered, they came together to hide and find strength in each other, to mourn, and so were together to rejoice.

Christ would not use the words “church” in association with a legitimate function of a congregation, a concrete gathering of believers, if He did not intend for it to be a good thing, a necessary thing for believers to do. If we were meant to be an animal that could be kept alone or together, we could’ve been cows or pigs (well, given the context, He wouldn’t have used pigs). But sheep have very specific needs that can only be met in the flock under a shepherd. I have as yet to see or hear of a shepherd or sheep rancher who thought that it was wiser to keep sheep in groups of two or three in small little pens or tiny pastures. I’ve seen that done with cows and pigs….but not sheep. Christ knows us well…He created us and redeemed us. He knows what we need better than we know ourselves. Even in this sinful world, it is safer to be with fellow sheep than to face the wolves alone, without each other, and without His protection through the shepherd that He puts over us and promises to work through.

previous: What Scripture Says About the Congregation - The O.T.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Maggie is Reading....

Being with younger children every day fills my heart with warm moments and occasionally causes me to threaten to have myself committed. But there are two that always really blow me away. Potty training and when they start to read. I suppose it is because all the baby stuff are driven primarily by internal drives, if we can't properly call them instincts (not that they aren't awe-inspiring), but potty training and reading are purely socially imposed, and so they seem like an accomplishment of a completely different kind.

Both of my kids have learned to read early. I haven't pushed it, but went along with their natural curiosity. Teaching has not been hard. When they are two or so, and fascinated with the alphabet, I also teach them the sounds that the letter makes. This saves both of us time and effort. It is as simple as sitting down and cuddling with an alphabet book and saying "This is F....F says 'fuh'." So both get learned, and as they get older and start recognizing sight words, they start putting it together. They start asking questions, so the simple board books are brought back out and we work on sounding out words.

My actual preference would be to wait until they are seven or eight. I believe it is better for their eyes, and that there is nothing in their lives that is critically important for them to read at six that will damage them if they wait until they are seven or eight.

However, the reverse is not true. Children are constantly inundated with information from billboards, t.v. (yes, they do use words on t.v., and some that aren't pleasant to explain), and graffiti (also, generally not pleasant), etc.

Chris learned to read not long after his 3rd birthday. When he was 2 1/2, he was saying "what does this word say?" He understood the concept of a word. That is one of the first signs of reading we worked on it a little. Not much. Then after his 3rd birthday, he picked up a Bob Book and started reading it. I still remember the look on my sister's face, a 2nd grade teacher, when he opened up the Winnie the Pooh board book she gave him for Christmas and started reading it. "I never would've believed it if I hadn't seen it." She couldn't say he memorized it. He'd never seen the book before.

But for all of that, there definitely was a lot of information out there that he wasn't ready for...billboards would provoke curous questions "Mommy, what's a gentleman's club?" He also hated driving in cars. The road noise bothered him, and I had to admit, it was louder in the back seat...but we'd be not five minutes from home, and he'd see the sign "Pasadena, Next 9 Exits" and start crying "I can't handle nine more exits!!!" Developmentally, he could not process the idea that it wasn't nine exits until we got home. We were getting off at the first one.

Maggie is almost five, and her process has been much more gradual, but this week, it has really taken off. She is looking at books, reading signs, etc. It really is amazing (just in time for the library reading program). I can tell that there is a logic difference, too, and it has changed the dynamic between her and her brother. Two weeks ago, whenever Chris requested "can I go outside and play?" I had to force him to take his sister with him.

Now, all of a sudden, she seems to have more of a function in life, from his perspective. I also have been amazed at the number of board games they are playing together. Monopoly, Connect 4, Bird Bingo, (and she's even beat him a few times)He's the one reading to her for the reading program (I think he figured out that the minutes count for both of them). After months of these little battles, she finally seems useful to him again...and not in a babyish, amusing way.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Killdeer in the Parking Lot

Killdeer have got to be my favorite bird in the Midwest. They seemed to take a liking to our big lawn out front this last Summer, and this year, they returned to nest.

I LOVE watching them walk. They remind me of the sandpipers (which they are related to)that I loved at the beach when we lived in California. The gulls were pesky, but the sandpipers were absolutely amusing and industrious, scanning the beaches for new sanddabs and such that were left behind from the last wave, and running out of the way as soon as another wave announced it's presence.

There is just something about the way they move...their little bodies with their incredibly long legs just scurrying anywhere they go. It seems impossible that their legs could move so fast, especially since the rest of their body is incredibly erect and still.

And the babies....oh my goodness, adorable little replicas of their parents. This morning the killdeer were cavorting about on my driveway as I brought the dog out, and I all at once one of the parents let out a loud "KEEE" and both parents looked for both of their babies and called them into closer proximity. I wonder if the one parent would've faked the broken wing that they are famous for, should Scully have approached any closer. That would be something to see.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Geez...and I thought things were going to slow down once the "school year stopped." It seems like it is worse!

For those of you who said you were interested in the study I was doing on the congregation, there really has been inadequate time to sit down and write it out (half of it is sitting patiently in a Word document...I've been trying!).

But the kiddos go to VBS next week. That should give me time to get this done!

Friday, June 01, 2007

What Scripture Says About the Congregation - Old Testament

Is it necessary for a person to worship with other believers/be a part of a congregation as a Christian?

Honestly, it can be answered by quoting two little verses from Hebrews:

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

As believers, we are not supposed to forsake the gathering of believers. Why? One reason is expressed above. Because we are to exhort each other and strengthen each other. If we are not with other believers, we cannot do this, and then they do not have the opportunity to do this also for us, and as we get closer to the time of Christ’s return, our strengthening each other becomes even more important.

A good friend of mine was once told by her pastor that it was important that we sing in church, because who knows who may be sitting next to you and hear your singing and be uplifted by it, but downtrodden if the congregation is sitting there mumbling the hymns. I can vouch for this, too. My husband’s first call was to a small congregation of about 30 people. Sometimes fifteen were in church, sometimes as many as forty-five. Just seeing the church a little more full would lift people’s spirits. It was visibly clear in how they sat and in how they sang. It is even noticeable here in a bigger congregation. We all have reasons for not going to church at times, but sometimes it may make a difference to know that you contribute to the well being of your brothers and sisters in Christ just by sitting in the pew. Maybe you don’t feel like you need that, but another person sitting in the pew might need you. How much more if you share a smile and a handshake? If you attend Bible Study? If you serve in a way that is needed?

But even going beyond this verse, the whole Bible talks about the importance of coming together as believers. While so many verses do not specifically say “you must come together to worship” the very nature of the People of Israel shows that it is how God wants it to be, even in the Old Testament.

You truly see the existence of the congregation when you look at the Children of Israel before they come out of Egypt. God reveals to Moses who He is and then calls him to deliver His people via the burning bush. Moses, despite the many faults that he enumerates, is God’s chosen leader. Moses goes to Egypt, where Aaron presents him to the elders of the children of Israel. The Israelites recognized Moses’s call and believed, “and they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exodus 4:31b) This is what happens when a pastor is called to a congregation. The congregation recognizes that he is the one God has called to lead them in the stead of Christ, and they worship God for providing them with an undershepherd. Like Moses was far from perfect (and he was the first one to tell you that…but the faults that got him into trouble were not the ones that he listed) no pastor is either. Sometimes their faults are very painful to their flock and to themselves.

Because Moses proclaims the truth to Pharoah, the Israelites are afflicted with more work, and suffer from several of the plagues God inflicts upon Egypt. A promise we also receive, that we will suffer in the name of the Gospel. As sinners, they do not patiently await God’s will, but instead they complain. But still they suffer together. Moses tells Pharoah that God wants him to let His people to go out to the desert for a few days for a feast and to worship….all of them. Not a few, not one tribe or another. All of them. The promises that God makes to deliver them extend to all of them (Exodus Ch 6). They are God’s people.

Then, there is the Passover. God’s final curse to the Egyptians is that He will take their firstborn. What rescues the children of Israel? That their households bear God’s mark. Each household individually, if it doesn’t have the faith to follow through with God’s command will be cursed, but those who do, will be saved by following the same ritual, eating in the same manner, and even wearing the same thing – not by doing their own thing. They were saved by the blood of the lamb on their door frames, and only by the blood of the lamb (Exodus Ch. 12).

After that, every single one of them went to the desert with Moses. It was in a group of 600,000 men, not including the children, and their animals also, all on foot. And the way Exodus puts it is “And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years – on that very same day – it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the Land of Egypt.” Is not the Christian Church referred to as the Church Militant? The imperfect, sinful soldiers – often grumbling and undisciplined – but still there to fight against Satan and all evil, and to defend each other from His wrath. And like us, it is not by their might that they won their fights, but by God’s (Exodus 14, Exodus 17: 8-16). Soldiers fight together. With rare exception are soldiers sent off alone to fight their battles alone without backup. They are too easily captured and destroyed that way (I believe they generally call those “suicide missions”). Armies that are scared scatter and flee and are defeated. A victorious army remains one unit.

In the desert, God provided for their every need and even though they often didn’t like the manner in which He did so, He preserved them according to the covenant He made with them, in fact, even despite the fact that they did not uphold their end of the covenant.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people, for the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5)

It is not a covenant with 600,000 + individuals. It is a covenant between God and those who worship Him. God took a people whose identity was based on whom they were descended from, and through this covenant, He completely changed that identity. They were no longer simply Hebrews. They were the chosen people of God. Not 600,000 + chosen individuals, but ONE chosen people. Through the Law and the promises that God gave them, the rituals that He proscribed, their identities as a people changed from being an ethnic group called the Hebrews to being Jews, which means holy. And others could enter that covenant and be God’s chosen people as well, provided that they too took on the mark of the covenant, circumcision, and observed God’s Law as they waited for the coming Messiah (see Ruth). They were to gather at the same place, follow the same rituals, make the same sacrifices to atone for their sins, and observe the same Holy Days.

Individual faith is necessary. Each person needs to have faith in the covenant. This is shown that when the people complained against Moses in Numbers 21. God sent fiery serpents to bite them, but if they looked up at the fiery serpent raised up on a pole, and all each person had to do was look to it, they were again made well.

Over and over again, the unity of the people of Israel, the way that God relates to them as one people shows that we are not merely individuals as we relate to God. We are saved through our individual faith (which is a gift from Him through His Holy Spirit. The people of Israel did not ask to be God’s chosen people…He picked them, and they certainly didn’t do anything to earn it, and we haven’t either) because Christ died on the cross for the sins of each and every one of us. But, He does not intend for us to be alone. In fact, casting someone out was a punishment. Both the Old Testament and the New address that those who have rebelled against God should be cut off (Psalm 37:9 – “For Evildoers shall be cut off,” Proverbs 2:22 – “But the wicked will be cut off from the earth and the unfaithful will be uprooted from it,” 1 Corinthians 5)We also see that in the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) - it was a means to weaken a strong people, to keep the whole from being corrupted by the evil that was brewing.

When Solomon made God’s temple per God’s command, so His people could come to Him, those of the rebellious ten tribes would not go there to worship Him. They wanted to continue to worship Him at their high places and do it their way, despite the fact that God had always made His will clear that He would live in the midst of His people in a temple, in His city, Jerusalem. So they worshiped him in a way that He did not want, and very quickly, their own desires began to change their God into the God of whim, not the God who revealed Himself in the Pentateuch, reigned over them, and provided for their every need. The Israelites mixed his identity with the Canaanite Baals, they created myths where He was married to Asherah, they established fertility rites, temple prostitution, and even sacrificed their own children as the Canaanites did. They didn’t heed the prophets that God sent to call them back to Him. So God sent the Assyrians, and they were scattered with the wind, never to return.

Yet even when Elijah runs away, fearing his own death even though God has just defeated Jezebel’s priests in a mighty display, God tells Elijah to stop, because there is work to do amongst His people, and because there are 7000 who have not yet bended the knee to Baal. Elijah needed to know that, and the 7000 also needed Elijah (1 Kings 19)

In the Old Testament, I do not find God calling any of his people to leave Israel and go on their own or form a new people even when they are completely unrighteous. I only find God calling the whole people,Israel, to return to Him, and encouraging the righteous to remain steadfast in the face of evil. And even though the unrighteous bring God’s punishment to the all Jews, God still protects His righteous ones (Esther, Mordecai, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Elijah, Noah, Abraham, even Jonah, and on and on and on), even though they still bear the penalties (i.e. Flood, Exile, snakes, plagues, famine). And sometimes God’s protection can even mean taking them home to heaven (Samson, Jonathan).

God definitely doesn’t ever express a negative view of His people gathering to worship Him in truth, despite their faults, and there are many, many terrible faults. He still desires that. The one thing He seems to want is for His people to come together and to worship Him and live together in peace.

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,

And his praise in the congregation of saints. Psalm 149