31 October 2018

A Reformation Day Thought

A friend and I were talking about Reformation and I expressed dissatisfaction with ever describing the Reformation in terms of "Luther discovered the Gospel!" He challenged me to put into words how I'd speak of the Reformation. Here's my attempt, for what it is worth:

When through a study of the Sacred Scriptures, the Gospel was again heard with utter clarity as good news of great joy, a proposal (the Augsburg Confession) was offered by those who so heard to remove from the Church's life any number of practices and teachings which had in effect made it difficult for the faithful to hear the Gospel AS the good news of great joy that it is. The practices and teachings that had obscured the hearing of the Gospel were all weighed in the balance of the Divine Word and found to be wanting; further, as church history was investigated they were found to be innovations not rooted in the ancient Church, and the recommended change in practice (or teaching) was found in each instance to be in conformity and continuity with the ancient Church.

I'd add this too: Obviously, the majority of catholic Christians did not accept the proposal. But those who accepted the proposal went on to reform practice and teaching in conformity with the Divine Word, removing whatever obscured. Yet subsequent history taught an important lesson: no structural changes in the Church's life made in the service of allowing the Gospel to be heard as the good news of great joy that it truly is, ended up being some sort of guarantee that the people who lived in those structurally reformed congregations of the Church Catholic would in fact so hear and treasure the Gospel as good news of great joy. Which underlines this truth: it is not the Reformation that saved the Gospel; it is the preaching and hearing of the Gospel that saves us. The Gospel is what grants faith in Him who alone saves and preserves His Church “ubi et quando visum est Deo, in iis, qui audiunt evangelium.”

No Other Foundation

You can see it in the Wittenberg Altarpiece, but if you missed it, the inscription at the top makes it clear: "No other foundation: Jesus Christ!" And so, oddly, the whole structure of the Church's sacramental life is depicted largely, upheld by the foundation, the outspread arms of the Crucified, to whom Luther is pointing from his open Bible in the pulpit. And so the stones in the background: He's the foundation. He upholds the lot. The Church literally rests on Him, upheld by His outstretched arms. Blessed Reformation 501!

30 October 2018


The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. Ps. 65:8

29 October 2018

What a beautiful day!

As October wends to its close, it sure was beautiful in St. Louis. I was able to get out over the noon hour and do some sprints, pushups, and just soaking in the beauty of the day. 

28 October 2018

A little taste of St. Paul’s

The first stanza of the entrance hymn from the early Divine Service on Reformation:

A Mighty Fortress


Happy birthday to my oldest granddaughter, Annabelle, and to my second-oldest granddaughter, Lydia! They're both so stinking cute it's ridiculous. Love these two so very much. Today is actually Annabelle's birthday and we got to facetime a little bit with her. And we celebrated Lydia's birthday two days early (though today WAS her due date).

22 October 2018

Wise words from Piepkorn

I got this from Dr. Secker, having read it some years ago and forgetting exactly where. It was a letter that Dr. Piepkorn wrote to a young seminarian who had contemplated leaving the Church of the Augsburg Confession for other shores in 1952. 

[Copyright © 2006 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. Reprinted with permission. Lutheran Forum, 40:3 (Una Sancta/Fall 2006): 48-55. www.alpb.org]

Thank you for your letter of December 9. I believe that you have acted wisely in not deserting the Church of your Baptism and Confirmation for another obedience. In my experience there is nothing to which a Christian can legitimately aspire in any other communion that is not implicit in the Church of the Augsburg Confession. If, at a particular time or in a particular place, that which he seeks is not explicit, it may be that God has called him to that time and place in order patiently to recover something that the Church of the Augsburg Confession has lost or neglected or overlooked. Let me counsel you therefore to stay where you are and faithfully to pray, to study, to witness and to work for a restoration of sacramental life to the Church that above all others is capable of most fully utilizing it.

You know...

...one of the complaints I have heard many earnest pastors and devout laity raise about our particular Missouri polity is the manner in which it places a sore temptation upon anyone once elected to any office into becoming a people-pleaser in order to retain the position next time round.

An internet acquaintance happened to refer to St. Basil the Great's Letter 92 the other day, and I was immediately struck at how he levels the exact same charge, despite the episcopal polity of his day! Further, the friend who sent it to me was actually applying it to the current unrest that is besetting the Roman communion (to whose See, historically, this letter of fraternal appeal for help was first in part addressed)! 

Check this out:

There is complete immunity in sinning; for when men have been placed in office by the favour of men, they are obliged to return the favour by continually showing indulgence to offenders. Just judgment is a thing of the past; and everyone walks according to his heart's desire. Vice knows no bounds; the people know no restraint. Men in authority are afraid to speak, for those who have reached power by human interest are the slaves of those to whom they owe their advancement.

It appears that no form of church polity can be itself a safeguard from corruption by sinful human beings in ecclesiastical office. Every officer in the Church remains a sinner. Our own Synodical President reminded our Convention of this when he was elected; that we’d kept our perfect record of only electing sinners! And yet through the mess, the mighty Word of the Lord preserves the little flock, despite us. It's a lesson from the past worth remembering.

19 October 2018

18 October 2018

When you ask a favor from a very gifted friend...

...you end up very blessed. Thank you, Kantor Gerike! 

11 October 2018

I think Evangeline

Looks a wee bit like her mommy did...


I'm NOT a numbers person. In fact, Deaconess Bowers and I have an agreement: she takes care of numbers; I take care of words. But I got curious and asked for some further numbers today about Thy Strong Word, the radio show/podcast that I host on KFUO and that covers a chapter of God's Word a day on average. This blew me out of the water. 

I began the show in August of 2014. The average number of downloads per month that year was 2,691. By the end of the following year, 2015, that had climbed to an average monthly download of 9,973. By the end of 2016, it sat at 16,139 downloads per month. By the end of 2017 at 23,315 per month. As for 2018, we're not done yet, but as of the end of September we were hitting 32,886 average downloads per month. In the total four year life of the show through September of this year, the program has been downloaded 902,539 times! We're closing in on a million!!!

This fills my heart with great joy. There is nothing that is nearer or dearer to my heart than the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren that happens over the opened Scriptures. I hope that God's strong Word continues to gather listeners to itself and to work mightily in their lives. If you're not a regular listener, check it out. Here's today’s show with Pr. Ruback of Grace Chapel on Job 17:

08 October 2018

Three Things

I'm a bit of an obsessive optimizer. I'm always studying to see if there's a way to do something better. I tried for a bit that whole GTD system and even shelled out for Omnifocus software to help. I made my physical inbox and bought my labeller for the files and, well, you get the idea. But the more complex it got, the more my enthusiasm faded. And I looked for something, well, simpler. And I found it.

What I have found works a hundred thousand times better for me is the "three things" method. It has succeeded in clearing away piles of assignments like nothing else I've ever tried. How does it work? At its base level it’s just this: deciding the evening before what three things you will accomplish on the morrow.

I find that it works best if the top of the list is given to the thing I've been dreading or procrastinating on the most. Bust through that and the other two usually are that much easier to accomplish.

I don't include the stuff that I have to do every day (it would be cheating, for instance, for me to include: “Do Thy Strong Word radio show.”). The three things are not so much meetings or appointments that need doing, but TASKS that are in my bailiwick. Dare I say “chores”?

I’ll use today's example: first thing was contact a banner artist about a bid for some banners for the IC Chapel. I'd tried to make contact in the past, but we'd played phone tag. Today we made contact, determined next steps, and I dispatched my obligations in the next steps rather simply. Took some pictures, thought of some hymns, and shipped out an email to her. Cross that off till I hear back from her. Then I had wanted to study St. Thomas Aquinas' commentary on the chapter of Job that would be discussed in today's Thy Strong Word. Did that—he's pretty amazing—and assembled a few notes to use. Last but not least, Pr. Vieker had helpfully suggested compiling a number of prayers for the sick and for missionaries that we could offer our pastors to use during our regular chapels rather than the same set three or four prayers from the Altar Book each time. This took the most time today, but I did that, printed out a couple copies, emailed them to Deaconess Bowers who distributed to those who assist in chapel. And there it was. Three things I wanted to get done today. Three things that got done today. And now I'm in “what's up for tomorrow?” mode.

Oh, and if I think of a task during the day, but that's not on my three? I have a general page in my Reminders app that just keeps a list of tasks I need to or want to do. There's no ranking, no prioritizing. It's just a storage box to remember what I need to get done. I put anything that occurs to me in there, along with any new assignments that come my way, and then promptly stop worrying about them. Each evening, that list is the first place I examine to determine what I'll put on my Three Things list for the next day.

Part of the genius of three things is that it keeps me from feeling snowed under. I have just three things to get done today. I try to give them my all. I block out interruptions. I try to get them done in a way that I am proud of what I've done. At first, whenever I finished my three things, I'd immediately turn to the list to see what else I could knock off. But the longer I've lived with and learned to trust the simplicity of the system, the less inclined I am to do that. Instead, I give myself permission to relax a bit: read, ponder, learn something new, catch up on email, journal, go for a walk, visit with folks (that's part of my job too!), think. After all, by week's end, God willing, there will be 15 items knocked off that list even just doing three per day.

I hope all that makes some sense. It's been a life changer for me. Easy enough to keep track of and simple to maintain. Do any of you guys follow something similar?

P.S. I do keep separate three things list for personal and for work. My personal list is weekly rather than daily, and leans toward weekend warrior type stuff.

07 October 2018

Ann E. (Bullard) Pemberton

She's not buried in the cemetery where most of the family is, but oddly enough, in a plot all by herself right behind Richardsville Methodist Church, surrounded by this little iron fence.

I obviously never met this woman. She was born in 1828. But she's been part of my life as long as I can remember.

She's my paternal grandmother's maternal grandmother. Her father died when she was about three. I had several of her school books, still covered in the cloth coverings she made for them. She attended Orchard Farm School. Spellers, history books, and some English books that are some pretty tough reading! I believe Lauren has most of them now. Next to my bed is the wash-stand her husband made. In my dining room is a bench that my grandkids just ate on and that her husband made. The matching table also happens to be in my basement as my desk, and also made by Thomas.

Her visage greets me every morning and evening, from the picture hanging beside my closet and looking at the night stand that sat beside her bed a century and a half ago. In another ten years it will be 200 years since she was born. But her memory lives on. The past has never seemed to terribly distant to me. I think growing up with folks like Ann E. Pemberton explains that a bit...

The Family

Lauren, Dean and children arrived on Thursday, and so had all the kids and grandkids hanging around. It was a joy to spend a few days all together. Totally insane, understand, but a joy. Eight little ones six and under. Most days we maxed out the table (set for ten) and two high chairs and some of us ate in the living room. We had lots of laughter, crying, hooping and hollering, admonitions about inside voices, and a great time. Sawyer, oldest grandson, can be so like me in temperament that it is spooky. He had trouble a few nights actually going to sleep because he just wanted to be home. How vividly I remember my extreme discomfort spending the night anywhere but home when I was his age (truthfully, I still have the anxiety, but I've learned to manage, as he will too). I always find the hubbub a mysterious mix of jarring and delightful, and wouldn't miss it for all the world. It's the only time I wish the house were just, well, bigger. Would be wonderful to have a better and more convenient gathering space and dining area. Every once in a while, I just escaped to our bedroom, shut the door, and sipped a cup of coffee in peace, took a deep breath and then plunged back into the riotous and joyful pandemonium. Oh, and of course there was a game of liverpool for the “middle generation” (except Rebekah) and Lauren, I do believe, was the big winner. And now in the silence that is both so peaceful and so sad, Tolkein comes to mind: But all the while I sit and think of times that were before / I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.