Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: A Humbling Year

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.  - Romans 8:28a
I know I know, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. I’ve honestly loved the thought of maintaining a regular blog, but with working full time, commuting 7 hours/week, and preparing for seminary (by the way in case any readers weren’t aware), I haven’t been incredibly motivated to keep posting regularly. As much as I love sharing material I come across and as much as I love writing, I’m not quite at the time of my life where blogging can be as much of a priority as I’d like it to be. That being said, blogging is still a fantastic way to form and communicate thoughts in a semi-private/semi-public way that holds me accountable to my words and yet won’t grade me on every single grammatical or syntax error. So resetting expectations, you might see weeks, months, or even years pass between posts, but check back from time to time because I do intend to post if time and priorities and interest allows.

Like now! I want to finish 2012 with some reflections on this last year tied in with what I initially intended to this blog to be: sharing what I am learning. And boy am I...

1.    I am learning that I miss college...a lot. While I certainly am happy to have graduated and to be in a well-paying job, nothing beats the constant day to day interaction with so many awesome people and the intellectual stimulation classes bring and oh, not to mention, the Pride of Oklahoma. One thing I don’t miss though is late, late nights doing homework, that’s for sure. I have also been incredibly blessed to still be in Norman in order to strengthen and maintain certain friendships with those who I wish to remain friends with long after our vocations lead us away from one another (geographically).

2.    I am learning that I got SUPER lucky with finding a great job to start me off out of college and hopefully transition me to seminary. It is definitely not something I want to do my whole life, but it requires a college degree, pays more than Best Buy or waiting tables, and I am genuinely challenged every day with interacting with diverse people, making quick and important decisions, strengthening my organization and time management skills, and serving a heck of a whole lot of people who get into car accidents. Not to mention the people I work with are awesome, and my boss is pretty chill. I am pretty much used to my 45 minute commute each way by now, and I really am enjoying the time to wind down after a day’s work. I am thankful for having been given such an opportunity.

3.     I am learning how remarkable these people are, and how much I will miss my sister when she goes to Italy all next semester:

4.    I am learning that I do not take a long-term relationship breakup all. Combining that with the changes that come with graduation made for a pretty darn difficult summer and fall. I could almost write a novel with how much this breakup has taught me and the struggles I’ve gone through, but I’ll just give a brief cliffnotes version about what it’s taught me that avoids some of the messy details. 
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:8-9
This breakup, as in the complete termination of our relationship (even a platonic one) and the hopes of a future family together rooted in Christ, has flat out sucked. There’s no sugar coating it. The effects of our sin against each other, the lack of honesty, and the lack of forgiveness has been felt hundredfold and has been hard as could be to put away and move on. One thing that has happened, though, is that I have grown immensely from it. Despite how horrible this experience has been, I am being made better for the trials I have had to endure. That being said, I will be the last person to say that God is the one who caused our breakup, for I know that nothing that happened in the course of our breakup is anything God would actually call good. However, just as God constantly in Scripture takes the horrifying events caused by our sin and the devil’s influence and makes good out of them (you know, like that whole promising a Savior to Adam and Eve after they rebelled against God thing or the whole never forsaking Israel and bringing forth a Messiah despite how wretched and unfaithful Israel was to God...thing), likewise, I have seen the good that has come out of this awful breakup and I’m positive that God will reveal in due time out of his love and mercy even more blessings as a result. For starters, I see my mistakes, even from the beginning, and I see certain things that were done and not done that led to what became. Lastly for this post, I am learning just how hard forgiveness really is, and it has given me an incredible appreciation for how our Lord never forsakes those who believe in Him and always forgives us despite how constant and how terribly we live as the unfaithful wretched sinners we are.

5. I am learning that time doesn’t heal. Jesus does.

6. I am learning immense empathy (Note: Sympathy is to have compassion towards someone, even though you may never have gone through what they are. Empathy, on the other hand, is having compassion and being able to relate as someone who has gone through something similar) towards those who go through hard long-term breakups, or even divorces. Although as unbearable at times as my breakup has been, nothing can compare to the tragedy of a wife or husband sitting alone with three children because he or she has been abandoned by one who has said the “I do” at marriage. Nevertheless, I know now how real that pain is. Call me crazy, but I am convinced that divorce and separation is just as bad of an effect of the fall into sin as death itself. For divorce and separation represents a living death, that is, losing a loved one to sin who is yet still living and a constant reminder that it is our own sin that caused such a living death.

7.  I am learning how to recognize the devil’s voice, and also how powerful the devil can be when he presents the lie that God can be found in our feelings, our hands, and our minds to lead us away from the one true God who can only be found in His Word, and only through the Word are we shown what our purpose in life is. Yes I know, I am reflecting the thoughts of Jonathan Fisk’s Broken: 7 Christian Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible, but it’s impossible to not also use what he has to say and relate it to the experiences I’ve endured this year.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  - 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
8.  I am learning that I may not have great direct revelations from God like our friend Paul to keep me from becoming conceited, but holy crap, my back hurts. It started with a little neck soreness right around graduation when everything stressful was coming to a head: finals, graduation, people I love leaving, new job. This little neck soreness became infinitely worse and started to extend down my entire back after the breakup and it’s been a constant battle trying to relieve the pain. To say it’s been humbling would be an understatement, and yet, by it I am learning what it means to suffer alongside my Savior who no matter what will never leave or forsake me.

9. Along the same lines, I am learning patience. Patience that my job will get better as I become more familiar with the systems. Patience that I will be seen through the pain of the breakup. Patience that in due time I will be back in the classroom and surrounded again by awesome like-minded people. Patience that I will be healed of my back pain eventually, even if that eventually isn’t until I’m delivered from all evil and am brought to the side of my Lord. Patience that the Lord will provide for me another chance at a wife and family, and if that never does come, that same patience that in the end everything will be redeemed and exceedingly better in the next life anyways.

10. I am learning that baseball may just be the best sport on the planet, but man, the Rangers are a hard team to be a fan of. Patience, Kurt, patience...

11. I am learning the beauty and genius of Luther’s Small Catechism. Re-committing it to heart has been so helpful at times that my mind wants to wander away to less than pleasant thoughts. Get it. Learn it. Love it.

12. I am learning that Facebook is not always the greatest place for discussing certain issues, though it certainly isn’t the worst.

13. I am learning about this guy and his total kick-butt pagan temple destroying story:

Seriously though, I’ve “read” the Old Testament before, but to read it in such depth and along with such a phenomenal overview commentary that places Jesus at the center has been such a revitalizing journey.

14. I am learning that I can grow a pretty sweet and full beard!

15. I am learning that through everything the devil and the world throws at me, God is there for me and will always work in mysterious ways and through the humble means of water, bread, wine, and of course, people. I am thankful for every single person who has brought the love of God to me either in the form of the saints at Trinity Lutheran Church (and especially Vicar who has been there for me so much), family, faithful friends in K-Psi and TBS, and even my colleagues at work. Thank you all. I truly am blessed to the fullest, even in the midst of down moments.

What I look forward to learning this coming year:
  • How to cook! Okay, this one might take awhile...
  • How to be accepted to Concordia Seminary and/or Concordia Theological Seminary and make a decision to attend one of them for the next four years of my life which I will then look forward to learning how to become a faithful pastor!
  • How to be academic again and write gooder
  • How to maintain a more athletic lifestyle
  • How to not rely on my gut, my hands, or my head but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
  • How to read the New Testament in its original language
  • How to see without glasses OR contacts
  • How to love a new nephew and other new family members
2012 had its ups. It certainly had its downs. One thing it certainly did have though: Humility. This is a good thing. Here's to 2013!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Thomas Lake at Sports Illustrated, a magazine I used to read religiously in my youth, recently wrote a piece about how former NFL receiver Rae Carruth murdered his pregnant girlfriend, and remarkably the unborn boy survived. In probably the best piece of journalism I've read in a VERY long time entitled "The Boy They Couldn't Kill," Lake tells the story of how the boy's grandmother, Saundra Adams, has handled the cross of mourning the death of her daughter, caring for the miracle child, all while fighting for custody from the man who wanted to kill both her daughter and her grandson, and got away with only her daughter. Probably just as remarkable as the boy surviving is how the grandmother speaks of Carruth:
"I'm not gonna have anything negative to say about him," she says. "I thank him for my grandson. I thank him for my grandson."
There's no way I can appropriately summarize such a story. You've got to go and read it all yourself. You'll be glad you did. As for me, this story helped me think about something I've been struggling with for some time now—what the author refers to as the second kind of forgiveness:
The first kind of forgiveness is the easy kind. Someone wounds you, and in time this offender comes to see what he has done. He returns to lay the crime at your feet. And when you reach down to pull him up a sort of charge passes between you, a cleansing force that refreshes both souls.

Candle flame and volcano. The second kind of forgiveness is a rare occurrence that becomes rarer as the crime grows more severe. In this case the offender gives nothing. He never comes to you. And when you go to him, he turns you away. This leaves you alone with your open wound and a solitary choice. No one will blame you either way. But the wound is yours to keep, or let go, and that choice may plot the course for the rest of your life.
The past few months I have struggled with this second kind of forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that every sin-stained bone of your body doesn't want to give. The kind of forgiveness that rarely those who you talk to who knows the sin says the other person is deserving of such forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that you may never be rewarded with that "cleansing force" that comes when the brother or sister who wrongs you lays down the crime at your feet.

The wound is mine to keep or let go. No person will blame me either way. However, I am reminded of The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
 This parable comes immediately after a teaching from Jesus about your brother sinning against you:
"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone . . . And if he refuses to listen . . . let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 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."- Matthew 18:15-18
I have the choice to allow my brother to refuse to listen to me and let him be, but I do not have the choice to not forgive. And how often? Not just seven times, but seventy seven times, even if I'm turned away seventy seven times. For whatever I bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. While no person will blame me if I never forgive the one who sinned against me, my lack of mercy on my brother will be bound to me in heaven. Thanks be to God for the Christ who shows mercy on all of us who sin against Him and His creation day in and day out, and yet never ceases to forgive.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand? - Ps. 130:3

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New Favorite Hymn

Issues, Etc. did a series this week where each day they studied one of the top 5 hymns voted on by their listeners. The hymn they studied on Tuesday, "The Church's One Foundation," has without a doubt become my new favorite hymn. I hope to hear this masterpiece played at my wedding, my funeral, and many many more times in my life.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heav'n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

Elect from ev'ry nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation:
One Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With ev'ry grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
This world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping;
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.

Through toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore
Till with the vision glorious
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great church victorious
Shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth has union
With God, the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
O blessed heav'nly chorus!
Lord, save us by Your grace
That we, like saints before us.
May see You face to face.
Which is your favorite hymn?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fishers of Men

Helpful analogies are helpful, and while all analogies seem to have their downfalls when misused, it's comforting that our own Lord made this analogy. It's like He knows how all of His creation behaves or something...
It happens quite frequently when people find out that I do college ministry. They comment with words similar to this: “That’s awesome! What a tremendous opportunity!” I agree wholeheartedly with that assessment. But then comes the question, “How large is your group?” I tell them: “Three so far.” (We’ve been up to five and down to two.) The response? An uncomfortable “Oh.”
For some reason, many people think that college ministry should be easy. They have in their minds our Lord’s words to Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), and they believe that the college campus is the ideal setting to fish for men. It actually is, but that doesn’t mean that the fish jump into the boat any more than they do in any other setting in the world.
I’ve watched fellow pastors analyze LCMS campus ministry opportunities by looking at the size of the school. For example, the thinking is that since there are over 5,000 students at a particular school, surely we should be able to get our share of converts and have at least 50 (1 percent) in a college group. It doesn’t always work that way. In fact, not even all the LCMS students come to Lutheran student groups or attend church.
Regarding Christ’s words about fishing for men, a wise pastor once taught me that fish don’t want to be caught. Peter and Andrew were fishermen, and they knew this truth. That’s why they cast a net. The fish that they sought on a daily basis were happy to swim away, but the net brought them in.
Check out the rest at Fish Don't Want to be Caught >> Higher Things.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Forgotten Demographic

Call one of the biggest questions facing our country an equal rights movement, an attack on freedom of religion, or what have you, but all too often we often forget the one demographic most affected by the question of same-sex marriage: children.
Between 1973 and 1990, when my beloved mother passed away, she and her female romantic partner raised me. They had separate houses but spent nearly all their weekends together, with me, in a trailer tucked discreetly in an RV park 50 minutes away from the town where we lived. As the youngest of my mother’s biological children, I was the only child who experienced childhood without my father being around.
After my mother’s partner’s children had left for college, she moved into our house in town. I lived with both of them for the brief time before my mother died at the age of 53. I was 19. In other words, I was the only child who experienced life under “gay parenting” as that term is understood today.
Quite simply, growing up with gay parents was very difficult, and not because of prejudice from neighbors. People in our community didn’t really know what was going on in the house. To most outside observers, I was a well-raised, high-achieving child, finishing high school with straight A’s.
Inside, however, I was confused. When your home life is so drastically different from everyone around you, in a fundamental way striking at basic physical relations, you grow up weird. I have no mental health disorders or biological conditions. I just grew up in a house so unusual that I was destined to exist as a social outcast.
Via Growing Up With Two Moms: The Untold Children’s View

The essay has some problems that will keep it from becoming a big Internet sensation, but his reflection on his life are at least worth some pondering and wondering what other voices we are not hearing and are grossly affected by the outcome of how our nation answers this question.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Honored + Hercules v. Sebelius

Todd Wilken, host of Issues, Etc., recently selected my blog post, Wir sind alle Mörder, as the Issues, Etc. blog of the week! As someone who hasn't even been doing this for a month and who I still consider very intellectually immature, I am honored to have such recognition on an internationally broadcasted and high quality Christian radio program. Hopefully to the new readers of this blog (pageviews have definitely skyrocketed!), you find my thoughts and things that I share worthy of your reading time as I continue to learn how to best utilize this great first article gift of blogging. Thanks in advance for your loyalty!

Now on to more pressing matters. Ever since the HHS came out with its mandate back in January to require employers to include contraceptive (and arguably, abortifacient) coverage in their health insurance plans, even employers with religious objections, I have been glued to the coverage and developments. Even though it wasn't even noticed in the media for about a month, I believe that so much concerning the future prosperity of America depends on what happens with this bill. Why so dramatic? The freedom the government gives to the people to be able to practice their religion howsoever they wish is the very backbone to the freedoms that have been fought for and have made this country as great as it is. Once a nation loses religious freedom, it's only a matter of time before more and more freedoms are removed from us. Singing the concluding words of the Star Spangled Banner, "O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave" would be as dishonest to sing as if I were to sing the chorus of Macho Man. Luckily, I am very optimistic that this is a fight that the First Amendment will win. The mandate goes in effect in part beginning Wednesday (which is coincidentally Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, a response to those who wish to restrict the free speech of Chick-Fil-A's leadership to make public statements on an issue of morality, and restrict the free practice of religion as Chick-Fil-A as a corporation wishes to donate to specific causes that align with their religious morals). Those employers who have religious objections and who primarily employ and serve those who have the same affiliation, which will be a mess for the government to determine, will be exempt for a year. Those who object who don't fall under this category? Well, yesterday saw the first ruling on a lawsuit against the mandate when a federal court ruled against the mandate in Hercules v. Sebelius.

The U.S. District Court for Colorado on Friday blocked the Obama administration from requiring an air-conditioning company in Colorado to provide no co-pay contraceptives to its employees, as the Affordable Care Act directs.

It was, as Sam Baker points out, the first time a federal court has ruled against that provision of the health-care law.

It’s not yet, however, exactly a victory for the contraceptive mandate’s opponents: The injunction is specific to that one company, and it holds only until the judge can reach a verdict on the case’s merits. Still, it could mark the start of a long period of litigation involving one of the health-care law’s most polarizing provisions.

Hercules v. Sebelius is a case brought by Hercules Industries, a Colorado-based air-conditioning company. The four siblings who own the business say they oppose contraceptives — such medications are not included in their current health coverage plan — and “seek to run Hercules in a manner that reflects their sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
As the article points out, the case isn't completely over, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. Here's to hoping more progress is made, the mandate is eventually struck from the books, and every school history book adds a 50 page discourse on how irrational this mandate was from the beginning.

Till then...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Simul justus et peccator

Issues, Etc. conveniently did an interview this week with Pr. Bill Cwirlla on the very principle of simultaneously saint and sinner that I discussed in my first blog post. Check it out!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wir sind alle Mörder

Having friends in Aurora and having been to a very welcoming church in Aurora (just a mile from the suspect’s apartment), and, admittedly, having received a speeding ticket in the city of Aurora, my heart sank at such news that I awoke to that morning. Not necessarily just for the city of Aurora, but for the families and friends of all the victims, both living and those who have deceased. No words can truly express the pain and suffering that the victims and their families are feeling.

Many things could be said concerning this horrible tragedy. We could talk about the eeriness of the incident occurring in the middle of a movie that pits obvious pure good vs. obvious pure evil. We could talk about the effects of violence in movies, television, and video games. We could talk about how this scene could have played out differently in the midst of different gun laws.  Thoughts and emotions in times like these go in every direction: from sadness to anger to a realization of how fragile we are and how such a world we live in is capable of such evil.

We think about the facts of what happened, specifically in regards to the person of James Holmes. He dyed his hair to resemble the Joker. He wore protective gear that made him look like the real-life villain that was being dramatized on the silver screen. He looked at the faces of hundreds of people who had no intent to harm him and tried to take as many of their lives as he could. He took a dose of vicodin to calm his nerves prior to the attack. His apartment had been rigged to detonate explosives to any who would enter, intending to take even more lives. His neighbors say that techno music with sounds like gunshots in the music played on loop that night of the attack. All signs point to him being as the media portrays him: someone who was not a normal person, someone who was mentally deranged, and even someone who psychologists categorize as a “Lone Wolf Killer,” that is to say, among a completely different species! Surely, he is not one of us, or at least no one like me. I, as a normal functioning decent human being would never in my wildest imagination remotely consider willingly killing someone, let alone a dozen someones. Why would anyone have such intent to kill people who were completely innocent and in no way deserving to die, especially at such a young age?

Strange and horrific as the events and details are, James grew up with us. He was one of us. He went to our high school. He played on our soccer team. He is reported as having been a loner, to be sure, but I certainly regard myself as a loner from time to time when I wish to just do my own thing for a night. He never caused conflict and certainly never showed signs of violence. He went to our college. He got our coveted Bachelors degree, our Masters degree, and was on his way to the pinnacle of human achievement: the PhD. Surely this murderer had gotten some things right. Right? He probably has let an elderly lady go in front of him in line at Wal-Mart. He probably kissed his mother and told her how much he loved her. He probably meant a great deal and has had a positive influence in the lives of at least some people. Yeah, he had this one little mess-up this one night where he may have let his emotions get the best of him, but we all mess up from time to time and we surely all do things we regret. Surely God will let this man into heaven, who really does have enough good inside of him. You just have to look hard enough.

Okay, okay. Quit yelling at your screen. He was a cold blooded murderer. I get that.

But wait—So am I. So are you. So are all of us.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. – Matthew 5:22
Have you ever had someone cut in front of you in traffic and you give them a nice little hand signal or say any number of four letter words? Think of a time when someone sinned against you. What was your kneejerk reaction? Think of another time where someone sinned against you, but instead you let your anger grow over multiple days. Then finally one day you see the person again and you really let them hear it. They sinned against you so terribly, after all. They deserved it. Then, you look back at that time later on and think to yourself, “Man, that was just not me in my right mind and something that I should not have done. I shouldn’t have said those things I did. That doesn’t make me any better of a person to tell them off like that.”

In a time where our anger boils over “evil” people like the Joker, people like Bane, Republicans like Mitt Romney, Democrats like Barack Obama, murderers like James Holmes. Let us remember who it is that actually killed those “innocent” people in the theatre.

You did. I did.

Let us remember who it is that actually killed the only innocent human that has ever lived in this world and who is the only person whose thoughts, words, and actions truly didn't merit death.

You did. I did.
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. – Acts 2:23
By our sins, by our murder we commit with our mouths and heart on a daily basis, we put Jesus on the cross. By every sin we commit, there is Jesus dangling on the cross, taking every little shot we give him. Jesus, however, didn’t just take the shots of the Romans who nailed him to the tree, he took the shots of the murder of my neighbors when I lashed out against them. He took the shots of the murder of your neighbors when you lashed out against them too. He took every one of James’ murders in the theatre that night on to Himself, as if Jesus Himself were jumping in front of every bullet.

And what did Jesus do after taking all of those shots? He died. He died the painful, horrific, gory death of every single person in this world who has ever died, including especially the deaths of those in the theatre. But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus, having taken our murders with him on the cross, rose again from the dead into new life, completely removing all the sins of the world. All of those gunshots? Gone. All of those times we murdered our neighbor by insulting him? Gone.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:37-38
Baptism? What does Baptism have to do with this?
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:3-5
By the glory of the Father, those who died in the theatre that tragic night who believed and were baptized can confidently proclaim with the rest of those who have gone on to be with the Lord before us, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 

For those in Christ who died the tragic death that night are not actually dead, but sleeping. Thanks be to God that despite our own murders which makes ourselves deserving of death, that He will one day raise us again into eternal life.

Psychologists have tried to describe what it is that caused someone like James to have such a fall from being someone who was on the road to a doctorate and someone who seemed to have no problems with the police or seemed to struggle with any particular problems to someone who opened fire in a theatre. From what I remembered from the ABC News broadcast, they were saying that because it appears now that James had no vendetta against the movie-making industry or was targeting one specific person who had wronged him, this was most likely the case of someone who had fallen into a deep depression and who looked at the cause of his distress as simply other people. He could not pinpoint specific people that led to his depression, but he knew that other people had wronged him, and he needed to get back in some way. He let his anger build, and build, and build. In the eyes of God, he had already committed murder more often than he did that tragic night. James Holmes lashed out on his anger just like we lash out on our anger. Now let me point you to a specific detail that has often gotten lost in the shuffle of all of the news surrounding this tragedy:

Teams of police, firefighters, and scientists have been coming together to try to figure out how to get into James’ apartment without setting off the booby traps that could potentially ignite the entire complex. Why were those booby traps set in the first place? To kill any police officer or detective who would break into his apartment after the shooting. How did they know that the apartment was booby trapped?

James told them. Maybe even for a split second, this murderer felt remorse for his actions, just like we have our moments where we realize just how badly we angered against our own neighbors who have sinned against us. Who knows. Hopefully time will answer these questions about why this had to happen.

I do want to note, his actions are in no way excusable when it comes to the authority of the left-hand kingdom to punish and subdue those who have done evil, and I certainly hope he is brought to justice for his actions that night (and certainly, the death penalty is certainly in order in an event as tragic as this). I certainly will never wish that he gets acquitted of his actions in this lifetime, but the hope still remains for James as it does with all of us who lash out on our anger, that we realize what we have done against the Lord and our neighbor, repent and be forgiven. We pray that the Holy Spirit brings James to repentance and forgiveness in the washing of rebirth and regeneration in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Wir sind alle Mörder. We are all murderers.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Imagine with Me

It's 1993. A young pastor, just a few years out of seminary, receives a call to serve Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, ND. Population...let's just say 10,000.

"North Dakota? There's nothing there! Why in the world would I want to spend my life and ministry in the middle of nowhere North Dakota of all places?"

19 years later, Rev. Jay Reinke couldn't have dreamed of a better opportunity. 1 If I were to ever become a pastor, I can only hope to have stories like Pastor Reinke. 2 And be able to share the message that no one else is saying. 3

1 Issues, Etc. "A Lutheran Church Sheltering Job-Seekers — Pr. Jay Reinke, 7/13/12"
2 Soundbite from 8:04 to 10:15 (My favorite bit from the interview)
3 Candidate for Issues, Etc. "Soundbite of the Week"

It's been awhile since I've been as sucked into my earplugs and hanging on every word as much as I was while listening to this interview with Pastor Reinke. Definitely worth your time.

For more background on the situation the story comes out of, see the corresponding CBS News story.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dying For Your Spouse

Saw this post by Chris Krycho over at Ardent Fidelity three weeks ago and instantly knew I would have to share it when I started my blog. These are phenomenal thoughts from a phenomenal Christian thinker, husband, and father. In an age when nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and marriage itself is being redefined and used as an arbitrary contract of friendship, this is a refreshing break. Christ never promised life as a Christian in this flawed world would be easy (quite the opposite!) and he certainly never promised marriage would be easy either. And yet, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Cor 4:8-9) and "God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:10-11) God builds us up through our sufferings. For it is by the innocent suffering and death of our Lord that we are given eternal life and will be delivered from the sufferings of this world.

Marriage and Depression

When Jaimie and I got married, she had been clinically depressed for at least six months; perhaps even as far back as the beginning of our ten and a half month engagement. (I was aware of this; she was in denial.) Four months after we got back from our honeymoon, she confessed to me that she no longer wanted be alive. The two and a half years since then have been a bumpy road, but by the grace of God we’re still here and doing well. Things are better now—not perfect, but better.
There are some resources out there—not enough, but some—for people walking through depression. There are far fewer for the people walking alongside them: a role that is, in many ways, just as difficult. To watch as a beloved family member—especially a spouse—deals with depression is incredibly painful and difficult. There is an enormous sense of powerlessness and frustration. We are often at a loss for words, for deeds, for any response at all. We desperately want to help, and most often find there is nothing we can do but pray. It is hard, and lonely, and people will sympathize with you even less than they do with your spouse.
So perhaps some of what I learned about walking alongside your spouse when he or she is struggling with depression will help others.

The hero

You are not the hero of this story. Jesus is. The sooner you get that, the sooner you’ll have any chance at all of really helping your spouse in this time.
The hard reality—and the good reality—is that, much as we want to, we cannot fix our spouse’s depression. No words, no encouragement, no number of chores taken up on their behalf will do the trick. There is no switch to flip, no magic incantation to take away the darkness. That doesn’t make those things meaningless. Your spouse needs every bit of help you can give. But operate with no illusions: you will not make your husband or wife better with those actions.
This is freeing, really. You can simply do your best every moment, and trust that God is bigger and greater and capable of doing all you cannot do. You can’t carry her; don’t try. Do what you can do.
Love unconditionally—really unconditionally. Pray like crazy, and all the time. Remind your spouse of the gospel: all that God has done on her behalf, all that he is doing in the world, all that he will do in the end. Remind him of God’s incredible love, poured out on his behalf. Remind her that he made her, that he delights in her, that she reflects his glory, that she is precious in his sight. Remind him that Jesus died on his behalf and now lives on his behalf, always praying for him. . .
Read the rest at Ardent Fidelity >> Marriage and Depression

We don't marry because we desire a lifelong friend. We marry because "Jesus died to show us his love; we now get to die to show our spouses his love." We pray that God may grant us spouses whom we die for and who die for us and produce children whom we also die for. The ultimate goal being that together we may fight the good fight of the faith in a broken world wth broken consciences and broken bodies into an everlasting life where we will be brought into a new world with cleansed consciences and mended bodies— free from sin. That is why we marry. Thanks be to God for husbands in the world like Chris who show us what sacrifice in marriage is all about. A struggle indeed, but a worthy struggle.

Monday, July 9, 2012

More than voices on your shoulders

The conscience is like the...stomach? Check out these thoughts from an awesome pastor, Bryan Wolfmueller, who I had the pleasure of meeting last March and serves Hope Lutheran in Aurora, CO. He's also the home pastor for two of my best friends and co-hosts a radio show, Table Talk Radio, with another old friend.

Something’s Gone Wrong, The Four Things Your Conscience Knows

Everyone has a conscience, and this conscience tells us, “Things are not like they are supposed to be.” “Something’s wrong here!” That’s the voice of your conscience. It is a voice that accuses or excuses (Romans 2:15), that lets us know that this world is broken.
I think our conscience recognizes four types of wrong in the world: (1) something is wrong with the way I treat others, (2) something is wrong with the way others treat me, (3) something is wrong with the way other people treat other people, and (4) something is wrong with the world. Each of these conscience insights brings it own temptation, a false and sinful response to the voice of our conscience.

My voice is easier to hear than your conscience.
An Imprecise Instrument
The conscience is like our stomach, a very imprecise instrument. Our stomach tells us that we need to eat something so we stop hurting, but it does not tell us what to eat, when to eat, how to go to school to learn to read and write so that we can get a job and earn a living to buy food. Our stomach simply says, “Make the pain stop.” Many people have been led astray by their stomach, eating something deadly, drinking salt-water, etc.
So our conscience: it tells us that something is wrong, but does not give us directions to stop the pain. This, dear friends, is why there are so many religions, and so many worldviews. Every false religion is a man-made attempt to end the pain of our conscience. They all follow the same logic: My conscience is bad because I do bad things, so it will be good if I do good things. My conscience is bad because other people do bad things to me, so it will be good if other people treat me right. My conscience is bad because there are things wrong in the world, so it will be good if things in this world are fixed. Every religion (and worldview) combats a bad conscience with good works, but this never works. No matter how hard we try there is still sin, and death, and destruction, and things wrong around us.
Check out the rest at  The World-Wide Wolfmueller: Something’s Gone Wrong, The Four Things Your Conscience Knows

Also check out his interview on Issues, Etc. on this topic.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

*Simultaneously* Sinner and Saint

Greetings and welcome to the first blog post of Sinner Born, Sinner and Saint Bred! I have always been intrigued by blogs and have had the desire to start my own for quite awhile. Now that I am a graduate and starting to settle into my new job, I figure now is as good of time as any! First, an explanation of the blog title. It’s a play on the mantra of the University of Oklahoma: "Sooner born, Sooner bred (and when I die I’ll be Sooner dead)" with one of the fundamental truths of Christianity commonly referred to as Simul justus et peccator, or simultaneously Saint (Justified) and Sinner. One thing that is not emphasized in the blog title that deserves some attention is the simul, or simultaneously. That is, as Christians living on this side of the Resurrection, we are not just saints in certain instances and sinners in others, but rather everything we do is infected with the disease of sin that we have inherited from birth (Psalm 51:5, Rom. 5:12; Rom. 3:9-26). Fortunately for us, we have a Savior, the very Son of God, who came into this world in human flesh, lived the perfect life, fulfilled the Law perfectly, took our sin upon Himself, and died on the cross so He could take on the full punishment of sin for us. Three days later He rose again from the dead, bringing with Him all authority on Heaven and on Earth to be the one true salvation for all sinners. His righteousness, His perfect death and resurrection is given to all those who believe and have been united with Christ in Baptism. His forgiveness and perfect atoning body and blood is given in the Lord’s Supper. His forgiveness, life, and salvation are given in His Word. Therefore, those who believe are justified, a saint, while at the same time always a sinner. Not just occasionally, but continuously and simultaneously. We are sinful in everything we do. We are forgiven in everything we do. This is the life of a Christian until the Day comes where our sin will be completely removed from us and the dead will be reunited with their bodies and join Christ in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

As most of you in the blogosphere know, blogs take on different styles or focuses. Whether that is journaling life experiences, publicizing a portfolio, allowing future employers to see writing skills first hand, or even just sharing an opinion about a particular subject, blogs tend to take on different shapes and forms. One of my recent inspirations for starting a blog comes from Pastor Eric Brown’s post Made to Grow over at Confessional Gadfly:
One of the things I get told over and over by people is that I am to cherish these moments while my son is an infant.  It seems as if I talk to folks at any length of time - oh, this is such a good time, love every moment of it.

And I do... but... well.  This time isn't the point.

I was at my parents' house a few days ago, and my mom had a picture of Victor from around 7 months ago, right after he was born, and seeing it, I was struck at how much he had grown.  This didn't make me nostalgic... it made me pleased.

I mean, I loved my son 7 months ago... but now, he's much more active and responsive.  We have our own little customs and games that we like to play (he likes to try to eat my arm while I change his diaper... I said it was a game, I didn't say it was chess).  His personality is so much more developed; I know who he is and what he is like so much more.

But even this -- this isn't the point.  Soon, he will talk.  And then there will be even better communication.  And he will grow in wisdom and stature.  First there will be toddling, and then wiffle ball, then playing catch -- then even more.

We were made to grow.  We were made to mature and develop.  Parents have a job -- it's to guide their kids into adulthood -- where they are functioning, responsible adults.  And that's what I'm eager for.  It's something I've tended to think is what parents should be eager for...but hopefully the day will come when he doesn't *need* me anymore.  And that will be a good day.

We were made to grow.  This is a good thing.

Pastor Brown’s thoughts here on growth and learning will be the focus of my blog. Every day I find that I am constantly growing and learning the ways of the world and the Word. This type of growth does not end at adulthood, but carries on all the way until we are called out of this world. Every one of us begins our lives with little to no knowledge of anything. As we grow older, our knowledge grows by seeing how this world and the people and things of this world functions alongside us. Even more so, we grow in the knowledge of God by what He has revealed to us in Scripture about how He has intervened in the lives of those in the past who were also in this same repetitive cycle of growing and learning.

I’m now in a job where I’m going to constantly make mistakes. The software is outdated and very hard to use (although we are getting a full upgrade next spring). The training for claims adjusters is taking 9 weeks and for good reason. This last week I began taking the first notices of loss from real people who have been in real accidents and put everything I’ve learned so far to the test. I made mistakes. I’ve learned from those mistakes and will keep making more mistakes and heck, I will make many mistakes more than once! I look back at the beginning of my job and I already see so much I’ve already learned. I’ve learned the best places to go after I get off to wait out the OKC traffic. I’ve learned that I have to discipline myself to not read on my breaks because those are the times that my co-workers are all using to socialize and getting to know each other better. I’ve learned how important it is to record everything that I am doing with the customers so I can reference it and learn from it and keep a track record so I don’t, say, pay out on a claim twice. Not properly keeping track of my claims could easily be a one-way ticket back to the job market! The only way I keep this from happening is learning how to be more organized and efficient.

I have many goals for this blog. Now that I have graduated and don’t have assignments to pressure me to keep writing, having an outlet to continuously write will allow me to retain and develop further the writing skills I’ve learned in college. One thing I have also discovered recently is that I don’t seem to retain certain lessons learned if I am not constantly reflecting day after day on those lessons, leading me into greater chance of repeating mistakes I have already made or making mistakes on things I have done well in the past. I’m hoping this blog will give me another means to reflect on these things I’m learning.

I’m also a natural sharer, so most of my blog posts will be me sharing things from people I’m reading, blogs I’m surfing, things in the news, and everything in between. I admit that I am very young in my intellectual development, so many times when I post, I simply want to let the author speak and maybe I and my readers can talk a bit about it in the comments. Other times I might have some of my own thoughts I want to add on to the thing I'm sharing. I am thinking of also starting a Twitter that will allow me to share even more things in a more concise and frequent manner. Another big motivation to starting this blog is because Facebook has become so mysterious about whether or not people will be able to see certain posts in their news feed. I’ve also discovered through my years of Facebook sharing that certain people do not wish to see any bit of what I’m sharing, while others like and comment on just about everything and have even told me they like that I post the things I do. While of course a blog doesn’t guarantee that those who like what I share will see every post every time, but blogs have a better way to be followed than Facebook. There are many ways to go about this, but I will briefly detail how I keep track of blogs through what is known as RSS feed readers. For those who don’t know, many websites and just about every blog give off an RSS feed on each post. What you do is get an RSS feed reader (I prefer Google Reader) and subscribe to the blog or website, and every time the website or blog is updated with a new news article or blog post, the new post gets forwarded straight to your RSS feed reader! Really all this does is it lets you keep track of the websites and blogs you like to follow without having to go to each URL every time you want to check. With that said, subscribe to me!

One of the challenges I face taking on this new project is time. Time (or rather, the lack thereof) is the reason why it’s taken me so long to even start a blog, and even now that I’ve graduated, time is still really hard to come by. I am working 40 hours per week, but also commuting about 7-8 hours per week as well, which gives me about 3-4 hours each weekday that I’m not working, driving, or asleep. I figure, though, that many of those whose blogs I follow are able to grow a family, minister to a congregation, speak at conferences, and STILL maintain a blog, then certainly I can amp up my time management skills and at least post from time to time. Speaking of frequency of posts, since running a blog is a new venture for me, I am expecting posts to be pretty irregular. I am also hoping to learn both Greek and Hebrew (or at least Greek) in the coming year as well, so that will also take up a lot of those few hours in the middle of the week that I’m not working, eating, or sleeping.

So, dear reader, is the beneficiary of this blog you or me? I want both myself and my readers to get as much out of this blog as possible. Join me in my goal of constant growing and learning about the eternal Word and the temporal world. A common thing heard in today's culture is that it's a dog eat dog world and individual achievement and ability to learn on one's own is what will make someone stand out and be successful. It’s just not true. We are utterly dependent on those who love and care for us, most especially our Father in heaven. Join me in the discovery of new and old things we can learn and always improve upon. Interact with my posts in the comment section. Speaking of commenting, please see the link above for my comment policy which I have mixed and matched how other blogs handle their comments sections. This will probably get edited from time to time as I learn how to interact with comments. As this is the first time for me to blog, and just like all of us in our first times to do anything, we learn and make adjustments when we err. Please forgive me in advance for the times, especially in the beginning and especially regarding comments where I make mistakes and learn and make necessary adjustments.

If you haven’t figured it out already, the content of this blog will primarily be theological in nature, but I will also share other things, especially those things I feel I know least about, like being healthy, good exercises, organization and time management skills, or even trying to develop my EXTREMELY limited cooking abilities. So don’t be a quiet reader and interact in the comments on posts that intrigue you!

Sinner Born, Sinner and Saint Bred will take largely from sources from a Lutheran Christian perspective (the one that holds a quia subscription to the 1580 Book of Concord- because it agrees with Scripture and not the one that holds a quatenus subscription- in so far as it agrees with Scripture), which if you don’t have any familiarity with this confession of Christianity, you'll find out very quickly that we don’t always say what our world wants us to say if it’s opposed to that of Scripture. Lutheranism tends to offend the old Adam in us way more often than it pleases our sin-corrupted consciences.  Where the Bible speaks, we listen. For a better summary of this worldview, check out this page.

Life is about making mistakes and learning from them and being forgiven for them. Hopefully this adventure can be one additional way for me to learn more from my mistakes and maybe even make more mistakes to learn from, or maybe even learn from the mistakes others have made!

Maybe something you readers can help me learn about already are cautions when blogging and putting myself out on the Internet in such a public way. What has been your experience? What lessons have you learned? What have been some of your bigger mess-ups?

Till next time!