Saturday, November 18, 2017

Shaken Beliefs






There have been many times I have had my beliefs shaken. But until recently, I have been able to go back to the fundamentals of the Lutheran faith. And that is the point of this post - not to teach these fundamentals to anyone else, but to talk through them with God, in a format where I feel most connected with God - through prayerfully writing.

Luther's Small Catechism: 


When I look at Luther's Small Catechism - a guide to the Lutheran faith - I am able to speak with God.I am able to hear him speak. Obviously, this catechism is not the only or even primary guide to my faith. This is written by Martin Luther, utilizing the Word of God.

The 10 Commandments - the law in which we were given by God. A law which none of us can follow all the time, but should still strive to follow. Every commandment is from God to us personally. "You shall have no other gods." "You shall not murder." "You shall not covet." These are all rules directly for us. Or, as is summarized in Matthew 22:36-40 (NRSV):


36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


No where does it say my neighbor shall not do these things. No where does it say my neighbor must love God and love others. God is speaking directly to me. He is commanding me. He is not giving me persmission to be judge, jury, or accuser of another.




The Apostle's Creed - a statement of what belief in who God is and what he does. "I believe in God the Father almighty..." "I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only son..."  "I believe in the Holy Spirit..." Again, these are personal statements of belief. This is God reminding me who he is, and me affirming that belief. 

The Lord's Prayer - the prayer Jesus taught us, which has so many pieces to it. This is one in which we do use the term "our", because we are all children of God. But each petition is also a personal prayer to God, praising him and asking his forgiveness and help in forgiving. No where do we say "Allow us to take revenge into our own hands." No where does it say to allow us to choose who to forgive and whom not to forgive.

Baptism -  an individual's new birth, bringing us to God as one of his children through the Holy Spirit and water, and also bringing us in as members of the body of Christ. While done generally as a community event, it is also a personal event.

Confession and forgiveness. The Lord's Supper. Done generally between pastor and individual or pastor and congregation - but both still very personal and important in our faith and individual relationship with God.

.....

Basically, what I believe all of this to say in a very abbreviated nutshell - Christianity... our faith... is a very personal relationship with God, but is one in which the love and support of a community of other Christians is important. It is ME turning to God through the faith he's blessed me with, and God working within ME. It is God guiding me on how I can best support those who are struggling, with his help. It is God guiding and supporting me in my struggles. It is God showing his love and mercy to me so that I can go out and show that love and mercy to others.

....

Affirmation of Baptism: 


This personal and yet community concept is further shown in the affirmation of our baptism. While we often call this "Confirmation", it can be done at any time in the life of a baptized member of the body of Christ. This affirmation is done publicly, in front of the congregation; or as a unified assembly all affirming their baptisms together.

It has each of us individually profess our faith and reject sin, which we each do so individually, asking God to help and guide us.

But just as importantly, the whole assembly promises to support the individual and pray for him or her.

There are times throughout the church year when we do an affirmation of the whole congregation. In there, the pastor has asked all members "Do you promise to support and pray for one another in your life in Christ?" to which I have always responded with other members that I do and ask God to help and guide me.

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"Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone." (Luther's Small Catechism, Individual Confession and Forgiveness)

I confess that I have not kept this promise. I confess that I have been selfish and have not supported others. I have allowed the thought that "if I have to follow these commandments and live what other's deem a Christian life, than they should have to do the same, and live what I deem a Christian life." I confess that I have allowed hurt and anger into my heart and keep me from encouraging and supporting other members of the body of Christ.

"I repent of all my sins, known and unknown. I am truly sorry, and I pray for forgiveness. I firmly intent to amend my life, and to seek help in mending what is broken. I ask for strength to turn from sin and to serve you in newness of life."  (Luther's Small Catechism, Individual Confession and Forgiveness)




Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Value of a Nickel






It's just a nickel. 5 cents. Can't buy a thing with it.

That's what most people would think anyway. But to me, this nickel is priceless. This nickel is one of the sweetest gifts I have ever received.

Most people know I've been having a really rough time the past couple weeks. I've had a lot of people turn their backs on me. I've lost a lot of things that have been very important to me. I've felt like God and family have all turned their back on me (not immediate family - they've been great).

This time of year is always excruciatingly difficult for me. This year, even more so. But a couple days ago, I was given this nickel as a gift.

This nickel reminded me of family. It reminded me of what is truly important. It reminded me that I need to place my focus on the gifts God has blessed me with. I have been blessed with amazing people - people who do have my back no matter what. People who have stood by me through all the hell. People who still stand by me. They aren't all blood. Most of them aren't blood. But the ties that bind us together are stronger than blood.

Family truly is not about blood. It is about those who are willing to see the real you, and love you anyway. It's about those who will show up to hold you through the rough times. It's about those who will laugh with you and cry with you. It's about those who are willing to say "you're being an idiot" but still hug you. It's about those who support you. It's about those who stay up all night with you because you're sad. It's about those who are willing to listen to you ramble on about nothing at all. It's about those who don't care if they get their shirt wet with your tears. It's about those who are willing to be silly and jump in puddles with you. It's about those who are willing to stand up for you when someone hurts you.

17 years ago, I lost a brother. He was born in 1980. A couple days ago, another brother, the same age as the brother I lost, found this nickel - a 1980 nickel. He gave it to me to remind me that I am not alone. He gave it to me to remind me that I have family. He gave it to me to remind me that I am loved. To the rest of the world, this gift may only be worth 5 cents. To me, it is worth the world. Family is worth the world. It is the most amazing gift God has given us.

Even in our darkest moments, God is there... working through our family.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I am a Sinner






I am a sinner.
I drink too much and smoke too much. I sometimes cuss a little too often. I have broken all the commandments in one way or another. I have let my temper get the best of me. I have hurt people I love.

I am not perfect. I am a sinner.

That is why I go to church. Or, at least, why I did. I attend church to confess my sins, be reminded of the forgiveness God has given, and to praise God for all the blessings in my life. I go to church to grow in faith, to feel God's presence, and to remind myself to try to do better in showing Godly love to everyone I meet.

I am a sinner.

This is why I do morning and night prayer every day, not just on Sundays. This is why I read scripture daily. I do these things to grow in faith, to feel God's presence, and to learn how to be better, especially in showing Godly love to everyone.

I am a sinner.

This is why I write sermons. I do not know more than anyone else. Writing sermons or other blog posts such as this one is to grow in faith, to feel God's presence, and to learn how to be better. Writing forces me to concentrate on God's Word and dig deeper into the meaning of it and what God wants from me.

I am a sinner.

This is why I have Christian friends - brothers and sisters in Christ. I have these friends to grow in faith, to share God's presence and allow it to be shared with me, and to practice showing Godly love.

I am a sinner.

But I belong to God and while I will always be a sinner, I will not give up on the God who loves me in spite of my sinfulness.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Power of Apology





I think it's safe to say that we have all screwed up and have had to apologize to others. Usually these are little things - I'm sorry I didn't get the dishes done. I'm sorry I was cranky last night. I'm sorry I said something to hurt your feelings.

But what about the bigger things? Does "I'm sorry" really cut it? Is it really enough?

I recently watched an episode of Law and Order: SVU where a group of adults came together discussing the rape and sexual abuse they went through as teenagers by teachers at the school they all had attended. The main teacher who hurt them had already died. The school had known about what was going on, but covered it up.

20 some years after the abuse - all these kids wanted was an admission of guilt and an apology. And that is all they got. And it was enough.

A true apology is two-fold. It is saying "I did this wrong." It is also saying "I am sorry." And it generally has a third piece - an action piece - a true attempt to not repeat that mistake. But for the purpose of this post, let's focus on the first two...

I was abused as a child. 20-some years later, I heard the words "I was wrong. I hurt you. I can't change the past, but I am sorry for it."

Up until that day, I had already forgiven him for my own sake because I didn't want to hold onto that pain. Or, at least, I thought I had forgiven him. But the day I heard those words, everything melted away. Everything became clear. A simple admission of wrong-doing and an apology was all it took.

There is tremendous power in a sincere apology. There is healing. There is hope. There is love. There is light that suddenly appears within the dark.


Darkside Devotionals

I've spent a bit of the morning watching my binge-worthy obsession - Law and Order: SVU. And both of the last two episodes I watched put me into a writing mood. I had to force myself to shut off Netflix (well... okay... I didn't shut it off. I paused it).

Anyway, each episode gave me an idea for a short writing, and considering the show, these writings were a bit on a darkside. Or rather, showed a darkside which turned to light. And so I decided to start a new series - Darkside Devotionals. Granted, most of what I write has that theme already. Hell, most of anything in life has that theme. We are dark and sinful creatures... and find light.

I recently read something that compared us all to photography film. Those in the digital age may not understand this analogy, but those who remember having to take a roll of film in to be developed... or those who develop film still... will understand. The negatives we had... those images were inverted. We were dark. It wasn't until the photo was developed that the image became clear.

That's how life is. That's how we all are. We are dark and sinful. We see things as dark and painful. We settle into a dark and cloudy mindset. We live life in a dark and sorrow-filled world. But through Christ, the real image does become clear. And that is the point of these devotionals.

I will be (hopefully) keeping them short. But I do ask one favor of all reading them....

I want scripture references!

I have a habit of trying to find scripture to back up my writing... and get so caught up in it that I don't actually write. So, I'm going to do the writing... and request that if you read one and a certain piece of scripture hits your brain, please comment with that scripture.

Thank you, and happy darkside devotionalizing.... 

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