Monthly Archives: August 2011

Thoughts on a Proverb

The truly righteous man attains life,

but he who pursues evil goes to his death.

Proverbs 11:19

As I read through some proverbs today, this one hit me pretty hard. Not with the more obvious, broader sense that in the end, righteousness is rewarded and evil is punished – that’s true, too, of course, but I saw something else.  I saw the words “truly” and “pursues.”

I write proverbs out when I read them – helps me to focus – and as I wrote the first half of this one, I felt a little uneasy. Truly righteous. What does it mean, being truly righteous? How can we know that we meet the standard? I know I try, but I also know I’m pretty weak. (For confirmation, you could just ask my husband.)

What if we’re not up to par?

So I was sitting here at my desk, writing out this phrase, “The truly righteous man attains life,” and my spine was kind of tingling, ’cause this is a pretty heavy question, and then – huzzah! – the next line came  along, and I took a deep breath.

“He who pursues evil goes to his death.”

Now, I know the line of thought in Proverbs isn’t always really clear-cut or obviously parallel. Sometimes, I can’t for the life of me figure out how the two lines of a proverb are supposed to go together. But whether it was meant this way or not, I had my answer. If it’s not evil itself, but the pursuit of evil, that leads to death, isn’t the same true of righteousness? After all, we are all corrupted (“None is righteous, no, not one,” Rom. 3:10), and we know someone’s making it to eternal glory, or the whole Bible would be moot.

Pursuit. That’s what matters. That one word reinstated peace.

See, beforehand, there had been an error in my logic. I was treating “true righteousness” as if it were synonymous with “perfection.” Thank goodness, God’s not concerned with perfection. If He were, we’d be toast.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Isaiah 64:6

My thought process in reading the first line (“I know I try, but I also know I’m pretty weak.”) actually contained the answer to the nagging problem it addressed: the answer being the pursuit of holiness. “I know I try.”

Now there’s a potential danger in this reassurance.It can easily lead to a skewed perspective – if we don’t have to be perfect, why try? Here’s my favorite verse in the entire Bible. Normally I pull verses from ESV, but this time we’ll use KJV:

My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise.

Psalm 57:7

My life comes up short – matter of fact, it’s kind of a pathetic display. God accepts people into His kingdom who are kind of pathetic displays. But we can’t skate by with duplicitous hearts. We can’t just say we’re trying, and then not really try, and fall back on, “Well, you know, none of us is perfect.” Our hearts must be fixed on Him.

It’s okay to be weak. It’s not okay to pretend.

Paul Washer addresses a similar issue in this video, which I’m rather fond of:

What do you think, guys? Where is the line between trying to be righteous and being righteous? Is it a spectrum, or two camps – those who try and those who don’t?

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1001 Reasons, Part Seven: YouTube Edition

Is it a sacrilege to be thankful for YouTube?

I’m not (entirely) ashamed to admit how much time I spend on the Tube – I watch funny videos and I watch sermons and I play video blogs in the  background while I clean my house. As the vlogbrothers would say, it doesn’t necessarily decrease worldsuck, but it certainly increases the awesome.

Certain videos, anyway – YouTube is kind of like Ross. There’s a lot of junk, but if you’re willing to wade through it you find some real gems.

So with that in mind, here are my top ten favorite YouTube videos. They’re not in any particular order. Not unless you’re paying attention. I’m thankful for every one of them, for various reasons.

101. 99 Balloons

102. David and Goliath by the Skit Guys

103. Disney Medley by the Doo Wop Shop

“A hundred bad guys with swords!” … also the waves.

104. Idol Worship by the Skit Guys

I was just glad to hear that someone else say this.

105. If Guys Were Like Girls … 

106. God and Good vs. Evil on Larry King Live

The panel on this episode of Larry King Live: John MacArthur, Deepak Chopra, Father Jim Keiter, Char Margolis, and Roger Depue.

107. God’s Chisel by the Skit Guys

108. The Shocking Message by Paul Washer

Read about the background of this video here. As Pastor Washer says, “Shouldn’t someone be disturbed?”

109. Snow Business, featuring Simon’s Cat

When I’m running low on cute, I hop on YouTube and spend some time with Simon’s Cat.

110. Stop Embarrassing Yourself by Hank Green of the vlogbrothers

What are your favorite YouTube (or GodTube or Vimeo or anything else) videos?

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small pieces / of who I am now / on the page

loneliness
which I medicate
with my God

awaken
scared sweaty shaken
from nightmares

raspberry
globbed on a finger
makes him smile

my muse, my
inspiration, my
friend is gone

incomplete –
my state of being
while on earth

I love him
his quiet furor
for my heart

dark, spotted
with bulbs and moonlight
and laughter

solid legs
and a smart grin on
my baby

I love that
determination
runs through him

dare me to
love with ardor and
not despair

only trust
that the life He gives
pleases Him

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A New Katharine

This is not my first exploration of Martin Luther’s wife. For the historical version, click here.

My father John and my stepmother Ann decided when I was a child which college I would attend: Eternal Peace Bible College. It was a partner with Liberty Christian Church, the congregation we’d long called home, where my father was a deacon. As a child, I trusted what Dad said was true, and what Pastor Howard said, well, that was scripture.

They always taught that salvation was a free gift – that faith was valid and works were not. They’d throw bible verses at me and I always took it for granted that they were right. And in a way, they were. In another way, though, they were shortsighted and selfish.

We had a little group of friends in high school – me, my best friend Libby, and another pair of best friends, Ava and Maggie. All three of them attended Liberty with their families. The four of us did most everything together, and of course, that included college.

That’s where we were when my aunt Lena (my long-dead mother’s sister) forwarded us an email.

To the members of Liberty Christian Church and to any follower of Christ who hears:

My name is Martin James, and I am above all a follower of Christ. At the risk of mimicking an apostle to the point of absurdity, the first thing I want you to know is that I pray for you. I pray that your eyes will be opened and your hearts discerning, because I beseech you to test my words against Christ’s.

Romans 10:9 reads:

If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Only one thing saves us: professed faith in Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads:

… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

The faith we profess is not our own merit, of which we might boast. It is a gift from God.

1 Corinthians 15:2 reads:

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain.

The gospel of our faith saves us – but it has not saved us if we have not held firmly to the Word. We can believe in vain, as the demons do.

Titus 2:11-12 reads:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

If a man has received God’s grace, he is saved. If a man has received God’s grace, he is taught to say ‘No’ to ungodliness.

Jude 4 reads:

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord.

As believers, we face the challenge of discerning. Have men slipped in among us who are godless? Do men (or women) in our lives tempt us to exchange God’s free gift into a license for immorality?

Are you truly saved?

Several members of Liberty Christian Church, myself included, have committed to study the Word together with any believers who wish to discuss this. We will do so every Sunday night at 6 p.m. at my house. Directions included. We will continue this weekly study until people stop coming.

Peace in Christ,

Martin James

“Those are some pretty serious accusations,” said Libby.

“But do you see any errors?” I asked. All three girls leaned over the letter and scanned over it for a few minutes, trying to find a point they didn’t agree with.

“Okay, so we all agree on that much,” Maggie said. “What do we do with this information?”

There was a brief silence.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Ava asked. “We’re going to a bible study.”

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Katharina: The Unmarried Wife

I’m going to tell you a story; how I met, married, and then fell in love with a renegade and traitor named Martin Luther.

In the years since entering convent school at the age of five, one thing had always been perfectly clear to me: salvation was not a free gift. It was one a person could earn. Only an insane god would permit fallen, corrupt children into His kingdom without first requiring certain sacrifices and services.

Luther disagreed: “The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty,” he had said, in Heidelberg.

In the fall of 1517 he’d drafted his Theses – ninety-five complaints against the Church’s practice of indulgences. For a fee – small or large – a person could buy forgiveness. We were taught that indulgences could only remit a portion of the suffering a person would endure in Purgatory, but Luther argued that the practice, which was wrong to start, was abused by money-hungry church leaders, and the laity was misled and hurt.

The Ninety-Five Theses were my first exposure to Luther. Fronika and Margaret Zeschau, my fellow Sisters at Marienthron, had an Uncle Wolfgang who was friends with the radical. Not long after the Theses were posted on the door of a church in Wittenberg, causing uproar in the little town, he sent his nieces a letter. The girls had been keeping their sympathies for the reform movement quiet, but this was too much. Now they made their beliefs known to everyone at the convent – except for my father’s sister Margareta, our stern Abbess, who would have punished them severely for speaking against the Church. They whispered their discontent to willing ears as they went about their chores; they kept regular correspondence with their uncle; they went so far as to talk quietly about it to Leonard Koppe, a merchant who brought Marienthron its fish.

At first Fronika and Margaret faced disagreement ranging from humor to outright dislike. Most of the Sisters thought perhaps it was a phase, a little rebellion; a few, including my dearest friend Beth, were concerned; one or two held their noses high and ignored the girls, paying them only enough attention to case a resentful stare their way. But not a soul had the daring or guile to let Aunt Margareta take note.

I had another aunt at Marienthron: Magdalena, my mother’s sister. She had the same effect on me as Aunt Margareta did – strict obedience, that is – but by way of an entirely opposite method. Lena was an addictively sweet woman, always ready with a compliment and never demanding any sort of behavior. But all of us Sisters, myself especially, did everything she asked, took her words as scripture. To us, she was a prophetess. And for the first time in my life, I found my filial and religious duty to Margareta contradicting my heartfelt duty to Lena. The convent positively trembled when it came to light that Lena had written to Luther.

One afternoon she and I worked together in the infirmary, rolling and putting away cleaned bandages. The three patients nearest us – all old, weak women – were sleeping. “Lena,” I said, though we weren’t supposed to be speaking. “Please tell me this letter to Luther is a rumor.”

Her reaction was so slight, anyone but me would have missed it; her eyes flicked up and scanned the room, to ascertain the privacy I had already made sure of.

“Why would I say that?” she asked, barely whispering.

A smokestack burned in my chest.

“Please, I’m begging you – don’t write to him anymore. It’s not safe.”

She waved her hand, at her waist. “The only danger I face is a stern talk from the Abbess.”

“She’ll have you beaten.”

“No, she won’t. She loves me.”

“She wouldn’t if she knew what you were doing.”

Lena stared me down.

“You’re interested, aren’t you?”

“Of course not,” I said, but Lena’s smirk said she understood. “I’m certainly curious,” I amended. “I don’t face a beating, though.”

Lena turned back to the bandages. “Ihr Luther is a wise man,” she said thoughtfully. “He believes that to submit oneself to a certain law – for example, enforced silence – can be holy and honorable. But to submit others to those same laws, laws not imposed by scripture, without their agreement – well, that’s dishonest. It makes those who obey look as though they believe something which they may or may not.”

I dropped my voice further.

“You’re talking about Marienthron, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am.”

“But there’s no reason to even discuss it. You’ve already made your vows.”

Ihr Luther suggested we leave anyway.”

“Magdalena!” My shocked whisper was audible, and a patient sewing in her bed nearby looked up. I was careful when I spoke again. “You could be caught and killed.”

“Which makes a beating from Margareta sound much less terrifying, doesn’t it?”

I stammered.

“I only want to serve the Lord,” Lena said, seeing that I wasn’t going to speak. “I believe I can do that better elsewhere. Katharine, I want to sing to Him for the pure joy of singing, not because the Abbess says to. I want to talk with others about how much I love the Lord. I want to read my Bible in German.”

“It will be lonely without you.”

“That’s certainly true,” she said. “Since several other girls are coming with me.”

“What? Who?”

“Katharine, you know I can’t tell you that.”

Fear clenched my throat, and my voice dropped even lower. “Beth?”

She didn’t answer, but in so doing she told me the truth. I was going to lose my best friend.

“When?”

“I don’t even know that.”

I paused. “You expect me to go with you, don’t you?” I asked, scared of her response. She raised her eyes to mine.

“I expect you to do whatever it is you would do if you were not afraid,” she said.

***

In the first hours of Easter Sunday, 1523, Koppe smuggled me and eleven other nuns out of Marienthron, the convent I’d called home since I’d been a child.

As soon as she could be sure everyone was asleep, Aunt Lena sneaked all the girls into the refectory, in groups of three. There we sat, silently, for hours, trying to keep awake, not speaking a word. Beth and I clutched each other’s hands, our breathing synchronized. Before the sun was up, Koppe arrived and we listened as he told the women in the kitchen – in a remarkably loud voice – that his delivery of fish had been unloaded and he would be leaving now.

It was obviously a cue, since Aunt Lena, crouching, moved for the door. Again in threes, we sneaked around the base of the building and met Koppe at his wagon. With an apologetic grimace on his face, he showed us into reeking empty fish barrels. “I’m sorry,” he murmured to each of us, securing the lids.

At the gate to the convent, I could hear Koppe saying goodbye to the warden, who would have watched the gate while he was here doing his business. Since he was an old, trusted friend at Marienthron, there would be no need to accompany Koppe throughout the visit. It was a sweet departure, escaping right under that greedy old man’s nose.

I knew it would be a long, uncomfortable journey, squatting in the stink of fish without a blanket to ease the jostling. But thankfully a large forest lay north of the convent, and so we were able, after a little while, to come out of the barrels and sit together, huddled for warmth.

“I guess I can explain to you the plan,” Koppe said as we came out, stiff and sore. “We’ll be taking you to Torgau tonight, a few hours’ journey. We’ll stay there for the day and tomorrow any one of you who isn’t going home to family will come with me to Wittenberg to meet Luther.” A little shock came over me – meeting Luther! – but it was a long road ahead still.

We tried to pass the time in conversation, but after years of enforced silence at Marienthron, we found it uncomfortable to speak freely or to laugh. We weren’t sure how to go about prayer without a leader. We might have sung, if we had known any hymns in German. Singing lyrics we couldn’t understand seemed to violate the integrity of what we’d just done.

I don’t know how long it had been when Else von Kanitz gasped, a soft little noise, and stared into the woods. A few of us, myself included, saw her fearful eyes and followed them.

Not quite where she’d looked, but nearby: a sudden movement, a man. After a second, another one, further back, only visible to one who was looking. And, now that we were silent, voices. In the dark, far away.

Had the warden indeed sent men this far simply to retrieve and punish twelve pitiful women?
For a few moments, we all sat, stunned and fearful, before Koppe noticed the silence. He looked over his shoulder and, seeing our stares, smiled.

“Don’t worry, Sisters,” he said. “Those are rebels, just like you, now, I suppose. They hid here to organize rebellion against Duke George and all the other lords. It’s hard to keep thinking of required labor at Marienthron as divine. It’s actually good news for you. You have a lot of enemies in the world – it’s true – but those voices, they’re on your side.”

Credit where credit is due:
Katharina von Bora: A Reformation Life by Rudolph K. and Marilynn Morris Markwald
Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed.,by Timothy F. Lull
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton

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How can we sing …?

So today I read Psalm 137, which is a song of mourning from captivity in Babylon. In the NIV, it goes like this.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forever forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us —
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.


Here’s what struck me. “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” Is that sentiment right or wrong?

On the one hand, Paul says “Rejoice in the LORD always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Php 4:4 ESV) Even when you find yourself in a foreign land, separated from all you know, and you feel like you’re separated even from God. God is still good. Rejoice.

On the other hand – can you really blame these people? If there’s anything worth lamenting, isn’t this? It’s not wrong to mourn. It’s not wrong to acknowledge our humanity, and as humans we despair.

Maybe, though, it’s significant that Paul says to rejoice in the Lord. Don’t rejoice in your circumstances, because maybe they’re not so great and even if they are – don’t expect them to stay that way. But you know what does stay? What never changes or fades or clouds over?

Him.
And for that I rejoice.

How about you guys? Find yourself rejoicing in Him and not your life? How has that changed you?

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1001 Reasons, Part Six

This month’s theme: books.

94. Okay, this one’s a-duh: THE BIBLE. I could write a lot about why … or you could just go read Psalm 119 … which says it better than I could.

95. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. They make you think about our sins differently, and a new angle is almost always a good way to look at something. I also love that it reads either like a novel, or like a series of devotions.

96. Speaking of devotions, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers is pretty fantastic. Specifically, this quote has always stuck with me: “At the bar of common sense, Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but bring them to the bar of faith and you begin to see with awestruck spirit that they are the words of God.”

97. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell is one of my all-time favorite stories, period. My favorite thing about it is this: what Rhett loves about Scarlett is her passion, her fire. But it’s this very trait that makes her so immature and incapable of loving him in return – really loving him, I mean – and being grateful for him. When she finally grew up enough to love him, she had already ruined it. And here’s the kicker. Had Scarlett been mature enough to see Rhett from the beginning, to recognize everything she had when she had it, Rhett couldn’t have loved her. She wouldn’t have been the reckless, passionate soul she was, and that was what Rhett loved so about her. They were meant to be together, but they never could be.

98. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are several of the most engrossing novels I’ve ever read.

99. Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand is a hard read, but worth every moment.

100. Anything in the Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle. They’re definitely better than modern mysteries.

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